–Daniel S. Ferguson
Disclaimer: I’m completely aware that I’m stepping into the muck on this one. Please note that in my post I espouse no opinion whatsoever on either the legality or the morality of abortion. I very intentionally do not take a side in this post. I am only addressing the prevalence of this issue in an understanding of why many people have left the church and/or Christian faith.
The annual March for Life is tomorrow in DC, so I thought this was a good time to address one of the most prevalent moral issues of the last half-century: abortion.
Abortion rates in the United States have hit a 40-year low. That has happened even in a country where abortion is a guaranteed right with minimal restrictions, especially early in the pregnancy. Improved use of contraception, combined with better sexual education and certain recent restrictions have helped the abortion rate steadily decline since the early 1980s and especially since 1990.
The purely rational part of me thinks that both sides ought to feel like they have a victory here. On the pro-choice side, there are a few legal restrictions they probably want eliminated (particularly in Texas), but by and large, most women who want an abortion can get one, and contraception is more available and accessible than ever. Other than a few issues with Planned Parenthood (some of which they brought on themselves), there’s really not much for the pro-choice community to complain about. Freedom of abortion is the law of the land, and that’s unlikely to change, even under the new administration.
On the pro-life side, abortion rates are now so low that they might actually be higher if abortion were completely illegal. Sure, there’s still plenty of room to complain that the 665,000 abortions in 2013 was 665,000 too many, but there’s a certain point where I think they would have to accept the reality that the number will never be zero. It will almost certainly never even be close. The CDC reported in the same year that only 17 percent of pregnancies end in abortion, a stark, steady, and continuing decline.. If abortion is both legal and accessible, but 83 percent of pregnant women are still choosing to carry on with their pregnancies (and that number is still going up), something has clearly gone right. Even viewed at its most negatively, fewer babies are being murdered (to use their term) every year.
If I remove my own opinions and emotions from the argument, I can see clear wins on both sides. That’s democracy working.
So why is it still such a big issue? Why is there still so much fighting over it? Why can’t the two sides stop picking at each other when they’ve both clearly won?
Oh yeah…church. (Some pro-choice groups are at fault, too, but this is a blog about church.)
The more sharply churches draw lines, the more people they’ll lose.
There are some things churches should definitely draw sharp lines on. Was Jesus resurrected from the dead? Is Jesus the Son of God? Does Jesus provide a completely fulfilling sacrifice on behalf of our sin? Those are things we should have sharp lines on. We shouldn’t be fuzzy there. There’s no room for anyone to be called Christian who doesn’t agree with those.
But the list of such necessary doctrines is relatively short. You could easily fit them on a napkin. Things like God’s sovereignty, humankind’s fallen nature, the all-sufficiency of Christ. It’s not a long list of things Christianity can’t live without. At least in my opinion, those are the only things we should draw sharp lines on.
Everything else can, and probably should be, blurry.
The problem with the abortion issue in church is that the church drew a sharp line where one didn’t belong. It essentially said that someone had to be pro-life in order to be Christian.
This creates a “Jesus + x” construct for faith that will unnecessarily exclude people from Jesus who would otherwise place their trust in him. It’s also specifically Biblically prohibited for the church to create such a restriction.
Even if the church is 100% right about abortion, the sharp line it draws is still not acceptable.
Throughout his entire earthly ministry, Jesus sought out the most rejected people and sought to include them. Tax collectors, adulterers, sinners, fishermen, the ceremonially unclean, and women–all outcasts in their time. Jesus would openly tell them not to sin, but he didn’t exclude them from following him. He reached out with truth and grace. While Jesus sometimes drew hard lines between those who followed him and those who didn’t, he actually blurred more lines than he sharpened.
There are very few things Jesus requires his followers to believe in order to follow him. A particular stance on abortion simply isn’t one of them. So, I believe, the church shouldn’t draw a line where Jesus doesn’t. If anything, our strategy should be to blur all lines that Jesus doesn’t specifically require us to sharpen.
Jesus didn’t just blur lines on little things; he blurred lines on big things. Like working on the Sabbath, touching people with leprosy, consorting with adultresses, the forgiveness of sins, and the nature of eternity. Everything Jesus did tore down the barriers between people and God. He didn’t build off-ramps; he built on-ramps.
That’s what church can and should do about almost every issue. Like the old Lutherans used to say:
“In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.”
The church has to be careful about where it’s willing to draw a sharp line. We have to realize that every line we draw puts more people outside of Christ. That doesn’t mean sacrificing truth, but it does mean sacrificing the pride that comes with ‘being right.’ We should much rather draw people into Christ through openness then drive them away with correctness.
If you believe that abortion is murder, fine. That’s a principled moral position. There’s even moderate Biblical support for it. Please feel free to advocate that in court as a legal issue. (I recommend you keep faith out of it, though. You’ll get a lot further that way.) And feel free to express your opinion in church (graciously).
But the second you force that position to become an essential of Christian faith, once you allow yourself the belief that people who disagree with it aren’t really Christians, you violate the principles of that faith. Being pro-life is, quite simply, not a Christian essential. There is, therefore, room for people in the church who aren’t pro-life.
We must not only allow for such room; we must fight for such room. We have to go one step further. We can’t just tolerate the pro-choice believer so long as they’re quiet about it. We have to advocate for their full right to believe such and openly celebrate the freedom of Christ that grants them that right.
And, yes, pro-choice advocates, you have to fight for room for pro-lifers as well. No name-calling. No hyperbole. No phony outrage when they call you out on what you know is sometimes legitimate horse crap. You have to accept the reality that many people believe they are standing up for the rights of human beings who, legally speaking, have no rights. That’s a bold and even righteous stance that mirrors liberal protests going on right now. Could they do it better and more graciously? Sure. But you really can’t fault people for standing up against what they see as murder. Also, there’s probably no group of people in the world more committed to serving orphans than the church, so their heart’s in the right place.
As it is, many people aren’t seeing Christians as standing up for the rights of the unborn; they see Christians as controlling and ideologically exclusive. So please, fellow Christians, stop suddenly shopping at Hobby Lobby and protesting for it because it wants to deny its employees contraception as part of health care. If you really care about abortion, if it really is the horror you claim, you should be hoping that women are downing birth-control pills like candy. You should be bulldozing corporations that keep it away from women. Those pills effect a massive, measurable decline in the abortion rate.
Same thing with sex ed. And condoms. And, yes, even Planned Parenthood. (Given how much work they do with contraception compared with abortion services, it’s likely they actually prevent substantially more abortions than they cause.)
Since both sides of this issue can win and are winning, and since Christ modeled line-blurring, and since the Bible only allows us to draw sharp lines on a very specific set of issues, I really believe there’s room for us all to get along here.
At the very least, I think we can all sit in the same pews together. Maybe even have lunch. And maybe, just maybe, embrace our differences as glory.