Clothesline in Winter

Clothesline in Winter

Saturday, February 11, 2012

What Does It Mean to be Pro-Life?

Last Wednesday, a Congressional subcommittee held a hearing to debate the costs and benefits of the EPA’s recently-issued regulations of emissions from coal-fired power plants.  The sub-committee – chaired by Kentucky Rep. Ed Whitfield ($580,983*) – grilled the EPA’s representative, and numerous other witnesses from academia and industry.  Contrary to most of the testimony they heard, the congressmen repeatedly cited dire warnings from the coal industry that the rule would bankrupt much of the country.

[* Congressmen’s names are followed by the amount of money they have received from coal, oil and gas polluters.]

Eventually, they came to Rev. Mitch Hescox, a Christian minister, and the president of Evangelical Environmental Network.  Core to Hescox’s testimony was the idea that evangelicals are motivated by belief in the sanctity of life; that the gospel compels us to protect the most vulnerable – unborn children – from the ravages of mercury poisoning.

“Exposing children to mercury poisoning in their mother’s womb, a poisoning that will last a lifetime, is simply wrong,” said Hescox.  “We have it within our means to reduce 90% of the mercury emitted from coal-burning power plants without the fear of diminished electric reliability or job loss, and with economic benefits at least five times greater than the cost.”

Rev. Mitch Hescox of EEN
Hescox enumerated the threat to our children:  “According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, approximately 1 in 6 children in the United States are born with threatening levels of mercury.  Another medical research study places the number of children affected at roughly 15%. Mercury impairs neurological development, lowers IQ, and is linked to cardiovascular disease and a host of other potential adverse health impacts. Over 1,000 published medical journal articles verify mercury's heath impacts.”

When asked why he cared about the issue of mercury poisoning, Hescox replied: “I’m an evangelical, and I’m concerned about life.  I believe we should stand up and protect our unborn – the “least of these.”  I’m here because it’s a life issue.”

But not everyone sees it this way.  Texas Rep. Joey Barton ($1,914,183) claimed that there was no harm from mercury pollution. And Illinois Rep. John Shimkus ($731,804) – an apparently committed pro-lifer – was indignant.  Reading from a prepared text, Shimkus accused Rev. Hescox of “masquerading” under the banner of the sanctity of life.

“The ‘life’ in ‘pro-life’ denotes not the quality of life, but life itself,” said Shimkus ($731,804). “The term denotes opposition to a procedure that intentionally results in dead babies….  It’s not about the levels of harm or no harm.”

“Mr. Shimkus,” replied Rev. Hescox, “would you allow me to respond?”

“I think I’m doing pretty good right now,” replied Shimkus ($731,804), noting that he and his allies “take great offense when an evangelical movement tries to usurp the meaning of pro-life.”

Rep. John Shimkus (republicanconference)
When Shimkus finished, Hescox asked the panel for the opportunity to reply.

“I’m not going to allow him to respond,” said committee Chairman Whitfield ($580,983).

As unsavory as this debate appears to us outsiders, it highlights a fundamental divide in religious understandings of the sanctity of life.  The National Association of Evangelicals, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and Evangelical Environmental Network take a broad view:  That following Christ in affirming the sanctity of life requires Christians to protect all people from harm, illness, injustice and violence. 

“We are united to protect life,” said Hescox, “a sacred gift from God, both before and after birth. Anything that threatens and impedes life, especially impacts on the unborn and young children, is contrary to our common beliefs and values and exacts a moral toll on the nation’s character.”

On the other hand, Rep. Shimkus ($731,804) articulates a very different view:  Affirming the sanctity of life has nothing to do with “levels of harm or no harm.”  Rather, it’s solely about opposing laws that permit a “specific procedure.”

Well, here at the Clothesline Report, we’re glad that the NEA, EEN and the Catholic Bishops have come together to make us think a bit.  We may come from different Christian traditions, but we share an allegiance to Jesus Christ.  When Jesus began his ministry, he went to the synagogue, and read aloud from the sacred writings of the prophet Isaiah.  Here’s what the text said:

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the LORD's favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. [ Isaiah 61]

Who was Jesus saying he was here for?  The poor, the brokenhearted, the captives, the mourners and the weak.  Those whom he later called “the least of these my brothers.”

So is it enough oppose a “specific procedure” while protecting the interests of powerful polluting industries?  It would appear that many in Congress think so.

But, as for us, I think we’ll cast our lot with the evangelicals and the Bishops.

Thanks for reading, and may God bless you.

J. Elwood

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