They died on the same day — the day after Christmas, 2021, and they both saw themselves as champions of human equality.
Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, became famous for his passionate fight against apartheid, the system of institutionalized racial segregation that plagued South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990s.
Sarah Weddington was the attorney who argued in the Supreme Court for Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe of Roe vs. Wade, which legalized abortion in the United States throughout all nine months of pregnancy.
What does the timing of their deaths teach us about the nature of human equality, and how easily it eludes us?
One lesson is that human equality is not subjective. If we reduce it to what any one person or movement think it is, we will have the contradiction of some people, like Tutu, rightly denouncing the separation of people, and others, like Weddington, fighting to expand the killing of people — all in the name of equality, of course.
Human equality, instead, is based on something objective, namely, our humanity. Perhaps its simplicity, its all-inclusiveness, is what makes it so difficult to hold onto.
The principle is that what makes us equal is being human. That’s it.
We don’t have to “qualify” for our equality, earn it, or be granted it by any other human being or institution. We have it already, thanks to the fact that we are human.
And we don’t lose it simply because of a characteristic — like skin color or age or residence in the womb — or because a court or King fails to recognize it.
The corollary to this, of course, is what our Founders recognized in the Declaration of Independence when they declared it a self-evident truth that our rights come from the Creator, not from government.
We did not make ourselves human and we cannot divest ourselves of our humanity. Nor can anyone else divest us of it.
Others, of course, might divest us of the possessions or proper treatment that is due to us by virtue of our equal human dignity. But that’s when movements like the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, or the anti-abortion movement in America, arise.
Another lesson drawn from these two individuals who died the day after Christmas is the role religion plays in our politics.
In one case, a religious leader was not afraid to insert himself into politics for the sake of human rights. South Africa’s President Nelson Mandela appointed Archbishop Tutu to be Chairman of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission — a secular body, tasked to deal with apartheid.
The Archbishop was not afraid to bring religious truths to bear on the discussions and policies, not because our governments should be theocracies, but because religious teaching can strengthen our awareness of basic principles of human rights, and sustain our commitment to fighting for them.
On the other hand, Sarah Weddington and the movement she represented were working hard to push religious teaching out of the realm of public policy.
The people pushing for the Court to legalize abortion in 1973 recognized that their greatest obstacle was the Church. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, a key architect of the abortion industry, said that explicitly.
Ultimately, the Court, ruling in favor of Weddington’s side, said that the state should not adopt one “theory” about human life, such as those arising from religion.
Both of these historical figures make the same argument coming from opposite directions: religion and politics do mix and need to mix if you want to protect human rights.
The fact that Weddington and Tutu both died the day after Christmas leads us to reflect that Christmas is about God uniting humanity and divinity.
He made us equal by creating us, but then he added a whole new dimension to human life by taking it upon himself and giving us the opportunity to become sharers in the Divine Nature (2 Peter 1:4). We become equal as sons and daughters of God.
And that leads us to reject everything that denies human equality, including apartheid and abortion.
Fr. Frank Pavone is one of the most prominent pro-life leaders in the world. Read Fr. Frank Pavone Reports — More Here.
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