He was approached by a representative from one of our elected officials and asked if he would support a bill that would exclude health insurance carriers from covering pre-existing conditions of adopted children.
Knowing that this politician was “pro-life,” my parishioner pushed a bit, asking how that made sense. “So, you’re telling me that you support forcing someone in poverty to have a child, but then if that parent chooses to give the child up for adoption, you also support allowing a health insurance company not to cover any pre-existing conditions that child has.”
The representative paused for a moment and then said, “I suppose we hadn’t really thought about that.”
One of the profound difficulties in our society right now is that positions with regard to important political questions have fallen into a level of binary “either/or” thinking, alongside of a disconnect from how those positions interact with other political beliefs. I believe this is seen particularly clearly in questions regarding an ethic of life.
As Christians, we value life deeply. We acknowledge that all life flows from God as a gift, and is thus to be treasured and affirmed. In the words of the Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” This is one part of the core of our church’s understanding of the ministry of the baptized and it is something I think most Christians would affirm.
However, if we truly affirm a consistent ethic of life, then we need to affirm it in all areas of our world and in all aspects of our political decisions.
On the question of abortion, for example, the Episcopal Church’s General Convention has consistently walked a fine line, affirming it as a tragedy while also resisting a legislative answer to this difficult question. Instead, I believe we as Christians should strive to create communities of such strength and love where no woman would ever feel like that would be her only option. We should pour our resources into opportunities for education and advancement among the poor, including helping those persons who do carry their children to term and providing caring opportunities for adoption when that is determined as the best option.
To wit, we must be concerned not only for the unborn, but also for the women and families who find themselves in challenging situations. To argue for legislative restrictions of abortion alongside of restricted funding for women and children in poverty is the height of ethical incoherence.
This ethic of life cannot be limited to questions of abortion. It must flow into other areas as well.
As Christians who believe all life is a gift, we should be outraged at the continued practice of capital punishment. We should call for an end to targeted drone strikes in situations that more closely resemble police and criminal action than an actual war. And we should resist any who suggest that the answer to death is more death.
The application of a consistent ethic of life is not easy. One cannot simply draw a line across a sheet of paper and say one is right and another is wrong. With capital punishment, we must show ways of valuing the lives of the victims of murder through just punishment that still offers the opportunity for redemption.
And the case of the continued destruction of civilian populations in Syria should be a question of immense concern. If we do decide to choose a military intervention in that country, it must be for the purpose of protecting the oppressed and limiting loss of life, not escalating it.
Most importantly, we must wrestle with these questions in our respective faith communities and our local area. We must resist easy answers and quick rejection. We must find ways of affirming our shared value in human life and ways we as a society can make that value evident in the choices we make.
— The Rev. Jared C. Cramer serves as rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven and as dean of the Lakeshore Deanery of the Diocese of Western Michigan. He has been filling in as a religious columnist for the Rev. Henry Idema, who is on vacation.