In our climate of heightened racial tensions, many evangelicals have sought to openly affirm human dignity and join the fight against racial injustice. For a recent example, one can look to the ERLC’s recent event on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, during which 4,000 evangelicals joined together to “reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and the culture.”
Yet amid such efforts, we’ve also seen a range of critiques from progressive evangelicals, claiming that the “pro-life” ethics of evangelical conservatives stand in stark opposition to the priorities of racial justice. Such claims target a broad range of conservative positions—from economic justice to educational freedom to basic law and order—but their weaknesses become clearest in their attacks on opponents of abortion.
In an essay at Public Discourse, Hunter Baker exposes the biggest cracks, arguing that a true and consistent Christian vision of the human person is, indeed, “pro-life” across the spectrum of social issues and debates—from protecting the life and affirming the dignity of the unborn to doing the same for those suffering from racial oppression.
“If an unborn child is wanted, then he or she has status and protection. If the same child is not desired by its mother, then she and the health care apparatus have the same godlike dominion once extended by the owner of chattel slaves,” Baker writes. “In fact, the unfortunate unborn life now disposed of may also become an object of commerce in various ways…The two struggles are against the same enemy. The struggle against racism is directed against dehumanization, and so is the fight against abortion.”
These are not competing issues or positions; they are intricately linked together in both their underlying causes and overarching solutions. As Baker explains, each requires a concerted fight against the same enemy.
The fight for the lives of the unborn has been part of the fight against the dehumanization and disposability of human beings. It is not part of some competition within that movement. Those who fight for life and against racism fight for the same thing. For some reason, it is considered a trifle that pro-lifers vigorously seek to protect the large populations of minority unborn children in danger of abortion and that many cross-racial public policy alliances occur for exactly that reason. Planned Parenthood has its own complicated racial legacy. It remains the case, as some have noted, that the most dangerous place for a black child to be in the United States is in the womb.
In addition, we should not underrate the extent to which the pro-life movement bridged the enormous rift between Catholics and Protestants. Anyone over fifty-five or so can attest to the monstrous slanders to which many Catholics were subjected before the two communities reached a greater appreciation of what they have in common via the pro-life movement. (My own mother was asked whether Catholic brides had to sleep with a priest on their wedding night. We can also remember the Catholic Church’s frequent characterization as “the whore of Babylon.”) The love for John Paul II among Protestants had much to do with the leadership and moral authority he and Mother Teresa exercised on behalf of the cause of life.
In both cases, we see struggles against legal regimes and cultural movements that seek to institutionalize particular forms of dehumanization. These aren’t the only issues and areas where we see clear common cause in the defense of human life, dignity, and freedom, but if we can’t recognize it here, we’re bound to be blind to the same struggles elsewhere.
“Racism is a sin. Abortion is a sin,” Baker concludes. “Both deny human dignity. Both degrade a being made in the image and likeness of God. We must combat both.”
Image: James McNellis, At the 2017 March for Life (CC BY 2.0)