Few words in the American lexicon evoke more emotion and more gentle kicks under the table at polite dinner parties than the word ‘abortion.’ I believe we must risk that kick, however, and march bravely into a different type of abortion discussion; a more nuanced one, because abortion is the lynchpin issue of our ailing, divided culture. How often do we hear something like this:
“Yeah, I don’t like the president’s tweets, but… abortion.”
“Yeah, I know that Democrat might be a good candidate, but… abortion.”
Nothing has more given Christians a pass to use divisive rhetoric, to demonize others, and to put aside normal, caring empathy than the issue of abortion. I think it’s worth asking questions we’re not often willing to consider: Is God’s demand that Christians be part of an all-out political war to force a law onto the country, even if that war negatively impacts our ability to share the gospel? Is it possible our desire to win the battle blinds us to a better plan God has had all along?
First, let me be clear. As a Christian and Evangelical minister, I personally believe abortion is not God’s best plan for humanity. I also believe most pro-choice and pro-life proponents are good people who believe they’re fighting for vulnerable people. I dream of what could be if both sides were willing to lay down their animus in order to strategize towards the common goal of preventing unwanted pregnancies.
That being said, my challenge today is for my people – the Evangelical, largely pro-life crowd – to consider a Romans 12:2 testing of our belief system. Are we willing to hold our identity as single issue voters up to the light to determine if it’s truly God’s command for us, or if it’s actually an outgrowth of a manmade political mindset?
In my novel, Joseph Comes to Town, a pastor seemingly wins an abortion argument with a young woman only to hear that woman gasp “if he’s right, then I’m a murderer.”
In the Bible, Jesus told a group of God-followers “You’ve heard it said ‘don’t murder,’ but I say if you call your brother a fool you’re bound for hell fire.” Jesus wasn’t nearly as impressed with the staunch religious rules of the day as he was concerned about the lack of empathy for people. I’ve often heard Christian friends declare that supporters of pro-choice candidates and pro-choice legislation support the ‘murder’ of babies. To justify such incendiary language, would it not behoove us to make sure that if Jesus were to say today “you’ve heard it said ‘abortion is murder’” there wouldn’t be a “but I say…” twist after it?
WHAT DOES THE BIBLE ACTUALLY SAY?
Is the Bible clearly behind the staunch, Pro-Life position? Well, there’s no direct reference to abortion in the New Testament. Jesus never uttered a word about it, despite the common practice of infanticide by the Romans occupiers of Jesus’ homeland. A Roman father could legally abandon an unwanted newborn on the roadside to die of ‘exposure’ (the name of the practice) or be picked up by another family or an animal predator.
It must have been horrifying to hear these babies cry out, yet Jesus is never recorded alluding to it. Nor are his close followers who also ministered in the Roman Empire: Paul, Peter or John, the main authors of the New Testament. It seems odd to me that the issue we believe to be seminal on God’s list doesn’t warrant a mention from his representative on earth.
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Christians demand ‘scripture’ to be the final confirmation of all Christian beliefs and often use a saying “the main thing (in the Bible) is the plain thing.” Yet, when it comes to the abortion issue, it can only be supported by linking a number of bible passages, none of which are direct references to abortion. Jeremiah 1:5 speaks of God knowing a person in the womb and Luke 1:41-44 attributes human activity and gender to a fetus. However, the Bible also tells us, in passages such as Romans 8:29 and Ephesians 1:4, that God knew every human before the creation of the world. If Jeremiah 1:5 is a command to ban abortion, then wouldn’t Ephesians 1:4 forbid contraceptives or demand punishment for married couples who don’t procreate? Each of these passages can be interpreted as poetic descriptions of God’s love for humanity and while that can point to the value of life before birth, none of these texts are a direct command to criminalize the act of ending a pregnancy.
