Kings and Christian Leadership: Church Politics

I started this series for a handful of reasons. One of the more important of those is my conviction that the Old Testament is Christian Scripture, which makes it indispensable in the task of theology. Alongside that conviction is another: true Christian leadership cannot exist apart from robust theology. But these convictions appear to clash with observable trends in the church and Christian leadership material today. Therefore, adapting academic work I have done on 1 Kings 1-11, I have set out to write a series of blog posts seeking to – at the very least – convince my readers that God has much to say about leadership in the Old Testament.

If you have done a course in biblical theology, or read a book explaining the Bible’s overarching story, say Graeme Goldsworthy’s According to Plan, you will most likely think of Solomon as someone who started well but finished badly. Most of what we know about him is found in 1 Kings 1-11. And from those chapters, many writers argue for a rise and fall in Solomon’s reign. Most commentators agree that the centre of these chapters and Solomon’s life is 1 Kings 7:1-12, when he builds structures that rival Yahweh’s temple. And it is only here, some claim, that Solomon’s double-mindedness becomes evident. But a more careful reading of the chapters preceding 1 Kings 7 reveals subtle hints that the seeds of Solomon’s failure were sown long before. As Iain Provan, writes, “[Solomon] was in many ways an ideal king ruling over an ideal kingdom; but ideal and reality were always in some degree of tension, and eventually the reality was much less than the ideal.”

Arguably the first place we are introduced to Kings’ ambiguous presentation of Solomon is 1 Kings 2. Solomon succeeds his father David. But his ascension comes with political vengeance and posturing. Threats to the throne are eliminated. Solomon shows himself to be an heir of David by bloodying his hands. David’s deathbed advice to Solomon is jarringly two-sided. Firstly, he urges his son to obey Yahweh (1 Kings 2:1-4). Solomon must be faithful to Yahweh’s law. The success of the Davidic dynasty rests on fidelity to Yahweh. However, and secondly, David also describes the political layout for his son (2:5-9). Most unsettling in these verses are David’s requests for the bloody deaths of his enemies. So Lissa Wray Beal, another commentator, writes, “Solomon is not untainted…Dynastic motivations mix readily with personal vengeance.” As Solomon dispatches these political threats I do not think we are meant to conclude that Yahweh has fulfilled his promises to David in 2 Samuel 7. Instead, we see Solomon expressing insecurity in Yahweh’s promises through the execution of personal justice. Couldn’t Solomon have merely listened to David’s instructions in 2:1-4? The text of Kings subtly suggests that this would have been enough.

After David’s awkwardly mixed bag of advice he dies (2:10-11). Then we are told: Solomon sat on his father David’s throne, and his kingdom was firmly established (2:12). Note that with the death of David, before Solomon’s political flexing, the kingdom is “firmly” established. Solomon does not establish his own throne. As the Davidic heir he is the benefactor of Yahweh’s promise of an eternal kingdom or dynasty. But, from 2:13 onwards, Solomon enacted the political instructions he received from David. Strikingly, after his politically savvy and savage power plays, Solomon’s reign appears – even if only slightly – less secure. One might argue that an alarming presumption is on in display in 2:45, where he states, ‘king Solomon will be blessed.’ However, the subtle yet hugely significant detail comes in 2:46, ‘the kingdom was established in Solomon’s hand.’ The intensifying modifier we saw in 2:12 – translated “firmly” – is now omitted. Thus if we outline the narrative, highlighting the details above: David dies and Solomon’s kingdom is firmly established; then Solomon eliminates political threats to his throne; now his kingdom is merely established.

In addition to the ironic destabilising of Solomon’s throne, Gordon McConville argues that Solomon’s manner in 1 Kings 2 exceeds Samuel fears about the establishment of a monarch in Israel (see 1 Samuel 8). Though both David and Solomon are aware of the demands Yahweh places on them they are also well versed in the darker arts. They know how to win at the political game. McConville notes, “[In the book of Samuel] the potential for dynastic kingship to become tyrannous was declared and manifested. The picture in Kings extends and confirms such fears”. However the elimination of political enemies is not commended by Yahweh. Just as it is not celebrated by the writer of Kings. The king’s confidence was meant to be located in Yahweh, and demonstrated by faithful obedience. However, in these early chapters of 1 Kings we observe a dangerous judicial autonomy in Solomon’s reign. While he tips his hat to the promises of Yahweh he seeks to secure his throne through other, more cunning, means. These means suggest that Solomon is a king more alike the nation’s than one submissive to Yahweh.

