A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn. By Dennis R. Di Mauro. Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2008. 163 pages. Click here.
“Open your mouth on behalf of the dumb,” commands Proverbs 31:8, “for the cause of all children who are passing away.” In his concise, well-researched book, A Love for Life: Christianity’s Consistent Protection of the Unborn, Dennis Di Mauro demonstrates how the Lord’s people through the ages have responded to this call by opening their mouths with a clear, unequivocal defense of the health and welfare of vulnerable life in utero. By opening his own mouth in these pages, Di Mauro provides the church and society with an excellent survey of historical ecclesiastical voices on behalf of unborn life that sets the contemporary positions of American Christian denominations in sharp relief to their ancient forbears. Di Mauro’s book properly belongs among one’s arsenal of pastoral care resources, for the work is as suitable for study in a Wednesday-morning-bible-class as it is useful for navigating the trenches of modern religious rhetoric encountered in daily life.
A Love for Life’s first chapter reviews ancient Jewish views on abortion, tracking a consistently “pro-life” confession from the Old Testament Scriptures through Jewish apocalyptic and pseudepigraphal writings popular around the time of Christ up to the later wisdom literature of the first century A.D. Throughout this brief but representative investigation, Di Mauro identifies the high regard Israel and their Jewish descendants had for human life in the womb, describing the socio-political landscape into which the early Christian church was born. The chapter engages common misunderstandings of, for example, Exodus 21, and it offers a straightforward presentation of the contrast between God’s people and their pagan neighbors found in each culture’s respect for human life. In this chapter, as in those following, Di Mauro offers an introduction into the biblical and historical witness rather than an exhaustive treatment of the same. Far from being a weakness of the work, however, the cursory sketch Di Mauro provides invites the reader into the church’s conversation and, with clear, non-technical prose, suggests itself for use in bible studies, reading groups, and pastoral counseling settings where further information, explanation, and practical comment could be offered.
This opportunity for catechetical use is especially apparent in chapter 2, “In God’s Own Words: The Biblical Pro-Life Message,” wherein Di Mauro identifies several Scripture passages that proclaim the dignity and worth of all human life, including life yet unborn. Though some commentators argue for Scripture’s silence on the topic, noting how the word “abortion” is never used, Di Mauro offers compelling biblical and extra-biblical evidence for understanding Scripture’s prohibition of pharmakeia also to include an injunction against abortifacients. Moreover, passages from both the Old and New Testaments bear witness to the Lord’s regard for life in utero and “lead to a unified pro-life perspective within scripture: a perspective…where abortion has no place” (9). This introduction into the testimony of Holy Scripture on behalf of vulnerable life provides an effective foundation for further reading and discussion, a helpful grounding for considering the church’s testimony throughout the following centuries.
Chapters 3–5 investigate Christian views on abortion from the time of the early church until the 1960s. From St. Luke to St. Luther, from Clement to Calvin, indeed, from the Didache to Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Di Mauro outlines the church’s consistent teaching against abortion and advocacy for human life from womb to tomb. While Di Mauro’s argument needs sharpening at points in order to fit his conclusions (especially in chapter 5, “Great Minds: Views of Prominent Theologians Since the Reformation,” where unorthodox views on abortion begin to appear more notably from erring voices within the church catholic), he never fails to contribute the church’s historic confession to the contemporary conversation. With such an organization, A Love for Life helpfully prepares its readers to analyze current positions among individual Christian denominations who claim theological and historical integrity for their well-publicized views.
Di Mauro’s sixth chapter, “Breaking from Tradition: The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and Other Pro-Choice Christian Groups,” marks a turning point in the book’s presentation as the views and claims of prominent, pro-abortion religious voices are considered in relation to the preceding evidence. Something of an apologetic tone may be noticed in this chapter, for Di Mauro shifts from positive evidences for the sanctity of human life to negative, deconstructing argumentation against the competing religious truth-claims of pro-abortion religionists. “One can only conclude,” Di Mauro summarizes, “that these adherents of pro-choice Christianity have created new and unfounded biblical interpretations in order to create a theology of abortion which, quite simply, does not exist” (45). More than this short work includes must be said fully to substantiate such a claim, but, as previously noted, where A Love for Life fails to achieve exhaustive, academic particularity it succeeds in providing the novice with a lucid and faithful entrée into the discussion.
