Is the unborn our neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37)

It has been said that where scripture speaks, we should speak and where scripture is silent, we should be silent.  While this may sound good to many, it is a faulty assumption. Following this reasoning, we could conclude that since Scripture doesn’t specifically address abortion, we should remain silent on the issue. The problem with this conclusion is that many portions of Scripture naturally lead to a pro-life worldview without specifically mentioning abortion. Luke 10 is a good example.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

In Luke 10, we encounter a lawyer testing Jesus by asking what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus forces the man to answer his own question and the man highlights the two most important commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (v. 27). Wishing to justify himself, the man asks Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” (v. 29). Jesus responds by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.

We’re all familiar with the story. A traveler is attacked by robbers who beat him and leave him for dead. Two religious men happen to be traveling on the same road. Instead of helping the bleeding victim, the two men go out of their way to avoid him (“passed by on the other side” [v. 31]). On the other hand, when the Good Samaritan encounters the same man, he sacrifices his time and money to love the bleeding victim as his neighbor.

I think we can safely say that the Levite and the Priest in Jesus’ parable felt compassion for the bleeding victim.  They were religious men who knew the law and had at least a semi-functioning moral conscience.  They probably felt bad for the mugged man, but they didn’t show compassion.  This is Jesus’ whole point in telling the parable – to put the levite and priest in juxtaposition to the Good Samaritan, who after encountering the bleeding victim, “had compassion” (10:33) on him.

“‘Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’  And Jesus said to him, ‘You go, and do likewise'” (vv. 36-37).

While Jesus certainly meant to create a broad inclusive scope to “loving your neighbor”, in the most simple, literal sense, the parable of the Good Samaritan is about our duty to intervene on behalf of those whose innocent blood is being shed.  Jesus’ command to “go and do likewise” is an affirmative duty he commands the lawyer to do.

Feeling AND Showing Compassion

Relating this parable to the abortion issue, it seems fair to ask, “Is the unborn our neighbor?” The unborn is our neighbor if the unborn is a human being – a member of the species homo sapiens. The unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being (there is no meaningful debate anymore regarding this question) and should therefore be granted the same value Jesus put on loving our neighbors.

Since the unborn is our neighbor, we as Christians have an obligation to show compassion to these pre-born children who are being victimized by the practice of abortion. If you feel pity for the abortion victim, but you’re doing nothing to show pity, how different are you really from the Levite and the priest who almost certainly felt compassion, but definitely didn’t show it?

An Open Letter to Pastors Regarding the Abortion Issue

Dear Pastor,

Thank you for committing your life to vocational ministry. As a pastor, your important role in preaching, teaching, discipling, and encouraging believers towards Jesus cannot be overstated. Shepherding the flock God has entrusted you with is no easy task, especially since the needs of the Church are endless, demanding time and energy that stretches you far beyond the point of comfort.

You shouldn’t be expected to address every issue your Church members would like with the same fervor, energy, and time. But hopefully, over time, you are able to address many of those important issues as they arise through your preaching of the Word.

In the end, I hope your church wouldn’t be known for the issues it addresses (or doesn’t address), but for the supremacy of Jesus and the centrality of the Gospel. This raises the question, what issues are Gospel issues?

I believe a helpful strategy in determining what issues are non-negotiable is found in addressing the following questions:

1) Is this issue addressed directly in Scripture? If so, is there a reigning historical, traditional belief on the matter? If not, then does Scripture give us the basic background and theological beliefs needed to reach a clear decision on the matter?

2) Does what I believe about this issue affect how the Gospel is understood?

3) Can thoughtful, committed Christians disagree on the given issue and still remain faithful to the Gospel and the Lordship of Christ?

Now let’s explore how these questions relate to the issue of abortion and your pastoral ministry in the Church.

Is abortion addressed directly in Scripture?

Even though abortions were happening at some level in the first century, Scripture does not address the issue of abortion (in part, because prohibitions against it were largely unnecessary). But regardless of whether or not Scripture forbids an act, we can still know something is wrong by looking at the larger context of Scripture. Otherwise, we would be forced to concede that whatever Scripture doesn’t condemn, it condones or is neutral on. While there are many verses that serve to advance the case that the unborn child is a human person (Luke 1:15, Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:1, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 22:10, Psalm 139:13-16, Galatians 1:15, Exodus 21:22-25), many will still argue that none of those verses can specifically prove that abortion is wrong.

I believe the conclusion of the above verses is that an unborn child is human. The science of embryology speaks clearly in advancing this conclusion. From the earliest stages of development (conception), the unborn child is a distinct, living, and whole human being (there is no meaningful debate anymore regarding this question).

