Why Christians can’t just let go of the pro-life issue

January 15, 2016

Editor’s Note: This article was featured in Light Magazine.

By now, it’s old news. Late last summer, a pro-life group called The Center for Medical Progress released a series of sting-style, undercover videos that reveal high-level employees from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America discussing the monetary value of body parts from aborted babies — often with Swiftian detail.

The operation falls in line with similar efforts by pro-life activists to shed light on abortion practices — and in so doing undermine the credibility of groups like Planned Parenthood. If nothing else, these videos pushed the topic of abortion back into the national spotlight. The videos prompted the United States Congress to open investigations into Planned Parenthood, a large-scale movement of hashtag activism (#defundPP) and numerous investigations into the funding of the federation itself. Some of Planned Parenthood’s highest profile corporate sponsors, like Coca-Cola, distanced themselves from the nation’s largest provider of on-demand abortions. All this culminated with the The New York Times observing that even though what the videos reveal is unclear — which, well, they’re not unclear — “What is clear is that Republicans and anti-abortion groups are giving no signs of letting the issue fade quickly.”

This observation places pro-life activism, perhaps even beliefs, in the hands of Republicans. As far as it goes, that could be true. Though, notably, the Planned Parenthood scandal may be shifting political lines, too. In the same breath, the Times cites democratic representative Gerald Connolly saying, “Democrats will not abandon their support for women's reproductive rights, but ‘nor are [they] going to defend the indefensible.’”

Regardless of reasons Republicans don’t plan on “letting the issue fade” and Democrats defect from party lines, for Christians it doesn’t really matter.

Followers of Jesus promoted a culture of life and human dignity a long time before abortion became such a partisan issue. And the Christian concern for life neither begins nor ends with strictly legal concerns. These convictions run deeper than political platforms, and they come from an authority higher than D.C.

The Christian heart beats for justice, because justice grows from the heart of God himself. In Generous Justice, Timothy Keller explains that this characteristic of God represents one of the defining aspects of Christianity. “From ancient times, the God of the Bible stood out from the gods of all other religions as a God on the side of the powerless, and of justice for the poor,” he writes. And among various expression of the justice — causes and concerns, from environmental care to animal protections — human dignity takes center stage.

After all, in the Christian vision, we as humans are endowed with the image of God, making us the prize of his creativity. “All human beings owe their ancestry to a set of common parents, according to the Hebrew Bible. These parents, Adam and Eve, were made in the image and likeness of their Creator (Genesis 1:27), and thus all their progeny bear that image (i.e., the imago Dei),” write the editors of the (incredibly helpful) treatise, Legatees of a Great Inheritance. “From these beginnings we inherit the concept of human exceptionalism — the belief that human beings are unique, possessors of inalienable rights.” And the Scriptures teach clearly that God’s love extends to all humans, including those not-yet born (Exod. 21:22-25; Ps. 139: 13-16; Ps. 51:5; Judg. 13:3-5; Luke 1:35 [cf. Heb. 2:17-18]).

This belief fueled the earliest Christians who, beyond simply condemning abortion, provided alternatives, adopting children who were destined to be abandoned. Legatees points to Callistus who took in abandoned children by placing them in Christian homes and Benignus of Dijon who offered nourishment and protection to children, including those disabled by failed abortions.

Of course, ever since the Supreme Court’s infamous Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, the Christian response took a different, more political tone. But the pro-life movement was never a merely reactionary position. For Christians, the entire movement draws the earliest church’s witness to human dignity. And since then, care for the unborn continues as a major theme in the story of Christianity.

Among the most famous Christians who stood against bloodshed is German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who represents a figurehead of modern-day social justice. Bonhoeffer, who famously conspired to assassinate Adolf Hitler because of his gross anti-human actions, saw the Christian fight for justice extending to abortion, too. “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life,” he said. “To raise the question whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life.”

From our earliest days to 2015, Christians see the lives of unborn children as valuable creations by God. And as such, they deserve protecting. So in the Planned Parenthood scandal, we watched a cultural conversation fall right into a central conviction of Christian teaching.

Quite possibly, the Planned Parenthood scandal will fade sooner than later. And you can bet that talking heads jockeying for political high-ground will eventually squawk off to some other subject. You can bet prominent political discussions will shift to other issues. And who knows, maybe in a few years the pro-life platform land with the other political party. But, for the Christian community, moving on from human life and dignity isn’t an option. We’re more than 2,000 years in, and the Christian conscience (and voice) against abortion isn’t going anywhere.


The Roots of Christianity’s Pro-Life Stand

Pro-life Group Releases Another Sting Video of Planned Parenthood Exec





Aaron Cline Hanbury

Aaron Cline Hanbury is manager of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.  Read More by this Author

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24