I do not think the applications for church leadership are particularly hard to develop from our exegesis above. There are many ways to secure a church leadership position, or to establish and carry out a personal vision. And on more occasions than I can count I have heard Christian leaders being commended for their ability to play the political game, navigating church politics through cunning, even their ability to manipulate situations in their favour. But from 1 Kings 2 we might say four things in conclusion. Firstly, God does not commend these worldly means. He is far more concerned with the character of his leaders than their shrewd abilities. Secondly, and a little ironically, our own efforts to secure power through political savvy and manipulation can actually undermine our position. For such actions will almost certainly entail more of the same. This leads us to a third thing. Just as Yahweh demanded fidelity from his kings, so the requirements laid out in the New Testament call for godliness and grace. Therefore it is better to be the victim of underhanded ways than one who carries them out. Finally, our security – our very identity as Christians – should not to be located in our positions—least of all the power we possess over others. At the end of all things, our Lord will celebrate faithfulness even if it came alongside failure. But he will not commend success if it was driven by insecurity and achieved through imitating the world.

Some Final Thoughts on John 7:53-8:11

A few weeks back I posted an article that argued against preaching John 7:53-8:11. It built on an older piece, outlining some of the major concerns over the authenticity of that passage. Following the more recent post, I became embroiled in quite a fierce argument about the points I had made. At numerous points in that conversation I received the somewhat undesirable label of ‘heretic’.  My views were also blamed for the apparent exodus we are seeing in the contemporary church. But as it turns out, dialogue is a great way to test and develop your thinking. So in this post I will simply summarise and comment on a few of the things said in the exchange—or inquisition. 

Life of ChristI would like to start with an interesting detail many commentaries on John point out. Some of the early church fathers – including Augustine – suggested that the short narrative about the women caught in adultery was intentionally redacted from earlier manuscripts of John’s Gospel. They surmised that this was done because the short narrative might result in loose sexual ethics, even the condoning of adultery. And they were worried about the fidelity of their wives. Earlier this year I actually came across a church in Cape Town which cited John 8:7 in a campaign supporting prostitution. So perhaps the church fathers were onto something. But my purpose in referring to this historical tidbit is that my angry interlocutor – we will call him Gregory – made a similar claim about John 7:53-8:11.

Gregory wrote, “When manuscripts are copied by learned scribes, they are copied exactly as received, except when they deliberately leave out certain portions for whatever their reasons may be” (italics mine). He then gave some examples from the Old Testament, which were interesting but irrelevant to this conversation. Then he continued, “Just because some passages are excluded in many ancient manuscripts does not mean the passages were not included by the original manuscripts. That is the point you might need to ponder my friend. Do not wonder about the reasons they are included, wonder about the reasons someone might have deliberately abstained from allowing them to be included.” In short, scribal tampering – both deliberate and unintentional – only involves the removal of a passage or verse and never the addition or insertion of another.

Assuming Gregory is right about the transmission of manuscripts – which he certainly isn’t – his argument goes something like this: in the 2nd or 3rd century, scribes reading through John’s Gospel thought, “Oh no, in this story Jesus calls out hypocrisy. We better remove that one.” In other words, the narrative was removed because, during the transmission of John’s Gospel, scribes were concerned about the possible ramifications these verses might have. But what aspect of this passage was deemed so dangerous as to warrant its eradication? Gregory could not answer me. Because I’m not sure there is a convincing answer to that question, especially when we consider that throughout the four Gospels Jesus emphatically rebuked hypocrisy; warned his hearers against being judgmental; and showed grace in accommodating sinners. It is hard to see how this text stands apart from countless others in the Gospels. Therefore it is nonsensical that it was omitted because editors were concerned about this specific passage while overlooking those themes patently pervasive throughout Jesus’ teaching.

At another point in our conversation I was warned using the words of Revelation 22:18-19, ‘If anyone adds to this prophecy, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from these words, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city’ (paraphrased). Can you believe that the apostle John warned against making additions to the prophecy? Everyone knows that scribes only make subtractions from texts. Redundant warning aside, I replied by showing that this verse actually cuts both ways. Both those who would add to Scripture as well as others making subtractions are threatened. This exchange is evidence of the petulance that plagued mine and Gregory’s interaction. But if you cast the first stone, be aware that you may get some thrown back at you.

