Friday, October 17, 2008

Christians, Slavery, and Abortion

I recently was in a scripture study class where unexpectedly the talk turned to abortion. We all were Catholics but soon I was face to face for the first time with people who were proclaiming their personal horror of abortion while simultaneously justifying their decisions to vote for a candidate on record as the most liberal, bar none, in voting for abortion. One of these was employing the usual knee-jerk argument although I think that she believed it sincerely, she just never had actually looked into the facts of the matter. A couple of others, who I like very much, were more thoughtful and clearly had put a great deal of thought into this matter. Nevertheless, their decision was more about themselves and their feelings than it was about the facts of the matter.

This was rather disheartening and also rather mystifying.

I then proceeded to read George Wiegel's Newsweek article, Pro-Life Catholics for Obama: Should abortion be the litmus test for political support?. I was cheered to see that it appeared in a national publication.

Reading Robert George's Obama's Abortion Extremism I was plunged into a deep gloom upon encountering the unyielding facts about just how strongly opposed to life Obama is. I knew about his extreme opposition to legislation protecting infants born alive after partial birth abortion. I thought that was bad ... until I read the article.

However, something in that article tickled my memory. It was George's contextual use of slavery to bring the abortion arguments into clearer focus.
The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people - Thomas Jefferson was one - reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn't think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.
I was reminded of the 2004 election when that comparison was made clear to me for the first time. I am reposting it below. Alas some of the links no longer work as those bloggers have gone on to other pursuits. Aren't we glad that I copied at least a bit of their actual prose?

Two other things became clear in mulling all this over.

1. I no longer am going to allow the language to control this issue. The two camps are either "pro-abortion" or "anti-abortion." Let's be clear and call the thing what it is.

2. Christians were the impetus and mainstay of the fight against slavery although we all know that mightier forces eventually were brought to bear on the matter. Just read Uncle Tom's Cabin or the book I link to below for a nonfiction documentation.

We can prevail again. However, like those Christians who fought through prayer, influence, the Underground Railroad, and legislation, we too can overcome. We must remember that we are warriors no matter what our method and never give up. Even if it is simply having a calm discussion during a scripture study class with those who disagree.


Slavery and Abortion: Two Sides of the Same Coin
Reposted from August 3, 2004

We're starting to see the comparison of abortion to slavery become more common. It makes sense. Slavery is another moral issue that only Christians cared about at first, divided families and friends, was legal until enough people put their feet down, and destroyed people in the name of "ownership." Recently I have seen it specifically mentioned in two places.

Patrick Madrid at Envoy magazine's blog, Envoy Encore briefly discusses Biblical principles against abortion and opens the article with this reminder.
NOT SINCE THE CIVIL WAR crisis over slavery has a controversial moral issue so divided Americans and roiled society as has abortion. The deliberate killing of an unborn child through an abortion, though currently enjoying the "legitimacy" of legality in this country (just as slavery was once also legal), is, nonetheless, a grave evil that must be opposed.

The Mighty Barrister dissects a recent interview of John Kerry by Peter Jennings with his usual style and pointedly makes us aware of the parallels.
There was a period of time in the life of this country when another group of human beings were not considered persons. See, for example, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 U.S., 1856, where the Supreme Court announced that slaves were not "men" as defined in the Declaration of Independence, and were not "people" as declared in the Constitution, stating, "When the Constitution was adopted, they (blacks) were not regarded in any of the States as members of the community which constituted the State, and were not numbered among its 'people or citizens.' Consequently, the special rights and immunities guarantied to citizens do not apply to them."

You can't ignore the obvious parallels between the way the unborn are treated today, and the way Americans of African lineage were treated 150 years ago. And you can't ignore the fact that John Kerry uses practically the same language to describe the unborn as white racists used to describe blacks -- they're not "people."
This may be the startling idea that is needed to shock sense back into pro-abortion people. The same sorts of arguments were used to support slavery as to support abortion. If nothing else, these comparisons should give renewed energy to pro-life supporters. Slavery was big business and entrenched in Western civilization at one time. It was only by tenacity and sticking to what they knew was true in the face of any other arguments that Christians got the ball rolling for stopping slavery. We can do the same.

An excellent resource for finding out about the role of Christians in ending slavery (and other positive impacts of Christianity on our society) is Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett.

UPDATE: I can't believe I missed this as I am a dedicated Catholic Analysis fan but Oswald Sobrino wrote a fabulous article about this just yesterday. He points out all the parallels between the struggles faced by Abraham Lincoln and George Bush. Thanks to Jeff Miller for pointing this out.


  1. Thanks for this! I'm wanting to do a series on my blog about this issue. I think it is a very enlightening parallel to draw. As you said, it can wake up some pro-abortionists and reenvigorate pro-lifers (anti-abortionists). I welcome any more thoughts and/or stats from you. Check me out:

  2. Sorry, I left the wrong link:

  3. "The two camps are either 'pro-abortion' or 'anti-abortion.' Let's be clear and call the thing what it is."

    You know that you are violating Church teaching when you openly lie like this, right?

    -Moniker Of Some Sort

  4. Please be clear in your question because I'm not sure what you are objecting to.