The Ecumenism of the Pro-Life Movement
One of the most effective collaborations among the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions in the United States has been the pro-life movement, which for more than 40 years has sought to give witness to the Christian confession that all life is sacred, including life in the womb. Indeed, while some Christians in each tradition have, sadly, maligned one another in other contexts, they have largely pulled together for the cause of the what’s become known as the pro-life movement.
But if we are to take the next step in the ecumenical vision of the sanctity of all life, then we must collectively move beyond the divisions of party politics and bring the pro-life movement to its ineluctable conclusion. This means that we must advocate for the sanctity of all life, not just life in the womb.
What Christians of all traditions are increasingly coming to understand is that to be consistently pro-life also means to be pro-social justice.
That is because to be pro-life means—and let me speak personally here—that I am not only for the dignity of the human being from the moment of conception, but also for the dignity of the human being until the natural end of life. For life does not end with birth. A person who is truly pro-life is pro-all life, pro-every stage of life, and pro-every stage of life for every person. For all life is sacred, because all life is created by God.
If I am pro-life it means that I support anything that helps a person live a full, healthy and satisfying life, in every part of the world.
This means that I am for care for the poor, for a living wage, for affordable health care, for adequate housing, for a humane work environment, for equal pay for women, for generous child care, for the support of the aged and the infirm.
That means I support caring for the marginalized among us: the refugee, the migrant, the displaced person, the homeless, the unemployed, the person with disabilities, the single mother, women who are abused, minorities of every kind who are persecuted, and all those who feel left out, mocked, lonely, ignored or frightened.
That means that when any particular group is targeted, as refugees and migrants have been recently, I feel a responsibility to speak out, as much as I can. I know that I am just one voice, but I need to raise it. I am against silence in the face of injustices visited on others.
That means that I am against torture, because it is an affront to human dignity. I am against the death penalty, the most serious affront to an adult life. I am against abuse and mistreatment in prisons. I am against war as a way to solve problems.
That means that I am against any acts of violence against any person, especially against ethnic minorities, religious minorities, or those who are minorities because of their sexual orientation.
That means I respect the lives of all creatures, and am therefore for the care of the world in which we live, for creation and for the environment in the broadest sense.
That means I am pro-peace, pro-justice and pro-reconciliation.
The longer I am a priest, the longer I live, and the more I pray, listen, and the more observe Christians in other traditions, the more convinced I am of the sanctity and beauty of life.
I pray that the ecumenism of the pro-life movement is entering its next phase—the proclamation of the Gospel’s message for life, for all life.
Fr James Martin, SJ is a Jesuit priest and Editor-at-Large of America Magazine. His latest book is Building a Bridge.
Public Orthodoxy seeks to promote conversation by providing a forum for diverse perspectives on contemporary issues related to Orthodox Christianity. The positions expressed in this essay are solely the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors or the Orthodox Christian Studies Center.