If there is one thing that most Christians of all denominations agree on, it is abortion. A 2012 Gallup poll found that 54% of American Catholics and 57% of Protestants/Others consider themselves “pro-life.” Every presidential election, we hear of prominent pastors raising questions about a candidate’s position on abortion. And while organizations such as Sojourners have tried to emphasize additional issues which ought to concern Christians as they go to the polls, the reality is that abortion is still a central issue for many people. This is not altogether a bad thing; since the earliest days of Christianity, the church has always had a special concern for unborn and abandoned children, taking them in and caring for them when others do not. These days, however, whether or not it is an accurate portrayal, “pro-life” Christians are more associated with picketing abortion clinics, hanging pictures of dead fetuses in public places, and gathering for the March for Life than welcoming such children into their homes.
But why should the term “abortion” apply only to medical procedures done in sterile offices? Is not the killing of pregnant women and would-be mothers also a kind of abortion? Is not the ending of a child’s life through violence also abortion?
With such vocal concern for the unborn across the spectrum of Christian perspectives, it should be concerning to us all how silent these 57% have been about the recent violence in Gaza. In 27 days of bombings and ground combat in Gaza, over 1000 Palestinians have been killed. One-third of them have been children, and many others have been women. Some of these women have even been pregnant. No matter anyone’s political leanings, this reality should make us sick. But where are the outraged masses of pro-life Christians when mother and child are being killed by the Israeli military? Are the children of Palestinians less valuable than others? Are pregnant women in Gaza not carrying a sacred life? It disturbs me that often the most vehement spokespeople against legalized abortions are the most vehement defenders of Israel, and I am amazed at the spiritual gymnastics people will do to justify an otherwise abominable practice of killing children.
Pastors are often no better at pointing out this contradiction. Instead of challenging their congregations to vocally oppose the U.S.’s unconditional support of Israel and the treatment of Palestinians by the Israeli forces, my experience is that pastors in the U.S. either ignore the ongoing conflict out of ignorance or fear of dividing their congregations, or they endorse Israel’s actions in the name of a biblical mandate to care for God’s “chosen people” in Israel. Neither response is sufficient.
I can sympathize with feeling uneducated about the conflict. It was not until I participated in a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Palestine last May that I saw firsthand how Palestinians suffer at the hand of Israeli policies. Children, yes children, are imprisoned without cause on a regular basis. Homes are demolished by Israeli Caterpillar-brand bulldozers. Women give birth at checkpoints because they are detained on their way to the hospital. But it is not enough acknowledge our ignorance, we must address it. If more pastors and church members would commit to experiencing Palestine firsthand as part of their pilgrimage to the Holy Land in Israel, it would be impossible to stay silent. Churches could take advantages of resources from Sabeel, an ecumenical theology center based in Jerusalem which attempts to engage churches in more healthy interpretation of Scripture related to Israel.
Unfortunately, It is not only the conflict in Gaza which illustrates this sad disconnect between an earnest concern for unborn children and supporting indiscriminate killing. When U.S. drone strikes destroy homes and kill children in other parts of the Middle East, we find American Christians equally passive at best. We are quite willing to sacrifice the children of other countries and religions for our own sense of safety from terrorists. It has become too easy for us to look the other way while the U.S. government carries out abortions in our name and with our blessing.
We have to do better. As the church, as Christ’s body which extends beyond borders, we cannot ignore the cry of children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Mexico, Pakistan, Iraq, and beyond, any more than we can ignore the children in Chicago, New York, or Washington, D.C. If we cannot, as people of the church, find ourselves loudly calling and acting for an end to violence, especially when children are involved, then we can no longer call ourselves pro-life. War is abortion. It ends life unnaturally through violence, life that has not reached full term. It destroys the emotional, spiritual, and psychological fabric of those who commit it and those who are victims of it. We, who follow a God who was born amid the slaughter of children, must cry out in deep anguish for forgiveness for allowing the Massacre of the Innocents to happen over and over. Let us pray for the courage to be truly pro-life.