When Catholics speak about a “Culture of Life,” how many who hear the phrase have any experiential context for understanding what it describes? After a year on the board of the Pro-Life Union of Greater Philadelphia and affiliation with other pro-life efforts, I’m increasingly wondering at the strategic priorities of the pro-life movement, because I’m doubtful that Catholics, for instance, are sufficiently incarnating the meaning of the philosophy in the context of their communities.

I mean, in other words, that speaking about respect for life is experientially meaningless in the context of a community rocked daily by murder, poverty, and drugs. I mean, in other words, that speaking about respect for the life of the family has no resonance with even most Catholics, whose lives have been impacted by the same pregnancy, contraceptive, and marriage/divorce problems as the wider culture.

From a strategic perspective, I’m wondering if the pro-life movement might be emphasizing the wrong things as its core strategy—that is, emphasizing things like crisis pregnancy response rather than working to enculturate a joy for large families among those who already perceive the Culture of Life’s meaning. There is a strategic worth to making the Culture of Life about actually incarnating its philosophy—that is, building up large families and working to make joy their hallmark. With such a focus on crisis response and public political activity, I can sympathize with the idea that the Culture of Life is a reactive rather than proactive movement. I can also see how hearing the words “crisis” coupled with “pregnancy” one too many times can make it sound like pregnancy might be something other than an event fundamentally to be sought and celebrated.

At minimum, I’m increasingly thinking that the “Culture of Life” won’t be genuinely convincing if it doesn’t give rise to an obvious, tangible witness in the form of joyful and healthy families. And in the drive among our core believers to wage battles in the civic and cultural square, I fear we might be losing focus of the first priority of our philosophy, which is encouraging, sustaining, and supporting joyful, healthy families.

If those who expound on the Culture of Life end up having one or two kids like the rest of their community, their philosophy won’t seem terribly compelling—and I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard pro-life leaders explicitly celebrate sex and family as a first-order priority.