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God’s Kingdom as a People: A Summary of Scot McKnight’s “Kingdom Conspiracy”

Sep 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

kingdom_conspiracy“Kingdom theology” is on the rise, says Scot McKnight in his new book, Kingdom Conspiracy: Returning to the Radical Mission of the Local Church (Brazos, 2014), but what in the world is the kingdom? Or better said, what is the kingdom in this world? And how does the kingdom relate to the church and its mission?

Kingdom Activism vs. Kingdom Redemption

Scot sees two basic choices among evangelicals today. First, we have the “Skinny Jeans” crowd of young activists who define the kingdom as “good deeds done by good people (Christian or not) in the public sector for the common good” (4). Then, there is the “Pleated Pants” crew who believe the kingdom is God’s redemptive rule and power at work on the world” (13) – some who see this redemption primarily in terms of personal salvation and others who expand redemption to societal and cultural transformation.

When scholars lay out two opposing viewpoints, they usually proceed to point out the strengths and weaknesses in both sides and argue for a middle way. Scot’s approach is different. He’s not a referee trying to make two teams get along. Instead, he’s more like a professor on the sidelines telling both teams, “I think you’re playing on the wrong field.”

The Biblical Landscape 

If we’re going to get on the right field, we’d better make sure we understand the storyline of the Bible, particularly Israel’s story and what “kingdom” meant to the Jews. The gospel’s declaration – “Jesus is Messiah, King, Lord, and Savior” – must be seen as the answer to a question, which comes from within a specific story. Instead of using the common Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation storyline to describe the Bible, Scot opts for an A-B-A’ story.

Plan A extends from Adam and Abraham to Samuel, and its theme is “God rules the world through his elected people, but God is the one and only king” (28). Where does sin come into this picture?

“The story of sin in the Bible is the story of God’s elect people wanting to be God-like instead of god-ly, or ruling instead of sub-ruling and being ruled” (29).

God’s response is to form a covenant of Abraham and call him and his people to rule for God.

Plan B is the establishment of a human king for Israel as an accommodation to Israel’s selfish desire to be like the other nations. Though God grants Israel a human king and continues to forgive Israel of its sins through the temple system, the people long for the right kind of king and kingdom. Once they are exiled, their hope of return and redemption increases.

In Plan A Revised, God comes to rule once again through the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God is King again, Israel and the church live under His rule, and forgiveness is granted through Jesus until the day He returns to consummate His kingdom.

The Spread of the Kingdom Story

How does our understanding of the biblical storyline affect our mission?

Scot believes kingdom mission requires conversion (he summarizes repentance and faith as a “surrender” to King Jesus) and discipleship (being mastered by the Bible’s story). Spiritual growth is linked to the kingdom’s inauguration.

“To the same degree that the kingdom has been inaugurated in Jesus, the kingdom can be realized among us. To the degree that the kingdom has not yet been realized, it cannot be lived out in the present” (39).

Understanding this truth gives us both a sense of hope and realism as we grow in Christlikeness.

Kingdom mission also requires context. Scot shows how Jesus’ kingdom story set him against five competing stories (including the Pharisees, the Essenes, and the Zealots). Likewise, faithfulness in the kingdom mission means we must “embed kingdom realities” in our own context, intentionally countering the ruling stories at work in our world.

God’s Kingdom as a People

The boldest proposal in Kingdom Conspiracy comes next. Scot challenges the evangelical consensus that “the kingdom of God” refers to God’s redemptive rule and not His people. “The kingdom of which Jesus speaks is a people governed by a king,” he writes (74).

Why does this matter? Because, whenever we reduce “kingdom” to God’s rule as either justice in the world or God’s rule as personal salvation for the human heart, we ignore the close connection between the kingdom of the King’s people. “You can’t be kingdom people without being church people,” he says (79).

Scot is not denying distinctions between the church and the kingdom, but he believes evangelicals have overstated the distinctions and missed their close connection. He writes:

“It is reasonable to say that the kingdom is the church, and the church is the kingdom – that they are the same even if they are not identical. They are the same in that it is the same people under the same King Jesus even if each term – kingdom, church – gives off slightly different suggestions” (206).

Kingdom Mission as Church Mission

If we fail to understand the kingdom’s connection to the church, we will get lost when we go looking for the primary place redemption is found. The Skinny Jeans activists are all about redemption in society. The Pleated Pants folks are all about redemption for the individual. Scot says both are looking in the wrong place. The primary locus of redemption is in the local church. (85). “There is no kingdom now outside the church,” he writes (87).

