I recently read this outstanding article written by Gracy Olmstead at The Gospel Coalition. She argues that the pro-life movement in America needs more Wilberforce-like figures to lead and champion its cause. I strongly agree with this idea and appreciate her putting into words something I’ve been thinking about for quite a while.
If you aren’t familiar with Wilberforce, I would commend to you Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. This bestselling biography of Wilberforce details his work to abolish slavery in the UK, as well as the other social and cultural reforms he worked towards during his lifetime.
In Olmstead’s article, she argues:
Wilberforce and his allies didn’t content themselves with advancing a political agenda. They focused on the cultural, social, and ideological mores that allowed slavery to exist in the first place.
During my lifetime, I’ve witnessed so much political capital expended on overturning Roe v. Wade, outlawing abortion via “heartbeat laws” in states, etc… While I can celebrate these aims towards reducing the number of abortions, and thus the number of innocent lives taken before they even have the chance to take their first breath, I wonder if we might be putting the cart before the horse, in a way. Taking a page from Wilberforce’s playbook, why wouldn’t we instead work toward addressing the many social and cultural pressures that are often the cause of a woman’s decision to have an abortion in the first place.
As Olmstead details in her piece:
Almost half of the women who procure abortions are living under the federal poverty line—and many cite financial scarcity as their primary reason for getting an abortion. Understanding this strain, and helping address it, should be an integral part of the pro-life cause—not just on a political level, but on a cultural and grassroots level. It should be a natural extension of the pro-life cause, which is determined to fight for the most vulnerable among us.
This is the strategy Wilberforce utilized when working toward the abolition of slavery. He started a more grassroots movement that eventually won over the “hearts and minds of the British people,” as Olmstead writes. What would that look like in America in 2021? I can’t fathom saying it any more clearly than Olmstead does in the conclusion to her piece:
we’re going to need tender culture warriors and humanitarians, winsome orators and artists. Because pro-lifers won’t be able to win votes unless and until they win over hearts and minds
Partisan politics is not the answer to saving lives from abortion, or from any other cause that falls under the pro-life umbrella (which as an aside I strongly support more than just anti-abortion. I believe God calls us to respect life in all of its forms from birth to natural death). Instead, we need leaders to speak up about these things outside of Washington and call for reform at all levels of society so that we can address the root causes and not just enact more legislation that may or may not actually have the intended effect.
As I’ve written elsewhere, we also need to learn how to disagree well with those who may have different ideas or moral compasses than our own. We can vehemently disagree without demonizing their position or even their existence as a human. It’s only with differing viewpoints and ideas that we can work towards solutions and solve the problems present in our society.
Let’s have compassion on those around us, not jump to judgment of someone’s choice when it may feel like the only choice they have. Let’s work to impact our culture so that it values life in all stages. Let’s encourage our representatives at all levels of government to address poverty, homelessness, child welfare, and all of the underlying social ills that often lead to an abortion. And most of all, let’s look to God in prayer, for the lives not yet born and for those already born. Once we reorient ourselves in this way, we can start to make a real difference for life in our country.