On Sunday (24 November) I preached a sermon on the Sanctity of Life, which focussed significantly on the issue of abortion. You can stream or download the message here. There was a lot of content I wanted to include, but had to cut out for time – I do do that sometimes…no, really. So I wanted to share a few thoughts that might help answer some questions that my talk raised.
I was very emotional in my delivery of this sermon – more so than ever before. I think this is because the weight of this issue had been with me for many months, and especially the week before. When you’re speaking on an issue like abortion, you know it’s going to be painful, you know it’s going to offend, you know that it might even push people away from Jesus rather than drawing them ever nearer.
So, the question comes – I could sense it on Sunday: “Well, if you’re so worried about upsetting people with the issue of abortion, why are you speaking about it in the first place?”
It’s one thing if, on our journey through the Gospel of Luke, we come across a difficult issue (as happened when Jesus speaks on divorce) – then it would be cowardly to not address whatever hard issue it is. But this was not part of our Luke series. In fact, the New Testament has very little to say directly on the issue of abortion.
I purposefully slotted in a standalone message on this topic. Despite being deeply affected by the concerns that this would be a painful topic, I chose to go there. And my sense is (though I need to consider this afresh some months from now) that I’ll return to this topic every couple of years.
It’s a good question. Here are eight reasons:
1. To share the good news of Jesus, we have to talk about the bad news. Hearing bad news is important. Usually, bad news comes to us because something which was once in good order, has gone wrong. And often, as with a doctor’s diagnosis or a car-mechanic’s report, the sharing of the bad news is a crucial part of looking to a brighter future.
A key verse I kept coming back to in the message was, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Tim. 1:15) The good news of that incredible verse is only worth talking about if the bad news is real and significant. We have to talk about the bad news if we want to see the wonder of Jesus’ grace. And abortion is a huge aspect of the very bad news of the world we live in.
2. Silence isn’t an option. Martin Luther King Jnr. wrote of this need to speak about the “bad news” around us: “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, also confronting appalling evil, wrote, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
This is true of all sorts of injustice. I believe it to be true of abortion.
3. The nature and scale of the issue. With abortion, there are four factors which I believe, when taken together, demand that we consider this.
Firstly, the scale of the offence against God’s beautiful created order. God created us in His likeness – that’s precious beyond words. So the assault on that is unlike any other.
Secondly, the frequency of the problem. This is happening millions of times every year. Millions.
Thirdly, some recent shifts on this issue (and related issues) which suggest a concerning trajectory. There are some incredibly loud voices pushing for less restrictions on abortion. There is also the increasingly likely prospect of an assisted suicide bill being passed in Scotland.
Finally, the widespread acceptance of this practice. Abortion is assumed as part of the fabric of our society, yet in my thirty-four years of being around church, I can recall hearing just one sermon on this. That seems wrong.
4. When horrific things happen, we have a responsibility to address them. Whether it’s a terrorist attack, a tragic accident involving our church family, a war in a far-off country, or the termination of millions of pregnancies – we better have something to say when terrible things happen. God cares, and we need to make that plain.
Our church vision says, “We will acknowledge the joys and pains of life, and will seek God’s presence and purposes therein. We will not sugar-coat the reality of sin in the world and in our lives. We will confront hard issues, acknowledging that, though we don’t know all the answers, God is in control.”
Life is painful. The subject of abortion is painful. We need to talk about these things.
5. We’re to speak out for those who are most vulnerable. Across the pages of Scripture – Old and New Testament – this is clear. We’re to stand up for the oppressed and needy. There are none more vulnerable than those in the womb.
6. We have a responsibility to speak honestly about the reality of sin. Jesus lamented over Jerusalem, and there is a place for us to cry out publicly in lament at the sinful practices we see in the church and in our culture. With humility, with tears in our eyes, acknowledging our own sin and without any superiority, we must speak out.
7. Foundational truths sometimes need to be intentionally highlighted. It’s true that there aren’t many verses regarding abortion in the bible. Or there aren’t many passages specifically about the nature and value of human life.
This isn’t because these things aren’t important, but quite the opposite – they’re absolutely foundational and therefore aren’t mentioned explicitly very much at all – in the same way that we almost never think about our continually beating heart. So it’s important to consider, from time to time, “what are those foundational truths, and do we, in practice, continue to stand firm on them?”
8. Jesus cares. Jesus cares about sin and he cares about sinners. While he hung on the cross – in the midst of the most unimaginably horrific moment of evil – he had tender words for the criminal next to him. He prayed that God the Father would forgive those who were responsible.
As we stand in the midst of the swirling evil of 40-50 million abortions every year, still Jesus is there offering forgiveness and hope. We need to lift that Jesus up before people – what a Saviour!
Those are some of the reasons why I approached this topic. But we can’t stop there. I also had to cut out another very important question from my talk: “so what?”
In the next post, we’ll consider, “what now?” In light of all that was shared – how should we, the church, respond?