Cradle to Grave: Life Is Complicated

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By Nikki Toyama-Szeto

Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of focus on “evangelicals” in the media, particularly evangelical voters’ views on pro-life issues—seemingly above all other issues.

Many people say that the only faithful expression of evangelical faith is to be pro-life. But when “pro-life” is used to refer only to life prior to birth (meaning a stance on the subject of abortion) then it really is just a small slice of a much broader faithful evangelical expression.

Being pro-life ties into the biblical concept that all are created in the image of God. That our times and places, even the number of hairs on our head are known because our God, the creator, created each person in God’s own image. But being pro-life, and having that include only the value of life pre-birth, is a political (read: Republican) expression of an evangelical value. It’s the politicization of a theological issue.

Having a consistent life ethic means caring about and fighting for the protection of human life in all its forms. For those who call themselves “pro-life” and have come to that conclusion from a Christian conviction, it most often means valuing life pre-birth. But being pro-life should naturally extend to life after birth, as well. For didn’t Christ come so that we could have life, and have it to the full?

For those who call themselves “pro-life” and have come to that conclusion from a Christian conviction, it most often means valuing life pre-birth. But being pro-life should naturally extend to life after birth, as well.

God’s intention for his creation is the flourishing of each person, made in his image. It is a recognition that God created each person with inherent worth—and so a faithful interpretation of what it means to be pro-life as a Christian would be to champion the lives of children in our urban centers, to be pro-adoption and pro-foster care, to be pro-Black Lives Matter (which is the affirmation that black people’s lives do matter and have value, even when systems and structures tell us that they are cheaper or worth less than other lives).

A consistent life ethic would care about the wages of the working poor, would fight the death penalty, and would probably be concerned about gun violence. A consistent life ethic would be pro-immigrant lives and would likely lead people to oppose war or violence. A completely pro-life stance would care about both the opioid crisis, and the effect climate change has on both God’s planet and God’s people. But political parties, with the aid of white evangelical political leaders, have reduced “pro-life” to a slice of a single issue. They have taken a portion of a theological issue, and turned it into a tool for politics.

To say that any candidate needs to be given a seat because s/he’s pro-life is inaccurate, and misleading. Is s/he completely pro-life? Or pro-life on one aspect of valuing life only? One could argue that many “pro-life” candidates are in fact anti-life in many other arenas that should be of concern to evangelicals—violence associated with racial justice, alleged sexual exploitation of children, the dehumanizing of “foreigners” (another group made in the image of God).

In the evangelical tradition, we often hear that we should judge a tree based on its fruit. For political candidates, one cannot only look at one piece of fruit on one branch and make a determination. It’s time for evangelicals to take a look at the fruit of the whole of a candidate’s life—and use that fruit to determine what kind of tree it is.

Nikki Toyama-Szeto is Executive Director of Evangelicals for Social Action.

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