TODAY’S VERSE TO PONDER: “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’” — Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV)
Abortion is an issue that challenges our faith and does more to drive a wedge between otherwise intelligent, compassionate and civil people than perhaps any other political or social issue today. It remains one of the most complex questions with which the faithful wrestle as we try to reconcile biblical truth with the question of civil rights and constitutional law in these United States of America.
Many evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics, among other faith traditions, firmly oppose all abortions and often cite the commandment “You shall not murder” in Exodus 20:13 (NIV). Often, evangelical Christians and conservative Catholics will point also to Psalm 139:13 – which says “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (NIV) – as biblical justification for their unwavering and too often violent opposition to abortion.
A 2017 survey by the Pew Research Group showed that 70 percent of “white evangelical Protestants” believe that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. Many hard-line conservatives believe that anyone who has an abortion or performs an abortion should receive prison time.
But in 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention took up the issue two years prior to the landmark Supreme Court decision on Roe v. Wade, which ruled that abortion is a fundamental right guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution. The Southern Baptist Convention resolution expressed “the belief that society has a responsibility to affirm through the laws of the state a high view of the sanctity of human life, including fetal life, in order to protect those who cannot protect themselves.”
However, the same resolution also stated that Southern Baptists should “work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”
In the decades since, the Southern Baptist Convention has taken a much more strident view on abortion. A 2009 resolution stated that “satanic powers and the ravages of sin have warred against infants and children…through the horrors of a divorce culture, an abortion industry, and the global plagues of disease, starvation, and warfare.”
Meanwhile, other faith traditions, often classified under the political label of “liberal,” have affirmed the constitutionality of abortion under Roe v. Wade. The aforementioned 2017 Pew Research Group survey found that 80 percent of “religiously unaffiliated Americans” and 67 percent of “white mainline Protestants” (United Methodists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc.) believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. The same survey showed that 55 percent of black Protestants and 53 percent of black Catholics also believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
Just four days ago, a collective of 68 faith leaders in Iowa – representing such varied denominations as United Methodist, Church of Christ, Episcopalian and Evangelical Lutheran – issued a statement supporting a woman’s “constitutional right to make independent healthcare decisions, including the right to an abortion.” This, as the Iowa legislature considers a law prohibiting doctors from performing an abortion if a heartbeat is detected in a fetus. Doctors who violate the law, if passed, would be charged with a felony.
I don’t believe in coincidence or chance but rather in God’s perfect timing in His perfect plan for each of our lives. Last weekend, the Father clearly revealed Himself and His infinite wisdom on a question with which I have wrestled personally for much of the past dozen years.
It certainly was no accident that I had just finished a lengthy, deeply philosophical conversation with a friend on the issue of abortion. During that conversation, I revealed a painful truth of how more than a decade ago, I narrowly was denied the opportunity to be a father, and I recounted how that moment forever defined how I view human life, personal accountability and parental responsibility.
I revealed to my friend how I missed the blessing of biological fatherhood in the prime of my life because of a choice that was made autonomously by my then-romantic partner. My son or daughter – who if I am honest, was conceived out of wedlock in a relationship that in the eyes of God was disobedient and not God-honoring – would be in middle school now if he or she had been allowed to live and if I had been given any kind of voice in whether I wanted to step up and be a responsible father.
A few minutes after the conversation with my friend ended, I walked into the local big-box retailer about 15 minutes before it closed to buy much-needed soap and pest control. I chose my items and walked quickly to the only open lane at the front of the store, and there was a young woman in front of me buying clothes for her two children who I learned in casual conversation were at home with their grandparents, their caregivers.
When the young woman reached the bottom of her shopping cart, she realized she didn’t have quite enough money to buy six clearance items – yellow-tagged clothing for her kids – and she was poised to make the excruciating choice to leave those items behind with the cashier because she lives every day under the crushing burden of poverty.
