A consistent ethic of life across the spectrum is the desired goal. Are we taking care of the unborn, the aged, the sick, the suffering, the poor, the immigrant, the imprisoned, and all those on the margins of society? There are some complex social issues with no simple solutions, but that complexity doesn’t give us permission to remain on the sidelines and not get involved. Is the presence of the church community really making a positive impact in our world?
Differences of opinion obviously exist on the best way to address serious moral issues. These aren’t confined to political viewpoints in the secular arena of ideologies, but it permeates the very fabric of the institutional church as well. How do we most effectively create a culture of life in our homes, in our churches, in our communities, and in our world?
At this point I am convinced that society will have to hit rock bottom before the climb up can begin, and I don’t believe we have hit bottom yet. The demographics and statistical data point to a very different dynamic taking place in society. There are numerous factors to take into consideration in painting the big picture, but I just want to highlight one component. As church attendance and church affiliation declines, how does the world view of our young people get established and shaped? It gets shaped by the secular institutions of education which forbid God to enter; it gets molded by the entertainment industry; finally, it is influenced heavily by social media and trending fads. Faith in God is becoming less and less relevant in the formation and character development of our young people.
There are a multitude of reasons for the extreme shift in our cultural values in the last 50 years. Instant communication would certainly play into the equation as well as orchestrated endeavors by people with power, money, and influence. Silencing the voice of the Church has been a goal for those pursuing agendas contrary to Church teaching. Constantly painting the Church as old-fashioned, out-of-touch, and irrelevant has been successful in limiting the effectiveness of the message of the Church. Then there was the self-inflicted wound of the abuse scandal which greatly hindered the credibility of the moral teaching authority of the Church as well.
Some argue that the shifting trends would have happened regardless of what the Church was or was not doing. The sexual liberation of the sixties, the Vietnam War, the change in viewpoints of appropriate behavior from our celebrities, and many other things contributed to the shifting sands. (We couldn’t show Elvis Presley below the waist on the Ed Sullivan Show on television, but now look at what is considered acceptable and appropriate on television.) How did the moral decline progress so rapidly? The entropy accelerates once the first spot appears. We see it with a piece of fruit. It can sit for days and be okay, but once that first spot appears it will rot and decay rapidly from that point onward. I believe our culture has experienced that same type of rotting experience.
Respect Life Sunday made me reflect on this particular component of societal decline. What has transpired just in my lifetime? In 1968 Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae. In this document the pope talked about the harmful effects of contraception. We would see a decline in marital fidelity; it would promote promiscuity; there would be an objectification of women; a breakdown in the family unit would be the ultimate result. Although Humanae Vitae was ignored and/or rejected in many circles of church leadership at the time it was issued, 46 years of hindsight should make us stop and consider the merits of this particular document.
In 1972 the United States Bishop Conference established Respect Life Sunday which is what we continue to celebrate to this day. It was as if they could read the writing on the wall. In just a few short months after this on January 22, 1973, the United States Supreme Court made abortion legal in our country with their decision in the Roe versus Wade court case. The follow-up case of Doe versus Bolton basically legalized abortion through all nine months of pregnancy for any reason. Allowing millions of preborn babies to be killed legally in our country over these last 41 years should keep people of faith awake at night. How could we grow complacent and indifferent with such a devastating blow to our “civilized” society?
In 1987 Life Chain began in Yuba City, California with more than 2,000 participants. It is now in its 27th year and yesterday there were more than 1,500 communities participating in Life Chain across the United States and Canada. This has become a great tool utilized on Respect Life Sunday to bring awareness to the general public about the sanctity and dignity of human life. We had 109 participants in Cheyenne willing to stand in the blustery conditions for one hour to pray for the conversion of our nation.
In 1995 Pope John Paul II issued the encyclical The Gospel of Life. This is a wonderful document which once again reaffirms the value of human life. This reminder went unheeded in the United States. Just five years later on September 29, 2000, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the United States Government announced its approval of the RU-486 abortion pill. (This was just two days before Respect Life Sunday on October 1, 2000. Was that a coincidence or well-orchestrated maneuver?) We have now endured 14 years with that destructive decision of the U.S. Government agency.
In 2007 40 Days for Life began. There are two campaigns per year, one in the fall leading up to the national elections and one in the spring during the Season of Lent. According to their website, these 14 separate 40 Days for Life campaigns have had quite an impact. Since 2007 there have been a total of 3.039 vigils in 539 cities in 24 different countries. Over 17,000 churches have participated with a total of 625,000 individuals. The impact has resulted in 54 abortion facilities closing, 101 abortion employees quitting their jobs, and 8,973 babies saved from abortion due to the prayerful presence of these committed pro-life individuals.
Respect Life Sunday 2014 has passed. I pray that our commitment to nurturing a culture of life persistently continues!