I believe that discussion—true discussion—begins by understanding the position of those with whom you dialogue. If media—broadcast, print, and social—are any indication, then our nation is in a dialogue crisis, for we do not understand the position of the other. This is no more obvious on any issue than that of abortion. Public debate regarding abortion policy has devolved into a name-calling match. Opponents of abortion are “closed-minded,” “religious nuts,” or “misogynists.” Proponents of abortion are “murderers,” “baby killers,” or “anti-child.” With recent political events in New York, Virginia, and the attempted passage of the “Born-Alive Bill” in the Senate, it seems a good time to remind why Christians have held this historical position.
Perhaps such a task is fruitless, but I want the discussion to move forward. So, if you are willing to read without taking offense, I am going to attempt to explain the basic Christian position regarding abortion.
I do so in order to allow those outside of the Christian faith the opportunity of understanding a group of citizens within the state.
I will do so in two parts. In part one, I will provide the basic theological and Scriptural reasons that Christians have historically opposed abortion. In part two, I will provide a few sociological reasons that Christians do so, as well.
Before I begin, I want to state that while my convictions are firm on this matter, I do not write in order to attack or badger another. I hold to the teaching of Jesus that I am to love my neighbor as myself. Therefore, I hope that my writing will convey that spirit of love. If I veer into condescension or mindless attack, I hope you will point that out. Secondly, this essay is not a condemnation of any woman who has chosen to have an abortion—more on that in a moment—but is instead intended to explain why Christians have argued for other options.
With those things in mind:
Part One, Theological and Scriptural Reasons:
1. Christians believe in the sanctity of human life. This belief is, ultimately, the cornerstone of all orthodox Christian responses to abortion. The ancient Jewish community (the theological predecessor to the church) held to this conviction as well. These convictions begin with a reading of the Bible, the book that Christians hold to be sacred.
The Christian conviction that human life is sacred comes from multiple portions of Scripture, but it springs initially from the opening chapters of Genesis: the creation narrative. Throughout the creation account, the Lord claims that creation is very good. However, after creating humankind in His image (Genesis 1:28), the Lord says that humanity is VERY good. The poetic and structural work of Genesis is not accidental. The Lord has said creation is good five times, but here, the sixth time, he says the work is very good. This is not accidental. He says it is very good, for humanity is the cornerstone and climax of creation.
When Christians oppose abortion, they are beginning with the fundamental belief that humans are the capstone of creation, created in the image of God, and therefore ought to be preserved.
2. Christians believe life begins prior to birth.
The first conviction—the sanctity of human life—is not all that surprising. The rub begins with the second conviction that human life begins prior to birth. (For those who watched the debate surrounding SB5, much of the discussion regarded whether a fetus at 20 weeks could experience pain; while much research suggests the answer is yes, Christians do not believe pain determines personhood.)
This conviction is formed from two places: the reading of Scripture, and the intention of heterosexual intercourse. If you are not a Christian, Scripture will not matter much, but let me list a few of the Scriptures Christians have held to in their understanding of human life beginning prior to birth.
The Psalms declare that those in the womb are being formed by the Lord: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:13).
Jeremiah 1:5 states, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
Job 31:15 says, “Did not he who made me in the womb make him? And did not one fashion us in the womb?”
There are other Scriptures, as well, but you see the point of them: human life is not only the capstone of creation, but it is formed intentionally in the womb. (Side Note: This is why Christians have supported giving birth to children that are diagnosed with special needs or deformities prior to birth. They believe that even the most deformed of humans are intended by God to honor Him. While over 90% of Down’s Syndrome babies are aborted due to concerns of care and cost, Christians support giving birth to those children because they are still created in God’s image and can show us His image in their lives.)
Beyond Scripture, Christians believe that sex is not merely an act for pleasure, but also for reproduction. In other words, Christians believe that when they engage in sex, they are prepared to welcome and care for any children that may result from that sexual activity. This conviction, of course, affects the way they view sex. As a Christian father, I teach my children that sex is to be reserved for marriage. This is not because I am anti-sex. I am actually pro-sex. But I am pro-sex within marriage because I want any children that result from sexual intercourse to be welcomed into that relationship. (I will talk about sex and children outside of marriage in a moment.)
Consequently, Christians believe that if a woman is pregnant, a life has begun and it must be cared for and preserved. (Side Note: There is debate within the Christian community whether life begins at a) conception, b) the formation of a heartbeat, or c) the beginning of brainwaves. I tend towards a), but will save that discussion for another time.) Therefore, the termination of a pregnancy is tantamount to murder to many Christians, for they see the pregnancy as a human life. This mindset is not a recent development. The word “fetus,” for example, while often used to mean “something not quite human” is actually Latin for “offspring.” The ancients saw the pregnancy as the beginning of human life and named it as such.
Other Christians have stated the same more eloquently than I, but I will quote one of my theological mentors, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Destruction of the embryo in the mother’s womb is a violation of the right to live which God has bestowed upon this nascent life. To raise the question of whether we are here concerned already with a human being or not is merely to confuse the issue. The simple fact is that God certainly intended to create a human being and that this nascent human being has been deliberately deprived of his life. And this is nothing but murder.” (DB, Ethics)
3. Christians believe children are a blessing. Convictions #1 and #2 then lead to #3. If humans are the capstone of creation, and if life begins prior to birth, then a child is not a liability or a problem, but a gift from God. This is a great dissonance to our culture, particularly in the West. If we are honest with ourselves, we are rather selfish creatures. We want what we want, and we want it as soon as possible. Children often prevent us from this process of self-actualization, and, consequently, our culture has viewed them as obstacles to overcome, for anything that prevents my self-actualization cannot be good.
