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Category: Abortion

What I Told My Congregation Concerning The Reproductive Health Act

Below are comments I made to Graefenburg Baptist Church during worship on January 27, 2019. I am grateful for the help of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and their mission to help inform churches of kingdom-related issues.

In case you aren’t aware, last Tuesday, which was the 46th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, the New York legislature passed a law called the Reproductive Health Act that expands abortion rights in New York. The law has elicited all kinds of reaction from both supporters and critics, with some celebrating and applauding while others lamenting the ongoing destruction of babies in the womb. Because we live in a day where information is quickly available but not necessarily well informed, I wanted to provide you with a quick briefing of what actually happened in New York.

The Reproductive Health Act made 3 primary changes to New York law:
First, the act removed abortion from the criminal code, meaning that abortions which take place during the third trimester – right up to the point of birth – are no longer a criminal offense.
Second, the act opened the door wider for who can actually perform an abortion. Under the new law, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and midwives are allowed to perform abortions.
Third, and the one that is getting the most attention, is that the act allows abortions in the third trimester – often called late term abortions – in the absence of fetal viability or if it is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.

Before this new law, third trimester abortions were only allowed in New York if the mother’s life was in jeopardy. Now, however, late-term abortions are allowed to protect the health of the mother, which is not limited to physical health. It includes emotional, psychological, and the over-all well being of the patient. Obviously, the concern is that this dramatically widens the scope for late term abortions.

All of this is certainly difficult news to read, and from a Christian worldview, it is a direct attack against the goodness of God’s creative blessing of children. The Bible speaks clearly about how God understands life in the womb.

But here is the part I want to make sure we understand: None of this is new. Nothing that happened in New York this past week is new. Multiple states already have abortion removed from their criminal code. Multiple states already have loose requirements on who can perform an abortion. And yes, perhaps you didn’t realize, but multiple states already have little to no restrictions on third trimester, late-term abortions. Alaska, Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC – none of those have bans or restrictions in place to prevent late-term abortions.

January is the Sanctity of Life month. Christians are right to express regret and even anger over what has happened in New York. But where was the outrage week before last when this very thing was happening all over our country? Christians have a reputation for becoming irate over news headlines, but then show little stamina when it comes to actually getting our feet wet to make a difference. We have a tendency to wait until something new happens we don’t like, and then express our anger all over again. That isn’t good enough.

Nor is it good enough to demonize the other side. We will not save babies by calling people names and treating them as sub-human. Remember, the reason we are passionate about this in the first place is because we believe every human is created in the image of God – including those with whom we disagree.

So what are we to do? There are political responses that are necessary and important. But I’m your pastor, and my role is not to tell you what to do politically. I certainly hope your faith in Christ guides your political action, and we need faithful Christians involved in politics. But that is not my sphere this morning.

As your pastor, I do want to urge you to get involved, and the easiest way to do that is through an incredible ministry called A Loving Choice Pregnancy Center in Shelbyville. I have gotten to know the director whose name is Diana Cahill. Just a couple of weeks ago she gave me an updated tour of the facility and we talked a good while about how the church can respond. Although there is a time and place to express frustration through social media posts and memes, the way we will rescue children is by developing relationships with men and women who are looking for help. And that requires gentleness, humility, and most of all, the love of Christ.

The Church and Bioethics: Abortion and Stem Cell Research

Below is a summary of a sermon I preached on May 1, 2016 at Graefenburg Baptist Church concerning abortion, stem cell research, and bioethics.

My position will be that babies in the womb, including the embryonic and fetal stages, are image bearers of God whose lives are to be protected and nurtured.

Four questions to answer addressing the topic of abortion and stem cell research:
1. Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
2. What about Exodus 21?
3. Why is stem cell research a bioethical issue?
4. How does the gospel make a difference?

Is there a difference between human life and human personhood?
Most recent discussions that have a direct impact on public policy concerning abortion have centered around the question of what constitutes a human person. Why has the discussion of personhood become so important? Well, today most scientists, philosophers, educators, doctors, and theologians will agree that a human embryo, even from the first moment of fertilization, is a human life. This is difficult to refute. It is obviously alive, it possesses human DNA, and unless it is interfered with, will naturally develop through the various human life stages of maturity and development. But the Western world is now debating not so much if an embryo is a human life, but if all human life should be granted full human rights and thus equally protected.

