I consider involuntary slavery, a never-failing fountain of the grossest immorality, and one of the deepest sources of human misery; it hangs like the mantle of night over our republic, and shrouds its rising glories. I sincerely pity the man who tinges his hand in the unhallowed thing that is fraught with the tears, and sweat, and groans, and blood of hapless millions of innocent, unoffending people. – Reverend John Rankin, Letters On American Slavery Addressed To Mr. Thomas Rankin (1833)
There was a time in the United States when everyday people were involved in a great evil that was sanctioned by the government. An entire group of human beings was dehumanized, considered less than full human persons, bought, sold, and owned as property.
Looking back it may seem hard to understand how this occurred. How could people be so utterly blind to the obvious humanity of their fellow human beings? We’d like to think we are far removed from those people. We’re enlightened now, more advanced, less sinful, but are we?
To explore the answer to this question, one needn’t look further than our own culture today. Children in the womb have been dehumanized, considered less than full human persons, and treated philosophically, practically, and by law as disposable property. Maybe we aren’t so different from those people after all?
The Bible says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The sins of this generation are no different than the sins of former generations; we just find new ways of carrying out the sins.
I’m reminded of Solomon who picked up the infant at the heart of a dispute between two women, both claiming to be the child’s mother, and picked up a sword threatening to cut the child in two.
One woman, the counterfeit mother, agreed to accept half a baby. The other woman, the true mother, was willing to relinquish her claim to the child in order to save his life. A divided baby is a dead baby.
There is another way to divide a human being outside of the sword that is just as devastating: separating a human being from his full personhood. History proves how often humanity has found itself in the place of the counterfeit mother pursuing its own gain through the division of other human beings.
Racism and prejudice are ultimately perversions of uninhibited pride and self-worship. When we allow for the falsehood that, due to some shared characteristic or circumstance, certain groups of human beings aren’t full human persons, we allow for the creation of a class of lesser humans.
It was the dividing of human beings from their personhood that gave us legal slavery and segregation, and it is this dividing which gives us legal abortion-on-demand today.
Some lives worth sacrificing
Racism and prejudice are consistently at the forefront of the headlines and our private and public conversations. People take to social media to declare that black lives matter or that all lives matter. We find ourselves, again and again, debating the inherent value and dignity of all people. I have two questions:
- Do we really believe all lives matter?
- Why do we believe all lives matter?
When we look back at American slavery and segregation with horror, or when we talk about racism and prejudice today with disgust, we are making moral judgments. We are saying the treatment of some people as less than full human persons is wrong, but by what standard are we making this judgment?
In a 2013 article for Salon titled, So what if abortion ends life, Mary Elizabeth Williams wrote these words:
Here’s the complicated reality in which we live: All life is not equal. That’s a difficult thing for liberals like me to talk about, lest we wind up looking like death-panel-loving, kill-your-grandma-and-your-precious-baby storm troopers.
Yet a fetus can be a human life without having the same rights as the woman in whose body it resides. She’s the boss. Her life and what is right for her circumstances and her health should automatically trump the rights of the non-autonomous entity inside of her.
She goes on to say at the end of the article that some lives are worth sacrificing. If this is true, if all human life is not equal, if some lives are worth sacrificing, then there is a justification for every form of oppression in the world, including racism, prejudice, and even slavery.
Do all lives matter?
Who determines which group of human beings is the lesser group? Does the government get to make this decision or is it whichever people group has the most power at a particular time in history?
In the Salon article, we have an abortion advocate admitting what we all know abortion implies: all people are not created equal, and not all lives matter. If we can legally deny a human being as a full human person based on his or her stage in life, why not skin color, gender, ethnicity, or disability?
If we really believe there are lesser human beings who are only partial persons or not persons at all, then we lose the moral standard by which to judge slavery, segregation, racism, or any injustice as wrong.
Although we may disagree with the people group chosen as the lesser in a given point in history, we cannot really consider the choosing of a lesser group as wrong. Instead, we philosophically and practically stand in agreement with the oppressors: some lives are worth sacrificing.
When we judge racism and prejudice by the moral standard all lives matter, by that same moral standard we are condemned for our passive and active participation in abortion. If any life matters, it does so from the beginning.
Why do all lives matter?
But, we must go further. We must ask why all lives matter. God tells us in His Word all human life matters because every human being is created in His image (Genesis 1:7). Our lives are sacred from conception.
Peter Singer, a secular, utilitarian philosopher, and Professor of Bioethics at Princeton stated in a 2012 article in the Scotsman that just being human isn’t enough to guarantee every individual the right to life.
