Pro-life or Pro-choice?
What’s a Christian View on Abortion?
The topic of abortion is once again front and center in American public life with the potential that the Senate will be replacing a pro-choice Supreme Court Justice with a pro-life judge titling the balance on that issue.
Abortion has been the most enduring issue in America’s culture war stemming from the 1973 ruling of the Supreme Court in the famous Roe v. Wade case. More than just a policy issue, it has also become an issue of Christian morality. Most of those on the pro-life side of this debate make the case that this is simply the Christian position.
Ministers have told me they wouldn’t touch this topic with a ten-foot poll because the only thing they are sure of is that someone will end up very angry and they could lose their job.
This is a tough topic because it is a very personal topic. Let me begin my message today by asking for forgiveness for anyone who hears anything I say to be offensive. That’s not my goal, but it could happen. I’ll do my best to shine some light and answer some questions, so if I do upset you, I’m sorry.
Let’s start with what the Bible says about abortion. You may be surprised to learn that this huge issue for modern Christians is a topic Jesus never addressed. But there are verses are used.
Both the Old Testament passages that we read today refer to God’s “knowing you in the womb,” implying that if God knew us in the womb that means the fetus is alive. Another is in the gospel where it is reported that when Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist learns from Mary, the mother of Jesus she’s pregnant, she can feel jump for joy John in her womb.
Like most topics Christians feel strongly about today, there often isn’t a clear Biblical text explicitly speaking to the topic. We are left to interpret as best we can.
I don’t believe the Bible is a “How To” manual for modern public or foreign policy. I believe we are to study the Word and do our best to apply the teachings and use the guidance we get in this time to make decisions.
If the Bible isn’t directly dealing with the topic, where else can we look? In our tradition, we look to the insights of Swedenborg and his deeper interpretation. In today’s reading for Swedenborg, he appears to be saying that life begins when breath enters the lungs. He’s really making a deeper spiritual case and I doubt he was focused on when life begins, but the idea that life begins when the baby can breathe on its own is a fairly common view.
Scripture or Swedenborg’s insights are helpful, but not clear.
Without this clarity, how do we proceed on an issue like this?
I’d suggest we proceed with compassion, seeking wisdom, and engaging with humility.
Are the gospels useless in a situation like this?
No, the message of Jesus guides us.
He teaches, when we feel self-righteous, he encourages self-reflection When we feel hatred for our opponents, he tells us to love them. When we feel insulted, he tells us to forgive.
I chose the gospel message today of Jesus healing a man on the sabbath because it illustrates his consistent message—don’t get caught up in dogma, get caught up in love. Instead of seeing the healing, he has done, the organized religion of his day can only see that he’s broken a rule. You can sense that self-righteous religious leaders are almost giddy at catching him in these tricks of theirs where he’s damned if he doesn’t heal and damned if he breaks the sabbath rule.
Jesus isn’t playing this game. We shouldn’t either.
Jesus teaches us to start with compassion and let that inform our actions. God’s rules are meant to guide us, not to become gods in themselves. Jesus is calling us to wisdom, guiding not just by our own best intentions, but by the power of all of the angels in heaven.
When we face a debate on abortion, we too should start with compassion. We should be humble. The further we are from making such decisions in our own lives, the more humble we need to be.
This doesn’t mean that men can’t have an opinion on abortion or a role in the decision, it just means that the further you are from the issue personally, the more humility you need to have.
I’m not letting myself off the hook this week by simply talking around the issue. Let me share my own perspective and I’ll look forward to hearing yours in our discussion time.
I believe, that this issue has been set up to divide us for very nefarious reasons to score points politically. I believe there’s much more agreement than disagreement.
As I see it, there are two fairly radical views on this issue. One is that the fetus is nothing more than tissue as part of a women’s body, no different from any organ. She has a right to do with her body whatever she wants at any time for any reason. The other extreme is that life begins at conception and any aborting of any fetus at any time for any reason is murder.
These simplistic world views are rigid and dogmatic requiring we join one team and demonize the other.
Most Americans view the issue on a spectrum believing life evolves through the process from fetus to baby. In fact, the Supreme Court in the 1973 ruling said just that, when they said that abortions were okay in the first six months, but not the last three months.
That’s actually a complex and complicated way to view the issue. It resonates with most Americans who do not believe a soul is created at conception, and, yet, realize something miraculous is in process and a baby exists even before it breathes air in the final months. The increase of medical technology and sonograms that can be posted online have made the rising generation more conservative on the issue of abortion.
When does life begin exactly, no one can say for sure. But I recognize something profound and miraculous is happening during pregnancy.
