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Reflections a Month After Dobbs

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Over a month has passed since the Supreme Court of the United States issued its ruling in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization on June 24. The landmark nature of this decision – overturning Roe v. Wade’s ruling that there is a constitutional right to abortion – prompted a barrage of people offering their analysis and opinions. Rather than enter into that glut of commentary, I resolved to wait to post thoughts on this blog for a couple of reasons. One reason is that there is wisdom in seeing how things unfold, as succeeding events and actions may bring new insights or implications overlooked or unforeseen by the immediate interpreters. Another reason stems from the nature of our news cycles which intensely focus on a story for a time and then move on to the next major story. While the significance of this ruling has caused it to have a longer shelf life than most new stories, there is less conversation about it now than there was a month ago. By waiting a bit, I hope to keep this important discussion going. 

Before offering some reflections, it is wise to clarify the vantage point from which I write. I (and Faith Church) unashamedly believe that the Bible is the Word of God and thus the basis for belief and behavior – its authority is valid for all times and places. Therefore, we must examine what the Bible teaches regarding the nature of human life and our duties to others as we navigate ethical issues including, but by no means limited to, the topic of abortion.  

The Understanding of Unborn Life in the Bible and Church History
The personhood of children in their mother’s womb is affirmed throughout the Bible. We see God entering into relationships with children while they were still in the womb (Jeremiah 1:5), and God declares His involvement in the formation of children in the womb (Psalm 139:13; also see Job 10:8-10). John the Baptist has a response of faith in the womb (Luke 1:41-44), and the twins Jacob and Esau are described as babies and persons while in the womb (Genesis 25:22; Romans 9:11). Jesus is referred to as a “child” as he begins his incarnation in Mary’s womb (Matthew 1:18-23). That description is not unique to Jesus, as children in the womb are repeatedly described as just that – children. There is no specific word to delineate their lives, nor any equivalent to fetus or a description of them as potential lives. I am fully aware of claims made by some (particularly those seeking to justify abortion) about Exodus 21:22-25 conveying a lower value of life in the womb. However, close examination of the passage reveals the exact opposite, as it seems that the law of retribution (“an eye-for-an-eye”) applies to both mother and child. Therefore, the prohibition against murder in Exodus 20:13 applies to the unjustified killing of babies in the womb, as they too are image-bearers of God (Genesis 9:6). In addition, the value Jesus has of children (see Mark 10:13-16) would seem to apply to those both born and unborn.

This perspective is not a novel or a recent interpretation, but rather stands as the understanding of the church throughout church history and in Judaism from which Christianity traces its roots. In my doctoral studies, I remember reading a statement by the Jewish historian Josephus noting that Judaism forbids abortion because it is “infanticide” in his defense of the Jewish people called Against Apion (2.202). Michael Gorman’s Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Jewish and Pagan Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1982) shows this was not an idiosyncratic belief held by Jospehus but was found in other Jewish texts as well. The same belief is found in the early church, with the early Christian writing known as the Didache (likely written in the early second century) speaking against killing a child in the womb or after being born (2.2). Many other early Christian’s texts such as the Epistle of Barnabas, Tertullian’s Apology, Minucius Felix’s Octavius, and Augustine’s On Marriage (to name a few of the many references) also speak against the practice of abortion. Not only have Judaism and Christianity uniformly been against this practice, but their stance has served as a distinguishing mark of their faith as it differed from the cultures around them.

My commitment to the authority of the Bible means that I stand along Christians through history in opposting abortion. Thus, I welcomed the news of this decision and have been pondering what it means and how it calls for Christians to live in the new dynamic in America it has created.

Be Thankful for a Better Situation, But Know It Is Not a “Silver Bullet”
The overturning of Roe in Dobbs did not mean that abortion is now illegal; all that Dobbs did was give each state the ability to make laws to prohibit abortion. In some states in the nation, this has, is, or very likely will become a reality. However, many of these states already had the most restrictive laws concerning abortion. Other states are doubling down on their commitment to legalized abortion, expanding access, and seeking to create pathways and protections on people from other states who may travel to their state for abortions. I’ve seen estimates that this will only lead to a 13% decrease in abortions in America. Even 13% of lives spared is something to be thankful for, but that statistic makes it clear that the overturning of Roe is not the “silver bullet” that will bring an end to the taking of innocent lives. Therefore, while we rejoice about the Dobbs decision, we need to recognize that this is by no means the end of abortion in our land. In light of the emphasis many have placed over the years on overturning Roe, I fear a bit that some would view Dobbs as the finish line, when in reality, it is a new starting line in terms of advocating for the lives of unborn children. We should rejoice, but we must not rest and need to have a renewed resolve to protect the unborn and care for all life, particularly pregnant women and children.

Recognize That We Live in and Must Engage with a Deeply Divided Nation
Something that has been apparent since Dobbs is that there are many people in our nation – and likely in our networks – who are upset with the decision and strongly oppose restrictions on abortion. In fact, I have seen a number of polls that show a majority of Americans disagree with the Dobbs decision, and Pew Research published shortly before the ruling in Dobbs that 62% of Americans support the legality of abortion in all or most cases. While that figure is not much higher than it was in 1995 (60%), there was a time in the recent past where the number was below 50% (47% in 2009). Thus, for a time, one may have been able to say that the majority of Americans opposed abortion – or at least it was a 50/50 issue, but this is no longer the case. The position taught in Scripture and reflected throughout Judeo-Christian history is a minority view in the United States. 

