Wednesday, January 24, 2007

How can a person be both pro-life and pro-war?

Learning from my mother on abortion and war

My mother marched in Washington on Monday, in defense of unborn children. Her take was remarkable, especially the part where she heard newly elected Pennsylvania Senator Bob Casey, Jr. and Sen. Arlen Specter field questions from a pro-life constituency. Those who consider Casey pro-life would have been well-served to sit in on this session. Not for nothing has Chuck Schumer boasted that Casey will be firmly on board with the pro-choice voting line, when significant votes arrive...

But I digress. My mother’s quiet courage to attend this march alone – traveling without knowing anyone on the bus – in order to lift her voice against the night, this courage has moved me deeply! And so I take up my pen tonight to do some heavy lifting in this battle for life…

I’m thinking specifically of a question asked by a friend, concerning the seeming hypocrisy of people who march for life and yet support war. Perhaps you’ve heard it, but the question goes something like this:

Q: How can person be pro-life and yet supportive of war? Isn’t this terribly hypocritical?

A variation of this question substitutes capital punishment for war, but the implication is the same: if a person is for life, s/he is a hypocrite to support something that engenders any death [e.g. war or capital punishment]. The unspoken part of this argument is that a person is morally justified in voting to enable abortion if someone else is justified in voting to enable war – abortion is reduced to just another political position.

That is a regretful stance – doubly regretful because it misunderstands both life and war while enabling war on life.

When life and war are understood in a revelation framework, it presents a powerful answer to the question of pro-life hypocrisy.

Biblical definition of life: creation and existence in the Image of God.
Biblical definition of war: use of force to restrain evil.

Abstract: If human life is defined in relation to divine nature and intent, the Imago Dei, then it’s consistent to oppose abortion while supporting just war [theoretically], because in each position, the person is defending the Imago Dei against evil: the evil that would destroy life before its fruition, and the evil that would destroy life in its function.

If the argument is made that war in itself is evil, therefore cannot be properly used to combat evil, then I would reply: One should not confuse means with actuality, especially in understanding evil. An axe in the hands of a woodsman is life-sustaining; an axe in the hands of Freddy Krueger is a nightmare.

Yet the question necessarily reflects on a divine level: Is it possible for a good, life-giving God to be for war?

After all, we claim that God is perfectly good, our good “Father of lights, with whom is no variation or shadow of turning,” the One who “cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth He any person.” God is for life, unequivocally so: God has given His one and only Son that we might have life, and have it more abundantly. Can this good God – unalterably good and equivocally for life [in its highest definition] – be for war?

The answer is conceptual [rather than categorical, key distinction] but it is again, unequivocal. War first began in the heavenly plane: Force was first used when evil [and all its dark mystery] acted against Imago Dei on a non-earthly plane.

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels, and prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. [Revelation 12:7-9]

The view of revelation is that war preceded the human plane, and that war was used by God to cordon the spread of evil. Scripture presents the paradox of a Holy God who is consistently for life and for peace while being an active Warrior: the Christ who says, ‘Those who live by the sword will die by the sword’ is shown at the end of time, riding a white horse with a flaming sword…

And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns... [Revelation 19:11]

For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work… And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming. [2 Thessalonians 2:7-8]

Likewise, the prophet Isaiah saw this Christ as the strong Warrior coming back from Bozrah, with His robes dipped in blood:

Who is this coming from Edom, from Bozrah, with His garments stained crimson? Who is this, robed in splendor, striding forward in the greatness of His strength?

“It is I, speaking in righteousness, mighty to save.”

Why are your garments red, like those of one treading the winepress?

“I have trodden the winepress alone; from the nations no one was with me. I trampled them in my anger and trod them down in my wrath; their blood spattered my garments, and I stained all my clothing.

“For the day of vengeance was in my heart, and the year of my redemption has come. I looked, but there was no one to help, I was appalled that no one gave support; so my own arm worked salvation for me, and my own wrath sustained me.

“I trampled the nations in my anger; in my wrath I made them drunk and poured their blood on the ground.” [Isaiah 63:1-6]

In reading these texts there is a mystery, and it is the mystery of justice, the mystery of righteousness: How can Goodness use a sword to defend life? How does the One who calls himself Life own the blood of His enemies?

How can this be?

Key: the divine Warrior only takes the sword to defend creation intent against the onslaughts of the night. The Holy One makes war when war would consume the Imago Dei in His people…

Consistently, this concept is applied from divine to human planes, where the State is properly viewed as a servant of God to contain evil:

For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same. For he is God's minister to you for good. But if you do evil, be afraid; for he does not bear the sword in vain; for he is God's minister, an avenger to execute wrath on him who practices evil. [Romans 13:3-4]

The proper role of State: God’s minister to protect good and execute wrath on the practice of evil.

Here we begin to see the coalescing of revelation, in relation to abortion and war: Life in the image of God is seen as something worth fighting for, something worth defending. Innocent life is not equal with guilty life: Adult humans destroy themselves from the Imago Dei when they turn their will against divine intent and partner with evil.

And, as Thomas Aquinas clearly expressed, when God punishes evil, that punishment of evil is not an evil, but a good: Punishment is a function of the good to which evils are attached, not a function of prior divine imperative. God cannot will the sinner to evil, since this is a “privation of right order towards the divine good.” God can will a context in which the sinner chooses evil, but this is only because God has first willed the attendant good. The sinner wills evil, and God wills punishment, or justice, which is a good.

