July 24, 2009
A Love for Life:
Christianitys Consistent Protection of the Unborn
By Dennis DeMauro
(Wipf and Stock Publishers, 163 pp.)
What were you, Bob, before you were a Lutheran? Thats the question Fr. Ed Bryce asked me many years ago. Father Bryce was the head of the Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Office. Father, I replied, I was a Democrat. We both laughed. But that answer was completely true.
I had not only been a registered Democratic voter, but I was also a candidate for my state legislature and a state party staffer. In those long-ago days before Roe v. Wade, the terms pro-life and pro-choice had not yet been coined. When I ran for the New York State Assembly, I had a real dilemma. I wanted to talk about taxes, education, and political corruption. But various groups wanted to talk to me about abortion. Thats because New York State had been one of the first states to liberalize abortion. The year was 1970.
By 1971, however, millions of New Yorkers were shocked by what they saw. Encouraged by widely respected Terence Cardinal Cooke, the Catholic Archbishop of New York, the state legislature had repealed its narrow approval of abortion up to six just months. New Yorks pro-abortion governor, Republican Nelson Rockefeller, vetoed the repeal, and so the Empire State continued as an abortion magnet for distressed young women from all over the Eastern Seaboard.
As an unchurched young man whose main interest was politics, I saw the abortion issue as a small stormlike a tornadoon the horizon. I just hoped it would veer and not touch me. Soon, however, it became clear that there would be no avoiding it.
How I wish I had had Dennis DeMauros fine bookA Love for Lifethen. It would have saved a great deal of yelling and arguing for me as first my respected campaign managerJoe Zeichner, my former civics teacherand then my dear friend and contemporary, Victor Cipolla, pulled me in one direction then in the other.
Joe described himself as a proud Jewish atheist. Joe knew he was a lot more liberal than I was, but he gave of himself unstintingly to get me elected. Victor wasif you can imagine ita young Sicilian-American who seemed like a Catholic version of Che Guevara. Both Joe and Victor knew I was just a WASPWhite Anglo-Saxon Protestant. That was more a sociological term than a witness to my Christian belief.
As my two closest campaign aides fought over the issueand fought over what my campaign would say about the issue, I felt stirring within me a deeper conviction. Our liaison to the state Democratic Party was good man even if he was more than a little cynical. Morrison, he would cry in exasperation, Im not trying to get you into Heaven, Im just trying to get you to Albany! Such jaded comments actually helped me decide. I began to realize that I would make decisions about my political life, but more importantly, about my own soul that would shape me. I was only twenty-seven, but I sensed that this time my decision really mattered.
When I told Joe that I had resolved to come out against abortion, he was shocked. Whats the matter with you, he asked in a tone of genuine disbelief. I countered:
Joe, youre the one who taught me the prayer your father the rabbi taught you. Remember, when you drove us to Albany, you said I needed to say a shehechayanuthat beautiful prayer for the first time you do something? The prayerwhich I remember with affectionis this: Blessed art Thou, O Master of the Universe, that Thou hast preserved us in life to savor this experience for the first time.
Preserved us in life. Thats what God does for us every moment that we live. And He gives us the gift of life. This much I learned from my historical study of Thomas Jefferson. Young Jeffersons writings had made him a favorite to draft the Declaration of Independence. When I read his earliest public papers, I could see why. The God who gave us life gave us liberty at the same time.
Dennis DeMauro understands all of this only too well. His great short book is subtitled:
Christianitys Consistent Protection of the Unborn. Chapter by chapter, he shows how the early Church stood uncompromisingly for the childs right to live the life God alone can give and take away. In those early days of pro-life activity, the liberal media tried to advance the idea that opposition to abortion was only a Catholic thing. Although half of my family was Catholic, and dearly loved, none of my Protestant relativesincluding those closest to mewas against abortion. Mine would be a lonely decision.
DeMauros chapters on the biblical teaching of Luther and Calvin are especially strong. He shows how the great Reformers differed on many things with the Church of Rome and on some things they differed from each other. But on the sanctity of life of unborn children, all branches of the Christian family stood together.
DeMauro also shows how, gradually at first, but then with increasing speed, liberal Protestant church bodies have departed from their historic roots. It might even be argued that as they adopt ever more liberal views of Scripture, these religious groups depart from the Bibles clear commands.
Yet even in what used to be called Mainline Protestantism, there are renewal groups dedicated to reclaiming the genuine heritage of their great denominations. Presbyterians Pro-Life, Anglicans for Life, and important United Methodists like Stanley Hauerwas and Paul Stallworth are carefully tending the flickering candle. They valiantly witness for life in the midst of largely hostile church bureaucracies. God bless them for it!
DeMauro describes the great course correction of the Evangelical churches in the mid- to late 1970s, powerfully aided by such important figures as Billy Graham, Dr. C. Everett Koop, Francis Schaeffer, and of course, Chuck Colson and Dr. James Dobson. Rev. Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the 15 million-member Southern Baptist Convention deserves special, honorable mention. He and his brothers helped bring that great ship back onto her true course.
Im especially grateful to Dennis DeMauro for telling the story of Lutherans for Life.
When I came to faithfinally at age 30I had to choose a church. Because The Lutheran ChurchMissouri Synod had always maintained a strong biblical stance in defense of life, and because my military LCMS military chaplain preached Gods Word in all its power and purity, the decision to join this church body was really like a decision to go home.
About that state election: I lost, thank God. The man who would later act as Hillary Clintons chief fund-raiser in New York State found out that I was anti-abortion. He cut off every penny of the $25,000 that had been promised to my campaign by the state Democratic Party. I soldiered on, expecting to win anyway. I was shocked when the election returns showed me losingand by a wide margin. What Id prepared my whole life for was gone in an instant. Or so I then thought.
Dennis DeMauro is a serious scholar and dedicated pro-lifer. He ends his book with an eloquent appeal to pro-choice Christians. He strikes exactly the right tone in appealing to these separated brethren.
DeMauro concludes his work with a chart most fitly labeled Headcount. He shows convincingly how the vast majority of the worlds Christians defend the sanctity of life.
This listing reminds of the hostile reporter I once encountered in Connecticut. Aware that I was a Lutheran working with that states Catholic bishops to defend life, the journalist asked me accusingly: What percentage of the Catholic Churchs funds go to pro-life activities? I smiled and answered: A hundred percent.