I want to set a text before us as a point of reference as we approach this subject…
“For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of one man the many will be made righteous. The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 5:19-21
Here the apostle Paul describes the great spiritual reality in which we live; that there are two realms or powers at work in this world - the power of sin and the power of grace. > AND THE POWER OF GRACE IS GREATER.
I believe this is a pivotal truth for each of our hearts as we continue in our series entitled “Holding out Hope in a Wounded World” and especially as we return to the subject of the SANCTITY OF THE WOMB.
Last week we looked at THE QUESTION OF LIFE, seeing that God’s Word clearly declares, that life begins at conception…as modern technology increasingly confirms; also that God’s image is inherently bestowed upon such life, establishing the sacredness of the human life as endowed rather than achieved.
Now we turn to the QUESTION OF RESPONSE.
Can we forge a positive response in light of the polarizing politics and personal pain which surround the issue of life in the womb?
Here is where the great truth Paul declared cries out to us…that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. And if I have ever stood with a group of people who can take hold of that truth, I am with them today; a fellowship able to maintain standards while ministering grace. But I know with this particular issue it is difficult to feel we have achieved a balance.
Those who feel a prophetic passion in their convictions regarding the sanctity of life in the womb, often struggle to maintain the grace.
And those who feel a priestly compassion often struggle to maintain their convictions. In speaking with many of you about your response to the issue of abortion, many of you have expressed to me that you feel strongly about upholding the sanctity of life…and believe abortion is wrong, but…
· But the polarizing politics gets to you
· But the personal pain involved in peoples circumstances is hard to know how to respond to.
This morning I want to honor your “but” (that is ‘but’ with one “t”), because I feel it too.
I believe God is calling us to serve as prophets and priests, and I want to share how God has led me and how I believe he would lead us.
The first point relates to our emotional response to the issue of abortion.
I. A call beyond the safety of self-righteousness towards COMPASSIONATE CONVICTION.
There was a time in my life when it was easier for me to find pride in holding the “right” positions…a self-righteousness that hid the failures within myself and also hid me from the abundance of grace at hand. Looking back I see how foolish such self-righteousness is.
Recently the Lord has reminded me of promiscuous failures painfully close even to the horrendous subject at hand. I share that not to suggest any detachment from our moral commitment, nor to encourage any value in changing our standards….but in reckoning with our temptation to self righteousness we must all be reminded, that God has declared “there is none who is righteous.”
I feel more deeply than ever before about the issue of abortion, but I am equally convinced of who we are, neither a completely immoral people, nor a complete righteous people. Rather as Jack Hayford described, we are “failures growing up.”
As the Lord continues to awaken me from the safety of self-righteousness, I want to suggest that this safety and self-righteousness can be just as active on the other side, that is, among our desires for compassion. About 3 years ago the Lord revealed a very clear counter conviction. I had been actively involved in working with women in crisis pregnancy, on the Board of Harvest Home, and oversaw our Pro Life Ministry. Yet I realized that while I was willing to speak out publicly on many other social issues I was involved with, I remained quiet on the one topic that wasn’t politically popular. I was pro-life in my position, but I was proud of remaining an armchair critic of those taking public stands in ways so easily given to criticism. I was safe and self-righteous in my silence.
The Lord was leading me further towards COMPASSIONATE CONVICTION.
He‘s been calling me beyond the false sense of conviction that doesn’t honor the great work of grace and subsequent compassion. And he’s been calling me beyond the false sense of compassion that is simply fear claiming to be humility; of providing silent sympathy when neutrality may prove to be the greatest sin of all.
In this spirit, the Lord would remind us of his calling in Proverbs 31…
“Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and need.” Proverbs 31:8-9 (NKJV)
Here is a beautiful call to open our mouths to speak out for those who can’t; lives with no public voice…fitting of the unborn child. But notice we are also called to the cause of the poor and needy, a reference fitting so many for whom the option of abortion has beckoned…and beckons even now. Then there are the words of Jesus in Luke 8…
“No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” Luke 8:16-17
Here is a call to bring the light I have to bear out so that others can receive sight from it. Not an interrogators light for the purpose of intimidating, but a well placed light for the purpose of giving vision to those who come close…a light that allows others to see more clearly.