The shrill statement that I repeatedly heard was that most Bible’s do include the narrative. So, regardless of its contested manuscript evidence, we should accept it as Spirit inspired and authoritative. Let me briefly outline two points I made in response to this ‘evidence’. Firstly, I have English translations that include the Apocrypha. Closer to home, what do we do with the longer endings of Mark’s Gospel? Just because these texts can be found in modern Bibles does not grant them the status of Scripture. Secondly, every single English version I have consulted provides a note about the textual issues concerning John 7:53-8:11, including the passage in double square brackets. As I said to Gregory: the fact that after 2000 years we enjoy near unanimous agreement about the New Testament canon apart from John 7:53-8:11 (and the longer endings of Mark’s Gospel) should cause us to wonder why these uncertainties remain. So I wrote, “The significant lack of manuscripts in support of this section cannot be ignored by blocking your ears and shouting loudly that it was in some.”

Let me conclude using the words of another heretic, John Piper, writing at Desiring God, “Who doesn’t love this story? But that does not give it the authority of Scripture. So what I will do is take its most remarkable point and show that it is true on the basis of other parts of Scripture, and so let this story not be the basis of our authority, but an echo and a pointer to our authority, namely, the Scriptures, that teach what it says.”

Kings and Christian Leadership: An Introduction

ZahrtmannWhen it comes to contemporary Christian leadership material, experience has unfortunately lead me to expect two things: (1) sparing as well as shallow biblical exegesis and (2) an oversubscription to trendy business and management literature along with secular leadership principles. I previously wrote a post addressed to church leaders sounding a caution against worldly wisdom, considering the Bible’s language about wisdom contrast with God’s. One of my conclusions in that post was, “Wisdom in the New Testament comes from God by prayer, can be found in Scripture and empowers Christians for faithful service.” But much so-called Christian leadership seems unapologetically shaped by the world rather than the Word.

One of the reasons for what I have outlined above can be traced back to doubts over the sufficiency of Scripture. Of course, it would never be articulated as such. But it is evident in common and reductionistic approaches to the Bible. Some will say that the Bible informs our message but not our practice—after all, it was written for another time. Thus I’ve heard comments from pastors like, “We can change anything in church but the gospel.” Martin Kähler famously warned against the view of the Gospels that makes them into little more than passion narratives with long introductions. Are we guilty of treating the entire Bible as a passion narrative with an incredibly long introduction? Either the Bible is singularly a book about the gospel – as in Christ’s death and resurrection – or it is sufficient to equip God’s people for all of life (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Perhaps you think I am being unfair. Maybe you have heard talks and read books on leadership that drew on the pastoral epistles (1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus). I hope that is true. I tried to develop some thoughts on leadership from 2 Peter, here. But when last did you hear about leadership from the Old Testament? When I recently sat down to write a paper on Christian leadership and Old Testament kingship I could think of only one passage that received anything more than short thrift: Exodus 18. In that chapter, Moses is overwhelmed by the needs of Israel. So Jethro, his father-in-law, urges him to appoint leaders to assist in the task. In other words, Moses delegated responsibility. But I find it hard to believe that all the Old Testament teaches about leadership is the necessity of delegation.

More than two thirds of the Bible is essentially passed over when Christian leadership is addressed. ‘Yes,’ you may retort, ‘That is because Israel was a theocracy not a church community. They had prophets, priests, kings and judges.’ Exactly. Despite Israel’s quite unique status, the nation was governed and lead by people. In fact, some scholars have gone as far as saying that Joshua through 2 Kings is primarily about leadership. If this is right, we must go beyond reductionistic approaches that consider how alike or unlike Christ those leaders were—how to they pointed to Christ in both their successes and failures. We are talking about a rich theology of leadership, where there is far more than principles for delegation to learn.

