America’s founders did not have a utopian view of human nature, but they did have a high view of it. A brief consideration of the founders’ understanding of the right to life and liberty can help show how their views differ from that embraced by too many citizens and judges today. This is because they were committed to the core Christian idea that all humans are created in the imago Dei (image of God), which means, in part, that men and women are reasonable, creative beings. This led the founders to conclude that “we the people” (as opposed to the elite) can order our public lives together through politics rather than force. This led to the Word of God establishing many of our founding principles.
It also formed their view of rights. In his Supreme Court opinion in Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), Justice James Wilson, paraphrasing Psalm 139, observed that “man, fearfully and wonderfully made, is the workmanship of his all perfect Creator.” [Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419 (1792)]. One practical implication of this is that innocent life must always be protected. Wilson wrote with evident approval, With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger. [Collected Works of James Wilson, Page 1068]. Based on this principle, Wilson criticized ancient societies, such as Sparta, Athens, China, and Rome, for the practice of disposing of or killing unwanted infants. [Collected Works of James Wilson, Page 1067]. He likewise condemned suicide.
William Blackstone in his four volume Commentaries on the Laws of England (1765-1769) had a significant influence on late eighteenth-century American law. In his first volume he wrote, Life is the immediate gift of God, a right inherent by nature in every individual; and it begins in contemplation of law as soon as an infant is able to stir in the mother’s womb. For if a woman is quick with child, and by a potion , or otherwise, kills it in her womb; or if anyone beat her, whereby the child dies in her body, and she is delivered of a dead child; this, though not murder, was by the ancient law homicide or manslaughter. [William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), http.//press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/amendIXs1.html].
The founders’ conviction that humans are created in the image of God and that innocent lives should be protected calls into question Supreme Court precedents such as Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973), where justices ‘discovered’ a right to have an abortion…infanticide…hiding in a previously undiscovered “right to privacy”, tucked away among the Bill of Rights. [Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)and reaffirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992)]. At a minimum, an originalist understanding of the Bill of Rights would require the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and return the issue of abortion to the states. And if state legislators share the founders’ conviction that all humans are created in the image of God, they would ban the practice in all but the most rare and extreme cases. Justice Wilson did write that unborn babies were protected by law once they are “first able to stir in the womb.” But it seems likely that he would agree that they should be protected from the point of conception if he had had the scientific information we have now. [Hadley Arkes, Natural Rights & the Right to Choose (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002)]
But then what else can we expect from our society? In the twentieth century, Supreme Court justices held that the First Amendment protects the right to use profanity in public [Cohen v. California, 403 U.S. 15 (1971)], burn the American flag as a form of political protest [Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989)], and publish obscene and pornographic works [Miller v. California, 413 U.S. 15 (1973) … technically, this case involved defining obscenity, but the practical effect of the Court’s decision in this case is to protect the publication of obscene and pornographic works]. So can we expect much less when the Court was asked to protect innocent life? Where are the churches…other than the Catholic Church…in this fight? We even have some churches that have been shown promoting abortion. Today the fight is primarily by Christian private organizations… National Pro-Life Alliance, 40 Days for Life, March for Life, Students for Life Action, Concerned Women for America, Operation Rescue, Life Legal Defense Foundation, And Then There Were None, etc. I must admit that at times I am more motivated to donate to these organizations than I am to the church. These would be God’s Kingdom donations. Maybe the church needs to put more time, energy, and funds into saving unborn innocent life than feeding some who survive off of the work of others? The million legal ‘murders’ we commit in this nation every year is a disgrace.
One early morning during my devotions I was being bothered by a small fruit fly. Finally I had enough and ‘eliminated it’. But then I got to thinking…what is the definition of life? I came to realize that I had taken this thing called ‘life’ from that fly. As I look around I realize that this thing called ‘life’ is all around me. I still have not been able to come up with a definitive definition of ‘life’. As an engineer I would think of ‘life’ as a combination of components that allows a creation to function. As humans our lives have received a special consideration from God. Unfortunately some have rejected that ‘consideration’. I still search for a definition and thank God for the ‘life’ I have been granted.
Next week we will conclude the church’s political involvement in the sanctity of life question with the church putting its dictates ahead of the Word of God…but then that is to be expected by an organization that does not want to offend. When a church offends God it is part of the death knell of a denomination. As I addressed a few years ago, we seem to be experiencing a church system adrift in the ‘sea of the world’.
– Bob Munsey
“All the churches in the United States are just a generation away from destruction.” Pastor Dan Stallbaum, East Coast Christian Center