Bishop Anthony B. Taylor found himself on the headline side of a “man bites dog” story. The headline read: “Bishop will not attend March for Life in Little Rock.”
A bishop attending a pro-life rally: not a surprise. Boycotting one: That’s unusual.
In a letter to Catholics of the Diocese of Little Rock, Arkansas, the bishop explained that march organizers had invited the state’s attorney general as the main speaker.
Bishop Taylor explained: “Attorney General Leslie Rutledge … last year worked tirelessly to secure the execution of four criminals who posed no further threat to society. You will recall that the Diocese of Little Rock was very vocal in appealing for clemency for these four men, but we were opposed at every turn by Attorney General Rutledge. For this reason, I asked Arkansas Right to Life to choose a more appropriate keynote speaker, indicating that I could not participate in what was supposed to be a pro-life event otherwise.”
Arkansas Right to Life refused, and the bishop stayed away. He did support two Masses for life and the prayer vigil. He also encouraged Catholics “to participate in the Nine Days for Life Campaign of the USCCB Committee on Pro-Life Activities,” noting that day eight of the novena “calls for an end to the use of the death penalty in our country.”
Bishop Taylor used the moment to stress the church’s “consistent ethic of life,” which he explained teaches the “inherent God-given dignity” of every human being means that “human life and human dignity must be protected from the first moment of conception to natural death and every stage in between.”
That the bishop’s bold stand was not warmly greeted by everyone is probably obvious, but at this year’s 45th annual March for Life in Washington, it was clear that Bishop Taylor did not stand alone. There were more than a few signs that pro-lifers were willing to link treatment of the unborn, the poor and the undocumented, and felt called to oppose both unjust war and the death penalty as part of their pro-life witness.
In truth, pro-lifers, especially Catholic ones, have always been more in tune with the church’s consistent ethic of life than stereotyped by their critics. They don’t just care for babies until they are born. Multiple ministries like the Women’s Care Center provide support year-round for moms and babies before and after birth.
Pro-lifers are more likely to be opposed to the death penalty, and this year journalists found many marchers who expressed concern for families torn apart by deportations.
“Black lives matter; immigrant lives matter; unborn lives matter” one sign read. It’s a connecting of the dots that is attractive to many young pro-lifers and may upset the entrenched ideological battle lines of our polarizing political parties.
The dignity of every human being is an inclusive and uplifting message that younger Americans unscarred by the three decades of culture wars are attracted to. They are less interested in fighting old battles than in seeing who will resist the throwaway culture that we have become: discarding the poor, the ill, the voiceless, the elderly.
Abortion isn’t just the taking of a life. It is also a symbol for how society disposes of all those it does not value.
As was visible every step of the way on the March for Life in Washington this year, the pro-life movement has done an amazing job of persistent, principled resistance. It has also done an amazing job of handing on the torch to the next generations, from high schoolers to 30-somethings. Bishop Taylor’s witness may point the way to where we go from here.
Erlandson, director and editor-in-chief of Catholic News Service, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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