The Consistent Life Ethic: My Christian Perspective
by Father Jim Hewes
Editor’s Note: There are of course a wide variety of Christian perspectives, and we have a different one coming up for next week’s post. We also welcome perspectives from a variety of religions, as listed at the bottom, and invite people to share theirs with us.
I understand the Consistent Life Network as a whole prides itself on religious diversity, including atheists. In that spirit, I share this piece from my journey of faith. I know I’m in good company: Francis of Assisi, Franz Jagerstatter, Ben Salmon, Martin Luther King Jr., Dan Berrigan, Mother Teresa, and even Mohandas Gandhi, who was influenced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
During the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, one of my classmates in the seminary asked me: “Being a follower of the Lord, how do you find the justification for killing in Jesus’ life and his teaching?” This question troubled me. So I began to search the scriptures and was confronted by what I read.
I found these scripture passages quite challenging to my previous views. I began to think. “if you kill someone, how is it loving them or doing good to them, since you’re ending any chance they may have forever finding conversion and forgiveness?” If Jesus never harmed anyone (nor did his followers for the first three centuries of Christianity), how could I kill as one of His followers? Because life is God’s alone, each one made in the image and likeness of God. (Genesis 1:26-27)
Jesus was steeped in the Jewish tradition; so in the Hebrew scriptures the prophets are constantly calling on the people of God to care for the widow, the orphan, and the alien. The prophets’ voice doesn’t prioritize the farmer, the small-business merchant, nor even a single parent or elderly couple, although each of them is still made in God’s image and likeness and are infinitely precious to God. Rather, it’s the widow. who was vulnerable because she didn’t have a husband to protect her and provide for her in such a precarious time (since there was no safety net then). At the present time, pre-born children don’t have men to protect them and provide for them; since the Roe v. Wade ruling, men have been totally eliminated from the abortion decision. Aliens are that way because they’re not in their own terrain, but in a foreign place. Today pre-born children are not on their own “land” either, but in someone else’s territory, the most dangerous place on the planet, the mother’s womb. Orphans (mentioned over 35 times in the scriptures) are children who don’t have their mothers and fathers. Currently, pre-born children scheduled for an abortion have no mothers and fathers. They have been abandoned by them.
So, the widow, the alien and the orphan, because of their vulnerability, were continually given a special priority of care by God, through the prophets’ voice. This didn’t mean other sons and daughters of God weren’t loved deeply by God. God didn’t lessen the value of the lives of other human beings; God just made sure those who were the most unprotected and the most neglected were given extra special consideration and focus, so they weren’t ever overlooked by the faith community. Today no one is more at risk than pre-born children, so they deserve to have focus of paramount importance of concern. At the same time, they must be given care for their lives after being born.
More importantly, the Christian scriptures proclaim that Jesus is the “Way, the Truth and the Life.” Jesus is a clear way to navigate any dilemma we face. Jesus responded to the Pharisees when they tested him by asking, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to them, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Matthew 2:34-40) Jesus reiterates this linked order when he states: “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”(Matthew 10:37)
In other words, there is no doubt Jesus puts the love of God first, even over one’s closest loved ones, one’s family (in my words a “preeminent priority”). But the love of neighbor is always linked to love of God and also a priority, which can’t be separated from the first commandment. John puts in this way: “We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.” (I John 4:19-21)
Jesus is not making the second commandment in competition with the first commandment, nor teaching that the second commandment takes a back-seat to the first. This is why God became human, to show God’s love for each and every one of us, especially the sinner, one’s enemy and the most vulnerable.
That’s why Jesus states the second commandment is like the first (but still is second). It also follows because of the linked connection: if abortion is truly a preeminent priority for a follower of Christ, one won’t really be credible if one doesn’t work against the other threats to those same lives outside the womb.
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…… For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matthew 9:12-13). Jesus seems to be prioritizing one group of people, but that didn’t mean that the healthy and the righteous weren’t loved, nor were they disvalued by Jesus. Jesus came to redeem everyone for all time, willing to leave the 99 to find the one lost sheep.
In another place Jesus (who made the journey from conception to birth) states: “Anyone who welcomes one child like this for my sake is welcoming me. But if anyone abuses one of these little ones who believes in me, it would be better for him to have a heavy boulder tied around his neck and be hurled into the deepest sea than to face the punishment he deserves (Matthew 18:5-6, emphasis added). Jesus doesn’t say this about older teens or adults or the elderly, (who are also of infinite worth) but about those most defenseless. Today, those are pre-born children, who aren’t welcomed to live in the world for even one second.
Jesus words of the last judgement:
Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me. Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25:41-45, emphasis added)
This teaching of Jesus states clearly there’s a difference or hierarchy in lives in those who are least and other human lives (some refer to this as a “Preferential Option for the Poor”).
I’ve been trying to make the case that pre-born children, although so precious to God (Psalm 139:13-14) for many years have been treated as the least ones because of their vulnerability, powerlessness, invisibility, lack of any voice, foundation for all other rights, heart of the family, enormous numbers killed. They’re also the poorest: no food, no drink, no welcome, no clothing, etc. ever given to them. They never see the light of day, not even for a brief moment.
It’s an undeniable fact that each day in our world 125,000 powerless pre-born children are killed, year after year This figure indicates protecting pre-born children from abortion is obviously not in any way or almost any place actually lived as a preeminent priority.
God’s ultimate revelation of all of this was the Word made flesh, Jesus becoming human. This is the infinite affirmation of each person’s worth (John 1:1-4). The very Word of God made that journey from conception to a zygote, to an embryo, to a fetus, to a neonate; each of these natural human transitions of life was an affirmation of the dignity every stage of our human journey, both before and after birth, because each human being’s origin and destiny is God (Jeremiah 1:5).
This fact alone makes us priceless, of infinite worth. In Jesus, God has given an absolute yes to the dignity and value of all human life. (John 10:10), from the beginning until the end (Romans 14: 7-8), because of our relationship to our creator, who gives each of us our very life (Matthew 10:30-31).
So it is my faith, through prayer and discernment, that draws me to the Consistent Ethic of Life. Jesus is the fullest and clearest revelation of not only who God is, but who we are meant to be, especially as voices for the helpless, voiceless, invisible pre-born children. It also means that after 52 years of working in this area, I’m still convinced that Jesus shows us the Way of non-violent love, where the most vulnerable are recognized as needing special attention, and at the same time, no one is ever excluded.
For more posts from Jim Hewes, see:
For more posts on a variety of religious perspectives, see: