Connecting with Culture
It’s been said that culture is ‘what we make of the world’, but what does that look like as Christians? How can we begin conversations about what’s goin...
The Supreme Court of the United States last week delivered two controversial – and seemingly contradictory – judgements.
On Thursday the court struck down a New York state law restricting gun-carrying rights. The court found that the law requiring residents to prove ‘proper cause’ or good reason to carry concealed firearms in public violated the Constitution.
The following day the court overturned its 1973 ruling in the case of Roe v Wade that a woman’s right to abortion was protected by the Constitution. This judgement doesn’t make abortion illegal but hands this decision to individual states.
One judgement appears to put life at risk. The other appears to protect it. The intense and contrasting reactions to the Supreme Court rulings – euphoria and rage about each in different quarters – have further demonstrated how polarised the United States is across a wide range of issues.
What’s an appropriate Christian response?
The example of the early Christians should help us. In his book The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark argues that, in the ancient world, ‘central doctrines of Christianity prompted and sustained attractive, liberating, and effective social relations and organisations’. The early Christians were not only pro-birth but consistently and authentically pro-life in all of life. They embraced those whom the Greeks and Romans considered useless to society – orphans, widows, beggars, the elderly, and the disabled. They nursed the sick during times of plague, and, in rejecting abortion and infanticide, they were pro-women, pro-education, pro-children, pro-family, truly pro-choice. Christianity grew exponentially as a result.
This whole-life ethic remains revolutionary. A whole-life ethic will help us decide how best to organise our political arrangements. A whole-life ethic will help us see that the law, although significant, is limited in its ability to restrain evil and promote human flourishing.
A whole-life ethic will lead us to oppose the lie that anyone has the absolute right to autonomy. It’s increasingly accepted that there are moral (and legal) limits on our use of the planet. Why should the use of our bodies be any different? Danny Kruger MP sparked fury in the House of Commons on Tuesday when he made exactly this point: ‘[Some] think that women have an absolute right to bodily autonomy in this matter,’ he said, ‘whereas I think in the case of abortion that right is qualified by the fact that another body is involved.’ The same point could be made about the ‘absolute right’ to carry concealed firearms.
A whole-life ethic will lead us to ‘translate’ Christian doctrines into everyday life and, therefore, be characterised by compassion for others. We will work for a future where we do better to protect the lives of women and girls, increase choice, address social deprivation and exclusion, the climate and ecological crisis, gun violence, abortion, and domestic violence – everything, in fact, that impacts the quality of life.
Jesus came that people might have life in all its fullness. If we embrace his whole-life ethic, we will not only contribute to the flourishing of others but could change the conversation around contested issues for good.