September 25, 2006


That They May Have Life: A Statement of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (First Things, October 2006)

We are grateful that as Christians, Evangelicals and Catholics together, we can speak with one voice on a matter of paramount urgency for our society and the world. We address this statement to all who confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to all people of goodwill who share our concern for a more just and humane social order.

Recent years have witnessed a new pattern of convergence and cooperation between Evangelicals and Catholics. We are grateful that the project known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT) has played a part in this development—a development that has occasioned both controversy and high hopes within our respective communities. In the public life of our country, the changing relationship between Evangelicals and Catholics has also occasioned curiosity, anxiety, and even alarm.

This convergence has implications for our culture and civil order. In the present statement we intend, however briefly and inadequately, to make the case for what is commonly called “a culture of life”—and to do so in a way that invites public deliberation and engages questions of public policy. Our primary purpose, however, is to explain to our communities why we believe that support for a culture of life is an integral part of Christian faith and therefore a morally unavoidable imperative of Christian discipleship.

To those who do not identify with our communities, or with any Christian community, we respectfully suggest that it is in our mutual interest that they try to understand better the reasons and convictions that have recruited so many millions of their fellow citizens to the cause of the culture of life. Greater understanding does not necessarily lead to agreement, but it at least makes possible a more civil engagement of our disagreements.

The present moment in American public life is frequently described in terms of “culture wars,” and there is some merit in that description. We need not and must not, however, resign ourselves to unremitting warfare. A culture is composed of many parts, but different cultures are distinguished by different understandings of reality, of the meaning of life and death, of rights and duties, of rights and wrongs.

There is what is called a Judeo-Christian worldview, a worldview that was crucial to the formation of our civilization and is, we believe, clearly reflected in the convictions that inspired the American founding. To speak of American culture today is to speak of a culture marked by different worldviews in conflict. So severe is the conflict, also in the political realm, that many despair of finding any commonalities by which warfare can be replaced, or at least tempered, by civil discourse.

We refuse to join in that despair. We refuse to despair because we share with those who oppose us a common humanity. We also share a common interest in sustaining the American experiment in its aspiration to be a free, just, and virtuous society. In our common humanity, we share a Godgiven capacity to reason, to argue, to deliberate, to persuade, and to discover moral truths regarding questions related to the right ordering of our life together. As members of the community of Christians, we are obliged to bear an uncompromising witness to our faith. As members of this civil order, we are also obliged to engage respectfully those who do not share our faith. In this statement, we intend to do both.

Between Evangelicals and Catholics there have been long-standing differences on the capacities of human reason. To put it too briefly, Evangelicals (and the Protestant traditions more generally) have accented that human reason has been deeply corrupted by sin. Catholics, on the other hand, while recognizing that human reason has been severely wounded by sin and is in need of healing, have held a higher estimate of reason’s capacity to discern truth, including moral truth. We, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, affirm that the knowledge of God necessary for eternal salvation cannot be attained by human reason alone apart from Divine revelation and the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith’s response to Jesus Christ the only Savior. (These questions are addressed in more detail in our 1998 statement, “The Gift of Salvation.”)

We also affirm together that human reason, despite the consequences of sin, has the capacity for discerning, deliberating, and deciding the questions pertinent to the civil order. Some Evangelicals attribute this capacity of reason to “common grace,” as distinct from “saving grace.” Catholics typically speak of the “natural law,” meaning moral law that is knowable in principle by all human beings, even if it is denied by many (Romans 1 and 2). Thus do we, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, firmly reject the claim that disagreements over the culture of life represent a conflict between faith and reason. Both faith and reason are the gift of the one God. Since all truth has its source in Him, all truth is ultimately one, although our human perception of the fullness of truth is partial and inadequate (1 Corinthians 13:12). Thus do we invite those who disagree, including those who do not share the gift of faith in Christ, to join with us in attempting to move beyond “culture wars” to a reasonable deliberation of the right ordering of our life together.

