We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.
So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.
Pro-life Victories Are Not Like Victories In War
So, dang it, why is Christopher Tollefsen raining on our parade with the concluding paragraphs of his recent piece for Public Discourse, where he compares finding joy in pro-life victories won through deceitful means with President Truman ending World War II by nuking two cities filled with innocent civilians? I wasn’t surprised when the same kind of scripturally ignorant, secular progressives, who lecture Christians about hypocritically eating shellfish, started chastising us for breaking whichever commandment tells us we’re never allowed to lie. But as a fellow pro-life believer, why is Tollefsen making essentially the same argument, albeit with evidence that he’s actually read the Bible?
Based on other essays, it seems the answer is that, where the angry secularist hasn’t thought about the question of when Christians may lie, the philosophy professor has overthought the issue. Tollefsen subscribes to what he would label an Augustinian school of thought concerning lying, a view that goes something like this: God is truth. Embracing that which is untrue, even if intended for righteous ends, is contrary to God. Therefore, Christians may never lie, deceive or make statements contrary to the truth under any circumstances.
Of course, Augustine is famous for being cited by both sides of numerous theological debates. So for the sake of brevity, I will neither accept nor reject Tollefsen’s claim that he and Augustine are of a shared position. I will say that I admire Tollefsen for remaining ideologically consistent when addressing the question of dishonesty in the pro-life movement. But in seeking to preserve this philosophical purity, he seems to have forgotten that God never actually forbids all utterances of untruth. The eighth commandment — it would behoove the professor to remember and the angry secularist to learn — does not forbid lying outright. It forbids us from bearing false witness against our neighbor, making false statements intended to harm him in his body or reputation.
CMP Told A Lie To Stop Harm
But not all false statements harm our neighbor. This is why in his commentary on Genesis, Martin Luther discusses Augustine’s three categories of lies: the deadly lie, the playful lie, and the obliging lie. He defines the deadly lie as “when our neighbor is deceived by us to his ruin and our own advantage.” Scriptural examples of the deadly lie include Potiphar’s wife accusing Joseph of attempted rape or those who claimed that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple. Concerning playful lies, Luther says that Augustine calls those the lies “of poets or of actors on the stage.” For example, my dearly departed childhood hero Roddy Piper “lied” about being a drifter who finds magical glasses that reveal aliens disguised as humans. (This example is, I hope you know, not from the Bible.) The obliging lie — such as the one Michal told Saul about David’s whereabouts to save his life — is called as such, Luther says, “because it not only serves the advantage of someone else, who would otherwise suffer harm or violence, but also prevents a sin.”
So what kind of lie has the Center for Medical Progress told? It’s certainly not the playful lie, as no sane human being finds the videos entertaining. One might argue that this is a lie of the deadly variety, intended to bring shame to those who talk about “less crunchy [abortion] techniques.” But ask your average pro-lifer if he’d let Deborah Nucatola move into his house in exchange for the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and he’d gladly let her take his place in the master bedroom. The clear purpose of the CMP actors claiming to be representatives from a fledgling stem cell company was not to shame or bankrupt those who have little regard for the humanity of the unborn. The purpose was and remains to stop them from killing the unborn.
The Lie That Seeks To Protect Our Littlest Neighbors
The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.
Sendler’s beautiful, God-pleasing obliging lie earned her every ounce of that White Eagle. And should the unveiled horrors of Planned Parenthood bring an end to the American abortion industry, David Daleiden and the employees of the CMP will have earned every piece of confetti in the ticker tape parade that pro-lifers have been praying to throw since 1973.
The Lord will judge Scott Roeder for trying to end abortion by murdering George Tiller. But I simply cannot imagine that the God who knits the unborn together in the womb and commands us to defend them will condemn those in the CMP for seeking the same goal by (gasp!) pretending to have a job that they didn’t actually have. I don’t simply believe that God is fine with what the CMP has done. I believe that He’s the One who did it. And until Christopher Tollefsen can come up with something more substantial to convince us otherwise, those in the pro-life community will continue thanking God for every lie the CMP has uttered.