A series designed to allow God’s word to shape our clarity and compassion regarding the critical issues of our day that so often overwhelm us- more than a series…I believe it’s a season in which God is restoring our hearts with both His conviction and compassion. My prayer is that this morning we could do the same as we come to the issue of SANCTITY OF THE WOMB…and the quality of life itself.
Throughout this series the Lord has been making each of these issues very personal…revealing new depths of personal conviction and experience…and in a very positive way He’s really outdone himself on this topic…
While I am excited and thankful for how real this makes our topic of the sanctity of the womb this morning, and what a positive back drop it provides for looking to God’s Word regarding what we are to make of this life. I am addressing these issues to help face a far more controversial and complex issue…that of ABORTION. Likely the most difficult subject to address publicly because it is undoubtedly the most passionate, political, and polarizing subject of our day. Difficult because it is a subject often reduced to slogans and simplistic assumptions about “the other side.”
One side views the other as having no convictions, and the other side views the opponents as having no compassion.
I am will aware that there are SEVERAL AUDIENCES this morning with sensitivities I may offend, and I want to offer a word to each:
Pro choice… or perhaps uncertain afraid of…I am clearly pro-life
Never a banner…always welcome…but I challenge you to come and reason with me.
Pro-life …even the passionate are called to humility not just about …
Which brings me to a third audience.
THOSE WHO HAVE EXPERIENCED AN ABORTION
You know better than I, the real struggle of conscience…the hard choices that may never have been settled peacefully with God.
I care more about you than anyone else I’m addressing. As we look to God’s Word for clarity of convictions, I pray that such clarity will be the start of a process of healing and forgiveness for you. With that, I want to address two issues related to the sanctity of the womb;
First this week the question of life…its beginning and value, second next week the question of choice…How are we to sort out the rights that surround the womb with both the clarity and compassion of Jesus at work within us?
Let me begin with
1. THE CURRENT QUESTION: Is human life endowed or achieved?
The practice of abortion first came into public discussion in ancient Greece, during what many refer to as the first “age of enlightenment.” A rampant sense of free thinking was in the air and abortion was given place for may of the same life style reasons as today…and with it, preferential treatment to male babies abandonment of babies.
Early church fathers remained opposed…Tertillian, Ongin, Ambrose, Augustine…all maintained every life was sacred. Christian conviction eventually won the day and was adopted following the emperors conversion to Christ. This conviction has stood throughout Catholic history, and was held strongly by every reformer of Protestant tradition. Calvin, Luther, later Karl Barth, Emil Brunner and Bonhoeffer. Unity of Christian conviction didn’t change until the late 60’s in America. Freedom was once again in the air, and with it came a new approach to reasoning about life.
Originally, the question was one of biological life itself…little was known of the development process so something less than human could be imagined but quickly technology revealed just how complete life was.
In my wife’s womb is a life, whose entire makeup has been present in DNA since conception. Since the third week the lobes of the brain have been distinguishable and organs begin to form. The head and face are distinguishable, arms and legs begin budding. By the 7th week, sex can be identified (but don’t ask!) By now approximately the tenth week nervous system is transmitting messages to and from the brain; skin is responsive and the child will move if touched. The brain itself has approximately the same overall structure as it will have at birth.
Scholar Jerome Lejeune, a professor of fundamental genetics in Paris testified to a Senate committee. “Life has a very long history, but each individual has a very neat beginning, the moment of its conception.”
The result of such knowledge has shifted much of the debate surrounding abortion; shifting to higher qualities of life. Few are trying to deny the humanity of the unborn, now a distinction is being made using terms such as human life vs. personhood.
biological life vs. personhood.
The debate is whether HUMAN LIFE IS ENDOWED or ACHIEVED.
Some quality-viability…but that includes childhood-social-relational…but
II. The Testimony of Scripture: The inherent sanctity of human life.
Psalm 139:13-16 A description of God’s hand on life in the womb so rich it would seem to speak for itself in regards to the testimony of Scripture. Metaphoric nature of Psalm…but metaphor uses non literal images to declare literal truth of Psalm 23, In fact, Scripture confirms and expands this truth.
1. Life begins at conception
• The “seed” is understood as the sacred and spiritual means of passing on life. (Eve and Serpent, Genesis 3:15;38:9; David’s throne 2 Samuel l7:12-16.
