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The Hubris of Abortion

Though I found Judge Robert Bork’s arguments on abortion in “Inconvenient Lives” (December 1996) mostly persuasive, I wondered at his lack of reference to God. The omission is especially glaring when he asks what characteristic entitles one to sufficient moral respect to be allowed to go on living. The odd response is, “It must lie in the fact that you are alive with the prospect of years of life ahead.” This sounds like an affirmation of life for life’s sake. Yet without reference to a creator, there is no basis for such an assertion. The Second Vatican Council puts it this way, “Without a creator there can be no creature . . . . Once God is forgotten, the creature is lost sight of as well” ( Gaudium et Spes , 36). Arguments that begin by positing life itself as an absolute tend to end in quality of life considerations. Judge Bork finds the decision to abort when severe deformities are involved morally ambiguous. Is it because those children often do not have “the prospect of years of life ahead”? I faced the possibility (though not the reality) of having a so-called deformed child. The experience only served to make me less understanding of the decision to abort. God had given me this child to care for; to kill it would have been, under any circumstances, an unfathomable evil. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summed up the problem with all abortions when he said, “In the sight of God there is no life that is not worth living.” In the end, abortion is not an act of desperation, but one of hubris. It is an attempt to wrest control of our destiny away from God. According to pro-abortion ideology, conception is a human deed. Consequently, Rosemary Radford Ruether can say in her prayer for the rite of healing from abortion, “We want to create life that is chosen, wanted, and can be sustained and nourished” ( Woman-Church ). We women maketh and can, therefore, taketh. It is hardly surprising that Judge Bork has discovered that “many who favor the abortion right understand that humans are being killed.” One cannot argue against those who would be God. Clearly, the radical individualism that Judge Bork rightly decries cannot be fought on its own terms. To adopt the pro-choice “rights” rhetoric is self-defeating because, in this society, the “rights” of those who have a voice will always triumph over those who do not. Instead, we need to use a vocabulary and ethic which speak of God’s intention to create and redeem human life. Those of us who wish to uphold the sanctity of all human life cannot do so without reference to the One who transcends and gives our lives meaning. This is our only weapon against the “nihilism that is spreading in our culture and finds killing for convenience acceptable.”

(The Rev.) Jennifer Mehl Ferrara
Fleetwood, PA

Jesus and Judaism

Richard John Neuhaus’ comments on “Jews for Jesus, Established a.d. 32” and the Southern Baptist resolution on Jewish evangelism (December 1996) bring welcome theological light and balance to this discussion. The first major controversy in the Church was over the question whether the gospel was for anyone other than the Jews, and whether a Gentile had to become a Jew in order to be a Christian. These issues were resolved largely at the first council of the Church in Jerusalem (as reported in Acts 15), where it was decided that Jesus came not only for Jews, but for everyone, and that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to belong to the Church. It is ironic that today the controversy is whether Jews are to be included in the Christian mission, and whether a Jew has to become a Gentile in order to be a Christian. As a United Methodist minister I must say that the Southern Baptist resolution is moderate in tone and absolutely biblical. But one well-known Jewish spokesman responded to the resolution in a newspaper column with an argument that I find troubling. He said that since Jews and Southern Baptists had engaged in theological dialogue over several years, he thought this meant that Southern Baptists would give up any attempt to evangelize Jews, and therefore the resolution was a negation of all their dialogue. I do not know what was said in those dialogues, but I know a little bit about Southern Baptists, and I also know that genuine interfaith dialogue does not require compromise of theological principles. Dialogue does not displace mission and it was a misuse of the dialogue if this was the motive of Jewish participants. As one who has devoted considerable effort to Jewish-Christian dialogue for the last twenty years, I increasingly believe it is artificial and dishonest if Jews who believe that Jesus is the Messiah are excluded from the dialogue-as they usually are. Their testimony and experience have to be taken into account. To exclude them is to engage in theological denial and contempt. Without them our Jewish-Christian dialogue lacks credibility.

Gerald H. Anderson
Hamden, CT While I certainly do not dispute the right of Christians to witness to Jews, Jews for Jesus and other such groups use deceptive tactics and make claims that violate the dignity of Judaism. You cannot wrap yourself in contemporary Judaism, much of which is a reflection of the efforts of the Talmudic Rabbis who consciously rejected Christianity, and claim you believe in Jesus. Either reject outright all rabbinic laws and practices or become a member of the Church. The Jews for Jesus want it both ways; deceptive tactics which cover Christian belief under the guise of Judaism. Father Neuhaus is correct that Christians should not have to give up their hopes and beliefs before committing to dialogue. I will not give up mine. All I ask is honesty and integrity. The fundamentalists who support Jews for Jesus and other “messianic” groups have neither honesty or integrity.

