In this election season there is a lot of talk about abortion and which candidate is going to fight for the 'rights' of the unborn or of the pregnant. We hear labels like 'Pro-choice' and 'Pro-Life' (both of which are terrible titles for what they tend to represent and terrible for the sake of honest discussion since they create a false dichotomy simply by existing in opposition to one another)* and we enter into discussions that focus solely on legislation.
Too often we hope to find our answers for a better world in the men and women running for political office. For some reason, we think our hope belongs in legislation and that if we could just get that one Supreme Court case overturned, or that one bill passed, then we'd be satisfied and then things would be better. If we could see a law then we'd have real change. Then we'd have our answer, our way.
Unfortunately, that's a misguided hope. Especially when it comes to abortion.
When I discuss the issue of abortion and how we can best approach it, there are a few pillars which hold up my arguments. There is a foundation upon which I am building and I think it necessary to briefly provide some core beliefs and facts that make up that foundation.
- Abortion is legal in the United States and has been for several decades.
- Christians are to put their hope in Jesus Christ and not in man or man-made systems.
- Christians are first and foremost citizens of the kingdom of God, a society within the world that is different from all other societies (being in the world but not of it).
- The chief concern of Christians is the work of reconciliation for sinners towards God and the rest of the world.
I've written previously (and recently) about politicians, voting, and why I don't find the government to be the place in which we should place our hope for change. The fact is that the law doesn't change hearts. As the band Brave Saint Saturn sings in their song Underground, "Real love doesn't come from a mandate. Real change you can not legislate." Jesus Christ changes hearts. We are transformed by the Holy Spirit. If we want to see real change in our world then our answer isn't in the United States Supreme Court, Congress, or President; It's in Christ and his means.
Jesus Christ has continued his ministry on this earth through his Church which is his Body. In this world, we are to be like Jesus. A pagan once wrote of the early church that "because of them, good flows on in the world." This consists of many things. Part of the ingredients are loving our neighbors, taking care of widows and orphans, being hospitable and generous, and living sacrificial lives.
I firmly believe that Christians are not to rely on the government to stop abortion in this nation. While it's true that the amount of reported abortions have gone up in number since Roe vs. Wade, we also must confess that many of those are replacing unreported and unsanitary abortions that were already taking place. It's undeniable that the Supreme Court decision altered the way our society reacts to unwanted pregnancies. However, going backwards in legislation doesn't promise to create change for the better so why put focus on such efforts (remember prohibition)?
If we want to see the pattern of abortion change then we need to look to Christ and begin to function as the Church, just as we were meant to do. When we live into our purpose as Christ's body we'll not only see less abortions but we'll see healthier families, stronger marriages, less unwanted pregnancies, and less premarital sex (because these are the results of living faithfully and obediently to Christ).
So how do we end abortion if not through traditional American means like voting the 'right' person into office or picketing at Planned Parenthood (because that rarely does much good)? How do we see the change that our hearts desire to see? Maybe we've been doing all we know to do and it isn't working (like voting, picketing, and wearing shirts that say "abortion is murder"). How can we end abortions by just being the Church? What does that even look like?
What We Can Do
We need to remember what our goals are. We need to remember what our mission is. Our mission is to be the Bride of Christ, rejecting sin in our own lives and doing the work of reconciliation so that others may join Christ in his death and resurrection and also live life to the fullest, free of sin's bondage.
In being a faithful witness to Christ, we commit ourselves (as Christians) to honoring the covenant of marriage, dating responsibly, remaining sexually pure, responsibly teaching our children about the reality of sex and this world, and constantly practice confession, forgiveness, repentance, and grace. Being a community of people that is obedient to Christ and who takes these commissions seriously results in a community that calls for and produces less abortions within itself. It also stands as a witness to the world so that the world may see how such a society can come to exist (that is, through Christ and his Spirit) and spurs on conviction.
While much of that is very hard and often seems impossible or idealistic (which it isn't, otherwise we prove ourselves to have a severe lack of trust in scripture and God) we must push through the difficulty and become such a community (and obviously, such individuals).
Besides being a faithful and obedient people in relationships and sexuality, what are things we can do to foster a community in which abortions become less of a desirable option? How do we offer a better solution? How do we tell a better story than the one our earthly culture is telling?
First of all, we commit ourselves to not getting abortions. As the bumper stickers say, "If you're not for abortion then don't get one!" While we can't agree with the mentality that morality is private and individualistically determined, we have to see that part of the answer is obvious; if you're a Christian and you become pregnant then give birth to that child instead of destroying the life that is growing inside of you. Let us make a modest proposal; that Christians not get abortions.
This is a nonnegotiable. Barnabas (who worked with the Apostle Paul) wrote, "You shall not kill the child by obtaining an abortion. Nor, again, shall you destroy him after he is born." The disciples wrote a similar teaching in the Didache stating, "You shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one who has been born." Even the pagans recognized that Christians abstained from this practice. In the Letter to Diognetus it is written, "They bear children, but they do not destroy their offspring." Tertullian was perhaps the most explicit when he wrote, "In our case, murder is once for all forbidden. Therefore, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb, while as yet the human being derives blood from other parts of the body for its sustenance. To hinder a birth is merely a speedier way to kill a human. It does not matter whether you take away a life that has been born, or destroy one that is not yet born."**
One of the biggest things the Church can do is to come alongside the youth of this nation, the pregnant, the single parents, the orphaned, and build relationships that are loving and providential.
