A couple months ago, I subscribed to Relevant Magazine. I figured it would be beneficial since I'm not too immersed in pop culture these days and I didn't really want to pay for Rolling Stone. I've received a few issues now, and for the most part I've at least appreciated being kept abreast on current Christian music, issues, ideas, and other crap.
My first interaction with the magazine came when I followed a link that said a "high profile" evangelical had backed out of a commitment to pray at the Democratic National Convention. I read the news story and first learned about Cameron Strang and his magazine (and to be fair, I commended his decision to not pray at the convention). I then subsequently subscribed to the magazine. But now that I've received a few issues and had the opportunity to read Mr. Strang's columns, I'm starting to have second thoughts.
This month's issue features an article by Strang entitled "What It Means To Be Whole-Life" (I wanted to link the article here, but it isn't available on their website yet - check back in a few days). In the article Strang identifies his differences with the democratic party by citing the abortion issue:
"My primary disagreement with the democratic party...is my belief that life begins at conception, and it is our moral duty to protect innocent lives. To me, that is not just a matter of faith; it is a matter of objective fact."
I commend Strang for his beliefs, and I share them, however I found myself adamantly disagreeing with Strang as he went on:
"However, and this is where many on the right miss it, the example Jesus set for us to stand up for the defense of the innocent does not end at birth. Just as they do for abortion, Christians should be on the forefront of standing against things that take millions of innocent lives around tehworld every day - systemic poverty, preventable disease, unnecessary wars, slavery, genocide. The list goes on."
There has been a recent movement amongst Christians and politics that has for some reason placed the abortion issue on the back burner. I recently heard a talk radio host say that abortion is an "old and tired issue." It seems that this thinking has permeated into the Christian realm as well, and now Christians (like Strang) are either equating or elevating issues like poverty and disease above the abortion issue, and likewise asserting that Christians either haven't or aren't doing enough about these things. I've got a couple of problems with this line of thinking:
Abortion and poverty aren't comparable. To say that Christians need to speak out about poverty on the same level as abortion is not correct. Our country has experienced 50 million abortions since Roe V. Wade. That's 4,400 baby deaths per day. I understand that things like poverty and disease take an incredibly large number of lives each day as well, but there is at least one significant difference: poverty and disease occurs amongst people who have been born - amongst people who have the ability to do something about their poverty or disease. Unborn children have no recourse - no action that they can take to protect themselves, no voice even, to protest to the action being taken against them. Thus, we are their voice. Also, the crime being committed against unborn children is far more violent and immediate than poverty or disease. So then to say that poverty is as much an immediate concern as abortion is inaccurate.
I also take issue with Strang in that Jesus didn't tell Christians to push the government to make social reforms, he told Christians to do it themselves. You will never find Jesus in scripture telling his disciples to write their congressman and push them to feed hungry people. He told them that they themselves should feed the hungry people. The responsibility lies on Christians to do the work, not on Christians to push others to do the work. This is usually the reasoning that a lot of Christians have used to justify their support of Barack Obama, but they haven't read their Bibles closely. Change (a buzz-word I'm beginning to deplore) comes through the gospel and the Christians who preach it (see this post for more on that) - not through government and politics. In that case then, Strang is wrong when he says that social reform needs to be in the forefront of a Christian's political thought (To be fair, you may find some double-speak in this statement, in that abortion is a political issue and Christians are attempting to use the political system in order to see it overturned. That's fair. However, I think there's a difference because the government has endorsed and justified this practice, and has legitimized the practice in the eyes of the public. Therefore, it seems reasonable to use the political system to fight against it. Also, we must never lose focus in that our immediate concern is for life. What would be the easiest, quickest, most efficient way to save life in regards to abortion? Overturning Roe V. Wade. Also on the other hand, several non-political pro-life actions have been taken by Christians and Christian organizations to combat abortion. So in that sense, there is much that is being done outside the political realm).
Lastly, I am dissappointed in Strang's ignorance of history. He says that "Just as they do for abortion, Christians should be on the forefront of standing against things that take millions of innocent lives around the world every day - systemic poverty, preventable disease, unnecessary wars, slavery, genocide." Well, I don't know where Mr. Strang's been, but Christians have ALWAYS been on the forefront of standing against poverty, disease, war, slavery, genocide, and any other barbaric practice the history of this world has ever seen. Christians are ALWAYS the ones who build the hospitals, feed the hungry, care for the sick, speak out against slavery (William Wilberforce, anyone? Not to mention all those missionaries who are active but don't get the headlines), and protect the innocent. Here's an interesting fact for ya: the largest demographic by far of parents who adopt children are, you guessed it, Christians. Why? BECAUSE we care. BECAUSE we are on the front lines. BECAUSE we obey Jesus. BECAUSE we stand up for those who cannot stand for themselves. Check the facts. History backs me up on this. No other group has done more for this world and those who inhabit it than those faithful Jesus-following Christians who follow his example. So then to say that Christians either don't care or aren't vigilant about these issues is ignorant, and actually, a bit insulting. Check your history books, Cameron.
Strang concludes his article by encouraging his readers not to be "pro-life" but instead, "whole-life." Strang says:
"...we need to embrace a more holistic definition of Christ's love and example. We need to be "whole-life." Whole-life means standing up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. It means seeing a need...and giving your life to serve it....Being whole-life means living out Jesus' example in our world today - fighting injustice, promoting life, being good stewards of our natural and financial resources, and showing God's love in a tangible way."
I'd actually take Strang's corny catch phrase one step further and say that Christians should be "Whole-Eternal-Life." In other words, even if we save babies, cure disease, end world hunger, and bring an end to all wars, people still need a Savior. Filling their stomach won't save their souls. We must never lose sight of the gospel in any social endeavor.
Believe me, I'm not trying to justify anyone or any group of people by saying these things. There are of course still many ways that we as Jesus followers can and should be standing up for justice, and again, I think we are. If anything, though, Strang is correct in that the battle is never over - it's a matter of eternal vigilence. We can't just be standing around, patting ourselves on the back for our good acts of charity - we always need to be standing up for justice. If indeed Christians have become lax in this area, they need to read the Bible and get busy. Let's just not lose sight of history and the truth.