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How Pro-Life Are Liberal Evangelicals?

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.
Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

A curious division exists among the Religious Left when it comes to the subject of abortion.

The older, lifelong Mainline Protestant folks often tout their pro-choice sentiments openly. Some of their affiliated denominations, like the Presbyterian Church (USA) or the United Church of Christ, blatantly "protect women's equal and fair access to abortion."

Alternatively, some of the Religious Left's newest converts, many former conservative Evangelicals or "post-Evangelicals," are holding on to their pro-life labels. But for how long will it last?

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I've mentioned some of these thoughts before on social media and most recently during a podcast interview with apologist Alisa Girard Childers that is yet to be published. These thoughts have been on my mind, especially since the brazen pro-abortion session at Wild Goose Festival last month. So I would like to further process and explore these observations here.

Post-Evangelicals find themselves in a precarious position when it comes to their pro-life labels. Too much anti-abortion talk is an insult to, say, the 44 Religious Left officials who collectively called for continued federal funding of the abortion giant Planned Parenthood or the liberal clergy in Texas who praised abortion as a "God-given right."

Professing pro-lifers among the Religious Left cannot deny that many of their liberal theological colleagues disagree with them. And for the post-Evangelical crowd who are "evolving" on abortion to appease their new theological (and political) tribe, an open pro-abortion trajectory seems almost inevitable. But for now, post-Evangelicals are claiming to uphold the dignity of unborn life without downright condemning abortion.

Perhaps this is why you'd be hard-pressed to find many in-depth discussions of the inherent dignity and vulnerability of the unborn on popular post-Evangelicals' blogs and social media feeds. It would also be helpful to hear their thoughts on euthanasia. Will they comment on news reports that Belgium is euthanizing children, as Brandon Showalter reported here?

Sure, popular post-Evangelicals will sporadically mention they're pro-life in blog posts to inflate their moral authority while simultaneously encouraging readers to vote for a pro-abortion Democratic political nominee. Others only remind us that they are pro-life when they want to criticize the pro-life movement or paint a broad brush stroke of hypocrisy on conservative Christians.

Katelyn Beaty, an author and former managing editor of Christianity Today, astutely noted this tendency among progressive Christians last week.

"Of course, I wish pro-life Christians would apply a consistent life ethic to other issues beyond abortion.

"But I also wish progressive Christians who constantly critique pro-life Christians for being hypocritical would seriously, and publicly, weigh the life ethics of abortion," she wrote. 

Post-Evangelical author Rachel Held Evans responded, in part:

"Every time I do that I get called a baby killer, am sent pictures of aborted fetuses, watch as my positions are completely mischaracterized in pro-life publications, and receive a bunch of death threats. Frankly, it's not worth it."

Evans shares more thoughts on her "consistent pro-life approach" here:

"...But what I think we're afraid to acknowledge is that ethics can be hard. Being "consistently pro-life" on guns, on war, on euthanasia, on healthcare, on foreign policy, on aid, and on abortion just isn't as straightforward as we'd like....

"...Yet we still pursue ethics based on the imago dei, on the assertion that every person is created in the image of God and therefore worthy of life abundant. But maybe with a little more openness and humility."

Frankly, I'm skeptical it's all a veneer. I would have more respect for progressive Christians' holistic pro-life approach if they mentioned the dignity of the unborn without caveats or narrative shifts. I've only ever heard one — just one — among the Religious Left discuss the sanctity of unborn life without pause or political aims. Kudos to Shane Claiborne for his willingness to do so and in front of the uber-liberal crowd at Wild Goose Festival back in 2016.

Interesting then that just last week the executive director of Claiborne's Red Letter Christians group, Don Golden, decried "Criminalizing or preventing a woman's choice" a.k.a. abortion. His remark was in response to a pro-life USA Today op-ed written by Daniel Darling, Vice President of Communications for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and author of the forthcoming book The Dignity Revolution: Reclaiming God's Rich Vision for Humanity.

Here is Golden's Twitter exchange:

"Criminalizing or preventing a woman's choice is wrong but your appeal for a dignity consensus is much needed. As it stands, Evangelical pro-gun, pro-war, pro-death penalty views puts Evangelicals among the most death honoring of Americans."

To which Darling responded:

"I'm saddened that a self-described Red Letter Christian would dismiss the dignity and humanity of the unborn."

Golden went on to tweet:

"Criminalizing a woman's choice is wrong but ⁦@dandarling⁩ appeal for a dignity consensus is much needed. As it stands, Evangelical pro-gun, pro-war, pro-death penalty views puts them among the most death honoring of Americans."

Ever notice that Progressive Christians publicly call for criminalizing guns and outlawing the death penalty, but when it comes to criminalizing abortion — the murder of innocent life — they back away and shift the narrative away from the vulnerability of the unborn? This was my thought shortly after reading Golden's remarks.

Post-Evangelicals have not only made a theological shift but a liberal political move too. Their deflections surrounding "criminalizing" the murder of innocent life focus heavily on promoting universal health care and increased entitlement programs, a clever pivot away from the murder of innocent lives in utero. This helps ease any offense to their pro-abortion theological and political friends and followers.

It seems fair to point out the cracks in many progressive Christians' pro-life posture. They can and will attempt to create nuance, but there is nothing inherently moral about the murder of the unborn. And as Darling's new book keenly points out, we cannot separate our social activism from our Christian witness to the world.

I encourage post-Evangelicals to consider the trajectory in which they are headed down. A society that fails to advance the dignity of the most vulnerable for of human life will not possess the ethics necessary to promote human dignity elsewhere.

Originally posted at Juicy Ecumenism.

Chelsen Vicari serves as the Evangelical Program Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy. She earned her Masters of Arts in Government from Regent University and frequently contributes to conservative outlets. Follow her on twitter @ChelsenVicari.

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