Tuesday, October 4, 2011

What Would It Mean to Err on the Side of Life?

By Roy Ciampa, PhD
Associate Professor of New Testament

In a recent debate between Republican presidential candidates, one of them defended their executive order requiring (with a parental opt-out option) adolescent girls of his state to receive the vaccine protecting against the human papilloma virus and thus some forms of cervical cancer by saying, I will always err on the side of life.” That’s an argument that would normally resonate strongly with traditionally pro-life evangelicals. In this case it didn’t really work that well for the candidate. But it does raise the question again of what it would look like if Christians did consistently tend to err on the side of life.
But when it comes to the death penalty there is no recognition that a consistent commitment to erring on the side of life would mean recognizing that there has been a history of erring on the side of death and that that reality will continue as long as we deal with imperfect legal systems and imperfect evidence or witnesses. Why would one be prepared to err on the side of death in these cases?
In the constant attacks on the EPA one hears that the agency has a negative impact on businesses and the economy. But the EPA estimates that the changes that have been proposed “could save up to 2,500 lives,” not to mention that other negative impacts on human health and the health of the environment. Perhaps their number is inaccurate. But anyone who is committed to always erring on the side of life would have to weigh how much 2,500 lives (and further damage to the environment) might be worth in business expenses.
One presidential candidate has excoriated “Obamacare,” arguing that if his care had been entrusted to Obamacare during his recent fight with cancer he would be dead today. I confess that I find this argument (repeatedly used) outrageous, deceptive, and outrageously misleading. The point of Obamacare is not to make people who can afford better care to “settle” for something less than what they now have available. Those of us who already have good healthcare can continue to use what we have. The point is to find ways of making healthcare affordable for millions of Americans who are currently without any healthcare at all (a 2008 estimate put the number at 45.7 million people). So instead of contrasting his care under his high-end healthcare coverage with his imagination of what it would be like under Obamacare, the only appropriate comparison is one between the treatment that 45 million people would receive right now with no healthcare, and what those same people would receive under Obamacare (see the informative article on healthcare in the US on Wikipedia, where it is pointed out that ours is the “only wealthy, industrialized nation that does not ensure that all citizens have [some] coverage”). How many millions are more likely to survive under one of those scenarios than the other? In this case, what would it mean to consistently err on the side of life?
The abortion issue, which monopolized so much evangelical political involvement in recent elections, has hardly been mentioned at all this time around. But it is fascinating to me to notice the strange way in which evangelical-focused rhetoric (and rhetorical coming from some evangelicals) on various political issues relates to profound issues of life and justice. Three years ago Tony Campolo (and others) argued for an approach to consistently erring on the side of life:

[W]e should be consistently pro-life, which means that life is sacred and should be protected not only for the unborn but also for the born. This requires that there be commitments to stop wars, end capital punishment, and provide universal healthcare for all of our citizens—in addition to stopping abortions.

He referred to this as a “consistently pro-life position.” Unfortunately, in my view, Campolo’s approach to erring on the side of life hasn’t found much traction in many Christian circles either. Proverbs 18:21 reminds us that “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” That should be enough to motivate us to think carefully about what we do or do not say (and the critical assessment we give to what any politician says) about topics that have consequences for the lives (and deaths) of people in our nation or another.

No comments:

Post a Comment