Jewish law and tradition, the religious roots of Christianity, provide more provision for allowing abortion than for outlawing it. Adam was fully formed but was not considered “living” (or having a soul) until filled with the breath of God. The Jewish Talmud provides an option for a woman with “great need” to terminate her pregnancy and the Old Testament book of Numbers commands a poisonous concoction be given to any woman accused of adultery. If a pregnancy is miraculously saved from miscarriage, then the woman is declared virtuous. Today, most Jews trend Pro-Choice in no small part because of their scriptures allow for it.
ABORTION IN POLITICS
It’s incorrect to believe Evangelical furor over abortion began with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling on Roe v. Wade. In 1979, Paul Weyrich, a Republican political operative, chose abortion as a political tool for motivating Christians to vote against Jimmy Carter, ironically, a dedicated Evangelical president. Weyrich opposed Carter’s edict that private schools, like Bob Jones University and Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, lose their tax benefits if they continued to refuse racial integration of their student bodies. Understanding that the underpinnings of the abortion battle were political and racial, rather than moral, could cause us to squirm a bit in our pews.
CAN CHRISTIANS BE MORE ‘PRO-LIFE’ AND LESS ‘ANTI-ABORTION?’
Does Christian responsibility for ‘life’ span only from conception to the baby’s exit from the birth canal? Abortion totals have taken a dramatic downturn in the U.S. over the past two decades and statistics point to contraceptive access and education as major drivers for that decrease, yet many Christians still oppose these tools. Those same Christians often oppose community funding for health care, food or day care costs for parents, despite these financial burdens often serving as major factors in abortion decisions. Could there be solutions to the abortion issue we haven’t been able to consider due to a sharp focus on laws? Particularly when abortion bans have not proven effective at stopping women from choosing abortive options – even at the risk of their health and their lives.
South Korea has had an abortion ban in place for more than sixty-five years, yet, it’s estimated there are more abortions per capita performed in South Korea than in the United States. When Alabama and Missouri recently passed the most restrictive abortion laws in American history polls showed that support for abortion skyrocketed in our country and support for late term abortions reached its highest level ever. Laws don’t change hearts. Good laws are downstream of cultural change. Could a heart-shift towards prevention of unwanted pregnancies more powerfully impact the mindset of culture more than a divisive battle over laws? It’s happened before.
After Jesus’ crucifixion, Christians began a routine of collecting ‘exposed’ Roman babies from the roadside, even while suffering persecution and having limited resources. This sacrificial routine caused exposure to become frowned upon and then completely outlawed in A.D. 374. Angry protests didn’t change the law, demonstrating a higher way to live did.
THE ABORTION BATTLE’S IMPACT ON THE GOSPEL
More Millennials now declare themselves to be “Nones” (people who don’t attend any church) or “Dones” (those who have left their church) than those who declare themselves regular attenders of Evangelical Churches. They point to the right-wing stances of the Church as the number one reason for leaving. If our command is to share the message that “God so loved the world…” is it a good strategy to position ourselves as a divisive political machine? In the first century, the Pharisees and Zealots wanted to overthrow the government for God’s sake, but Jesus said it would be a humble Christian people, willing to lay down their lives and desires for their enemies who would truly change culture.
What if our abortion beliefs compelled us to ensure there were no unwanted pregnancies, no unwanted babies and no unwanted people? What if we were more concerned about the root causes of abortion (poverty, income inequality, shame, hopelessness) than we were of the sin of it? Could the heart of our culture simply turn against the practice of abortion because the need no longer exists?
I believe most Christians are very sincere in their abortion beliefs, yet the ‘fruit’ of that battle can still be sincerely wrong. We love to preach self-control yet the Bible lists love, joy, patience, peace, and kindness before dealing with our actions. Perhaps a shift in Christian thinking to challenging our mindset on abortion and being known for what we’re for – more than for what we’re against – might be exactly what God would have us do to not only see abortion numbers decrease but for the peace of God to come to our cities, regions, and to our entire country in this generation. Maybe laying down our political weaponry will bring a never-ending increase of that shalom.
It’s at least worth a try, isn’t it?