A letter to the Church of Zion
Posted on August 19, 2015
My feelings on abortion, and my desire to dialogue about it, were solidified shortly after the birth of our first daughter in 2013; I remember sitting up late one night in the hospital, holding her while my wife slept. Prior to her arrival, I knew that I was against the wilful termination of pregnancies, but I was now cradling an extraordinarily visceral reminder of just how precious those as yet unborn truly are. As I write this, it has been only six weeks since the birth of our second daughter, and I am already unable to imagine life without her.
Why do we need to discuss this issue?
Since it was first decriminalized in Canada in 1969, there have been over 3 million reported abortions1, and in Alberta there were 13,376 abortions in 2013 alone (the last year stats are available)2. In July of this year, Health Canada approved the use of RU-486 (Mifegymiso), a medical-abortion drug with promises to “…make ending a pregnancy more discreet and widely available, especially in areas where services are scarce.”3
These numbers are staggering, and we would be foolish to think that this does not affect the Church:
According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in every five women who gets an abortion identifies as a born-again, evangelical, charismatic, or fundamentalist Christian. Given that more than a million women abort each year in the US, this means a staggering 200,000 Bible-believing Christians annually.4
If the statistics are true, then it is very likely that somebody in the pews around you has had an abortion. And if you, dear sister, are that ‘somebody’, you need to know that the blood of Jesus is not insufficient for you. We do not love you less because of your decision, and though we may not know why or how you chose this path, we want to stand beside you and support you as you move forward.
Why do Christians care about abortion?
Despite the shape that modern culture wars have taken, this issue is really not a religious one. Rather, it is fundamentally a philosophical one5. The reason is that, regardless of your own beliefs or prejudices, anybody who wants to thoughtfully engage the topic of abortion will ultimately have to answer two principal questions: 1) Does a human being possess intrinsic moral value (i.e. is one valuable in and of oneself)? and 2) Is the developing fetus a human being?6 Subsequent questions regarding women’s rights, methodology, personal motivation, and law are certainly not unimportant, but they are secondary to how one answers the first two.
The reason that it is critical that we are unified as Christians on this issue, is because God tells us the answer to both principal questions is an unequivocal ‘yes’7. If it is true that we consider ourselves to be people of the Word (2 Tim 3:14-17), then we must be pro-life AND committed to responding with radical love and grace.
Now, I’ll concede that the word “abortion” never appears in the Bible, and even though measures were no doubt taken to end pregnancies in the ancient world8, Scripture does not address it specifically. Nevertheless, it is strongly implied throughout, that human life begins at conception, “…and that there is no such thing as a ‘human right’ to take the life of an unborn child.” 9
Both the Old & New Testaments affirm that children are a blessing from God (Ps 127:3-5; Mk 10:13-16), and it is clear that God is actively involved in the unique formation of a number of individuals in Scripture from the time of their conception (e.g. Gen 17:15-22; 21:17; 30:1-24; Ruth 4: 13-17; 1 Sam 1:19-20; Lk 1:24-25; 39-44)10. In Psalms, we see an incredibly beautiful affirmation of God’s foreknowledge and activity in creating life in the womb:11
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made
your works are wonderful, I know that full well
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place
When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me were written in your book
before one of them came to be.
Though this poetic description is hardly scientific, at the very least it reminds us as Christians that God is active in the formation of each unique individual, and that He has preordained His will for each life. Therefore, every life that is conceived is precious. Every life that is conceived is valuable. Our worth and value as individuals is not determined by the longevity of our lives — whether we live one day or many thousands. Our worth and value as individuals is not determined by what we become — whether we use our health, or physical ability, or intellect, or achievements as our measurement. Neither is our worth and value as individuals determined by the circumstance in which we are conceived — whether it be within a loving and committed marriage, or through the unspeakable evil of rape.
