Palmer, as a human dignity attorney who has focused heavily on sanctity of life issues, I’m sure you watched with dread as the New York legislature passed—and celebrated—a late-term abortion bill this past January. What, in your view, is causing the shift from the former “safe, legal, and rare” abortion mindset to the shift of seeing abortion as a positive good with no need for any stigma whatsoever?
I think it’s not very surprising that some advocates are shifting to a viewpoint of celebrating abortion and ridiculing any and all restrictions. As technology advances and it becomes clearer that human life at every stage of development—no matter how early—is a new life worthy of protection and care, advocates have to answer certain questions to justify positions they’ve long held. But I think this is as important a time as any to remind ourselves that our fight is not against the legislator in New York or Virginia or the advocates celebrating in the gallery. Our fight is against principalities and powers who convince one political tribe to deny the personhood and dignity of the unborn child while convincing the other political tribe to deny the personhood and dignity of the immigrant or refugee. A former president (George W. Bush) and a former Planned Parenthood clinic director turned pro-life advocate (Abby Johnson) have both expressed similar sentiments—while we must work in politics, policy, and law to make abortion rarer and less legal, our work won’t stop until we make abortion unthinkable. That means we need to befriend and listen to those who are painting the town pink in New York. That means we need to double down on serving our pregnancy resource centers who care for vulnerable women, children, and men uncertain whether they are strong enough to care for that child. That means we need to have churches walking alongside mothers, fathers, and babies—giving them the support they need to show them they are stronger than they ever imagined because there is a Lord who is more gracious and loving than we can ever imagine.
We have to love the mothers and fathers and babies and political opponents. We have to love the unborn babies, the immigrants, and the refugees.
Catherine, you recently published a book Real: The Surprising Secret to Deeper Relationships. In it, you talk a lot about the centrality of repentance. Can you explain why repentance is central to deep relationships?
The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses said, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.” In our modern context, many churches rightly emphasize the necessity of repentance for salvation, but we don’t always emphasize the need for a regular practice of confessing sin and turning away from it. But when practiced rightly, repentance leads us to the cross, reminds us of our forgiveness in Christ, and causes us to rejoice. Living in this freedom allows us to be open and honest in our relationships—if we’ve already been forgiven in Christ, why would we attempt to cover up our sin before others? Instead, we get to remind each other of what is true and pray for one another as we fight our sin together.
Question for you both: One of the guiding frameworks for CBMW’s new Eikon Journal is the idea that biblical anthropology helps provide a framework for a more robust human dignity ethic. When we talk about human dignity and the image of God, how do you each describe that relationship?
Catherine: Last year our family went to Yellowstone National Park, where we stood in awe at creation, from geysers to mountains to waterfalls to prismatic springs. It’s easy to worship God when surrounded by such incredible sights. Yet, none of those things bear His image. God chose to create us—humanity—to bear His image. This means that each person is more magnificent than the most incredible sunset or the rarest flower. When I look at another human being, no matter his or her ability or mental capacity or status, I’m looking at a marvel of creation. Our very existence points us to the glory of God, not because of what we can do, but because of what He is like. Our dignity springs from His glory, and it’s represented in every person, from the tiniest unborn child to the elderly person with dementia.
Palmer: Amen, Catherine. As Christians, our recognition of the Imago dei in every human being is what allows us to live out a counter-cultural ethos that a human’s worth springs inherently from that image of God imprinted in them, rather than their usefulness.
Question for both: When it comes to the #MeToo movement, is there a distinctly Christian response to the moment we are in where Christianity is able to positively contribute to the broader themes emerging from #MeToo?
Catherine: Every human being is made in God’s image and has human dignity. At the same time, not everyone in society occupies the same position of authority or influence. As Christians, we understand that authority is a function of living under God’s plan for the world, but that no person should have unchecked power or use their status to manipulate someone, especially those who are vulnerable. One of the things the #MeToo movement has shown is that, for far too long, those in positions of authority have used their power wrongly; they’ve used their position as an excuse to do whatever they want. In the Gospels, we see Jesus taking the form of a servant and leveraging His power for the weak and vulnerable. He is our model for how we should steward positions of authority and power to serve those in our care, and His actions are as counter-cultural now as they were then. It is imperative that we model this type of power at the congregational level.
Palmer: The church in America—especially in the South—in 2019 has to ask itself some serious, soul-searching questions about which of its practices and perspectives are biblical and which are cultural. And we are suffering the tragic consequences as we see more and more children of God abused, fomenting sin and corruption in the process. When we elevate that which is cultural to a place of biblical and theological warrant, the oppressed are silenced and the predators gain more power. The reckoning is here now, and the church will be judged by how we respond. As well we should be.
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