The fifty-five page Chapter 7 charts “denominational activity on the abortion question since the 1960s” and provides a fairly balanced assessment of competing views within many of America’s largest denominations. Though at times oversimplified and repetitive, the survey helpfully maps the positions of significant church bodies on developing abortion issues, enlightening the reader’s perspective with the many nuances and varied degrees of acceptance or rejection. Here, especially, further explanation (or supplementary reading) may often be needed to expound the finer points of, for example, natural law arguments in relation to Luther’s “two kingdoms” perspective, pregnancies resulting from incest or rape, the place of God’s “moral law” in society, Christian community and hospitality, etc. Both because of the length of this chapter and its inclusion of some dogmatically technical concepts, a study group may find it convenient to choose two or three subsections for each meeting—an option Di Mauro makes convenient by dividing the lengthy chapter into brief synopses of each denomination’s activity.
Di Mauro himself provides a useful supplement to Chapter 7 in Appendix 1, a collection of current denominational statements regarding abortion. After working through his first six chapters, the popular rhetoric that religionists often employ to avoid the genuine questions on abortion are conspicuous, if not flagrant. A Love for Life succeeds in preparing the reader to biblically assess the various denominational statements and recognize which church bodies faithfully confess in the public square what has been given them to confess. Such an exercise should prove useful for life in American society, where the bondage to self-justification so often perverts clear reason, and an acute faculty of discernment is required to distinguish truth from falsehood.
Throughout the book, Di Mauro addresses one of these lies that has crept into secular thinking—an underlying tension that pervades public discourse and rhetoric about unborn life—what has Jerusalem to do with Athens? What has the church to do with secular decisions made in the public forum? On the one hand, Di Mauro effectively demonstrates the church’s consistently anti-abortion position throughout history, removing the Christian’s suspicion that modernity’s insistence on individual choice and opinion characterizes the church’s corporate confession. On the other hand, one need not be a Christian to understand or appreciate the reasons that God’s people have always responded in society with such a “pro-life” view. The kind of community the church is called to be exists, in part, to bear witness to the unbelieving world of a better way, a better life, a better people. Regard for the whole of human life, for every stage and every capacity at which every human being once existed, characterizes a perspective that belongs in any society that a reasonable individual should wish to call their own. As Di Mauro’s work exemplifies, the church’s voice in that public square reminds society of a life that need not be built on the neighbor’s destruction.
To be sure, the open mouth of Di Mauro on behalf of the dying dumb in our society is worthy of attention from clergy and laity alike. His historical survey and contemporary analysis helpfully introduce the reader to the church’s timeless position regarding the cause of all children who are passing away and calls the hearer to follow in the train of the saints who came before. The believing tradition of the Lord’s confessing community, to which Di Mauro invites his reader, offers clarity in the place of confusion, hope in the place of despair, and life in the place of lonely death. On the one hand, through a study of Di Mauro’s book, “pro-life” Christians who seek to “judge righteously and plead the cause of the weak and the needy” (Prov. 31:9) will find themselves located in the biblical history of God’s people, well-oriented to participate in the Christ-like activity of self-sacrifice on behalf of the neighbor. On the other hand, all who identify with the Christian faith, regardless of their views on abortion, do well to mark the confessing tradition Di Mauro elucidates, for while some may still insist on procreative self-regard and autonomy after studying A Love for Life, such ones, at least, will be prepared to recognize the community from which they are departing.
Peter J. Brock
Concordia Theological Seminary
Fort Wayne, Indiana