Four ways to Heal the Social Justice/Pro-life Divide

Millennial writer  Mike Jordan Laskey has a new article at NCR. He writes:

Accept “political homelessness” and live in the tension.

John Carr, the former director of the U.S. bishops’ justice and peace department, uses the phrase “politically homeless” to describe where Catholicism’s consistent ethic of life leaves us. We might be “comfortable with neither Republican economic individualism, which measures everything by the market, nor with Democratic cultural individualism, which celebrates personal ‘choice’ above all else,” he wrote in America. “Neither form of libertarianism leaves enough room for the weak and vulnerable or the common good.”

Political homelessness is hard! I’d love to feel content with either major party, and contribute to and vote for their candidates without thinking too much about it. I want to buy a t-shirt and go to a rally. I’d like to be a fan of the only presidential candidate to prominently feature a quote on economic injustice from Pope Francis on his website — Bernie Sanders — but the candidate’s perfect 100% rating from NARAL Pro-Choice America breaks my heart.

Maybe this tension would be more manageable if we put less emphasis on the vote and instead spent more energy lobbying elected leaders on both sides of the aisle. Or, to borrow another favorite line of John Carr’s, if politicians go wherever the wind blows, it’s our job to change the wind.

Acknowledge that the state has valid roles to play in matters of both life and justice.

One point of debate I’ve noticed between pro-lifers and social justice advocates in the church mirrors the secular political debate about the size and scope of government. Many pro-life champions are politically conservative and favor limited governmental intervention — except when it comes to highly regulating and eventually eliminating the practice of abortion. And some social justice activists, even those who are nominally pro-life, are all for robust social program spending and strict regulation but balk at the idea of legal efforts to restrict abortion or protect the rights of the unborn. The ethicist Charles Camosy calls this the “Costanza strategy,” named for the Seinfeld character who spends a famous episode of the series “doing the opposite” of his usual instincts.

Catholic social teaching affirms that the state’s job is to ensure all vulnerable people and groups are protected from various threats. In his encyclical Mater et Magistra, St. John XXIII brings together life and justice concerns in one beautiful passage. “As for the State, its whole raison d’être is the realization of the common good in the temporal order. It cannot, therefore, hold aloof from economic matters,” he writes. “It has also the duty to protect the rights of all its people, and particularly of its weaker members, the workers, women and children.”

Let’s avoid the hypocrisy of the Costanza strategy. The important role of the state is an area where Catholic pro-life champions and social justice activists should be in full accord.

You can read about the other two ways to heal the divide and the rest of the article here.