After Oregon Shooting, Where Is Our Theology of Life?

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On Thursday afternoon, a 26-year-old man slaughtered nine people and wounded nine others on the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Ore. It is a sadly familiar story in this country, routine even. President Obama named it as such in his remarks last week, claiming that we have become “numb” to mass shootings and the discussions that follow. He’s right about that.

But I’d argue that we’re numb to all of our society’s violence, as we have lazily accepted a theology of death rather than do the work to reflect the theology of life so many of us profess to believe. I’m glad for the separation of church and state in this country, so don’t confuse this for me claiming that U.S. society should be run as a Christian institution. Rather, I’m saying that a lot of people in this country who profess to be Christian buy into this acceptance of violent death all too easily. The proof of this is that, shooting after shooting, execution after execution, violent death after violent death, we as a society have not changed. And it is our lack of change that keeps the door open for history to repeat itself.

Glossip Execution Postponed

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“The man who bludgeoned Van Treese to death, Justin Sneed, testified that Glossip hired him for the murder. But jurors weren't presented with evidence that Sneed gave contradictory accounts to police about what happened, wrote Sister Helen Prejean, who ministers to prisoners on death row.

Prejean also noted the lack of evidence linking Glossip to the crime.

Glossip's scheduled death will also be the first in Oklahoma since a bitterly divided Supreme Court allowed the use of the drug midazolam in June.

Congressional Republicans Launch Push to Defund Planned Parenthood

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House Republicans began their effort to de-fund Planned Parenthood Sept. 9 with the first in a series of hearings intended to make the case that the group is illegally harvesting and selling tissue from aborted fetuses, a claim the group vehemently denies.

The hearing in the House Judiciary Committee — titled “Examining the Horrific Abortion Practices at the Nation’s Largest Abortion Provider” — is the first of several hearings expected this fall as three House committees pursue investigations of Planned Parenthood. House Republicans also launched a website Wednesday to track their investigations into the group.

Beyond the specific techniques under scrutiny, the hearing became an opportunity to air a broader agenda of reducing abortions generally. Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., opened the hearing with a call for Congress to pass legislation to bar all abortions after five months of gestation, which would “help ensure that the body parts of late-aborted babies cannot be sold because late-term abortions would be generally prohibited.”

Pope Francis Asks Priests to Forgive the Sin of Abortion

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Pope Francis on Sept. 1 told priests to forgive repentant women who had had an abortion, specifically during the yearlong jubilee celebration of Catholic faith, which begins in December.

In a letter to the president of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization, the pontiff urges priests to express “words of genuine welcome” to repentant women who have undergone abortions, “combined with a reflection that explains the gravity of the sin committed.”

WATCH: D.C. Protesters at Planned Parenthood Answer, 'What Are You Praying For?'

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On Aug. 22, thousands of activists protested at Planned Parenthoods around the county, calling for an end to funding for clinics.

The protests came on the heels of last month's viral videos, released from little-known group Center for Medical Progress, which claimed to show Planned Parenthood employees discussing illegally harvesting and selling aborted fetal organs. Planned Parenthood has argued the videos are misleadling, deceptively edited from a conversation about legal fetal tissue use for research.

Though no Planned Parenthood clinic exists in Washington, D.C., protestors gathered a "public witness prayer event" at a construction site of what organizers said was a Planned Parenthood building in process.

Sojourners went to the rally to ask attendees, many self-described people of faith, what they were praying for. 

Culture Wars and Destructive Dialogue

Not too long after being introduced to John 3:16, I was taught Psalm 139:13: “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Now that I was a Christian, it was important I understood that Christians are anti-abortion, that life begins at conception, and that terminating life is nothing short of murder. Throughout college, I carried the cause of the pro-life movement in a symbol tacked on my school bag: a miniature pair of feet, a replica of a 10-week old baby in utero, intricately shaped in sterling silver.

I didn’t think about it. I never HAD to think about it, having never carried an unwanted pregnancy. For me, the pro-life movement was simple, uncomplicated, pretty, and as sanitized as a small silver ornament. That is, until I moved to China, a country well known for its high rate of abortions — including forced abortions, particularly of baby girls.

