Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Question of Abortion: Christian Virtue and Government Legislation

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

The Question of Abortion: Christian Virtue and Government Legislation

Article excerpt

Abstract: Contemporary debates about abortion often miss the primary Christian convictions that make intelligible the claim that abortion is an unhappy and tragic practice that we should seek to minimize. Permissive abortion practices are at odds with the Christian telos and stand in stark contrast to those practices well-suited to becoming a worshiping community that welcomes children, empowers women and accepts that burdens and suffering often accompany the moral life. Our primary response to abortion should be to focus on becoming that sort of community by engaging in the appropriate practices, including practices of community support, accountability and discernment. At the same time, however, these arguments against abortion do not imply that Anabaptist Christians should support legislative efforts to make all or most abortions illegal.

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Most contemporary discussions of abortion argue along familiar lines: the moral status of embryonic and fetal life, and a woman's right to choose what happens within her own body. That these are the principal terms of debate makes sense given certain features of contemporary society, including a "liberal" moral/legal legacy that focuses on autonomy and individual rights. (1)

That debate along these lines seems to be intractable is discouraging. Even more discouraging is that such arguments miss the primary Christian convictions that make intelligible the claim that abortion is an unhappy and tragic practice. Arguments about whether a human fetus is a "person," or about "rights," "privacy" and "choice" fail to capture what is at stake when we consider abortion. The real issue, instead, is whether we truly believe ourselves called by God to be the type of people and communities described in our confessions and depicted in our worship.

THE CHRISTIAN TELOS AND THE PRACTICE OF ABORTION

I here highlight certain Christian convictions regarding (in the virtue language of Aristotle and St. Thomas) our telos--that is, convictions about the kind of community God is calling into existence, including notions concerning the community's good and the true nature of human flourishing. The particular convictions about our telos under consideration are widely affirmed within the broad stream of Anabaptists Christians. Specifically, our telos includes becoming a worshiping community that welcomes children, empowers women, and accepts that burdens and suffering often accompany the moral life and fidelity to God.

Inseparable from our telos are those practices congruent with moving toward and sustaining that end; by contrast, other practices, such as abortion, move us away from and undermine that end. Consider, as an illustration, the notion that our telos includes peacemaking. One could reasonably contend that the practice of regularly praying for our enemies moves us toward that end of being peacemakers by reducing our own animosity and teaching us to see our enemy's humanity. By contrast, the seemingly innocuous practice of daily watching the evening news gradually moves us away from that end by teaching us both to be passive and to be suspicious of others. In a similar fashion, it is primarily when we consider which practices are consistent with Christian convictions about our telos that we see why abortion is such a deeply troubling activity.

THE WORSHIP OF GOD

Consider the simple claim that central to the Christian life is the love and worship of God. (2) If the Christian life, in particular the gathered life of the Christian community, is about anything, it is about worship, about attending to God. We gather to offer prayers of gratitude and to sing songs of praise. We gather in the belief that life is for relationship to God, worship of God, and service to God, which includes our love and care of others. Moreover, we gather in the hope that others too will learn to love and worship God. Practices as different as "passing the peace," summer Bible school, and budget decisions or offerings designated for "missions" all reinforce the hope inherent in worship that the community of those who know and love God will grow. …

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