Written by Keith Strohm
As I was reading through my monthly pile of periodicals, I came across a wonderful article in First Things--a journal of Catholic thought--regarding the latest statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together entitled, That They May Have Life. EaCT is, as the name might imply, an ecumenical group that has met for the past decade (and more) highlighting areas where Catholicism and Evangelical belief share unity. While not glossing over very important differences in theology and ecclesiology, Evangelicals and Catholics Together is a great example of authentic ecumenism in action.
That They May Have Life is a statement, according to its introduction, that aims 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.
In the contentious political and moral marketplace of ideas, what some denote as the Public Square when referring to the polity, the debate about life issues is often polarizing, with opposing "sides" not able to actually dialogue through the rhetoric. Even within Christianity there is division regarding the morality of abortion and contraception. While the Catholic Church (and the Orthodox Churches) among others, hold to the unchanging and unchanged belief in the evil of abortion, for example, some mainline Protestant churches and other denominations have waivered in their belief. That They May Have Life presents a winsome and powerful case for supporting a culture of life within society.
Although not its primary purpose, I find the statement fascinating in regards to non-Christians. While it clearly uncovers the theological and scriptural foundations for a culture of life, it holds 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.
In its fullest expression, Christianity calls and moves people to a deeper understanding and expression of authentic humanity. Through Christ, we can become who we truly are. The Christian labors, then, to create and heal social and cultural structures so that they promote all that is truly and authentically human. And rather than seeing themselves opposed to non-Christians, Christians should eagerly strive to work alongside people of goodwill in a work that can be understood through human reason without recourse to theological or scriptural understandings. In other words, Christians work for the good of humanity and particularly when goals become proposed or "realized," they can be understood by humanity through the use of human reason alone.
I know that there is much suspicion of religion (particularly Christianity) within American discourse, but the statement made by Evangelicals and Catholics Together rightly and clearly hits the nail on the head. Deeply held beliefs of any nature (including religion) should not be excluded from the Public Square. In particular, Christians need to make a case for the rightness of their positions on Life Issues that are accessible to those who share a different view, attempting to educate and convince, and such deliberations should take place within the pluralistic and democratic structures of our country. Despite what other pundits and possessors of opposing viewpoints might think, Christians in no way wish to create a Theocracy.
This is reiterated in the final words of the statement:
We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society committed, in life and law, to honoring the inestimable dignity of every human being created in the image and likeness of God. For our part, as Evangelicals and Catholics together, we refuse to despair of the power of public witness and persuasion in the service of every member of the human community, for whom Christ came “that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Although the statement can not be said to reflect the whole of evangelical thinking (one of the unintended fruits of the Reformation), it does, in fact, encapsulate Catholic thought and belief quite well. I encourage everyone to read this powerful and moving document--especially those who hold an opposing viewpoint.