Tag Archives: anti-abortion

Abortion, The Cross, And The Lynching Tree


Content note: white supremacy, lynching, infantcide

In James Cone’s, The Cross And The Lynching Tree, he shares the story of Mary Turner. She was the wife of a Georgia lynching victim, Haynes Turner. “Mary, who was eight months pregnant, protested vehemently and vowed to seek justice for her husband’s lynching. The sheriff, in turn, arrested her and then gave her up to the mob. In the presence of a crowd that included women and children, Mary Turner was ‘stripped, hung upside down by the ankles, soaked with gasoline, and roasted to death. In the midst of this torment, a white man opened her belly with a hunting knife and her infant fell to the ground and was stomped to death.”- page 120.

No, not even black fetuses were safe from the claws of white supremacy. Cone notes that the “strange fruit” in Billie Holiday’s song is not a black adult male body. In fact, Holiday’s take on Abel Meeropol’s poem included a sexless black body. “No black person was exempt from the risk of becoming the scapegoat of white supremacy in America, not even the unborn, whose mothers, like Mary Turner, were lynched while trying to protect their families” (121).

As a pro-life progressive, I found the above quote fascinating for a couple of reasons. First, the unborn are included in Cone’s definition of person. Recently, in politics, the GOP has been pushing “personhood amendments” to work towards bans on abortion/overturn Roe v. Wade. The conservative view of personhood is faulty because they deny its sociality. The current conservative approach to the abortion debate includes an individualistic, privatized notion of sin, that makes women and doctors the lone scapegoats. And Given the fact that evangelicals are being more friendly with heresies like “conditionalism” where the immortality of the soul is dismissed, there are even more problems theologically. It is easy to consider a doctrine where souls are annihilated if you come from a culture where you’ve never been told that you are a soulless beast.

The second reason why I found Cone’s quote to be excellent is that Cone names the system of death responsible for the termination of Mary Turner’s fetus: White Supremacy. As a system of death, White Supremacy is a complex mixture of Anti-Black bigotry (the history of lynching sugarcoated, for ex.), male supremacy (a man rips outs the unborn child from Mary Turner), and social practices (mob rule & political officials not doing justice). Abortion is not an individual right to be celebrated or an individual sin to be punished for; it is a social tragedy that we should all lament over, and work for its reduction.

Pro-life progressives take a lot of slack for not being “strong enough” on abortion. But ask yourself, are the legalisms of the pro-choice and pro-life movements really benefitting the common good?

I leave you with Efrem Smith’s response to people on facebook questioning his Kingdom Approach to the abortion debate: Ephrem Smith’s abortion response

The Pro-Life Progressive: An Endangered Species?

It’s been quite a long while since I have had a political rant. It’s also been a while since I’ve written on the Consistent Ethic of Life I ride or die by. Well that ends today. Usually when bloggers go on political rants, they get on their hobby horse, and preach this holier than thou “partisanship is such so evil, let’s unite everyone and all be centrists” message that it gets pretty stale like last month’s WonderBread.

Ever since I was in high school, I identified as a pro-life Democrat, and it wasn’t until undergrad that I learned of the group of Dems known as the Democrats for Life of America. I have noticed a recent trend recently probably starting back to last year. Pro-life progressives and moderates are being unfairly criticized for not being “pro-life enough” by conservative evangelicals simply because they support or have worked with pro-choice politicians.  This backlash is spurred by primarily conservative writers.  On the liberal side of things, pro-life progressives still remain marginalized as well.  During the Democratic Nation convention, as a few times in the past, pro-life Democrats were treated as second-class citizens once again.  At Daily Theology, Kevin Ahern pointed to the rise in the number of Op-Eds making Joseph Cardinal Bernardin the scapegoat from everything to “Obamacare” to a cryptic boogey man of  “Chicago-style” Catholic politics.

As Ahern notes,

“Joseph Bernardin’s moral vision, best articulated with the phrase “consistent ethic of life,” should make us uncomfortable. Rooted squarely in the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and the Christian tradition, this vision challenges all of us to humbly reflect on how our politics, lifestyle choices, and ideologies promote or harm human dignity, with particular attention to the least among us.”

