Defending the Unborn: An Evangelical Priority

God bless Stan Guthrie for speaking more clearly in one sentence than I have been able to do in many posts on this subject. In a piece on Christianity Today‘s website, Guthrie confronts the likes of Jim Wallis and Ron Sider who say that defending the unborn is one among many issues that evangelicals should be concerned about. Guthrie’s response gets right to the heart of the matter:

‘If everything is a priority, then nothing is.’

Amen to that. If defending the unborn is treated as one among many Evangelical “priorites,” then it ceases to be a priority. The concern that Guthrie raises here is the very one that I raised in my critique of “An Evangelical Manifesto” (which was endorsed by both Wallis and Sider).

Here’s a larger excerpt followed by a link to the rest of the article (which is a must-read):

‘Ever since C. Everett Koop and Francis Schaeffer pricked our consciences, abortion has been on the front burner for socially minded evangelicals. Thirty-five years since Roe v. Wade, it’s time to ask whether it should remain the sine qua non of Christian social engagement.

‘Claiming to represent the new center, an increasingly self-confident wing of sincere evangelicals thinks not. “The evangelical social agenda is now much broader and deeper,” asserts Jim Wallis in his new book, The Great Awakening, “engaging issues such as poverty and economic justice, global warming, hiv/aids, sex trafficking, genocide in Darfur, and the ethics of the war in Iraq.”

‘In The Scandal of Evangelical Politics, Ron Sider, echoing a common complaint that pro-lifers believe that “life begins at conception and ends at birth,” says starvation and second-hand smoke are also “sanctity of life” issues.

‘In other words, these and other voices seem to be saying that fighting legalized abortion—the deliberate, state- sanctioned taking of 50 million unborn human lives from their mothers’ wombs since 1973 (and the accompanying national guilt)—should simply be one item among many on an ever-expanding evangelical to-do list. I agree that we have multiple responsibilities as Christians, and different callings. But if everything is a priority, then nothing is. While no one is saying that defending unborn human life is optional, the way we sometimes talk about our broader agenda appears to minimize the importance of abortion.’

“We’re Not Finished” – by Stan Guthrie (Christianity Today)

19 Responses to Defending the Unborn: An Evangelical Priority

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides May 22, 2008 at 2:05 pm #

    Stan Guthrie: “Opposing abortion is not simply another agenda item for evangelicals. It is our sacred duty. Whatever other good deeds we are called to do—and there are many—we cannot say abortion is someone else’s business. It’s our business.”

    Amen to Stan Guthrie. Amen to Denny Burk. Great post! Keep up the good work for the glory of Christ.

  2. Yvette May 22, 2008 at 2:23 pm #

    I do not perceive Denny’s constancy on this topic as being judgmental of others. I may even line up a little closer to those who hold too many priorities. I’m not justifying that.

    But I do not believe he should let up on this issue. The passion with which he pursues this seems as if it is a God-given burden. Whether or not we hold to this as a single priority or many priorities, abortion needs to continue to be spoken out against. Generally change does not come about by our backing down, rather it comes about by staying the course no matter how many people tell us to stop.

    Even if I am wrong in holding other priorities, as well as abortion, I commend Denny’s resolve.

  3. Benjamin A May 22, 2008 at 2:34 pm #

    “If everything is a priority, then nothing is.”

    Brett said-“The quote makes absolutely no logical sense and so does your logic that follows.”

    Webster’s Ninth:
    Priority: Superiority in rank, position, or privilege.

    Prior (adj): taking precedence (as in importance)

    So the statement, ‘if everything is a priority [superior in rank, position, or privilege], then nothing is’, seems to make absolutely perfect sense.
    Brett, what is it about that “quote” that “makes absolutely no logical sense” to you?

  4. Adam Omelianchuk May 22, 2008 at 2:48 pm #

    I think it makes sense too, but I would qualify some things. Just because something is a priority doesn’t mean it is absolute. It might be the “heaviest” issue on our scale but it is possible that there may be an accumulation of “lighter” issues that tip the scale. For a lot of many-issue voters, I think this how it works and I think it makes sense.

