Throughout the recent campaign, an argument arose that has perplexed me. The essence of the concept is that we can hold divergent views on a moral question in our public and private lives.
During the vice presidential debate, the candidates squared off on the issue of abortion. Both of the men are Catholics. Congressman Paul Ryan said, “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.” He added, “Our faith informs us in everything we do. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life.”
Vice President Joe Biden confirmed that he’s been a practicing Catholic all his life and his faith informs his social doctrine.Yet, Biden responded that while he accepts the church’s doctrine when it comes to abortion, he refuses to “impose that on others.” President Obama shares a similar belief and explanation for his stance on the abortion issue.
Vice President Biden explained, “With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
“I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that — women they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view and the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere.”
At the heart of Vice President Biden’s statements is the idea that we can hold one view in our private lives that is guided by our faith and yet support a completely different view in a public role, setting or sphere of influence. And this is not just any old issue — it is the concept of valuing and protecting life. It is answering the basic question that Cain asked God after the first murder. He asked, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
This is a foundational question that is moral, cultural and scientific in nature. Moral in terms of the need to protect the life of the unborn and limit late term abortions. Cultural in terms of responding to public pressure to keep abortion safe and legal. And scientific as the country debates when life begins.
A key aspect of the debate is that we can have various compartments in our lives that are distinct and don’t need to interact or correlate. If you are a Christian, can there be any part of our life that is not under the lordship of Christ and the rule of life outlined in Scripture? Are we obligated to honor the Church’s leadership on moral issues of high importance over public opinion?
It is one thing to be a staunch atheist who disagrees that life starts before birth or the third trimester of pregnancy. It is quite another to be a Christian who privately opposes abortion and believes it should be rare although publicly defends abortion rights, including partial birth abortions. The first view is very consistent. The second view is not for a number of reasons. For starters, why should abortion be rare if there is nothing wrong with it? Why not have abortion as a normal part of birth control? The fact that people suggest it should be rare shows that many people feel it is wrong even though they don’t want to limit the rights of others to take this life before it is born.
Secondly, the atheist doesn’t believe in God nor has any reason to recognize the authority of the Church. A Christian on the other hand must be submitted to the highest authority, which is the voice of God. Also, a Christian should error on the side of protecting life and those who can least defend themselves.
If something is a sin, then it is wrong for a Christian to do. Scripture is quite clear that murder is wrong, and if you believe the unborn child is a life worth saving then it would be a sin to take the life unless you are trading a life for a life. I can somewhat understand the viewpoint of a Christian who believes that life doesn’t starts until birth and as a result is pro choice. But if you believe there is something wrong with abortion in your private life, why is it okay in public policy? Doesn’t this suggest that you really think abortion is the taking of a defenseless life?
If Christ only guides the private side of your life, what does that say about your relationship to Him? 1 John 5:9 suggests that “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.” Whose opinion should reign supreme in our most important decisions — the Word of God or the thoughts of men?
It is our deeds that matter as much as our words when it comes to saving faith in Christ. As James 2 suggests, words without deeds are useless. In the same way that Christian abortion rights advocates make little sense so do Christian capitalists who take advantage of their fellow man and cheat people in the name of making an extra dollar. Our conscience as Christians should be held captive to Scripture in all areas of life. This includes the abortion issue as well as taking care of the poor and the senior citizens, protecting the environment, and support equality for all under the law.
I don’t believe that siding against abortion on religious grounds goes against the idea of freedom of religion. You can hold a staunch pro life position and still be open for the free exercise of religion. But pro choose advocates like to make pro lifers look like people who oppose religious freedom. In actuality, the only thing pro lifers really oppose is playing god with somebody else’s life.
It is clear that an unborn child starts to develop unique features within the first 22 days of birth if not earlier. For example, most babies have a unique heart beat within the first 22 days. Upon conception, all the unique chromosomes are present for that individual life.
By the end of the eighth week, every organ is in place, bones begin to replace cartilage, and fingerprints begin to form. Is this not a distinct and separate life from the mother? So when people talk about a woman’s right to choose what happens with her own body, when does an unborn child get a voice in the process?
Ultimately, it is not my place to judge the faith of another person. They are responsible to God alone. But I tend to believe that Jesus is either Lord of your entire life or you can have no part in Him at all because the Lord is a jealous God. He does not want His people to have split allegiances. Christ calls for us to surrender everything in our lives to His will and purposes. This includes our day job, our politics and even our bedrooms.