Friday, November 07, 2008

Abortion - The Legal and the Moral

I was particularly impressed today by the words of Cal Thomas, words I read in our very own N&R. You can find the same column online today at the Jewish World Review.

A friend of mine wrote me yesterday about the move at the UN by radical abortion rights activists to create, in effect, a kind of Roe v. Wade all over the world, a universal right to abortion. I think such a move will fail because there are a very large number of countries with much stronger opposition to abortion than we find among enlightened westerners. But we'll see.

What was of more significance to me was my friend's level of profound angst. The first line of the e-mail was "it's starting already." There is fear post-election, realistic or not, that there will be a massive onslaught of such things.

I think that is is hard for many progressive folks who would want more liberal abortion laws to really "get" the horror that abortion is to so many people - people who are not wackos or weirdos or right wing nut jobs, but who are just very normal people.

This angst or even horror might be similar to what a true pacifist feels inside when we undertake a war which does not seem necessary, or how a deeply passionate lover of nature would feel if they went to see the great redwoods and found that they had all been cut down, or perhaps how people feel watching footage of the clubbing to death of baby seals. "No!, Stop!" we find ourselves crying out at the TV.

I do believe that as American citizens, conservative Christians and people of other religions have a voice that should be equal to the voice of the non religious or to the progressive or "liberal" versions of their faith which are usually more in sync with progressive or liberal politics. But like Cal Thomas, I don't think in the long run that the legal battle on these issues is going to be successful.

The legal window may be closing but the moral window is not. Cal Thomas talks about the change of heart that comes with Christian conversion. I agree. Until hearts are changed there will be little progress on the political side as regards many of these issues. But the process of seeking to teach people about the Jesus Christ of the New Testament should never be motivated by any sort of political or even cultural goal, even if the result of a new great awakening would include significant cultural change, as such awakenings tend to do.

And, I reminded my friend, it was Reagan and Bush Supreme Court appointees that chose to uphold Roe v. Wade when the window of opportunity was open to do so.

Again, the legal battle may be over for the most part (well, not as regards partial birth abortions), but the moral battle is not. Within the framework of existing law, we still have freedom to make the moral case for the sanctity of unborn human life, and this case is not purely a religious one. Many atheists oppose abortion on moral grounds. It is within everybody's pay grade to understand the seamless transition of life from conception to birth; modern biology has made this case easier, not harder, to make.

And so, in my view, and speaking to those passionate about this issue, now is the time to put resources into making the moral case and to risk disapproval by all sorts of friends and neighbors. Human beings have consciences, and these consciences are still persuadable as to the sanctity of human life growing in the womb.

It is both less personal and less risky to address this and other issues purely on the political side. Yes, there will be legal battles to wage, such as if Congress tries to overturn the present ban on partial birth abortion. I kind of hope they will try as the American people will push back I believe pretty hard on that one.

In the mean time we must love our neighbors, and since the category of neighbor includes the unborn, one aspect of this love will include making the moral case on various levels for the sanctity of all human life. No matter how gentle we are in making the case some of our adult neighbors will take offense, and perhaps dislike us very much, but such is the cost of taking a stand. That is the risk.

We Evangelical Christians also need to make common cause with pro-life movements within other cultural or legal groups. The first "March for Life" I ever participated in was led by an activist pro-life Jewish group in Columbia. The first crisis pregnancy center I was a part of was run by Catholics. And a keynote speaker in another March for Life I attended was a professed atheist. In making the moral case, and in protesting the current million + forced deaths a year of unborn human beings, we need all the co-belligerents we can find.

Between 40 and 35 years ago the United States experienced what Christians would call an "Awakening" - of huge proportions. It took root mainly in the youth of that era. Millions upon millions of teenage kids were walking around one day as vague agnostics or extremely nominal church goers or even rabid atheists, and then, bam, the next day their lives were flipped all around and turned inside out. I know, because I was one of them. We must pray that this will happen again.

Once the conscience is awakened to the sanctity of human life, all human life, from conception unto death, life of every race and creed and gender, one cannot look at these issues the same way again.