  5. Benjamin A May 22, 2008 at 4:07 pm #

    Adam,

    Absolute is a different word than priority. You are correct. Making something a priority does not make that same something absolute; it just makes it a priority.

    Priority: Superiority in rank, position, or privilege.

    If the accumulation of ‘lighter issues’ is able to tip the scale (to raise above the heaviest issue), this would simply indicate that your heaviest issue was not a priority in the truest sense of the word. It seems to me that you’re saying, ‘many-issue’ voters who think like you (heaviest vs. lighter issues voter) choose to not make abortion a priority.

    Some of us, have the ability to make the abortion issue a priority, while at the same time be concerned and engaged in other issues as well.

  6. New Here May 22, 2008 at 4:43 pm #

    Forgive me if this has already been addressed. Although I regularly read this blog and the comments, I tend to read quickly and may have missed this discussion. I also want to apologize before anyone takes this post the wrong way. In no way do I mean to question the spirituality of the bloggers on this site; instead, I simply offer my line of questioning in response to your posts.

    While I agree that the abortion issue is extremely important, I often wonder why it has become THE paramount issue, especially in relation to political endeavors. As I am trying to work through the discussions, I have several concerns:

    1. To me, the motives for abortion are indicative of a larger social problem: sin. And no matter how politically involved Christians become, this problem cannot be solved by legislation. So we elect a President who is pro-life, who only appoints judges who are pro-life, and our government recognizes the sanctity of life – what then? Will it be harder for women to get an abortion? Maybe. Will the abortion rate be lowered? Perhaps. But will the love of self that is at the root of the abortion issue be eliminated? No. Will our nation begin to yearn after God? No. Making it harder to do the wrong thing doesn’t mean that hearts are turned toward God. You see, the fundamental problem is that our society loves self and not God. I wonder to myself: what are we who discuss the issue of abortion in political terms really doing to address the issue on a spiritual level? STOP. Before you answer that question, think about it. What are you really doing to fight this battle? If you are actually doing something, such as working at a crisis pregnancy center or funding such endeavors or adopting orphaned children, then good; do more. If you aren’t doing anything on a practical level for those who are dealing with the abortion issue, then you need to start – you can talk all you want about why McCain needs to be elected because he is more pro-life or why Obama should never be president, but if you are not actively working to promote the spiritual welfare of those in the trenches of the abortion issue, then your political battles are useless and fundamentally flawed. “Let us not love with word or with tongue but in action and truth” (1 John 3:18 )

    2. My second concern is in relation to the prioritization many give to the abortion issue. While abortion is an important issue because it deals with the murder of the unborn, it is not the only rampant, destructive problem in our society. What about our culture’s acceptance of homosexuality, which in the Old Testament led to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah? What about the rampant adultery and divorce and anger, which Christ specifically preaches against in the New Testament? What about the idolatry of the heart? Or the complaining and arguing that Paul commands against in Philippians? While I agree that one’s stance on abortion reveals a lot about one’s character, I would like to know why the stance on abortion is valued over so many other issues that should be equal in a Christian’s mind. To me, the only reason is because it’s easier for us to take a stand on an issue that we can really do so little about. It is easy to wage war against something that is not a battle in your own world. It’s a lot harder to align our lives with the radical nature of the gospel that calls us to die to ourselves and to live drastically different lives than those around us. Fighting those battles would mean we actually have to address our own lives and not be so outraged at the sin in others.

    Now, with all that said, I don’t mean that Christians need to sit around and be inactive in the political realm; however, I’m not sure how much good fighting a political battle accomplishes. As a poster referenced awhile back, Christians are aliens and strangers in this world passing through to the New Kingdom (1 Peter).

    “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
    You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood in your striving against sin.” (Hebrews 12: 1-4)

  7. Ferg May 23, 2008 at 4:07 am #

    i’d love to know the reason my post was deleted

  8. Quixote May 23, 2008 at 8:06 am #

    Brett,

    Does the saying, “If everyone is special then no one is” also make no sense to you?