Many are debating today that not all human lives are actually human persons, and that only persons are able to possess the kind of human rights that will protect them from harm. This, of course, has a tremendous impact on how people are thinking about abortion. If a human life is not yet a person and therefore does not have full human rights, such as the right to life, then abortion is not murder. But is this right? How does the Bible guide us in this area?

Although we have used the language of personhood to describe deep theological truths – such as the Trinity and the person of Christ – the Bible does not speak directly to the issue of if there is a distinction between human life and human personhood. Instead, the Bible speaks on these things in terms of the image of God and the impact of being created in that image. Let’s look at two examples:

Psalm 51 is a beautiful prayer by David seeking forgiveness for his multitude of sins.
First, notice that David refers to his time in the womb as “me.” There is a continuity in David’s inspired writing of himself with whatever stage of development he was in the womb.

Second, and even more powerfully, is that David identifies himself as a sinner, even while in the womb. This is not merely the mother’s sin, for the entire Psalm is about David’s sin and his pleas for forgiveness. This teaching lines up perfectly with Romans 5:12: “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men…”
David is teaching us in Psalm 51 that his sinful condition is not just a result of his own personal actions, but because of his association with Adam. (now let’s pause here and be reminded of a beautiful gospel truth. It is through our association with the first Adam, the one from Genesis 1-3, that we are by nature sinners and children of wrath. But it is through our association with the second Adam, that is Jesus Christ, that we take on his righteous nature and become a child of God.) But the point here is that since David identifies himself as a sinner in his embryonic state, then even as a human life in the womb, he carried with him moral accountability, that is to say, the need to be forgiven of sin. This necessarily means that even before David was born, he was an image-bearing human person.

Psalm 139 is another example. Here the continuity of David with his “inward parts” is consistent with Psalm 51. But even more striking is the degree of care that God shows to this baby inside the womb. Matthew 6:26-30 teaches us that God does not show the same level of value and personal care for all of his creation. Humans who bear his image are his top priority. And this Psalm most beautifully demonstrates how God sees the life in the womb as a full image-bearing human person.

We can also turn our attention to Luke 1 and the announcement by Gabriel that Mary would conceive and bear a son. Jesus, as we know, is the ultimate image-bearer of God who perfectly identifies with humans and yet is without sin. But notice that Jesus does not just appear in his adult human form. He identifies, from first to last, with the full range of image-bearing human persons, which meant he came in the first stage of maturity and development – a life in the womb. In this way, Jesus completely lived for us, completely died for us, and completely saves us.

From these three examples, we can say that the Bible does not specifically target the language of personhood, but highlights the image-bearing nature of humanity from inside the womb, which means from a biblical perspective, there is no difference between a human life and a human person. From fertilization onward, we are image bearers of God and have a right to life.

What about Exodus 21?
Pro-choice advocates have historically used Exodus 21:22 as a pivotal text to demonstrate how the Bible views life in the womb as less than a human person. Let’s read the verse and see if that claim holds up. “When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman’s husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine. 23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Now, you are probably wondering why pro-choice folks look to this text to support their position when in fact it appears to harm their position. Well, that’s right. This is actually a verse that once again shows the image-bearing nature of life in the womb. Look at it closely. The Bible is speaking about harm to either the children or the mother.

So why do pro-choice folks latch on to this? Because a few translations, including the New Revised Standard Version and the 1977 New American Standard Bible, translate it differently: “And if men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she has a miscarriage, yet there is no further injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him; and he shall pay as the judges decide.” (Emphasis mine)

In this translation, the text indicates the “no further injury” is to the mother alone, seemingly making the death of the baby in the womb a trivial matter, compensated by a fine.

