Advocacy and Hypocrisy
After the 6 am Mass at the cathedral in Lincoln, Nebraska this morning I had a conversation with a young father who lamented the pro-life stance which advocates only for the abolition of abortion. He talked about the death penalty, unjust war, euthanasia, and a number of other life issues that he felt were often ignored by those who call themselves pro-life, and asked whether the mission of Crossroads was to eliminate abortion or to advocate for all life and all people. This question is one that is increasingly relevant to those who pray and work for the protection of the dignity and sanctity of all human life.
When Central Walk prayed outside of Planned Parenthood in Denver, we shared the sidewalks with some local “pro-life” advocates who sought to change the hearts and minds of the women and workers entering the clinic and to see the end of that particular abortion facility. Like the walkers, they had strong religious convictions, believed that abortion is a grievous sin, and wanted the women entering the clinic to seek aid at the crisis pregnancy center across the street for the protection of their physical and spiritual well-being as well as that of their preborn children. However, their approach was radically different than that of the walkers and others praying outside the clinic. They had set up numerous displays of images of aborted children and messages urging the women to repent from their murderous ways, and had strewn dismembered dolls in the street. As people entered the clinic, a handful of older men stood on ladders to shout over the clinic walls at them.
These individuals, while radically anti-abortion, were not pro-life. This is because “pro-life” does not refer to an opinion or thought on a single issue; rather, it is a position or an ideology, which means that it is a way of thinking and regarding a variety of individual issues or particular opinions. To be pro-life does not simply mean that a person is opposed to abortion, of a certain political party, or likes a “pro-life” page on Facebook. To be pro-life means to recognize a certain understanding of the human person that includes innate value, dignity, and sanctity which transcend the authority and control of man.
Because they recognize the dignity and sanctity of the human person, those who are truly pro life live out their ideology by respecting and defending vulnerable persons. Their positions on life issues are formed not as parts of a political agenda or religious personality, but through analysis of the justice or injustice of particular policies and acts with reference to the human person.
The man I met after Mass was pro life in that sense. He saw that we walkers wear shirts that proclaim “PRO LIFE” and wondered whether the opinions we profess live up to the position we are claiming. When we applied for Crossroads, we all answered questions about major life issues and how we would discuss them with the people we might meet along the walk. It is important that walkers–who are very public witnesses of the pro-life movement–understand and profess the dignity and sanctity of all human life.
In Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle discussed virtue as the quality of man manifested by his habitual decision to act based on what he knows to be good. A man is not virtuous simply because he knows the truth and professes it, but because he chooses to live according to that good. Young children who study the Baltimore Catechism learn that we were created to know, love, and serve God in this life in order to be happy with him in the next. What we believe is best seen through how we act and interact.
We don’t need old books to tell us this; it’s something that is intuitively understood. When a group of walkers goes into a grocery store wearing highlighter-colored pro-life shirts, people ask where the rally is. It is evident by our clothing that we believe in something and are trying to tell people about it, but it is understood that not only are we saying that we are pro-life, we are doing something pro-life. When we tell people that we’re walking across the country, they are often impressed but not especially surprised, because they know that in order to advocate for something so publicly, we must be willing not only to speak, but also to act.
Lauren Mach, Central Walk 2014