We've been lazy. It's time to get to work.


Gerry Desjardins said...

Amen Pastor Joel!

Matt Loy said...

Pastor Joel, I am continually impressed and also blessed by your articulate writing her on your blog and your thoughtful considerations of serious Christian questions on your facebook page. I am particularly interested in this most recent post since it has been a topic causing me great unrest in the past weeks.

I have two thoughts that are not meant to be objections as much as they are questions. I am wrestling with this topic and trying to make sense of it. I am not exactly sure how I think a Christian should deal with the issue of abortion so my assertions are made in honest seeking, not in vehement disagreement.

First I wonder why if we believe that abortion is morally wrong why should we not continue to try and change the laws allowing immoral acts? Such as what was done during the civil rights movement to abolish segregation laws. I am sure may people in the late 50’s and through the 60’s also thought that those laws would never change. Now I realize that this is not a perfect analogy but it is aimed at the point that just as many progressive folks don’t “get” the horrors of abortion I believe many segregationist didn’t “get” the horrors of there particular brand of evil either. Society was changed in my opinion by the assertion of non-violent force that brought light to the radical moral incongruities present in U.S society.

The second question is slightly more difficult to explain but it is that just because people know what is moral ie. “Get it” it does not mean that they will chose to do it. As Christians this is very apparent to us as the good we want to do we do not always do. Unless people are forced to do some things or to conform to some laws or discipline they will continue to persist in evil all the while knowing what they ought to do. Now I understand that there is a spiritual power that can release us from the bonds of evil but there is still considerable effort required on the part of the individual to persist in faith and work out their salvation in the mist of a fallen world. This leads me to the basis for this questing witch follows.

My question stems from my recent study of Reinhold Niebuhr’s work Moral Man & Immoral Society. In this he posits that people are capable of self-transcendence and are able to overcome their sinful temptations and reset evil. However he goes on to suggest that large groups of people, such as societies and classes are incapable of transcending evil. Thus in order to change thing socially or politically there must be some force or political pressure applied to change civil laws or social climates.

The reason that his work comes to mind is that your appeal to moral conscience reminds me of the turn of the century Social Gospel movement. I am not saying you are advocating social gospel but it sounds similar. Walter Rauschenbusch suggested in his 1907 work Christianity and the social crisis that the church and Christians should be an agent of social change and not content themselves in personal piety. He suggested that a steady advance of moral reasoning would eventually bring about change by affecting the moral conscious of individuals and eventually the whole world, I say this as I believe he was also a postmillennialist.

Niebuhr’s Christian Realism is a direct attack on the extremely pure and naive nature of Social Gospel suggesting that it will never be able to change the world since evil is endemic to all people and people groups. While he does not say that power is the ethical goal in a Machiavellian sense. Rather He insists on Christian Love (agape) as the goal to which all endeavors should strive but that Love is not always a sufficient a tool for social change. For example some Christian principles such as turning the other cheek while applicable to individuals and small groups are not appropriate to apply on a social political level since it will effect any change in such al climate.

So if we accept Niebuhr’s premise there cannot be any social change without forceful human endeavor. In this case we are left to struggle through finite means towards the end that will ultimately be realized though the revelation of Christ. I realize I am getting into some theological waters that I don’t exactly understand in regards to the revelations and second coming and the eradication of evil so I won’t persist further.

I would be very curious to hear if these arguments hold water for? I admit my lack of ability as a writer so please forgive my attempt.

Joel said...


Thank you for your care in asking such meaningful questions.

In terms of what is now, by default, the law of the land, there is almost nothing that can be done to change it - Roe v. Wade I mean. If you have any ideas let me know please. It is what it is. People have been trying in various ways for 30 years to change it - the only way to do that is by constitutional amendment, which is almost impossible, or by the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, which now, after Obama's election, is not likely to happen for four to eight years. What can be changed possibly are various surrounding issues and policies, such as partial birth abortions, which most people find abhorrent, or parental consent laws, which actually are hard to pass as recent referendum showed. At any rate, there is a practical reality that must be faced.