Now, in 1995 the NASB updated the text of their translation in order to use the most up to day scholarship. Their updated text says something very different from the 1977 translation. It says, “If men struggle with each other and strike a woman with child so that she gives birth prematurely, yet there is no injury, he shall surely be fined as the woman’s husband may demand of him, and he shall pay as the judges decide.”

So which translation is correct? The language evidence in this one verse coupled with the entirety of the Bible’s teaching on this topic shows that the updated version, and thus the translation of almost every modern translation (and most older translations, such as the KJV) is correct – the translation should be “her children come out” instead of “has a miscarriage.” This shows how life in the womb was considered just that – an image-bearing human person, and penalties would be paid in relation to the harm, or lack thereof, that came to the baby.

Why is stem-cell research a bioethical issue?
Stem cell research receives a significant amount of attention because of the potential to use the cells in ways that could produce better treatments for disease and illnesses. Because of that, many Christians struggle with an additional layer of ethical decision making – a case of which is the greater good, to preserve the life of a human embryo or to destroy that life in hopes of helping humans who are more fully matured and developed.

Stem cells are distinct from other types of cells because they are not fully differentiated. That just means that stem cells are able to develop into a variety of other cell types, leaving the possible scientific study on them open to many possibilities. The most important and valuable of stem cells are called “pluripotent” cells because they are are undifferentiated. Multipotent are the next valuable, and then unipotent are the least valuable to scientists. The ethical tension comes in the fact that human embryos, that is to say our children, are a rich source of pluripotent cells, the kind that are most valuable.

It is very difficult for Christians, even in light of all the evidence we have already discussed as the image-bearing nature of human life in all of its stages, to argue against stem cell research because all of us know loved ones and friends who could potentially benefit from this kind of scientific progress. It is easy to be seen as unloving to hold a position against stem cell research. Thus, this is another position where Christians will need to cultivate Christian courage. If human embryos do indeed bear the image of God in their personhood, then harming or killing them for the profit of another, even another who is more fully developed, is morally wrong and against all that we believe in Christ. Some of the most heinous periods in world history have come through brilliant arguments for the harming of those who are weaker, smaller, or supposedly dispensable for the perceived greater good of others.

But not all is lost here. Embryos are not the only source of stem cells and technology is providing additional sources for scientific study. Umbilical cord blood is one example of a plentiful source of stem cells, and even more promising is that scientists have started working on ways to extract stem cells from embryos without destroying the embryo itself, which of course would remove the difficult ethical considerations altogether.

How does the gospel make a difference?
First, the gospel reminds us of sacrifice and service, the vision statement of all Christians. In setting the ultimate example, Christ willingly left that which was comfortable, that which was majestic and perfect, that which was rightfully his, and took on a world of sacrifice and inconvenience. In 2014, an estimated 977,000 abortions took place in the US alone. Of those 977,000, a significant portion, upwards of 3/4 of women said they did not want a baby because it would interfere with their life. And listen, they are right about that. Babies get in the way. They can be loud and never sleep and are so demanding and inconvenient. They are expensive and seem to be so darn ungrateful. But do you remember what we said on day one of this sermon series? We said that bioethical issues involve a comprehensive view of who we are as Christians and must never be reduced to just the issue at hand. This is a perfect example. Apart from our Christ-centered worldview where the gospel instructs us on what service and sacrifice looks like, an annoying, interfering baby would be, well, just that. An annoyance. And who wants that? But in Christ, we find our joy through sacrifice. Our joy through service. Our joy in putting others before ourselves.

Second, the gospel reminds us of community and the church. After all, it was for the church that Christ died. Now listen, the church isn’t perfect. Far from it. But we love each other, sometimes in awkward ways, but we do. And we love babies. I can promise you that you will find a place of refuge and advice and help and support from the people of Graefenburg Baptist Church. That won’t make things easy for you. That won’t mean you will gets lots of sleep. But you will get help when you ask, you will be invited into community with us, and we will rally around you.

