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Society’s view of life reflected in its treatment of all humans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the 1800s it was enslaved African-Americans, today it is unborn Americans and Sudanese Christians, who are being reclassified as something less than fully human.

The United States is stumbling down a familiar path, speakers at a conference on “Life and Liberty” said August 27, and they insisted the nation’s take on life issues is no more attractive than it was 150 years ago.

The panel discussion, held at Nashville’s Belmont Church, was designed to address the common thread running between the issues of modern slavery and abortion, cloning and euthanasia.

There is a struggle in America between two “remarkably disparate and contradictory worldviews,” panelist Richard Land said. The tension between those holding to the sanctity of human life position and those ascribing to a quality of life position is most clearly manifested in the life issues as cloning, human embryonic stem cell research, assisted suicide, and abortion on demand, explained the president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

The Declaration of Independence, the United State’s founding document, bears the impression of the sanctity of human life perspective, Land said, noting it reads, “We believe that all men are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

“Liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not worth much if you do not have life,” Land said.

While also expressing his thankfulness for the nation’s Christian heritage and “the beauty of the gospel as it distilled through our founding documents,” panelist Stephen Mansfield said, “We have to alarmed by the founding generation and succeeding generations to compromise. Though I esteem the faith of many of our founding fathers, their capacity to compromise regarding the definition of life, that is the value of human beings, is pretty amazing.” Mansfield is pastor of Nashville’s Belmont Church, an historian and an author.

“The United States of America was founded upon the bedrock principle that every individual human being is endowed by his or her Creator with an inalienable right to life,” Land said, noting that “‘inalienable’ means it can’t be sold, it can’t be bought, it can’t be granted, it can’t be bestowed. If you are a human being, you have it.”

This foundational principle helps explain what is “on first glance is a contradictory chapter in American history,” Land continued, pointing out that even with such a powerful affirmation of God-endowed rights in its founding document the young nation embraced slavery-“the most vicious form of involuntary servitude of any country in the entirety of western civilization.”

The riddle of how a society can affirm both an inalienable right to life but still have three million of citizens enslaved at the time of the 1860 census can only be untangled by recognizing that early Americans “dehumanized the people who were enslaved and viewed them as less than fully human,” Land said.

He cited the infamous Dred Scott decision in 1857 wherein the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 7-2 that African-American slaves were not, for the purposes of the law, people. The justices ruled they were property.

“While the heinousness of that decision is mind-boggling, we see the same thing being worked out today,” Land said. “The Nazis did it and we see modern-America doing it.”

Land recalled that as a guest on a recent radio program other guests were irritated that he kept insisting that human embryos are “our tiniest humans.”

In society today there are those who speak of “potential lives,” a term under-girded by a quality of life ethic that argues that some lives are more worthy are than other lives, Land said.

Since 1973 abortion has taken the life of one out of every three babies conceived in America. “We didn’t have 33 percent fatality rate at Omaha Beach. We didn’t have a 33 percent fatality rate at Iwo Jima. We didn’t have a 33 percent fatality rate in any single engagement in Vietnam or in the Civil War, but we have had a 33 percent fatality rate on unborn human beings in the U.S. since 1973,” he said.

“Our moral compass is demagnetized to the point that we are debating whether or not its permissible to sacrifice our tiniest human beings in order to extract their stem cells to benefit older and bigger human beings,” Land said, saying the wholesale promotion of a quality of life ethic has coarsened and desensitized the culture to assaults on the preciousness of human life.

“We are sliding rapidly into a utilitarian view of human life,” Mansfield agreed.

“Anytime you begin to step toward an understanding of a human being simply as parts to be harvested then you have moved toward a utilitarian view of life that is going to cause tremendous destruction.”

Mansfield insisted this was the kind of reclassifying that happened with the Jews, that happened with the slaves in America, and is happening in Sudan, where Christian Sudanese are being persecuted and taken into slavery by the nation’s Moslem government.

Several refugees from Sudan were part of the panel discussion. The young men were part of a group of some 40,000 children-now young men and commonly referred to as the Lost Boys of Sudan-who fled their villages en masse in the late 1980s when their homeland was bombed during Sudan’s civil war. Their parents having been killed or missing, these Christian boys traveled alone hundreds of miles across treacherous stretches of east Africa from Sudan to Ethiopia and then on to Kenya. By the time they were finally settled in a refugee camp in North Kenya in 1992, over half of their original number had died.

Mansfield speculated that Christians in America are hampered from truly living out their faith by some misconceptions: “We are insecure about what we believe and about whether it ought to impact the public square.

“Most people of faith have strongly held beliefs but live in some kind of insecurity as to whether those beliefs ought to inform the public square or ought to be heard in the marketplace,” he continued. “I believe the church has in essence lost its prophetic voice in our society.”

While most Christians may have “a pretty healthy worldview,” they need “an element of activism to inflame that worldview into activism,” Mansfield continued.

“It is a fact that Christians are not active in politics; it is a fact that Christians are not learned in these issues,” he said. “The issue here is not just what do we believe, but why don’t we act upon it.”

Land agreed, noting that Jesus commanded his followers to be salt and light.

“Salt is a preservative. It preserves against decay; it will purify and disinfect but it has to come into contact with that which it would purity and disinfect,” he said. “Jesus commanded us to go out and engage a disintegrating, rotting world and to be a preservative.

“Light penetrates darkness but you can’t have your light off in a secret place. You have to have it close enough to penetrate the darkness and feel the heat.”

We have a right to bring our convictions to bear on public policy, Land said, citing the Apostle Paul’s writing to the church in Rome.

Reminding the panelists that the U.S. exerted enough pressure on the former Soviet Union that they finally allowed their Jewish citizens to immigrate, Land said, “We can put enough pressure on these tin-pot dictators and murderous mercenaries in Khartoum [Sudan’s capital] to get rid of that government and liberate that whole land.”

“If we could but mobilize the people who claim to believe there is a Lord Jesus Christ and who claim to believe in a biblical worldview and if those people alone would live out the implications of their values and theology, we would see a transformation of our society,” Mansfield said.

“We need to return to an understanding that every Christian has a mandate upon their lives to impact the society in which they live with acts of kindness, servanthood, with distinctly Christian care for the hurting, the needy, and the oppressed as well as to speak powerfully in the political process,” Mansfield concluded.

Montanez Wade, a Christian activist and professor of engineering at Tennessee State University, moderated the discussion, which also included Lyon Tyler, former professor of history at Virginia Military Institute and a grandson of U.S. President John Tyler, and Deborah Martin, who with her husband, Henry, is a missionary to Sudan.

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  • Dwayne Hastings