On a Consistent Ethic of Valuing Life

One friend described me saying, “Leslie’s a pacifist, but she’s a fighter.”  I kind of like that description!  When people hear the term pacifist, they often think of passivity, but the reality is that I am far from passive, and my journey into pacifism is a result of this.

As a Christian, I believe it is wrong to take the life of another human being.  I am a pacifist.

All throughout my upbringing, I was taught that abortion was murder, and therefore, wrong.  I believed it, and to the dismay of some of my liberal friends, I still do.  I don’t believe abortion justly falls under the umbrella of women’s rights.  I believe the fetus is an incredibly vulnerable human life that deserves protection, just like it does out of the uterus.

But here’s where I moved from traditional “pro-life” (aka – anti-abortion) to a consistent ethic of valuing human life.  In Sunday School one day, I raised the subject of just war and abortion.  I don’t remember how I framed the question, as it was decades ago now, but I was never satisfied with anyone’s answer.  If we as Christians believe that abortion is the unjust killing of a vulnerable human life, wouldn’t the rates of abortions justify the bombing of abortion clinics?  No one said yes, and yet they all believed in just war theory…arguably any war theory.  In my experience in American White Evangelicalism, cultural rules and boundaries are equal influencers in life decisions as Scripture, though no one would frame it this way.  Basically, it was culturally obvious that bombing an abortion was a ludicrous thing to do, but culturally obvious that nationally sanctioned bombings of other nations was respectable.

Basically, in my teen years, I came to the conclusion that, to be consistent, I either had to be a pacifist or join the ranks of defending abortion bombers as equally justified alongside World War II bombers.  The pragmatist in me decided that being a pacifist was the safer bet, and as I’ve grown and matured, I absolutely embrace the ideals of true pacifism.  I believe that genocide is wrong.  I believe that abortion is wrong.  I believe that euthanasia is wrong.  I believe that the death penalty is morally wrong, never mind horrendously archaic and carelessly sentenced.  I have told my family in writing that, if I am ever murdered, I do not want my murderer put to death.  I believe that war is wrong, and I do not think that Christians should serve in the military.  I do not keep weapons in my house, but my dogs will do a number on you, so don’t get any ideas!

I chose to write a blog entry on this topic because someone put the following comment in response to my support of a Christian Democrat running for presidential office:  “Anyone who supports abortion is not demonstrating the Christian faith. I do not respect this man.”  Ouch!  Comments like this are spiritual abuse and manipulation, and I will not vote for a man with the complete disregard for human dignity and human life shown by our current president.  I will not succumb.  I have good friends who have had abortions, and many times, it happens due to male manipulation and pressure.  Based on our current president’s sexual lifestyle, I would be very surprised if he hasn’t paid for abortions.  I don’t care what supreme court judge he nominates, to call our current president pro-life is a disgrace.  I wouldn’t even call him anti-abortion.

You see, there is not a single presidential candidate that demonstrates a consistent ethic of valuing human life to the extreme that I believe it should be valued.  A president’s job includes authorizing the killing of human life.  It just does.  (One of many reasons why I would never run for president…my religious views would prohibit me from doing the job.)  I believe that it is important to vote.  I believe democracy is important.  While our system is very flawed, and we have a long way to go in improving equal access and representation in our voting system, I still believe it is important to participate in the process and exercise our right to vote.

I am not a Republican, and I am not a Democrat.  I believe both parties have strengths in various areas, and I believe that various voices are needed at the table to make the decisions that are best for our nation.  I sift through the candidates, and I consider who has the most consistent value for all human life, in speech, in deed, and in policy.

A few other thoughts on abortion specifically:

The number of abortions in the US has consistently been going down every year.  There are much more effective ways to reduce abortion rates than voting for Republican presidents who, to date, have not proven effective at changing abortion law.  Services to women and children have been proven more effective in reducing abortion rates, and as a general rule, Democrats tend to pass budgets and policies that support more of those services.  Even if a Republican president did indirectly change abortion law through the appointment of very conservative supreme court justices (unlikely), it would simply return the power to each state.  Very few states would actually criminalize abortion, and for those that did, the result would simply be that women travel to neighboring states for procedures.  The best protection this would provide for unborn children is cutting back on impulsive abortions of convenience, which, admittedly, is something, but not much.

