The Evangelical Justice Movement and the Whole-Life Movement
In my first post on the contemporary evangelical justice movement (which I dub EJM), I explained that I am skeptical. Justice is important, sure. And lots of what EJM is fired up about are serious issues. But I doubt that much of EJM possess wisdom. I think its members have made logical, theological, and philosophical mistakes in the carelessness of passion. First I looked at some of these which involve the relationship between justice and the Gospel. Now, I move on to one of EJM’s most important big issues, namely the whole-life movement.
If you haven’t heard of the whole-life movement, it is ostensibly a corrected upgrade of the pro-life movement. The argument goes that the old pro-life movement is too narrow. It is really just “pro-birth.” If we want children born, but we don’t do what it takes to make sure they can go on to live healthy lives, we aren’t really pro-life at all. Some would say the hypocrisy is especially bad if we support the death penalty.
The fix, whole-life EJM proponents argue, is to support life in many other ways. We need strong social safety nets for families. Universal healthcare should be on the table. The lives of refugees and immigrants should be a major concern. If we don’t do these things, we’re not really about life. We’re just about making women give birth. In that case, we should pack up and go home.
You Can Say “No” without All the Answersthen figure out what to do with them. That’s how sane people respond in any other life-or-death scenario.
Pro-Life Libertarians and Tea Partiers Aren’t Insane
But this brings me to the second major failure in whole-life thought. I have shown that it’s okay to discuss abortion without answering what to do with the rest of the children’s lives. I also want to show that it is okay to want abortion ended even if you oppose all possible social programs. The common argument is that it is cold-hearted hypocrisy, just “pro-birth” instead of pro-life, to want children born without programs to feed, house, and care for them post-birth. This, I’ll admit, sounds plausible, but it’s still wrong.
The problem with this is that most of the people who oppose welfare and other such things still care about children. They only disagree with the whole-lifers about who should be meeting their needs. Many whole-life proponents assume that, if you don’t want the government to do something, you don’t really want to make sure it’s done. But this is wrong. Sometimes it’s the opposite of the truth. For many principled small-government types, it is because they care about meeting children’s needs that they don’t want the government involved. They don’t trust the government to do good effectively or wisely or honestly. So they’d rather see churches, families, and charities take care of people.
Whole-Lifers: Don’t Hate
Now, we can argue all day about whether they’re right about government. We can argue all day about whether single-payer healthcare or more private solutions will keep our rescued infants healthy. We can scream about whether their food should come from bureaucrats or neighbors. But we all share the same goal. This is what matters. Despite slander on both sides, we all want the following:
- Whole-lifers and welfare-skeptical pro-lifers both want infants to survive their time in the womb.
- Whole-lifers and welfare-skeptical pro-lifers both want children, once born, to have food and shelter.
- Whole-lifers and welfare-skeptical pro-lifers both want solid and affordable healthcare to keep children healthy.
The only real disagreement is over how to do these things. Now, I’ll admit the stakes are still high. We could cause or prevent a lot of suffering depending on how we answer these questions. But in priciple, the whole-life movement and the rest of the pro-life movement are still pro-life for the whole life. They only disagree about the best methods.
Of course, not every EJM participant is part of the whole-life movement, and not every whole-life advocate is part of EJM. But there is a lot of overlap, and (it seems to be) a lot of self-righteous indignation from whole-life EJMs about the backwards, hypocritical Christians who hate abortion and oppose welfare. This is very wrong. Everyone who agrees that God loves infants and doesn’t want them butchered in the womb should be on the same side. We might have some disagreements, but we should recognize the well-meaning of both sides.
As an aside before I wrap this post up, I want to also address the death penalty rhetoric of the whole-life movement. You’ll often hear them say that there is something hypocritical and inconsistent about opposing abortion but supporting the death penalty. To be blunt, this is stupid. What makes killing infants wrong is justice: they have committed no crime, therefore they do not deserve to be killed. What makes killing murderers right is also justice: they have committed a terrible crime, therefore they deserve to be killed. You might possibly disagree with this last statement, but if so, it is a disagreement about the principles of justice. But there is nothing inconsistent or hypocritical about holding this particular conception of justice. It might be right, or maybe not, but it is honest and consistent.
Next in this series I will look into another big EJM issue, namely immigration and the refugee crisis.