Thursday, February 15, 2018

Guns, Bombs, Children, Life

There are few collections of words that cause greater emotions than the phrase "pro-life." As the pastor of a church, I can assure you that many people considered abortion to be the single greatest influence on their voting in the 2016 election. This was true for many Christians in the 2012 and 2008 elections as well. Many people, especially Christians, consider the pro-life/pro-choice debate to be the foremost (or close to it) social issue on their minds.
But what does it really mean for someone to be pro-life? 
Genesis 1:26-27 reads,
Then God said, "let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."
So God created humankind in his image
in the image of God he created them;
Male and female he created them.
The creation account in Genesis 1 shows God creating light and dark, water from water, land and seas, vegetation, sun and moon, and animals. All of these creations were 'good,' according to this account. however, scripture tells us explicitly that humanity was created 'in the image of God.' If people are created in the image of God, and are children of God who are valued by God, then Christians should by nature see the image of God in all other people.

To be pro-life is to value and affirm the image of God in all people.

Often, when people talk about being pro-life, they mean that they are anti-abortion. However, there are many other questions about 'life' that Christians need to consider in the early 21st century. Are some lives more important than others? Can Christians demand the closing of abortion clinics and simultaneously support the bombing of another country that will certainly kill hundreds, thousands, or tens of thousands of innocent civilians? Should concession for abortion be made for women who became pregnant as a result of assault? Can Christians support the death penalty, even as an absolute last resort, and still consider themselves “pro-life?”
Even when talking about abortion, there are numerous concerns that Christians should consider besides simply "Should abortion be legal or not?" Making abortion illegal is not a "quick fix" that will be entirely effective. In spite of legal abortion in America, abortion rates in 2016 were in decline, and had been for some time. Access to contraception seems to be an effective way to reduce abortion rates, whereas poverty appears to be a major factor in the decision one makes to have an abortion. Perhaps if a person considers him or herself to be pro-life, he or she should focus efforts on contraception, poverty, and economic issues. A person on the poverty line without the ability to buy extra food, diapers, and clothes is going to have a harder time deciding to raise a child than a person who does not have these concerns. A person who cannot afford a large enough apartment to raise a child is going to have a harder time deciding to raise a child than a person who has a large apartment or a house.

Abortion is a pro-life issue. Poverty is also a pro-life issue. Christians should be concerned with both.

Pro-life, however, does not simply mean "anti-abortion." Bombing is also a pro-life issue.
A prominent pastor and a member of President Trump’s Evangelical advisory team said in August of 2017 that God has given Trump authority to “take out Kim Jong Un.”  This came on the heels of President Trump saying that if North Korea threatened the US, they should expect “fire and fury, the likes of which the world has never seen” (a terrifying statement to make in a world that has seen two nuclear weapons used in major metropolitan areas). It seems strange for a president who claims to be pro-life, and for Christian supporters of his who are staunchly pro-life, to support the annihilation of a country with 25 million civilians. If a person is pro-life, shouldn’t the lives of North Korean civilians matter, even if their leader says and does reprehensible things? For many Christians, the answer to that question lies in Romans, chapter 13.
Romans 13 appears to many to argue that Christians should submit to all ruling authorities. On its surface, that seems correct, as verses 1-2 say
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.
Case closed, right? All political leaders were put there by God, and must be obeyed. This kind of thinking has long been held by many Christians. A group of Protestants in the 30's and 40's in Germany believed that they were to submit themselves and show loyalty to Adolf Hitler. The problem with this kind of thinking, of course, is that often governing authorities act in ways that are objectively evil. I don't know of a single person who considers the choice to kill six million Jews during the Holocaust to be an act ordained by God. Often leaders act in ways that are antithetical to the ways of God.

In Romans 13, Paul argues that God institutes and gives authority to governments. In other words, God institutes the idea of government. However, there will be (and have been) leaders who use their authority to do evil. In these cases, Christians are to give their loyalty to God above human leaders. In Mark 12, Jesus is asked whether it's right for religious folks to pay taxes to Caesar. Jesus responds, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's." He effectively says that yes, followers of God should recognize the authority of governments. However, he points to God's authority as well.

What is God authority over? Everything.

Therefore, Jesus says that we can recognize the government's authority, but we must also recognize that God has greater authority than even government.

Taking Jesus' words into account, we should recognize that God's authority is greater than human authority. Romans 13, then, should not be used as a blanket statement that “all people in a nation should simply bow to the leader(s) of that nation because God put them there and wanted them there for a reason.” When an earthly authority acts against the authority of God, that authority is to be resisted.

If the president talks about nuking a country with 25 million civilians, it is acceptable for Christians to look to God's authority over the authority of humans. It is a pro-life issue to care for the 25 million civilian lives in North Korea.

After all, God created humanity in his image, and values humanity.  
To be pro-life is to value and affirm the image of God in all people.
This includes civilians, the unborn, leaders, and people who have committed atrocities.
North Korean civilians possess the image of God. The unborn possess the image of God. If we are to consider ourselves pro-life, then we must be consistent. We cannot oppose abortion with one side of our mouths, and cheer on the deaths of millions with the other side. We must do what we can to value life in all of its forms. This includes recognizing the personhood of the unborn, while simultaneously opposing threats of nuclear annihilation. 

I am writing these words on Ash Wednesday; a day which introduces the season of Lent. This is a time in which Christians repent of the ways in which we have sinned, and turn our lives back toward God. This particular Ash Wednesday is also the day in which nearly 20 students and teachers were killed in a school shooting in Parkland, Florida. This Lent season, we need to repent for our failures to help end this kind of violence. Like a conversation about abortion, any conversation about gun control is bound to cause high emotions and heated debate. However, as we have seen, being pro-life means seeing the image of God in all people. We need to talk about this. We need to care about this.
I have many friends who love their guns and are deeply opposed to any kind of gun reform. But it is important for Christians to remember that no “thing” that we treasure can possibly compare with a person whose life bears the image of God.
Seventeen of these lives were taken earlier today.
If we want to call ourselves pro-life, we should do anything that we possibly can to cherish and protect the lives of all people who bear the image of God.

A ban on assault rifles and improved gun regulation could be a start. 

After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Florida in 2016, our church started what has become an unfortunate tradition. On the Sunday following a mass shooting, we will have pictures and biographies of the victims on a table in the back of the sanctuary. We have unlit candles to the side of the pictures, and invite people to light a candle in memory of one of the victims, and as a prayer for his or her family and loved ones. When we talk about a number of victims ("seventeen killed in Parkland"), it is easy to have a somewhat abstract conversation. When we think about a specific person, with a family and a future and hopes and dreams that were all taken away in an instant, we are reminded that these numbers represent people--people created in the image of God.
To be pro-life is to value and affirm the image of God in all people.

As a pastor and a Christian, I am called to see the image of God in those around me. Seventeen people created in the image of God were killed earlier today. Twenty-five million people created in the image of God have had their lives threatened. Thousands of unborn children created in the image of God have their lives taken from them. May we see the image of God in all of these people, and do what we can to protect and care for them.

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