(Rabbi) Michael Balinsky
Evanston, IL The Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution was a needed corrective to the inclusivistic positions and rhetoric of much of conciliar Christianity’s position regarding Jewish evangelism. It was also the latest of a series of resolutions in the history of the SBC encouraging the sharing of the gospel with the sons and daughters of Abraham. Why has this been the case? Because the SBC is pro-Jewish. In fact, if we believe the gospel, the most anti-Semitic action we could take would be to decide not to evangelize the Jews. The SBC passed resolutions against anti-Semitism in both 1972 and 1981, placing Southern Baptists squarely in the camp of dignifying Jewish identity. Evangelism for us is simply to state that we believe that Jesus Christ of Nazareth is Messiah and Savior for Jew and Gentile alike and to leave the results of faith to God alone. Coercive and repressive acts against a person’s moral and religious conscience violate the essence of the true biblical witness. Tens of thousands of our spiritual forefathers, the Anabaptists, were slaughtered in the sixteenth century because of their refusal to conform to state churches. We are not about to repress and force others into a false and manipulated uniformity. Simultaneously, it is our conviction that we must be busy about the task of sharing the gospel “beginning in Jerusalem””this is the same gospel which is the power of God unto salvation to the Jew first and also to the Greek. To be disobedient to this assignment would be spiritual high treason committed against the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

R. Philip Roberts
Director Interfaith Witness Department
Home Mission Board
Alpharetta, GA As the Executive Director of the largest Jewish mission agency, I am heartened that the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination, has taken such a courageous stand for the evangelization of Jewish people. What Jewish community leaders are calling a “great setback” in Jewish“Christian relations is really a great leap forward in crystallizing the issue that Jesus is the Messiah for everyone, including Jews. It is refreshing to see that some in the dialogue movement are willing to acknowledge Jewish believers in Jesus as the missing partner. For a long time, we have sought a seat at the table without having to disguise our convictions or deny our heritage. Thank you for reminding us that genuine pluralism should indeed provide a forum for Jews for Jesus as well as other minority groups among the communities of faith.

David Brickner
Jews for Jesus
San Francisco, CA

Not So Intriguing

In “Editor’s Notes,” his amusing essay in the December 1996 issue, James Nuechterlein writes that “all editors have idiosyncratic preferences and antipathies,” and cites as an example my dislike of the word intrigue . True, I do dislike the use of that word outside the realms of spying and diplomacy. I believe, though, that my dislike for the word is evidence of more than a mild touch of insanity on my part. It is a dislike I have in common with H. W. Fowler, who thought the word an empty gallicism. Fowler felt that the line-up of words already available in English”among them puzzle, perplex, fascinate, mystify, interest, and pique ”were much better choices, and so do I. They also happen to be more precise words than the wobbly intrigue . The other problem with intrigue is that the people who use it tend to think themselves intriguing , in their own misguided use of the word”alas, they are wrong. Quite the reverse is too often the case, I fear.

Joseph Epstein
Evanston, IL

In Defense of Cranmer

Richard John Neuhaus’ comments on Thomas Cranmer in his discussion of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s biography are disappointing (“The Taming of the Church,” November 1996). After acknowledging that all efforts in “ordering of realms spiritual and temporal” have been gravely flawed, he forgets what he has acknowledged and denigrates Cranmer as a “lackey of royal power.” Father Neuhaus thus panders to the anachronistic contemporary assumptions of church/state relations. By this logic, is Thomas More a “lackey of royal power” as Henry VIII’s chancellor in helping to hunt down and have executed William Tyndale and others for translating the Bible? Fr. Neuhaus overlooks the fact that Cranmer was burned and Roman Catholicism set up officially again in England by the royal power of Queen Mary. Was Cardinal Pole thereby the “lackey of royal power”? Saul, David, Jeroboam, Manasseh, Solomon, and Ahab were all duly constituted royal powers. The Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed (which Fr. Neuhaus so creditably affirms) was proclaimed by royal power. The orthodox Dante and the Ghibelines sided with royal power against the Guelphs. Incidentally, the restitution (by royal power) of Roman Catholicism in England under Mary restored not only the doctrines of Trent but those of Henry VIII, including transubstantiation, private chantry masses, indulgences, compulsory celibacy of the clergy, and works of supererogation against which Cranmer fought openly and against the known wishes of Henry. But when the Six Articles were passed despite his efforts, Cranmer submitted to “duly constituted authority” as was his consistent action until the drama of his last day. When Mary succeeded to the throne he did exactly what he had done under Henry, he submitted to the authority of the realm. However, Mary required something Henry never did. She required that he not only submit but affirm what he did not believe and deny what he did believe. (This is the background to Elizabeth’s justly famous remark: “I will not build windows into a man’s soul.”) Only after spending two and a half years in a sixteenth-century prison, enduring constant and sleepless interrogation and hostile debates, and while made to watch the burning of his two friends, did this sixty-seven year old man finally give Mary’s interrogators what they had so long and so arduously strived to get, a recantation of his reformation views. His dramatic recantation of that recantation Neuhaus describes as an act of a “pitiably broken man.” Another view is that a truly heroic man was forced to endure a torture that MacCulloch suggests cannot be fully appreciated without knowing something of the “miserable history of brain-washing and interrogation in the twentieth century.”

(The Right Rev.) C. F. Allison
Bishop of South Carolina, Retired
Georgetown, SC

RJN replies:

There is indeed another view of Cranmer’s retraction of his retraction, and Bishop Allison very honorably represents it. I do think, however, that my view is closer to MacCulloch’s portrayal of the archbishop’s end. As for imposing “anachronistic” assumptions of church“state relations, I caution against that all the time. I would suggest that there is a qualitative difference between Cranmer and some of the other worthies mentioned. They did not contend that the sovereign they served was the temporal and spiritual head of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Apology Accepted

RJN’s “apology for any injury done the many faithful members of the Society of Jesus” (January) is gratefully accepted by this Jesuit (I can speak only for myself). At the same time, I wish that Jesuits did not quite so often make it difficult to take the Society of Jesus seriously.

Francis Canavan, S.J.
Bronx, NY