By Pastor Mark Christopher
More and more I am encountering those who are claiming to hold to what is called a “whole life ethic” or a “consistent ethic of life”. Those in the social justice camp are especially predisposed to this argument which seeks to dismiss the horrors of abortion i.e., feticide, by claiming to oppose all intentional taking of human life to include abortion, capital punishment, and war. Thus, they lump all life-and-death related issues together under one banner.
This is not new. Many years ago, liberal theologians and ethicists, like Jim Wallis of Sojourners and David Gushee, were promoting this brand of “pro-life” ethics. The emergent church gravitated towards this ethic. And now those with social justice proclivities have revived this seemingly pro-life response. Again, there is nothing new under the sun.
It may sound good to the uninitiated, so what is wrong with the “whole life ethic” thinking? Here are but a few considerations for those who use the label, but have not thought the matter through biblically and logically:
1. The whole life ethic errantly assumes that all life-related issues are morally equivalent and given the same outcome in Scripture. In so doing, they confuse issues like abortion and capital punishment placing them together as though the Bible treats them both the same.
2. The whole life ethic is vague and uses hasty generalizations to explain life-related issues. This results in confusing categories into the one-size-fits-all approach to being “pro-life”.
3. Rather than adopting the vague notions of the whole life ethic, Christians should adopt what Wayne Grudem calls the “whole Bible ethic” approach. The whole Bible ethic approach seeks the specific biblical position on each topic i.e., abortion, war, and capital punishment. This avoids the one-size-fits-all approach of the whole life ethic and serves as a barrier to confusing issues and categories.
4. Rather than trying to protect human life in every case, the Bible seeks to protect the innocent and then punish the guilty in direct proportion to their crime/sin. Ezekiel 13:19 demonstrates this well: “For handfuls of barley and fragments of bread, you have profaned Me to My people to put to death some who should not die and to keep others alive who should not live, by your lying to My people who listen to lies.” In like manner, the divinely appointed purpose for government testifies of this same truth: “For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:-3-4). In light of the biblical ethic, the emphasis is on protecting innocent life versus punishing those who are evil doers.
5. Finally, the whole life ethic, while sounding good, is simply a sophisticated way to distill and dismiss the implications of the abortion issue. For some it serves as a salve for their consciences so they can vote for merchants of death and the promoters of feticide under the guise of “comprehensive justice” (another vague and obtuse term). With all the pious talk about “justice” at present, the whole life ethic enables one to push an issue like feticide to the periphery and so diminish its importance by lumping it with a host of other life-related categories. All of which Scripture treats differently.
So the next time you hear some professing evangelical caution you against being a “one issue” voter this election season, with reference to abortion, it may be they have been influenced in some measure by the revival of the “whole life ethic”. And while it may sound convincing, it is simply a one-size-fits-all approach that diminishes the importance of the murder of the innocent at the expense of confusing it with other life-related issues. In the end, the Bible does not treat all life issues the same, and neither should we. For God places a premium on the life of the innocent. Perhaps the Christian vote come November 3, 2020 should reflect this same sacredness of innocent life!