The Bible affirms that all humans are valuable because they bear God’s image. Science clearly demonstrates that the unborn are unquestionably human from the earliest stages of development. Thus, biblical commands against the unjust taking of human life (Gen. 1:26; 9:6; Exod. 23:7; Prov. 6:16–17) apply to the unborn as they do other human beings.

Does what I believe about abortion affect how the Gospel is understood?

Now we turn to the second question in determining whether abortion is a Gospel issue. I believe theologian Francis Schaeffer answered this very question in one powerful sentence:

“If those who claim the name of Christ are not going to be willing to stand up against something as evil as killing a baby, then the world has the right to ask whether Christ is real.”

If pastors preach the Gospel, but then treat abortion as a 3rd- or 4th-tier issue at best, what are their congregations and the world to make of the credibility of the Christian Gospel? If pastors preach that human beings are valuable to Christ because they are made in His image, but refuse to address the issue of abortion, there is a huge inconsistency. If a large part of Christ’s life was spent in loving the “least of these” and Scripture commands us to “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (Proverbs 31:8) and yet pastors do nothing to love their unborn neighbors, what does that communicate about the Christian Gospel?

What you believe about abortion and how you act on this issue as a pastor will greatly influence the Churches’ and the world’s understanding of the Gospel message of Christ.

Can thoughtful, committed Christians disagree on abortion and still remain faithful to the Gospel and the Lordship of Christ?

For this third question, I want to address the supremacy of Christ. If God is supreme, then all pastors, in fact all Christians, stand under His Lordship. Psalm 139:13-16 says:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

It’s as simple as this. If God is supreme and He knits life together in the womb, then we leave that knitting process alone! The womb is God’s workplace in making persons and we have no business interfering with that process. So for any pastor or Christian to be pro-choice or neutral on the abortion issue is to reject the supremacy of Christ and reject the value of the little ones the supreme God is in the process of creating. Such a position is an offense to the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it treats as garbage those that God created and came to die for.

The abortion issue is a Gospel issue

After answering the above questions, I believe it is safe to say that the abortion issue is a Gospel issue and as a pastor committed to preaching the Gospel, you cannot ignore or treat lightly that which is destroying over 1 million unborn babies each year in the United States.

In closing, I must point out that the Guttmacher Institute reports that 37% of women obtaining abortions each year in the United States identify themselves as Protestant Christians. There are women in your church who have had abortions and many of them are still deeply hurt and living under shame and self-condemnation. There are also men in your church who were complicit in the death of their unborn child or perhaps mourn the loss of their son or daughter whom their girlfriend aborted without their knowledge. When pastors choose silence over faithfulness says former pastor Mike Spencer of Life Training Institute, they do not spare these women and men in their congregations hurt, they spare them healing. Pastors’ silence exposes that either they don’t see abortion as all that bad, or they don’t see the Gospel as all that good, or both.

For the sake of the precious unborn human persons in our midst, please speak up on their behalf.

For the sake of the credibility of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, please speak up on the unborn’s behalf.

For the sake of the supremacy of God, please speak up on the unborn’s behalf as a minister under the Lordship of Christ.

For the sake of the men and women in your congregations who have been deeply wounded by this issue, please speak up.

Reconciling the Church and Pro-Life Movement: A Response to our Division

I Live in Two Worlds

I live in two worlds. Two worlds I wish could be one. Two worlds that desperately need each other.

I am speaking of the Church and the pro-life movement.

While exceptions do exist, the Church mostly distances itself from the pro-life movement. You would be hard pressed to find a congregation committed to educating their members about the horrors of abortion and training them to be ambassadors for the unborn.

This divorce often revolves around a fundamental disagreement on the nature and role of the Church and how it should relate to culture. (Please understand I will be speaking generally here since no evaluation of the Church on this issue could be comprehensive.) The Church often says its primary goal is to proclaim the gospel and make disciples. This means that the pro-life movement is often thought of as a “side issue” and a distraction from the Great Commission.

“Only God can Change Hearts. Just Focus on Evangelism.”

And so we reach the purpose of this article – to address the argument many churches and Christians use as a critique of the pro-life movement:

Only God can change hearts, so don’t waste time on pro-life activism. Just focus on evangelism and leading people to Jesus, and their hearts will change on the abortion issue. That’s how we should fight abortion.

This argument has at least five major flaws.

1) Evangelism and proclaiming the gospel verbally isn’t the only role of the Church. The Church is also commanded to love its neighbors.