This leads to our second point, one associated with our intellectual response.
II. A call beyond political simplicity, slogans, and set-ups, towards CLARITY.
If we are to provide light we must seek clarity with-in our own understanding as God leads us. Jesus was often brought the controversial issues of his day, often to trap him in their politically loaded nature and thus silence him. But with profound wisdom he brought to light what was truly at hand and in so doing revealed truth behind the rhetoric.
Towards that end, I offer a few examples as you see below. My intent is not to be thorough in either the number of issues nor the depth of response involved, but simply to offer some wisdom towards discerning the complexities that surround the issue of abortion.
I realize that to address any of these thoughts related to abortion with such brevity of time is vulnerable to being too much thought for some or too little thought for others. What’s critical is that we begin a dialogue on these issues and continue to think together as the Lord gives us insight and wisdom.
1. The issue of priority involved: How can I resolve feeling trapped between a proper respect for human life as well as a respect for freedom and choice?
> Choice as a human right does not precede the right to life itself but rather proceeds from it. Therefore, along with rights to privacy, rights to personal choice have always been held as secondary and limited by the rights and protection of other lives.
Our culture, more pointedly our generation since the 60’s, has tried to make “choice” the highest value…a value unto itself…the absolute value above all others.
But neither logic nor the laws we hold dear are consistent with such a position.
We respect freedom from totalitarianism because we respect the dignity of human life. We value certain freedoms because we declare, “all are created equal” with inalienable rights given by God.
Therefore, the question of “life” precedes the question of “choice.” If we impose anything less than a recognition that all are created with value and with inalienable rights…and rather decide rights are achieved or bestowed by another, then we undermine the very basis for respecting freedom.
There are plenty of people who feel OK about taking human life through murder. We hear of them everyday in the news…we have laws against it, denying their choice, because we believe in life above choice.
Even privacy laws are limited to protect the rights of lives which can’t protect themselves…child abuse being the most obvious.
Life vs. choice is not an equally level set of values. The question of life must be the basis for the role of choice. Those who want to speak out for life should not be labeled anti-choice. I hold a tremendous value for choice but both logic and laws place the priority on the question of life, and should require this question to be answered clearly before any clarity of conscience can be found regarding the proper exercising of choice. This is why we began previously addressing the question of life, seeing clearly that God’s Word declares the sanctity and value of human life beginning at conception.
2. The issue of defining the rights in question: Aren’t rights concerning a women’s body and reproductive potential basic human rights which should be protected?
>Absolutely, however the practice of abortion is more accurately one of “post-productive rights” than “reproductive rights.”
The right for a woman to choose whether to reproduce is absolute. Any force used to violate her body should be passionately protected against; including laws against incest, rape…even by her husband.
But abortion is about a life already reproduced, and in over 99% of all cases reproduced by active choice.
As I shared last week in announcing Leah’s pregnancy, we are now with child. We have reproduced life and now the question is what is our responsibility with that life.
I’m not saying that the consequences of promiscuous sex or untimely pregnancies in marriage are easy, but that only holding up the role of choice afterwards is neither honest nor helpful in developing responsibility. We’re denying all responsibility for creating life, and then assuming absolute rights to life once created. It simply seems we have our God given responsibility backwards.
3. The issue of implication involved: What’s the broader meaning and message at hand in assessing the practice of abortion?
> Make no mistake, the debate at hand is not simply about abortion, it’s an ethical debate about what determines the value of human life, a debate that openly admits that abortion is simply the first natural step towards a new approach to ethics surrounding life.
With increasing technology (such as, genetics) and an increasing desire to control our responsibility in life, the implications for the life of the young and old alike are equally before us. To accept that respect for life is to be achieved rather than endowed leads to a devaluing with no end.
