Sunday, January 8, 2017

Slavery and the Inequality We Continue to Ignore


It was eerie, really.  I was reading about William Wilberforce's fight to end the British slave trade, and I just couldn't help but think that the language sounded exactly like today's fight to end abortion.

Wilberforce was a politician who fought hard for almost 20 years in the British parliament to end the slave trade.  His primary argument was in proving the humanity of slaves.  And he based that argument on biblical principles.

This ticked off a lot of people.  "One of [abolition's] most dedicated opponents, Lord Melbourne, was outraged that Wilberforce dared inflict his Christian values about slavery and human equality on British society.  'Things have come to a pretty pass,' he famously thundered, 'when one should permit one's religion to invade public life.'"

Hmmm.  Sounds familiar.

Wilberforce was certain that proving the equality of every kind of human life would ensure the abolition of slaves.  In one impassioned speech he proclaimed, "I have already gained for the wretched Africans the recognition of their claim to the rank of human beings, and I doubt not but the Parliament of Great Britain will no longer withhold from them the rights of human nature!"  But the fight was still years away from being won.

Even non-religious doctors and scientists will readily admit that an unborn child is a human life.  It's just not a person with equal rights.  However, this assertion is not based on any kind of science, because no one can agree on when a fetus becomes a person other than when that fetus suddenly becomes wanted.

Think about it:  The egg is not a human life.  The sperm is not a human life.  But when the two form an embryo, suddenly:  Human Life.  In fact, that Human Life can be formed in a test tube, frozen for a couple of years, and then placed in the womb of a non-biologically related woman, and yet what will happen to that embryo?  In nine months it turns into a child.  So if that embryo is not a Human Life, then what is?  

Sometimes people accuse Christians of caring only about eliminating abortion, but not caring about the people those babies grow up to be.  Of fixating on abortion and ignoring poverty, slavery, abuse, racism, and other forms of inequality.  It's a valid accusation, no doubt.  Christians need to get their act together about other social injustice issues.

However--and this is a big however--I want to make the point that caring about social justice issues, but justifying abortion--well, that's an enormous contradiction.  Because if social justice is all about caring for the voiceless and the powerless....then how is it possible to ignore those human beings who are the most voiceless and powerless?

Either all people have value, or they don't.
Either all people are equal, or they're not.
It shouldn't matter what they have to contribute to society, or how poor they are, or how disabled they are, how dependent they are, or how much of an inconvenience they are.

You can't pick and choose.

In Wilberforce's day, there was no general agreement about the equality of human beings. In fact, Wilberforce himself had a enormous part in helping western society come to that conclusion.  We owe a lot to him.  If it's a no-brainer that slavery is wrong, that has a lot to do with Wilberforce.  Yet much of our society is unwilling to consider how the exact same arguments apply to abortion.

Last week, WORLD magazine reported, "The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released its final report today, calling for an overhaul to the abortion and fetal procurement industries, including defunding Planned Parenthood and a federal 20-week abortion ban."


In the early 1800's, Wilberforce pleaded, "Sir, the nature and the circumstances of this Trade are now laid open to us.  We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is not an object placed before us, we cannot pass it.  We may spurn it, we may kick it out of the way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it.  For it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences...the principles of their decision.  Let not Parliament be the only body that is insensible to national justice."  (Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas)


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