In the upcoming weeks I hope to draw out some theological principles regarding leadership, from 1 Kings 1-11. But I want to bring this post to an end with some points for reflection, tying back to my opening paragraph. Leadership in Old Testament Israel was meant to be markedly unlike that of the nations surrounding her. There is plenty of material dealing with kingship and politics from the ancient near East, and the Old Testament stands apart in significant ways. This should immediately raise concerns over Christian leadership that draws from and is shaped by the world’s view of leadership. One of the ways Israel was meant to distinct was in the manner of her leaders. Note that when Israel implore Samuel for a king they ask, “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). There are at least two problems with their request, the first is explicit and the second implicit. Firstly, Yahweh says, “They have rejected me from being king over them” (8:7). Secondly, Yahweh describes what kind of king they will receive (8:9-17), concluding, “In that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves” (8:18). A king chosen by the standards of other kings with rule in kind. The application for and warnings regarding Christian leadership are obvious.

It is not that the establishment of Israel’s monarchy caught Yahweh off guard. Consider Deuteronomy 17:18-20, “And when [the king] sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.” In many ways, the king of Israel was barely distinguished from common Israelites. Sure he possessed a judicial office. But his kingship was not defined by pomp and power, the trappings typical of other monarchs (see Deuteronomy 17:14-17). At the end of the day, the king of Israel was under God’s law and he was required to set an example of fidelity, obedience and appropriate fear. Likewise, a Christian leader must be above reproach, evidently submissive to Scripture.

In a short biographical piece about the horror author H. P. Lovecraft, Michel Houellebecq said that Lovecraft is a visceral example of someone who succeeded in his work but failed at life. As I will argue in the upcoming posts, Solomon fits that description well. But this cannot be the case for Christian leaders, who are warned to watch both their life and doctrine closely (1 Timothy 4:16). There is no succeeding at ministry but failing at the Christian life. I wonder if the growing appeal of Christian leadership material is that it presents a vision for ministry that is alluringly pragmatic— promising results and outputs based on inputs. But success in ministry, just as the shape of Old Testament kingship, is far more concerned about the life and beliefs of leaders than their successful strategies snatched from the world.

The Last Battle: To Live is Christ

The last battleA line found on more than one character’s lips in The Last Battle is, “All world’s draw to an end, except Aslan’s own country”. Death is not the end but a beginning. This is the moving conclusion to C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. On the last page we read, “And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (p767). 

C. S. Lewis’ prose is enviably delightful, but the truth he describes is even more desirable. Surpassing the previous books in terms of darker and adult themes, The Last Battle confronts its readers with death. Jewel’s words to Lucy are not fantasy: all things do draw to an end, even life itself. Towards the close of the novel we learn that the children died in a railroad accident (p743). That was how they came Narnia this last time. Only, once there it becomes apparent to them that there is still something greater to come. Perhaps, like Reepicheep, this explains Roonwit’s dying words, “all worlds draw to an end and that noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy” (p717). Later, Tirian will face his own demise with similar grit, “His only thought now was to sell his life as dearly as he could” (p738).

This language and themes are predictably biblical. Life is something to spend, because something greater beyond this life is promised. More than that, we owe our life to someone other than ourselves. One of my favourite modern hymns puts it well, “The things of earth I leave behind / To live in worship of my king / His is the right to rule my life / Mine is the joy to live for him.” As the oft quoted line from Paul goes, “To live is Christ; to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). I’ve seen this verse on more bookmarks than Philippians 4:13, which is saying something. But do we properly grasp the truth therein? I think the latter is more easily comprehended (see my post on Reepicheep and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader). But what does the first half mean: “To live is Christ”? We could turn up numerous passages to answer that question, but let’s consider the autobiographical passages in Philippians 2.

Shortly after exhorting Christians to emulate Christ’s humble and sacrificial service, we read, “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all” (2:17). Here, ”To live is Christ”, is seen in Paul serving others. His life was gladly spent for someone other than himself. As Tirian faced death by either sword or the terrifying shed doorway he sought sell his life dearly. In light of the inevitable – death, the end of Narnia – he saw his life in a radically different light.

Coming back to Philippians, so too did Epaphroditus, “Honour such men, for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me” (2:28-29). Likewise Timothy, “I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare. For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ” (2:20-21; compare 1:27-2:4). “To live is Christ” is not some kind of mystical, esoteric and inexplicable spirituality. It is fundamentally about the imitation of Christ through the service of others, even when that service is costly.

At one point in The Last Battle, Jill says to Eustance, as they wonder and discuss what will happen if they die in Narnia, “I was going to say I wished we’d never come. But I don’t, I don’t, I don’t. Even if we are killed. I’d rather be killed fighting for Narnia than grow old and stupid at home and perhaps go about in a Bath chair and then die in the end just the same” (p720). These are arguably the bravest words spoken by any character in Narnia. What freed Jill from clinging to her life? It was the knowledge that death would be gain. So she too would spend her final moments, before being thrown into the shed, fighting for Narnia and Aslan. Finally, at the close, we read, “Aslan no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were too great and beautiful that I cannot write them” (p767).