Likewise, God wills no one to perish, but those who destroy Imago Dei must perish, because they destroy their own life: God is life and only in God can there be life.

Those who oppose the killing of unborn children and support the just killing of evil men [war] are actually intuiting the divine order of Imago Dei. In both directions they act to defend life: life in its promised fruition and life in its existent function.

And thus is exposed the lie of pacifism: pacifism demands a moral equivalency of physical life without referent to innocence, or to divine Image. The consistent pacifist will stand by while his wife and children are raped and killed, because he equates the life of the terrorist with the life of his family. I once posed the question to an intellectual grad student who paraded his pacifism at a party: “Would you stand by while your wife and children were harmed by an intruder?” He answered, “I would hope I would be true to my principles.” My reply: such a person may be true to his principles, but he wouldn’t be true to God, or to his family.

Thankfully, God suffers under so such ‘principles.’ He ‘has no pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ but He often demands such death in the restraining of evil.

We are human actors in a cosmic war, and we reveal our proper relation to God as we defend the Imago Dei in the life of the unborn and in the life of those grown children being killed by evil men.

This answer is more than logically consistent: it is relationally consistent with divine decree.

Someone as humble as my dear mother, who cannot stand violence in any form, knows the truth of divine Person as she marches for unborn children in Washington, D.C., and, in the same breath, hopes for human freedom world over, though such freedom demand war…

This is not to say that all war is right, but rather to say that she is not a hypocrite in her stance. She is a child of God, striving for understanding in the Spirit of Truth. She is for unborn children, and she is for war, if it be that war might defend grown children against the destruction of Imago Dei.

Thanks, Mom, for marching this week! May your march of courage inspire those souls seeking courage, yet not yet sure of the path!



Lane Kintigh said...


Thanks for alerting me to this blog entry. It is great to hear that your mother is so active in support of life and justice. I pray in my walk with God that I am as willing and able, now and at that age!

As you have guessed, I find your position interesting but imperfect. Although our positions are very close, I would change some of the premises and conclusions, as follows:

First, a re-writing of your abstract:

Abstract: If human life is defined in relation to divine nature and intent, the Imago Dei, then it’s actually consistent to oppose abortion while supporting ACTIVE RESISTANCE TO EVIL, because in each position, the person is defending the Imago Dei against evil: the evil that would destroy life before its fruition, and the evil that would destroy life in its function.

So, omit "war [theoretically]" and insert "active resistance to evil" and we have an abstract we can agree on. For your definitions, the definition of war seems (by your argument) to apply only to God and his angels, (I agree - hence perhaps your careful use of the word 'theoretical'?), so I would either caveat it or remove it.

In essence, we agree completely that God and Christ are active (and omnipotent!) Warriors. Where we break sharply is in the application of this fact to history through the vehicle of the State, and (by inference) to the Christian (as it is an avowed Christian to whom we are applying the label "pacifism", correct? Or was the “intellectual grad student” pagan? I’m no grad student, I’m no pagan, and I’m hardly intellectual (can’t even remember what I had for breakfast) so this may not apply to me)

For our conception of the State: The State in history has been a pagan institution. An institution ordained by and used of God, to be sure, but fallen and pagan nonetheless. If we grip tightly to the theoretical, we are OK. But if we want to have any discussion of the practical, we must acknowledge the fallen nature of the State in time.

Also, you make no mention of the Church, and I think she has taken and takes an active role here, especially in her Witness to the State.

And, strike the following:

"And thus is exposed the lie of pacifism: pacifism demands a moral equivalency of physical life without referent to innocence, or to divine Image"

To the contrary, Christian pacifism demands acceptance of the Imago Dei as the consistently respected referent as commanded in scripture Lk 10:25-37, Phil. 2:3-11 and the killing of evil men in a theoretically just war demands a moral IN-equivalency that is specifically rejected in scripture Mt. 5:38 - 48, Rom 12: 14-21 and Rom 13: 8-10 (all of the contextual scripture SURROUNDING Rom 13:3-4, btw)

Hence, I find it alarming to claim that “He [God] often demands such death in the restraining of evil.”

Also, we agree that “We are human actors in a cosmic war, and we reveal our proper relation to God as we defend the Imago Dei in the life of the unborn and in the life of those grown children being killed by evil men.”, but I would add that the cosmic war is the war of the Lamb. Warfare true to the Lamb is not selfish. State sponsored warfare invariably is, even if the pagan State was ordained by and may be used by God.

Next, let me define "pacifism" as I adhere to it. I do not here defend the pacifism of nonresistance "resist not evil". I defend here the pacifism of nonviolent resistance, "overcome evil with good". This demands careful study and understanding.

"Overcome evil with good" is a divine COMMAND, and is very difficult to achieve in a fallen world that despises Jesus Christ. However, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, "Jesus has never been tried and found wanting. Jesus has been found difficult and seldom tried."

Last, I would also add to your first two definitions a definition of Peace for Man in time: the presence of God in the risen Christ.

There. Now we agree.

Lane Kintigh
Annville, PA

Loy Mershimer said...

Hey Lane!

Thank you for your well-written thoughts... good stuff!

There are a couple breaks you make, hermeneutically, which are key, and with which I do not agree, but you are right that our positions are close.

I'll follow up with my observations on email, ok?

Thanks again for your thoughts!