Much attention, time, and ink have been given to when the sanctity of human life actually begins. And rightfully so.
Does it begin at conception? At twenty weeks? Maybe during the third trimester? When is human life really life, and when is that life a life worth fighting for? When does a human being en utero have the right to live?
The conservative cause waves the flag for conception, but sometimes has been accused of losing interest at birth. What are we doing for infants of single mothers in poor families? The liberal cause seems to begin at birth (at least in earnest), claiming to protect the rights of the mother as long as possible, but has rightly been accused of holding life too loosely before the baby is, say, twenty weeks old. What about the baby girl at eighteen weeks, with arms and legs and a little heartbeat? Who will fight for her?
However an authentically Christian cause for life should begin at conception, celebrate every birth, provide love and care through childhood, and advocate for health, growth, and protection even through death. In other words, we should be pro-life from the womb to the tomb.
When interviewing Léonce Crump Jr., the founder of Renovation Church in Atlanta, husband and father of three, I asked him about his passion for life as a pastor and as a father, and about what it looks like for his family and the church to fight for life in a city like Atlanta.
In a separate interview with the Vox Project, Léonce said, “When you consider the sun, and the moon, and the stars of the universe, and the galaxies and all of the mindblowing aspects of creation, and then hear God say that human life is the pinnacle of all of that, that should be enough for any believer to want to see human life treated with the value and the dignity that it should be.”
Human life — from the very moment it begins to its very last breath — is the pinnacle of God’s creative imagination and power. “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26).
Developing a heart for human life, all human life, from a vision and reality like this will radically transform and inspire how we treat people — of every age, every ethnic background, every socioeconomic status. The cause for life began at creation, when God made man and woman in his image, and gave us dominion over every other created thing. And God punctuated the cause for life when he chose to enter the womb himself for our sake. Can you imagine an ultrasound of the living God at two weeks, or twenty weeks, or full term?
Are You Pro-Life or Anti-Abortion?
The sanctity of human life — the God-given dignity, wonder, and worth of every man and every woman — begins at conception, and it does not end at birth. The six-month-old boy and the four-year-old girl are just as massively and beautifully precious to God as the boy or girl on the ten-week ultrasound.
Léonce says, “I think there’s a big difference between being anti-abortion and pro-life. Anti-abortion means you have a conviction that it is murder to kill a child in the womb. It’s a good position. But to be pro-life means that you not only want that child to enter the world, but that you want that child to thrive when they enter the world. . . . It’s not just about getting children into the world, but about making sure they flourish as human beings once they’re here.”
Crump describes the image above, a cartoon he had seen on Facebook, and how it depicted this tension. He says, “Here’s the deal: If we’re pro-life, we’re pro-life, from the womb to the tomb. It doesn’t mean that we don’t fight for the justice of the unborn, but let’s make sure we’re also on the right side of these social issues related to those impoverished children.”
His heart is a call to Christians and to churches to fight for life after birth, and to engage in real efforts to help those in need. It’s not a political call to swallow the liberal agenda whole, but a pastoral call not to let the liberal agenda keep us from creatively and proactively caring for single moms, fatherless children, and orphans.
Pregnancy help organizations, for instance, have been one ministry to the unborn and beyond the unborn — to the mothers and the children after birth. The first official centers were started in the 1960s. By the 1970s, all fifty states had at least one center. Today, according to Heartbeat International, more than 3,300 clinics provide pregnancy care for moms and their children, while there are only 512 surgical abortion businesses still in operation. It may be only one ministry among many the church can provide, but it has become one massive victory for life between the womb and the tomb, and for the name of Christ.
“It’s living out your theology that says that life is so valuable that it is abhorrent to murder it in the womb,” says Crump. “Then why would you leave it to brave the wilds of this world without that same love, and care, and compassion? That’s what it means to be pro-life. If it’s only about the womb, then you only have half the narrative.”
Compassionate Pastor with a Past
Crump is an imposing figure in any crowd, with the manifest heart of a pastor. He was an All-American wrestler and defensive tackle at the University of Oklahoma, and signed with the New Orleans Saints for one season, before studying for ministry and planting his church. And he himself knows the grief of having an abortion firsthand.
“I have it in my past from a relationship prior to serving God, while I was in college. It’s something that doesn’t leave easily.” His experience gives him a special burden for those who have made that tragic decision, and a deeper empathy for the guilt and regret that come with trading away a human life for short-term convenience.
His compassion for those who have had or encouraged an abortion has led him to take steps at Renovation to make the church a safe place for sinners to find redemption, healing, and hope.
“We try to create an environment where truth is preached firmly and grace is offered freely, so that those two things meet (grace and truth), as they did in Jesus, and the person can deal with the conviction they feel (and they should feel it) over what’s been done. But they can also walk in the freedom of the fact that their sin has been laid on Jesus’s back, and they don’t have to continue to carry that burden around.”
Love the Whole Life Story
Again, Crump says, “It’s important to leverage our pulpit to communicate a biblical understanding of life, of when it begins, a biblical understanding of the dignity and wonder and worth that it is to be a human being. If we don’t inform the narrative, someone else will.”
Some, many of them in deep Christian love for mothers, have wrongly neglected the sanctity of life before birth. Others have wrongly neglected the the sanctity of life after birth, fighting for the unborn, but overlooking the fatherless. Christians, though, have known a better Love, a love that knitted us together in our mother’s womb, tying the very first knot, and who never leaves us or forsake us, even to our dying breath. And because God first loved us from the womb (and long before the womb) to the tomb (and far beyond the tomb), we ought to live to do the same for others, especially those who cannot defend or provide for themselves.