Recently, this cartoon showed up in my Facebook feed:
This is a popular axiom, this idea that the 44% of Americans who identify as pro-life care little about life after birth. So, let me ask: is it true that pro-life supporters are heartless prudes who are concerned only with fetuses but not with the lives of children in poverty, struggling single mothers, and other vulnerable members of society?
In my experience, this is far from true.
Let’s begin with the assumption — invariably held by those who post this type of cartoon — that government action is the only way to care for human life. True commitment to human life will necessarily show itself in support for large scale government programs, the argument goes. Put another way, “‘caring for the born’ must translate first and always into advocacy for government programs and funds.”
Do you see the narrowness of this assumption? Is it not possible that there are those who deeply desire services for those in need but prefer that those services come through non-governmental means? Is there not more than one way to lift up the poor?
Can there not be people of goodwill and compassion who are simply skeptical of government’s ability to provide quality, consistent service due to its renowned, bureaucratic inefficiency? Government is a rather blunt instrument, after all.
And before we smugly condemn pro-life advocates’ commitment to lives outside the womb, let’s look a little closer at the facts. As I survey the non-profit landscape, I see many, many organizations run by religious conservatives that are caring for people in need, both before and after birth.
Massive amounts of money, man-hours, and energy are poured not only into crisis pregnancy centers but also into community development and humanitarian relief. In truth, religious conservatives do much of the heavy lifting inside organizations that serve the poor. Everywhere from soup kitchens to legal clinics, from after-school tutoring programs to adoption agencies, from medical clinics to battered women’s shelters, you will find Christian volunteers and dollars.
At the Manhattan Bible Church, a pro-life church in New York since 1973, Pastor Bill Devlin and his congregation run a soup kitchen that has served over a million people and a K-8 school that has educated 90,000 needy students. Pastor Devlin and other church families have adopted scores of babies, and taken in scores of pregnant women, including some who were both drug-addicted and HIV positive. The church runs a one-hundred-and-fifty-bed residential drug rehabilitation center and a prison ministry at Rikers Island. All told, the church runs some forty ministries, and all without a government dime.
You may be uncomfortable with the spiritual component of these ministries run by religious conservatives. That is fair. It is not fair, however, to pretend that pro-lifers are doing nothing to serve those already born.
When I look at just my own circle, the people doing the most for people in need are often my pro-life friends. One of my closest friends has two adopted children (in addition to several biological kids), one of whom has very significant special needs. She has also maintained a long relationship with her former foster daughter and the child’s struggling mother. Further, her door is always open to kids from her working class neighborhood who come with all manner of needs. She is “pro-life” in every conceivable way.
My friend is an everyday hero, and she is far from alone. I know many others who routinely sacrifice themselves to lift up “life” in crucial ways. In fact, I think if you conducted a research study on who in America is adopting and fostering children, you might find that it is disproportionately pro-life Christians.
And, finally, please do not assume that all pro-life citizens are also in favor of the death penalty and against gun control. I, for one, oppose the death penalty and would like to see very strict gun control. I am pro-life not because I am part of some unthinking mass, but because I abhor violence against children. And because I tremble for a society that kills its own young.
© Laura Goetsch and Thinking About Such Things, 2015.