Life & Death March
The Christian’s Severe & Unsentimental Defense of Life
For more than three decades now, Americans opposed to the murder of unborn infants have endeavored to jolt the public conscience by staging peaceful demonstrations in various cities and towns across the country on January 22, the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision in the case Roe v. Wade.
The largest of these demonstrations, the “Annual March for Life” in the nation’s capital, normally gains considerable exposure on television and in news publications. Given the immense cost required to stage these demonstrations—chiefly in travel, accommodations, and sheer time and fatigue—the publicity thereby garnered in the news media could hardly be called free, but the thousands of ordinary citizens who gladly bear that expense continue to confer on our country a blessing beyond reckoning. Touchstone is honored to recognize that blessing and give thanks for those who confer it.
Because ours is a journal ecumenical in structure, we are rarely apodictic in our views of public matters. In general, we have endeavored to be more Socratic than prophetic. Most of the subjects encompassed by our interest, after all, are open to more than one legitimate approach.
For example, from time to time we have discussed theories of war and peace, but we have refrained from taking a specific stand respecting any particular war. Likewise, respecting the complex ethical questions associated with modern medicine, we have tried to remain even-handed and, when conscientiously possible, somewhat tentative in our conclusions.
But partly because we are an ecumenical journal, we try to discern what all “mere Christians” can say together, especially what they must say together in witness to a largely secular and sometimes anti-Christian society. The traditional understanding of the gospel leaves the Christian conscience with a great deal of practical latitude and personal discretion in matters of prudential politics and public policy, and the different traditions we represent understand these matters in sometimes markedly different ways.
With respect to abortion, however, the strictures imposed on the Christian conscience are necessarily decisive and severe. There are no circumstances that justify the deliberate, direct, intentional taking of an innocent human life, including the life of the child still carried in the womb.
Indeed, Holy Scripture obliges us to address this question with absolute clarity and, as charity permits, a certain measure of rhetorical force. Because the accumulated wisdom of humanity testifies that the most elementary duty of the state is to safeguard the lives of its unoffending citizens—and because we believe the righteous judgment of God will lie heavy on the nation that neglects to do so—we continue to exhort our fellow countrymen to give heed to the clarion voice of conscience in this matter of abortion.
Although compelled by a fervent moral sentiment, we are not sentimental. We are not guided by some vague “pro-life” preference. On the contrary, we confess ourselves unimpressed by what is sometimes called a “consistent pro-life” position, a sustained general thesis that piles all life-and-death matters onto a single scale.
When we declare that “there are no circumstances that justify the deliberate, direct, intentional taking of an innocent human life,” every single word of that declaration we take to be essential, laying special stress on the adjective “innocent.” Our opposition to abortion is not part of a universal “pro-life” preference. We contend for a moral and political principle, the principle that affirms the state’s duty to protect the lives of the innocent.
An Unhalting Witness
In fact, we believe that the clarity of this principle is sometimes compromised by the insertion of the abortion question into a “consistent pro-life” agenda. Such “consistency” is purchased at too high a price: the neglect of logic and the loss of critical distinctions. (I put the word “consistency” in quotes, because we doubt that true consistency can be achieved by the rejection of crucial distinctions.)
We are not, for example, of one mind with respect to capital punishment.
When I wrote of my opposition to capital punishment a few years ago (in a report on the execution of Timothy McVeigh), my argument was simply one view among several that could claim theological or historical legitimacy. I argued it as well as I could, but it was, in the end, only my view of the matter. (Humble as always, I even refrained from mentioning that the pope agreed with me.)
For this reason, we, even those of us opposed to capital punishment, have scant sympathy for those who see some species of moral equivalence between the intentional killing of an unborn child and the state’s exaction of life from a convicted murderer or traitor.
With respect to abortion, however, we are convinced that there cannot exist, among Christian minds, more than one legitimate position, either in moral theory or in political application. Only rarely should a journal of ecumenical discussion venture into the realm of prophecy and apocalyptic caution, but the matter of abortion is such an instance.
For this reason the editors of Touchstone join our modest voice to the ringing challenge that Elijah, nearly three thousand years ago, hurled against his compatriots who were complicit in baby-killing Baalism: “How long halt ye between two opinions? If the Lord be God, follow him: but if Baal, then follow him.”
We anticipate no unseemly “halting” in the anti-abortion marches this year, and we ask our brothers who have halted between two opinions—for there are believing Christians who have found reasons (by necessity bad ones) to mute their voices here—to follow the Lord God. The brutal murder of the most innocent and helpless among us, the unborn children, is not a point on which we are permitted either compromise or silence.
— Patrick Henry Reardon, for the editors
Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.