Abortion is one of the great issues of our lifetime. Similar to the Civil Rights movement of the 20th century, the issue of abortion divides the country and sadly the church. The church has been pretty active in addressing the issue of abortion yet in her attempts to defend the rights of the unborn, she is perceived as either unloving or actively silent. The issue of abortion touches not only the body of a woman and the life of an unborn child but extends to the life outside of the womb. While Christians should rightly and lovingly participate in the public discussion about women and unwanted pregnancy, Christians must also think as to how to appropriately serve those who give birth to unwanted children.
Today marks the 41st anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to protect the privacy rights of women under the 14th Amendment to have an abortion until viability. The 2013 Arkansas Legislative session yielded the passage of two separate bills to ban abortions after the 12th and 20th weeks of pregnancy. I want to be unequivocal in my support for the men and women who are assembling in Washington today to advocate for unborn children. With that support, I also understand the need to offer a consistent life position beyond the womb.
Consider this snapshot
Consider that among African Americans since 1973 which is when Roe v. Wade was enacted, 13 million children have been aborted. "That's more than twice all the African-American deaths since 1973 from heart disease (2.26 million), cancer (1.64 million), accidents (307,723), violent crimes (306,313) and AIDS (203,649) combined."[i]
Now the question is what can and will the Christian community put forward as an adequate and gracious response to such a reality that exist in our communities? Christians must begin to think beyond boycotts, political action and prayer around abortion centers. In no way am I denigrating any of these methods but once the desired outcome is achieved, the ceasing of abortion, what will the Christian community put forward to address the number of children who would go unwanted? How would the church address 13 million unwanted children?
Communicating the uniqueness of humanity
Our culture is a disposable culture. We upgrade our electronics every few months, move houses, change relationships and even local churches. We have conditioned ourselves to throw things away. At the same time we have elevated animals and nature to a position where there are numerous legislative acts that provide animals, trees and beaches greater protections than humanity itself.
Christians should pursue in a gracious way, to communicate the uniqueness of humans who are made in the image of God. Our uniqueness rest on this truth and therefore humans of every ethnic and economic group possess a unique stamp that is not possessed in any other living creature on planet Earth.
Burn the Scarlet Letter "A"
In high school we read the story of Hester Prynne who was publicly shamed by wearing a letter "A" on her dress because she was pregnant by someone other than her husband. Christians continue this practice today not by having girls wear some foreboding letter but through gossip and ostracizing. If Hester would have lived in our time, would she have submitted to an abortion to avoid the sharp words of her believing community?
Was Hester in error because of her adultery and subsequent pregnancy? Yes, but the Scriptures provide us no direction to shame individuals because of their sin but lovingly call them to repentance and restoration. In that same vein, Christians are to fall with much grace on a population of young girls who are already fearful and anxious due to pregnancy rather than shame them and beat them over the head with traditions and self-righteousness.
It is a call for parents to bear the burden of their daughters. It is a call for men to shoulder the responsibility of their offspring who will carry on their legacy. It is a call for the church to communicate that there is no sin that is greater than the redemptive grace of God.
Prejudice and Pregnancy
Are there substantial differences between the women who are pregnant in a marriage versus women who are pregnant outside of a marriage? On a biological level, both groups are carrying a child within their wombs who at the completion of gestation, will be born into society. These women, both the married and unmarried, on an emotional and mental level, understand that during the period of their pregnancy, they are sustainers of a living being within their womb.
The married woman's pregnancy is celebrated by spouse, parents and in-laws. Her pregnancy is a celebration of impending life and all the possibilities that child will bring with it. This celebration is carried over into a woman's religious setting as well. In our context we are speaking of the local church and the community of Christians that comprise that gathering of persons throughout the week.
Extending from the celebration of the immediate family, the news of pregnancy for this mother is further celebrated among her community. We have seen it from time to time. The woman will testify in her gathering on Sunday or share the news at her small group. She knows that there is freedom to communicate her news and she will not be shamed by this news of life that is maturing in her womb.
The unmarried woman's pregnancy is not one of celebration but for lack of a better word, mourning. Let us be honest, there is a sense of disappointment that arises in us, especially if we are parents to learn that our son or daughter is to be a father or mother. This disappointment can morph into anger, sorrow and decisions that can have grave consequences. Where there is now a present burden in a family or isolation for an older woman, it is here that the local church must graciously act.
Remember the context of our discussion is how we as the church can create gospel driven solutions that undo the possibility of a woman considering abortion.
Single women who are pregnant need to know and experience the grace that churches so often, speak about. Women need to have knowledge that when they speak about their current life change, it will not be met by shame, condemnation and isolation. It can be a very devastating experience to be welcomed with open arms by persons of your local church and then with the pronouncement of pregnancy be considered a leper within that same community. Therefore grace must be known and communicated in a very thoughtful and loving fashion.
What about experiencing that grace? I would argue that the single woman or teenager who is pregnant needs to be celebrated in the same manner the married woman is. Understand that the sexual act which brought about the pregnancy is not being condoned here. Yet what we have done in the local church is taken the sin and attached it to the child. We are actually agreeing with those who propose that abortion is a viable option in regards to rape and incest. We are rightly condemning the sin but wrongly condemning the child as well. This expectant single mother and her child must be celebrated in a fashion equal to that of the married woman.
Providing a knowledge of God's grace and having women experiencing that grace requires, men and women in that local church to remember the grace that they confess in their own lives. This is how we effectively bear one another's burdens. We remind ourselves of the gracious love that covered a multitude of our past, present and future sins. The single mother who is underage, with her parent(s) will require the gracious and loving support of their church body. The young woman, who is in college, will need the support of older women as she now must navigate the decisions of education and motherhood. These can not be done in isolation but in a community that is saturated with grace and celebrates life.
[i] Dr. Tony Beam, "Why Aren't Black Leaders Outraged Over Abortion, 2011