But, wait! The church is so messed up. How can this possibly be the place of God’s redemptive rule?

It’s here that Scot takes the “kingdom is now and not yet” consensus of evangelicalism and applies the same insight to the church. Just as we say the kingdom is already here, but not yet fully, so we should we also consider the church as already sanctified but not yet perfected (92).

So, what is kingdom mission? “Kingdom work is what kingdom citizens do under King Jesus.” So, if “the kingdom is the people who are redeemed and ruled by King Jesus in such a way that they live as a fellowship under King Jesus,” then “kingdom mission is about creating and sustaining that kingdom community, the church” (99).

The church’s mission is to “mediate the presence of God in this world” primarily through its embracing of its identity as an alternative kingdom politic. Local churches must embody the vision of Jesus in a way that tells His kingdom story.

“Kingdom mission forms a kingdom people and that kingdom people in the present world is the church” (123).

Kingdom Politics

On both the left and the right, evangelicals are missing the essence of kingdom mission due to their conflation of political involvement with kingdom work. The big problem is that Christians are seeking for the nation what should first be a witnessed reality in the local church (102). Political involvement is a major distraction from kingdom mission in that it seeks to enshrine a “Judeo-Christian ethic,” an ethic that, by definition, either “strips the Christian elements” or “turns the ‘Judeo’ part into a Christian ethic” (220).

Likewise, our good works in society are necessary, but we shouldn’t call them “kingdom work.” Neither should we use the terminology of “redemption” to describe our good deeds in the world. Scot makes his point clear:

“Any kind of ‘redemptive’ activity that does not deal with sin, that does not find its strength in the cross, that does not see the primary agent as Jesus, and that does not see it all as God’s new creation life unleashed is not kingdom redemption, even if it is liberating and good and for the common good.” (150).

Does this mean Christians should withdraw from the public sphere? Not at all, says Scot. But the question needs to be flipped. We’ve been asking where the church fits into society, when instead, we should be asking how society is summoned into God’s society (the church) (111).

According to Scot, redemption is indeed holistic, and there is certainly a “social” side of Christian activity. But his point is that the “social” dimension of redemption is the social reality called the church (154). First the local church, then the world.

Points of Appreciation and Disagreement

Tomorrow, I’m going to offer some areas of agreement and disagreement with Scot’s proposal.

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Worth a Look 9.22.14

Sep 22, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Worth a Look MagnifyingKindle Deal of the Day: Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone by Martin Dugard. $3.99.

Tracing the amazing journeys of Livingstone and Stanley in alternating chapters, author Martin Dugard captures with breathtaking immediacy the perils and challenges these men faced. Woven into the narrative, Dugard tells an equally compelling story of the remarkable transformation that occurred over the course of nine years, as Stanley rose in power and prominence and Livingstone found himself alone and in mortal danger.

Jared Wellman – 4 Ways to Cultivate Church Members:

If there is a passage that outlines this, it’s Acts 2:40-47. The passage provides at least seven ways—although space prohibits all of them to be unpacked here—that the early church lived and breathed their membership as the church, and these ways serve as a schematic by which church leaders can understand and facilitate this kind of mentality with their church’s members.

Dear Timothy, Find Your Contentment in Christ:

Timothy, my beloved boy in the gospel, do not be blown asunder by the ill winds of discontentment. Do not fail to see the subtly atheistic character of the soul that finds itself shackled in the dungeon of discontentment. Discontentment puts God in the dock and questions his sweet sovereignty; it is a subtle rejection of the wisdom of God and his decrees and an exaltation of the wisdom of man; it covets something our Lord has not been pleased to give us; it exhibits a desire to be sovereign. In the end, discontentment mistrusts God. Trust Christ. Seasons and circumstances may change, but he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

 

David Murray – 7 Reflections on the Scottish Referendum:

The people of Scotland have spoken and said, “No thanks!” Thus ends the latest Scottish rebellion at least for another generation. And for one of the very few times in my life, the side I supported, albeit with some reluctance, has won an election. Pity I couldn’t actually vote.

Andrew Walker – Does Brian McLaren Want a Conversation on Marriage?

When we make marriage fungible, we make it unintelligible. We render its persuasiveness null and void, since any relationship can supposedly exhibit marital qualities. Ultimately, same-sex marriage advocates, in wanting to expand marriage, end up defining it down.

