How Should Holiness Shape Our Public Posture? Abortion Shows Us — An Excerpt from "The Political Disciple"
Vincent Bacote asks this important question in his new book The Political Disciple, (available 5/5/15) a primer on the intersection of the Christian faith and public life.
In the following excerpt, Bacote explores the development of the political “other,” the tendency “to conflate individual people with the political issues dear to them” and turn them into enemies.
He uses the politics of abortion to illustrate his larger thesis:
If our public advocacy is conveyed in a manner that can present neighbor-love with the same strength as the pro-life position, our sanctification would come across in a way that would confound many.
Read this excerpt to be reminded that “the call to holiness ought to profoundly shape and inform our private and public posture.” Buy his book to learn more.
Our pursuit of holiness should not be limited to our internal transformation but should extend to all our public actions. A word I haven’t used till now, but which must be a part of this discussion, is enemy. Whether or not we identify any other humans (or nations) as enemies, Christians are called to exhibit love for those who in some way fit the “enemy” category (Matthew 5:44, Romans 12:17 – 21). The public discourse around political issues often has an intensity that makes it easy for “them” (anyone with an opposing view of certain important issues) to become the enemy.
If we are honest, we know how easy it can be to conflate individual people with the political issues dear to them, and when those issues are ones of great tension, then that person can be seen as an enemy. It may have never been anyone’s intention, but those who become political “others” because of their issues (and sometimes because of their rhetoric and behavior) morph into objects to be opposed at any cost because the stakes are high. Yet even when the stakes are high, the path of sanctification challenges us to see political opponents as neighbors, as those we must love and regard as fellow human beings.
What does it look like for people to become enemies, and what might be a model of a holy public posture? The issue of abortion is one example. This has been a longstanding political battleground (since the mid-1970s) on which some Christians have expended considerable energy and where the rhetoric and political action on both sides has sometimes gone to extremes. The issue has been framed in terms of rights, which, as Michelle Kirtley observes, has brought with it some unintended consequences directly related to the question of our public posture.
The abortion debate has been one of the most polarizing debates in our culture in recent years, in part because many view the issue of abortion through the lens of individual rights. Indeed, a right to privacy was the basis for the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade. Yet this perspective of rights-based autonomy has been destructive for both supporters and opponents of abortion. Supporters claim a “right” for individual women to choose and control what happens to their own bodies, and opponents of abortion claim a “right” to life for the unborn. As a result, the rights of the unborn are pitted against the rights of women, creating a win-lose paradigm with enormous emotional stakes for all involved. Because of this paradigm, many Christians have essentially taken sides, choosing to focus on protecting the unborn, neglecting to promote women’s dignity. As a consequence, the pro-life movement and the Church by association have been quite effectively labeled as anti-woman, despite some concerted efforts to challenge this stereotype. Another troubling consequence of the rights-based paradigm is that cultural and political efforts to oppose abortion have been separated from efforts to promote women’s dignity and address the many injustices women face — some of which lead women to face the awful, unwanted decision of whether or not to have an abortion.
Though I doubt that the great majority of pro-life supporters are against women, it is interesting to consider the fact that many pro-choice supporters interpret the rhetoric and actions of the pro-life side as an assault on women. It may seem nonsensical to believe that the issue is about “men desiring to control women’s bodies,” but perhaps this is the result of rhetoric that is so focused on the unborn child that it renders the pregnant woman incidental. This may seem ridiculous, but how much evangelical discourse about abortion is focused on the woman expecting the child, apart from the consequences of choosing an abortion?
What would it mean for Christians who oppose abortion to be known as much for expressing concern about the mother as for the child? If rhetoric and practice were also reflective of our continued growth into full human beings, it would be more difficult for those in favor of a different policy to regard pro-life Christians as those who are inhumane because they are anti-woman. Try this thought experiment: What would it be like if the first thought of a woman with an unplanned pregnancy was, “I know who I can call — I can call the church, because they are committed to my well-being even if I have disagreements with them.” If our public advocacy is conveyed in a manner that can present neighbor-love with the same strength as the pro-life position, our sanctification would come across in a way that would confound many. Abortion is only one example; whether areas of focus are immigration, environmental concerns, strategies for addressing poverty, or many other important issues, the call to holiness ought to profoundly shape and inform our private and public posture.
“But what about speaking the truth in a culture that is against Christ?” Surely this is the position of some conservative and progressive evangelicals who emphasize the prophetic dimension of public discourse. After all, if we are speaking the truth and find ourselves labeled as “haters,” “zealots,” or “those justice radicals,” is this not merely akin to a contemporary experience of persecution or an emotional martyrdom? This is an important question, especially when it comes to the posture that seems to attend public discourse that emerges from a strong sense of justice or as a reaction to forms of injustice.
Sanctification is not antithetical to the passionate expression of truth or even expressions of anger, but we should be hesitant to immediately associate our strong rhetorical expressions with the most pristine form of divine discourse. My point is not that we should never speak with strong passion but that we cannot forget the command to love our enemies even when we “stand for truth.” Our commitment to the truth, and even our outrage at injustice and evil, are not sufficient to excuse us from remembering that even our greatest enemy should be accorded respect. To put it another way, we cannot wear the offense of others as a badge of honor because we represent truth while they do not. And perhaps we should also consider whether any pursuit of persecution or “martyrdom” in the name of truth is really more about puffing ourselves up rather than worshiping the triune God. “Holy indignation” can be one way our sanctification is expressed, but it will be discourse that identifies the truth while remaining committed to love of all neighbors. (pg. 65–70)
The Political Disciple
By Vincent Bacote
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