Ethic of life
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Paths to Peace

Protecting life ‘from womb to tomb’


No organization offers a broader, more inclusive definition of peace work than the Seamless Garment Network. Established in the late ’80s, this loose coalition embraces individuals and organizations with diverse political and religious affiliations. Their common denominator? A public commitment to uphold the sanctity of human life in all circumstances.

“Our intent is to call people to take a deeper look at violence and how respect for life must be from the womb to the tomb,” said Mary Rider, executive director of the Seamless Garment Network since 1998.

The phrase “seamless garment” refers to the cloak Christ wore to his crucifixion as described in the Gospel of John. The noted Catholic pacifist Eileen Egan, who died last year, used St. John’s phrase in 1971 to articulate a holistic reverence for life. “The protection of life,” said Egan, “is a seamless garment. You can’t protect some life and not others.”

The Seamless Garment Network’s mission statement identifies “war, the arms race, abortion, poverty, racism, capital punishment and euthanasia” as the prevalent forms of violence threatening the world today. “We believe that these issues are linked under a ‘consistent ethic of life,’ ” the statement says. “We challenge those working on all or some of these issues to maintain a cooperative spirit of peace, reconciliation and respect in protecting the unprotected.”

The network’s membership requirements are an annual fee of $50 and your signature endorsing the mission statement. Signing on to the statement “is a big deal and not a big deal,” said Carol Crossed, former executive director of the network. The document is primarily a statement of belief and “the first step to doing something is saying that we believe this.” Few groups work on all the issues, she said. “I don’t know how practical that is. We’re all limited by our resources.”

Crossed said that belonging to the network means being “hospitable to all the issues,” and member organizations express that “hospitality” in a variety of ways. For example, “a pro-life group will advertise a workshop on economic justice at their literature table,” she said. “There are ways of incorporating the vision into your mission without a lot of effort.”

The network began as an outgrowth of Pro-Lifers for Survival, a splinter group of the anti-nuclear coalition Mobilization for Survival. Initiated in the early 1980s, Pro-Lifers for Survival left Mobilization for Survival because of its refusal to include an antiabortion group.

In March 1987, 23 members of Pro-Lifers for Survival met in Chapel Hill, N.C., and drafted the Seamless Garment Network’s mission statement. The original version listed six issues of concern: war, the arms race, abortion, poverty, capital punishment and euthanasia. In 1992, racism was added. Participants at the Chapel Hill gathering included representatives from Feminists for Life, Pax Christi USA, the Committee of Southern Churchmen and Evangelicals for Social Action.

“We were Episcopalians, Quakers, Catholics, Buddhists, Mennonites and Baptists, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives trying to make sense out of this irrational disconnect between life and peace,” Crossed said.

Claire Schaeffer-Duffy is a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass.

Peace in history

  • 1976: 60,000 join Peace People demonstrations in Belfast and Dublin. Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams receive the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at nonviolent reconciliation in Northern Ireland.
  • 1977: “Mothers of the Plaza” buys a newspaper ad in Argentina to publish the names of mothers and pictures of 230 “disappeared,” that is, people kidnapped, tortured and killed by the military.

National Catholic Reporter, April 26, 2002