Sanctity of Life for All

A couple months ago I was listening to NPR during my drive home from my internship, when a segment came on discussing the death penalty. They were interviewing a man who worked for a non-profit fighting to end the death penalty. He discussed the history of capital punishment, the structural racism plaguing our justice system, and the multiple instances where witnesses have been paid in exchange for false testimonies. In the interview, my home state of Texas, was specifically called out for putting more people to death than any other state. Since the year 1976, 530 people have been put to death by the state of Texas, compared with the 6 people Tennessee has executed.*

When I got home I logged onto Facebook and saw my news-feed flooded with pro-life status updates, usually including phrases like “sanctity of life” and “defund planned-parenthood.” Having just listened to the NPR segment on capital punishment, I couldn’t help but reflect on the ugly irony of this.

Over the course of these past few months, I’ve heard many Christians talk about the sanctity of life when it comes to unborn babies being aborted. These Christians are quick to talk about the value of life inside the womb, but once we’re talking about life outside the womb people don’t seem so quick to acknowledge this sanctity of life.

When Texas has 248 people on death row, I don’t hear churches threatening to shut-down the government.

When a transgender teen is gruesomely killed on the streets, I don’t hear many Christians crying out about the sanctity of life.

When black lives are continually devalued and threatened, I don’t see a popular movement of churches in our nation entering into this fight for racial justice.

The pro-life ideals that many of my fellow Christians on Facebook seek to uphold—that all of life is valuable, no matter how small or vulnerable—is something I absolutely align with. Being pro-life should mean that we are pro-living. It should indicate that we are seeking to fight for a world where all people can flourish. Yet in conversations with many pro-life Christians, I find that they digress to criminalizing women who seek abortions and demonizing those who stand by them. Shutting down healthcare centers providing resources for low-income women discounts the God-given right for every person to receive care and support from her community.

Claiming you’re pro-life when you’re unwilling to uphold the sanctity of life outside of the womb is deeply troubling and problematic. Many churches wave their pro-life banner as they champion the cause of unborn babies yet they have no problem silencing black, queer, and female lives. It seems that many church people are uncomfortable, or unwilling, to acknowledge the fingerprint of the Divine inside someone who does not act, look, believe, or vote like they do. If Christians want to be pro-life, the extent of the conversation cannot end with life inside the womb. To be pro-life means that we should be for the health, well-being, and flourishing of all living creatures.

image-2Sarah Stell is a 2015-16 Belle Harris Bennett Fellow. She graduated from Belmont University in Nashville in May 2015 with a major in Social Work. During her college career she studied abroad in the Middle East, served as an orphanage caretaker in Uganda, worked with women involved in the commercial sex industry, and was a social work intern at End Slavery Tennessee. She feels a calling to create space for the voices of the oppressed, engaging churches on issues regarding race, sexuality, power, and oppression.