Albert Schweitzer once said, “If a man looses reverence for any part of life he will lose his reverence for all of life”
Mother Teresa knowing perhaps better than any other how far disrespect for human life can go spoke painfully and pointedly to America stating “When a nation encourages its mothers to kill their children, there is nothing that won’t be done.”
We may be wise to remember that this is not the first time a profound moral shift was sanctioned by the circumstances of its time. We can think of slavery…of the Holocaust. In each case comfort and convenience carried people into that which would later shock their moral sensibilities. And in each case God’s people would have to reckon with their own susceptibility and silence.
4. The issue of consistency: Doesn’t a commitment to the value of human life imply a commitment beyond the issue of abortion?
> To desire protection for life in the womb with integrity also calls forth a commitment to care and dignity for all human life.
Too often the debate on abortion can lead us to simply being pro-birth rather than pro-life. We must see the broader call of honoring God’s image in all human life. All whose dignity can be oppressed—women and children, the old and the disabled, the poor and persecuted. This doesn’t mean we have to take up every cause with equal weight…God has no desire to overload or overwhelm us. But it does remind me to be consistent in my positions, my practice and my posture; beginning with encouraging the dignity of lives around me such as each of you; and then to be equally willing to stand for life in whatever situation God calls upon me.
The greatest challenge for those of us who are pro-life is to truly be and consistently respect the value of human life…not only in our voting but also in our daily voice.
5. The issue of legislation: Even if my personal convictions seem clear, do political means really provide a response that bears the work of Christ?
> The Gospel is a clear declaration that laws can provide a valuable backdrop for human conscience, but they do not have the ultimate power to change lives. As such, legislation has a legitimate but limited role. We cannot legislate morality, but we can legislate an affirmation of morality. (i.e., legislation bears the symbolic significance of sanctioning our corporate responsibility.)
What Jesus teaches us about the Law of God as given to Moses has some insight into how we should view the role of legislating laws in our own nation. As Jesus explained, he didn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law in a way that we never could. Jesus takes us to the heart of the matters which the Law addresses… even that of murder… and shows we can all be murderous in heart. The Law only exposes our hearts. He brings the transforming grace of God, offering forgiveness and His indwelling life to change us from the inside out as we are reconciled to God. In the same way our hope should never be in the Law but in His power to change hearts. The laws we choose as a nation, to the degree they reflect the Law of God, cannot change us and make us ‘righteous’ people, but they can provide a backdrop for our human conscience.
6. The issue of assessing the reality of “choice” at hand: What quality of conscious choice is being made? Is the state of conscience involved one which is usually fully informed and clear?
> True choice requires being truly informed. The vast majority of abortions today are not the ‘choices’ of those who really understand what‘s involved, rather they are simply decisions made by those unprepared.
A woman I’d never met before joined us after our morning Celebration last week. With a mixture of pain and shock she told how the only question that was pressed upon her was, “Cash or insurance?” That’s not to say that all of those involved with abortions are greedy. Far from it. Many are among the most compassionate people we could hope to know. The point is simply that I’ve sat with many women who have shared with me their own process of submitting to an abortion. Not one expressed a clear understanding of what was involved at the time. The facts are not presented at all.
If my response for driving a car comes into question I go to traffic school where I see films to make me face the realities of my responsibility at hand. Yet such films on abortion are literally prohibited from being shown.
I don’t share this simply to question the position of advocating choice, but to understand why judging anyone is so unfair. That’s not to say we can’t judge the practice of abortion, but there is no place to judge the person involved, and all that was and wasn’t involved in their decision.
7. The issue of personal response: Does my moral position really provide a proper response to the personal dilemmas involved?
> Moral clarity is not the same as a solution. Though it may be an essential part of a response, it is not an end in itself.
It is never a “simple and painless” procedure …never a “simple” and easy decision. The personal process varies in every case, from the more casual circumstances to the more critical and complex;…from an expedient means of dealing with the consequences of promiscuity…to the extremely challenging dilemmas of incest, rape, and severe disabilities being detected in the unborn child.