This means that local congregations and Christian couples/families ought to be intentional about knowing people in the community who are pregnant and didn't want to be. This may mean partnering with organizations such as Planned Parenthood (even if you don't partner with everything they do). When we know these women we are able to offer to adopt their unwanted child but we are also able to offer to adopt those parents into our lives, homes, and families. We should do everything we can to teach about sexuality and healthy relationships while also exampling these things. If we desire to tell people how they should live then we should show them how to live and help them do it. Mentoring and inclusion will allow these folks to see how we raise children and support one another and thus we can will love them and their child (and how they can do the same).
If we want to love women who are thinking about getting abortions then let's meet themas early in the process as we can. Whether they are adults or teenagers we need to build trusting friendships with them and get them good counsel and resources. Hopefully, they can be persuaded into giving birth. If they aren't persuaded, then we need to be people who aid in the healing that is needed after an abortion takes place. Even if we can't support the decision to abort a child, we can love the person giving the abortion, offering them forgiveness on behalf of the child and the Father of both that child, the mother, and ourselves (that is, God). There is emotional baggage that comes with abortions and that needs healing.
Being involved in our community and the development of our youth is a huge help as well. Being hospitable families that can influence neighborhood children to love God and serve him goes a long way. Being people who constantly pray with and for people (maybe even at abortion clinics) is helpful. Prayer changes things! Preaching the gospel changes things.
What We Shouldn't Do
While I think we need to be bold in our message and speak truth without wavering, I also believe that the Holy Spirit produces gentleness and kindness in us. In our compassion for others and our love for them we will not communicate in ways that cause damage but rather ways that convict and offer healing confession and repentance. For example, when I was in college I had friends who wore shirts that said "ABORTION IS MURDER" in big bold letters. While I agree with the statement I would never want that to be my only statement, or even my introductory statement.
Why? I had another friend who impregnated a woman out of wedlock. She got an abortion (against his desires) and those shirts broke his heart. They filled him with guilt and made him feel like a monster. It eliminated the opportunity for discussion and caused nothing but pain and anger. He didn't support abortion. He didn't like abortion. Yet, he was face to face with abortion. He had no idea what healing looked like because all he was told is "You're a murderer."
Along with this is picketing. Some people picket on the side of the road with signs that have pictures of ripped up fetus' on them while others stand in front of abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood buildings while wearing sandwich boards and yelling at those going in and out. Awareness is a great thing. A lot of us don't see the truth about abortions and that should change. This is a way to do it. I won't argue against that. But like the T-shirts, we have to ask ourselves if this is the best way to start a discussion and if we're willing to let this be our only input in someone's life because odds are that these tactics won't produce valuable, convicting, edifying discussion opportunities with most people who come across our path and they will be left with this short statement.
There are better ways to start the conversation while still being honest and bold. We don't have to condemn to convict. In fact, we're not supposed to condemn. Another fact: The Holy Spirit convicts people. We simply love them and speak truth through loving means.
I know that this is a rarity but we need to know that we can't bomb abortion clinics or shoot doctors who perform abortions (these have happened). Killing people is not a good way to say "Don't kill people." The enemy of God comes to kill, steal, and destroy. This is the opposite of what Christians are to do. Maybe we should be praying outside these buildings and getting to know the doctors so we can share the gospel with them but we shouldn't be causing damage.
Here's the problem with all of these protests: None of them are self-sacrificial. They are all short-sighted and convenient for the protestor while offering little to no room for valuable and edifying discussion. The invitation to confess, repent, be healed, transformed, forgiven, and brought into a family (of God) is not nearly (if at all) as present in these methods. People don't hear the full story through these methods and reconciliation is stifled as a result.
I'll never say people shouldn't vote their conscience or take action that they are persuaded is Godly. Sometimes a strongly worded t-shirt, picket sign, or ballot is the right thing. However, when we have the opportunity to do something greater and to be a people that reach out to others in practical ways then we should do that. Speaking the bold truth and sticking to our guns is vital but it means nothing if it isn't accompanied by loving action that changes hearts and social dynamics. Let's be up front and honest with people about what God tells his creation. Let's tell his truth to each other, our friends, the politicians, and everyone.
Let's not forget though that we've been called to self-sacrifice and if we want to end abortion then we're going to have to seek that out with crosses on our backs and compassion in our hearts. Any other way is not the Christian way and thus, as Christ's body, we must reject any other way.
Finally, our goal isn't to end abortion or even see less abortions. That's an unfair framing of the situation and even though I've given into it for the sake of this article we need to confess that being faithful to Christ and being his witness is our goal. We won't see the end of abortions or sin anytime before the judgment but we can be the people who bless the world as God intended in the meantime.
As Derek Webb writes, "Our ultimate hope is not in politicians or powers or governments, but in a day coming when all things will be made right. And our ultimate concern isn’t success but faithfulness." Therefore, let us serve others as Christ has served us, loving people away from sin. May they know the option of being adopted by God into his family and thus know true life and desire to give life instead of extinguishing it.
*Most people believe in choices and people who are 'pro-life' don't seem to spend a lot of time speaking against military action, the death penalty, and healthy eating habits. **Tertullian also provides an even more explicit telling of how abortions worked in his time (not too different how we perform them). Some of the early church fathers (such as Hippolytus) also proclaimed that using forms of birth control which prevented birth should be avoided as well.