Written by David Justice.
I would like to say upfront that in this article, my primary purpose is not to disagree with the article that I am responding to, nor to address the American political agendas that are intertwined with the issue of abortion. In fact, I agree with Justin Mulholland that children are gifts from God and that it is a tragic thing when an abortion occurs. I think, however, that, as Christians, we should not focus so much on the act of abortion, but instead focus on why abortions seem necessary to many people. This is because I believe that the most faithful Christian response to this issue is one that attempts to look past the pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric (a response first modeled for me by Stanley Hauerwas in an excellent essay entitled Abortion, Theologically Understood) and instead focuses on the people and communities that are affected by abortion.
This reframing seems to me to be necessary for two main reasons. The first is that the traditional positions of pro-choice and pro-life are primarily concerned with defining biologically when we can consider the union of a sperm and an egg as a person and what rights women possess. Both of these categories, however, seem to be missing the heart of the issue. The first portion is flawed because it allows science, specifically biology, to dictate morality, and opens up the possibility that some future scientific discovery will change how we view abortion. This objection is not meant to be anti-intellectual, but is merely intended to point out that the purpose of science is to study what is, and that it should not cross over into the realm of what we ought to do morally. The second general category, that of women’s rights, is flawed because we, as Christians, have not historically been concerned with what rights we possess. The existence of anything other than God, including ourselves, is an act of divine generosity; therefore, we first ought to ask what our responsibilities are rather than trying to determine what we are entitled to.
The second reason I think Christians ought to reframe this issue has to do with rethinking what powers we look to in order to try to enact change in the world and our country. The traditional Christian response to abortion has been to attempt to reform our government in hopes of ending an immoral practice. However, this response implicitly affirms the idea that the government ultimately holds the power to bring about a moral reform, both in America and in the church. The problem with this implicit affirmation is that it denies the power of the church to bring about change. So, while it is true that the American church has failed in many ways to positively influence the world around it, the church is still God’s chosen vehicle for working in the world, and through it we are called to be Christ’s body in the world, working to bring about the already present and yet to come Kingdom of God.
In the above video, author and theologian John Piper offers a unique christian view on the abortion debate
What, then, does this reframing look like? First, I think it entails all of us who are members of the church universal, more specifically the American church, to recognize that it is our failure to care for the “least of these” that has resulted in the widespread abortions that occur in this country. For example, abortions rarely occur within a community that has a strong family base, where people feel secure both socially and financially. Rather, abortions regularly occur where fear reigns, whether the person in question is a single mother who fears that she cannot support her unborn child or a woman who fears that her partner will leave her if she decides to have the child (these examples are borrowed from Abortion, Theologically Understood). We should also recognize that, given the current state of America, these fears are legitimate. Caring for children is burdensome, both emotionally and financially, and raising a child as a single parent, specifically as a single mother, often comes with a large dose of social stigma, especially within the church community. It is also true that many children that are born into communities lacking role models will turn to lives of violence or crime and will ultimately end up dying prematurely or being incarcerated for the majority of their lives.
photo by www.prolifeinfo.ie
This sort of reframing allows us to see that it is the church’s responsibility to produce an environment where abortion is not an attractive option. We ought to be working to produce communities that rejoice when new lives are brought into them, not communities that stigmatize the downtrodden and refuse to offer them assistance. This means that, in order to be opposed to abortion, Christians ought to be willing to adopt unwanted children and provide for pregnant women and mothers who are afraid and in need of assistance. It also means that it is not our place to judge women who have had abortions, but rather to mourn with them and attempt to work with them to produce a church that more closely resembles the body of Christ. So, while I do not think that it is wrong to try to outlaw abortion, I think that Christians should recognize that outlawing abortion is not a solution to the problem that makes the practice seem necessary for many people. If our energy, then, is spent on building up communities and fulfilling the church’s role in the world and in this country, I believe that abortions will diminish or cease altogether, regardless of what is legal or illegal.