Who are the least of these? I'm going to take the tack of the persons least able to defend themselves: first physically, then economically. The abortion issue is obviously a piece of what we're dealing with here. That must be taken care of with some priority. The most defenseless human beings among us are the ones who've only entered the womb, not the outside world, and it seems clear that they do need defending. I would love to pontificate about America's wonderful progress, how much of a pro-life nation we actually are. But I can't, because we're not. A quick check at the number of Downs Syndrome abortions should clear up that perception.
I don't think we pro-lifers are going far enough in our pursuit of justice. Many of our most common arguments rely on the notion of the human fetus is a human being. The focus on the abortion issue is then justified by saying that those in the womb are the least among is, in the sense of being the most defenseless, the most open to attack and marginalization. This is fine to my mind, but it needs to be taken a step further. A pro-life stance that truly respects Christianity and its instructions for how we treat each other must take the next step and defend all stages of life, from womb to tomb, or as a high school teacher of mine memorably put it, sperm to worm. In many Catholic circles this is known as the 'consistent ethic of life,' and in some of these circles it's been misused as an excuse for downplaying the ethical gravity of abortion. But that doesn't mean it isn't true.
Clearly, the right to life begins with the right to survive. But if we allow it to end there, we are not carrying the examples of our Lord and of the traditions of our great faith to their fulfillment. Certain things that happen in church history, even that which is seen in the New Testament, are clearly motivated by concerns for social justice. Why else does it seem that the main community discussed in Acts is one in which persons sell their possessions to give to the poor? Why else would it be that in the Gospels, Jesus instructs us that, essentially, a substantially higher burden is placed on the rich in entering the Kingdom of Heaven, than on the poor? The passage in which Jesus discusses 'the least of these' makes no reference to persons in the womb, but it does talk about visiting the sick and prisoners and addressing other concerns of social justice. It is clear that the Christian church has been opposed to abortion from the beginning, if only by the early church's interpretation of the Scriptures. But it is also clear that the church has been concerned with social justice from the start.
So where does this leave us? With the inescapable conclusion that as Christians striving to take our tradition seriously, we must care about justice inside and outside of the womb, about quality-of-life justice as well as survival. Abortion does seem pretty clearly to be the most wrong of the injustices perpetrated in America today. That's a pretty inescapable conclusion to my mind. But it is not the only injustice by far.
I give nothing but kudos to all the pro-lifers (and there are many) who are seriously striving to life out a consistent ethic of life. However, we need to take it further. It may be that there are a few people whose God-given mission is to focus on the issue of abortion and not to worry so much about economic justice issues. There might also be a few people whose mission is to the poor, and who aren't supposed to be doing so much directly on the abortion issue. To risk a smiting from God, however, it is nobody's God-given mission to ignore any facet of justice and avoid its implication for their lives. If we really want to give people a solid and inescapable picture of what a converted world could look like, it means we've got to go further. We've got to seek justice in everything we do, including the perhaps-uncomfortable economic justice of giving not only to the church but to charitable organizations. Abortion is bad, but we need to be pro-life, not merely anti-abortion; it's time we defied the world to define us. We need to show our current culture of injustice what the world could look like if we chose to care about each other, sperm to worm.
Pursuit of a Good God means nothing less.