Late this past week, multitudes of people from throughout the United States assembled in our nation’s capital to pray and peacefully protest against legalized abortion. It was the forty-fifth such March for Life, which has been held annually to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade.
The event raises questions about the approach of a Christian believer to life and how such a belief should be lived and expressed. Are Christians only concerned with abortion? Do we champion the cause of life only until it’s born?
With an assault on people with terminal illnesses, special needs, the poor, migrants and refugees, minorities, and others, the call of the Christian to defend and advocate for life is real. Questions about capital punishment, euthanasia, war, torture, and other life issues are pressing and need clear answers.
How can the believer take action if the mission to protect life is ambiguous?
In an attempt to provide an answer to these questions, some have promoted a “consistent life ethic,” a type of seamless garment theory that was once taught by the late Cardinal Joseph Bernardin.
While the theory seeks to dissolve the issue-based approach of historical casuistry and mature the perception of Christians as being a one-issue people, the theory is not without its problems. Contemporary versions of the theory, therefore, have retrieved the rich doctrine of solidarity from the Catholic tradition. Such a creative use of solidarity is helpful, since it shows a general unity within the teachings of social doctrine as well as a universal care and compassion for all people, especially those inflicted by each and any of the diverse social ills of our day.
This rehabilitation of solidarity, however, appears incomplete. It’s lacking solidarity’s twin, namely, it’s missing a co-equal stress on subsidiarity.
In order for solidarity to be lived, which is an active effort to fulfill our call to be true brother or sister to our neighbor, we need subsidiarity. Subsidiarity exhorts us to allow moral teachings and social action to be coordinated and completed by the most appropriate social level possible. Society and the church are at their best when subsidiarity is allowed to flourish since it tempers power, ensures human dignity by dispelling moral relativism and proportionalism, enhances practical discernment of needs, summons neighbors to reach out to one another, and develops a heartfelt and holistic sense of the common good among citizens and believers.
While subsidiarity involves this practical application, it also has an existential and doctrinal application. This understanding means that there is a hierarchy, which is understood as a certain leveling, within social doctrine and the advocacy of life issues. Solidarity, therefore, is directed by subsidiarity and blossoms with it.
In answer to the question about the Christian’s specific mission to serve and advocate for life, subsidiarity shows us the obvious: Before we can advocate about any other life issues, we must have life itself. The first and fundamental right that must be argued and defended, therefore, is the beginning of life.
And so, we must oppose abortion without confusion or uncertainty. It stands as the primary and perennial issue for the person who cherishes and respects life.
While not a single issue, since it’s the first of many life issues, our opposition to abortion calls us to a solidarity with life. Such a solidarity compels us to care for the poor, the migrant and refugee, the person with special needs, and others who are helped by our attention and service. Such a solidarity urges us to work for peace, champion the rights of minorities, oppose capital punishment, and seek social harmony however we’re able.
None of these issues, however, are equal to abortion but all of them are connected to the dignity that abortion offends and they call for our intervention and action. They call us to solidarity. Our opposition to abortion, therefore, leads us into a solidarity with life and guides us in our fight against other social ills.
The above explanation can help the Christian who wants to be true brother or sister to all people, without falling into moral ambiguity, or who wants to accompany and serve those who suffer, without being entrapped in only one issue. Each of us, as believers or as people of good will, are called to welcome life — defending it at its beginning — and cherish it by living peacefully with all men and women and advocating for all those who suffer.
And so, we are called to solidarity and subsidiarity. We are called to be a people of life from the womb to the tomb, and everywhere in between.