The decision to get an abortion is not one I’ll ever have to make. The humility role I mentioned earlier kicks in. However, as a pastor and friend and health director, I have had women come to me for counseling.
My general advice is to help them sort it out for themselves. Giving birth can be complicated. If they ask me personally, I would see what they can do to bring the pregnancy to term while at the same time letting them know I love and support them with whatever decision they make. Some have decided for abortion and others have decided to give birth. In both cases, there was guilt, stress, and a need to know God’s love.
I personally think if you advise a woman to bring the baby to term, make sure you are offering and sacrificing to share in the burden of that decision in the newborn’s life.
We all make mistakes in our life. We all made more when we were young. Some have much greater impacts on our lives. If you love a young person, love them through the mistakes. Resist judgment and condemnation, all that will do is assure them never to share with you again.
In my own life, I’ve evolved. In my younger years, I saw abortion as almost a birth control issue. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to see it more in terms of a life. I’ve noticed another change in my life. When I was younger, I favored the death penalty more and now, in a similar way, I see a life. That doesn’t mean it has gotten any less complex. It means that I’m unsettled and evolving.
What about the spiritual nature of a fetus during an abortion?
One image that heartens me in this entire issue is Swedenborg’s description of how babies who die in childbirth are welcomed into heaven by angels whose ministry there is to raise them. It’s quite a beautiful imagery and in incredible detail, I quote:
“ May it be known, therefore, that every child who dies, no matter where he or she was born, within the church or outside it, of devout or irreverent parents, is accepted by the Lord after death, brought up in heaven, taught according to the divine design and filled with affections for what is good and through them with direct knowledge of the truth; and then, being continually perfected in intelligence and wisdom, all such individuals are led into heaven and become angels…
I have in fact been allowed to see children clothed most becomingly, with garlands of flowers around their chests glowing with the most charming and heavenly colors, and similar ones around their slender arms. Once I was even allowed to see some children with their nurses, in the company of some young women in a lovely garden—not a garden of trees, but one with vaulted arches of something like laurels making the most intricate doorways with paths offering access inward—and the children themselves dressed with like beauty. When they entered, the flowers over the entrance radiated the most joyous light imaginable. This enabled me to gather what their delights were like and how they were led into the blessings of innocence and thoughtfulness by things charming and delightful, with the Lord constantly instilling blessings by means of these charming and delightful gifts.”
I wish all people who have lost a child to death could see this incredible image of how they live and thrive in heaven.
Why is this issue so politicized then?
When it comes to abortion, most Americans see it in a similar way. Polls typically show that about 28% of people in the U.S. say abortion should be legal in all circumstances. Another 17% say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances. A majority, 54%, favor legal abortion in some circumstances.
So why are we so bitterly divided? The short answer is hyper-partisan politics.
The goal of the political parties is to take complex issues and simplify them to get you mad and angry and mobilized and afraid. If this issue makes you unable to see other perspectives then there’s a good chance your mind has been hijacked by partisan politics.
Political consultants, such as, Paul Weyrich in the conservative movement looked for ways to draw evangelical voters into the GOP and turned abortion into hot button social issues that resonated with conservative Democrats. Roman Catholics had long been opposed to abortion as church doctrine going back to 14th century. But evangelicals were pro-choice like most Protestant Churches.
The Southern Baptist Convention was largely pro-choice arguing in a 1981 pamphlet “Christian concern for the value of the defenseless fetus” but also argued, “It is questionable that Christian love and justice would be served by extremely restrictive laws which do not give conscientious people with proper medical advice the opportunity to choose when they are faced with very grave moral dilemmas related to abortion.”
Both parties saw the power of using this deeply personal and painful issue for partisan organizing. Today, there are practically no pro-life Democrats nor pro-choice Republicans in Congress.
How about our denomination, have we taken a position?
On August 3, 1969, our church took a stand.
Resolved: That the General Convention support the legalization of abortion in cases where it is responsibly applied for the physical and emotional welfare of those involved. Be it also resolved that such therapeutic abortion shall be considered primarily a matter of concern between the patient, attending physician and personal counselor.
Considering this was written in 1969, three year before Rowe v Wade, I’d say it held up well over time and reflects that majority of Americans I spoke about earlier.
I began by asking, what is a Christian view on abortion?
The answer is that it is different for the thousands who have to make that decision.
The role of Christians and this church during these times is to provide a place where we can listen, teach, learn, and grow spiritually by wrestling with difficult topics.
Let us, in all of our tough decisions, proceed with compassion, seeking wisdom, and engaging with humility.