Thursday, June 16, 2016

The value of life

We recently watched “The Letters,” a movie (via Netflix) about Mother Teresa. It was based on some 50-years of correspondence she had with her assigned spiritual advisor, Father Celeste van Exem. It turned out that Mother Teresa’s faith was actually rooted in what she knew was a “darkness” in her soul, the darkness being the feeling that God had abandoned her combined with doubts about her faith.

And you think, “Mother Teresa? Really? She had doubts? She felt abandoned?”

Yes, she did indeed. And those feelings and doubts were intimately wrapped up in her faith.

Perhaps it was a coincidence that we were watching this movie a few hours before the mass murders occurred at the gay club in Orlando. Perhaps not. We watched a story about a woman who lived her faith, embracing the dying and untouchables on the streets of Calcutta’s slums, and then the next morning heard about a gunman who walked into a club and started firing, killing 50 people and wounding scores more.

The contrast couldn’t be greater. What Mother Teresa’s faith told her was that every life has value – and in the eyes of God, every life has the same value. Education, wealth, political power – none of these matter when it comes to the value of each human life. A child with Down’s Syndrome is just as valuable as a corporate CEO.

It was discouraging to see how quickly Orlando became an opportunity to score political points: Trump on immigration, President Obama and Hillary Clinton on gun control (joined by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois). Fifty people had been murdered, and all our national politicians cared about was scoring election points.

Juliet Stevenson as Mother Teresa in a scene from "The Letters"
Those 50 people mattered. They had value. Their lives meant something. We should grieve before we start trying to score political points.

The taking of their lives diminishes all of us.

I have Facebook friends who post regularly on the need for evangelical Christians to stop being what they call “one-issue voters” (abortion) and considered the broader context of social concerns (human trafficking, race, poverty, and other social justice issues). I read these posts, and I wonder if I’m seeing a thinly disguised pitch to convince me to vote for the party that openly and regularly endorses abortion, something I’ve never been able to do in more than 40 years of voting.

I know no other way to say it. Abortion is the denial of the value of human life, and my understanding of that value is tied up in my faith. Asking me to disregard it or to not consider it in how I vote is asking me to disregard my faith. “So every abortion is the denial of receiving Jesus, is the neglect of receiving Jesus,” said Mother Teresa. “It is really a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child…” She said that at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 3, 1994, with the First Lady in attendance.

I’m not a one-issue voter; I can’t be, because the actual record of both major political parties is abysmal (policy is what you do, not what you say or only include in your platform). But I do see abortion as the social justice issue, one that wraps human trafficking (it’s become big business, after all), poverty, and race together in one horrible practice.  And it’s based on the lie that some human lives are more valuable than others.

Mother Teresa saw Jesus in the dying, the diseased, the cast off, the poor. She would also have seen Jesus bleeding and dying on the floor of an Orlando gay club. And she would have seen Jesus on the operating table of an abortion clinic.

Top photograph by Xoan Seoane via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

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