God wanted the ancient Jewish people to be special, to possess a self-conscious purity distinct from the practices of their neighbors. So the Jewish religious leaders, the Pharisees, established elaborate standards for purity, including rules concerning sets of dishes, ritual washings, and handwashing. But many of Jesus’ followers, simple folk who weren’t about to read theology texts, didn’t follow the rules precisely, leading the Pharisees to complain. But Jesus grew angry, responding to them as if to say, “Really? These people are full of anger, lust, greed, distrust; they’re dying, spiritually dying, in all their interior sins, and you’re upset by how they wash their hands?”
Sadly, our ambition to find fault with each other is found in every generation and ethnicity. Just in the past week, I’ve been treated to multiple demonstrations of this. One prolifer argues that authentic prolifers would necessarily promote vaccine booster shots among the elderly and vulnerable; another believes the boosters should instead be sent overseas as relief for people still waiting (without hope) for their first vaccine. One argues for large-scale resettlement of refugees from Afghanistan; another insists that the Afghans should not displace refugees from elsewhere, in line earlier. And prolifers wage more energetic conflicts with each over harder issues: political and legal strategies; the proper stance on abortions in hard cases; and whether being pro-life necessarily includes a commitment to anything besides opposition to legalized abortion.
If these ethical dilemmas were merely matters of rational disagreement, we could often reconcile with each other, make compromises to accommodate each other, or even agree to disagree, and still cooperate on a pro-life agenda overall. But it’s not that simple, for our motives are mixed. We want to do good. We want to aid the unwanted unborn and their mothers in distress, both of whom surely are to be classed among the “orphans and widows” whose care is essential to biblical religiosity.
But in addition to wanting to do good, we also want other things: We want to feel successful. We want to be seen as successful. We want others to acknowledge our success, and we want to enjoy the worldly rewards of success. From these ambitions spring a multitude of other agenda items, always with the rationalization that if we achieve these worldly rewards of success, then we will be able to do more in the cause of the unborn. Thus, “from within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly.” As Jesus observes, this principle does not exempt those of us who are religiously or ethically observant; quite the contrary, it applies especially to us.
Prolifers know about excuses. Serious prolifers know well all the pressures on a woman seeking an abortion. We know the many excuses offered by politicians and others for not extending the protection of the law to the unborn. Perhaps some of us are also frustrated by all the rationalizations we hear for not providing more material aid to the unborn or their mothers. So let us not excuse ourselves from our own duty to be humane to the people around us. Where we find in ourselves anger, arrogance, or cynicism, let us allow God to repair us, and to remedy the example we give to others by returning us to patience, humility, and sincerity, all of which make for healthy men and women—and for a decent civil order.