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Why Does the Social Justice Movement Avoid Pro-Life Causes?

Global hunger. Human trafficking. Poverty. AIDS. Child labor. Thanks to the passion and persistence of advocates of social justice, many of these issues are finally registering with mainstream American Christians. We are being challenged like never before to leave our religious cocoons and embrace our communities, to volunteer at soup kitchens, reach out to the less fortunate, and find ways to practically demonstrate the love of Christ in our cities and neighborhoods.

However, one cause is conspicuously absent from the social justice agenda: Abortion.

The statistics remain staggering and anyone who objectively explores the issues involved — teen pregnancy, fetal development, abortion procedures, the demographic tilt, the psychological aftermath, etc. — must inevitably admit the problematic nature of the abortion industry in America. Nevertheless, the number of prominent social justice advocates who speak for the rights of the unborn is scant.

Why is this?

By way of example, one of the most well-known Christian social justice advocates is Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. Wallis has been evasive when pressed about a pro-life position. In an article entitled Is Jim Wallis Pro-Choice? First Things columnist Kieth Pavlischek concludes:

…I told Wallis as bluntly as I could, that as far as I could tell his position and that of Sojourners was indistinguishable from the old Mario Cuomo position of being “personally opposed” to abortion while wanting to keep the procedure legal. I suggested that neither he nor Sojourners could honestly be labeled pro-life because, for that term to mean anything, it has to involve advocacy for the legal protection of the unborn. Wallis was equally frank in response. He simply rejected my suggestion that the “legal protection of the unborn” had anything to do with being pro-life. Both of us left that conversation with a clear understanding that Wallis was, quite simply, pro-choice on abortion. (emphasis mine)

Currently, on Jim Wallis’ Sojourner’s site, under Take Action, you can find numerous causes to engage in, such as:

  • “Christians for Comprehensive Immigration Reform”
  • “Climate Change: Protecting People and Planet”
  • “Fight Child Slavery”
  • “Cut the Deficit — Cut Military Spending”
  • “Aid, not Troops, in Afghanistan”
  • “Support Nuclear Disarmament”
  • “Fair Pay for Tomato Pickers.”

Despite this extensive cataloging of “injustices,”  the rights of the unborn are largely ignored by Jim Wallis and Sojourners. This omission is disturbingly characteristic of most advocates of social justice. While they plead for amnesty for illegals, assistance for the poor, AIDS research, gay rights, animal rights, nuclear disarmament, and increased environmental restrictions — often invoking the name of Jesus Christ in the process — they seem to look the other way when over 1 million children are aborted each year. Is this justice?

The typical response from advocates of social justice is that the best way to fight abortion is not by criminalizing it, but by eradicating poverty. While this may contain some truth, couldn’t this argument be used against many “injustices”? Why criminalize anything — like drugs, gang violence, human-trafficking, child prostitution, etc. — when there are larger socio-economic reasons behind them? In truth, this argument skirts the larger issue: Is the fetus human? As I’ve put forth elsewhere, our inability to determine when human life begins is more of an argument to legally protect life at all stages than to tolerate its termination at any stage. The fact that advocates of social justice avoid such conclusions – especially while claiming to revere a Book that holds all life as sacred — is disingenuous at best.

Frankly, this is one reason why I am rather skeptical of the social justice movement.

Do the unborn really have less rights than “Tomato Pickers”? Does “justice” NOT extend to the unborn? Apparently, to Jim Wallis, Sojourners, and organizations like them, social justice only begins AFTER birth.

* * *

Question: Why don’t more Christian advocates of social justice embrace pro-life causes?

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • Nicole July 5, 2010, 7:56 AM

    Why? Good question. God question.

    The causes you listed give evidence of them not being pro-life in any real sense of the word. Typically the left is anti-war but suggest they support the troops. These causes clearly don’t support the troops, and since they don’t really care about the unborn, they don’t really care about the lives of the troops either.

    Many of these people support population control and their so-called social justice categories are fueled by secular humanism philosophies. Many Christians who find some of them worthwhile projects are unaware of the mindsets behind them.

  • Jill July 5, 2010, 8:36 AM

    We’ve all been so fooled by the feminist movement that we can’t see straight to what’s actually happening. I think Nicole has it right–the supposed social justice is really all about population control. There is a reason why certain groups of people are targeted for abortions more than others–the African American community, for example. Abortion and euthanasia go hand in hand, in my opinion. Disrespect for life has crept into our society’s thinking over the entire last century. It’s disheartening, to say the least, so much so that it’s difficult to form a cohesive argument of any kind.

