I remember as a child standing on the side of the road, holding up a sign in silent protest against abortion. I don’t remember what the sign said, but I remember joining with other members from our church as we fulfilled our duty to advocate for the lives of unborn babies. I look back now and wonder about the real impact of those signs. Did they change anyone’s hearts or minds? Did they rescue any babies? Did they heap shame on women driving by who felt they had no other options? Did they only serve to convince us that we had done our part in the battle for babies’ lives?
Over the decades, abortion has risen to the top of the deadly sins in the eyes of much of the American church. Many have come to see themselves as guardians of the unborn armed with their vote as their greatest weapon for the protection of these little ones. But I think it’s time for the church to ask if we’ve been fighting the wrong battle. I think it’s time to take down the “pro-life” banners, drop the stones that have been aimed at the “pro-choice” supporters, and realize that it was never as simple as that binary framework. Maybe when we stop arguing over legality, we’ll be able to see the women and the children who are caught between the battle lines.
While the Bible doesn’t give us a clear path forward on issues like abortion, it does point us toward God’s heart. It shows us that our religion was never meant to be defined by our political ideologies or whom we stand against. Our faith was never meant to pit one group against another. Rather, Scripture shows us that our relationship with the Divine is meant to lead us in the direction of love, a love that does not discriminate.
We read in James 1:27 that…
Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.
This call to look after orphans and widows is not unique to this one piece of Scripture. All throughout the Hebrew Law and Prophets, God commands the people of Israel to care for the widow and the fatherless and often includes the foreigner and the poor along with them (Ex. 22:21-25; Deut. 10:18-19, 14:29, 24:19-21, 26:12-13, 27:19; Is. 1:17, 10:1-2; Jer. 7:5-7, 22:3; Zech. 7:10; Mal. 3:5). These were the groups of people that were most vulnerable in their society, those who were most often overlooked and oppressed. And God was clear that his people were not to join in the oppression and were not to turn a blind eye. Instead, they were called to actively take up the case of these marginalized groups and to give out of their own means to provide for those in need.
This call to care for the oppressed does not pit one vulnerable group against another. It doesn’t make us choose sides between the widows and the orphans. It bids us to recognize the humanity and dignity of all those who have been crushed by the corrupt systems of this world. It compels us to advocate for all who are oppressed, to respond to the needs of all who are lacking, to remove the barriers for all who are being cast out.
We’re often told that we have to take sides, that we have to choose the well-being of one group over another. Yet over and over again, when Jesus was told to choose, he responded with another option, and he showed us how to hold the tension between seemingly opposing views. He didn’t give into the power plays that were being waged by the religious and political leaders of his time but kept his eyes on loving his neighbors and looking out for those who were in need.
Jesus, who welcomed children into his presence, who bounced babies on his knee and declared that his kingdom belongs to these little ones (Matt. 19 & Luke 18), is the same Jesus who sat at the well with the disgraced Samaritan woman (John 4) and who rescued the woman caught in adultery from the hands of those who wanted to stone her (John 8). His care for one did not hinder his concern for the other. Rather, he saw past the labels and the limits that others tried to heap on the most vulnerable in his society and instead focused on both their inherent value and their deepest need. He saw the beauty in whom he had created them to be, and he saw the ways that the world was denying that beauty. He saw the hearts that he had so intricately formed, and he saw the ways that others had broken those precious hearts.
If we look through the eyes of Jesus, past the labels that have been thrust upon women considering abortion, I wonder what more we might see. Would we recognize their worth? Would we feel their distress? Would we acknowledge the ways that our society has failed them? Would we be able to see a bit of ourselves in them?
My first pregnancy was unplanned, and I remember the fear that I felt after I saw those pink lines appear. I knew that this little baby growing inside me was about to alter every aspect of my life, and I didn’t feel ready. Six weeks into marriage, it felt like it was too soon and too much. Even with a loving, committed partner by my side, a comfortable home, stable income, and supportive community, the responsibility of raising a child felt like a weight that we weren’t fit to carry.
As I remember all the emotions that I felt in that first month of pregnancy, I consider the women who show up at abortion clinics. Though each woman is unique and her situation is distinct, I imagine that fear is a common factor. I imagine that for many who don’t have the committed partner, comfortable home, stable income, and supportive community all in place, the intensity of that fear is increased. Though I haven’t been right where they are, I feel the distress. And I remember Jesus’ words…
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. – Matthew 11:28-30
And I recall his warning against the influence of certain religious leaders…
They tie up heavy cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulder, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. – Matthew 23:4
And I am convicted.
I have to question whether my stance on certain issues, the ways that I have voted, the ways that I have thought about, spoken about, and treated my fellow image bearers has added to or lessened their burdens. Am I willing to walk alongside those who are scared and hurting? Am I willing to give what I have received so that others might have the same benefits? Am I willing to extend grace, mercy, and compassion to those who have been labeled as unworthy? My faith in a Savior who is gentle and humble and who carries my burdens with me compels me to do the same for others.
God cares for the whole person. God is concerned about the ways that his beloveds have been wounded and isn’t interested in policing people’s behavior but in leading people to wholeness. What would it look like for us to seek wholeness for both women and children in their distress?