This morning, June 24, 2022, the Supreme Court overturned 49 years of judicial precedence and nullified the landmark Court decision of Roe v. Wade, thus ending the federal guarantee of access to abortion. States are now free to legalize and restrict (within limitations) abortions as their populations decide.
To say that this is one of the most significant Court rulings in the history of the US would be an understatement. And to say that this will receive no small amount of pushback is also drastically understating things. Make no mistake, we are in for an emotionally charged time, and we as the church must be the voice, not only of truth, but also of compassion. But what are we to do? Let’s take a step back and try to get a grip on things.
Understand that the world we live in is hard. It almost always has been. And setting aside the moral rightness and wrongness of abortion just for a moment, the idea of raising an unexpected child in today’s socio-economic environment is downright terrifying. I fully and completely believe in children as a blessing from God, but that doesn’t make raising them an easy task.
Genesis actually makes this point pretty clearly, though some of our translations have obscured the meaning somewhat. In Genesis 3:16, God tells Eve that He “will surely multiply [her] pain in childbearing; in pain [she] shall bring forth children.” Tim Mackie points out that this is a place in the Bible where our English translations, for whatever reason, kind of missed the mark with the word choice. The word translated “childbearing” in the ESV does not mean the process of giving birth, as the word “childbearing” would seem to imply. The word is actually the word for “conception.” And the word “pain” here is set on parallel with the pain that Adam will experience as he works the ground to provide for his family; it’s an existential pain, the psychological as well as physical taxing that comes with bringing children into a fallen world. This “curse” is really just a handing over to inevitable consequences. We have to bring children into this damaged world we created and continue to create. It’s hard; it’s difficult; it is fraught with danger, and not just the danger of the world around us, but also the danger we ourselves can be to each other and to the people we love.
I bring all that out to say that, to a lot of people, abortion is the way out of this, a way out of this pain. And to be honest, when it comes to just wanting to avoid these consequences, is it really so hard to understand? In a culture that has progressively de-emphasized more and more the value of starting a family and raising children, all while the “painful” aspect of bringing children into the world remains largely unchanged, it becomes easier to understand the mindset that would lead someone to say that this isn’t the time, this child isn’t going to be here right now. Now, I’m not saying that this thought process in any way justifies abortion, but we as Christians have a responsibility to see where someone is at, to try to understand the reasons for their actions. If we believe abortion to be evil, we have to understand that people don’t choose evil for evil’s sake. They choose it because they believe it to be good. (Why do you think Adam and Eve ate from the wrong tree?)
Let’s bring a couple of concepts together here; Christians follow me if you can:
1) Humans are created in the image of God, which means each one is of inestimable value and worth and should be treated as such.
2) The world as we know it exists under a curse, which consists largely of us being left to our own devices apart from the intervening grace of God.
3) The entire history of redemption has been God working in the world to bring the world back into His saving presence where there will be no more curse (Revelation 22:3).
4) Jesus in His life, death, resurrection, and ascension has conquered death and the consequences of the curse, and as such invites us to experience that new life now.
5) As citizens of Heaven in outposts on earth, we are tasked with bringing the kingdom of heaven to bear on earth as much as we are enabled to by the Holy Spirit, alleviating the suffering of those images of God as best we can.
This means, in my opinion, that we as a church have a dual responsibility when it comes to this issue of abortion. We have a duty to speak loudly against the practice. In no uncertain terms, the intentional ending of an innocent life is wrong, and barriers should be set up to the end of preventing it (criminalization conversations aside).
However, we need to look back to our Christian ancestors and remember the flip-side of the coin. John Dickson in his book Bullies and Saints brings to light the ancient Roman practice of “exposure,” where an unwanted infant was simply left out to suffer, resulting in death by animals and elements or perhaps being picked up by human traffickers. But it should be noted, Dickson points out, that at that time “[d]isposing of newborns was regarded as a method of family planning,” typically in cases where the family was too poor, the child had some deformity, or if it was female (p.34).
Christians would soon begin to spread throughout the Roman world where this was a common practice. But coupled with their vocal protests against the practice, they were also active taking in the abandoned children and raising them. Dickson points out that hundreds of thousands of people exist today because Christians in ancient Rome found babies and took them in. They didn’t just call for a change of actions; they actively cared for the suffering.
When it comes to the Church’s action in the wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade, we need to embrace that dual responsibility. Winning a legal victory is not the end of the battle. It’s not even the most important part of the battle. Making something illegal doesn’t make it go away, and it certainly doesn’t change people’s hearts to pursue a better course of action. Yes, the protections are necessary and good, as a government should defend the lives of its people to the extent it can (that’s a whole other can of worms), but on the ground floor the church needs to be doing the work of seeing desperate mothers bearing the consequences of a fallen world and bringing the Kingdom of Heaven to them, alleviating that suffering, easing the “pain in conception,” and showing them the love that Christ brings in overcoming the world.
Every life is precious. The unborn and the mother who carries them both need the love of Christ, and the Church has the responsibility of bringing it to them.
Nick Henretty is a music and audio producer, podcaster, and blogger based out of Richmond, Virginia. He has worked with organizations such as Inspiring Philosophy, Deeper Waters with Nick Peters, and Moral Apologetics Press, and currently hosts the 3 Priests Walk in a Bar podcast promoting ecumenism between different Christian denominations. He has a passion for peeling back the surface layers of pop culture issues to expose the deep and abiding questions at the heart of the human experience and showing how the person of Christ is the answer and fulfillment to them.