Sanctity of Living

January is traditionally the time when many conservative Christian congregations focus on the issue of abortion.  One Sunday is designated Sanctity of Life Sunday, and pastors are encouraged to preach on pro-life related themes.  While I’m not a big fan of having Sundays designated for particular causes, I agree whole-heartedly that the issue of the sanctity of life is a worthy one.

But I suspect we don’t do a very good job at really getting in to what that means.
I perused a flyer of possible bulletin inserts for Sanctity of Life Sunday.  Almost every single one of them was about sexual purity, rather than the sanctity of life.  I understand the connection they’re trying to draw – if we behave ourselves sexually then we don’t have unwanted pregnancies that might result in abortions.  But this is a very, very limited view of the sanctity of life.  And focusing on sexual purity misses the point completely, unfortunately.
The issue of the sanctity of life is perhaps misleading.  It might lead us to suspect that the only issue is making sure that someone gets born rather than killed.  Given the 56 million or so babies who have been killed in the last 40 years, that’s no small focus, to be sure!  But these days, the assault on life is over a much broader line.  
Perhaps we should stop talking only about the sanctity of life, and start talking about the sanctity of living.  
This is where the argument is often made, isn’t it?  Yes, it’s a hollow, false argument a majority of the time, I believe.  But the argument is made that some lives just aren’t worth living.  Some lives are just so terrible that it is better to deny life than to affirm it in a reduced or complicated fashion.  That’s an argument that I think probably finds more traction in people’s hearts and minds than the more simplistic argument that inconvenient babies should die.  We imagine ourselves placed suddenly into that position and we begin backing up and shaking our heads.  Oh no, no-no.  I couldn’t do that.  I don’t know how I’d make it.  
Truth be told, most of us can’t give a very coherent answer about how we made it where we are right now.
The sanctity of living embraces the full spectrum of human life, not just birth, and not just old age and death.  It covers all of the myriad ups and downs that come in between.  And when we begin talking about these things, and finding ways to come alongside people who are struggling to live them out, we learn a great deal more about the issue of life and living than simple protesting alone.
Sanctity of living means affirming the worth and potential of everyone, even if they may not seem to be equipped the way the rest of us assume we all should be equipped.  Consider this story about a man with Down’s Syndrome who has opened a restaurant with his family.  I can’t imagine the struggles as well as the joys that family has experienced in the living of this man’s life.  Yet instead of focusing on what he couldn’t do, they found a way to affirm the sanctity of living, and what a difference that has made for everyone who knows him.  
Here’s another story about the sanctity of living, and how a family determined that a tragic accident would not be the end of their son’s life, but rather they would continue to make him a part of their lives to the best of his – and their – ability.
Or I can think back on the life of a friend I met over 15 years ago at our campus ministry in Arizona.  He had MS, and his parents had been able to provide for him so that he left home in Missouri to come to Arizona to get his bachelor’s degree (curiously enough, at the school where I was teaching).  He was in a wheelchair and needed people to help him get up and walk every so often to stretch his muscles so they wouldn’t permanently tighten up and constrict his movement further.  His parents would alternate coming out to stay with him and hired assistants.  He made lots of friends at school who helped him as well.  He graduated and returned home to Missouri and his family.  He passed away recently, a firm Christian.  His family (not practicing Christians) understood instinctively the importance of the sanctity of living, and had worked hard to ensure that their son experienced this.
These are amazing feel-good stories that mask an unimaginable amount of work and effort.  They are also examples of people who chose to affirm the sanctity of living.  I know that it wasn’t easy (at least in the example of my friend).  But I’m pretty positive that they wouldn’t choose differently, if they were able to go back and alter the past.  Affirming the sanctity of living changes everyone it touches.
It’s not just about sex or abortion or euthanasia.  It’s about all the days that surround these events, the days that shape us into who we will be when we have to deal with these pivotal events.  This is what sanctity of living creates.  

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