Reading Joseph Cardinal Bernardin opened my eyes to a new way of doing of viewing politics. You see, my problem with conservative and moderate Democrats (blue dog Democrats) is that they voted and behaved too much like Republicans-lites. In our two party system, the moderates are always the ones who lay claim to the moral high ground it assumed because of Big Mean Partisans! The problem with pro-life progressives isn’t that we are not “pro-life enough”; it’s that we run and hide from our particularity, we’re afraid of partisanship, when we shouldn’t be.

Let me put this another way. Because we as pro-life progressives have been marginalized by both sides of the political equations so much, we have chosen to just keep our mouths shut. With our silence, we are suppressing our own distinct voice. When we have newspapers mourning the demise of Blue Dog / Southern Democrats, this should not be seen as sad news. This should be looked at as an opportunity for pro-life liberals and moderates to make their voices heard, and not only that, to make it more distinct. Political difference isn’t something to be avoided, it is to be embraced first, and then once we have honest conversation, we can move forward towards solidarity and community.

As I have written about in the past, Protestants too have also written on the consistent ethic of life; Dietrich Bonhoeffer being just one of them. In fact, going back to the early Church, and writings like the Didache: from the second chapter: “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is born” is found in the same chapter with also “You shall not take evil counsel against your neighbor. You shall not hate any man; but some you shall reprove, and concerning some you shall pray, and some you shall love more than your own life.” Being pro-life is seen along the same lines as not harboring any bigotry; in other words, being anti-racist is being pro-life.

The Way of Life described by the Didache is the politics of the Jesus Way, while the Way of Death includes “First of all it is evil and accursed: murders, adultery, lust, fornication, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, witchcrafts, rape, false witness, hypocrisy, double-heartedness, deceit, haughtiness, depravity, self-will, greediness, [etc.]” The Early Christian authors of the Didache recognized that Rape Culture is part of the Culture of Death.

The Didache, Bonhoeffer, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, and Pope John Paul II are just a few examples I could give from the past. In modern times, one example could be pastors like Eugene Cho (who btw, is located in the Pacific Northwest, not South) who writes about the “womb to tomb” Consistent Ethic of Life and who also lives it out with projects such as the One Days’ Wages Campaign.

To identify as a pro-life progressive, is to give voice to the voiceless. It is about taking radical actions such as not only protecting the lives of fetuses, but to also protect children from rape culture and abuse by listening to their stories. A commitment to the Consistent Ethic of Life is consistent with movements towards integral human liberation, “in choosing sides with the little ones on the margins, the Crucified Lord joins the struggle of crucified peoples of history: whether that be the enslaved Africans on American shores, a fetus conceived within the womb of a single mother or a person sentenced on death row.  The power of the Cross destroys all false idols, and its that power, the omnipotence displayed of God suffering with us that should keep Christians from making the fetus a “fetish.”

What I am not trying to say is that pro-life progressives have to vote Democrat. I would love for more Republicans to take a stand against the death penalty or support raising the minimum wage to a living wage, for example. We must come to see that politics is more than who we vote for in the voting booth. If there is to be a triumph of the Culture of Life over the Culture of Death (with its White Supremacy, infanticide, rape culture, and economic inequality), politics must be viewed as having to do with all of life. Pro-life progressives/Democrats should stop behaving/voting like Republicans in order to gain acceptance, and we who hold on to the Consistent Ethic of Life should stop acting like we are “above” partisan politics and activism. It’s well past time for Pro-Life Progressives to make a clear case for their causes across POLITICAL party LINES and REGIONAL differences..*

If you enjoyed this post, you may also like:

Pro-Life and Black

Pro-Life and Black, Part 2: Bonhoeffer, Slavery, Abortion, and Black Bodies

Black and Pro-Life 3: Resisting the Death Penalty in Mississippi

*I hope to address cultural/racial and religious differences, & ecumenism when it comes the Consistent Ethic of Life in the near future

Prolife And Black 2: Bonhoeffer, Slavery, Abortion, and Black Bodies

Memorial plaque, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Zionskir...

Image via Wikipedia

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 CoatesYOU 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.*

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