Redefining “Pro-Life”

Christians have always been pro-life. During the Roman Empire when infanticide was rampant, it was Christians who retrieved abandoned babies from outside the city walls to raise them as their own. But since Roe verses Wade, the way “pro-life” has been defined by many Christians has been very narrow. It simply meant anti-abortion. But that now seems to be changing. Growing numbers of Christians are embracing a wider ethic of life.Jim Wallis and Sojourners have called for a Christian agenda that is pro-life “from the womb to the tomb.” That means valuing children after they are born, and not just before. It means valuing social justice, equality, education, health care, and human rights. It means fighting poverty and advocating for those without a voice.For a while this agenda was ridiculed by traditional conservative evangelicals as nothing more than repackaged Christian liberalism. They fought hard to keep the pro-life agenda solely about abortion. But something has changed. The momentum now seems undeniably on the side of those advocating a wider pro-life agenda. Tom Krattenmaker has written an insightful editorial in USA Today about this shift among younger evangelicals.

This younger wave will not stick to the narrow old script – abortion, gays, the erosion of Christian prerogatives in the public square – that has governed publicly applied evangelicalism since the ’70s. These modern-day abolitionists, along with growing ranks of faith-fueled activists in the fight against global poverty, disease and other forms of human degradation, might not see themselves as political. Even so, intentionally or not, they could end up changing the meaning of a political movement and idea – “pro life” – that has been at the center of one of the most rancorous political arguments of our time.

Back in October I wrote about my experience at the Catalyst Conference in Atlanta. 12,000 young church leaders gathered for the spectacle which included a great deal of rhetoric about social justice and global compassion. Highlighted at the conference was Call + Response, an indy film produced by a Christian rock band member, about human sex trafficking. The film isn’t overtly Christian. There’s no Bible content, and yet it’s saturated with religious values and ideas. It’s an example of the pro-life value broadening and maturing.

In addition to redefining pro-life, younger evangelicals are more open to working with partners outside their own community to make progress happen. Another bit from the USA Today article:

Also finding room on a more broadly defined “pro-life” movement are poverty, torture, immigration, health care, disease prevention and climate change. With that has come more talk of respecting the humanity of gay men and lesbians and new interest in cooperating with progressives and non-evangelicals (including the new president) on strategies to reduce the incidence of abortion.

As suggested by popular evangelical leader Rick Warren, progressives who support abortion rights would be mistaken if they interpreted all this as a sign that evangelicals are dropping the abortion issue. “They’re not leaving pro-life,” Warren told Beliefnet recently. “I’m just trying to expand the agenda.”

What do you think? Is the redefinition of pro-life a long overdue appreciation of Christ’s vision for his church. Or, will it dilute the evangelical political influence and threaten the goal of ending or reducing abortions?

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  • January 15, 2009


    I think it only seems like a redefinition to some evangelicals, afterall, this is the view that has been held by the African-American church out of necessity and the Catholic church with their theology of the seamless garment of life.

    robert gelinas

  • January 17, 2009

    Elane O'Rourke

    Thank you for writing this, Skye. It may not be a redefinition to most evangelicals, as Robert suggests, but I can tell you for sure it’s a necessary expansion of the rhetoric. There are a lot of us with evangelical-ish beliefs and seriously leftist politics who have been unable to take “pro-life” seriously. Whether you believe that human rights begin at conception, they sure as heck matter by week 26 and beyond. We have constantly cut government spending on air-breathing human beings, limited their access to health care, thrown away the key to their cells, and tortured those we don’t like.

    If “human life” actually means human life, “womb to tomb”, we on the left and we on the right (and we in the pulpit and pew and blog) might have something real to talk about with God and each other.

  • January 18, 2009

    Richard Miller


    If the new evangelicalism is everything except Christ cruciiified, then “evangelical” no longer means Christian. It is simply one more attempt by mankind to justify itself. I want nothing to do with it and neither do my kids.

    The idea of “social justice” is a human invention without Biblical foundation.

    Abortion is a unique evil relative to poverty, etc. in that a person is being murdered. To try to lump abortion in with poverty,etc. is to attempt to muuddy the water.

    Toput poverty