 

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A Prayer for Persecuted Christians

Sep 21, 2014 | Trevin Wax

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Sovereign God,
we worship You
and we acknowledge that You know all of those
who suffer in Your name.

We remember those who are imprisoned for their faith
and ask that they would join with the Apostle Paul
to see that even though they remain captive,
their chains have furthered the gospel,
not frustrated it.

May they inspire and embolden their fellow believers
to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

God of all comfort,
for those who are tortured both in body and mind,
give them the grace to endure
and to see their suffering as part of following in Christ’s footsteps.

Merciful God,
for those asked to pay the ultimate price;
who are martyred because of their love for You,
may they truly know Christ
and the power of His resurrection
and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings,
becoming like Him in His death.

Father God,
for those who are widowed and orphaned
may they know the comfort that comes from Your promised presence
even when they walk through the valley.

May they be strengthened by Your Spirit,
enabling them to rejoice with the psalmist
as they proclaim that the Lord will not abandon them in death.

Heavenly Father,
we ask that You would make us ever mindful of our brothers and sisters around the world
who need us to stand with them
as they suffer in Your name.

Teach us what it means
to overcome by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of our testimony;
we pray that we would not love our lives so much as to shrink from death.
O Lord, hear our prayer.

– from Release International

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Paradise Invades the Stench of Death

Sep 20, 2014 | Trevin Wax

GUERCINOAthanasius on the resurrection of Lazarus:

“Come forth.”

See, I am standing by you.

I am your Lord.

You are the work of My hands.

Why have You not known me, because in the beginning I Myself formed Adam from the earth and gave him breath?

Open your mouth yourself so that I may give you breath.

Stand on your feet and receive strength for yourself. For I am the strength of the whole creation.

Stretch out your hands, and I shall give them strength. For I am the straight staff.

I command the foul odor to depart from you. For I am the sweet odor of the trees of paradise.

Behold, the prophecy of Isaiah the prophet will be fulfilled in you, namely, “I shall open your tombs, and I shall bring you forth.”

quoted in On the Way to the Cross

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3 Dimensions of Repentance

Sep 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to preach at Cedarville University‘s chapel. What a joy to open the Word and speak to such a vibrant group of students, eager to receive the Word.

My message was on “3 Dimensions of Repentance.” You can watch the video below, or listen to the audio here.

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Trevin’s Seven

Sep 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

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Know Your Southern Baptists: H.B. Charles Jr.

Sep 19, 2014 | Trevin Wax

HB-Charles-JrName: H.B. Charles Jr.

Age: 41 (February 11, 1973)

Position: Charles is the pastor of Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church in Jacksonville, FL.

Previous: Before coming to Shiloh, he lead Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles.

Education: Charles has degrees from Master’s Seminary and Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary, as well as an honorary doctorate from Jacksonville Baptist Theological Seminary.

Books: He has written three books: It Happens After Prayer, On Preaching, and The Difference Jesus Makes.

Why he’s important: Charles came to faith and surrendered to a call to ministry at an early age. He began serving under his father and other pastoral leaders at Mt. Sinai when he was 11. After the death of his father, Mt. Sinai concluded a year long search for their next pastor by calling Charles when he was only a senior in high school. He stayed there for 18 years until Shiloh voted unanimously to make him their next pastor, the role he has held since 2008.

He is hosting the inaugural Cutting It Straight Expository Preaching Conference at Shiloh this month. The conference, designed to “train, model, and promote expository preaching,” will feature speakers such as Al Mohler, Mac Brunson, and Bryan Loritts. Currently, he blogs at HBCharlesJr.com and hosts the On Preaching Podcast.

Notable Quotes:

“There are two biblical offices in the NT church: elders and deacons. Elders serve by leading. Deacons lead by serving”

“There are some preachers you can’t listen to, some you can listen to, and others you must listen to. Strive to be a preacher they must listen to.”

“Biblical preaching is the central, primary, and decisive function of those God calls to shepherd the church.”

“Our preaching is not the reason the Word works. The Word is the reason our preaching works.”

“If you sweat in the study, you can relax in the pulpit.”

Others in the “Know Your Southern Baptists” Series:

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How 5 Different Ethicists Approach the New Testament

Sep 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

Our journey through Richard Hays’ The Moral Vision of the New Testament continues this week with two lengthy chapters in which Hays provides an overview of five representative hermeneutical strategies. This is Hays’ take on five ethicists’ use of Scripture.

