By Gudrun Schultz

UNITED STATES, October 23, 2006 ( – Evangelical and Catholic leaders who have issued a joint statement declaring that care for the vulnerable in society is an essential requirement of authentic Christianity which must reject any deliberate taking of innocent human life as murder.

“The direct and intentional taking of innocent human life in abortion, euthanasia, assisted suicide, and embryonic research is rightly understood as murder,” the document ‘That They May Have Life’ declares, from Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

Published in the October issue of the Catholic magazine First Things, the statement identifies the biblical foundations of the call to protect and care for the unborn, ill and dying in the Divine command to “love your neighbor.”

“The love for the neighbor begins…with respect for the neighbor’s right to be, by honoring the gift of God that is the neighbor’s life. Thus the most basic commandment of neighbor-love is ‘You shall not kill’…rightly understood as ‘You shall not murder,’” the statement declares.

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, editor-in-chief of First Things and a participant in drafting the document, said there was “intense” debate over the use of the term “murder,” in reference to abortion, in an interview with the Ledger.

“But we tried to be very precise, namely that any direct and deliberate taking of innocent human life is in ordinary language – and certainly in the language of the Western moral tradition – properly called murder,” he said.

The purpose of the statement is to “explain to our communities why we believe that support for a culture of life is an integral part of Christian faith and therefore a morally unavoidable imperative of Christian discipleship,” the authors write. “We believe it is of utmost importance that everyone involved in the public discussion of these questions understand the unbreakable connection between a Christian worldview and the defense of human life.”

“It is not the case that we wish to ‘impose’ our moral convictions on our fellow-citizens or, as some recklessly charge, to establish a ‘theocracy.’ Our intention is not to impose but to propose, educate and persuade in the hope that, through free deliberation and decision, our society will be turned toward a more consistent respect for the inestimable gift that is human life.”

The statement refutes the argument of compassion frequently used by those who promote abortion and euthanasia, saying:

“While we can sympathize with those who view their own life or the life of another as a burden and not a gift…there can by no moral justification for murder.
“We are determined to employ every legal means available to protect, in law and in life, the innocent and vulnerable members of the human community.”

The statement’s authors plead with the Christian community to recognize the central place of respect for human life within the beliefs of the Church, and call for a “reasonable deliberation” with those who disagree, in an attempt to move beyond “culture wars.”

“Our churches do not simply support the pro-life movement as a social cause. Because the gospel of life is integral to God’s loving purpose for his creation, the Church of Jesus Christ, comprehensively understood, is a pro-life movement continuing God’s mission until the end of time.

“We cannot and would not impose this vision of a culture of life upon others. We do propose to our fellow Christians and to all Americans that they join with us in a process of deliberation and decision that holds the promise of a more just and humane society.”

Catholic leaders who endorsed the statement include Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Fordham University, Fr. Francis Martin, a foremost Catholic theologian and member of Mother of God Community, and Mr. George Weigel, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

Evangelical leaders included Mr. Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, pastors Bill Hybels and Rick Warren, with the Willow Creek Community Church and Saddleback Church, respectively, and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.

Read the full statement from Evangelicals and Catholics Together:

See coverage by the Ledger: