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Abortion as a Black(ness) & White(ness) Issue
Yesterday, His Joel-Ness re-directed his audience to an article entitled, “Obama disgracing his racial ancestors”, a post that goes on to, among other things, quote the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and invoke ideas of racial identity into arguments for blacks’ silence of abortion. Quotes include:
“Appallingly, this slavish mindset is not only accepted by America’s first black president, it is celebrated. On the 38th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision that overturned precedent in all 50 states and ushered in a return of the plantation owners’ ideology, Barack Obama took the time to honor its legacy.“
“Intellectual honesty demands that we face a harsh and uncomfortable reality: Barack Obama — our first black president — has chosen to take up the whip against his fellow man. By doing so, he carves out an eternal legacy for himself far removed from the dignified halls of honor reserved for those with the moral courage to defend the defenseless. By instead regarding them as subhuman, Obama wars against the life work of Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, and Abraham Lincoln.“
“For what Douglass, Tubman, Truth and so many other courageous black abolitionists fought for was not the day when they would see a man with dark skin pigmentation sitting in the White House. They fought for the day when all men — black and white, large and small — would see their inalienable rights protected from those who would callously demean them as less than human.“
Let us not kid ourselves, here, why else would a white conservative bring up race on the abortion issue, if not to steal the moral high ground? I am not a supporter of Barack Obama but at least as someone who is Black & Pro-Life, I can recognize dis-ingenuity when I see. To resort to racially essentialist arguments just to step onto your bully-pulpit is frankly anti-Christian, especially making the crucial mistake of blurring the difference between the practice of abortion and slavery. Both are undesirable and heinous, for sure, but, as I will show later through the writings of Bonhoeffer, there is SURELY a HUGE DIFFERENCE!
Last week, Sonja of Women In Theology re-directed me to two crucial articles on race and abortion, both of which I found both compelling and worth a read: Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ YOU ARE NOT HARRIET TUBMAN & THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF PRO-LIFERS, AND PUNDITS.
Abortion as a Law Vs. Freedom Issue
When it comes to abortion, most white conservative pro-lifers that I know and know of, disregard the economic circumstances that poor women that face. To be pro-life, is to care for the human soul from womb to tomb. The wedge issue of racial identity has nothing to do with ideology; we, as individuals, are not dependent upon nor accountable to the ideas of our so-called “racial ancest0rs.” Race is a social construct, and as such, human beings are free to change and identify with other human beings as they so choose. Our identities are multiple. Barack Obama is more than just “the first black president.” He is a Harvard Law graduate, he is upper-upper class, he is married, and a progressive Christian, and yet, he is more than these. President Obama is an individual, and like every individual, he is unique and made in the image of God. To solely judge (and vote for ) him because of his ethnicity is to deny the imago Dei in all of us.
In order to proper demonstrate the varying degrees in which African enslavement was and in which abortion is anti-life, I must depend upon the insights of Dietrich Bonhoeffer in the chapter “Last and Penultimate Things” in his ETHICS. The last sections of this particular chapter pertain to ideas of God as Creator and human body-lyness. As such, Bonhoeffer discusses the issues of euthansia, torture, capital punishment, and abortion through a Protestant lens with the doctrine of justification by grace through faith alone. What is impressive in his thought is his consistency in the above mentioned issues along with his avoidance of the legalism we find in the aforementioned article that Joel shared. By legalism, I mean, rule following bound by context and culture with black and white notions of wrong and right. In this instance, the President is accused of not playing by the rules dictated to him by another human being, who prescribes the “legislation,” or the so-called “rules of the game, if you will, based on cultural heritage [that’s being too politically correct, but I digress].
Abortion & Slavery as Issues of Human Bodilyness
Enter: Dietrich Bonhoeffer upstage, w/ Christ the Word, at Center Stage
Bonhoeffer’s approach, however, acknowledges both the human choice involved in the practice of abortion as well as the difference between abortion and human enslavement as such. Bonhoeffer begins his argument with eternal life (the New Creation specifically), “According to the Christian doctrine, the body possesses a higher dignity. Man is a bodily being, and remains so in eternity as well. Bodiliness and human life belong inseparably together” (p156). So, Bonhoeffer places the last things first so that the first things shall be last; that is, eschatology is at the forefront of of Bonhoeffer’s consistent ethic of life (his view on war, I shall digress for another time, but it is contradictory). The right to life is an embodied and concrete natural right of the first order. Bonhoeffer refuses to begin in the abstract unlike many conservative pro-life activists. Among the multiple purposes for the human body include joy, play, work, the creation of a home (which is vastly different from an animal making a shelter, for a home is a space of intimacy and security), as well as sex [for pro-creation and the joy of union] within a marriage between one man & one woman (p157-158). Dietrich Bonhoeffer goes on to dismiss both the human choices of euthanasia and suicide as invalid because only God has the right to determine the value of a human being (the imago Dei). So for Bonhoeffer, not even the individual has the right to determine their own worth or social value, for God is the Giver of all value. Thus, DB condemns the cliche, to each his own/or the Roman principle suum cuique, as inherently violent and anti-life (p151-153).
This leads us to his discussion concerning slavery. Bonhoeffer’s logic goes, if the right to life is inextricably linked to bodily existence, then liberty itself must be defined in terms of embodiment (both negative and positive forms of liberty). Although the Church Fathers and Aquinas did not protest slavery in name, it was the fact of slavery that they commented against (p184). “And this fact exists wherever a man has, in fact, become a thing in the power of another man, wherever a man has become exclusively a means to another man’s end” (ditto). If one follows this logic, if the blogger in question sees Obama only in terms of his skin color, as an object, as a means to an end to push his agenda, then technically, this person is no better than a plantation owner in the 18th century or a human trafficker today. No matter how noble the political cause, if a person becomes objectified in the mind of another’s, in the eyes of Christ, it is D.O.A, dead on arrival.
As for reproductive choice, since Bonhoeffer rejects the logic of “to each her own,” and since he believes that natural rights come from persons living in community, the decision to reproduce is a general one made by a married couple (p.173). The happiness of the community is interconnected with the rights of the individual; the two are not separate (p153). The state nor the Church do not determine a marriage, for that alone belongs to the two partners (p175). Rejecting the conclusions of conservative Catholic moral theology as *“pharasaic rigorism,”* Bonhoeffer creates space for the married couple to decide for themselves, when self-control becomes an impossibility, whether or not use sterilization as a “lesser evil” (p179,181). In spite of the limits of suume cuique, Bonhoeffer argues, “If right is sought for in what is naturally given, then due honor is being rendered to the will and to the gift of the Creator, even in a world which is involved in conflict; and attention is being drawn also to the fulfillment of all rights when Jesus Christ through the Holy Ghost shall give to each their own” (p153). Reproductive choice is a communal choice between a mother and father. Theologically speaking, since in the resurrection, the Creator God chose life, God’s choices are the preferential options that one should optimally respond to. The right to life nor the choice for life is a matter of one’s race or gender, but it is a matter of the last things, the New Creation.
“On that day, says the Lord of hosts, you shall invite each other to come under your vine and fig tree.’ “
Zechariah 3:10, NRSV
*note: I find the use of the noun “Pharisee” as a modifying noun as quite problematic and I reject any use of the term as an insult, even in most well-meaning sermon from the nicest Baptist preacher.*