Christian author and apologist Randy Alcorn writes,

I appeal to you to come to grips with the fact that loving God cannot be separated from loving our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40). To a man who wished to define ‘neighbor’ in a way that excluded certain groups of needy people, Christ presented the Good Samaritan as a model for our behavior (Luke 10:25-37). He went out of his way to help the man lying in the ditch. In contrast, the religious hypocrites looked the other way because they had more ‘spiritual’ things to do (Alcorn, Pro-Life Answers to Pro-Choice Arguments, 299).

Instead of bandaging the bleeding victim’s wounds, what if the Good Samaritan just leaned over the ditch and began preaching the gospel to him? That may be what the man needed spiritually and eventually, but in the immediate moment, the man needed medical attention.

In the same book, Alcorn reminds us that the Great Commission not only tells us to go and make disciples of all nations, but to also be “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20). Among Jesus’ commandments are “to be compassionate, to take sacrificial action for the weak and needy” (Alcorn 299) and to love our neighbors (which includes the unborn). If we fail in doing this, we sacrifice our witness to the world, which undermines the Great Commission. As Francis Schaeffer said, “If those who claim the name of Christ are not going to be willing to stand up against something as evil as killing a baby, then the world has the right to ask whether Christ is real.”

2) Many people’s minds have been changed on the abortion issue through pro-life activism (including atheists). So either it’s wrong that only God can change hearts or God is in the process of changing people’s hearts on the abortion issue through pro-life advocacy, and therefore committing oneself to abolishing abortion is a worthy cause.

3) The assumption that when one becomes a Christian, they will also become pro-life is not the case.

I have met and conversed with more pro-choice Christians than I ever thought I would, many of whom were a part of the Christian community at Westmont College. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 37% of women obtaining abortions each year in the United States identify themselves as Protestant Christians. So becoming or being a Christian certainly doesn’t guarantee that you’re pro-life and won’t kill your unborn child.

4) “Since only God can change people’s hearts, we should just focus on evangelism.” This type of reasoning is almost only used in regards to the abortion issue and doesn’t suffice.

A Christian who would use this argument against the pro-life movement wouldn’t dare tread so confidently if the issue were sex trafficking or child slavery. Let’s imagine the dialogue: “Since only God can change the hearts of sex traffickers, we should just pray for them and tell them about Jesus.”

Traffickers certainly need Jesus, but it doesn’t follow that we should abandon the cause of rescuing young girls from this evil. We should seek to tell the traffickers about the salvation found in Jesus, but if we did only that, we’d be abandoning the many girls who would continue being enslaved by their “bosses” on whom the gospel fell on deaf ears.

Sex trafficking is a systemic injustice that has enjoyed far too much heinous success, while remaining illegal. Abortion, on the other hand, is legal and enjoys an enormous amount of cultural support. If we wouldn’t dare say that the only legitimate and Christian way to oppose and fight against sex trafficking is to tell people about Jesus, then why would we use such reasoning against a far more accepted and culturally embedded injustice such as abortion?

5) The false dichotomy of choosing between pro-life work and evangelism is deceptive and functionally denies God’s sovereignty in all areas of life – in this case, the pro-lifers work of abolition. Pro-life activism often leads to many different opportunities to share the love of Christ, both in word and deed.

Pro-life apologists who speak to large groups of people comprised of Christians and unbelievers often have fruitful follow-up conversations that lead to discussions about Christ and the gospel. Those who work at Pregnancy Care Clinics have regular, daily opportunities to share Christ’s love with women who they would otherwise never have an opportunity to talk to. Catholics and Christians who stand outside abortion clinics praying, handing out pamphlets, and speaking to abortion-minded women all have opportunities to spread Christ’s love and convince women that they (along with their unborn child) are wanted by the Lord. Families who open up their homes to struggling pregnant women have amazing opportunities to live out the gospel and love these women in a unique Christ-like way.

Acts such as these often speak more powerfully than words ever could.

Let Us be United

I don’t believe that Christians who have used this argument (that only God can change hearts, so pro-life activism is a waste of time) are malicious or evil. Rather, they need to open their eyes to reconsider the role of the Church and the demonic nature of abortion. Gregg Cunningham once said that, “Satan would kill God if he could, but he can’t; so he kills babies because he knows it grieves the heart of God.”

Abortion is a spiritual issue and requires a Christian response, which must come from the Church of Christ.

Let us stop hiding behind the veil of “evangelism” and come into our calling of the Great Commission, which must include the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). Let us restore the divorce between the Church and the pro-life movement. In becoming one, let us commit to listening, helping, and refining one another for the sake of the gospel and the millions of unborn children who have been and will be slaughtered through legalized abortion if we continue our familial bickers. And above all, may the Lord give us His eyes to see abortion as He does and His heart to be burdened as He is.