Most of all, though — arguably, over and above any other argument from Scripture — is the wonderful truth that is first revealed at the point of creation: that all persons are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). As opposed to a worldview that says that we are simply an advanced species, with little to no more intrinsic value than any other life form, the Bible continually demonstrates that each of us is an inherently valuable image-bearer of our Creator. And coupled with what we have already looked at about God’s purposes for each individual, it would be absurd for any Christian to claim that His image is withheld until some point of gestation or delivery from the birth canal, rather than immediately upon conception. All of which leads biblical scholar, William Lane Craig, to explain:
The biblical prohibition of murder is based specifically in the fact that man is created in God’s image (Gen 9:6). The second greatest commandment is that we should love our neighbour, and this is a universal command extending to every human being. Not only this, but every human being is a person for whom Christ died, which gives each person unspeakable value. On the Christian worldview, then, one single human being is worth more than the entire material universe. Because of their exalted view of man, Christians are deeply committed to the cause of human rights.13
The point is that because Christians are necessarily committed to the rights of each individual, and because we believe in the value of the conceived, the only possible result is to be against any form of deliberate termination of the unborn at any stage of gestation. Whether we are made aware of the needs of our neighbour in news footage from a war zone, or on the screen of an ultrasound machine in a doctors office, the burden on Christians to “speak for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Prov 31:8) remains the same.
Abortion & the Gospel:
One of the most startling comments that I have ever heard regarding abortion, referred to the act as a ‘great inversion’ of the Gospel; the Gospel is the glorious truth that Jesus says to us, “I will die for you,” while abortion is essentially us saying to the unborn, “you will die for me.” The Gospel and abortion share only one similarity: in the case of the Gospel, Jesus was paying the ultimate price for the sins that we ourselves are guilty of — in the case of abortion, so too are the unborn paying the ultimate price for either the sins that we have committed, or for the sins that we are victims of…
…but the horror of the abortion does not negate the beauty of the Gospel. Though the decision to have an abortion is an evil against which the wrath of God certainly rages, the glorious truth of the Gospel is that God the Father so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son to satisfy His wrath. The grace of Jesus — the blood of the lamb — is sufficient to cover even the vilest of acts (1 Jn 1:7). The love of Christ extends to every sin from envy to blasphemy, and to every sinner in any brothel or boardroom or clinic.
How should Christians respond?
That grace is not only our motivation to respond, but also our model…
My hope is not in the fallible wisdom of elected leaders, nor do I believe that our most potent antidote against this poison will be found in provocative billboards, impassioned protests, or inflammatory hashtags. Rather, as sinners who have experienced the grace and love of Jesus in our lives, our most visible response ought to be grace and love demonstrated to every person who has ever even thought about having an abortion. Therefore, to be ‘pro-life’ must mean more than simply being ‘anti-abortion’14. Certainly, it is critical that we consider every means available to protect the life of the unborn, but if we truly want to gain any traction in our fight against abortion, we need to be that much more willing and eager to protect and support that life once it is outside of the womb (as well as his/her mother).
Invest: This debate goes far beyond whether or not it is okay to “murder babies”; only the most radical advocates of abortion might make the claim that it is. Indeed, a great number of pro-choice proponents believe in it solely as an unfortunate, but necessary, means to ensure equality and security for women. Therefore, both as individuals and as a church, we need to be vigorously sacrificial in our giving to organizations that provide counselling, care and support to any woman who experiences an unplanned pregnancy. We must work hard to alleviate the perceived burdens of parenting by, at least, supporting affordable childcare, and subsidizing the cost of living for those who are in need. Christian business owners can provide work with flexible work schedules for single parents, offer adequate health benefits and guarantee a decent living wage.