We need to be careful how we talk about abortion.  When people talk about abortion politically, they are often horribly under-informed on the vast array of procedures that initiate doctors to click the abortion box on paperwork.  I have friends who have had pregnancies terminate of natural causes that were still marked abortions.  I have had friends who have made the hard decision to terminate a pregnancy because choosing to let the pregnancy take its natural course would have ended the lives of both the mother and the developing fetus.  I have also had friends and family choose life who were advised to otherwise, and sometimes it turns out beautifully (for instance, my husband is alive and affirming value in the lives around him) and other times it turns out incredibly painfully (saying goodbye to a child within minutes or months or years).  If you choose to vote based on this one issue, please be incredibly careful with your words.  As Scripture says, “The tongue can bring death or life.”

A Non-White, Asylum-Seeking Jesus

I wrote two blog entries on the experience of visiting the migrant caravan, the other of which can be accessed by clicking here.  This piece is more of a spiritual reflection; the other is an informative call to action.

After a long journey, I met with a group of concerned citizens (primarily people of faith, led my Matthew 25 of Southern California) to cross the border to experience the conditions faced by the migrant caravan and received a t-shirt that said, “Jesus was an immigrant.”  I was told I would come face to face with trauma in Tijuana’s migrant shelter, but I suspected I would be well-acquainted with the pain and harsh conditions and be able to process everything without too much shock.  You see, secondhand trauma is a real and routine part of my life. I’ve learned to cope with it, on most days. I’ve learned to do all I can to alleviate the suffering of those around me and then check out and turn the situation over to God. I do this to keep my own savior complex in check and for the health and well-being of my family and I.

I really didn’t feel shocked by too much of what I experienced amongst the community of migrants this week.  I was told to expect chaos, but what I experienced was anything but chaos.  The migrant community was well-organized, and, well, a community. There was an atmosphere of mutual trust in the camp, without a lot of tensions that I could feel. There was an indoor shelter for women and families with children, but it was still just a huge room filled with tents (for those fortunate enough to get one). The rest just had foam mats as their personal space on which to sleep with their belongings. As a woman, I can’t imagine actually sleeping enough to stay healthy. I’d feel like anyone could take advantage of me at anytime. I’d feel the need to stay half awake and on the alert at all times to protect myself and my children. I’d only sleep when my body could no longer keep going, and even then, only for a few hours at a time. As someone who needs plenty of alone time, I’d also lose significant psychological stamina. I found myself praying for the introverts in the room.  As a matter of fact, one of the most disturbing pieces to me was the vulnerability of everyone in the camp, but especially the women and children. I played with a little, seven year-old girl for over an hour and never saw her parents. Such trust (or exhaustion) results in extreme vulnerability.

The pain and suffering of the people was intense because conditions were awful, and yet, thousands of people felt enough fear and desperation to choose the conditions of a refugee camp over their homes, their families, and the cultures in which they were most comfortable. Quarters are tight, and this results in the spread of infectious disease quickly.  And yet, in spite of all of this, people are banding together, organizing, and supporting each other as family.  I guess I’m just not understanding why we as a nation are scared of these people.  They are hurting, vulnerable people seeking safety.  That’s all.

As I reflect twenty-four hours later, I find myself especially emotional because of my long-standing, deep relationship with Jesus. I began this blog entry by saying that I am well-equipped to turn off the pain of others’ trauma for the sake of my own emotional survival, but that is not the case when someone who is extremely close to me faces something awful. Yesterday, I saw a pregnant woman in the camp and thought, “Dear God, conditions at home must be awful to take on this journey pregnant. Where will she have the baby? When? Does she know she will have medical care and a sanitary place to give birth?” Today, after truly reflecting on Jesus as immigrant, I see Mary, the mother of Jesus, in this pregnant woman, and I want to weep. Yesterday, I saw a little baby laying on a mat beside his mother and marveled that someone with a new baby was making this journey, taking such risk with a new life, and I knew that meant the risk of staying felt greater to the mother than the risk of leaving her homeland. Today, I see the baby as Jesus, on a mat, in a refugee shelter, his mother and father fleeing for his safety, and I don’t know if I can stomach my pretty manger decoration when I get home.   (Yes, there will be a manger scene in my house this year, but there will be conversations with my kids, and I will see Jesus in the migrant shelter in Tijuana.)  I feel the pain of the people fleeing for safety as His family’s pain, and it brings it all to life in a way that rattles me just a little bit more.  I learned more about God yesterday.  I learned the story of Jesus and immersed myself in the Christmas story without even realizing it until later.  The Holy Family fled political unrest and pursued safety in the more affluent Egypt (an economy, like the US, also built on the backs of slaves at one point in history). I, for one, am thankful that Egypt absorbed Jesus and his family into their economic and societal structures when they sought asylum.   I hope we will think of this when we consider those seeking safety in our own country.