Roe V Wade - Pastoral Thoughts
This is a copy of what I think is an excellent pastoral response by an American pastor called Jon Tyson who I really like and respect. I hope it helps you think through this issue as it has helped me.
“As you are by now aware, this week, after 50 years of legal standing, Roe vs Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court. This ruling has effectively pushed abortion rights back to the state level. It is hard to put into words how monumental and contested this decision will be in our larger cultural debates.
That being said, discerning how to follow Jesus well in a Post-Roe world requires a biblical, thoughtful, and compassionate response around the issue of abortion and a decision of this magnitude. It is important to note that this is not just a legal ruling, an ethical or moral decision, or just a theological position. It has profound personal implications that touch the lives of millions of people that we live beside, work with, and worship next to week by week.
Over the last 17 years, Christy and I have cared for and pastored dozens of women who have had abortions, many for whom this has been the most significant and painful event of their lives. This means the implications of this decision are not just about the culture out there. This is about our church family, trying to follow Jesus in a broken world, and how we respond to many in pain.
So, how should we respond in light of a decision like this?
First, we should note that Christians have historically placed a sacred value on children, born and unborn. In the ancient world, children were seen as commodities for family gain, and nothing more than property to be disposed of if unwanted. In defiant resistance to this idea, Christians stated that children had inherent value in the eyes of God, being made in His image, and formed in the womb according to His marvellous design. The people of God in the Old Testament were strongly condemned by God when they used children the ways the pagan nations did, offering them in child sacrifice, or handing them over to idolatry. In the New Testament, children were shown counter-cultural value as being members of the Christian community, capable of both response and participation.
The scriptures also show God miraculously involved in the life of the womb, from Sarah, Hannah, Elizabeth, and Mary, the mother of our Lord. God makes the claim that He is Lord of all creation, and that includes what happens with our bodies. Scripture teaches that our bodies belong to God, not ourselves, and our thinking about our bodies should not be framed around cultural rights, but biblical responsibility to honour God with our bodies. This view of the way of Jesus means that discipleship includes how we think about sexuality, the creation of life, the family, and the kind of world that honours God’s design and creational intent.
The early church also had a distinct theological value for children, and is clear in what the early disciples taught. For example, The Didache states, “You shall not murder a child by abortion nor shall you kill a newborn.” Tertullian (A.D. 197), while responding to claims that Christians sacrificed babies wrote, “In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the fetus in the womb.”
However, this teaching did not lead to judgement, but to deep compassion as disfigured children from failed abortions were adopted and cared for by followers of Jesus. Children given to “exposure” or infanticide were cared for and adopted by Christians and taken into their care. Orphanages sprung up, often run and funded by Christians to care for unwanted children in the Greco Roman world. Christians did not just believe life mattered, they showed it with their actions in category defying ways that have echoed through the centuries down to us.
The church has had a consistent witness for thousands of years that life begins in the womb, all children, born and unborn, are sacred and the bear the image of God, our bodies belong to God, and it is the task of the church to cherish and value its youngest members.
So, when a decision that overturns abortion is given in our land, followers of Jesus should be glad that precious lives will be saved, and that God-given life will be held in higher regard. This will make for a more ethical and just society, for us, and the unborn generation to come.
However, though the church has had a consistent vision of the sacredness of life, it has at times failed to live up to that vision in a holistic manner. The church has at times moralized where it should have empathized, and sermonized where it should have sacrificed. In Matthew 23:4-5 Jesus harshest rebuke was offered to the Pharisees who, “Tied up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”
This is not a time for a pharisaic victory lap. This is not a time to simply lift a finger. This is a time for discipleship, generosity, grace, and putting our faith into action. The church is at its best when it cares about life, not just birth. When it has a consistent whole life ethic that cares about Creation and the world God has given us to steward, concern for gun violence and the horrific killing of innocent children in the classrooms of America, and care for the poor that takes into account the crushing conditions that make many feel like they have no other option but to have an abortion. This is a moment for a fresh vision of what a robust and consistent Christian ethic of life looks like, and a call to embody radical discipleship and sacrifice in our broken and hurting world.
