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Issues Versus Movements: Re-Examining Pro-Life

Social movements are always an interesting phenomena. Though some movements have definitive and pivotal moments and figures, it's hard to tell exactly when a movement is birthed and when, in fact, one comes to meet its goals. In terms of its birth, a movement always arises out of a variety of factors that are extremely complex and intricate. As a historian and a novice sociologist, I can tell you that the phrase A Brief History of ________ should really precede any historical tome on just about anything! Likewise, I would suggest that once a movement begins, it never fully dies. It may evolve, sometimes even drastically, but a movement never actually ceases to exist. As we understand the historical elements that contributed to the particular rise of a movement, we can recognize the ways in which the movement leaves a legacy far beyond it that, in turn, shapes other movements in subtle and, yet, radical ways. 

An issue, however, often times does have a definitive starting point and end point. If we might think of issues as "goals" of any particular movement, a social contract exists within the movement that identifies when that goal is met. The maturity and ultimate coming to fruition of an issue within a social movement is, in fact, what drives the evolution of the movement. We might think of it as a sort of darwinistic principle at play: once the "organism" has developed its resources enough to trump less equipped movements or counter-movements, it can continue to evolve to meet other issues.

That's a very "arm-chairish" way of saying (and yes, I ask for your forgiveness there!) that movements and issues are separate things. Issues require movements to propel them into success and movements can't exist without issues, but the fact remains that despite how intimately they are connected, they remain separate things, at least until a particular issue gains enough support within society that it becomes a movement unto its own (i.e. abolitionism), but even still at a certain level of success it resumes its place as an issue within something larger (i.e. racism, segregation, etc.)

Okay. So here's the problem: we have a tendency to drastically confuse the two of them. Especially in the moderate-conservative Christian world, we have for the past several decades within the midst of cultural change, the emergence of post-modern thinking, secularism, and a growing globalism, often treated issues as if they are movements in and of themselves and we get frustrated when our efforts seem to be neglected, rejected, or even mocked.

I could make a laundry list of issues that the conservative Christian church has deemed worthy of taking on: prayer in schools, the Ten Commandments at court houses, physical appearance, non-Christian politicians (except most recently, of course), secularism in college, homosexual marriage, evolution, abortion, alcohol, cussing, socialism, media culture, "liberal theology", and so on and so on. For the record, my point in listing these out is not to say that any of these don't matter as issues. I'm trying to get to a bigger point. :)

When I look at the various ways in which we have attempted to offer insider alternatives or public resolutions to these issues, I'm not surprised in any sense that we have failed repeatedly and been laughed at for it. I am not saying that this is an appropriate response, nor am I saying that the progressive/liberal/whatever-you-want-to-call-it world has all there stuff in line. BUT, as one who has studied history, theology, and sociology for many years and as one who identifies as a moderate-conservative Christian, I have to wonder if one of the reasons we have failed to make much of a broad cultural impact over the past sixty or so years is because we focus on issues at the expense of identifying with a movement.

Now let me offer a disclaimer here: Christianity is not, inherently, a movement. It was. In fact, in its early days when it was seen as a departure from Judaism and not a religion unto itself, it was identified by the term 'The Way.' One cannot get very far in the Gospels and Acts before one realizes that Jesus and the early church were radically counter-cultural, both in regards to society and the dominating religions of the time (which, to be fair, could not always be separated). But being counter-cultural is not enough. Counter-culturalism is merely deconstructive and there were and there will always be all sorts of versions of desconstructive counter-cultural expressions.

Christianity became a movement because of what it stood for and how it practiced it. It offered a community, a way of life, and a way of moving forward that had its underpinnings in the concepts of love, unconditional forgiveness, equality, community, and self-sacrifice. Can we say the same about the issues we're connected with today? What is it, when we present our issues inside the culture, that we are known for? Do we offer something unified for our issues to be connected with?

Let's take an example:

I am adamantly pro-life. Always have been and it has been one of the issues I have most resonated with most in my life. As Drinklings recently began focusing on the multi-faceted issues of the pro-life issue, I realized how disconnected the issue was from the larger movement that is LIFE! Whole-life! Abundant life! Redemptive living! My God, if the world could see that when we said that we are for the baby in the womb that we were also radically for the mother, the child after birth, the family, the social world they live in, their quality of life, their economic stability, their adult child. If they could see that we were pro-global citizen, pro-alleviation of hunger and poverty, pro-equal rights between men and women, pro-freedom from domestic abuse, pro-disability person care, pro-freedom from addiction, pro-freedom from shame, pro-education, pro-religious acceptance, pro-all races, pro---well, you can continue this--would our cultural perception be quite different? Or are all of those seen as "optional" stances independent of the pro-life issue?

Contrast this with the pro-choice movement, when the public perception is that it is inherently an issue women's rights, gender equality, freedom of the imposition of religion on others, and the opportunity for healthcare access for all. The pro-choice movement built itself around several movements that have given it something to attach itself to: issues bigger, grander, and which many people find themselves unable to disagree with.

I used the pro-life vs. pro-choice debate as an example, of course, because it is one that I am passionate about but I think you could apply the movement vs. issue dichotomy to so much more than this issue. We have to have a narrative that drives us, propels us forward, and that does not bow to other competing narratives like (Hegelian) nationalism or the might makes right thinking. 

In practice, I think this means that we slow down and ask ourselves collectively "what are they things that define the Jesus-way" and orient our thinking of issues around those: love of God, love of neighbor. If that becomes our mission statement and it becomes the very focus of every issue we take up, the issues will fall in line appropriately and the world will not be able to look away.


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