I imagine Lewis would agree with me saying: as wonderful as the conclusion to Narnia is, the reality it portrays is indescribable, infinitely glorious and satisfying—all we have ever desired. He describes the new Narnia as “deeper, more wonderful, more like places in a story: in a story you have never heard but very much want to know” (p760). For the Christian, death is indeed the most wonderful and incomparable gain. But when truly believe that it will transform how we live, “To live is Christ.” Like Paul, his juniors, and Lewis’ characters in The Last Battle, we must view our lives as things to be spent rather than clinging onto them. One of the clearest evidences that we know death is gain is when we live for Christ. When we pour ourselves out for others. When we die daily, in humble and sacrificial service of others. To live is Christ.

This post brings to an end a series of articles on C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. If you enjoyed this one then please check out the rest:

Should We Preach John 7:53-8:11?

Leonidas HerodotusImagine a Sunday morning at your local church. The band are leaving the stage while the reader makes her way up to the pulpit. She reaches the microphone and announces the passage, “This morning’s reading will be from Herodotus’ The Histories, 7:220-221.” After a brief pause, she says again, “The reading will be from Histories, book 7, verses 220 through to the end of 221.”

Yes, I know it’s hard to imagine the reading being so clearly prefaced, but this is a hypothetical situation. The reader continues, “You can find that on page 492 of our provided Herodotus, the 2003 Penguin edition.” After the passage is read your reader reminds the congregation, “This is the Word of God,” to which the congregation loudly respond, “Thanks be to God.” Then your pastor gets up, thanks the reader and begins, “Good morning Redeemer Church Muizenberg, today we will be continuing with our series in The Histories.” He introduces the three points from the passage just read:

  1. Leonidas had to persevere with his task
  2. Leonidas knew there was greater glory ahead
  3. Leonidas died to save his people

Unpacking these points from the text over the next 40 minutes, the pastor delivers a moving sermon on how the Christian must not give up, but keep striving forward. For we can know – as Leonidas did – that eternal glory and immortality is promised for those who persevere. Finally, all of this was achieved and secured for us by his prophesied death, which he went to willingly to save us. The problem that I hope you have with all of the above is that The Histories is not in the Bible. Sure, it might make for a great sermon. If I’m honest, I’m pretty pleased with my three points. Furthermore, if we ignore Leonidas, the sermon would be consistent with biblical truth. You could make all of those points from biblical texts. For all of these reasons, and a few more I will outline below, I think Herodotus’ Histories is a good analogy for why we should not preach John 7:53-8:11.

In a previous post on John 7:53-8:11, with the assistance of what is considered the best commentary on John’s Gospel ever written, I probed some of the concerns regarding this text’s authenticity and its inclusion in John. The first significant problem that must be faced is that the short narrative is found in a variety of textual locations, in both John and Luke. This raises serious questions over its reliability and Johannine pedigree. If we put that aside, because it does actually appear after John 7 more than anywhere else, we must answer another serious concern: the literary shape and argument of John 7 through John 8. In both chapters Jesus is involved in heated conversations with those who rejected his messianic claims, particularly the Pharisees. These two chapters of John are remarkably polemical, creating a quite unique unit within John’s Gospel. This makes the story about the woman caught in adultery awkwardly out of place—a misfit. Added to this, and here we must defer to Greek scholars, in just 12 verses we encounter a handful of constructions and expressions found nowhere else in John. To explore these arguments in more detail see my linked post (above).

When all of the above is considered, there is still no consensus about whether this story is part of John or Luke. The evidence we have is inconclusive. Despite the growing agreement that this passage is  actually native to Luke’s Gospel, based on its literary nature, the weight of documentary evidence still places it in John. This uncertainty is not inconsequential, especially for expository preaching that places a high value on literary context. Michael Gorman writes in Elements of Biblical Exegesis, “Context is so crucial to interpretation that it is no exaggeration whatsoever to say that if you alter the context of a word or sentence or paragraph, you also alter the content of that text.” Therefore where we place this short episode shapes how it should be read and understood. The insurmountable problem is we are not even sure it is currently in the correct Gospel.

