Tag Archives: Joseph Cardinal Bernardin

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

What It Means to Be Pro-Life & Black

Abortion, Slavery, Race, & Economics on the 38th anniversary of Roe V. Wade


As a Baptist, my senior year in undergrad, I decided to take a course on Vatican II Catholicism.  It was there that I learned and read the works of one of my favorite Christian thinkers, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.  Before reading Bernardin, I was already a professed pacifist [a founding (ssshhhhhh) member of TCU Peace action], a pro-life [or if you prefer, anti-abortion] Democrat, and anti-death penalty. However, I thought I was alone in my quest to find a non-violent politics. However, I had never mad a connection between Christian theology and a distinct Christian political practice.  But in my encounters with Bernandin’s idea, especially his notion of the Seamless Garment of Jesus, taken from a reading of John 19:23.  All of life is sacred because the Creator God became the Crucified God to expose the death dealing forces of this world.

I know the typical criticism of pro-life Conservative Christian groups is that their vision is far too narrow, focusing on the rights of the fetus rather than a wholistic approach, which would include justice for impoverished and isolated women who feel that they have nowhere else to go. And for the most part, the criticism remains valid and in tact. But by the measure, those who are calling for this wholistic approach remain silent on the rights of the fetus.

On the  one hand, I remain skeptical of claims that come from the Natural Rights tradition.  What is the beginning of our rights? And what is the end (what are the limits to what society “owes” us as human beings?).  At the bare minimum, every person has the natural right to life, because God, the source of all life is the one in whom we live and have our being. For me, as well as those who affirm the Seamless Garment logic, God as Creator of all life places a limit both on what individuals and the government can do.  No human being has the right to take the life of another, not even the government.  For those about ready to invoke that reading of Romans 13, please do read Romans 12-13 together, and that the principle that Paul suggest that we embrace Jesus’ enemy-love, Romans 12:14-21.


I now would like to turn to the role of the government in its role to preserve human life.  Does this the function of political institutions necessarily mean excessive intervention? I would argue no.  In the case of foreign policy, cases continue to be made by both Democratic and Republican Presidents that it is the federal government’s responsibility to send troops around the world to ensure democracy everywhere.  But logically, this is a nearly impossible feat. It is neo-colonial rhetoric, repeating the naive internationalism of Woodrow Wilson. If this were the case, the US would have troops in North Korea, Pakistan, Sudan, Cuba, Tunisia, and anywhere else where the people do not have a representative government.  So, essentially, the government has to be very selective about which nations it wants to introduce democracy to.  This subjectivity in the government’s choice to decide between which lives to take extends to the resumption of capital punishment here in the United States.  The death penalty is wrong on two grounds: first, the government should not take the place of God in deciding which person dies and which one does not (not every murderer receives the death penalty).  In other words, contrary to the belief that every person being is invaluable in the eyes of God, the government selectively chooses which lives are most valuable.  Second, capital punishment is quite known to be distributed unequally between the poor and racial minorities, much like those who choose to have abortions.  That was the controversy this week when former US Senator Rick Santorum made about President Obama, race, and abortion. Like many socially conservative Christians, Santorum compared the pro-life movement to the abolition movement in the U.S. in the 18th & 19th century.  I would say that the comparison is partially true, not in the way the Right would think.  The anti-abortion/pro-life activist movement forgets to mention that both slavery and the practice of abortion have always been with humankind.  The ancient Spartans would through new-borns of the cliff if they were deemed unfit for their world, and some ancient Near Eastern cultures punished women who committed adultery by causing them to have miscarriages through the imbibing of a potion (check Numbers 5:11-31).  It amounts to a drug-induced abortion under the law, approved by God.


We could just end there with the law,  human governments permitting the economic environment that make abortion a viable option along with juries replacing the Divine,  being allowed to decide who lives and who dies.   The law also being the death penalties placed in the Hebrew Bible, all of that includes the wars, the stonings, the magical poisoning of a fetus who happens to live inside a woman who commits adultery (yet the man gets off scot free).  But thankfully, the God of the Living does not stop there.  Like Joseph Cardinal Bernardin, I believe that a consistent ethic of life has its foundation not in the teaching of tradition, but in the event of the Cross.  God linked Godself to suffering humanity forever in the person of Christ.  Whether the Catholic Church knows it or not, when it teaches that life begins at conception, and that person has inalienable rights given by God, it is teaching what liberation theologians call the preferential option for the poor. Children are the most vulnerable in our society, the least of these.  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.” At the cross, Christ ends the curses of the law (Galatians 3:13) and provides us with new life, for violence and  blood sacrifices are shown to be no longer necessary.

So when I hear the Santorum’s of the world questioning why aren’t more black persons as ardently pro-life as the Religious Right, I would advise him to stop talking.  Because many of them are more pro-life, sir, than he is.  It is a pro-life position to believe that no human being is more valuable than another. With the Right’s perpetual march toward militarism and empire, as well as its uncritical defense of capital punishment, they really should not consider themselves the moral authorities on the ethic of life.  So, to the extent that  pro-lifers  continue to remain silent on human life when it comes to the casualties of  war, the devastation of poverty as well as the injustice of the electric chair, they fail to claim the moral voices that the U.S. American abolitionists once were.

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