Welcome to our "What Being Pro-Life Means to Me" series! What does being pro-life mean to you? Over this fall, we'll hear various writers respond to that question.
Two economists, Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, caused quite a stir in the pro-life community when they published their book, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. Levitt and Dubner claimed to find a causal link between the drop in crime rates in the 1990’s and the legalization of abortion in 1973. They reasoned that crime dropped in the 1990’s because those babies who would have committed crimes, largely unwanted, uncared for, unloved babies, were the babies who ended up being aborted.
Boston Globe writer James Alan Fox has satisfactorily debunked Levitt and Dubner’s claims. They used incomplete data sets and ignored evidence that was contrary to their hypothesis. Turns out, economics and sociology are complicated subjects. Cause and effect are notoriously difficult to prove.
However, we have to admit that at first blush, Levitt and Dubner’s conclusions don’t seem too far-fetched. Isn’t it obvious that a child who grows up in an unloving environment would grow up to have a distorted understanding of love? Can a person who grew up in an environment where violence is the primary means of resolving disputes possibly, on his or her own, develop a proper sense of when and how to use violence? Rape is a traumatic experience for adults. The damage done to the sexual identity of a child who is the victim of sexual abuse is unfathomable. Should we be surprised when the victims of sexual abuse go on to perpetrate it?
During my time in prison ministry I’ve found that many, though not all, of the men who are incarcerated were indeed unwanted, uncared for, and unloved. Many suffered abuse at the hands of those who should love them the most – family, friends, and even clergy (who were likely abused as well). Of course, being on the receiving end of abuse as a child does not excuse anyone as an adult from perpetuating the cycle of violence. Violence toward others, whether that be physical, sexual, spiritual or mental, should not be tolerated. I’m not making excuses for anyone. Yet, don’t we as the church have a special call to nip the cycle of criminality in the bud? In practice, doesn’t much of the church effectively treat a large subsection of our society as if we wish they’d never been born? When will the church stop making excuses for itself and actually be pro-life?
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. We can’t be pro-life if we don’t know what being pro-life means. God, as the creator of all life, is decidedly pro-life. The LORD was deliberate in how he created life and gave special status to humanity. While all the other creatures of the sea, air, and ground were made according to their kinds, the creation of humanity was different. Humanity was created in his own image, in the image of God he created them (Gen. 1:27). Pro-life means that we recognize the image of God within every human person. Human life is to be cherished because individuals carry within themselves, by virtue of being human, the breath of life made in the image of God. The image of God is to be respected and treated with dignity.
Does our treatment of prisoners reflect how we believe Jesus would have treated prisoners – people who bore the image of God? Let’s not forget that Jesus, Paul, Joseph, and many other heroes of our faith were prisoners. How did they interact with their fellow prisoners? The writer of Hebrews had high regard for those behind bars. “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” (Heb. 13:3) Hebrews puts the incarcerated and the free on the same level. Christians should not desire for any prisoner to be treated in a way that he or would not want to be treated.
I love the church and have seen it do a tremendous amount of good work. However, the church has left the “correction” of our society in the hands of state. Ours is an officially secular, one-size-fits-all justice system that is ineffective in preventing crime, often uses unnecessary force in enforcing the law, and actually perpetuates the cycle of criminality in our culture. The results? More abused children. More children without a mother or father at home. More children given over to the foster care system. More kids in the lobby of correctional facilities waiting to see their mommy or daddy dressed in prison blues. More kids who are being prepared, day by day, for their first day behind bars. More kids, who according to Levitt and Dubner, probably should have been aborted. The cycle continues, amplified by a system that is not pro-life.
Being pro-life means we stop expecting the government to do the job of the church when it comes to family relationships, poverty, and neglect that often find their logical conclusion in violence and incarceration. Being pro-life means being being pro-life for everyone, including prisoners. Being pro-life means recognizing that the same image of God that resides within each and every person outside the prison walls also resides within our brothers and sisters behind bars. Being pro-life means making vulnerable, broken families the special focus of attention for the church. Being pro-life means loving prisoners as image bearers of God, no matter what their offense. After all, they too have been washed clean by the blood of the Lamb by grace alone. Being pro-life means much, much more than going to the ballot box on election day.
The church has tremendous power. It is the body of Christ. It is full of individuals who are being molded into the image of Christ. The church is the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The LORD has not only given us the mandate to change the world, but has empowered us to do so. Being pro-life means the church gets off our bottoms and gets to work fulfilling the Great Commission. After all, our work is done in the name of the one who has been given all authority so we may make disciples and teach the nations to obey everything the LORD has commanded. We don’t do this work alone and without power, for Jesus is with us always, to the very end of the age.
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[Image: Flickr user Matthias Muller]