After my post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Abortion as Murder, I searched the web for any evidence of the positive impact of Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion.
I found a range of responses, but two common statements: One was that some persons who encountered Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion (many have independently found this condemnation over the past several months) were in a powerful way convicted by it. Some reported breaking into tears, and experiencing a deep moment of conversion against the sin of abortion. In another response however, after a short pause barely considering Bonhoeffer’s words, one writer concluded that it still OK for Christians to be pro-choice on abortion because Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also pro-choice.
Clergy and their opinions do matter on life issues. If one clergy member of public standing and respect allows for fundamental injustice like abortion, the social acceptability of abortion grows, and it continues to proliferate. The responsibility of the clergy on this question is therefore profound. In this regard the strong unity of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception is thus so rare and remarkable.
Images of clergy standing almost completely alone against opposition are iconic in Christian culture, and such a designation is often claimed by a wide variety of clergy standing in contradiction to each other. From St. Cyril of Jerusalem, to Martin Luther, to St. John Fisher, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and even to Chicago’s Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, clergy sometimes stand alone in moral witness, if only among their own congregations and among their own circle of (sometimes former) friends.
While the lonely clerical witness is an authentic Christian cultural icon, it sometimes degrades to media cliche: every media story of clerical dissent from orthodoxy appears to grant lonely Christian witness status to the clerical media darling or stock background commentator of the moment.
But solitary witness does not in and of itself manifest truth: Judas Iscariot also stood alone, and in the end, completely alone.
Perhaps the most dramatic flip of a moral position on abortion was that of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who telegrammed to the U.S. Congress in 1977–
AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE I MUST OPPOSE THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR A POLICY OF KILLING INFANTS.
–and who then announced a pro-choice position on abortion when he chose to run for President in 1984.
Thanks to Edwin Black’s well-documented book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, the work of the National Black Catholic Congress, and such popular media as the film Maafa 21, which have helped make African Americans aware of Margaret Sanger’s genocidal “Negro Project,” more clergy, with the notable exceptions of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rev. Michael Pfleger, have spoken out publicly against abortions, especially in the African American community. (BTW, the Wikipedia entry for Negro Project has been moved into the Margaret Sanger wiki article, and scrubbed of the devastating case against Sanger that Edwin Black and others have so well documented.)
In order to justify abortion, one must violate so many truths and moral principles, opening the door for the logic of violence and infanticide, that no effective tenets remain to protect innocent life in society. By accepting abortion, one immediately commits to some form of moral relativism. Widespread acceptance of abortion undermines the shared values of a life-affirming, and in the end, peacefully free society based upon shared values rather than force.
When the Christian history of this period is written, the names Jesse Jackson Sr. and Desmond Tutu for their pro-choice stands for abortion, and Michael Pfleger for his substantial public silence on the issue–unless they change their positions–despite their present public acclaim, stand to be marred for generations. I hope these men–and the many Catholic clergy who, unlike their bishops, remain silent on abortion–do change their minds and publicly stand for life, for the sake of eternity.
The clergy’s responsibility on matters of life is not only profound, but grave:
Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
(Leviticus 19: 15)
© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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