The 2012 election debates are complete and we’re now officially less than two weeks away from voting day. For the most part, we heard the candidates this year speak about pretty familiar issues. While the specifics often change from election year to election year, the same basic issues seem to remain, and probably always will – economy, taxes, military, budget considerations, foreign policy, and basic human rights issues – the types of issues addressed in our nation’s Constitution. This year was really no different. Right now we still have very high unemployment issues stemming from the recent “Great Recession.” That is perhaps the issue most on the forefront of Americans’ minds this election year. But for the most part, the issues are still pretty much the same.
But the issues are not equal. When you hear the presidential candidates moving from question to question during the debates, it’s easy to think the issues are equally vital. But they’re not.
For a Christian, recognizing a priority in political issues is not completely unlike recognizing priority in biblical interpretation. For a student of the Bible, having a healthy and accurate view of doctrine isn’t just about recognizing the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible. It’s also about emphasizing what the Bible emphasizes. So, as a pastor, while I do believe the Bible is clear regarding what it teaches about eschatology (i.e. End Times), I’m not as concerned that someone I’m instructing has a definite understanding of that as I am that they recognize the basics of sin, grace, and faith. I’m not as concerned that they understand the role of Achan in the Bible (Josh. 7) as much as that they recognize the role of Jesus. I’m not quite as concerned that they understand all the ceremonial washing regulations of the Old Testament as I am that they recognize the importance of loving and serving others. Understand? In every discipline, profession, belief system, or political election, it’s not just about a smattering of points, but it’s equally important which points you emphasize.
Okay, so for a Christian, which issue(s) would naturally seem to rise to the top? Well, let’s start by acknowledging that many political issues are fairly “gray areas.” Policies on trade regulation, taxation, social works programs, global warming, and energy are important and they affect a lot of people. I don’t mean to minimize them. Nonetheless, you can be a Christian and hold very different stances on such issues without much problem. In fact, in such cases, one of the only ways that you could cross a biblical line is to assert something that the Bible itself does not assert.
For a Christian, these issues therefore must be fundamentally different from issues that are directly addressed in the Bible. Specifically, here, I’m talking about abortion.
As pro-life authors James Robison and Jay W. Richards put it in their 2011 book, Indivisible:
It (i.e. abortion) deals with the first right, on which all other rights are based. It involves an act evil in itself – intentionally killing innocent human beings. So abortion policy should be far more central to our voting than virtually any other issue. If one candidate is pro-life and another is pro-choice in an election, most other issues ought to pale in comparison. You can’t decide how to vote with integrity simply by making a checklist of issues and then picking the candidate who gets the most checks. (Indivisible, 100)
That might sound too black and white to you. You might prefer something that comes off more “balanced.” But the question really isn’t whether or not the statement pleases you or offends you. Every statement that takes a firm stance is going to offend someone. The question is whether or not the statement is accurate.
The Bible’s recognition that human life begins at conception is so obvious that I’m not going to get into it too deep. I’ll just provide a couple of passages that say it clearly: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5) and “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13) and “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (Jeremiah 1:5). You really have to twist those statements to suggest they don’t indicate human life prior to birth. Additionally, we have the benefit of historical documentation to see how Christians have always looked at abortion. The Didache, arguably the most important extra-biblical Christian text for understanding the early church (ca. 110 AD), clearly says, “You shall not murder a child by abortion or commit infanticide.” (Didache 2:2) While abortion and infanticide and abandonment in the roads was highly common in the Roman Empire, the Christians living in that culture refused to have that low of a view of human life because they understood how high a view God himself has of human life.
Many Christians have sort of side-stepped the abortion issue as just “another issue” or “an issue that doesn’t apply to me.” As I’ve suggested, I don’t think the “another issue” argument works here, and you also have to think long and hard about the “doesn’t apply to me” issue. Some may say it doesn’t apply to them because they are 1) not of childbearing age anymore, or 2) would never choose to have an abortion themselves. But you have to think about how comfortable you are living in a country that is willing to end innocent lives that cannot defend themselves. Furthermore, one of the big issues in this election and every election in the foreseeable future is that of the impending Social Security bust. While just about everyone recognizes that some reform is necessary, think about the fact that since 1973 (the year of Roe vs. Wade) there has been more than 53 million abortions in our country, or around 20% of our current population. To put it in more crass and selfish terms, we wouldn’t be in quite the same bind with Social Security in a few years if we had 53 million more taxpayers. Historically, the further a country moves from God’s design for humanity, the more it makes life difficult for itself. Morally and practically, abortion affects EVERYONE. And finally, another consideration that you have to weigh is “which candidate could potentially seek to empower government to take Christian freedoms out of my hands,” which could easily affect right to life matters.
Let me illustrate by way of biblical anecdotes.
When King Herod heard from the Magi that they were searching for a new ruler in Jerusalem, he ordered that all baby boys in the vicinity 2 years old and younger were to be killed (Matt. 2). An angel of the Lord warned Joseph to go to Egypt so that the child (our Savior) would not be killed. Before that, when the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, they’d become so numerous that, fearing riot, the pharaoh of Egypt ordered that the baby boys be killed (Exodus 1). However, some Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who respected God’s high view of human life, refused to carry out the orders. When true believers are threatened with the possibility of state mandated child murders, they have a biblical and historical track record of refusing to acquiesce. And if you think that’s old, primitive, and too farfetched for our country today, consider how if you lived in a different central government dominated state, like China, in the past 50 years, in an urban location, and you or your spouse became pregnant, you could have found yourself in virtually the identical contemporary position – government forced abortion.
As followers of Jesus Christ, the one who created, protected, provided for, redeemed, and ultimately saved human life, central to our thoughts should be how we too can participate in acts that seek to create, protect, provide for, redeem, and save human life. This is NOT just “another issue.”