Pushback on “consistent life” platform

The book cover pictures a sign applying the pro-life position to nuclear proliferation.

One of the promising campaigns by progressive evangelicals came in the 1980s with its “consistent life” platform. Here’s a short introduction from Chapter 12 of Moral Minority.

As evangelical activism in Nicaragua faltered, progressive evangelicals sought to bring coherence to a fragmenting movement by appealing to a “consistent pro-life ethic.” They linked opposition to U.S. imperialism in Central America to a much larger agenda that also opposed patriarchy, capital punishment, pornography, assisted suicide, nuclear proliferation, poverty, and abortion. The Other Side magazine, for instance, mourned the double tragedy of the Pentagon’s importing of “45,000 human fetuses from South Korea for testing the effects of the neutron bomb on fresh human tissue.” Sojourners likewise grieved that “life has become cheap at the Pentagon and in abortion clinics, at the headquarters of large corporations and in pornographic movie houses, at missile silos and genetic research laboratories, in the ghetto and in homes where families are breaking up.” In its unconventional linking of issues from both left and right based upon an overarching concern for “life,” progressive groups such as ESA and Sojourners sought to reconcile its competing identities and shifting constituencies.

Many staunch pro-life abortion activists have been underwhelmed by this effort. They don’t see capital punishment, poverty, and pornography as moral equivalents to abortion. This internecine battle, as you might imagine, continues. Here’s the most recent volley by an antiabortion activist in a post entitled “‘Whole Life’ Doesn’t Necessarily Mean Authentically Pro-Life”:

Oh, I’m aware of the Evangelical Environmental Network. In fact, I’m very aware of the (generally progressive) argument that you’re not “pro-life” unless you’re “whole-life” — by protecting the environment, easing poverty, supporting education, etc. etc.  But I’m not “pro-life” when I use a low-flow toilet or drive a Prius.  Mr. Metzger’s linked example of pro-life environmentalism is particularly egregious.  The EEN’s commercials were in support of restrictions on coal-fired power plants that were not killing children, and those restrictions wouldn’t have any substantial effect on the very mercury levels they hoped to limit.  That’s pro-life?

The sad reality of the whole-life argument is it’s primarily a weapon of, yes, partisan warfare — a way to shame pro-life activists into silence or a method of diverting their attention from the atrocity of abortion.  It eases a troubled conscience.

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