Thursday, January 28, 2016
Indictments Against Reckless Pro-Lifers
Of all the sins we mortals practice, the one that inevitably riles the most evangelicals is abortion.
Not only is abortion a vile perpetration against victims wholly unable to protect themselves, it almost always involves a sexual sin of some sort; either rape or adultery. Very few happily-married couples pursue death for a life they have consented to create together.
So we have here an incredibly potent combination of protecting the helpless - which represents an eminently noble goal of Christ-followers - along with righteous indignation over sexual impurity. We have the sanctity of life mixed with salaciousness of the taboo.
Unfortunately, for many evangelicals, this mix tends to become a bit toxic. After all, what other sins foment such bitter resolve for its eradication than abortion? Abortion can drive people who purportedly cherish Biblical morality to keep score on the pro-life front by a different rulebook. It's as if God's desire for our purity has some sort of disclaimer clause or dispensation when it comes to our opposition of abortion. Witness the folks who scream ugly threats to women entering abortion clinics. Witness the vulgar language of picketing pro-lifers, or the glee with which they mock people like Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood. Witness the radicals who bomb abortion clinics, or commit mass-murder inside of them.
When Jesus Christ references the legal principle of lex talionis about "an eye for an eye" in the New Testament, He's not talking about retribution, or stooping to the same debased level as other sinners, is He?
Then there was the ironic grand jury indictment this week in Houston, Texas, of David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt, activists with the pro-life advocacy group Center for Medical Progress (CMP). This group had produced a shocking series of undercover videos purportedly showing representatives of Planned Parenthood negotiating the sale of fetal tissue. It was widely believed across our vast evangelical industrial complex that some sort of action would be taken against a south Texas chapter of Planned Parenthood for their part in such a dastardly enterprise, but to everyone's surprise, the grand jury found otherwise.
CMP's director, Daleiden, was indicted on a second-degree felony charge of tampering with a governmental record, plus a misdemeanor count involving his offer to purchase human organs. The grand jury indicted Merritt on charges of tampering with a governmental record.
Planned Parenthood was no-billed.
At first, pro-lifers were incredulous, and then indignant. How can a grand jury indict the buyer of an illegal product, but not the seller? What's the harm in falsifying some innocuous government documents like identification cards? Our system of justice must be completely out of control!
As it turns out, however, our system of justice worked fairly well in this instance. Once we remove the emotion and rhetoric, it's kinda hard to feel a lot of sympathy for CMP. You see, we evangelicals usually believe that the ends don't justify the means. We usually teach that two wrongs don't make a right. And as the grand jury found, what we believe and teach are still correct. It's just that the folks at CMP chose to ignore them.
First of all, considering all of the fuss many evangelicals have made about illegal immigrants having government-issued identification cards, isn't it a bit silly for us to now scoff at the importance of such documents? It's bad for illegals to have falsified ID cards, but not for people working to overturn Roe v. Wade?
Oh, but falsifying documents is a legitimate journalistic practice, we were told. Um, no it's not. Not by legitimate journalists, anyway.
Then there's the charge of trying to purchase fetal tissue. If CMP had a respect for the law, they should have researched Texas law, because they would have learned that in the Lone Star State, it's illegal to even offer to purchase fetal tissue. There is an exception to the law that allows for normal medical practices at a normal cost to cover expenses. However, CMP didn't even get that right, because they offered far more money than what the "normal cost" would have been. Planned Parenthood never accepted the offer, so they committed no crime.
Don't believe me? I've gotten all of this material from the Gospel Coalition's easy-to-understand explanation of the grand jury's indictment right here. It's worth the read, and written by a rational evangelical.
Folks, when we see injustice, we cannot let emotion and rhetoric dictate our actions. The grand jury did not rule on the morality (or immorality) of abortion. The grand jury did not say that the sale of fetal tissue isn't gross or questionable, even in the most scientific and medical of circumstances. The grand jury simply looked at the laws on the books, and rendered its decisions accordingly.
If abortion is the great evil most all of us evangelicals believe it to be, don't we need to be that much more prudent in how we fight it? CMP's efforts in Texas were sloppy at best. God doesn't forgive us our sins based on our good intentions, does He? Does God ever give us a pass because our enemy is bigger than our sins?
How can lawlessness and violence represent appropriate methods for dealing with abortion? How can we expect to change a law by breaking other ones? What gives us the right to decide which sins are bigger than other ones, and therefore more or less necessary to prohibit (or exercise)?
When we oppose abortion, we evangelicals like to say we're advocating for the sanctity of life. But how many pro-lifers get as agitated about human suffering on this side of the womb? About euthanasia? About patterns of our society's subjugation of women that contribute to sexual sins being perpetrated against them?
Meanwhile, when it comes to whatever legal action follows the indictment of Daleiden and Merritt, all is not lost. A public trial in a court of law could offer greater opportunities for Planned Parenthood to be methodically and unequivocally exposed for their murderous ways. It could be its own paradoxical venue of truth-telling that redeems CMP's blundering - on their legal team's terms, since they would be the defendants.
Nevertheless, regardless of whatever sinful scourge we may face, whether it's abortion or something else, we still need to remember that the battle is not ours. Instead, it belongs to the Lord. We need to fight with His tools and His rules, because His victory is what we seek, not our own validation or satisfaction. We need to be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves.
Many pro-lifers want to justify their impatience with legalized abortion by decrying all of the millions of helpless lives that it has claimed, and continues to claim, even as you read this. Yet impatience is not a Fruit of the Spirit. Neither is recklessness.
In terms of God's condemnation, there is no sin any abortionist has committed that is worse than any sin you've committed, unless either of you denies the truth of Christ's deity, which is the only unpardonable sin. And as long as she's alive, not even Cecile Richards is beyond redemption, as far as any of us knows.
Waging our war against abortion in the light of these sobering facts will produce a God-honoring outcome. We believe that, right?
Isn't everything else simply works, deeds, and self-righteousness?
Update July 27, 2016: All charges against Daleiden and Merritt have been dismissed by a Houston judge on a legal technicality. Apparently the grand jury which brought the indictment against the pro-lifers had done so after their term had been inappropriately extended. Three other lawsuits by a human tissue procurement company and two abortion advocacy groups remain against Daleiden's organization.
Update January 12, 2017: StemExpress, the human tissue procurement company, has dropped its lawsuit against Daleiden's organization, leaving two remaining suits in the courts.