The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe and Its Lessons for Today: An Interview with Daniel K. Williams

In the form of an interview with Daniel Williams, Millennial offers the most sympathetic articulation of the pro-life stance that I have encountered. The experience of the original activists – proponents of the liberal theory of universal human rights – is typical of the experience of the Pharisees confronted by Jesus: any attempt to use law for moral ends allows hypocrites (such as the fiscal libertarians of the GOP) to suborn those impulses.

The proper approach is that of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That generation did confront their error, seeing many of their brethren convert to Christianity – including Saul on the way to Damascus.

So should we look at the problem of abortion – as a teachable moment that might not change the heart of a desperate woman, but that should change her behavior, hopefully bringing her closer to God as a result.

Williams’ final paean to life also rings hollow in my ears: babies are not priceless because their genetic code is unique. They are priceless because they represent an opportunity for self-clarification of a soul. We do have responsibilities as parents to optimize the conditions of that opportunity. That is best informed by abandoning the categories “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and choosing to be “pro-creation.” Pregnancy should be a conscious and considered joy, not an accident.

Millennial

What was the pro-life movement like before Roe v. Wade? In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams, history professor at the University of West Georgia, provides an essential overview of the pro-life movement in this period. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Williams on his groundbreaking book and its implications:

The pro-life movement is often associated with conservatism, but could you talk a little bit about the roots of the movement?

The modern American pro-life movement, which originated in the mid-twentieth century, was the creation of Catholic Democrats, most of whom subscribed to the social ethic and liberal political philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  They believed that the government had a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities and provide a social safety net for the poor.  They viewed the unborn as a minority deserving of legal protection, but many of them…

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“Man” and “Woman”

The driving motivation for the writing of The Soul Comes First was a reading of the Book of Revelation as just what John said it was: a visit to the Holy Mind in which the angels revealed their relationship to and experience of Christ. The difficulty of the writing is that the insights are like the M.C. Escher drawing of hands drawing each other. Genesis makes sense only if you’ve read Revelation, which makes sense only if you’ve read Acts, which depends upon the Gospels, the chain continuing to a dependency on Genesis.

We have to grok it all at once. I’m afraid that I didn’t succeed very well with that problem.

But the insights continue to trickle in.

Genesis 2:7 says [NIV]:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

This has been interpreted literally as meaning that Adam was the first instance of the species homo sapiens sapiens. There are those that take a different tack: that Adam and Eve were the sole human survivors of a geological catastrophe such as a major volcanic eruption. But the continuity of the archaeological record undermines all of these interpretations.

Revelation 4 starts where Genesis starts [NIV Gen 1:2]:

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

This is the scene that John encounters: the “Spirit of God” being the corporate body of the angels united under the guidance of Unconditional Love. In John’s vision, there are twenty-four of the former – described as “elders” – gathered around the “one on the throne.” We should understand the latter to be Unconditional Love, which is warded by fearsome beasts that prevent the approach of the elders.

So this is the initial state of Heaven before the investiture of God in the Earth. What comes next in Revelation is the sequence of that investiture: a scroll with seven seals is opened, and selfishness is given dominion over the Earth. Then from among the twelve princes of heaven, twelve thousand are sent from each down to Earth. These are the masculine angels that generate change; the feminine angels are held in reserve until a measure of safety is created.

Paleontology tells us that it took approximately a billion years before that safety was attained. Finally, in homo sapiens sapiens, God recognized a species with the potential to express love.

Genesis 2 starts with God’s reflection on that process. The species “man” was created from the dust of the ground, rising up only through an enormous commitment of intention and attention to the manifestation of the potential for life to receive love. If done too early, the gift would have been wasted: it would have been corrupted by selfishness. So love was held in reserve when the 144,000 were sent down from heaven, and remained aloof for a billion years.

God having spawned homo sapiens sapiens as an animal with the potential to elaborate love, Unconditional Love then breathed itself into one such animal, Adam, making him Man. Love was joined to biology, making it possible for us to escape the brutal practices of natural selection as described by Darwin. Recognizing that Adam should not be alone, Unconditional Love then sought for a mate to share the stewardship of spreading love throughout the world. Thus was one female animal imbued with love, creating Eve – the first Woman.

This is what we celebrate when we call them “First Man” and “First Woman” – not the material superfluity of their physical forms, but the transformation that comes with becoming imbued with Unconditional Love.

How did this make Adam a “living being”? Because one of the forms of selfishness is death. Through the link with Unconditional Love, Adam was freed from that captivity. He acted with fearless generosity. It was in seeking to become God’s equal that our thralldom to selfishness was reimposed.

In reflecting on all the evil we have committed since, I have called it “the great working out through the flesh of our dependency on sin.” Each generation becomes a little stronger, and with Jesus to light our way as an exemplar, eventually love will have its way with us.