In America, the Christian creed has at times been employed to justify evil. In the antebellum period, Southern Christians who defended slavery claimed it was not explicitly condemned in the Bible and that slaves — by virtue of their race — were justly deprived of their rights to the benefit of society.
A similar divide on the rights of the unborn exists among Christians today, a minority of whom maintain that abortion should be legal in all cases. Self-proclaimed Christian abortion doctor, Willie Parker, spoke on campus Jan. 16 and claimed that his faith inspires his work. Christianity, however, offers clear guidance on the sanctity of human life. Parker butchers this theology and refuses to recognize the humanity of the unborn.
Parker instead clings to a philosophy that asserts that being human does not necessarily mean possessing human rights. He denies that a fetus, biologically living and genetically human, is the type of human life Christ values.
Separating the humanity from a human life along an arbitrary line, be it by trimesters, weeks or heartbeats, is a fraught philosophical argument, but not a novel one. Indeed, this very institution was built by men who were not quite men. Yes, the slaves who worked at Georgetown were obviously alive and genetically human, but they were not considered full persons under the law. Based on an arbitrary attribute — the color of their skin — they were not people, but property. Men like Jesus Christ and Parker’s personal hero Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. challenged the status quo with morality, but when considering a fetus’s humanity, Parker eschews morals and can only respond that a fetus is not a person “by the standards of the law.” How far our prophets have fallen.
Granted, much of what Parker says is rooted in Christian teachings about compassion and forgiveness. For example, he is right to empathize with women who have been forced into difficult situations, such as poor single mothers or scared teenagers. And it is Christian to critique society for failing to provide for the most vulnerable, recognizing that women seek abortions because, as Parker says, “we made them desperate.”
Moreover, Parker is right to understand the parable of the Good Samaritan, the story of a stranger who aided a wounded traveller while others passed by, as a Christian call to action and mercy. In his interpretation, he is the Good Samaritan, providing relief to the women in his path. From afar, it does seem that Parker’s rhetoric about compassion parallels that of Christ and Rev. King.
Nevertheless, there are serious theological objections to his justification of abortion. Parker does well to preach mercy, but omits that Christ came not only to forgive, but also to instruct. Parker’s assurances that, “If you are comfortable with your decision, ignore everything from everybody else,” make indulging in one’s desires easier, but not more right.
Christian teaching forbids murder and declares that all human life is inherently valuable. From these premises, institutions like the Catholic Church conclude that the destruction of unborn fetuses is tantamount to murder. But Christianity presupposes that we can properly perceive reality, precisely what Parker fails to do in denying a fetus’s humanity.
Parker sees injustice in the pain and desperation of his patients, but he distorts Christianity to rationalize his blindness to another — the destruction of the unborn person. Inviting a reporter to examine the aftermath of an abortion, Parker points to a glass dish, “There’s the skull, what is going to be the fetal skull. Andthere are the eye sockets,” while the reporter observes that “Floating near the top of the dish are two tiny arms with two tiny hands.” Even looking upon the clearly formed remains of a human, Parker refuses to see the life he extinguished. One is left to wonder how Parker’s benevolent God could command such abhorrent destruction. If we are called to help the weak, surely it is by lifting them up, not by pushing them down.
As Christians, we are duty-bound to resist what Pope Francis calls the “throwaway culture” and join the fight to protect life rather than destroy it. American Christians, grasping to justify slavery, once embraced the philosophy that personhood could be wrenched apart from human life. Let us not make this mistake again.
Richard Howell is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.