We should seek to support women caught in these kinds of painful situations by giving and serving the many organizations that love and serve women who feel like they have no other options. We should understand the real cost of parenting a child, and move beyond the horizon of our own concern to be the family of God to them by opening our hearts, homes, wallets, tables, and schedules to care for the least of these.
Our love must take on action as John reminds us, in 1 John 3:16-18. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.”
This kind of whole life vision will be dismissed by many, misunderstood by some, and condemned by others, but it is something we are called to courageously hold with humble conviction. It is also something I believe our church has sought to do over the years, and hope we will continue to excel in during the years ahead.
Secondly, we must also guard our hearts against political ideology, and reaffirm our commitment to the Lordship of Jesus and to seeking His Kingdom first.
When the Supreme court ruled on Obergefell v. Hodges, many conservatives decried the Court while progressives wept tears of joy in the streets. Now many progressives weep, while conservatives sing the Courts praises. It goes to show that rulings come and go, Justices come and go, even nations come and go, but as followers of Jesus, we must keep our eyes on things above and not over identify with human systems or political parties for the sake of our convictions. This kind of idolatrous hope that puts its faith in a politician or a party has done tremendous damage to our witness these last few years, and will take decades of humble and costly discipleship to restore.
As Dr Gerald Sittser says, “Power at the expense of the gospel is not a power the church should ever seek.” As Augustine noted in his book “The City of God”, we are citizens of two kingdoms, the city of man, and the city of God, and though there is much common grace in the world, and we are called to work for Gods Kingdom where we can, as our ultimate hope is in the city of God, not the city of man. He wrote, “The earthly city glories in itself, the Heavenly City glories in the Lord.” For some Americans this feels like victory, for others defeat, but for followers of Jesus it is a reminder that we ultimately work and long for another kingdom beyond this temporary one, where there will be no more death, or sorrow, or crying, and all tears will be wiped away, including the tears of abortion. We put our trust in the King of that heavenly city and glory only in the Lord.
Finally, we must be a champion of women, all women, as Jesus taught us by His life and witness in the gospels. This is a time to affirm the biblical vision of the dignity and worth of women in the sight of the Lord. I can’t image the sense of anxiety many women must be feeling, as deeply personal, and complicated feelings rise in these uncertain times. Women’s rights can often be nothing more than political talking points, bantered around for votes and endorsements by political strategists, who care more about being elected than the people they represent. However, Jesus did not treat women that way, and those who follow Him must not either.
As Dorothy Sayers so powerfully noted, “Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man—there never has been another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them as “The women, God help us!” or “The ladies, God bless them!”; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.”
The church, our church, must be a place of hope and healing for the weary women in our world. Weary of proving their worth, weary of shame for their mistakes, weary of wondering if there is truly a safe space for them to flourish in the world. Jesus created space like that, and we must too.
Who can forget His love for Mary, creating space for her to sit at His feet and learn as a disciple? Who can forget His compassion for the woman caught in adultery, who He did not condemn but freed to sin no more? Who can forget His defence of Mary when she broke the bottle of perfume giving all that she had? It was a woman who stayed the cross, faithful while the male disciples fled, and women who first witnessed the resurrection and preached of the good news to the apostles?
We cannot forget, and as a church family, we must embody recognition and honour for women today. There is much more that needs to be said, but I felt like it was important to respond to the historic events of this past week and give you my pastoral perspective.
You may agree with me, or disagree, but I want you to know, we will continue to be a church that seeks to follow Jesus with category defying love, cares about life as historically taught and shown in the scriptures, loves and empowers women, and chooses the life that Jesus sets before us in these confusing times.”
And I add my Amen to this. Will.