The Supreme Court recognized the right to an abortion in its landmark 1973 decision known as Roe v Wade. Thirty-five years later in a case known as DC v Heller, nine different justices on the Supreme Court decided for the individual right to own and carry weapons.
Only the 1857 Dred Scott decision that served as a catalyst for the Civil War resulted in more death than these two controversial decisions.
Abortion is recognized as the chief threat to the life and wellbeing of the unborn. While most mothers and fathers guard the life of their expectant one, the parent (or parents) of almost one million babies a year choose to end the pregnancy before the birth of the child.
While the frequency of abortion is on a slow but steady thirty-year decline, gun deaths are on a slow but steady ten-year ascent, almost surpassing death caused by the automobile. Columbine, Sandy Hook, Charleston, Los Vegas, and Parkland have seared the public imagination with horrific mass shootings—three of these in public schools and one in a church.
Both of these threats to human life constitute public health crises. Both are challenges to the most basic rules of human flourishing. And while neither is mentioned by name in the gospels, both contradict even the most cursory reading of the words of Jesus: “I came that you might have life,” he said, “and have it in abundance.”
But these two American practices—aborting babies and shooting people—share one other thing in common: they are wrapped up with larger socio-political visions of what is good for the country and what is bad. In other words: politics!
It is hard to identify any other issues that so inflame the population. Different cohorts of citizens (and Christians!) employ vocabularies of the most radical sort to describe the perpetrators of one or the other of these practices.
I have not been involved in movements related to either one of these practices. No house I have ever lived in has also been home to a gun; and no person in my family (to my knowledge) has ever had an abortion. Furthermore, not one of the organizations and institutions through which I have lived out my calling as a minister of the gospel has made promotion or prohibition of these practices a component of their core values. To write that last sentence is sobering and sad.
I have not joined the pro-life crusade because half of the people in that march seem to care about human life only before birthn; and the other half want also to prevent the chief means of curtailing abortion, namely, contraception.
I have not joined the anti-gun crusade because I have lived all my days in rather safe, gun-free zones and, to my knowledge, have never had a friend or relative be the victim of a gun crime.
But the damage caused by these two legal practices disturbs me deeply; and the corresponding polarization of the population—even the Christian population—causes me great grief.
I wonder: what would Jesus do? Or more to the point: what would Jesus have me do? have us do?
Would he ask the pro-gun people to serve communion to the pro-abortion people and then talk to all of us about the carnage? Would he call together the anti-gun people and hand them a basin of water to wash the feet of the anti-abortion crowd? Would he implore both of us to lay down our instruments of violence so we can deliver cups of cold water to those who are thirsty?
Would Jesus set before us an anvil and use it, first, as a pulpit to preach the love of God and love of neighbor (our small unborn neighbor as well as our strange “dangerous” neighbor) and then use it, second, to beat our pistols and forceps into plows or pencils or signposts for the kingdom of God?
I don’t know; but all of that sounds plausible, sounds so like Jesus.
At the most basic, it is not a matter of constitutional rights but Christian responsibility.
This much I believe: if the Christian people of America were to meet Jesus in the kind of supper-eating, bible-reading, gospel-preaching, life-affirming, people-loving convocation I can so easily see with my mind’s eye, we would not need justices of any court to guide our hands and feet. And the trajectory of death before and after birth would settle in for a very long, very steep decline.
And at least the Baptists in the crowd would whisper to each other, “Wasn’t that the best revival we’ve ever had?”