Third, the gospel reminds us of forgiveness. There is no condemnation for those of you who are in Christ Jesus. Abortion is one of those topics that when preached, seems crystal clear. But when there is a baby inside of your body that will disrupt everything, including perhaps your reputation, things become muddy very quickly. I understand that. Brother and sister, if you have a history that includes abortion and you have sought the Lord Jesus in forgiveness, then he does not condemn you and your guilt is removed. And if the Lord Jesus does not condemn you, then neither will Graefenburg Baptist Church.

But if you have not yet asked Christ to forgive you, then come to him today. He is gentle and ready to forgive. He will not turn you away.

 

 

3 Things I’m Doing In Light of Planned Parenthood

Today an undercover video was released of a Planned Parenthood official discussing in nauseating detail the process of aborting a baby to preserve its organs for medical research. While munching on a salad and sipping red wine, the official talks about “crushing” specific parts of the baby in order to save various organs, such as a liver, and the costs that would be associated with those available organs.

Father, have mercy.

My response to that video today has been surprising. On the one hand, my heart is broken for a world that is so lost and depraved. I am reminded that this lostness was my lostness, capable of the unthinkable, and if not for the grace of God most beautifully pictured in His Gospel, my heart would still be darkened to truth. Every second of every day I am dependent on the grace of God to keep me from falling away from His glory, for yes, I too was once like this, and I am nothing on my own (1 Corinthians 6:11). The gospel is only for sinners, of which I am chief, and that is humbling.

But on the other hand, I have found myself angry today. And that isn’t like me. I would not presume to say it is righteous anger, and I would not presume to say it is healthy. God will no doubt be hearing my confession by the day’s end. But I’m angry. How can such an “advanced” society embrace with public celebration something so barbaric and cruel as abortion? How can evangelical Christians remain silent in the midst of these daily horrors? Why are church leaders, committed to the truthfulness of Scripture and the supremacy of Christ, afraid to boldly encourage and equip the church to rise up and speak out on these issues?

That last one was a jab at me.

I have over the years fallen into the devil’s trap of confusing abortion as a political issue instead of a gospel issue. I don’t do politics from the pulpit – never have and never will. But I do preach the gospel. And the gospel includes the preciousness of every human life because every human life is created in the image of God, a God who so deeply loves us that he did the unthinkable for us. To preach the gospel and remain silent on abortion in my role as a minister of Jesus Christ is to be a coward. I haven’t typically led in cowardice.

It stops tonight.

I might lose church members. I might lose respect. I might lose friends.

But it stops tonight.

My intention is not to write a bunch of blog articles on the issue, but instead to take more practical action. Here are three immediate things I am going to do in light of today’s news.

1. A Loving Choice Pregnancy Center
My first action will be to arrive at the front door of my local pregnancy center tomorrow morning and ask them what more I can be doing personally and as the leader of my flock to come alongside their ministry. Our church already supports ALC financially and has done a great job teaching some Bible studies for clients and volunteering in various roles. I am so thankful for the folks who have done these things. But I want to foster an even greater support system for the wonderful team of folks who work tirelessly and thanklessly at A Loving Choice. That’s my first stop.

2. Evangelicals for Life and the March for Life
Me and my wife will be registering this week and attending the Evangelicals for Life conference that is in conjunction with the March for Life in Washington, DC on January 21-22, 2016. I have never participated in a march or demonstration for any issue. That will change this January. Want to go with us? Contact me here.

3. Gospel Saturated Church
The leadership at Graefenburg Baptist Church is working hard to keep the gospel at the center of all we do at GBC. As we continue to work in that way, I will be looking for opportunities to engage our church membership to serve and speak about the sinfulness and brutality of abortion. I know there is more we can be doing together as a church. Now is the time.

Taking a firm stand in the gospel to confront the evil of abortion does not mean we count as evil those whose lives have been impacted by abortion in one way or another. On the contrary, we are all in this together. Sin has killed us all. But there is life in Christ, forgiveness in Christ, and no guilt in Christ (Romans 8:1). Grace really is amazing.

Will you pray for me as I pray for you? I believe God is big and does big things. In the meantime, as we continue to hear and see these devastating stories of babies being torn apart, our prayers continue…

Father, have mercy.

