Uprooting Evil: Why the pro-life movement must grow deeper roots to see lasting fruit

ANALYSIS

New technologies and embattled pro-life legislative victories have contributed to the lowest annual number of abortions in the U.S. since 1975. Yet, even as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control confirms the trend of falling abortion rates since 2008, threats to human dignity continue to flourish in the West.

A 2015 report published by the National Right to Life Committee found a nearly 8 percent increase of abortions among women ages 40 and older from 2008-2011, speculating about a possible link to the increased usage of prenatal genetic testing in detecting a negative diagnosis. Similarly, abortions are becoming an increasingly anonymous affair with drugs like RU-486 and the “Abortion Pill” (methotrexate and misoprostol) now prescribed via web cam or at home. In 2011, chemical abortions accounted for 22.6 percent of the 1 million abortions in the U.S., according to the Guttmacher Institute (AGI), originally founded by Planned Parenthood.

In order to see lasting fruit in its fight against challenges to human dignity—euthanasia, human trafficking, the refugee crisis—the American pro-life movement will need more than sonogram machines and legal restrictions. Calling for evil to be eradicated at its root, Christian leaders are urging the church to cultivate a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life and how the culture grew to be anti-life in the first place. 

For many, the starting point for understanding the current state of human dignity in the West is Francis Schaeffer, an evangelical thinker and catalyst for the modern pro-life movement.

Much of Schaeffer’s writings, particularly his books How Shall We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? (co-authored with renowned pediatric neurosurgeon C. Everett Koop), helped the American evangelical church connect the dots between their ideas about the world and their ethical consequences for living in it. 

In an interview with the TEXAN, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore called Schaeffer’s writings on the dehumanization of humanity in American culture prophetic. 

“When Schaeffer was talking about issues such as abortion, there were very few evangelicals speaking up about these things and certainly very few speaking about them as forcefully as he did,” Moore said, noting that the biggest success of the pro-life movement is that there still is a pro-life movement 42 years after Roe vs. Wade. 

“The assumption was that history would move on and that abortion would simply be received as just another medical treatment. Yet, that hasn’t happened. The American conscience is still being addressed by a vibrant pro-life movement, and I think Schaeffer is one of many that we have to thank for that.” 

Schaeffer’s most enduring legacy is the alarm he sounded against the slow creep of materialistic humanism—the fundamental idea that man can begin from himself and derive the standards by which to judge all matters—as the dominant Western worldview. Adding in the naturalistic philosophies of modern science, which declare man to be mere matter, Schaeffer cautioned, would result in complete cultural poverty.

“Schaeffer was 30-40 years ahead of his time when he wrote about determinism,” said Evan Lenow, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s assistant professor of ethics and chair of the seminary’s ethics department. “We are at the point of genetic or biological determinism that he discussed.” 

Still resonating 30 years after his death, Schaeffer’s books reveal that ideas indeed have consequences; decaying roots produce nothing but rotten fruit. And his prophetic arguments for a cultural engagement hinged on a true exchange of ideas—an uprooting of evil thought systems by replacing them with a biblical view of truth—stand the test of time.

“It was the materialistic worldview that brought in the inhumanity,” Schaeffer wrote in Whatever Happened to the Human Race. “It must be a different worldview that drives it out.” 

 

FROM DECAYING ROOTS TO ROTTEN FRUIT: WHY WORLDVIEWS MATTER

Far from being a solely academic endeavor, worldviews shape an individual’s everyday values and ethics. One’s worldview impacts every aspect of life, Lenow told the TEXAN.

“When it comes to issues of human dignity, a worldview will impact the way we view other people and the value we place on their lives and our lives,” Lenow said. “If we have a biblical worldview, we will recognize that all humans are made in the image of God and that we have inherent value and worth in the eyes of God. Therefore, we should treat all people with dignity and respect as a response to how God made us.”

