We welcome guest blogger Mark P. Shea, author of the new book The Work of Mercy: Being the Hands and Heart of Christ from Servant Books.
Let’s get something out of the way right off the bat. Abortion is the single most serious moral issue of our time. Nothing in our civilization equals the gravity of a society that can look straight at a newborn baby, made by God, helpless, innocent and beautiful—and stick a pair of scissors in her brain while declaring that a sacred right which must be guarded and extended to all the world, by imperial force if necessary. Such repellent worship of Moloch is biblical in its epic, almost theatrical, level of evil. It is a mark of how deeply corrupted our culture has become that so many people can not only fight to protect this evil as though it were a sacrament, but even joke about it and spit on those who seek to protect the unborn with utter contempt. No issue is of graver import.
That said, however, it is not the case that opposition to abortion exhausts the moral obligations of the Christian in the world and it is *emphatically* not the case that opposition to abortion takes away the sins of the world.
What do I mean? I mean that many serious, believing Christians have begun to embrace a false soteriology when it comes to abortion. What’s “soteriology”? It’s a three dollar word referring to that branch of theology pertaining to salvation. We humans are always looking for someone or something to save us—besides Jesus. And there are lots of candidates out there. Some people look to correct liturgical practices to save them. The Pharisees thought that attention to religious niceties would do the trick. Lots of people look to money, sex, and/or power to do it. Others hope that the correct tribal affiliation in politics will do it. Still others have a lively faith that the correct views on, say, global warming, or recycling, or Obama, or Romney, or those damn libruls, or those Neanderthal conservatives are salvific. Conversely, a taste for Justin Bieber, Manga, disco, country music, disposable diapers, SUVs, or tobacco are thought by various tribal groupings to definitively consign people to the ranks of the damned—or whatever stands in for damnation among those who do not believe in heaven or hell.
Now, among conservative Christians (my own tribe) abortion has rightly been seen as the most appalling social evil of our time. But as the years have rolled on, many of my tribe have slowly evolved from treating it as the most important issue to treating as the only issue. And in doing so, many of us have concurrently moved to hitching our wagons to any politician who promises to “do something” about abortion—even when that same politician demands our vote so that we will support his plans to launch an unjust war, or torture people, or vote to force you to pay for contraceptives which are (irony of ironies) abortifacients. We buy into agendas which totally ignore or treat as completely disposable virtually the whole corpus of Catholic moral teaching—and then declare that it’s okay because Our Guy says something about being against abortion.
That’s a very dubious theory of salvation. Opposition to abortion is a *necessary* condition of being a disciple of Jesus Christ. But it is not a sufficient one. Opposition to abortion does not take away the sins of the world: Jesus does. And Jesus commands far more of us than mere opposition to abortion. How much more?
That is summarized in the Church’s teaching on the 14 corporal and spiritual works of mercy. These are:
Feed the Hungry
Give Drink to the Thirsty
Clothe the Naked
Harbor the Harborless
Visit the Sick
Ransom the Captive
Bury the Dead
Instruct the Ignorant
Counsel the Doubtful
Bear Wrongs Patiently
Forgive Offenses Willingly
Comfort the Afflicted
Pray for the Living and the Dead
Any theory of salvation which imagines it is possible to ignore or minimize these is doomed. So it is vital that we return to the embrace of the Church’s *whole* teaching and not continue to allow it to be whittled down, even for the very good cause of saving the unborn. We must teach our political tribes that they are to be the servants of the least of these, whether they are babies *or* unwed mothers, poor children before they are born or after, babies born here or abroad in some country where we are planning our next adventure in nation building at gunpoint. And we must continue to care for those babies even when they become poor men and women, or deeply sinful, or hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison. The whole world, not just the unborn, is the least of these.
Mark P. Shea is a popular writer and speaker. He is the coauthor of the bestseller A Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions About The Passion of The Christ and author of the acclaimed Mary, Mother of the Son trilogy. He is a regular contributor to the National Catholic Register and InsideCatholic.com and is a regular guest on Catholic radio.
Meet Mark! Watch him discuss his book.