Perhaps you can put these issues aside. Maybe you are hanging onto the fact that John 7:53-8:11 is historical. After all, significant and reputable New Testament scholars believe the evidence we have indicates that John 7:53-8:11 really took place. It bears the marks of an authentic historical event. The problem is, the church does not gather to hear about history but from God. Mentions of Jesus of Nazareth can be found in Josephus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger and Tacitus, all of whom wrote towards the end of the 1st century CE, which is likely the dating for John. But we don’t preach sermons from those texts. I’ve heard the argument that, in addition to being historical, John 7:53-8:11 resonates with so much of Jesus’ teaching. But then so does Seneca the Roman philosopher and statesman. Historical pedigree is not the mark or measure of canonicity.

Should we preach John 7:53-8:11? No. You would not read the authors mentioned above and exegete their writings as Scripture, as God’s Word to his people. Despite liking the outline, I would not preach my three point sermon from Herodotus’ Histories. Similarly, which has been the contention of this post, we should not treat or handle John 7:53-8:11 as Scripture—this is not because of questions over its credibility but rather its canonicity.

Doodle: Abortion and an Unborn Baby Rhino

PoachingI am unaware of a single word that describes the leveraging of misfortune and tragedy to bolster your position in an argument. Though there are plenty of fitting adjectives that describe this sort of thing: insensitive, shameless, selfish and entrepreneurial—the worst kind. Just a month ago we saw two gut-wrenching mass shootings in America. To add to that devastating misfortune, many treated the national heartbreak as a stage to float gun law reform. American politics is not really my domain, and it certainly is not my topic for this post. It merely serves as a vivid example of the thing I hope to avoid doing in this post. In fact, my intention is not much to draw an analogy as much as it is to highlight a stark inconsistency. Here goes.

Almost two years ago, in November 2017, photos emerged of a rhinoceros (or rhino) that had been poached. The poachers  were disturbed while attempting to saw off her horn. For those living outside of South Africa, this is a regrettably common occurrence. So what was different about this incident? Soon after pictures emerged of the dead rhino it was reported that she had been pregnant. Tragically, not much later, pictures could be found online not only of the dead mother but of her unborn calf, which also died. It is an awful story. Poaching is devastating. Those pictures moved me in a way that previous photos of poached animals had not. By now, I am sure you can see where this post is heading.

You can still find the article on social media and news sites, with it resurfacing every couple of months, always met with unrestrained rage and vitriol. Here is a sampling of comments I have read on photos of the unborn rhino as well as articles:

  • ‘This is just wrong. Heartbreaking story’
  • ‘May those killers burn in hell, because that is where they will go some day’
  • ‘I hope the perpetrators are found and hanged in public for all to see’
  • ‘I hope that before they kill these poachers they murder their families in front of them’

Now I am not a poacher-sympathiser. Scrolling through some of the back and forth in comments sections has made me far too afraid. Though I will unapologetically say that the life of a rhino is not worth the life of a human. I want to make one simple point about this tragic event and the voluminous keyboard backlash.

Let me first state my point in the form of a question: how can we place a higher value on the life of an unborn rhinoceros than we do on unborn humans? In all the comments I read and conversations I have had about the Pilanesberg poaching not one person raised questions over whether the unborn rhino was actually a rhino. Sure, without the cow’s body it – evidently – could not survive. It hadn’t taken its first breathes or steps, nor did it express independence or autonomy. But the shrill outrage online never asked if this was actually an unborn rhino. To put it positively: everyone agreed that what made this tragedy worse was that it involved the death of not just one but two rhinos: mother and calf. The unborn status of the latter did not feature in the story as an unfortunate subplot—it made the headline. Yet, in the present debates around abortion, some of the most commonly plied rhetoric by the pro-choice side is that the unborn foetus is not human. The tragic poaching event from 2017 reveals how grossly inconsistent and shamelessly convenient such a position is.

Does your heart break when you see the photos or hear the story of the pregnant cow and her calf, killed by poachers at Pilanesberg? Mine does. For these kinds of happenings reveal the darker and rapacious side of humanity, as well as the low value we place on creation. But if that story upsets you, abortion should outrage you. Because it reveals the selfish ease with which we murder unborn humans. If poaching is evil, abortion is incomparably evil. For human life is priceless.