On August 18th, news outlets reported a sickening story about a 4 year-old Arkansas girl taken into protective custody after having been zip-tied to her bed as a punishment by her mother and her mother’s boyfriend. The malnourished child was found with deep purple bruising on her bottom, lower back, and legs. She also had a black eye, swollen cheek, bruised forehead, scars on her back, and dried blood on her lips.

As deplorable as this story is, however, it is hardly newsworthy in a society where child abuse cases are a dime a dozen. But what elevated this story to a national news item is the fact that when police officers asked for her name she answered that her name was “idiot.” Upon further investigation, it was discovered that the mother’s boyfriend referred to her daughter as “idiot” so often she actually thought this was her name.  It’s difficult to imagine a story that could more forcefully demonstrate the dark capacity of the sinful human heart and the dystopian society it is producing.

Throughout history, the relentless effort to dehumanize humans by redefining them has spawned numerous and unspeakable atrocities. In Germany, the Nazis labeled the Jews “rats” and “useless eaters.” In our own land, black people were dehumanized as “chattel.” Eugenicist Margaret Sanger referred to the poor as “reckless breeders” and “human weeds.” Not surprisingly, Joseph Fletcher, the radical father of the modern bioethics movement also found the “idiot” label useful for his purposes when he referred to the profoundly mentally retarded in this way and brazenly declared, “They are not human.” The menacing words of these individuals paved the way for slavery, rape and genocide. The rhetorical question, “What’s in a name?” assumes the answer, “Not much.” But when the name obliterates human value and sets the stage for child abuse and murder the answer is, “Everything!” And whether the denigrating name is spoken by evil mothers and their evil boyfriends, or by evil dictators, the consequences are devastating.

Consider the name-calling of abortion supporters, who for decades have downgraded preborn children with cunning words like, “blob of tissue,” “product of conception,” and “parasite.” In recent years, these euphemisms have been added to with a fresh batch of sanitized labels such as “uterine contents” and “medical waste.” The result of all this verbal bullying is 58 million dead children and counting, and a nation whose conscience has been numbed to the legalization of the ultimate child abuse.  

Our society’s expressed moral outrage over a 4 year-old being called “idiot” and then abused might be convincing if not for the fact that four years earlier this same child could have been labeled “medical waste” and legally abused to death in her mother’s womb, and with no attention from our nation’s news outlets. After all, if the science of human embryology is correct - that an embryo from its earliest stage of development is a distinct, living and whole human being - then the moral distance between calling a 4 year old an “idiot” and zip-tying her to the bed is no farther than the moral distance between labeling the preborn “medical waste” and dismembering her in the womb.

The Christian worldview protests this madness. Paul wrote, “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view” (2 Corinthians 5:16). The pro-life position contends that all lives matter: black or white, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, born or unborn. It further contends that words matter. Just as demeaning words have serious implications, so do accurate ones. To acknowledge the humanity of preborn children is to call them our neighbors. According to Jesus this requires something of us: faithful Christians love their neighbors as themselves, whether that neighbor has been beaten and abandoned in a ditch or mislabeled and abandoned in the womb.

Because the 4 year-old from Arkansas is a minor, news outlets did not publish her name, but it is not “idiot.” God knows her name and she is precious to Him. I hope and pray that someday this wounded little one will come to know Christ and the solace He provides. Then she’ll sing with the hymn writer, “My name is graven on His hands, my name is written on His heart. I know that while in Heaven He stands no tongue can bid me thence depart.”

Mike Spencer