He believes there is a difference between a human being and an actual person. He has his own qualifications for personhood that include a certain level of cognitive ability, self-awareness, and autonomy. Under his definition, certain humans do not possess the right to life and certain animals, like dogs and apes, do.
Without God, personhood becomes subjective. Your personhood can be judged less than someone else’s or even less than an animal’s. You can lose your right to life or be judged not to hold the right to life at all. There is no intrinsic value given to human life.
Science can tell us we are humans belonging to the species Homo sapiens but not what it is to be human. Only the Word of God can breathe life into the cold, stark, black ink definition of a human being.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27
All human life is sacred because all human beings are created in God’s image. We see this intrinsic worth reflected in all of the Ten Commandments.
The sacredness of human life is inextricable from the existence of the God of the Bible as our Creator. Racism and prejudice are wrong because men and women of every ethnicity are created in the image of God. They are fearfully and wonderfully made, knit together in their mother’s womb by God (Psalm 139).
A person’s skin color or stage in life cannot change a person’s value because a person’s value isn’t anchored in a human characteristic or earthly circumstance but in God Himself. When we deny the sanctity of a certain color of skin or a certain stage in life, we assault the holiness of God.
It is being created in the image of God that constructs a moral argument against abortion, racism, and prejudice. We can’t lose the former argument without losing the latter ones.
If we want to have a meaningful conversation on racism and prejudice, we must first have a meaningful conversation on what it is to be human, and we must be honest about the elephant in the room: every day we are legally and violently killing thousands of human beings in their first stages of life because, in philosophy, law, and practice, we have declared all lives do not matter.
And the Church is not exempt. Self-professed Christians fall prey to the lie of abortion, too. This is a tragedy affecting many women and men sitting in our sanctuaries every Sunday.
Pregnancy is unique in that it involves the lives of two individual human beings. The inherent dignity of both mother and child must be recognized and protected. Stripping one of their full humanity and personhood doesn’t better protect the other but renders all human beings vulnerable making value and dignity things granted by the powerful instead of inherent to our humanity. It is when we protect the sanctity of both mother and child that we best protect each individually and humanity as a whole.
When we declare all lives are not equal in defense of the violence of abortion, we render impotent any effort to uphold the inherent dignity and value of other groups of people and we expose the true darkness of our hearts…a darkness that allowed for legal slavery and segregation in the past and allows for legal abortion-on-demand today…a darkness that looks for a lesser group.
Our anchor in this battle
We must ask ourselves, as long as we deny the sanctity of all human life, as long as we believe all human life is not equal, from what absolute do we war against any injustice?
One of the most important questions we can ask concerning issues of human dignity and justice is, “Where are we fighting from?” Most people can tell you what they are fighting for, but just as important is knowing where you are fighting from.
There is only one place to anchor human dignity creating equality for all people and that is the Imago Dei, or the image of God, and there is only one place to anchor the pursuit of justice and that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It is by the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ that peace comes (Ephesians 2:13-18), that forgiveness is possible (Colossians 1:13-14), that reconciliation is real (2 Corinthians 5:17-21), that hearts of stone are made hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26), that the dead are made alive (Ephesians 2:1-10), and that all of creation is made new (Revelation 21:5). The entire world groans for this redemption (Romans 8:22-23)!
At the beginning of this article, I quoted Reverend John Rankin. He was an American Christian pastor who stood unashamedly against the institution of slavery in his time.
Historically, when a culture has determined to divide human beings from their full personhood, there have been those who stood firm on the truth of the sanctity of all human life. It is the truth of the Imago Dei that crushes the lies of racism, prejudice, and abortion.
We can’t have it both ways. If there are lesser groups of people, if some lives are worth sacrificing, then life is a meaningless cycle of one people group warring against another people group vying for their place in the world, but if all human lives are sacred, created by God in his image with inherent value and dignity, then we are one people, one human race, and the war is against the lies and the sinful fruit they bear (Ephesians 6:12).
We will never create a perfect world. Racism, prejudice, abortion, hatred, bitterness, murder, lies, oppression, and slavery, etc., exist because we live in a fallen world and the hearts of men and women are sinful. That reality isn’t changing until the new heaven and the new earth.
But, as Christians stand for the sanctity of all human life in our day, as we defend the inherent dignity of all people, we become living testimonies to the truth of God’s Word and the hope of the Gospel.
Jesus points to the correlation between worship of the living God and value of our fellow man in Mark 12:30-31. He so closely identified how we treat our neighbors with how we worship the one true God that when He was asked which commandment was the greatest He responded with two: thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind and your neighbor as yourself.
As we live this love out against the dark backdrop of fallen human history and in a world that has been lost in a cycle of neighbor warring against neighbor since Cain first took up a weapon against his brother, we let our light so shine that people may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16).