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Receiving Justice with Gratitude
On Roe. v Wade...
If you’re a reader of this newsletter, the odds are good you don’t need me to tell you that a potential reversal of Roe v. Wade in the coming weeks is a very good thing. You probably already believe that, and you’d be right. Few things are so self-evident to me as a Christian and as a human being as the fact that unborn children are people with an inalienable right to life. This country’s history of legal abortion is a nightmarish chapter of violent self-deception, tethered to a 1973 Supreme Court decision that was and is absurd. Roe’s downfall would be a triumphant victory for the human race an altogether act of justice that we should receive with joyful thanksgiving.
Let me say a couple brief things about that last part, because I sense that some evangelical conversation about abortion in particular and public justice in general is confused on this point. It has commonly been suggested that opposing Roe v Wade is morally illegitimate unless it is accompanied with a kind of maximalist support for a social safety net. In other words, it has been suggested that you’re not really pro-life if you oppose abortion but support capitalism; you’re not really pro-life if you hate Roe v. Wade but don’t vote for candidates who vow to redistribute wealth; you’re not really pro-life if all you want is to stop abortion rather than providing extensive care and support for baby and mother.
Now, there’s an element of truth here that pro-life conservatives would do well to consider. It does matter whether or not we use laws and politics to create a world in which bearing and raising children is plausible. And those of us who identify as conservative voters need to realize that the “free market” was created for man, not man for the free market, and that given human corruption it is perfectly reasonable to think that markets could become inhumane and in need of moral intervention. Yes and good.
But those accusations of hypocrisy often come from an inability to receive justice with gratitude. I’m assuming, of course, that these accusations are from good faith and not simply coded opposition to the pro-life movement that would allow a left-leaning evangelical to keep selling her books within conservative institutions. That happens too, but it’s a topic for another day. There are many people who genuinely believe the pro-life movement is morally hypocritical for being mostly Republican and conservative, and those are the ones whom I believe are unable to receive justice with gratitude. Their rhetoric about human flourishing rings hollow because they are unable to receive an example of it when they see it. Instead, they fixate on the perceived “fairness” of the political process itself, angered and frustrated by the unequal and asymmetrical distribution of moral insight among American tribal lines.
This is the problem as well with those who hear the news of Roe’s demise by reminding everyone that “it wasn’t worth it” because Donald Trump was president. It’s not worth it? What does the word “it” mean here? The only possible reference must be to the actual lives of unborn people, and if so, this is a strange and incoherent idea: the idea that the saved lives of human beings are not worth the distastefulness of having had someone like Trump nominate someone like Brett Kavanaugh. You can believe those two men are the evilest men in the world and still think that the skull, arms, and spine a 20-week old infant should not be eligible for elective destruction. Justice does not require that you fall at the feet of people whom you dislike. It only requires that you call things what they are. If you can’t do the latter without feeling like you’re doing the former, something has gone amiss in your worldview of justice.
There’s a last group that merits mention here. Receiving justice with gratitude also means not valuing the demise of Roe v. Wade primarily for the way it might seem to give you a leg up on those whose voting instincts you disagree with. I’ve seen some people who avow to be passionate pro-lifers take the news about Roe and immediately demand contrition from fellow Christians who didn’t vote for Donald Trump. This kind of immediate response to the news of justice reveals a deformed conscience. I mean that. When people are given news that human beings might be saved with the force of law after decades upon decades of justice deferred, their instinctive response reveals what they really want. Do they really want lives to be saved? Or do they really want their political egos to be stroked? Sometimes you can do both! But here’s the problem: if you get into the habit of trying to do both, eventually you’ll insist on doing both even when you can’t. Your values will warp, and you may end up a different kind of person than you thought you were.
Receive justice with gratitude. Praise the God of heaven for his own right arm that works righteousness for him. Praise him for using pathetic sinners to achieve good things.