What does it mean to be pro-life? Time and again, I find that Christian conservatives seem to endorse a pro-life vision that is almost completely limited to the fetus-in-utero. Consider, for example, this tweet from Michael Brown:
I was just interacting with a pastor friend who referenced a mega church in his area that supported a pro-abortion presidential candidate. The blood of the unborn cries out as a witness against them!
— Dr. Michael L. Brown (@DrMichaelLBrown) April 21, 2018
For Brown, a politican’s stance on elective abortion is enough to indict them and condemn those who would support them with the “blood of the unborn”.
Being Pro-life and the Gospel of Life
My conception of what it means to be pro-life was shaped by the sweeping moral vision of Pope John Paul II which you can read in his 1996 encyclical Evangelium Vitae. Chapter 1 is titled “The Voice of Your Brother’s Blood Cries To Me From the Ground.” But the blood of which the Pope speaks is not limited to the fetus. Instead, his encyclical surveys a catalogue of threats to the holistic Christian Gospel of Life. To be sure, elective abortion is included in that list, but so is contraception. Some contraception is condemned because of its abortifacient potential, but more generally contraception is condemned for treating natural fertility cycles as pathogenic. You may not agree with that calculus, but at least Catholics are consistent and holistic in their moral vision.
And the Gospel of Life doesn’t stop with elective abortion and the contraceptive mentality that makes it possible. It also indicts the self-serving attitude that inflicts violence on the environment:
“man has a specific responsibility towards the environment in which he lives, towards the creation which God has put at the service of his personal dignity, of his life, not only for the present but also for future generations.”
(By the way, contrast that with conservatives who even now support a president who denies human-induced climate change and supports the obliteration of pro-environmental policies in the EPA.)
The Gospel of Life also indicts inequitable trade practices that perpetuate social inequality around the world:
“And how can we fail to consider the violence against life done to millions of human beings, especially children, who are forced into poverty, malnutrition and hunger because of an unjust distribution of resources between peoples and between social classes?’
The Gospel of Life eschews retributive jurisprudence — and particularly capital punishment — in favor of personal reformation and societal reconciliation.
And perhaps most notably, the Gospel of Life eschews militarism and the violence of war:
“Among the signs of hope we should also count the spread, at many levels of public opinion, of a new sensitivity ever more opposed to war as an instrument for the resolution of conflicts between peoples, and increasingly oriented to finding effective but ‘non-violent’ means to counter the armed aggressor.”
To sum up, to speak of being pro-life in light of the Gospel of Life illumines a truly holistic moral vision.
With that in mind, return to Michael Brown. He is incredulous that any Christian could support a politician who supported access to elective abortion. And yet, he enthusiastically supported Ted Cruz for president. In his endorsement, Brown wrote that Cruz is “is a man of unshakable, conservative moral convictions” and “unshakably pro-life”.
Sadly, “pro-life” here is apparently limited to the fetus. You see, Cruz also regularly boasted of his plan to “carpet bomb” ISIS. For example, in an interview with Megyn Kelly, he promised;
“If I am elected president, we will defeat radical Islamic terrorism, and we will utterly destroy ISIS. And yes, that means carpet bombing them into oblivion.” (source)
Let’s be clear: carpet-bombing is a military strategy that involves indiscriminate saturation bombing over large territories to the end of utterly devastating the territory and all life within it. Here is a description from the entry on “Carpet Bombing” in Encyclopedia of War Crimes and Genocide:
“Carpet bombing is distinguished from military bombing because it is not aimed at a particular military objective but targets an entire city. Carpet bombing is justified for a number of reasons: to destroy an enemy’s industrial base, to demoralize an enemy population, or simply as retaliation.” (p. 66, emphasis added)
For an example of carpet-bombing, consider the Allied bombing of Dresden in February, 1945 that killed more than 140,000 civilians. The bombing was so intense that it created a firestorm of tornadic winds while melting asphalt streets and even granite blocks and vaporizing untold civilians.
Fortunately, given the utterly heinous and immoral nature of carpet bombing, it was banned under international law in 1977 by ading Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Convention (“Carpet Bombing,” in Encyclopedia of War Crimes and Genocide, 66).
So Cruz was endorsing a military strategy banned under international law. But the offense didn’t stop there. Even worse, Cruz regularly couched his plans with an utterly deplorable, nationalistic jingoism. Consider this excerpt from an Iowa speech:
“we will utterly destroy ISIS. We will carpet bomb them into oblivion. I don’t know if sand can glow in the dark, but we’re going to find out.” (emphasis added)
Needless to say, this is utterly shocking commentary coming from a candidate for the Republican nomination for president. And so, in a Republican debate, Wolf Blitzer pressed Cruz on his intentions by asking if he would bomb cities, including Raqqa, the capital of ISIS territory. Keep in mind that the indiscriminate targeting of cities is part-and-parcel of the meaning of carpet-bombing.
“You would carpet bomb where ISIS is — not a city, but the location of the troops. You use air power directed — and you have embedded special forces to direction the air power. But the object isn’t to level a city. The object is to kill the ISIS terrorists.” (source)
Let’s be clear about one thing at the outset. Cruz is a lawyer by training, and apparently, he is a very intelligent lawyer. As such, he pays very close attention to words and their definition and he most certainly knew what carpet-bombing is. Consequently, there is no reasonable interpretation in which he was confusing carpet-bombing with strategic military bombing.
So what’s going on here? Is he now denying what he initially affirmed? That would be disturbing enough.And his reference to directing air power suggests that he may be equivocating between carpet-bombing and conventional strategic bombing.
But if you read his words carefully — and remember, the man’s a lawyer — it is also possible to read his words as continuing to endorse carpet bombing. The key is that he distinguishes between action and intention so that the intention is not to destroy a city per se but to “kill the ISIS terrorists.” Nonetheless, that is consistent with destroying the city in order to kill (and defeat) the terrorists.
By the same token, the Allied forces could have said their intention was not to destroy Dresden per se, but rather to defeat the Nazis. Nonetheless, the carpet-bombing of Dresden became the means to that end.
To sum up, Cruz never explicitly repudiates his initial vow to carpet-bomb ISIS. Instead he engages in the kind of deceptive wordsmithing that gives lawyers a bad name. (It reminds me of the time another lawyer-turned-politician, Bill Clinton, answered a question with “It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”)
Unshakably Pro-life Carpet Bombers
To conclude, Cruz claims to be a Christian and yet regularly endorsed indiscriminate saturation bombing of large tracts of territory, an action that is banned under the Geneva Convention. To make matters worse, he defended the action with flippant, jingoistic language. And when pressed, he obfuscates between strategic bombing and carpet bombing while still allowing for the latter.
Michael Brown wonders how a Christian could support a candidate who supports elective abortion. And I wonder how a Christian could support a candidate who supports carpet-bombing. Brown says the blood of the unborn cries out as a witness against the pro-choice political candidate. But whose blood cries out against the conservative Christian carpet-bomber?