(If you’ve gotten behind in the reading or you’re just joining us, I recommend skipping ahead to this section. See the reading schedule here. But make sure to check out last week’s post on three focal images for New Testament ethics.)

Before examining the five different strategies, Hays asks some preliminary questions about how we move from Scriptural exegesis to application for the church.

How can we read the New Testament as a message addressed to us? When we confess these texts to be authoritative for the church, what precisely do we mean?

Hays begins by examining the different ways in which Scripture comes to us, and how they relate to Scriptural authority.

Modes of Appeal to Scripture

  • Rules: direct commandments or prohibitions of specific behaviors.
  • Principles: general frameworks of moral consideration by which particular decisions about action are to be governed.
  • Paradigms: stories or summary accounts of characters who model exemplary conduct.
  • Symbolic world that creates the perceptual categories through which we interpret reality.

Next, Hays eschews the sola Scriptura slogan, since he believes “the interpretation of Scripture can never occur in a vacuum.” Scripture may be supreme, but other sources of authority matter.

Other Sources of Authority

  • Tradition: the church’s time-honored practices of worship, service, and critical reflection.
  • Reason: understandings attained through philosophy and science.
  • Experience: religious experience of individuals and of the community.

Theologians have always wrestled with the interplay between Scripture and these other sources. The Reformation was a battle between Scripture and tradition. The Enlightenment wrestled with Scripture and reason. And postmodernity has led to a day in which the battle is between Scripture and experience.

The Enactment of the Word

Hays closes this section with a strong appeal to praxis. The Word is not merely to be understood, but obeyed. As such, it is appropriate to put every interpretation to the “fruits test.” What kind of community is formed and shaped in light of this hermeneutical approach?

In light of these three questions, Hays is ready to give us a crash course in five representative hermeneutical strategies through the approaches of five Christian thinkers.

5 Ethicists Take On the New Testament

Reinhold_niebuhrReinhold Niebuhr: Christian Realism

The major task of Christian social ethics is to formulate realistic policies, working through existing political systems to achieve a social equilibrium that maximizes equal justice.

  • Descriptive: Niebuhr focuses on big theological ideas and themes, not close exposition of the text.
  • Synthetic: He uses a narrow range of biblical sources.
  • Hermeneutical: Scripture provides us with principles for moral reflection. Niebuhr emphasizes reason and experience in the reflective process.
  • Pragmatic: The result is a theology without ecclesiology. The primary focus becomes a Christian’s responsibility in politics.

karl barth 300Karl Barth: Obedience to the Command of God

Barth seeks to construct a hermeneutic that eliminates the necessity of independent human reckoning and moral calculation.

  • Descriptive: Barth gives sustained exegetical treatments of many texts.
  • Synthetic: Barth makes a serious attempt to deal with the whole canon. Jesus is the unifying center.
  • Hermeneutical: Barth emphasizes rules, not principles. He downplays the role of reason and experience in ethical reflection.
  • Pragmatic: A church with confessional identity, uncompromising in its witness to the lordship of Christ in the world.

yoderJohn Howard Yoder: Following the Way of Jesus

The primary social structure through which the gospel works to change the world is that of Christian communities that empty themselves and relinquish their coercive power.

  • Descriptive: Yoder engages in careful exegesis based in historical-critical scholarship.
  • Synthetic: Yoder deals with the entire canon, though passion narratives are the “canon within the canon.”
  • Hermeneutical: New Testament is primarily a paradigm / symbolic world. Yoder makes use of reason, tradition, and experience.
  • Pragmatic: A church as an alternative order that anticipates God’s reconciliation of the world.

hauerwas-2Stanley Hauerwas: Character Shaped By Tradition

Only a community already formed by the story of the kingdom of God can begin to read Scripture rightly. We learn the truth through the example of the saints and the church’s liturgy.

  • Descriptive: The role of exegesis is less important than role of obedience in understanding.
  • Synthetic: Wide-ranging but scattered. (He rarely cites the Gospel of John, for example.)
  • Hermeneutical: Stories as paradigms and symbolic world. Of the five ethicists, Hauerwas places the greatest weight on tradition.
  • Pragmatic: A profession without practice is worthless. But, Hays asks, does this vision of a professing church actually exist and if Hauerwas does not belong to such a community, is his analysis self-defeating?

fabc67e69b55afdfed10ae051e27134bElisabeth Schussler Fiorenza: A Feminist Critical Hermeneutic of Liberation

We undergo the difficult process of sifting through patriarchal texts in order to recover a lost history of women’s experience that has been buried there. The goal is to empower the struggle of women for liberation.

