Abortion And Christianity, Beyond The Memes And Hot Takes
You probably have read a hundred takes on the reversal of Roe v. Wade on social media. I hope what makes mine different from many is that I have waited a week and removed myself from all media for a few days while on vacation before posting this reaction. And that my reaction will be detailed and (hopefully) thoughtful, and not in the form of a meme or a fiery post that stokes emotions.
I feel as a Christian it is important for me to be able to articulate my views on abortion and our reactions to abortion news. Here are several crucial topics God has been leading me to think through.
The Bible On The Beginning of Life
An abundance of verses and passages speak to God creating and forming life “in the womb”‘. Including but perhaps not limited to: Psalm 71:6, 139:13-16; Job 31:15; Isaiah 44:2, 44:24, 46:3-4, 49:5, and Jeremiah 1:5. The Job passage is of particular interest because Job uses the womb to communicate equality before God for him, the rich man, and his servants. The womb, biblically, should teach us how God sees us and creates us with a measure of equality.
The Bible doesn’t get into terms like “viability,” “trimesters,” “heartbeat” or “personhood” – terms we use to draw distinctions in our laws to make or keep abortion legal and, in my view, more palatable. Since God is the author of all life, I think I can safely infer that the Bible teaches life begins at conception. This is when God begins to “knit us together” (to use the illustration) “in the womb”.
Attempts to make the case biblically that life begins at first breath, and hence after birth, fall flat to me. Adam was clearly an exception in Genesis 2:7 because he was never in the womb. Ezekiel 37 and Job 33:4 both also seem to be speaking to life as God grants it completely (as in John 10:10: “I have come that they may have life and have it more abundantly”) rather than as a distinction from non-life, biologically. None of these passages deal with the womb or the unborn as the passages above do. So, I reject this attempt to define life as beginning after birth.
And while this is not Bible, the case is sealed to me as a pastor by the grief counseling I have done for women who have suffered miscrraiges. It has been among the most intense and heart-shattering mourning I have ever seen. That alone is enough for me to know we are not talking about a clump of cells or to care about distinctions between humans and persons.
The Extreme Cases
Even though we never truly have accurate statistics concerning abortions in America (as some states do not report them), I think we can at least know that abortions in cases of rape, incest, and concern over the life of the mother are extremely rare. Even so, these are horrific circumstances that cannot be brushed easily to the side. As someone who does not understand these circumstances from experiences, I will be very slow to speak about them. Yet in every case abortion is the taking of an innocent, defenseless life. As such I would still advocate for the baby first.
But the concern for the mother has to be rife with compassion. Men shouldn’t ever get off the hook and I would be in favor of any reasonable legislation that does not allow that to happen. And that churches bend over backward to help, whether the mother keeps the baby or puts it up for adoption. This does not happen all the time and that is, indeed, a tragedy. Life at times, quite unfairly, leaves us with two or more choices that are all bad. At this point in my life, I believe choosing to kill the baby is the worst choice in all cases.
Ectopic pregnancies do not belong in this same discussion, because they are not the willful termination of an innocent life.
This discussion matters because any case for abortion that would not be valid if the baby is 20-minutes (or 20 days, etc.) old is not convincing to me. In other words, if a post or meme claims that a person is “pro-choice” because they love women who are victims of abuse or poverty or rape but would NOT be in favor of killing the baby after it’s born, then it’s not really about the abuse or poverty or rape. Outside a fringe minority, I do not think anyone would be in favor of helping victim mothers of poverty by killing babies after they are born.
Abortion is not legal because people have the right to kill because the mother is in poverty or was impregnated against her will. Abortion is legal because the baby is still in the womb.
So, where the baby is at the time has to matter to approving abortion. And if I am completely honest, even though I believe in arguments against bodily autonomy as justification for abortion, those on my side of this issue still use simplistic memes I would rather avoid. For example, the one that shows the pregnant woman and shows a line to her body as “your body” and a line to the baby and says, “NOT your body”.
Morally I think this is correct in the abortion debate. But at the same time, anyone who understands pregnancy at all knows there is an intricate relationship between the woman’s body and the baby. Even though I do not consider words like “viability” important to deciding whether a human has the right to live, I do think it’s worth recognizing that a baby typically cannot live before ~24 weeks without his or her mother’s body. The baby clearly is its own body–its own DNA, body parts, etc. But there is nothing in this world that compares to pregnancy as far as the connection between two bodies.
Yet that actually helps drive my belief that abortion should not be an option. God created the mother’s womb to be a place of refuge, growth and care. Not harm, and especially not death.
Lastly, on this section I will vehemently add that I support and advocate for any measure–legislatively or otherwise–that keeps men accountable for pregnancies they helped create. Men should not get away scot-free and this is an attack on God’s character as a God of justice. When injustice wins and the man involved cannot be known, I absolutely believe churches should attempt to cover the injustice with grace and support however they can (and, of course, even if the man is doing all he can and the couple still needs help due to difficult or unjust circumstances).
If the church fails, and we do sometimes, I’ll support any societal measure in place to help, including the government. I confess I know it’s easy for me to say all of this, and harder to see it and process it in real life and do something about it. But I vow to do far more acting justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with my God. And less talking.
The Christian Reaction To Overturning Roe v. Wade
One interesting thing I have seen from some Christians, and not those I’d consider liberal politically, is this sentiment that Christians either should not celebrate the overturning of Roe and Casey, and that it should not be considered a “win” for God. One extremely viral post I saw highlighted this in particular.
