GREAT BEND, Kan. - State Senator Carolyn McGill (R-Sedgwick) asked an incredible question on the Kansas State Senate floor of those who want to outlaw abortion but embrace the death penalty.
Referring to those who commit heinous murders, she asked, in essence, if all people start out as precious children of God from the moment of conception, "at what point in time did they lose that status and who made that decision?"
Most 'Religious Right' folks will try to move heaven and earth to protect an unborn child, but God help that child if he grows up and commits a double murder. Then, it's "off with his head."
Of course, the Religious Right says: "We support innocent human life. But when that life ceases to be innocent, that's different."
The death penalty is supported by the Old Testament scriptures, and who could blame the family of a murder victim for wanting "Old Testament" vengeance?
The New Testament theology is clear that all humans are made in the image of God, and thus all human beings are entitled to basic human rights simply because they are human beings. Pope John Paul II and Mother Theresa did more to advance this viewpoint than any people in modern times.
Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago used the analogy of the "Seamless Garment" that Jesus wore at Calvary. He suggested that our commitment to human life should be seamless, and should extend into all areas: abortion, the death penalty, helping the poor, health care reform, creation care, avoiding unjust wars, etc.
I have asked a lot of smart people a variation of McGinn's question, which is, "Why do most pro-lifers care only about unborn children? Why don't they care about these kids after they are born?"
I have received many answers. When Bishop Jackels of the Wichita Diocese gave a presentation about politics in Great Bend in 2008, he seemed stuck on the abortion issue. Others asked him, "What about war and peace? What about the death penalty?"
The Bishop suggested that the perceived over focus on abortion is justified, because an unborn child cannot defend himself or herself, while, say, a civilian in an unjust war can build a bunker, or a person in need of health care can get a job and buy health insurance, etc. On the other hand, a fetus can do nothing to protect itself.
I was discussing this over focus on abortion on another occassion with a parish priest and a college professor, and they suggested a different, more selfish reason that some pro-lifers don't seem to care about post-birth children.
"It's because being anti-abortion is easy," said the professor. "You don't have to do anything to be pro-life. You don't have to love any one unpleasant. I mean, who is against babies?"
The priest interjected: "See, Marty, if you extend the ethic of life, to, say, babies after birth, then you end up having to extend love to some very unpleasant people---say, Karla Faye Tucker, the ax murderer. You have to extend love to racial minorities, and foreigners, and poor people and this kind of love is hard. It's so much easier to focus your love on nameless, faceless unborn babies."
"Father, so in other words, people love fetuses because they aren't unpleasant," I asked, exasperated. "Well, they aren't unpleasant yet," he said.
It's easy to love babies you will never meet. But it's hard to love the unpleasant.
And I suspect the reason for the exclusive focus on abortion by the Religious Right is not due to the "fetuses-can't-defend-themselves" mantra, but is instead due to the fact that it's hard to love unpleasant people. And nobody is more unpleasant than somebody on death row.
Christianity is difficult, and I certainly have a long way to go in my own life in that regard. But I know that Christianity means embracing the unlovable, the poor, the oppressed. I know about "God's preferential option for the poor."
A poem by Wilbur Rees has haunted me since I first read it, making me wonder at times if my Christianity extended to my loving the unlovable:
Three Dollars Worth of God
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don't want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
I do not know State Senator Carolyn McGinn, but it looks to me like she is looking for a lot more than "$3 worth of God."