I have no good memories of third-grade math.
I don’t remember much of my elementary school days, but math in Mrs. Smith’s classroom is strangely familiar. It was the first time I realized I was a crock. Here’s how it happened.
It wasn’t long before I noticed my friends were picking up math quicker than I was. I can’t recall the exact lessons — just that I wasn’t good at them. And everyday, during that math hour, Mrs. Smith would have students step up front and rehearse homework problems on the board. My classmates would write out the problem and swiftly solve it. They would carry numbers here and make a few notes there — and voila! — the answer just flowed out with ease.
But what seared this exercise into my memory was that after every answer was offered, Mrs. Smith would ask the rest of the class if they had the same answer. “Raise your hand” — she would say — “Raise your hand if you agree with this answer.”
I don’t know that my real answer ever lined up, but to me it didn’t matter. When she asked for the class consensus, I would simply swallow the knot in my throat and scan the arms in the air around me. If there were enough hands held high, and the smart kids were in, I’d stick my hand up too. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or what I really thought, but I passed as if I did.
It was a hollow agreement, a conviction by association. It was the same problem I fear persists today with many Christians who call themselves pro-life.
The numbers are horrifying: 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the United States.
Add to this the numbers that show the outrageous racial inequality that exists in the abortion industry. Most abortions occur with women who are minorities (66%), economically disadvantaged (69%), and live below the poverty line (42%) — that is, women who are vulnerable, confused, and feel like they have no other options. These women are victimized by organizations like Planned Parenthood. They are wooed through abortionist’s doors where their fears are confirmed and their hopes destroyed. It happens everyday, and our government pays out over half a billion dollars to perpetuate the barbarism.
This is a nightmare, and we are right to cry out against it. We can’t believe they are doing that to them. But we should remember, of course, that abortions also occur with majority-culture women (34%). And those women are not economically disadvantaged (31%). And many actually identify themselves as born-again Christians (13%).
If the stats are correct, 13% means that as many as 156,000 self-professed, born-again women have an abortion each year. Which means, there are quite a few girls who come from evangelical families, attend an evangelical church, say they are pro-life, and still have abortions.
Surely, many implications could be drawn from these numbers, and we could raise all kinds of questions about nominalism, actual church involvement, and other filters. But the main thing to say — the obvious thing — is that for evangelicals, too often our pro-life convictions prove too shallow.
“Too often our pro-life convictions prove too shallow.”
The last few weeks have sparked outrage among Christians and any who advocate for the rights of unborn children. These videos on Planned Parenthood’s work expose them for the horror they are. The grim truth, though, is that still many Christians are not really bothered by it all. Even with more ghoulish footage to come, even when there’s incontrovertible evidence that Planned Parenthood is making money from selling the body parts of aborted babies, too many Christians just don’t care.
Too many Christians sitting next to us on Sunday mornings are just like I was in third-grade math. They raise their hand for pro-life because that’s what everyone else in the room does. They seem to pass (and even vote) like they have a deep conviction. But they really don’t. They — you? — have a conviction by association, a conviction that flakes the first moment the issue gets real for them, or requires that they actually do something about what they say they believe.
For not all who are identified as pro-life really are pro-life. And I believe it would make a difference if all who said they were really were.
Some Steps Forward
So then what should evangelicals do?
Three things: deepen the conviction, have the conversations, and love.
First, let’s deepen our conviction. Let’s be better at resourcing than rhetoric. It can do some good to hold up signs and state the stats, but all slogan and no substance won’t last. We may get attention from outside the church, but we won’t help the reluctant inside. As one pro-life apologist points out, “For too long, the pro-life movement has been shouting conclusions rather than establishing facts.” We need to be clear about the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion.
One means to do this is the wise use of abortion pictures, along with several other resources, whether specific ministries, important books, or corporate study material. Our churches should have these and stand ready to make good use of them, from simply making them available to starting regular reading groups. The hope is to really know and believe the truth, such as when life begins and why it matters.
Second, let’s have the conversations. This involves life outside of formal settings. The rights of unborn children should be a familiar topic among our friends. We shouldn’t assume that every Christian we know has a robust view on life, or even that our own stance is fully matured. We should talk about it. Bring it up. Make this an injustice that you expressively feel and want to influence others in. Brainstorm ways you can help in your communities and mobilize a team to make something happen, as small as it may seem.
Finally, let’s love, truly love, single mothers. This means stepping up in tangible ways for women who are unexpectedly expecting. This means partnering with pregnancy support centers, building real friendships, mentoring, and bringing them into the inner circle of our families and churches. We must love single mothers without putting a stigma on their situation, and this plea has even greater urgency in the Bible Belt where I was raised. It would not have been voiced, but the silent consensus in the church suggested that the guilt of abortion is preferred over the shame of unwed parenting. No more. Let’s love, not in theory or mere talk, but in action.
And action is what we need if our conviction is real, rather than just raising our hands.