A New Pro-Life Movement
by Shane Claiborne
Note: Shane Claiborne founded The Simple Way in Philadelphia and heads up Red Letter Christians (people who are committed to living “as if Jesus meant the things he said.”) His books include The Irresistible Revolution and Executing Grace: How the Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why it’s Killing Us.
We need a new pro-life movement in America.
Too often “pro-life” has come to mean anti-abortion, as if abortion was the only LIFE issue. Life does not begin at conception and end at birth, but if some pro-lifers were left in charge of things, the womb would be the safest place to be – and as soon as you were born you’d be in trouble. You’d want to stay in the womb as long as possible.
It’s not enough just to be born – we also need to support the babies, the kids, the youth. And that means making sure everyone has the things they need to thrive – education, food, health care, housing, and all such things.
Wouldn’t it be beautiful to have a pro-life movement that stood against abortion, but also stood just as passionately against the death penalty, gun violence, militarism and war, the degradation of creation, police brutality, and all other things that destroy life? That would truly be a pro-life movement. To be prolife is not only about protecting the unborn, but also about supporting folks after they are born.
One of the most important things we can talk about today is the need for a consistent ethic of life. I like to say that I am pro-life from the womb to the tomb.
Every human being is made in the image of God, and any time a life is lost we lose a little glimpse of God in the world.
This language of the consistent ethic of life, the seamless garment, has been a helpful ethical framework for many people over the centuries. The early Christians stood consistently against all killing – and spoke passionately against abortion, the death penalty, murder, and war. And today a consistent life ethic is resonating with a new generation of evangelicals, especially young folks.
We are tired of death. We also are tired of a two-party system that is very inconsistent when it comes to this ethic of life. Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have a consistent ethic of life. Many Republicans are against abortion. Many Democrats are against gun violence. But both parties promise to increase military spending. It creates a quagmire for those of us who are tired of death and for whom a value for LIFE is our ethical framework.
I also want to suggest that we need more than ideologies and hubris in this movement. We need action. I recently met a man after a speaking event who told me he has always been pro-life. But he said, “I began to realize I was pro-life but I wasn’t pro-active. I wasn’t really doing anything other than protesting.” He went on to share with me that he has now started a counseling service for young women and an open adoption agency to help find homes for new babies who need families.
That’s what I love about Mother Teresa. She didn’t just say she was pro-life – she showed us she was pro-life. She took in 14-year old moms, and picked up orphans abandoned in the train stations of Calcutta. I had the privilege of working with her in India.
While I was there, I learned that folks called her “Mother Teresa” because she was their mother. She had raised them.
I remember meeting a young man, about thirty years old, who said to me, “You know why we call her Mother Teresa, right?” I shook my head curiously. He went on, “Because she’s our mom.” He showed me things she had given him over the years, just as any mom would give her kids. That’s the sort of integrity that the pro-life movement needs today.
I want to be pro-life like Mother Teresa was pro-life – and that means taking in teenage mothers, and walking alongside families in poverty. It means creating support groups for people who have chosen to have abortions and are living with the pain of that decision. It means getting involved in the lives of folks facing execution and standing against all killing, both legal and illegal.
Mother Teresa didn’t just picket abortion clinics. She didn’t just have t-shirts and have an “Abortion is murder” bumper sticker. She had young people whom she had raised who called her “mother.” If we are truly pro-life we had better have some teen moms and foster kids living in our homes.
And Mother Teresa knew that abortion was not the only life issue. She was just as passionately against the death penalty and made some personal phone calls to governors in the U.S. to stop executions. She told them, “Do what Jesus would do.” She even wrote a letter to John Dear who was in a North Carolina jail for protesting war and asked him “to proclaim the love of Jesus even to the poor in prison.”
Mother Teresa consistently spoke out courageously for life. She’s a great model for us today, as we seek to be pro-life – and not just in word, but in deed.
So let us reimagine the pro-life movement today as a movement that stands consistently for life, and against death. And let us move beyond stale rhetoric and ideologies to action. What’s just as important as whether we are pro-life or pro-choice is how we are pro-active.
All of us who seek to be pro-life should continue to care about abortion – but we should just as passionately care about the death penalty, gun violence, the movement for black lives, the crisis of refugees and immigrants, the environment, healthcare, mass incarceration And all the other issues that are destroying the lives and squashing the dignity of children whom God created and loves so deeply.
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