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Want a Culture of Life? Make Disciples. PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 03 November 2008 06:09
For all the sound and fury about abortion in the Catholic media, it is sobering to realize that Catholics aren't the real champions of life in the US.

The real champions are the evangelicals that many Catholic bloggers disparage so readily. To be specific, younger evangelicals. Especially those under 25. From an article by Ed Gilgore entitled "Evangelicals and Abortion"

. . . white evangelical Protestants (particularly younger ones) are consistently, and by sizable margins, more likely to favor abortion restrictions than Catholics.

There are variable measurements of this phenomenon, but no real doubt about the basics. A September 2007 Pew survey showed white evangelical Protestants agreeing that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases by a 65-31 magin; Catholics favored keeping abortion legal in all or most cases by a 51-44 margin (with no appreciable difference between Hispanic and non-Hispanic Catholics). On a related issue that helps measure the intensity of anti-abortion views, the same poll showed white evangelicals opposing embryonic stem cell research by 57-31, while white non-Hispanic Catholics favored it by 59-32.

Moreover, the evangelical-Catholic gap on abortion looks likely to increase in the future. An April 2004 Pew survey providing generational breakdowns showed that white evangelicals under 35 favored abortion restrictions by more than a two-to-one margin (71% among those under 25), while those over 65 actually (if narrowly) opposed more restrictions. The generational trend lines among white Catholics moved in exactly the opposite direction."

Gilgore points out the obvious ironies:

"therein lies a great mystery.

Catholic anti-abortion views, after all, are undergirded by a long series of increasingly emphatic papal encyclicals; a natural law and bioethics tradition stretching back all the way to Aristotle; an overall theological position making church teachings on matters of faith and morals binding on believers; a relatively low level of tolerance for individual dissent; and a teaching and disciplinary system that can be (and in some parts of the country, is being) deployed to influence the views and behavior--personal and political--of the laity.

Not one of these is a significant factor for Sola Scriptura Protestants. And unlike other moral issues ranging from gay and lesbian rights to divorce to adultery, the belief in scriptural inerrancy common among evangelicals doesn't really explain the vast gap between evangelicals and their mainline brethren on abortion. I've yet to read or hear a purely scriptural justification for banning abortions that doesn't ultimately come down to circular reasoning based on the condemnations of homicide from the Decalogue onward.

Evangelical hard-line views on abortion are not a matter of an unbroken tradition. In 1971, before Roe v. Wade, when nearly all states maintained abortion bans, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for abortion laws that would recognize exceptions not only in cases of rape and incest, but where the "emotional, mental and physical health of the mother" might be endangered. Needless to say, that would be considered a radically liberal position among evangelicals today.

So whence cometh today's white evangelical anti-abortion ferver? One theory is that these folk are radically alienated from contemporary American culture, and view legalized abortion (along with premarital sex, open gay/lesbian lifestyles, and TV/Hollywood "trash culture") as a symbol of a depraved society. This is undoubtedly the view of some well-known evangelical leaders like James Dobson, who often indulges himself in Nazi analogies for the "Holocaust" of abortion. But objective measurements of evangelical cultural alienation are generally ambivalent, and they are famously enthusiastic about adopting contemporary culture in their own liturgical and missionary practices.

Another theory, for which I can offer little other than plausible conjecture, is that the "framing" of the abortion issue--particular its treament as fundamentally a matter of the reproductive rights of women, or of personal privacy--that underlies the pro-choice argument is simply uncompelling to many white evangelicals. Aside from the strongly anti-feminist bias of much of contemporary evangelical teaching, American evangelicals have become strongly averse to the libertarian traditions of church-state separation and protection of individual conscience that once was a central feature of their own belief system. And perhaps an inability to even hear the pro-choice case has reinforced the impact of such secular phenomena as widely available sonogram images of fetal development."

We are the ones with the rock solid case for the life and dignity of every person but we are the ones who are failing to "get" it.. Because the majority of our people don't care what the Church teaches. The majority of our people rarely or never cross the threshold of our parishes in any case. When that is the case, it is no surprise that only 22% of Catholics look to the Church's teaching when making moral decisions.

Want to build a culture of life? Evangelize. Intentional disciples care very much what the Church thinks because they seek to follow Jesus, Lord and Head of the Church. First of all, they will be there. Secondly, they will be eagerly paying attention.

If we don't evangelize our own, other people - non-Catholic people, people all around the world - pay in innumerable ways. Not just the unborn but the poor and the marginalized of all kinds.

Catholic Social Teaching isn't our best kept secret because we aren't teaching it. It is our best kept secret because a majority of the baptized are not yet intentional disciples.

Seek Peace? Work for Justice. Want Justice? Make Disciples.

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