  • Mike Duran July 5, 2010, 10:38 AM

    Nicole and Jill, I’m not sure I totally agree that many “social justice categories are fueled by secular humanism philosophies” or that “social justice is really all about population control.” Many advocates of social justice are clearly compelled by the Gospel. In fact, I’d venture that most humanitarian efforts are informed (albeit subliminally) by a Judeo-Christian “Love your neighbor as yourself” philosophy. Yes, some social justice networks and causes are fueled by atheistic assumptions (especially environmental causes). But we need to be fair and admit that much social justice is spear-headed by good, Christian people. My gripe is with those Christians who openly appeal to Scripture when touting their causes, and then conveniently whitewash biblical references to the sacredness of unborn human life. Thanks for your comments!

    • Kaci July 5, 2010, 11:23 AM

      I think the general train of thought on it, Mike, is that Scripture doesn’t necessarily come out and say “Life starts at conception” (though there are many poetic allusions – they are considered strictly poetic license) or “Abortion is wrong.” The closest, off-hand, that I can think of is in the Law where if a man injures a pregnant woman and the child dies, he’s held responsible for the death of the child and whatever injury befalls the mother. (There’s also John bouncing around in Elizabeth’s stomach.)

      • Mike Duran July 5, 2010, 2:29 PM

        Kaci, two points:

        While there is no direct prohibition against abortion in Scripture (probably because it had no/little historical relevance at that time), there are explicit verses about the sacredness and humanness of the pre-born. For instance, speaking to the prophet Isaiah, “This is what the Lord says—he who made you, who formed you in the womb” (Isaiah 44:2). King David lamented that he was “sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). Jacob was favored over his twin Esau “though not yet born” (Romans 9:11). Psalm 139:13-16 contains some of the most beautiful language concerning this: “You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” And then of course is the specific language concerning the “imago dei” — image of God — that marks every human being.

        From the opposite angle, Christians who don’t support an overt pro-life position on the grounds that there is a lack of Scriptural injunction must admit the same about their other causes. In other words, there is no Bible verse that directly addresses nuclear disarmament, gay marriage, AIDS, urban housing, climate change, military spending, etc. If a Christian remains silent on abortion just because it’s not “directly” addressed in Scripture, shouldn’t they do the same about other unmentioned causes?

        Appreciate your thoughts, Kaci!

        • Kaci July 5, 2010, 3:42 PM

          I actually agree with you, Mike. I’m about as anti-abortion as a person can get. For the sake if discussion, though, I was offering some possible arguments–all of which I’ve heard at some point. Honestly, I have yet to hear a pro-abortion argument I find valid.

          I’d love to have a discussion on the “silent places” in Scripture.

          • Kaci July 5, 2010, 3:50 PM

            Addendum: And yes, I’d agree that serious consistency issues exist. The only thing I can think of is that it’s a bit of either tunnel-vision or knee-jerk reaction against some social justice issues that might have really needed some addressing.

            I think, too, it doesn’t seem to help matters when the two major political parties appear to force a person to either take up the “after-birth” social justice issues or the “pre-birth” ones (if you’ll allow the crude phraseology). I could be wrong on that – but it’s a thought.

            But I agree, the apparent silence of Scripture is a weak argument, and it goes against the overall theme of the dignity and value of human life and the humanness of the unborn.

    • Jill July 5, 2010, 4:46 PM

      What I really meant by bringing up the eugenicist movement is that they used feminism as a way of white-washing their own objectives. Who would want to oppose social justice for women? If you continue to mask the killing of the unborn with a completely different social issue, many people will approve of it, even Christians–or, they will be so cowed that they won’t know how to speak out against abortion without being labeled as oppressors of women. Those who control the definitions win the arguments. That’s what I learned from Alice in Wonderland, anyway. And I do believe we have fallen down the rabbit hole.

  • anonymous July 5, 2010, 11:15 AM

    In all fairness, Jim Wallis supported the exclusion of abortion funding from the recent health care bill. He may not approach the issue the way you like, but you can’t say he is silent on the issue.

    • Mike Duran July 5, 2010, 11:50 AM

      My issue is not so much with what Wallis HASN’T said about abortion. As the writer of the the First Things article notes, “What exactly is so morally objectionable about including abortion in health care reform? …If Wallis’s opposition is truly principled …then we can expect Wallis and the Sojourners crowd to offer up a reasoned and articulate public argument for the moral wrongness of including this particular ‘health care procedure.'”