As Christians, we are informed, inspired, and sustained by our faith in a commitment to a culture of life, which includes the protection and care of the unborn, the severely disabled, the dependent elderly, and the dying. The culture of life encompasses also the poor, the marginalized, and those who, for whatever reason, are vulnerable to neglect or exploitation by others. This is not a uniquely Christian commitment. Disagreement on our obligations to those in need should not be viewed as a conflict between Christians and non-Christians.

We are sadly aware that many who identify themselves as Christians do not share our understanding of a culture of life. It is not the case that we wish to “impose” our moral convictions on our fellow citizens or, as some recklessly charge, to establish a “theocracy.” Our intention is not to impose but to propose, educate, and persuade, in the hope that, through free deliberation and decision, our society will be turned toward a more consistent respect for the inestimable gift that is human life.

This statement and the questions addressed are emphatically public in nature. Christianity—its scriptures, doctrine, intellectual tradition, and institutions of communal allegiance and mission—are part of our common history. Christianity claims at least the nominal adherence of the great majority in our society. To be a Christian is a personal but not a private decision. To be a Christian is to be associated with a historical movement bearing public witness to universal moral truths.

Such truths are not accepted by all in our society, nor is there complete agreement about their meaning and implications among all who do accept them. But the assertion of these truths, including their significance for public policy, is part of, and in no way to be excluded from, genuinely public discourse. Whatever is meant by “the separation of church and state,” it cannot mean the separation of public life and public policy from the deepest convictions, including moral convictions, of the great majority of a nation’s citizens.

As Christian truth claims are public, so also are the questions pertinent to a culture of life. There is no more inescapably public and political question than who belongs to the polis of which we are part. The contention over abortion, for instance, is not about when human life begins. That is a biological and medical question about which there is no reasonable dispute. The moral and political dispute is over which human beings, at whatever state of development or decline, possess rights that we are bound to respect. The question is this: Who belongs to the community for which we accept public responsibility?

In what follows we hope to make the case that the defense of the humanum is made imperative by the Christian understanding of reality. Our position with respect to questions such as abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and the creation and destruction of 19 embryos for research purposes is integral to that understanding of reality. Every human life is, from conception, created by God and is infinitely precious in His sight. The fulfillment of human life is, by the grace of God, “life and life abundant” through faith in Jesus Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

We believe it is of utmost importance that everyone involved in the public discussion of these questions understand the unbreakable connection between a Christian worldview and the defense of human life. We can no more abandon our contention for a culture of life than we can abandon our allegiance to the lordship of Christ, for our contention is inseparably part of that allegiance.

At the same time, we contend that the public policies pertinent to the defense of the humanum are supported by reasons that are accessible to all and should be convincing to all. The term “humanism” is frequently employed in opposition to Christian faith, as in the phrase “secular humanism.” We propose a deeper and richer humanism that is firmly grounded in the bedrock of scriptural truth, that is elaborated in the history of Christian thought, that is in accord with clear reason, that honors the best in our civilization’s tradition, and that holds the promise of a future more worthy of the dignity of the human person who is the object of God’s infinite love and care. This more authentic humanism is in no way alien to Christianity. There is in world history no teaching more radically humanistic than the claim that God became a human being in order that human beings might participate in the life of God, now and forever. [...]

Every human life is intended by God from eternity for eternity. Human life is sacred because it is the creation of God, the Lord of life. “For you did form my inward parts, you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13). Nature shares in the consequences of sin and innumerable lives are lost before they have an opportunity to develop in the womb, as many die in disasters such as famine, earthquakes, and hurricanes. Mortality is the common denominator of all life on earth. We are morally responsible, however, for the protection and care of life created in the image and likeness of God. The commandment “You shall not kill” is the negatively stated minimum of what we owe to our fellow human beings.

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic research is rightly understood as murder. In the exceedingly rare instance of direct threat to the life of the mother, saving her life may entail the death of the unborn child. Such rare and tragic instances are in sharpest contrast to the unlimited abortion license created by the Supreme Court, resulting in more than forty million deaths since 1973.