Hobby Lobby, The Supreme Court, and What Might Have Been

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Today, pro-lifers, Christians, and a number of religious groups enjoyed a monumental victory in the Supreme Court.  David Green, owner and founder of Hobby Lobby (including Mardel and Conestoga Wood) filed a lawsuit against Obamacare’s HHS mandate in September 2012, which would have required faith-based organizations to include in their healthcare, free access to abortifacient contraceptive care.  Abortifacient contraceptives contain substances that are abortion-inducing and are usually taken in the days or weeks following sex, or if taken before sex cannot guarantee the prevention of conception in all cases (such as the birth-control pill).  It shouldn’t surprise us therefore that many faith-based organizations have opposed this violation of religious freedom.  In the final 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided that the government cannot require faith-based institutions to provide their employees with abortifacient contraceptives against the owners’ religious beliefs.  While this victory is and should be celebrated and will most likely act as a landmark case in securing the religious liberties of Christians in the future, the fact that we so narrowly won makes me wonder what might have been had one Supreme Court Justice thought differently.  What might have been is not pretty.

Before we consider the implications of the case had it gone the other direction, we must ask the question: What do religious liberty and freedom entail? What does it mean to have religious freedom?  According to Article 18(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.

A common misconception in the freedom of religion debate is that religious liberty only guarantees the right to worship as one wants without fear of being persecuted or prevented from doing so.  But religion among its many definitions speaks of “a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects” (emphasis own).  So we are guaranteed our freedom not only in worship but in “observance, practice, and teaching”, which for religious people comes from their religion’s authoritative guide (Christian Bible, Muslim Quran, Hindu Bhagavad Gita, etc…).  In fact, one could also argue that religious observance of the Bible and its ethical guidelines are a form of worship.  So for many Christians, Catholics, and Jews, the HHS mandate would have forced them to participate in providing a drug that they believe takes the life a defenseless unborn human person who has already been conceived and violates Scripture’s teaching on life in the womb and God’s involvement in that process (Luke 1:15, Jeremiah 1:5, Isaiah 49:1, Psalm 51:5, Psalm 22:10, Psalm 139:13-16, Galatians 1:15, Exodus 21:22-25).  That is the key in understanding this debate and lawsuit.  While most Catholics are opposed to all forms of contraceptives, there is a reason why Hobby Lobby and other faith-based institutions weren’t up in arms about the condoms and diaphragms which Obamacare’s HHS mandate also provides since those are preventative measures taken during sex and before conception occurs.  Hobby Lobby opposes the use of such abortifacient contraceptives due to their belief that life begins at conception and that human life at all stages is valuable in God’s eyes and deserving of protection.

So where does that leave us? If there is a direct link between what Scripture teaches and David Green’s pro-life beliefs that do not allow him to provide his employees with abortifacient contraceptives, then four of the nine supreme court justices believe that they are entitled to prevent him from “manifesting his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.”  Had one Supreme Court Justice thought differently, the first purpose on which the United States of America was founded would have been abandoned.  While this lawsuit debate has often turned into a debate regarding the morality of abortion and women’s access to “reproductive healthcare,” it is first and foremost an issue of religious liberties and whether or not US citizens have the freedom to live their lives on a day-to-day basis in accordance with the religion they have subscribed to.  Denying David Green and others that freedom would have delivered a fatal blow to the basic freedom so many other countries envy us for and which our founders set out to establish.

So what might have been?  A complete breaking down of this nation’s first freedom and a slippery slope of denying any person any type of religious freedom that doesn’t happen to also coincide with the beliefs of the Supreme Court or presiding powers that would decide such cases.  Let’s be honest and point out the elephant in the room.  All four of the Supreme Court Justices who voted against Hobby Lobby are all pro-choice and are champions of “women’s rights;” for them this is an issue of “reproductive freedom,” not religious freedom.  Such a slippery slope may seem far-fetched, and it certainly wouldn’t happen overnight, but had the Supreme Court ruled differently on this case, what would have kept them from denying Christians and other religious people any other number of religious rights that they disagreed with?  The fact that Hobby Lobby and others barely secured a right that is so fundamental and intrinsic to the foundation of our nation is scary and it’s exactly what might have been.  This should be a reminder to all of us that we have a lot of work to do in reminding our nation of their job to uphold the rights of the people to “have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice, and teaching.”  If we lose that right, it may be a quick journey to losing all others.