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Tired of Life?

James M. Kushiner

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Or It Seems Less Like a Garment Now

There has been a steady campaign by some Christians who regard themselves as orthodox and conservative to persuade the rank and file of their Christian brothers and sisters to rethink their predictable support for political candidates who are pro-life. They bring other issues to the fore—war, torture, taxes, education, health care, and poverty—in an attempt to undermine the claim that conscientious Christians must always support pro-life candidates. They imply that such “single-issue” pro-life voting is unsophisticated, often in lockstep with the mostly uneducated “religious right,” and perhaps not even very moral in the long view.

The inclusion of other issues with abortion is, of course, an expression of the “seamless garment” argument advanced by the late Joseph Cardinal Bernardin in 1983. If there are no seams, no discernible boundaries when it comes to “life issues”—which, according to this argument, encompass all aspects of our lives, including our “quality of life”—then disrespect for or the abuse of life in one area will eventually have an effect on all the other areas. One must have, as Bernardin put it, a “consistent ethic of life.” A seamless garment will be ruined by any tear.

But in the political sphere, the promoters of the seamless garment approach to life issues do not actually exhibit the consistency they preach. Many of them do give priority to some issues over others and disagree among themselves on which issues should be considered paramount. And it is tellingly obvious that some support the seamless garment idea because it gives them cover for downplaying or ignoring abortion.

The image of the seamless garment, of course, is taken from the Passion of our Lord, when the soldiers of the state who were executing Jesus cast lots for his seamless robe rather than tear it in four pieces. The bishop and martyr Cyprian of Carthage, writing in the mid-third century, used the seamless garment of Christ as a symbol of the unity of the church. Unity is, by definition, never unity unless it is whole, without division.

It is ironic, then, to call for a “consistent ethic of life” when that ethic produces no unity of witness among Christians themselves. Attempts to promote this supposedly more nuanced ethic in politics has undermined Christian witness because what should be the seamless garment of the Church’s witness is so unraveled and frayed as to be incoherent to the world. The lack of consistent witness is all the world can see.

Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website (new window will open).

Posted: 13-Nov-2008



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