• Some forty times Scripture refers to conception and life in the womb in referring to the beginning of life.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son and will call him Emmanuel.” (God with us.) Isaiah 7:14; cf. Luke 1:31; Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:39-43. When God chose to enter humanity…not as an adult…as a young child but unborn. May just conceived life by God’s Spirit…visits Elizabeth…refers to child as “The Lord”…only first couple days of pregnancy! If life begins at conception what value does God give to such life?
So God created humankind in his image
2. God’s image is inherent to creation of human life.
“Then God said “Let’s us make humankind in our image…Genesis 1:26-27
So God created humankind in His image.
…The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7
“breath of life” = plural, “lives”; God created life in his image with the capacity to create this life in an ongoing manner through conception.
…The bearing of God’s image is not connected to an attribute.-Greek dualism>attribute; such that gives place to a functional value of life.
God’s Word maintains our sanctity is derived, not developed.
3. God’s relationship to life in the womb.
• “Thy hands made me and fashioned me.” Psalm 119:73
• Not only in developing but in calling and purpose. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before your were born I set you apart.” Jeremiah 1:5
• Samson’s mother was told not to eat unclean foods “for the boy shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb and he shall begin to deliver Israel from the hands of the Philistines.” Judges 13:3-5
• Paul writes that God had set him apart “from my mother’s womb.” Gal. 1:15
None of you are an accident. God’s sovereignty holds a place for every life…with plans and purpose.
Let that truth declare deeply in your soul that your existence is intended, and let it declare value to every life conceived.
4. Destruction of life in the womb is the loss of sacred life “If men who are fighting hit a pregnant woman and she gives birth prematurely but there is no serious injury, the offender must be fined whatever the husband demands and the court allows. But if there is serious injury, you are to take a life for life, eye for eye…”Exodus 21:22-23 (cf. Amos 1:13; 2 Kings 8:12; Hosea 9:14-16.)
III. The Hope of Heaven
• David upon the death of his newborn…”I shall go to him but he shall not return to me.” 2 Samuel 12:19-23
• Jesus on the special relationship of the child in their innocence…”See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Matthew 18:10 Therein lies our hope.
Not by denying the sanctity of life, but by declaring it, as well as the healing and hope that awaits all who seek God’s forgiveness…even the forgiveness of having allowed a sacred life to be taken.
SANCTITY OF THE WOMB (part II):
The Question of Response
March 10, 1996-Brad Bailey
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. 20 The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, 21 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; two realms/power the power of sin the power of grace>more importantly; THE POWER OF GRACE IS GREATER.
I believe this is a pivotal truth for each of our hearts this morning as we continue in our series entitled “Holding out Hope in a Wounded World” and especially as we return to the subject of SANCTITY OF THE WOMB; RIGHT TO LIFE.
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 compassion in their convictions re: 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, as seen on your outline, relates to OUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE to the issue of abortion.
1. 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. Reminded of a young man…married later in life…only one relationship
Indeed the Lord has reminded me of 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, but 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. beyond the false sense of conviction that doesn’t honor the great work of grace and the subsequent compassion. Beyond the false sense of compassion that is simply fear claiming to be humility; 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.
2.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 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 these on your outline. 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 which 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,…I welcome you to come and join me after service.
• 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; a reasonable level of freedom is declared 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 of all created…and in inalienable rights…and decide rights most be 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 1st week addressing the question of life, seeing clearly that God’s Word declares the sanctity and value of human life beginning at conception.
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 women 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.
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 Schweister “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.
• 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, practice and my posture; beginning with encouraging the dignity 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 in our daily voice.
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.)
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. More at hand than choices being made by those understanding are decisions by those unprepared. Explanation of women who shared with me last week…cash or insurance. 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.
The issue of personal dimension: Does my moral position really provide a proper response to the personal dilemmas involved? Moral clarity is not the same as a simple solution; though an essential part of response, it is not an end in itself.
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, I believe , a proper response for God’s people in itself. We must become available to the work of God’s grace….which leads us to our final point.
3. ACTIVE RESPONSE
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:
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. Where 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. The Power of human relationships.
Here is where every one of us can lift up the value for life; providing real alternatives to those in need. Examples abound, Harvest Home, a home for women in crisis pregnancy who have made difficult decisions. We support both financially and personally as a fellowship. They are in need of 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. Other, 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 lives lost to abortion, there are 40 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.