Mother Teresa once said, “The so-called right to abortion has pitted mothers against their children and women against men. It has sown violence and discord at the heart of the most intimate human relationships.” This discord extends throughout the civil society and even into the church, where believers in Christ heatedly debate whether someone who is pro-choice can even be a Christian.
When you treat a child as a punishment instead of a blessed reward (Psalm 127:3); when you advocate or excuse cutting the strings of life God knit together in a mother’s womb, a soul known intimately by him before the body even begins to fully develop (Psalm 139); when you take God’s glorious creation (Isaiah 44:2) and rip it apart to be discarded like trash, one must indeed wonder, how can Christ live within you?
Once again, in the words of a woman who saw life in all its suffering and bleakness yet still treasured God’s gracious gift, what poverty of soul must you have to “decide that a child must die so you may live as you wish”?
Except when the mother’s own life is threatened, this is always the motivation: an innocent must die, so a woman can live as she wishes. The teenager kills her child so she can finish school. The poor mother who is barely able to feed the children she already has kills her child “to save” it from poverty and hardship, and herself from the struggle of not being able to provide. The college student, who gets pregnant after a regrettable hook-up, kills her child because she can’t bear to tell her parents and derail her plans.
I could go on with a million scenarios, some riddled with heartbreak, shame, and fear, others heartless and pragmatic. In every instance, especially in situations that are most difficult, hopelessness replaces faith. In that moment, the God of life is abandoned for the god of death.
The Debate Rages on Both Sides
How can those who claim to know Christ’s salvation look into a mother and child’s future and see only hardship and pain instead of the promised joy that comes from trusting in God (Proverbs 3:5-6) and seeking his refuge in times of trouble (Psalm 9:9)? How can a Christian—the bearer of hope, the speaker of God’s message of faith, the witness to God’s light in darkness, a servant to the resurrection and the life—choose death and despair over a living faith?
Many say a Christian can’t. “The Bible’s very clear,” actor and pro-life activist Stephen Baldwin said in a Facebook Live interview. “The Word never changes. … You can’t be pro-choice and call yourself a follower of Jesus Christ. Doesn’t go together. Just doesn’t go together. It’s a fact. It’s a simple common sense fact.” There are those, of course, who disagree.
Author Kira Schlesinger wrote an entire book defending her stance as a pro-choice Christian, saying women have the right to their bodies and that sometimes abortion is the best choice in a terrible situation. In an ideal world, she writes at Ministry Matters, every child would be wanted, “loved and cared for and raised in a household and a community that met his or her physical, emotional, spiritual and cultural needs.”
But we don’t live in this world, she says, which is why Christians should spend less time fighting for the unborn and more on making this world a better place for children to live, especially since women are going to get abortions whether it’s legal or not. Don’t be just “pro-birth,” she argues. Be “pro-life” for a child’s entire life.
Schlesinger says she’s theologically anti-abortion but politically pro-choice, and worries this might make her a “bad feminist.” But, she says, “until our nation truly places families and children first, until there is a communal commitment to raising all children — no matter the circumstances of their birth — or until the Kingdom of God is fully manifest on earth, access to safe and legal induced abortions and a woman’s right to choose remain necessary.”
Being Christian Doesn’t Mean Being Perfect
To one degree or another, many Christians agree with her. Consider these recent numbers of U.S. adults, by denomination or sect, who think abortion should be legal in all or most cases:
Episcopal Church: 72%
United Church of Christ: 72%
Presbyterian Church USA: 65%
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: 65%
African Methodist Episcopal Church: 64%
United Methodist Church: 58%
National Baptist Convention: 57%
Anglican Church: 56%
Presbyterian Church in America: 54%
Orthodox Christian: 53%
American Baptist Churches USA: 47%
Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: 46%
Seventh-day Adventist: 42%
Church of God in Christ: 41%
Churches of Christ: 36%
Southern Baptist Convention: 30%
Church of the Nazarene: 27%
Assemblies of God: 26%
Church of God (Cleveland, Tenn.): 20%
Jehovah’s Witness: 18%
Are all these people unbelievers? With all due respect to those who think so, I don’t agree. The Christian life is fraught with many moral dilemmas, many hidden sins, many twists along the narrow way, and we need to allow space for people to come to a right understanding without condemning them as unbelievers.
Sanctification, or the process of becoming holy, is a process, not a one-time event, and some people harbor sins throughout their lives without overcoming them or, in some cases, even seeing them for the evil they are. We are called to be long-suffering with one another precisely because we are so riddled with sin. This is the battle between the flesh and spirit described in Romans 7. We “want to do good, but evil is right there” with us.
I know plenty of Christians who gossip without a second thought, live a gluttonous life, harbor bitterness and anger, or refuse to forgive—a particularly heinous sin to the God of grace (Matthew 18). They carry on as if they’re living sin-free, but they’re clueless, and until the Holy Spirit works in their hearts to deal with that particular sin, it’s not my place to judge the ultimate state of their souls.
Ignorance Doesn’t Negate the Truth
This doesn’t mean we never make judgments (even as Jesus tells us in Matthew 7 not to judge, he says to beware of false prophets and that a good tree doesn’t bear bad fruit), but we should be very cautious not to judge people based on one sin—a sin they don’t even recognize because they think they are being true to Christianity by caring about the mother’s “rights” and the future of a child doomed to a life of poverty.
They’re wrong, of course. It is a sin. It’s murder. A woman certainly has a right to her own body, but motherhood is a unique state of being when there is not one human being with rights that need to be protected, but two—the mother and the child.
This is true because God has made it so, not only when the state has decreed it. The mother doesn’t have the right to kill the child, just as the child doesn’t have the right to passively “kill” the mother, which is why abortion should be legal when the mother’s life is threatened.
Killing the innocent is forbidden by our creator, and a Christian who stubbornly stands with the wicked in support of such evil might not be judged as an unbeliever by his fellow man, but he will be judged by God: “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5).
Guard against a Deadened Conscience
To those who are pro-choice, be warned. If you continue in unrepentance, hardened in sin, or causing others to stumble by publicly advocating for abortion rights, your soul is in peril. Do you, who call God lord in this life, want to stand before him one day and hear, “Away from me, I never knew you” (Matthew 7:21-23)?
To those of us who are pro-life, our place is not to judge the state of another’s soul, but to warn them of the dangers of a hardened conscience. With love and gentleness, we are to lead them away from the lies of the world and toward God’s truth, no matter how hard it is for them to hear and accept. “If anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins” (James 5:19-20).
Even as we do this, we need to tend to the “planks” in our own eyes—check our sins before we rashly confront another’s. Have we loved as we should, cared for the poor as God commanded, fed the fatherless, shown grace to the downtrodden, and forgiven those who have sinned against us?
This is the calling of all who claim to the followers of Christ, even as we stumble, fail, and sin along the way: to love one another as Christ has loved us. This is the testimony that will shine a light in the darkness and heal a broken world; this is the witness that will give a woman with an unwanted pregnancy the courage to choose life and find more joy than she could ever imagine.