The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” Psalm 24:1 is a popular verse in Christian conservation (or creation care) circles—one I have heard often enough that it almost rings cliché. But these words struck me anew when used in a closing benediction before thousands of fellow pro-lifers gathered around the Texas State Capitol. They are appropriate in both contexts, reminding us that human claims of absolute autonomy and ownership are in conflict with a much greater reality.
The route to the Capitol took marchers past a dozen bullhorned counter-protestors advocating for “Abortion on Demand and Without Apology” and against the “female enslavement” of “forced motherhood.” These were their bodies, to be used as they each saw fit and without any responsibilities towards others. The psalmist reminds us, though, that the Lord is the owner of all he has made. That Maker’s mark extends beyond people, of course, to everything in the universe. Through the grace of God, we are allowed to act as stewards, caretakers if you will, of both our bodies and of the broader creation. We make decisions that matter—decisions that impact people and our planet for better or worse. And we do so best when our hearts and minds are attuned to the work of the Great Composer whose song we, like David, are called to sing. Screams of “Mine!” that echo from radical feminists in Austin to militiamen in Oregon bring dissonance, not harmony.
The stridency of those shouting “Women are not incubators!” at the pro-life passersby also bore a striking, if uncomfortable, resemblance to others who practice indignation-based politics. One handmade sign featured a drawing of the feminine reproductive system and the words “Don’t Tread on Me.” The libertarian left has plenty of company when it comes to that particular sentiment. Indeed, the “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, [and] selfish ambition” that mark discourse across the political spectrum today are found on a list from the Apostle Paul describing the polar opposite of the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control.”
The crowd in Texas hung on the words of Melissa Ohden, a 39 year old survivor of a saline abortion. Having stewed in utero amid a toxic salt solution for five days, Melissa was supposed to be stillborn after labor was induced. Instead, she was delivered alive into her grandmother’s arms—a nurse who had pushed her teenage daughter to this dark choice. Breathing was an unwelcome indicator that the procedure had been, as medical records put it, “unsuccessful.” But success might come yet by moving this not even three pound life to the utility closet that served as a de facto dying room when such “complications” occurred. Thankfully, within this Midwestern hospital named after St. Luke, there were still some healthcare providers who shared the gospel-writing physician’s ear for the weak, the vulnerable, and the small. Like the Good Samaritan, they did not walk by what might have seemed an irrational and hopeless cause.
The adoptive family that gave her a name was cautioned that their child’s path would be far from normal. Indeed, the warning proved prophetic, but not for the expected reasons. In her extraordinary life, Melissa has earned a master’s degree, worked as a counselor, became a wife and mother, and come before the powerful as a voice and face for the humanity of the unborn.
Paradoxically, this charismatic Caucasian woman reminded me of a soft spoken Polynesian man. Both speak from firsthand experience for marginalized peoples all but hidden from view. The Reverend Tafue Lusama is a native of Tuvalu, a small island nation in the Pacific. Our paths crossed in 2009 as he visited churches and Christian colleges on what was billed as the “Ankle Deep in Reality Tour,” sharing the story of a place that is overwhelmingly Christian and is steadily being rendered uninhabitable as the climate changes and the oceans inch upward. His message was one of solidarity as he gently asked us to pray that the Body of Christ would stand together against this rising tide. Reverend Lusama then—using words heard recently by hundreds of millions of liturgical Christians on the Sunday following the Roe anniversary—quoted the Apostle Paul’s instructions to the church at Corinth: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.”
The water is still rising around his homeland, and just last year the country was clipped by Pam, a Category 5 cyclone. Almost half of the nation’s population of just over 10,000 was displaced. Despite what seems to many scientists a bleak outlook, Reverend Lusama continues advocating for his people at places like Asbury Seminary and Montreat College.
It can be tempting to rationalize our way around cries from the little ones like Tuvalu and baby Melissa rather than extend our circumference of compassion. They are too small to matter and what could we practically do about it anyway! If we are honest, though, we know that these are not the words of love. Mother Teresa reminded us that merely holding the hands of the dying is a powerful ministry and Paul instructed the Corinthians, “Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable . . . . [T]here should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.” Tiny humans matter and so do tiny nations.
Wendell Berry once said, “If abortion is wrong, as I believe, it is wrong because it excludes some of our fellow humans from our care. But to think that abortion is wrong is to risk dangerous oversimplification if we cannot follow our thought to its logical conclusion.” Indeed, we are called to care for all of the world that God so loved.
John Murdock will soon be teaching at the Handong International Law School, a Christian institution in South Korea. His online home remains johnmurdock.org.
Become a fan of First Things on Facebook, subscribe to First Things via RSS, and follow First Things onTwitter.