The blindness of so many to this moral atrocity has many sources but is finally to be traced to the seductive ways of evil advanced by Satan. Jesus says, “He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).

The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life may be attended by what is believed to be compassion, especially in the case of the dependent and debilitated aged. While we can sympathize with those who view their own life or the life of another as a burden and not a gift, and while, by the grace of God, there can be repentance and forgiveness for those who are guilty of committing great evil, there can be no moral justification for murder. We are determined to employ every legal means available to protect, in law and in life, the innocent and vulnerable members of the human community.

And all the Culture of Death has to offer as an alternative to the truth that every person is ordained directly to God is pabulum about choice.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 25, 2006 6:53 PM

...license created by the Supreme Court, resulting in more than forty million deaths since 1973.

Considering the awful number above, and in spite of it, there just has to be an overwhelming goodness about the United States to receive the blessings we have.

Posted by: Tom Wall at September 26, 2006 1:11 AM

I shudder to contemplate the comment that "there just has to be an overwhelming goodness about the United States to receive the blessings we have". The blessings we have been given are, to begin with, humility before God and honesty about our faults. No matter that the false guilt mongers have made self examination a byword and in so doing have made in their opponents a sort of virtue out of nationalistic hubris; when Christians start buying into the notion that America conflates with Christendom perfectly expressed, we have lost our moorings from the faith in Christ and His teachings that was ever our most fundamental blessing and the source of every blessing.

Posted by: Paula R. McIntyre Robison M.D. at September 26, 2006 8:11 AM

Interesting mix. It wasn't that long ago that Evangelicals, or even workaday Protestants didn't consider Catholics any more than Jews, as Christians. This pretty much stunned me.

When we first retired to Florida about 20 years ago, I allowed myself to be installed on a county wide board meant to oversee an effort by nine local Christian clergy to serve the needy.

I wondered out loud at a meeting, why there wasn't a Catholic priest among the them and was told that Catholics aren't Christians, likewise the reason there was no Jewish rabbi in the mix.

The members of the board were so openly anti-Semitic, at first I thought I was mis-reading them. Alas, I was not and the one Jew on the board, also an ex-New Yorker whom I got to know fairly well, was ignored and spoken to rudely. He tried to stick it out, but I couldn't, so I resigned before the year was out. Later we learned that the well paid director, a member of the self-same protected minority they were allegedly helping, was pilfering funds for her personal use.

Posted by: erp at September 26, 2006 9:38 AM

Dr. Robinson:

Ditto. I was going to say something similar but you said it much better that I was going to.

Posted by: Jeff at September 26, 2006 9:40 AM

Heck, even Episcopaleans are barely Christian.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2006 10:29 AM

Except that's why the United States exists: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

It is uniquely the case here that to be unChristian is to be unAmerican.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2006 10:32 AM

To expand upon the Doctor's point, I should hope that evangelicals are sufficiently familiar with the Bible and Catholics with Secred Scripture and the fruits of the Magisterium to discern the difference between what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God.

Let us cut to the chase. The debate over the right to life is not a "religious" debate, such as would arise from a point of Christology or over dietary rules. Law protecting the unborn is not analogous to laws requiring church attendance as a condition for voting.

We do not wish to halt the Kindermord because we are trying to force others to submit to out faith, but because it is the murder of children.

Lou Gots, J.D.

Posted by: Lou Gots at September 26, 2006 10:53 AM

They only matter if we're right about God. If we're wrong then you stack the corpses as high as you want.

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2006 11:04 AM


Yes, but the Left just can't admit that Dosteovsky was correct. Only Nietzsche went there, and look what it (the abyss) did to him. Mario Cuomo doesn't have the guts to follow that road.

Posted by: jim hamlen at September 26, 2006 9:39 PM

Yes, but we can adminster the abyss swirlie....

Posted by: oj at September 26, 2006 9:44 PM