  • Descriptive: She engages in exegesis, but through an historical imagination that strains credulity.
  • Synthetic: Her method is to subject texts to historical exegesis and ideological critique.
  • Hermeneutical: She reinterprets texts through the symbolic world of modern ideology. Experience plays a huge role.
  • Pragmatic: The results are small, intensely committed women-church communities.

Some Personal Considerations: Hays’ fourfold understanding of hermeneutics (text, tradition, reason, experience) is helpful, although his discounting of sola Scriptura is unfortunate, since he continues to subordinate the other sources of authority to Scripture (a move which is very much in line with Reformational thinking). He appears to conflate sola Scriptura (Scripture alone as ultimate authority) with solo Scriptura (only Scripture is our authority).

The overview of five ethicists is informative. Hauerwas and Yoder are so similar in their conclusions that I felt myself wishing for a section on how ethical reflection on the New Testament has developed throughout church history. Hays’ inclusion of Fiorenza is generous, but her proposal is so far outside the mainstream of the church as to make this section of limited use for most Bible scholars.

What about you? What do you think about Hays’ four sources of authority? What about his treatment of these different strategies for New Testament ethics?

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Worth a Look 9.18.14

Sep 18, 2014 | Trevin Wax

WorthALook1Kindle Deal of the Day: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. $4.27.

Urban Outfitters and Kent State: The Aesthetics of Violence

Here’s my own hunch: there is more at play here than simply bad judgment on the part of Urban Outfitters. Specifically, we’re witnessing an example of a broader trend related to aesthetics, morality, and truth. To simplify, art and design have been influenced in at least some sectors by an amoral mindset grounded in a post-modern, anti-foundationalist worldview.

This is neat. The mystery of a wedding picture found at Ground Zero is solved, 13 years later!

Every year on September 9th, Elisabeth Stringer Keefe posts the crumpled photo of a wedding party found at Ground Zero on social media, hoping to find its owner, alive and well.

Marc Cortez – The Rise of “Emerging Adulthood:”

Emerging adulthood is now viewed by many as a distinct stage of life in America, one that covers the period between high school and “real” adulthood. And according to Christian Smith, Professor of Sociology at the University of Notre Dame, it’s a stage of life that is powerfully shaping the way people in their 20s view the world, how they understand the church, and how they approach their own formation.

Al Mohler has some good thoughts on the biblical-theological response needed to current debates over sexuality:

Biblical theology is absolutely indispensable for the church to craft an appropriate response to the current sexual crisis. The church must learn to read Scripture according to its context, embedded in its master-narrative, and progressively revealed along covenantal lines. We must learn to interpret each theological issue through Scripture’s metanarrative of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. Specifically, evangelicals need a theology of the body that is anchored in the Bible’s own unfolding drama of redemption.

 

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The New Abortion Absolutists

Sep 17, 2014 | Trevin Wax

abortionondemandsignBeing pro-choice is passé nowadays.

According to The New York Times, younger supporters of abortion on demand are done with the “pro-choice” label, choosing instead to counter their “right to life” opponents with terms like “reproductive rights” and “women’s health.”

One might think this vocabulary change is just a new marketing strategy, a face-lift for an aging movement Nancy Keenan famously called the “Menopausal Militia.” But what if something more substantive is going on?

Are abortion rights supporters fully embracing an absolutist agenda, one that legitimizes and praises a woman’s choice to abort, no matter the circumstances?

It sure seems that way. In the past few years, activists have moved away from Bill Clinton’s philosophy that abortion should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Or that abortion is, in Hillary Clinton’s words, “a tragic choice.”

Why leave behind words like “rare” and “tragic?” Because speaking of abortion this way lends credence to the pro-life position that there is something wrong with ”terminating a pregnancy.” If the abortion-rights agenda is to succeed, then, abortion must be de-stigmatized. And nothing will remove the stigma from abortion faster than making it common and celebrated.

That’s why Wendy Davis, the abortion rights hero who tried unsuccessfully to block last year’s tightening of abortion clinic standards in Texas, received a mixed reaction when she told the story of her past abortions. Two tragic cases: the first pregnancy was ectopic and the second had fetal abnormalities. Davis worried that her baby was suffering. Many women cheered Davis’ courageous transparency, but the abortion absolutists worried that Davis’ difficult circumstances reinforce the idea that there are “right” and “wrong” abortions, or situations that make the choice either “good” or “bad.” For example, Emily Shire writes:

Davis’ abortion narrative has helped diminish the social stigma surrounding abortion. But until the “bad” abortion stories are just as acceptable, pro-choice advocates have a long way to go.