      So Wallis “supported the exclusion of abortion funding” from the bill. On what grounds? If it is on the grounds that abortion is a moral evil, that human life is sacred in any term, and that the unborn deserve “justice,” then he is arguably pro-life. The problem is not that Wallis (and similar social justice advocates) are “silent on the issue” of abortion. It’s that when they DO speak about it — that is, in between all those other really important issues — their position appears vague, wishy-washy, intellectually dishonest, and suspiciously liberal.

  • Kaci July 5, 2010, 11:17 AM

    Humans only get confused on the biology where humans are involved. I still maintain that if I were to cut into the stomach of a pregnant dog and remove the unborn infants, I would be arrested for animal cruelty (and rightly so). If there’s nothing wrong with infanticide, then let’s just call it like it is. Other civilizations practice(d) it, so what’s to be ashamed of?

    To counter, though, many of the social justice advocates would say that anti-abortionists “care before birth, but not after.” I’m not saying it’s true, but that it is a point that comes up. To this, I think it appropriate to triple check to make sure we (universal) aren’t ourselves generating the same thing. (Yes, I know that’s going to come down to government interference and how much is appropriate v. how much is simply enabling.)

    Moreover: As far as keeping abortion legal, I think the general argument is basically to favor the woman over the child.

    (I, for one, don’t think rape, incest, and/or abuse victims should be used to build a political case anymore than I think poor people, homeless people, or “minorities” should be – but to build the discussion, I’ll toss it in there to say it’s there. For many, abortion is a license to have sex without any responsibility, and to use real victims as an excuse for their own selfishness is disgusting. There, I said it.)

    Some draw the line at rape or in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, and that’s really the only reason they want to keep it legal. They also liken it to alcohol prohibition, which only increased the problem. I personally find the “they’ll do it anyway” argument lacking, because if that were a valid argument, then we’d have to say murderers, thieves, and abusers are going to break the laws anyway, therefore we should just let it go. (That’s not an extreme position; it’s just a logical follow-through.)

    But I think that’s the biggest thing you tend to see among Christians: People feel sorry for the mother and want to make it all better. The thing is, it’s not making anything better; it’s just compounding the problem. That’s my experience. I’m a twenty-something church brat, so yeah.

  • Nicole July 5, 2010, 12:59 PM

    Mike, the identifier is that “some” of the social justice programs are begun or maintained by Christians who do so as a response to the Lord’s leading or in obedience to the “widows and orphans” instruction. But much of the “benevolent” philanthropists who operate/support different social justice programs/issues do not support Christian ideals and do so from a humanistic platform which explains why they avoid/do not support Pro-Life causes.

    Why Christians support Pro-Abortion issues/candidates is a mystery. The number of abortions from incest/rape are minimal in comparison to those simply done as a means of birth control after the fact or as a convenience. Christians (and others) who are Pro-Abortion always throw up the incest/rape/save the mother argument when those numbers are so small in the infanticide travesty.

    • Kaci July 5, 2010, 3:53 PM

      It seems to depend on what you consider the ‘deal-breaker’ issue, either that or how much you agree on everything else. If you agree on A, B, and C, are you willing to vote against because of D, which the opposing candidate would agree on despite disagreeing on A,B, and C?

  • Jay July 5, 2010, 2:12 PM

    It’s because “social justice” is not true social justice; it’s a prepackaged set of causes that are culled from western liberalism that are mostly directed outward, internationally. Here and there they touch on true justice but they are largely pet projects of do-gooders and left-wing academics to promote statism/communism, which are inherently anti-justice since they involve the use of force to accomplish “justice” — when the injustices are, 9 times out of 10, caused by something a government did in the first place. It’s using the power of the state to cover up the mistakes of the state.

    Christians should be praying for and getting involved with people of another country to promote liberty from tyrannical, overbearing governments, because using the coercive power of the government as a means to an end can quickly become idolatrous.

  • Jessica Thomas July 6, 2010, 6:41 AM


    I don’t have an answer to your question unfortunately. However, after two weeks of “debating” on two different Facebook threads, I feel bruised, battered, unfairly represented (add to that, cursed at, called a liar, told I was perpetuating violence against clinic workers, etc. etc. etc.)

    It’s an ugly ugly scene out there. I’m going to blog on my recent Facebook experience, because it’s positively mind-blowing to me that I could be viewed as “the evil one” when all I’m doing is advocating for equal protection of the unborn under the law…and I emphasize the law. God doesn’t even have to be brought into the argument really. Our constitution protects the freedom of all.

