Thirty-five years ago, as I was pastoring a small church in Boston and seeing the temptations and struggles facing my people, I felt an urgent need to gather the church and openly address the topic of abortion. What is it? What in the Bible ought to inform our views? How should we respond? By God’s grace, the gathering proved exceedingly helpful.
Yet now, in this post-Roe era, addressing abortion in the context of the church seems more urgent than ever before. Indeed, I’m convinced pastoral leadership is one of the greatest needs in today’s pro-life movement. Let me explain why — and along the way, let me also commend a book that models such leadership remarkably well.
Back to the States
Instead of ending the battle decisively by affirming the equal rights of all people, born and unborn, the Dobbs decision turned the moral question of abortion back to the people for each state to decide. The Supreme Court could have — and in my view, should have — abolished abortion with the same logic and under the same amendment that abolished slavery.
The Fourteenth Amendment declares that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” If the unborn are human, then they are persons, with God-given rights that cannot be justly denied or passively accepted when denied. It falls to us to “defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:9).
In our nation, however, the just powers of the government derive from the consent of the governed. The court most likely believed that by defining abortion as a moral question and turning it back to the states, they had gone as far as they could to maintain the “consent” of the governed.
Of the seven states that have voted on the question already, all seven decided to expand abortion rights. Last fall, the citizens of Ohio voted overwhelmingly to amend the state constitution to secure abortion rights. In our form of government, that decision represents as permanent a loss for the cause of life as is possible.
Pro-life advocates like myself feel a sense of urgency — but abortion advocates do too. They have put unlimited abortion on the 2024 ballot in eleven more states. True, they have a few thousand pesky pro-life voices to contend with.
If there is one data point that highlights the urgent need for church leaders to address abortion, it is this: exit polls in Ohio showed that, among those who identified as believing that “life begins at conception,” 30 percent voted for the abortion-rights amendment. That kind of moral befuddlement exists when Christians are not clear on what they believe and how to live it out. Which brings me to the online book Abortion and the Church.
Exposing Works of Darkness
This book was written by a committee of pastors and elders of the Evangel Presbytery. I commend it to those looking to lead well on abortion for two main reasons.
First, the book’s explanation of medical issues (based on published research), along with the historical developments surrounding them, is exceptional. Second, the fact that the book was written not by pro-life activists like me, but by trusted and authorized pastors, makes it especially commendable as an example for Christian leaders. The result is a serious book about the assault on the sanctity of human life in our time, all communicated in the voice of local-church overseers. The book calls for repentance at times and forbearance at other times; it warns and summons, condemns and offers grace.
I admit that some parts of the book give me pause. But the confusion of some pastors on the great bioethical abominations of our times alarms me far more. “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness,” the apostle Paul says, “but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11). If you are looking for an example of what such exposing looks like, I recommend Abortion and the Church. These pastors expose the multifaceted war against the intrinsic, equal, exceptional, and eternal value of human life today, and strive to help the church to do bioethics — to weigh right and wrong (ethics) in matters of human life (bio). They call us to know the will of God and to take no part in the works of darkness, no matter how hidden.
More broadly, this generation faces extraordinary choices regarding birth control, chemical and surgical abortion, and infertility treatments such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). We need accurate explanations as to the treatment processes and associated risks. Often, the ethical issues involved are not only avoided by the abortion and infertility industry; they are also hidden. Moreover, people willing to pay large sums to get rid of a baby or to obtain a baby usually do not ask many ethical questions. The result is a conspiracy of silence in the destruction of the unborn.
Consider a few of the many questions needing thoughtful pastoral answers. Is abortion really just one issue among many in our day, or is it a preeminent moral crisis? Do intrauterine devices (IUD) and hormonal contraception ever work to prevent an embryo (a human being in the first few days of life) from implanting safely in the womb? What in the Bible should inform my desire to avoid children?
Is IVF a God-pleasing response to the pain of my infertility, or is it morally wrong? What happens to all those human embryos that are created in the IVF process and left frozen in the fridge? If vaccines are produced from unborn babies’ body parts, do I share in the guilt by getting the vaccine? Should a church split over differences of opinion here? In these self-expressive times, when feelings often replace moral truth, and when so many in society say yes, when does God say no?
Pastors and other church leaders who address such questions serve their people well.
What Normal Christians Need
Fifty years of legal and accessible abortion have led to hundreds of books and thousands of articles on the injustice of abortion and on natural rights, pro-life apologetics, crisis intervention, law, and more. I have written four books myself. So, what could another book possibly say to add to our understanding of these matters? After reading Abortion and the Church, I realized that this is the wrong question.
What these pastors understand is that their people, those under their care as overseers, need to hear from them far more than from someone like me. It matters who says what! For most Christians, the most influential voices are still the known and trusted leaders appointed to oversee the body of Christ. If the average Christian were to speak, I suspect he would sound like this: “You are the leader I have chosen to submit my soul to week after week. I trust your judgment more than others’. What do you think? What are the deeds of darkness in these times that we ought to take no part in?”
Right before I started seminary in 1978, I got married. Almost as if it were required for newlyweds, my wife and I decided she would start using “the pill.” A few weeks into married life and biblical studies, however, my wife started asking questions. “Why are we doing this? What does God think about contraception? And by the way, I feel different. What are the side effects of the pill?”
I was shocked. In my young Christian life, I earnestly desired to bring Christ into every part of my life. I was training myself to ask of every topic, “What in the Bible ought to shape my views and actions on the matter?” But when it came to contraception, we started using the pill without asking a single question. I was conformed to this world’s expectations for newlyweds without a contrarian consideration. My wife’s troubled conscience and health questions stirred me. What did I do? I turned to the pastors in my church, whom I trusted for advice. “What do you say? Can you help me think this through from God’s perspective?”
Pastor, you may not feel all that influential. Your platform may be small. But you are a trusted authority to those under your care. Find solid texts. Prepare your thoughts prayerfully. Muster some courage. And rise up in these urgent times to teach on abortion and the church.