In 1973, evangelicals weren't ready for Roe v. Wade. We had already given away too much, starting with a sharp distinction between the soul and the body. It was simple then for Southern Baptist leaders, for instance, to argue that personhood begins with the "breath of life" at birth. It took several years for evangelicals to follow the lead of Roman Catholics and denounce abortion as both a personal evil and social injustice.
I am afraid that unless Christian pulpits offer a comprehensively biblical vision of human life, we may be right back where we started. Abortion, after all, was easy for Christians to understand once they saw even the crudest sonograms, once they knew that abortion resulted in shredded limbs and spilled blood.
Now, however, the assaults on the vulnerable unborn and the dignity of life itself seem far more complex. And, unfortunately, not enough churches are discipling believers who understand that the image of God stamps humanity with the dignity of those who share a nature with the Son of Man. This includes, I fear, an evangelical theological tradition that has spoken too often of the imago Dei in reductionist terms of human rationality.
Most Christians can now understand that "abortion stops a beating heart." But I wonder how many would be able to counter biblically the words of Dartmouth's Michael Gazzaniga in Thursday's New York Times:
Most humans practice a kind of dualism, seeing a distinction between mind and body. We all automatically confer a higher order to a developed biological entity like a human brain. We do not see cells, simple or complex — we see people, human life. That thing in a petri dish is something else. It doesn't yet have the memories and loves and hopes that accumulate over the years. Until this is understood by our politicians, the gallant efforts of so many biomedical scientists, as good as they are, will remain only stopgap measures.
Most Christians oppose human cloning, and will, I imagine, for a long time to come. But our children and grandchildren must learn more than simply the evils of some biotechnology. They must learn that human life is inviolable, not simply because of the thoughts we think or the relationships we express, but because we are stamped with the divine image, whether we are singing "Jesus Loves Me" on our mother's lap, crying mutely in a nursing home bed, or frozen helplessly in a scientist's petri dish.