Is your church pro-life? Almost everyone reading this blog would say “Yes. Of course.” If, by “pro-life”, we mean that a church has a stand against abortion tucked away in its confession somewhere and that they pray against abortion on the Sanctity of Life Sunday, then yes, many protestant churches could be called pro-life.
But what if we saw the calling to be pro-life as something more foundational to our identity as gospel-preaching churches? What would it look like to be–in the biggest possible sense–pro-life?
The assumption of this post is simple: human life is precious beyond calculation because God made it in His image and that all churches ought to be pro-life.
The argument of this post is simple: the American church should stop treating the pro-life issue as primarily political and national and narrow. And we should start seeing it as primarily relational and local and broad.
Being pro-life is more about relationships than it is about politics
First, a caveat: of course we should be praying for political legislation bringing protection and justice to the unborn. As far as we’re able, we should be interested and active on such issues. We would note here that on January 29, a bill that would ban most abortions at twenty weeks failed to advance in the United States Senate (the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act”, which was previously passed by the House of Representatives). Despite the rancorous debate, many commentators acknowledged that the bill advancing this far is a sign of shifting attitudes in our nation toward abortion.
But considering “pro-life” to be a political description rather than a relational one is likely a large part of our problem. If we encourage elected representatives to vote a certain way but don’t truly welcome single mothers into our midst, our politics is a “noisy gong…a clanging cymbal.”
Being a pro-life church begins with repentance. We should repent of handing over without a fight so much of the church’s calling to the federal government. In his recent, excellent post on this blog, J.K. Wall challenged and encouraged us to have hope that is both deeper and broader than the federal government:
In short, the Bible tells us to submit to the governing authorities, but not to look to them first to solve our problems. This is a lesson Americans—including American Christians—must relearn.
Being a pro-life church means being a group of households who bend over backwards to help and provide for mothers who are scared and hurt. It means welcoming without reservation whatever Tamar, Rahab, Ruth or Mary God would bring within our circles. It means not only providing physical goods but building genuine friendships with them.
Being a pro-life church also means engaging within the context of a relationship those who have had abortions. We are so sure of our arguments that we often fail to listen. Have you ever genuinely heard a woman who had an abortion explain why? Not everything has to be a bare-knuckled brawl of an argument. Often listening will open the heart of the hurting far more quickly than arguing. Refusing to hide behind our screens and interacting with actual people will make us gentle and loving, which is by far the most persuasive way to change someone’s mind.
Being pro-life is more local than national
By keeping “pro-life” as something that’s political, we also tend to see it as something that is primarily national in scope. One reason to see abortion as a national is that it’s simply easier for us. Since it’s national, it’s not something we have to think about every day. Since it’s national, it’s really something beyond our ability to impact. Since it’s national, we can hide behind our computers and email politicians and pretend to change people’s minds on facebook.
But being truly pro-life is a goal accomplished more locally than nationally. We honor those who sacrificed their resources to attend the March for Life, but we should doubly honor those who sacrifice locally on a regular basis.
Whatever time you put into local politics will likely be much more effective than time given to national politics. Whatever time you put into serving the local institutions that care for pregnant mothers and young children will likely be more effective than time given to politics at all. And whatever time you put into building relationships with those most at risk around you will be eternally fruitful.
A pro-life church is engaged in her community. She knows and supports those who are facilitating adoption and running pregnancy resource centers. She gladly takes phone calls from those centers when they ask for help. She has a parish and seeks to change the world by caring for her community.
Being pro-life is broad, not narrow
Once we reject the idea that being pro-life is primarily political and national, the door is open to the most important change we could make: being pro-life in absolutely every sense of that phrase. For those churches knowing and believing the gospel, this should ought to be a regular outworking of following Jesus who, unlike Satan, came that we “may have life, and have it to the full.” (Jn. 10:10)
Being narrowly pro-life would mean simply advocating against abortion. Being broadly pro-life means seeking justice for the unborn while loving with equal fervor for those who feel pressured to abort. It means finding ways to support adoption and adoptive families. It means frequently and sacrificially babysitting for single mothers.
Being broadly pro-life would extend our passion for people and justice far beyond the scope of the womb. It would mean showing love and value to every human life created in the image of God, refusing to be fundamentally divided from our neighbor by the increasing pressure of identity politics or national borders. It would mean finding and loving those who are hardest to find and hardest to love, including learning how to love and listen to the elderly. Being broadly pro-life would mean expanding the church’s diaconal ministry to her neighborhoods, being so devoted to Jesus that we love the “least of these” wherever we find them. It would mean churches being safe place for victims of abuse, places where they are heard and protected.
In the end, being broadly and locally and relationally pro-life is far more joyful and optimistic than how many churches go about things. Those in our congregation who labor sacrificially for the unborn are frequently discouraged by how few protestant and reformed churches are willing to engage on this issue. Perhaps the root problem is vision. Learning to see these issues through relational, local and big-picture lenses will simultaneously remove our excuses and while also stirring our congregations to wholehearted, hopeful, and joyful action.