The prevailing cultural worldview says the opposite, Lenow explained. “Humanism has left our culture with no concept of the eternal. Many people in our culture have no concept of God nor any desire to know him. Therefore, they are left with the perspective that this life is all there is. As a result, they are focused on maximizing pleasure during this life with little or no concern for the future, much less eternity.”

According to Lenow, humanism is a driving force in the abortion industry’s culture of death. “It tells us that life is not worth living unless pleasure and happiness can be guaranteed,” Lenow said. “In addition, humanism drives the focus on the individual, resulting in our failure to see the value and dignity of the unborn because we are so focused on the pleasure and happiness of the adult making the decision to abort.”

This clash of worldviews between materialistic humanism and biblical Christianity creates challenges for churches advocating pro-life causes, Lenow noted.

“Religious arguments are not tolerated by humanists, so we must be prepared to make rational, logical arguments,” he said. “In much the same way as Schaeffer did, we need to be prepared to ‘take the roof off’ someone’s worldview through logic, natural law and rational arguments in order to expose them to the truth of what God has revealed about himself and us.” 

 

UPROOTING EVIL: WORLDVIEWS, CONSCIENCES, & KINGDOM VISIONS

“Secularism has influenced Christian churches in many ways,” Moore told the TEXAN. “Unless we are aware of it and constantly confronting it with Scripture and with the power of the Spirit, then we can think in terms that are very alien from the way that the Bible thinks. We tend to think of human beings as not being living images of God but as obstacles to whatever our agenda is.”

But it is not enough to champion Christian values or herald the return of the so-called “moral majority” in America, Moore believes. To see a culture in which life flourishes, Moore advocates for a deeper approach to engaging the culture on human dignity issues. 

While Schaeffer bemoaned the loss of the Christian consensus for keeping Western society free from chaos, Moore focuses on the church’s role in reshaping Christian conscience. 

“The conscience is something that the Scripture speaks to repeatedly as the mode of moral decision making in every person in which is embedded the law of God, and in the case of the believer, it is also indwelled with the Spirit of God prompting us toward conformity with Christ. And so I think that on the life issues, and other issues, the first step is to have a conscience that is well formed to recognize that which is good and that which is evil.”

For Moore, the key to this type of deeply rooted, pro-life conviction is two-fold: the church must re-tether its activism to the gospel while actively seeking to persuade “people on the other side” of biblical truth.

“The pro-life movement has taught evangelicals much over the last 40 years, primarily because the pro-life movement could never be simply a resentment lobby or a vehicle for outrage,” Moore said, noting he was encouraged that the pro-life movement in America grows younger each year.  “So the pro-life movement has reminded Christians what it means to not only hold our convictions but to speak those convictions in ways that are persuasive to those who disagree with us.”

In his new book, Onward: Engaging the Culture Without Losing the Gospel, Moore builds on Schaeffer’s call for social action by outlining a framework for cultural engagement called “engaged alienation”—a type of Christianity that “preserves the distinctiveness of our gospel” without retreating from loving neighbors and citizens. And it begins in the church, the place where the loss of the Christian worldview is increasingly conspicuous.

The church must possess a “theological vision of what it means to be the church in the world, of what it means to be human in the cosmos,” Moore says in his book’s introduction noting that previous generations were more apt to anchor their cultural battles in the public square to morals over the good news. 

“Success means a gospel-anchored engagement that is transmitted from one generation to the next,” he writes. 

“We must equip a new generation for different days,” Moore writes. “They must know how to fight for doctrinal orthodoxy and for public justice. An almost-gospel won’t do; a cut-rate righteousness won’t either.”

The church must contend for the culture with “voices shaped by the gospel, with a convictional kindness that recognizes that winning arguments is not enough if one is in a cosmic struggle with unseen principalities and powers,” Moore says in his book. “If we do no surrender to the spirit of the age, … we will be thought to be culture-warriors. So be it. Let’s be Christ-shaped, kingdom-first culture warriors.” 

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