I’m not prepared to say that any of these cases are solved by abortion, but neither am I in a position to say that any of these circumstances are simple or easy.
While I recognize that each involves a vastly different level of responsibility for their circumstances, I also recognize that each faces a distinct set of challenges for which I have never had to exercise my own strength and courage.
This is where our fear of self righteousness must cause us not to back away, but rather to go forward in humility and grace.
To say that abortion is wrong is I believe, a proper position for God’s people; but it is not in itself a proper response for God’s people. We must become available to the work of God’s grace….which leads us to our final point...our active response.
III. A call beyond silence and sentiments towards CARE.
Jesus spoke pointedly of our ultimate calling in his indictment of religious scholars of his day saying, “You experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them. Luke 11:46
Without the leverage of God’s love, the law is simply a load. God calls us to be a people who provide leverage; who help lift needs rather than load them up. I believe we are a fellowship who feels that challenge and is able to meet it.
We have, and can continue to develop a positive response to this painful and polarized issue through means which are first all personal.
By emphasizing personal I don’t mean to imply that there is no place for providing a political and public voice. I believe we must!
But I believe that personal involvement gives more opportunity to reveal God’s heart in a way that can be understood. Perhaps the most dramatic example is that of Norma McCorvey, who using the pseudonym “Jane Roe” won the 1973 Roe vs Wade Supreme Court case to legalize abortion.
This symbol of the abortion rights movement was working as the marketing director for a Dallas abortion clinic. When the Christian organization, Operation Rescue, moved their offices directly next door, she began to taunt the president of the organization…Phillip Benhem. But in time, Benhem, also 47 and a recovering alcoholic, developed a close friendship during lulls in the two clinics. His care and compassion for her painful life opened up her heart and allowed her to confess the real needs and convictions she’d held inside for so long. Benhem had the privilege of baptizing her this past August explaining, “Jesus Christ has reached through the abortion mill walls and touched the heart of Norma McCorvey.” I remember watching T.V. the night the story broke lose.
> As columnist Cal Thomas said, “He won her over not with harsh rhetoric, but by treating her as a valuable person.” That’s what a positive pro-life response can do through the power of personal care.
Such examples are by no means few or far away from any of us. This past Friday I visited one of our pastoral leaders at his work, where just months ago his assistant had shared she was pregnant. When tensions grew with her boyfriend she turned towards the option of abortion. He asked her if we could pray for her as a church, provided her with materials to read in considering her decision. She came back and shared her decision to bear the child and is due any day now. There’s the power of human relationships.
We also need means that are practical.
Here is where every one of us can lift up the value for life by helping to provide real alternatives to those in need. Examples abound, such as Harvest Home, a home for women in crisis pregnancy who have made difficult decisions. We support Harvest Home both financially and personally as a fellowship. They are in need of the love and leverage of God’s people.
As we honor God as owner of all we have, through our giving back to him our weekly tithes and offerings, we honor his purposes in our regular support of Harvest Home. But perhaps the Lord would lead you to give even further financially or in service.
An even further step in providing alternatives is of course a decision by couples to adopt children. Some of you have made that choice, sometimes as a wonderful answer to the inability to bear children yourself. Others, like Leah and myself, may consider adopting children along with those we bear. After all, God adopted us; …adoption is His thing.
And finally, whether married or single, we can all help support those in our very fellowship who bear the special burden of supporting life with unusually difficult circumstances…Our single parents…parents with children who are developmentally disabled. They need more than our sympathy, they need our support and such support is indeed a wonderful opportunity to reflect our value for the sanctity of human life.
Finally we can provide healing and hope, through extending freedom and forgiveness from the past.
If there have been 20 million lives lost to abortion, there are 40 million mothers and fathers who have suffered as well. One man said, “One life lost is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” Ironically, that man was Josef Stalin…who knew the power of statistics to numb the moral conscience. God has made it known that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. Let us be instruments of that grace…one life at a time, personally, practically, and prayerfully.