I disagree completely. I get that some people have been jerks, weaponizing it politically. Or reacting sinfully in other ways. But people do that with things like Juneteenth as well. Events still worth celebrating. The event itself, and the harmful reaction of a portion of people, are not the same thing. In fact, some Christians prayed and fasted for this day for decades. They marched peacefully. They stood in front of abortion centers and preached, passionately but respectfully. They offered over and over again to adopt and foster. I cannot fathom telling those people that Friday, June 24th wasn’t a win for God or a day to celebrate.
Even on social media, where people often behave badly behind the detachment of a keyboard, nearly all reactions I saw personally were things like “There is grace for everyone on all sides,” “I won’t unfriend you if we disagree” and “I’m torn about this decision”. There’s no way for any of us to know what type of reaction was dominant across the U.S. by professing Christians. We are all painfully limited in our perspectives. But I think it is safe to say that for many mature disciples of Christ, celebration was the most healthy and natural way to respond. It was indeed a win for innocent, defenseless lives that cannot speak for themselves (Proverbs 31:8-9).
To those who say things like Christian celebration of this event will cause women to feel scared and will cause damage to our witness by not being “loving,” I don’t discount this completely. There are fake Christians out there who just want to win politically and do not truly care that much for babies or women. And some Christians even (myself included) surely react in ways to such events that are not Christlike. Yet keep two things in mind.
First, being “loving” does not always mean you are compassionate and empathetic to everyone. Some people, notably those of power and influence, absolutely want abortion on demand for any reason and are not victims in any sense. The statistics prove that a healthy percentage of abortions have nothing to do with abuse, rape, poverty, etc. Those cases are at times used to emotionally manipulate people and win social media clout, but they are not the core point. The right to abort in any case is.
Some of these people are quite vile in how they approach the topic. Actress Jessica Chastain posted to Instagram on July 4 a picture of her flipping two middle fingers and claiming her “reproductive rights” (the fact this term exists to me is proof that abortion is a part of a bigger anti-god worldview for a lot of people). Mark Hamil posted a picture recently of two cartoon villains with the caption “We want to adopt your baby,” presumably implying those who oppose abortion and suggest adoption are the bad guys. These tweets and posts are common.
This group of people is not fringe at all to me, and these posts have been liked hundreds of thousands of times. In some sense, abortion is a part of spiritual warfare. And in warefare, you fight. And when you win, you celebrate.
Some people on this topic need truth in love more than compassion and empathy. Think of Elijah being sarcastic with the false prophets on Mount Carmel. Or Paul going after false teachers. Or Esther’s people establishing Purim in celebration of deliverance from death. It is entirely appropriate at times for Christians to speak and act this way. I, personally, need to come across as unkind at times to live biblically. And I also would be completely supportive of churches celebrating June 24 on the calendar going forward.
(I assume that when a person speaks out against Christians celebrating, they think they are the ones speaking truth to power. But I could easily claim that their posts are unloving as well. See how that works? Many people celebrating are doing so because they think their speaking truth to power has yielded a victory for justice. That is, at times, more important than what some unsaved people think of the church. Being “nice” and inoffensive all the time is one of the truly great sins American Christianity deals with. Jesus once said, “Woe unto you when all men speak well of you.” We do well to remember that.)
Secondly, what about those who are legitimately scared because of this ruling? Well, again, I’m sure there are those who could not care less. And they really do hurt the church’s witness. But there can be no doubt that the Christian church overall has done an astronomical amount to prove we do love babies unborn and born, and their mothers. Depending on how you define “Christian” this group is either 3 times or 10 times more likely than the average person to adopt. There are 2500 crisis pregnancy centers in the U.S., largely funded and run by Christians. Tim Tebow has an organization that does amazing work with orphanages and victims of sex trafficking.
Can the church do more? Of course. Were some doing little to nothing before who are only now speaking up and saying “We need to step up?” Yes. But what would be worse in this case? Those who were doing nothing to keep doing nothing, or allowing this ruling to be the impetus for them to do more for victims who do not abort? Maybe it’s hypocritical, but I don’t know people’s hearts in general. I choose to celebrate any good that comes out of this, both for the unborn and for everyone else.
There are many reasons to be discouraged as Christians. The overturn of Roe vs. Wade and the overall Christian reaction, to me, are not among them.
I will close by confessing that I definitely need to repent of my apathy towards victims around me, both neighbors and beyond. I am guilty of the same sins as Sodom, as spoken by God through Ezekiel: “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy.” I am too often overfed, arrogant and unconcerned.
This does not nullify the victory of Roe v. Wade, for countless unborn babies going forward. It just means I need to do better individually. This is really where Christians need to be focusing our concern right now: on getting the beam out of our own eyes before we criticize others. It’s easy to say “Christians are this” or “Christians don’t do that”. But no group is quite that simple.
Which is why I have waited to write this and spent days away from media before doing so. Yet, even so, I am not above criticism. I have blind spots. Therefore, we welcome feedback below.
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4 thoughts on “Abortion And Christianity, Beyond The Memes And Hot Takes”
Gowdy, thank you for tackling such a vital issue with such concern, compassion, and critical, analytical thinking.
Thank you as well!
Very well written and articulated. I agree 100%. Thank you for seeking the Lord and putting pen to paper on this issue.