By Chuck Griffin
Ephesians 5:2: “Live a life filled with love, following the example of Christ. He loved us and offered himself as a sacrifice for us, a pleasing aroma to God.”
The death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg will undoubtedly renew the debate about abortion in this nation. Her replacement may very well tip the balance of power on the high court to the point where legally available abortion could be severely restricted or even vanish.
Most theologically conservative Christians would cheer such a development, and I personally find the idea of abortion abhorrent. But simultaneously, I am deeply concerned the conservative church is about to get so caught up in a renewed political fight that we will continue to miss the obvious role we should be playing to make abortions unnecessary.
As a reporter in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, I spent a lot of time covering protests near abortion clinics in Knoxville, Tenn. and Atlanta. It quickly became obvious the opposing sides had no political middle ground, with one group shouting for women’s rights and the other declaring life begins at conception. Inevitably, I thought, secular politics would leave one group or the other feeling disenfranchised and powerless.
About the same time, a theologian named Stanley Hauerwas wrote an essay that demonstrated how hospitality, properly understood and practiced by the church, offers a solution that could make the demand for abortion subside regardless of the political environment.
The essay, entitled “Abortion, Theologically Understood,” makes some startling assertions, at least if you’re a typical American Christian. When we become Christians, Hauerwas says, we should stop thinking in terms of rights and instead begin thinking in terms of responsibilities.
For Christians, what the state has to say about abortion should be relatively unimportant. What’s important for us is whether we function so well as Christ’s community that the need for abortion becomes irrelevant.
In the essay, Hauerwas embeds a sermon from one of his former students, the Rev. Terry Hamilton, and it is there we see examples of the church truly being hospitable. There is the story of a community church where the people welcome a pregnant teenager into their midst, placing her and ultimately her baby with an older couple so both mother and child can have full lives and hope.
In a different church, a divorced Sunday school teacher becomes pregnant, and rather than finding herself ostracized, she is instead cared for and even financially supported by the church. In both cases, the temptation to abortion is eliminated by a community offering love, and the babies in effect become “children of the parish.”
Theologically conservative churches need to ask themselves some basic questions if they want to engage with the world over abortion, treating it as a serious problem.
- What are we doing to eliminate the fears of mothers around us so they will drop abortion as an option?
- As a church, are we willing to put the time and money in place to help poor mothers rear their children or find others willing to do so?
- Have we made it clear in our community we are willing to help?
- Can we make these mothers and their children part of the family of Christ, setting aside judgment of their circumstances and offering love?
Let’s also not forget our need to reach out to women who have undergone an abortion. Many pastors understand what I am talking about, having counseled women who remain troubled and even broken years after the fact. These women need to know that the church is a place of forgiveness and healing, and that they have a perspective younger women need to hear.
Regardless of the political climate, Christians always have great power to make a difference on any issue, abortion included. Sure, we have the right to enter a voting booth, petition legislators and march around buildings, just like everyone else. But we do our most effective work when we offer sacrificial love to others.
Lord, as our culture becomes more contentious, may we be more centered on your word, offering loving, holy answers that can come only from you. Amen.