We might be saddened that our position is in the minority, but we should not necessarily be surprised or discouraged. Historically, Christians have been in the minority when it comes to caring for the lives of the unborn (as noted above). It is not surprising that those who do not hold a Christian worldview or believe in the authority of the Bible will come to a different conclusion on this issue. The fact that there are restrictions in some states and that the number of those who oppose abortion has been so high stands as a monument to the influence of Judeo-Christian beliefs over civilization. That more people are persuaded today about the value of unborn life than at the time of the New Testament should prompt us to engage in work of persuasion, hoping to convince others that this is the better position. Just as legislation can’t change a human heart, so it can’t change a person’s beliefs; that results from seeing how a position different from the one currently held makes better sense of the world along with evidence to support the cause. 

The deep division in our country on this issue reflects the differing moral compasses that people possess. This reality means that we need to explain what we believe and the reason why we believe what we do, invite others to consider what they believe and why, and show how our position is the better and more compelling view. Since many we interact with will not share the same viewpoint about the Bible’s authority, we can’t simply appeal to Bible passages to explain and support our beliefs. Rather, we need to articulate the framework of our position and demonstrate why such convictions make sense and lead to our ethical conclusions. In particular, we must make it clear that the reason we oppose abortion is not a goal to restrict people but to protect people, as we believe there are two distinct lives involved and that one’s value and worth is not tied to what one can do (including the ability to live independently of others). Alongside the logical claims we give for our position should be lives that support our claims – both modeling conduct that opponents can’t help but view as honorable (1 Peter 2:12) and the ability to live out our beliefs in practice. Such lives not only show that our beliefs aren’t dangerous but rather lead to a better world, one that values each and every person.

Continue to Help, Love, Pray, and Point to Jesus
Another statistic in research on abortion that I heard in post-Dobbs conversations that struck me is that 70% of women who have abortions claim to be Christians, and 36% were attending church (at least one time a month) when they had an abortion. What this reveals is that many people who likely believe abortion to be wrong still have abortions. Just as it is not enough to change laws, it is not enough to change minds. We have a tendency to justify our actions when we are in a spot of desperation; we think we stand as an exception or choose a path that we think is better for us even if we know it is wrong. Therefore, we also need to help those whose circumstances may lead them to think abortion is the only (or best) pathway for them. 

This means that Christians need to continue the work they have been doing – often unnoticed by people – of caring for women and children in crisis. While a common critique is that the “pro-life” movement only cares for babies while they are in the womb, this is a false caraciture of what has been happening. Philanthropy Roundtable has shown that Christians are three times more likely to adopt a child than non-Christians (adoption rate among Christians is 5%, other Americans 2%) and also more likely to give (time, money, or products) to help the poor (65% vs. 41%). More Christians and churches are getting involved in foster care. Crisis pregnancy centers, which offer resources like parenting classes and counsel, are run almost exclusively by Christians. The Dobbs ruling does not decrease the importance of these actions; it actually may increase the need for them. 

The call to care for pregnant women and children in this cultural moment is not political or pragmatic but rather necessary as God calls us to care for our fellow image-bearers. This call extends to all people, so we should also affirm and advocate for the dignity of those whose abilities may cause them to be minimized or marginalized in our culture. Just as we recognize people’s dignity as God’s image-bearers regardless of ability, so we also need to recognize it regardless of opinion or action. This means we should not demonize or dehumanize those who differ in perspective on this issue or any other issue. Love and care rather than insults and name-calling are much more likely to lead to persuasion and reframed convictions. It is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance (Romans 2:4), so may our kindness help those in need and also present a different way of living that invites others to ask questions. May we remember that we are God’s ambassadors, representing and demonstrating His kingdom life even now. 

The statistics above about Christian and church-going women who have abortions is also a reminder that this is not an “us” and “them” sort of conversation – this is a reality in the church and among the people you join each week in worship. The church should be a place of care and kindness, a place of hope, healing, and forgiveness. We talk about abortion because we are called to protect the vulnerable, but we are also called to proclaim forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ, forgiveness for when we do not love our neighbor as ourselves. If this discussion prompts guilt, shame, and pain because of involvement in abortion, know that forgiveness is possible in Jesus, that as far as the east is from the west he has removed your guilt and transgressions from you. Experience and embrace this forgiveness today. May this message of forgiveness also prompt our ability to turn to others in time of need, expecting help and support rather than judgment and condemnation over what we have done or not done in the past. Our activity and engagement in the world must not prevent us from caring for the needs in our midst, and our calls for just living must never drown out pleas for grace and mercy. 

One Final, Brief Word
At the root of this whole conversation is our belief that all life matters. This means that your life matters. Know you are valued and loved, not based on what you have or have not done, but based on who God has made you. 

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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