If I had approached that lane two minutes earlier or two minutes later, I would have completely missed the opportunity to do the Christ-like, compassionate thing. Instead, I recognized God’s perfect timing and told the cashier to ring up the young woman’s remaining shirts and pants along with my soap and mouse traps. That moment of doing the right thing at just the right instance according to God’s plan cost me only $12.
As I walked out of the store, God revealed to my heart a truth that caused me to sit in my car at almost midnight on a Friday night and openly weep. I pondered through my tears a possible explanation for why God allowed someone else years ago to choose that the only fetus ever to carry my DNA would be aborted without my knowledge or consent, without any input from or even a conversation with me, the biological father.
Maybe the reason I never got to raise my son (who likely would have been named Dylan Taylor after two of my favorite songwriters) or my daughter (likely named Anna Delaney for a couple of fictional literary characters) was that God knew that in the decade-plus since that heartbreaking season in my life, I would be given countless opportunities to bless the children of others in need.
Maybe God knew that as I try to live my daily life of integrity and compassion, I would be given the chance to step in occasionally when the harshness of life on Earth would force some parents who didn’t abort their children to make painful choices about how to meet the basic needs of those they loved enough to let be born.
Maybe I was denied the joy of being a dad myself so that I would have the ability and resources at those unexpected moments to be, if only for a brief second or two, the responsible, compassionate, selfless father-figure some kids simply don’t have in their lives because some men simple are unwilling to step up and accept the responsibility of parenthood. Abandonment by the father of their unborn babies often is one factor in a woman making the choice to have an abortion.
Abortion is and shall remain one of the most complex issues that will challenge all people of intellect and compassion, all people of faith who want to lead their lives in a way that glorifies and honors God. It will continue to be a politically charged and divisive issue, and it will be wrongly appropriated and used as political collateral by those who wish to distill this infinitely complex and supremely personal emotional and spiritual struggle to such overly simplified labels such as “pro-life” and “pro-choice” for the sake of political expediency.
Abortion is just not that simple, if we remember the greatest commandment ever given to humankind by our Creator through the words of Jesus Christ: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34 NIV)
Perhaps the Christian Democrats of America said it best in their platform when they urged against extremism on either side of the ideological divide, calling out both the “far-left” and the “far-right” while affirming that abortion should be “legal, safe and rare” but stating without equivocation that late-term abortions past 12 weeks of pregnancy should be banned.
In their position paper on the issue, the Christian Democrats of America stated, “Our Christian response to women who have had or are considering abortion should be one cloaked in love and mercy. Hatred, angry attitudes, yelling at women, threats of violence – this is never Christ-like and never should be regarded as such. Offering a helping hand, assistance, listening with compassion and forgiveness and yes, offering an alternative in love – this is how you will see real Christians behaving.”
As much as I would have loved to raise a son or a daughter and would have embraced the challenge and responsibility of parenthood, I return on this issue to the life verse that has carried me through so many other difficult moments in my life. Romans 8:28 (NIV) states that “we know in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.”
Would I have preferred to have had a conversation with the woman who carried my child and been given the opportunity to ask her to please not abort our child and allow me the gift of fatherhood? Yes. Would it have been fair of me to ask her to endure the physical pain, emotional struggle and psychological burden of motherhood? Not really.
If biologically possible, would I have taken that tremendous burden of pregnancy onto myself? I cannot say for certain, but I know I would have prayerfully considered it. But that’s not how God made us men biologically.
I probably will never know for sure until I am face-to-face with God why He chose for me a path that excludes fatherhood, but this I know for certain: I will live every day of my life loving and caring both for those who support a woman’s right to choose and for those who vehemently oppose abortion.
When we allow any such questions to divide us, when we allow contentious issues to well up in us hatred and anger and judgment, we invite evil to get a foothold in our lives, and we serve to distance ourselves from God and His ultimate will for our lives. As the Bible states in Zechariah 7:9-10 (NIV), “This is what the Lord Almighty said: Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.”
In all things, on all issues – no matter how passionately we feel about those things that divide us from another person – let us lead first with love, grace, forgiveness and compassion. Let us live every day of our lives, even in times of conflict, in a way that glorifies and honors God.