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Abortion & The Election Day Myth

There is an election day myth that attempts to convince voters of the inferior methodology of choosing a candidate based on a single issue. The myth most often is summarized by this simple expression:  “That’s just one issue.” Abortion is the usual issue in mind when the election day myth is spread, and it is typically accompanied by this popular phrase:  “If you are going to be pro-life, you have to be pro-life on all the issues.” It’s a catchy “gotcha’ to demonstrate the lack of consistency in a person’s political leanings when they might strongly support an anti-abortion campaign, but in turn support a campaign that is pro-capital punishment, or a campaign that is seen as weak in other social related issues.

The election day myth is just that…a myth. Here’s why.

John Doe is a tremendous up and coming politician. He has demonstrated a remarkable ability to make meaningful connections and exert purposeful influence across party lines. His economic strategy is ground breaking. His tax plan actually makes sense. And on top of it all, he is a likable guy, fun to be around. But then, something very strange happens. Just a couple of months before the upcoming election day where he is a sure favorite for the senate (or governor, or president, or whatever), John Doe makes a dramatic change of heart on a single issue:  Race. His position on race has changed but it is very specific…John Doe does not believe African Americans should enjoy the same benefits from our government as other races do. White, Asian, American Indian, Pacific Islander, and the rest are seen by John as equal, but he has become convinced that African Americans are one step below other races.

John’s tax plan is still the best of all time. His ideas on foreign relations are brilliant. He strikes a splendid balance between economic and social issues. All looks perfect, except on this one issue. Of course, it doesn’t matter. It’s just one issue. We are more than willing to overlook John’s clear weakness on race because he can do so much good in a myriad of other areas – sure, the African American community is not going to receive those benefits as much as other races might, but we need to keep our eye on the big picture. We can’t let one issue sway our vote.

Silly, isn’t it? After John Doe made public his position on race, he would be the fastest dropped candidate in election day history, all because of one issue and despite his mastery in multiple issues.

Based on this one scenario, we can see how quickly the election day myth is debunked. All of us have the potential to let a single issue sway our vote.

Now, here’s the reason why everyone reading this article will agree that John’s one issue would kill his chances of being elected – because we have collectively as a nation rightly understood racism to be wrong. Period. It is a moral absolute and despite whatever good the candidate might be able to do in a host of other areas, something so blatantly wrong and harmful as racism clearly supersedes any brilliance John Doe might have on every other issue.

As barbaric as it might be, we have not collectively understood abortion to be wrong. Thus, for many it simply becomes another issue to toss into the mix. But for those who are convinced that abortion is the taking of an innocent human life, the mandate to be a one issue voter becomes much clearer.

For evangelical Christians, the issue is raised to an even greater level. This human life is a life that is designed in God’s image. This isn’t luck, chance, or the ongoing pointlessness of an evolutionary process that exists outside of a Creator. This life inside the womb has the DNA of God stamped all over them.

For those who consider the unborn to be something other than human, abortion should simply be another issue. For those who consider the unborn to be human, abortion is the issue. There really is not, and should not be, any middle ground. Author Greg Koukl correctly writes, “If the unborn are not human, no justification for elective abortion is necessary. But if the unborn are human, no justification for elective abortion is adequate.” (Precious Unborn Human Persons, page 7). Thus, the ultimate issue is about the state of the unborn.

I will admit my personal frustration when evangelical Christians seem torn on this issue. The Scriptures repeatedly teach the unborn to be human life, even to the point of addressing how the unborn need a Savior. John the Baptist leaps in his mother’s womb (Luke 1:41). As an adult, David recognized he was sinful even while in the womb (Psalm 51:5). God knows every minute detail of our humanity during our time in the womb (Psalm 139:13). These are the things that must compel our thinking about the unborn as Christians, and likewise to raise the taking of innocent human life to the highest of places among the issues.

But the point of this article is to simply make a plea – do not criticize a voter who, because of their position on the unborn, escalates abortion to the top of the issue list as the first and foremost factor by which they differentiate between candidates. Hopefully one day the United States will be as repulsed by abortion as we are by racism. But until that day comes, some of us will remain one issue voters.

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