The Bible and the Ballot Box 3: The Bible and Abortion
If we want to be faithful followers of Jesus, we have to let our faith inform every aspect of our lives – not just what we do on Sunday. Nowhere is this more important than how we, as citizens of a republic, let our faith shape how we vote and otherwise influence our government.
If you had to name the one issue that dominates the culture war, it would be abortion. In this discussion, the scientific question is pretty much settled; the ethical question remains – what do we do with what we know?
I’m not going to argue here that abortion is wrong. I doubt there is anyone reading this site that doesn’t believe that abortion kills a unique human being or that doesn’t think abortion is wrong.
But many Christians, perhaps having grown weary of the fight, perhaps disinclined to “force their views” on others, have tried to opt for a middle position – the so-called “modified pro-choice” (MPC) position. This position says, “I’m personally against abortion, but I don’t think it should be illegal.”
I am going to argue here that this position is sin, that no believer should hold it, and that no believer should support it politically.
The first question we should ask anyone who says, “I’m personally against abortion,” is “Why?”
The answer is invariably, “I believe abortion takes an innocent human life.”
So the person who holds the “modified pro-choice” position says, “I think abortion takes an innocent human life, and I think mothers should be legally allowed to do that to their unborn children.”
The MPC person may balk at this description, but that is quite simply what they believe. They think it’s wrong, but, because they don’t want to “force their beliefs” on anyone else, they think it should be legal.
No Other Issue
People disagree about whether abortion takes an innocent human life (some argue about “life,” some about “human,” some, bizarrely enough, about “innocent”), so some Christians don’t want to force others to live by their moral beliefs.
But no one takes this approach on any other moral issue.
No one says, “Child abuse is wrong, but I don’t want to force my belief on others.” Have you ever heard anyone seriously say this about murder, auto theft, counterfeiting, anything? No. Of course some people say auto theft isn’t wrong – they’re the ones driving off in your car! The fact that car thieves don’t think stealing is wrong does not make it any less so.
Some will say abortion is different because they believe the people choosing this are usually poor, young women who feel they have no other option, but right and wrong apply equally to rich and poor (c.f., Lev 19:15).
“Men do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his hunger when he is starving. Yet if he is caught, he must pay sevenfold, though it costs him all the wealth of his house” (Prov 6:30-31).
Wrong is wrong, no matter how poor the offender. Killing is killing, no matter how desperate the situation. We do have the concept of justifiable homicide in our country, but what, short of saving your own life, justifies killing another human being – especially a child?
The Bible on Overlooking Evil
If we all agree that abortion takes an innocent human life, and if we agree that it is wrong to take an innocent human life, the MPC position is sitting idly by and watching evil happen.
Hopefully none of us could stand still and watch someone kill a child. So how do we permit abortion which is the very same thing? We are choosing to ignore evil, and the scriptures have some pointed things to say about that.
In Deuteronomy 19, God told Israel to create cities of refuge to safeguard lives “so that innocent blood will not be shed in your land… and so that you will not be guilty of bloodshed” (v10). They were also told to “purge from Israel the guilt of shedding innocent blood, so that it may go well with you” (v13).
Proverbs advises us: “Rescue those being led away to death…. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? … Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?” (24:11-12) and “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves” (31:8).
One of the things that mystifies me about the “modified pro-life” people is that they are generally the most vocal about standing up for the poor and the helpless and anyone else they think has been wronged, yet they will silently permit the most helpless of all to be killed without due process, without hope of appeal, without mercy.
I can't deny that Jesus and the apostles are silent on the matter of abortion other than to express a general concern for children and their welfare (e.g., Matt 18 &19).
But we're addressing people who already think abortion is wrong. So let me ask the MPC folks this: Jesus said that lust was like adultery and hate was like murder. What would He say about watching someone kill with your hands in your pockets? We do know He said "Woe" to those who lead others into sin – abortion perhaps?
The Early Church
Even though there is little in the Bible that speaks directly to abortion, the early church fathers took a very hard and clear stand against abortion and the flip side of the issue, exposure (a practice that is, thankfully, illegal in the US):
"Thou shalt not slay the child by procuring abortion; nor, again, shalt thou destroy it after it is born" Epistle of Barnabas chapter 19.
"Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion nor kill that which is begotten" Didache 2.2.
These sentiments are echoed in the Constitutions of the Holy Apostles and the "Apocalypse of Peter" and by Athenagoras and Tertullian among others.
But the early Christians did not just preach against infanticide, nor did they simply refuse to practice it themselves. They rescued exposed infants. To do any less, to turn a blind eye to these killings, would have made them part of the killing.
They could do nothing about abortion, but they did what they could do. We can do something about abortion, even if it’s only a little, in our democratic system – we can refuse to support those who want to keep it legal.
Getting Our Hands Dirty
Of course, voting is not the only thing we can do. We can adopt children whose mothers can’t raise them. Or we can help those women raise their children through material and non-material support.
Even if we never succeed in ridding the world of abortion, we should work to reduce the number of abortions as we can.
We do have to be careful; that road is strewn with pitfalls, and we cannot uncritically embrace every idea suggested. Do some contraceptives cause abortions? Would more welfare help women believe they can keep and raise their babies, or would it simply create a downward spiral resulting in more abortions? Is sex education, rather than “abstinence education,” better than letting kids figure it out on their own? Is there a happy medium? We need to face these questions. We must engage these issues.
As believers we cannot just sit back and watch innocent little human beings die by the thousands. We have to get involved. We also can’t be content to simply wag holy fingers at those who seek abortions; we have to try to help.
We must be actively involved in ending the killing of unborn children. These little humans, made in the image of God, are precious to our Savior and should be precious to us as well.
To that end, we must stand against those who would protect this practice. Anything less is to be complicit in their sin.
P.S. Exodus 21:22, because of questions of translation, is often used to argue that the Bible does not regard the unborn as having full human rights. Greg Koukl has written a thoughtful article showing that this passage must be referring to premature birth, not miscarriage as some popular translations and many pro-choicers suggest.
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