Getting Beyond the Spite

Published December 1, 2001
DEAL W. HUDSON

Pro-life efforts rarely make the front page, much less above the fold. In fact, it seems the only time pro-life demonstrations make the evening news is when a handful of abortion activists peddle their pitch to sympathetic media ears across the street from our crowd of protestors.

It took the events of September 11 to put death back in the headlines. This time it wasn’t the death of the unborn but the ghastly, tragic death of thousands who also did not deserve to die.

A trauma of this magnitude is bound to teach us much about ourselves—to expose the strengths and weaknesses of individual and corporate character. Most of what we have learned about ourselves, about our much-derided, decadent culture, has been a welcome surprise: the long-ignored courage and sacrifice of our police, firemen, and armed forces, along with the deep generosity of a philanthropic nation ready to help those who lost friends and family.

But not all the reports have been so edifying. There have been disappointments as well. For example, we have all heard rumblings through pro-life communities, both Protestant and Catholic, that America got what it deserved for harboring a culture of death. Some have said that the towers of the World Trade Center were symbols of America’s godlessness, of its greed, its gross commercialism, and its trade in baby-killing.

Other pro-lifers have complained about the volume of public grief over the events of September 11: How can we lament so loudly, they ask, when nothing is said about the unborn?

You may be thinking these comments are from a radical fringe. They are not. They began shortly after September 11 with the televised statements of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and have persisted in spite of the subsequent apologies of those two men.

In these attitudes—revealed suddenly by the flash of an immense tragedy—we can see one reason why the pro-life movement has reached an impasse: It has come to suffer from spite. Such comments suggest that a passionate protest against one form of evil has led some pro-lifers to begrudge the grief of those who suffer from another. Obeying the gospel admonition to “love thy enemy” is difficult. Hating the enemies of life infuses the pro-life message with an unfortunate bitterness.

Don’t get me wrong—I understand how and why these thoughts and feelings can arise. Year after year, we watch children die. They die in the name of love and happiness; they die in the name of equal rights and freedom. How can we not get angry, or be tempted to spite? How can we not pray for the moment when this truth is revealed to all who deny it, who scorn it, laugh at it?

Because children continue to die in this way, all other causes of death seem to pale in comparison. In other words, how can anyone be upset with terrorism when abortion goes on and on?

Those who aim the highest will always face the greatest of spiritual temptations—in this case, the temptation to pride and envy in the cause of defending life. Could anything but pride exploit the September 11 disaster as proof of a given cause, even the pro-life cause? Is it anything but envy that begrudges mourning the thousands who died in the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the four downed airliners?

Now is the time for showing a compassion that isn’t reserved for only one group of victims, no matter how large, no matter how innocent. Many souls have been shaken in the wake of this tragedy. The witness of the Church must be heard without the dissonant voices of pent-up frustrations and resentful “I-told-you-so’s.”

The concern for innocent life can be a new common ground for evangelical outreach. It’s an opportunity for Americans to hear the gospel without spite or bitterness. The pro-life community surely has a large enough heart to embrace the suffering of those who have rejected its pleas.

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