  9. Barry May 23, 2008 at 8:42 am #

    Denny,
    Great post. Keep it up.

    Barry

  10. Michael Metts May 23, 2008 at 9:26 am #

    Why was my compliment deleted lol..

  11. Paul May 23, 2008 at 10:36 am #

    Ferg and Brett’s quotes were deleted? I guess that’s one way to make this more of a right wing blog…just make it as if the evangelical left doesn’t exist.

    Nice work.

    Anyway, here’s the problem: Mr. Guthrie is essentially saying that we need to work on one thing at a time. But, America is years off from overturning Roe v. Wade, if it ever does in the first place. A very conservative S.C. justice could very well uphold Roe v. Wade in the name of Stare Decisis. So, then what? Does the environment still not matter in the meantime? Does poverty still not matter in the meantime? Does genocide in Darfur still not matter in the meantime?

    According to Mr. Guthrie and Denny, they can’t. That’s frightening.

  12. Ferg May 23, 2008 at 11:01 am #

    I agree Paul. I also think that I may leave this as a certain kind of blog seen as though a few of my posts now have been deleted and I have never received an explanation. I want to learn from what people here have to say but I don’t know if thats particularly possible anymore. a big shame.

  13. billy May 23, 2008 at 11:53 am #

    Paul and Ferg:

    As a brother in Christ, I think we need to give Denny the benefit of the doubt. Rather than publicly accusing him on his own blog, I would humbly suggest that you contact him individually and withhold judgment until that correspondence.

    As for the issue at hand: Paul, I think you have misunderstood both Guthrie’s and Denny’s point. they are not saying that poverty, genocide in darfur (or quite frankly any global oppression or tragedy), or any other issue should be left alone until abortion is finally dealt with. Only you have said that.

    I would argue that it’s perfectly consistent to make one issue a higher priority while not completely ignoring others. Don’t we all do this in our daily lives? I prioritize my relationship with my wife above all others, yet I find a way to maintain dozens of other relationships throughout the week (just not to the same degree). From a political standpoint, we have to look no further than Wilberforce to see that one issue (slavery) can be prioritized while countless others can be addressed. It is simply that the one issue was deemed more important than other issues and was thus given more time and effort. This does not mean that he thought all other issues were worthless (if he did, than he would have accomplished nothing else in his political career), but that he thought the one issue was so important that it deserved prime attention (and ultimately his life’s devotion).

    What Denny and Guthrie seem to be arguing against is the apparent trend to marginalize abortion by saying it is no different than many other political issues. In their minds (and in mine) abortion is too important of an issue to be put on the level of ‘just another political issue’.

  14. Ferg May 23, 2008 at 12:15 pm #

    Thanks Billy, I appreciate that.

  15. Paul May 23, 2008 at 12:58 pm #

    Billy,

    Here’s the deal — Denny is very glad to see this sentence attached to the political divide between evangelical right and left…

    “If everything is a priority, then nothing is.”

    Fair enough, but nobody is claiming that EVERYTHING is a priority. And one can make a very valid case for saying that if you’re pro-life, you’d best be consistent. Which means that the pro-life voter or politician can’t be taken seriously when they scream “end abortion!” but turn a blind eye towards hunger or AIDS (which results in death), genocide, or empire building (low estimates claim 100K Iraqi civilians dead through 2005) or even simple mismanagement (how many died in the aftermath of Katrina?).

    In other words, to me, being pro-life encompasses a lot more than just abortion, and they’d ALL be top priorities. But then you’d have to spend tax money, and no one wants to do that unless it means having a presence in the middle east.

  16. billy May 23, 2008 at 3:14 pm #

    Paul,

    I’m not sure why you feel the need to throw in your interpretation of Denny’s intentions. He has laid out the issue, now let’s debate it. I don’t think we gain anything, especially as brothers and sisters in Christ, by questioning one another’s intent. That is something unbelievers do. Let our debates be different.

