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Rightly prioritizing the issues

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–It’s a cheap shot to criticize socially conservative American “values voters” for narrowing the political litmus test to abortion and “same-sex marriage,” because “narrowing” and “prioritizing” are two different things.

Can there be a higher priority or a more compelling moral issue than 3,600 babies dying every day? If a child is born poor, he at least has some chance of escaping poverty. If he is killed before he is born, he doesn’t have a chance of escaping his mother’s womb.

We lose more babies through abortion every year than the total fatalities in all of the wars in which we have ever participated, commencing with the French and Indian War and including the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War I, and Gulf War II. What’s wrong with religious people who are not making this their paramount issue?

Again, I would contend that supporting traditional marriage is not narrowing, but prioritizing. Marriage is the basic building block of human society. A couple of years ago, I was lecturing at Harvard. During the question-and-answer period, a student asked me the following question concerning my opposition to “same-sex marriage”: “You seem like a nice guy. Why would you want to interfere in the personal, private relationship of two individuals?”

I answered that marriage is anything but a personal, private relationship. That is one reason the state requires a license to get married. Marriage is a social and civic institution with profound social responsibilities, obligations and impact. Every society in human history has severely regulated who may get married to whom, and under what circumstances they may dissolve the relationship, precisely because of this institution’s enormous importance to the entire society. “Same-sex marriage” is a cultural and social issue with profound moral, social and public policy implications.

I am stunned when someone isn’t concerned about the threat of further unraveling the nation’s already frayed social fabric by redefining marriage through judicial fiat against the will of the people. Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, probably the current Supreme Court’s most liberal justice, has criticized Roe v. Wade as a misguided attempt to rewrite and liberalize the nation’s abortion laws through judicial imposition rather than through a democratic movement to liberalize abortion through legislation.

Had such a popular movement succeeded, it would have built a more lasting consensus on social policy. Instead, the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion made the issue far more divisive than it otherwise would have been. If the courts try to force “same-sex marriage” on America, their judicial overreach will be equally destructive of the social fabric.

Criticizing social conservatives for prioritizing opposition to abortion and “same-sex marriage” is like criticizing Martin Luther King Jr. for being “preoccupied” with racial reconciliation and social justice. Did Dr. King have other concerns? Yes. And so should we. But, like Dr. King, we should understand that some moral issues take precedence over other issues in times when grave injustices are being committed. By the way, when Dr. King said his dream was a country in which people would be judged by the content of their character, not by the color of their skin, he wasn’t exactly espousing a secular, relativist vision.

What was his focus? He kept the main thing the main thing. The abolitionists in the 19th century kept the main thing the main thing. The 21st century pro-lifers are keeping the main thing the main thing. The Bible specifically condemns the pagan practice of sacrificing children, and I’m happy to be criticized for taking on the issue of abortion as a grave moral crisis.

The bottom line is that one’s view of human life impacts (prioritizes) how one regards other serious social issues, such as the sex trafficking of women and children, the genocide in Darfur and the grinding poverty that grips many in Third World countries and in sections of our nation. If innocent human life is indeed precious, then it deserves protections at all ages and in all places.
Richard Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. This article is adapted from his book, “The Divided States of America? What Liberals AND Conservatives are missing in the God-and-country shouting match!” (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 2007).

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  • Richard Land