The Heresy of ‘Pro-Life’ Christians

Our scripture readings in ELCA Sunday service often provoke my thoughts. My thoughts are never aligned with the Pastor’s sermon, for sermons are typically generalized and oriented toward a certain orthodoxy. The last Pastor who made sermons a challenge to our lives was the late, great Bill Christman (a Presbyterian).

Today’s First Reading, Genesis 2:18-24, included:

Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Today’s Gospel, Mark 10:2-16, included:

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Those who identify as Pro-Life assert that a fertilized ovum – the zygote – is a person, fully equivalent*. Their justifications for tying this assertion to a “right” to life are invariably shallow, effectively being ‘It just is, that’s all’. I have never seen or heard of a Pro-Lifer using Genesis 2 and Mark 10 as an authority for this assertion. It seems obviously applicable: in what way does a couple literally “become one flesh”, except via conception? If God demands that the couple not be separated, surely He intends that the very “one flesh” also not be separated.

*Except when it isn’t – some Pro-Life advocates defer personhood until implantation of the zygote.
And even those notable Conservative Protestants, the Southern Baptists, have previously sanctioned some abortions.

This Mark 10 justification of the Pro-life agenda would better adhere to scripture than the typical citations. Will Pro-Lifers embrace this justification? It is unlikely that any will ever notice my comments in a tiny blog. If they independently make this association, they will risk an accusation of hypocrisy, or worse, for the scriptures do not instruct us of an isolated facet of our relationship with the Almighty.

Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Son of God, brought a New Covenant between God and man. Jesus was overt in his violations of many Jewish laws. He affirmed a fairly small portion of the Old Covenant, for while He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfil.” – Matthew 5:17, that left a large body of legalities to be voided. His statements in Mark 10 were remarkable for specifically citing Law that was to remain unaltered, without allowance for obliquely fulfilling the spirit of the Law. Jesus established finally, as explicitly as we ever see in scripture, a linkage between conception and marriage.

There are Christian denominations which ban divorce, such as the Catholic Church, the LDS-Mormon Church, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and Conservative Protestant such as Southern Baptists. Every one includes exceptions.

Exceptions are something which Jesus did not often offer. He certainly did not instruct us that conversion to Islam, or adultery, or other exceptions apply to divorce. Yet such exceptions are normative in even the most conservative denominations.

Is this why Pro-Lifers do not cite Jesus’ authority from Mark 10? Do they attempt to conceal their hypocrisy which is already well-known?

If they are sincere in claiming that their attitudes about reproduction are guided by Sacred Text, let them permit themselves to be guided by the only words of Jesus regarding the “one flesh”. Let them embrace the same hatred and violence at the most-closely related offense to the Law of God – divorce – that they exhibit toward those who make, and even to those who merely advocate, reproductive choices.


4 Responses to “The Heresy of ‘Pro-Life’ Christians”

  1. October 9, 2012 at 11:11 am

    We are recording her sermons, usually, when I don’t screw it up, and posting them on the church’s website saintphilipsnorwood.com
    I strongly disagree with the idea that faith and rationality are contrary to one another. Rationality without faith and faith without rationality are both delusions. It was a mistake the Greeks made, that rationality was sufficient to know all truth, that we have suffered for ever since, philosophically. Even mathematics depends on the acceptance of unproved statements to get mathematics started, called axioms. They must be accepted simply on the basis of trust that they truly are self-evident and we are not deluded in calling them so. Then mathematicians go on having to trust other mathematicians and the fallibility of their own brains – you cannot check every proof of every theorem you use or believe, and even if you could history is rife with the most brilliant men making logical mistakes. Trust is just another word for faith (Greekishly speaking).
    By the way, Jim, we are moving this week. We found a house for sale near Kathryn’s church so we took the plunge. So mailing and probably phone number will be different shortly. Makes me greatful for cyberspace.

  2. 2 Jim
    October 8, 2012 at 6:16 pm

    Yep, it’s true that rational and religious views are difficult to reconcile. Carroll’s point about inconsistent application of Scripture is usually so because so many believers are undisciplined thinkers. Jim One, we totally agree about the biological facts. It amazes me that I am the first (even before Carroll?!) to realize this implication of Mark 10. I do not think for a second that Jesus was making an astoundingly crafted statement that answered all issues in a few words. He was responding to those pesky Pharisees, criticizing them, and taking a less-nuanced position than they expected about ONE specific subject. He was not mystically communicating to 21st Century Pro-Lifers. That won’t stop them, someday, from realizing that they can exploit Mark 10 as I suggest. They will not notice (care) that a zygote has no brain – they will eventually notice that a zygote is the only thing that superficially matches “one flesh”.

    Carroll, I would dig hearing Kathryn’s sermon – this one or another. Time to beg her via Facebook!

  3. October 8, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Jim, with all due respect, the subjects you raise here cannot be discussed productively except separately within the two disparate groups, those who accede to faith and those who maintain rationality. Any discussion between the two is not compatible of course. Those who choose faith may be content to defer to the Bible and to priests and others who wish to interpret confusing and contradictory scripture, something I’m sure is cathartic in many personal situations.

    As one who favors rationality, I choose to see the issues as resolvable without recourse to faith. About half of American marriages end up in divorce because marriage decisions are made mostly when people are not fully mature. But even worse, partners often do not take enough time before marriage to fully experience their compatibility under stress. That was true in my own case, even though my wife and I were engaged for 6 months before marrying. We were simply lucky to find ourselves not only compatible but virtually essential to one another’s happiness. For Jesus to state that marriage is irreversible because it’s done with an oath to God flies in the face of common sense. The oath does not affect the flesh any more than a communion wafer turns to meat and it’s just silly to pretend that it does. Some people make a big mistake in their choice of partner and it’s a disservice to both to persist in a hopeless case of incompatibility. I’ll take Ann Landers over the Bible on this one.

    As far as a zygote being a complete person goes, how can it be? There’s no brain, no nervous system. To be sure, it eventually can be if it’s given proper nurture, just as an acorn will become a mighty oak tree under the proper conditions. But an acorn is not an oak, it’s just squirrel food. The growth process is a continuum and needs to be understood in that context. IMHO.

  4. October 8, 2012 at 7:05 am

    Welcome back to the blogosphere, Jim. I hope this is the first of regular postings now. I at least have missed you.
    I must say that your application of Mark 10 is one that I had never made and that will bear some more thinking on my part. Thank you for posting this. You are right, I think, in pointing out the inconsistent way Scripture is used in churches generally. Sometimes it is because we haven’t thought things through very well, sometimes it is because we have chosen not to think, and sometimes it is because we have made up our minds and don’t actually care what it thinks. All of those approaches are pretty apparent in the current political debates on policy from abortion rights to Wall St.
    We Episcopalians follow the same Scripture readings you guys do. Kathryn’s take on the passage was focused on legalism vs. grace and not directly related to abortion but I think it was the best she’s done. I always learn something from her sermons.

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