So, prepare yourself. There is an aggressive wave of in-your-face abortion talk that seeks to end the social stigma.

  • It’s a wave that has crashed onto charities, as Melinda Gates discovered when her foundation’s decision to not fund abortion was derided by those who claimed she was reinforcing the stigma surrounding abortion.
  • It’s a wave that’s crashed into the entertainment world, as Mindy Kaling’s claim that a sitcom-treatment of abortion would “demean the topic” was met with fierce opposition.
  • It’s a wave that’s crashed into the theaters, with the arrival of Obvious Child, a film dubbed by critics as “an abortion comedy.” (One of the howlers in this movie is when the main character is about to go on stage and is told, “You’re going to kill it up there!” To which she replies, “No, that’s tomorrow…” in reference to her unborn child. Cue the canned laughter.)
  • It’s a wave that’s flooded social media outlets, where women like Emily Letts have decided to “film their abortions,” to demystify the procedure and show other women that there’s nothing to be scared of.

Of course, we aren’t really seeing abortion or its aftermath in these movies or YouTube stunts, only the woman undergoing the procedure. Abortion absolutists may be “in your face,” but there’s one face we never see. The broken body of the little victim is always off camera.

The agenda for abortion absolutists is clear. We must dispense with the mystery and gravitas surrounding a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy. It is time to talk frankly about the abortion procedure as if it were just a normal part of a woman’s range of reproductive health choices.

But even among abortion absolutists, there is disagreement about the effect of all these ”positive” abortion stories.

Alex Ronan in New York Magazine recently wrote a chilling article about her year as an abortion doula, when she provided women with “emotional and physical support” during their abortions. Ronan worries that the positive narratives about abortion, intended to protect abortion rights around the country, “isolate and silence patients who struggled with their abortions, even if they know getting an abortion was the right choice.”

Ronan is just as absolutist in her fervent support of a woman’s right to abortion as others are. The difference is that she thinks putting a positive spin on the procedure ignores the variety of responses she sees from women:

Some of the first-trimester patients scream and cry and shake. Others remain calm, barely seem to register any pain, are thrilled to have it over with.

Then, she confesses: “I find it hardest to tend to the patients who don’t seem to struggle.” But not because there’s any morality involved. “It’s not that I’m judging them: Pain breaks down barriers, and without it, I’m more hesitant to touch, less certain of my role.”

Ronan’s version of abortion absolutism isn’t dependent on “positive abortion narratives.” It’s all about the mother’s autonomy. The baby, fetus, or “stuff” is whatever the woman says it is.

I’ve been taught to follow the patient’s lead. If she calls it her baby, then I do too. But with the next patient, just as far along, it’s fetal tissue, it’s the products of conception. One stumbles over her words, says “all the stuff inside,” and that feels right, too.

The result of abortion absolutism, no matter its form, is the dehumanization of the unborn. Ronan’s article ends with this disturbing description of an abortion:

The fetus comes out easily; they put it in the bucket and shove it near me. It is fully intact, curled on its left side, fists closed, knees bent up. He sleeps just like you, I think. Then, a second thought, an act of distancing: He looks more like an alien than a person.  

I have, by this point, seen lots of women and lots of fetuses, and the sight of the second doesn’t change my feelings about the first. The mourning for what could have been is countered by an appreciation for what is — a woman’s life, allowed to proceed as she wants it to. When it is over, I say, “You did great. You were so brave,” and I tell them they’re done now, because sometimes they don’t know. “It’s all finished,” I say.

Here it is in all its horror: a violent procedure, a corpse, a pang of conscience, and then the race to mentally distance oneself from the victim. It is striking in its resemblance to the tactics employed by white Americans who justified the enslavement of blacks as “brutes” or the Germans treating Jews as an inferior race, barely above the animals.

The abortion absolutists want to put a positive spin on the culture of death, to whitewash the bloodstains and dispense with the guilt we collectively feel over this atrocity. But the positive stories cannot bury the baby.

Abortion absolutism is about “freedom” that tramples over human remains. And in the end, it’s not just the unborn. In our celebration of death, we are chipping away at our own humanity.

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