When I am talking about making the moral case I am talking not so much about trying to change the law of the land per se, that is, the group think, the cultural norm, the collective, but changing the manner in which individuals make choices. Individuals are subject to persuasion. Just because people have the right to abort their babies does not mean that they will choose to do so, especially if they come to see their unborn child as just that, a living human being, in utero, hidden, but still living, and with a life and identity separate than that of the mother bearing the child. I have seen people have these ah hah moments, people of different socio-economic or religious persuasions, as when they have seen The Silent Scream, or just a good ultrasound of the baby. I mean, call me pragmatic, but I'd rather have fewer abortions rather than more, even if I can't change the law of the land.

The fact that our culture and media generally is so sex drenched does not make things any easier.

I am probably close to as skeptical as Reinhold Niebuhr as far as our ability to change the "mindset" of the culture. I was not really talking about that.

But I am not without hope that God Himself will intervene in a dramatic way to shake things up and bring large scale transformational change, just as He has done in the past. I intend to keep praying that He will.

I know this is an incomplete answer but I am trying to get out of the office. Feel free to reply back, and I will try to do a better job a little later.


Matt Loy said...

Joel, thanks for you amazingly quick response. I appreciate you taking the time to respond after reading your response and then rereading your original post I think I understand your points much better. I think that I was trying to understand it from a more traditional abortion debate stance and failed to catch the important message. I agree that I would rather have fewer abortions than more. I am fairly new to this whole debate I admit that I have come to it more slowly that I likely should have but this election really brought the point home for me. Likely in the same way you speak of as an ah hah moment even though I have always thought it was morally wrong I just didn’t realize that it had anything to do with me. Your words of wisdom are a great service to many including myself.

Peace and Grace.


Anonymous said...

Hey Joel, just a quick comment.. You seem to be a somewhat level headed Christian, so I'm going to pose this to you...What I don't understand is why so many Christians focus on the wrong book to help answer these questions.

I'm not opposed to you saying that it is immoral to kill based on your interpretation of your holy book. But why do "Pro-Life" people study the bible ad-nauseam and at the same time refuse to look at the science of it? A true understanding of the biological process that is at work during development demonstrates that not all 'abortions' kill what we consider a human life in even the loosest of sense. Perhaps in the philosophical, yes. But that's why the law is there. Not everyone's philosophy is the same, so they should not be held to the same standard. It is up to the individual. I do appreciate your respect of that law even if it is for the wrong reasons. ;-)

There seems to be a middle between science and other aspects of religion, why can't there be that reconciliation with science in this case? Why cant it be wrong to kill but redefine what that actually means based on evidence?

(An Atheist philosophically against abortion but not against the right to choose.)

Joel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joel said...

I made a writing mistake and don't know how to edit after the fact, so I am reposting.

Dear Sanjuro,

I think you have missed my point. Modern biology has opened up for us the specific progression or development from the fertilized egg to the moment of birth. I am not making a case on "mere" religious ground. I am saying that I along with many agnostics and atheists and people of vastly different philosophical and religious persuasions affirm the basic sanctity of human life. And, when considering a developing baby, there is NO point when we can say, "ah hah," it has passed from non human to human, from "embryonic tissue" to a living being. There is no point, working back wards, whereby we can say the opposite. So, as a matter of fact, I am not pulling the religious card here. And by the way, I am a biology major and a science geek and am decently well read, so I am not just blowing smoke here. There is also no point at which we can say, if we believe in such a thing, that the developing human being received or became a "soul." From a religious angle generally, and from a Christian angle, we do not know how that works. So there is no issue of "compromise" between religion and science. Science does not give us an answer as to when the blob of tissue becomes a person - and if it does give an answer it is always arbitrary. Religion does not give us a clear answer as to when, if not at conception, the blob of tissue becomes a human being made in the image of God. The only rational conclusion I think is to treat the developing human as a human person from conception on, and I will spend my life fighting like hell for the sanctity of the developing child.