Sustain: Beyond our chequebooks, Zion needs to be a place of refuge for the distressed and the unwanted. If we are ever going to make any headway in this battle, we will need to put aside any disapproving glances between the pews or muffled comments in the foyer. Pregnant women — regardless of the circumstance in which they became pregnant — need to know that our church will be a place where they will be welcomed; a place where the love of Jesus is passionately expressed to every person who walks through our doors. If we are ever going to persuade the desperate to keep the life inside of them, we will need to reassure them that we will be there alongside them through thick and thin — physically, financially, emotionally & spiritually. When a single mother enters our fold, we need to be fervent in extending the full love, support and care of our community. When families in our church choose to adopt, our congregation needs to embrace those children as our own — to dedicate ourselves, as the household of God, to that child’s wellbeing in the same way that we do with our biological children.
Embrace: Finally, individual Christians — you and I — must be willing to take the unwanted into our own families; to provide for them as if they are our own. This is practical as well as biblical; after all, we know that “religion that God our Father considers pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” (Jas 1:27). If safe and loving homes are not open to children who are unintentionally conceived or whose conception is not welcome, we can hardly blame a desperate young woman who sees no option but to terminate her pregnancy. If we are not willing to be the third option — or (at least) to sacrificially support those who are — I believe that we have little right to claim any kind of moral high ground.
A final word to those who have had an abortion:
Let me repeat: if you have had an abortion in the past, the grace of Jesus - the blood of the lamb - is not insufficient for you.
No person reading this is unstained by sin - all of us are broken in some way. All of us deserve to die for our disobedience to our Creator and Lord. And yet, in His sovereign grace, He offers each one of us forgiveness: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each one of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on [Jesus] the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
The glorious truth of the Gospel is that God the Father lavishes His great love on His children (1 Jn 3:1), even if we have failed so miserably to do the same.
You are welcome to come to Him for healing. You are welcome to come to Him for grace. And you are welcome to come to His Church for care.
~ Pastor Nick Thiessen
If you would like to discuss any of these thoughts with me further, please feel free to drop by the church office, call or send an email with your thoughts: firstname.lastname@example.org
- “Abortion FAQs,” Cited 5 August 2015. Online: http://haltonprolife.com/abortion-faqs/
- “Statistics - Abortion in Canada,” Cited 5 August 2015. Online: http://www.arcc-cdac.ca/backrounders/statistics-abortion-in-canada.pdf
- "Abortion pill finally receives approval from Health Canada," Cited 6 August 2015. Online: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/abortion-pill-ru-486-approved-by-health-canada-report/article25769674/
- Roys, Julie. "The Secret Shame of Abortion in the Church," Cited 7 August 2015. Online: http://www.christianitytoday.com/women/2015/february/secret-shame-of-abortion-in-church.html
- Christians will need to become adept at discussing this crucial topic from a broader philosophical/ethical standpoint - there is, after all, no reason for us to expect our unbelieving friends, family, coworkers, neighbours, and politicians to agree to the arguments that we derive from the Bible. As starting point, I recommend the relevant chapters in the cited books by Richard B. Hays & William Lane Craig, as well as the following resources:
Stassen, Glen H. and David P. Gusshee. Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Culture (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Academic, 2003), 215-236.
Platt, David. Counterculture (Tyndale, 2015), 57-78.
- Craig, William Lane. Hard Questions, Real Answers (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2003), 114.
- Ibid., 122.
- ”History of Abortion,” Cited 4 August 2015. Online: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_abortion)
- Köstenberger, Andreas J. God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway, 2004),131.
- Köstenberger, 130.
- Hays, Richard B. The Moral Vision of the New Testament (New York, NY: HarperOne, 1996), 447-448.
- All Bible references in this essay are to the New International Version: NIV (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984).
- Craig, 122.
- Pastor Lee Bertsch has helped me to understand that if Christians are "pro-life" as an expression of the biblical conviction that all human beings are image-bearers of God, each of whom has inherent moral value, then we must mean far more than simply being "anti-abortion." Indeed, consistently applying these convictions will radically inform our positions on things like use of military force, poverty alleviation, refugee settlement, health care, the death penalty, etc... Though this is a discussion to be explored more broadly in a separate forum, it must be realized that our voice in the abortion debate is severely diminished because we are often inconsistently "pro-life" on so many issues other than abortion.