I could wax eloquently about how Ben (my oldest son) was an unplanned pregnancy while I was a full-time graduate student and diagnosed with heart failure and my wife was completing her teaching certification leaving us broke, sick, and with child. I could tell you that he and Andrew are the greatest delights in my life.
But such a story is not an argument. It is simply my experience in light of my walk with Jesus. Again, Scripture:
Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14)
Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the children of one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
who fills his quiver with them!
He shall not be put to shame
when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
Christians believe that when God gives a child, he gives a blessing, and therefore, that child should be cherished.
4. Christians believe the prior convictions are higher than personal rights. Many questions arise when an unplanned pregnancy occurs. What if I don’t want to have a baby? What if I can’t provide for this baby? What if the parents will treat this child badly?
Much of the political debate surrounding abortion centers on an issue typically phrased as “woman’s reproductive rights.” Those who believe women ought to be able to terminate a pregnancy argue that limiting that right interferes with personal rights and a woman’s right to control her own body. As I’ve already demonstrated, the Christian conviction that this child is a human life comes into direct contradiction with this opposing conviction of personal rights. Consequently, Christians have argued that the child should be carried full-term while those who support abortion argue that the fetus is not a fully-formed human life and can be terminated.
For example, a New York Times editorial from 2004 about a mother who selectively reduced her pregnancy with triplets to a single pregnancy focuses on individual rights. Her decision is driven by career, lifestyle, etc. Proponents of abortion would support such reasoning; historic Christianity would argue the rights of the unborn children are human rights on the same level as that of the mother. Both sides appeal to human rights. Proponents appeal to rights of freedom; opponents appeal to rights to live.3
5. Consequently, Christians are advocates for alternatives to abortion. In his book, The Rise of Christianity, Rodney Stark shows how first-century Christians would rescue unwanted babies from the dump. When pagan Roman families would discard children (usually girls), the Christians would offer to take them in, to adopt them. Christians have always held to a culture of life.
Christians not only argue against abortion, but they also argue for fostering and adopting, because they believe that the best path for every child is into a home. Right now I have numerous Christian friends adopting children of all backgrounds, nationalities, and races, because those children are without parents. These friends take seriously the command of James: “True religion is this: to care for widows and orphans.”
I do not have statistics available at this moment, but Christian adoption is on the rise, primarily because Christians feel it is the most effective way to stem the tide of abortion. Such a movement is not without issues, to be certain, but when I talk to friends of mine like the Chappells, I am encouraged that adoption is a beautiful way to demonstrate the love of Jesus to those without parents. (Side Note: I once heard a study claiming that if every church in the United States adopted one child, there would be no need for foster care. I’m grateful to pastor churches with multiple adoptive families.)
Part Two, Sociological Reasons:
I will avoid tired “conservative” or “political” arguments. I am a pastor, so I want to talk about three particular social issues I find troubling with the issue of abortion, for I think these affect the spirit of humans, and consequently, should be considered by people, even those who are not people of faith.
1. Minorities are affected disproportionately by abortion. There is a legion of reasons why this is the case, but the African-American community is most adversely affected by abortion. Forget about the sinister beginnings of Planned Parenthood being designed “to exterminate the Negro population.” Whether that is intended today or not, abortion terminates pregnancies of minority women at three times the rate of non-Hispanic, white women. In other words, a smaller percentage of the population uses abortion at a higher rate, preventing the expansion and flourishing of that race.
2. Women are affected disproportionately by abortion. I’m not talking about sex-selective abortion, although worldwide more girls than boys are terminated. That is certainly tragic. But I am talking about the post-abortive depression and guilt that thousands of women experience every year, as discussed in this Atlantic monthly article from last week. When women like “Jane Roe” (Norma McCorvey) end up being pro-life by the end of their lives due to the overwhelming feeling that they are killing, this seems to be a sociological phenomenon that ought to be investigated.
3. The majority of Americans oppose late-term abortion. This is not some closed-minded theocracy, as many proponents of abortion would claim. As The Huffington Post reports, Americans overwhelmingly support a ban on late-term abortions: 59% to 30%. If public opinion matters in other social issues (i.e., same-sex marriage) in the eyes of Congress and the courts, shouldn’t such support matter in this social issue?
Postscript: Are You Condemning Women?
One night as part of a church home group, we took turns sharing our story of coming to faith. One of the women in our group confessed that years earlier she had become pregnant and chosen to have an abortion. She broke down into tears, almost hysterical with guilt. And our group modeled Jesus well, in my estimation. We each hugged her. We told her that the Lord had forgiven her through the grace of Christ. And we told her that we each loved her. To this day she is a committed Christian and a close friend.
This essay is not intended to condemn any woman that has chosen to have an abortion. Many Christians have done that in the past. I am so sorry that has taken place, and I wish I could take away the hurt they have caused. Guilt, manipulation, and anger are not the tools of Jesus. This essay is instead intended to demonstrate why Christians feel strongly about this issue, and it is intended to hopefully change some hearts.
If you are a woman who has had an abortion, or if you are friends with a woman who has made such a choice, I hope you will understand the desire of the church is this: To share the Scripture, to pray with you, and to offer you a hug.
I hope you will not hate Christians because they want to see abortions reduced and, one day, eliminated. We believe we are preserving human life, that portion of creation most treasured by God. And I hope you have not felt attacked. Instead, I hope you have understood our position, and I hope you will respect us as we speak into the democratic public square of our nation, a place where all voices can be heard, including those that belong to people of faith.