Nuance or Black and White?

I recently read the interview of bioethicist John Wyatt by Andy Cheung. I am thankful that Dr. Wyatt is working for the cause Christian values. But I must admit at being a little irked at his comment regarding American Evangelical opposition to abortion-on-demand as lacking nuance and leading to harsh and polarizing rhetoric.

His comments are all the more interesting given his admission that UK evangelicals seem to fail to put enough attention to the subject of protecting the unborn. So to put the matter another way, if we were talking about slavery, and we were slaves, would we want Christians to fight for our freedom the way American’s do it or the way UK Christians do it?

I think I will leave that question aside for the moment and try a more “nuanced” analysis since nuance is the summom bonum of academics. First, I wonder if British Evangelicals understand that there are differences between Political speech, Ecclesiastical speech, and academic speech, at least in the U.S. American politics has always been a sort of blood sport, at least in the verbal arena. It doesn’t make it right, it is just a fact and part of our culture. I wonder if Dr. Wyatt gleaned his idea of American Evangelicals through the media rather than by reading their books, articles, etc. For example, if you listen to the media, you will think that Evangelicals oppose abortion for ectopic pregnancies.  While some do, most don’t.  However, when you listen to the media talk about laws opposing legislation allowing abortion to protect the woman’s health, people think it is referring to banning abortions for ectopic pregnancy. Not so fast. In the U.S. a woman’s health also encompasses her psychological health. So if a woman claims that being pregnant is somehow an emotional/psychological harm, then she would be able to get an abortion. I suspect most Evangelicals would reject this kind of abortion claim. And rightly so.

Second, I wonder if Dr. Wyatt forgot that abortion was foisted upon the U.S. by an arbitrary act of the Supreme Court. Just as their Dredd Scott decision gave us the grounds for the civil war by stating that blacks were property, so the Roe v. Wade decision gave us the culture wars. Europe’s pro-abortion laws were created by legislatures and thus reflected the decline of the popular culture’s morals. Yes, it was still wrong and a sign of the devolution of those societies, but at least it was reflective of the people’s will.  The U.S. Supreme court established a right that countered the will of almost every state (which had laws against abortion) in the Union.

Finally, I would say that how can one be nuanced in such an important issue as life and death? Should Christians have been more nuanced in their opposition to racially motivated slavery? Either the fertilized egg is a person in God’s eyes or it isn’t. If it isn’t then at what point does the embryo “turn” human? Since I contend that the fertilized egg is a person, how am I to be more “nuanced.” I would like to know.

Stephen M. Vantassel is a tutor at King’s Evangelical Divinity School.

Copyright 2010 Stephen M. Vantassel

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