    Now, I can see your annoyance with the term ‘everything’. To be fair, I have never heard a politician say “everything is a priority”. I believe (though I am not sure) that Guthrie was using that as a rhetorical device. If I were to replace ‘everything’ with ‘many things’, than I think it still works out the same. For example if I say that my wife is my priority yet at the same time many things (work, friendships, and hobbies) are also priorities, then I am either giving equal time to all four (at which point none of the issues are my priority) or I am really spending more time with my wife and treating her as even more of a priority (at which point she is not on equal footing with ‘the many things’ but the highest priority). So even with the word difference, I believe my original point stands.

    Now too the specific issues you address. I agree that “pro-lifers” need to be consistent, just as all believers need to be consistent. I hope you would agree that it is not just those of a conservative political ideology that have a need for consistency. Any believer on this side of heaven regardless of their political leanings is in need of God’s grace in this manner 🙂

    I agree that all the issues you raise are relevant (aids, hunger, genocide, empire building). however, that does not mean that they all deserve or are practically able to be given equal weight. I don’t think it would be inconsistent to say that ending abortion is my main political priority while at the same time others are very important. If I think abortion is a much greater tragedy and more morally reprehensible than another issue, would I not be constrained to speak out against it more than other issues?

    Having one priority does not speak against the value of other issues, rather it speaks to the value of the priority. For example, valuing my wife above all other women (through loving and cherishing her for the rest of my life), does not mean that I think all other women are trash. I think very highly of the value of women in general and countless specific women that I could name individually. However I value my wife to such a degree that I set her apart from all the other valuable women as my priority.

    I am not trying to convert you to any sort of political Ideology Paul. I am simply trying to highlight the apparent difference between us on this issue. I believe that abortion should be our top priority at this point in time. (as I understand it you do not believe that it should be promoted above other issues that you have mentioned in your posts. if I am wrong on your beliefs please correct me). I believe this because of my understanding of just how immoral, vicious and reprehensible abortion is especially considering the reason that the majority of women choose to engage in such an act. This does not speak to my lack of concern for other issues, but rather my great concern for this one issue.

    Because of our less than ideal political system, this means that I would have to accept someone who does not address everything that I would them too. But this is unavoidable for everyone. All the issues you spoke about plus the main topic of this whole post, will not be given equal weight by any candidate in 08 whether they are from the republican, democratic, libertarian, or constitution party (did I leave anyone out that has thrown there hat in the ring?). So we all have to decide on a less than perfect candidate. Denny has made his choice, you will have to make yours and I will have to make mine.

    This is already to long, apologies for the length. But I hope these thoughts have edified the conversation. Please let me know If I need to clarify anything.

  17. Stan Guthrie May 29, 2008 at 2:20 pm #

    Excellent blog and discussion of my column. I appreciate the passionate thought that has gone into both.

    Some have misread me to mean that evangelicals cannot do any other social activism until abortion is outlawed. That is not my position. I believe abortion is binding on all our consciences to fight against (in a multiplicity of ways), but that God also calls us to other good and necessary ministries. We cannot use these other callings as excuses to let up on the fight against abortion, however. The sanctity of human life is a higher priority, but there is plenty of room in God’s world to do other good things: fight against poverty, practice environmental stewardship, etc. These things, however, do not annul our responsibility to protect the unborn and help women facing unplanned parenthood.

    Also, when I said, “If everything is a priority, then nothing is,” I was using a commonly heard phrase as a rhetorical device.

  18. Denny Burk May 29, 2008 at 4:28 pm #

    Dear Mr. Guthrie,

    Thanks for the comment. Great article. Glad to be in your “amen” corner!

    Sincerely,
    Denny

  19. Brent June 3, 2008 at 1:56 pm #

    ‘If everything is a priority, then nothing is.’

    Bzzt. Wrong. There’s a big difference between the actions and attitudes of a person who cares about no one, and a person who cares about everyone.

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