How We Talk About Life — and Death

Living cells, mixed media artwork.

Living cells, mixed media artwork. Ruslan Kokarev /

It’s not often words escape us. But in the aftermath of the now viral recording(s) raising concerns over whether Planned Parenthood seeks profit from aborted fetal tissue — and the crassness with which its representative discusses how to accomplish it without “crushing” the tissue/organs — that’s where we were left: with no words. We confess to being at a complete loss of what to say in the face of humanity’s brokenness.

Beyond the ethical questions of how an organization receives payment for tissue sales or the debates around the potential benefits of the patients’ donations of fetal tissue, the videos are an in-your-face reminder of our culture’s blatant disrespect for life.

That disregard is not unique in our society, of course. Journalism: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Medicine: “There’s nothing more to be done. She’s a vegetable.” Justice system: “He’s gonna fry.” War: “Light ‘em up.” Uncomfortable questions about life and death and ethics are best papered over with emotionless cliché, obviously.

As a society and as individuals, when we fail to recognize the imago dei in others, we trend further away from our uniquely human capacity to empathize and closer to isolated, analytical, and almost robotic assessments of value.

Lawmakers Call for Probes into Planned Parenthood Video Allegations

REUTERS / Dominick Reuter / RNS

The Planned Parenthood logo is pictured outside a clinic in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 27, 2014. Photo via REUTERS / Dominick Reuter / RNS

Lawmakers are calling for investigations into a health care provider that has come under fire by anti-abortion activists for allegedly selling fetal organs for profit.

The anti-abortion group Center for Medical Progress claims that the Planned Parenthood foundation violated the law by selling the fetal tissue to medical researchers.

Planned Parenthood spokesman Eric Ferrero vehemently denied the accusations, saying that the tissue in question was donated to medical research – not sold.

“These outrageous claims are flat-out untrue, but that doesn’t matter to politicians with a longstanding political agenda to ban abortion and defund Planned Parenthood,” Ferrero said.

Abortion Rates Declining Nationwide

Image via Steve Allen/

Image via Steve Allen/

The number of abortions nationwide has declined by about 12 percent in the last 5 years, according to the Associated Press. States with the strongest restrictions to abortion access and states with the least show a similar decline in rates. 

"Explanations vary," the Associated Press reports, with one factor being a decline in the teen pregnancy rate. Depending on which side of the abortion debate you lie, you can find advocates who attribute the overall decline in abortions to either better sex education and access to contracepton — or advanced technology and a new generation of women for whom there is "an increased awareness of the humanity of the baby before it is born."

From the AP: 

"Abortion-rights advocates attribute it to expanded access to effective contraceptives and a drop in unintended pregnancies. Some foes of abortion say there has been a shift in societal attitudes, with more women choosing to carry their pregnancies to term.

Several of the states that have been most aggressive in passing anti-abortion laws — including Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Oklahoma — have seen their abortion numbers drop by more than 15 percent since 2010. But more liberal states such as New York, Washington and Oregon also had declines of that magnitude, even as they maintained unrestricted access to abortion."

Public Religion Research Institute, a public opinion research group in Washington, D.C., has created an interactive atlas of American values and hot-button social issues. See where your state lands on attitudes over the availability and legality of abortion here.

Americans Prefer ‘Pro-Choice’ Label by Biggest Margin in Seven Years

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An anti-abortion protester holds in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in 2001. Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock / RNS

Despite Americans’ shifting opinions on a range of moral and ethical issues, abortion foes have been encouraged by numbers showing that opposition to abortion rights appeared to have resisted serious slippage, and was even gaining traction.

But a Gallup poll released May 29 shows that may be changing: 50 percent of all Americans now identify as “pro-choice,” the first statistically significant lead over the “pro-life” label, which came in at 44 percent, since 2008.

The data suggest this could signal an end to the seesaw battle that has characterized opinions on abortion over the past few years.