This is the third article in a series called Jesus Politics. Read my first article: here and the second, in regards to immigration: here.
This series is about opening up a space to discuss the role that Christians can play in politics, particularly as Aotearoa, New Zealand (my home nation) heads towards an election in a few months time.
While our first allegiance is to the Kingdom, and never to a political party, we have an exciting mandate as followers of Christ to use our freedom of democracy as a tool to serve the 'least of these' among us. We cast our votes, in the hope of seeing people set free from poverty, oppression and inequality.
The pro-life/pro-choice debate remains an important issue for many Christians as they consider how to cast their vote – and rightly so. If there is anything that God cherishes most, it is life. Life in all its forms is so very, very precious. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus talks about life a lot. He also talks at length about the things which destroy life and take away the dignity of people.
Rather than focusing on the pro-life debate itself, I hope to bring a new perspective on what it means to be pro-life. For many of us approaching the voting booth in September, where we place our tick will be largely dependent on how much value the political parties place on life. Life is sacred, life is precious, life is holy. How do the political parties protect that which is sacred? How do they care for that which is precious? How do they respect that which is holy?
A false dichotomy
To begin with, the constructed labels of pro-life and pro-choice have set up a false dichotomy, one of extreme polarization which makes it impossible for us to come together and find common ground. The idea of placing two worthy causes – the protection of women and the protection of children – against each-other is flawed in and of itself.
Many Christians on both sides of the debate often share two things in common; the desire for fewer abortions, and the dignity of both women and children.
Furthermore, pro-choicers and pro-lifers alike understand the importance of access to birth control, particularly for those who are economically disadvantaged – a significant driving factor among those who make the difficult decision to discontinue with their pregnancy.
I think it’s important that we talk about these commonalities. For too long we have shouted past each-other and missed out on the kind of Kingdom conversation and contemplation that could lead to the outcomes both sides so passionately want. As I have reflected deeply on this issue, and searched God’s heart for the precious life that She created, I have come to find myself as being completely pro-life, and completely pro-choice.
Pro-life from the womb to the tomb
Anyone who is familiar with Shane Claiborne would have come across his somewhat radical ideas of what it truly means to be pro-life. I say “somewhat” radical because although it is a new way of thinking for many Christians, it is really just echoing the teachings and life of Jesus. But that is what Shane is so good at doing: re-aligning our hearts with the heart of our loving God, the heart that is for all people and all life. I am often drawn back to this simple reflection of Shane’s:
“As Red Letter Christians, we need to be pro-life from the womb to the tomb. Abortion and euthanasia, the death penalty and war, poverty and health care—all of these are issues of life and death. And they are issues Jesus cares about because they affect real people.”
Watch Shane Claiborne explain his heart on the "pro-life" matter (1:19 minutes)
This isn’t an argument or moral assertion for or against the current pro-life perspective but rather to say that if we are going to be pro-life, we need to be consistently for life in all of its forms and stages. This also means that we are passionately against anything which disrupts life, or takes away the dignity of life.
Passionately supporting people
Of course it is fair to argue that we cannot be activists for all of the life-giving causes that exist in this love-starved world. We are all called to use our experiences, gifts and passions in the many different ways that ultimately points to the ferocious love of God. We all desire to be Peacemakers, and Kingdom-makers, bringing freedom and healing to Her beloved sons and daughters. It is not wrong that some of us will invest our time into advocating for unborn children, while some of us will spend our time supporting women who are subject to sexual abuse and violence. Again, others will focus their energies on those who are escaping brutal war and conflict.
What is important is that if we claim to be pro-life, we are completely and utterly pro-life. Understanding that God yearns for the fullness of all that She created, radically transforms the way we seek to protect life. If we passionately speak up for the rights of an unborn child in our friend’s belly, we are passionately banging on the door of the welfare office until she gets the financial support she needs to raise her child as a single mum. We are passionately surrounding her and her child with the love and hospitality they need to not only live, but have life in all its fullness.
Life is precious, sacred and holy
When we come to think about the kind of value our political parties and leaders places on life, we must consider all of those things which can add, or take away, from the sacredness of life. Being pro-life is far more than being against abortion. It is being an advocate for access to healthcare, adequate housing, and a fairer distribution of resources. It is being against poverty, sexual abuse, and institutional racism. A pro-life movement calls us towards care and hospitality of the alien, the orphan and the widow. We are called to welcome in the ones who flee from terror and war, to show them that their life is precious, sacred and holy.
We have the privilege of seeking out a leadership committed to advocating for life holistically. A leadership that will be brave enough and bold enough to stand in the way of anything that harms, or diminishes the dignity and fullness of God-breathed human life.
Bex Rillstone lives in Mangere, New Zealand with her husband Sam. Bex has a Masters in International Development and is now undergoing further training to become a Social Worker. She works as a family worker assisting those facing homelessness. Bex is also passionate about building relationships with former refugees in her community, and advocating for justice through her writing.
See all previous articles by Bex Rillstone