    But, inevitably when I call the unborn “babies” in these types of discussions, I am corrected. “It’s a fetus” “It’s a mass of tissue.” Also, when I equate abortion with murder, I am talking to folks (often) who don’t understand the Christian philosophy; therefore they cannot put my comment within the context of grace, forgivenss and healing. Without that context, they think all I’m doing is finger pointing and judging.

    Like I said, I don’t have an answer 🙁 except that perhaps the waters are so rough they choose to avoid them altogether. And the other obvious answer, they don’t view the unborn as fully human. If they do, they choose to favor the woman’s rights over the unborn. (Wouldn’t want to ruffle any feathers or make anyone mad after all.)

  • Yediyd July 6, 2010, 3:38 PM

    I think the answer to the question is in the article itself.

    “The typical response from advocates of social justice is that the best way to fight abortion is not by criminalizing it, but by eradicating poverty.”

    If there are fewer mouths to feed, there will be less poverty. Abortion is one way of lowering the number of people a society has to care for, thus helps in the quest to eliminate poverty — same amount of food, water, and money, with fewer people to divide it between.

    • Mike Duran July 6, 2010, 4:03 PM

      While this may be an answer, it is hardly a “Christian” answer. If “fewer mouths to feed” is the real solution to poverty, then eugenics and euthanasia are logical responses. But eugenics and euthanasia hardly jive with Scripture. Again, my issue is not so much that “fewer mouths to feed” is part of the argument, but that people who claim to believe that the ones who own those mouths are created in God’s image, so easily close their ears to their cries. Thanks for your comment!

      • Yediyd July 7, 2010, 12:52 PM

        DEFINITELY not a “Christian” answer. And precisely the reason that while “social justice” looks good on the surface, the roots of that tree more sinister than we’d initially expect.

        I was actually pondering this discussion this morning, after hearing a line in a song about loving the world. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son…” I tried to think of what the Bible has to say about God’s people loving “the world”. We’re to go *into* the world, but it seems that He wants us to love our *neighbor*. It’s something I’d still like to think about and look into a little more, but it seems like perhaps the distinction is there. Loving the world — that’s a big job. Of course God can do it — He can take care of the world, provide food, shelter, health, safety, salvation.

        But can I do that for the world? Ultimately my neighbor needs God to be his/her provider, but I can also help them in times of need. And if I hear about someone in Africa who needs assistance (including through organizations like World Vision and Compassion) and my heart is moved for them, I can help too. But even then, I’ve helped Hamadi and Theresa — not Africa (although Hamadi and Theresa are part of changing Africa).

        If humanity would try to be responsible for taking care of humanity (isn’t that getting to the root of what social justice is?), what would we have to do and what would that look like? Can we place value on the individual create in God’s image and try to take care of all of humanity at the same time? And on what do we base humanity’s “needs” and what is “fair”? Obviously, human trafficking is bad and it’s “easy” to make laws against it (if you can convince nations to do it, then arrest those who engage in it). But while hunger and poverty and AIDS are also obviously bad, there’s not necessarily nefarious acts and law breaking by some person we can arrest. So how does a group of people go about fixing the problem? And where does God fit into this equation?

        With the human ability to get off target (the target being Jesus Himself — even a focus on good deeds is off), how much does one have to zero in on caring for humanity to get to the point of placing varying degrees of value on different groups for the sake of providing for the whole? Giving rise to ideas like: abortion, euthanasia, limiting health care to the very young/old/sick/undesirables, etc to help control population size so that everyone can be provided for and no one is left below whatever line. Especially since we’re also prone to comparing and measuring each other against each other — assigning value and creating hierarchies in all the subtle ways we do so, including in our churches.

        It seems the best way for Christians to love the world is for each Christian to love their neighbor, those who cross their path, well.

        Sorry to be long-winded (and I was so brief initially)! It’s something I’ve actually been thinking about a lot. All that is just some of my thoughts, and also why there seems to be some odd mix with Christianity and social justice. As Christians, of COURSE we want people to be cared and provided for! But as Americans we also have a hard time understanding, “In this world you will have trouble,” and, understandably, want to make the trouble go away for everyone (ourselves/myself included!). It’s easy for us to feel like it’s our JOB to take care of everything and everyone — but it’s also easy for us to forget that we’re not actually God, and that in response to our troubles He says, “Take heart, for I have overcome the world,” He wants to take care of their troubles (on a personal level for each individual) far more than we do.

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