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From pro-life to all-life

by Perry Engle

Not too long ago, a local crisis pregnancy center invited area ministers to a conversation with a well-known pro-life advocate. Always interested in discussing life issues, I showed up for the meeting at a nearby restaurant.

I was surprised that only two of us had accepted the invitation, but thought it just as well since a more in-depth discussion of the issues was more what I was looking for. I listened intently to the presenter’s passionate, well-researched presentation, replete with sobering statistics on the number of pregnancies terminated in California over the course of the past year.

When it came time for Q & A, I asked my question as gently as I could. “Have you ever considered that the cause of the pro-life movement and the witness of Christians in general might be helped by broadening the definition of what it means to be pro-life? I mean, if God is the author of all life, then wouldn’t it make sense to think of being pro-life as being opposed to anything that devalues human life, including abortion, poverty, and war?”

He was polite but direct in telling me that a pro-life movement focused on more than just abortion would “dilute the pro-life movement,” and that opposing abortion was far too important for it to be coupled with other issues.

I listened carefully and didn’t venture any follow-up questions. I agreed with part of what he was saying, that the million-plus abortions performed in the U.S. and Canada every year are nothing short of a catastrophe. But what I didn’t agree with was his inference that there is no connection between issues that devalue human life.

The conversation confirmed what I’d been feeling for years, and that is, the term “pro-life” no longer adequately describes me as a follower of Jesus Christ. If labels mean anything, then I would feel much more comfortable being considered a member of an all-life movement.

The all-life movement would center its ethic on the life and teaching of Jesus, and would consider His call for love of God, neighbors, fellow Christians, enemies, and the “least of these” as expanding our concept of what it means to be more consistently “pro-life” as followers of Christ.

The all-life movement would admit and address the credibility gap that exists when Christians narrow their focus to advocating for life on one level and not another. It would press the Church to reconsider how it can be outraged by abortion and not be equally concerned with other evils that similarly threaten human life.

After all, abortion, poverty, and war all kill children.

Later on, a few weeks following the “conversation” at the restaurant, I returned to the pregnancy center’s website and was struck by a quote they had posted by French genetics professor Dr. Jerome Lejeune, the discoverer of the Down Syndrome chromosome. Said Dr. Lejeune, “I have learned from my earliest medical education that human life begins at the time of conception. I submit that human life is present throughout this entire sequence from conception to adulthood and any interruption at any point constitutes a termination of a human life.”

Strange, but after rereading Dr. Lejeune’s statement, it sure sounds like an all-life perspective to me.

This article originally appeared in the fall 2009 issue of In Part magazine.
Perry Engle

Perry Engle is the bishop of the Midwest and Pacific Conferences of the BIC Church. He and his wife, Marta, and two daughters live in Ontario, Calif. Their oldest daughter, Madeleine, now attends Messiah College (Grantham, Pa.).

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Gebre Menfes Kidus Posted on July 3, 2014

Amen! Excellent thoughts. There have always been Christian who have embraced and promoted the "consistent life ethic," opposing anything that undermines and destroys the sanctity and quality of human life. Dorothy Day, who founded the Catholic Worker Movement was a great example. She opposed war and poverty as much as abortion. A real Christian hero. Thank you for these great thoughts. Let's hope that more Christians will come to embrace the "all Life" or "consistent Life ethic." :-)

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