As we approach next week’s fortieth anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, churches in my tradition will observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. I hate that we have to. Let me explain why.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s a joy to preach the whole counsel of God. And I love the truth of human dignity and the image of God in all persons. But it makes me sad.
I don’t hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I think it, somehow, unbiblical. No, indeed. The entire canon throbs with God’s commitment to the fatherless and to the widows, his wrath at the shedding of innocent blood.
I don’t hate it because I think it’s inappropriate. Just as every Lord’s Day should be Easter, with the proclamation of the Resurrection of Jesus, and Christmas, with the announcement of the Incarnation, so every Lord’s Day should highlight the worth and dignity of human life.
I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that we have to say things to one another that human beings shouldn’t have to say. Mothers shouldn’t kill their children. Fathers shouldn’t abandon their babies. No human life is worthless, regardless of skin color, age, disability, economic status. The very fact that these things must be proclaimed is a reminder of the horrors of this present darkness.
One year on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, as I opened the Bible to preach, I looked out and caught the eye of my sons. I prayed that their children wouldn’t have to hear a sermon against abortion and euthanasia. I prayed that my grandchildren and great-grandchildren would grow up in an age when abortion is, as the Feminists for Life organization put is some years ago, not just illegal but unthinkable.
I prayed for my (yet to be conceived but not yet to be conceived of) great-grandchildren that a Sanctity of Human Life Sunday would seem as unnecessary to them as a Reality of Gravity Emphasis Sunday.
I hate Sanctity of Human Life Sunday because I’m reminded that as I’m preaching there are babies warmly nestled in wombs who won’t be there tomorrow. I’m reminded that there are children, maybe even blocks from my pulpit, who’ll be slapped, punched, and burned with cigarettes before nightfall. I’m reminded that there are elderly men and women languishing away in loneliness, their lives pronounced to be a waste.
But I also love Sanctity of Human Life Sunday when I think about the fact that in our churches there are ex-orphans all around, adopted into loving families. I love to reflect on the men and women who serve every week in pregnancy centers for women in crisis. And I love to see men and women who have aborted babies find their sins forgiven, even this sin, and their consciences cleansed by Christ.
We’ll always need Christmas. We’ll always need Easter. But I hope, please Lord, someday soon, that Sanctity of Human Life Day is unnecessary.
A version of this article originally ran on January 18, 2009.