When the Church is silent, we support the killing of the vulnerable (When the Church is Silent, #9 of 10)
You shall not bear false witness (Exod 20:16).
“Verbicide must precede homocide.” The sentence is from Paul Greenberg, an American journalist. What he means is that, in order to do the unthinkable, we must convince ourselves that the unthinkable is acceptable. We do this with language. Rather than speaking of an unborn child, we speak of a fetus. Killing a child is one thing. Removing the “contents of the uterus” or the “product of conception”—well, that’s another matter altogether. These terms, abounding in the language of abortion rhetoric, make an abortion sound like cleaning out one’s garage. Even the word “abortion” is a euphemism, focusing one’s attention on a procedure, rather than a slain child or a wounded mother.
On the other side of life, we have “death with dignity.” My dictionary defines dignity as “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect.” But that is not what supporters of euthanasia mean by dignity. Dignity in the so-called “right to die” movement means being able to bathe or feed oneself and not having to use a bedpan. The idea that somehow dignity is wrapped up in whether or not a person needs help is a perversion of the idea of dignity. But dignity is a powerful word, and a powerful word is needed if we are going to justify the practice of getting rid of those whose existence impinges upon the rest of us in uncomfortable ways.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor. Abortion and euthanasia thrive on false witness. If fact, they require it. After all, who is against choice? The name of the pro-choice movement is shrewd, to be sure, particularly in its reluctance (sometimes even refusal) to mention the choice it promotes. After all, “reproductive choice” sounds not nearly as troubling as homicide or murder, just as the language of “disarticulating the calvarium” of an unborn child is more soothing than “beheading.” And who is against dignity? Perhaps if we understood dignity as that which we recognize in another, rather than as something that we grant to others if they fulfill certain requirements, we might begin to see the image of God in one another, regardless of age or ability.
The call to the Church? We must speak. Our silence allows the world to define the terms and therefore shape how we think about the things of life. Left to itself, the world will convince us that we are not the image of God but rather the complex cellular end of an unguided process of evolution. If that is what we are, then it becomes difficult—in the end impossible— to argue why we ultimately matter, and particularly why the unborn, the elderly, the handicapped, and the otherwise vulnerable matter. Furthermore, we must learn to speak clearly and plainly, with boldness and without euphemism. In other words, we must learn to speak truthfully. Speaking of the efforts of the International Justice Mission to stem human trafficking and slavery, Gary Haugen writes,
I am convinced that any serious contest with evil requires a painful confrontation with the truth. The greatest and most shameful regrets of history are always about the truth we failed to tell, the evil we failed to name. The greatest enemy in our struggle to stop oppression and injustice is always the insidious etiquette of silence.8
The etiquette of silence is a great temptation, for plain speech in the area of abortion is, at the least, socially and relationally awkward, and at the most, dangerous. Yet, speaking in a manner that obscures truth is nothing other than bearing false witness. And, just like it was in the Old Testament, false witness can get people killed.
A truthful witness saves lives… (Prov 14:25).
8 Gary A. Haugen, Terrify No More (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2005), ix. To learn more about IJM, visit www.ijm.org.