Over the years, as a political reporter (when I wasnt a religion reporter), Ive heard more than a few candidates use this phrase to identify themselves ideologically: Im pro-life and pro-gun.
It has become shorthand for: Im against abortion and Im against gun control.
I get that. Still, the pairing of pro-life and pro-gun in the same sentence always made my head spin a little.
Even in religious circles, the term pro-life has been commandeered by anti-abortion activists to refer mostly to the right of fetuses to be born. This pro-life movement has the support of conservatives from various denominations. But it has long appeared strongest in the Roman Catholic Church, whose hierarchy from the Vatican to the bishops has clearly identified abortion as the churchs main social issue.
So it was newsworthy last week when a group of liberal Catholics theologians, priests, nuns and ex-ambassadors to the Vatican released a letter calling on those who consider themselves pro-life to expand the meaning of that term after the slaughter of children and their teachers in Newtown, Conn.
These victims of gun violence also had a right to life, said the group, arguing that the defense of human dignity extends beyond protecting life in the womb.
The letter was especially meant for conservative Catholics in Congress. That includes House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, but also GOP Reps. Mick Mulvaney of Indian Land, S.C.; Patrick McHenry of Cherryville; Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk; Walter Jones of Farmville; and Renee Ellmers of Dunn.
From the letter: Pro-life citizens and elected officials have a responsibility to show greater moral leadership and political courage when it comes to confronting threats to the sanctity of life posed by easy access to military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines.
Ellmers, a member of Congress Pro-Life Caucus, recently released her own statement, accusing President Barack Obama of exploiting (Newtown) for political gain with his plans to restrict some high-powered weapons.
This pro-life debate is old.
In 1983, Cardinal (and S.C. native) Joseph Bernardin of Chicago famously said in a speech that Catholic social teaching favored a seamless garment of life his metaphor, taken from the Gospels, for upholding the sanctity of life from the womb to the tomb.
His call for consistency meant opposing not just abortion and euthanasia, but also nuclear weapons, the death penalty, most wars, and policies including draconian budget cuts that destroyed the poors quality of life.
Today, the Vatican and the U.S. bishops agree with Bernardin on many of those issues at least on paper. Theyre also on record as favoring sensible regulation of handguns and other firearms.
But most of the churchs activism still focuses on abortion. Take this months Marches for Life in Washington and Charlotte.
Some years ago, various Catholic bishops including Bishop Peter Jugis of the Charlotte Diocese issued orders to deny Communion to Catholic elected officials with pro-choice voting records.
Will they ever extend that ban to Catholic politicians who are pro-life and pro-gun?
What do you think pro-life means?