Thursday, December 3, 2015

Loving Our Pro-Life Neighbors (A Response to Karen Swallow Prior's Article in Christianity Today)


In the wake of the shooting a week ago at a Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility, Karen Swallow Prior wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled Loving Our Pro-Choice Neighbors in Word and Deed. The article has caused a bit of a stir, particularly because she said it's unchristlike to call a woman who gets an abortion a murderer or describe abortionists as monsters.

We're supposed to try and encourage a person to choose life, not push them away with inflammatory rhetoric. She says, "Referring to abortion providers as 'abortion ghouls,' clinic volunteers and workers as 'deathscorts' or 'bloodworkers,' and women who obtain abortions as 'murderers' is worse than inflammatory: it is unchristlike."

The short response to this is no, it's not. Jesus called the Pharisees white-washed sepulchers full of dead mens' bones and all manner of uncleanliness (Matthew 23:27). He said it to their faces in the presence of a crowd. That's the same as calling an abortion doctor or Planned Parenthood-loving democrat an "abortion ghoul." There's no difference.

On the one hand, I understand the point Prior is trying to make with her article. Like Prior, I've volunteered in pregnancy care centers and done some counseling with men and women who have had abortions (we often forget there are men in this equation also). We're probably not going to gain any ground by breaking the ice with, "You killed a baby. You're a ghoulish murderer. Now repent and get saved." The truth can be said in an a way that's inconsiderate, and we've been commanded to have compassionate hearts (Colossians 3:12).

On the other hand, we can become so politically correct in our rhetoric that the words we don't say are also inconsiderate. When it comes down to it, Prior is making an argument for political correctness. The logic is that we shouldn't say "murderer" because in the current string of political thought, abortion isn't murder and we're just going to turn off the people who need help and encourage trigger-happy vigilantes to take the law into their own hands.

But even from a counseling standpoint, it is not a good idea to withhold describing abortion as murder. A person will not experience true healing until they understand what they have truly done. God will forgive a sin even as great as the murder of a baby, which is what abortion is. A person must learn that abortion is murder. The loving thing to do is teach them. It is love for the person we are counseling, and it is loving the future generations of children that need saving.

While We Were "Messed Up"

Romans 5:8 says, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." A few times, I've witnessed someone (usually a youth pastor) quote that verse like this: "God shows his love for us in that while we were messed up, Christ died for us." Often I've approached them and asked why they said "messed up" instead of "sinners."

Typically they will tell me that those who aren't Christians don't understand what sin is. On one occasion, the individual was actually bold enough to tell me that "sinners" is too harsh a term. I replied this way: Instead of changing the wording, you should teach your hearers about sin so that they can know repentance, grace, and the love of God.

By substituting "mess" in for "sin," we completely lose sight of what sin is. "Mess" can be your lack-of-style, the funky cowlicks in your hair, the people who have failed you, the lack of friends that you have, the opportunities you never got, the debts that aren't your fault, the pile of trash on the floorboard of your car, or your sports team that just can't seem to win the big one.

That's what we think of when we think of our lives being "messed up." We don't actually own any of our mistakes. It's all these unfortunate circumstances that have contributed to my mess. Even though no one else loves my mess, even though my parents don't love my mess, even though my ex doesn't love my mess, God loves me and my mess.

While it's true that God loves his children no matter how "messed up" they are, sin is worse than a mess. It is breaking God's law. It is rebellion against God. It's blasphemy. It's selfish. It's saying that our ways are higher than God's ways. It makes us enemies of God.

And sin is our fault. It flows from a foolish and ungrateful heart (Romans 1:21). There is no one else to blame for our sin. We are willing participants in our sin. And for that, what we deserve is God's wrath (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Fortunately, God loves us so much that he didn't let us remain his enemies. He sent His Son Jesus to die in our place, and all of the wrath that was due us for our sin was poured out on Christ instead. God didn't merely pardon our sin. He paid for it! He took the record of debt that stood against us with all its legal demands and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:13-14).

God's eyes are so holy that he can't even look at us in our sin (Habakkuk 1:13). But Christ has removed our filthy garments and clothed us with new robes (Revelation 3:18). We are called to repent: seek forgiveness from God for our sin and no longer walk in our old sinful practices. We are to put on the new self which is being made after the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4:21-24).

As I've shared this with those who misquote Romans 5:8, I said the loving thing to do is to teach the Scripture as God meant for it to be understood, and then explain to your hearers what sin is and what repentance is. To withhold the truth about sin is unloving (Ephesians 4:15), which Prior acknowledged in her article. The Bible calls it stupid to not reprove others (Proverbs 12:1). Withholding the truth is lying.

Don't Lie to One Another

Colossians 3:9-10,16 says the following: "Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator... Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God."

When saying that calling abortion doctors ghouls and women who've had an abortion murderers is unchristlike, Prior never mentioned any Scripture related to the point. She played with a few passages to set up her argument (all of which were from Proverbs, which is not read the same way one would read, say, the gospels), but no Scripture to hammer the point home.

I was left with the impression that she placed some of the blame for the shooting in Colorado Springs in the hands of the people who have raised their voices in the public square and called abortion "murder." Maybe that's speculative on my part, but that's the impression I got. In which case, according to Prior, John Piper, John MacArthur, and Matt Chandler need to tone it down.

She thinks it's unwise to use the word "murder" even when trying to persuade a person to choose life. So abortion is wrong, but we shouldn't tell them it's wrong? (I'm not twisting her words. That's how the logic plays out.) Why would someone ever be convinced to choose life if they're not convinced that abortion is wrong? What's the big deal then?

Perhaps we should look at what Christ actually said. There is much to learn from Proverbs. It is as much the word of God as the rest of the Bible, and I've argued before the whole Bible is the word of Christ, not just the red letters. But to know the mind of Christ, we're going to have to go beyond Proverbs and look to more direct Scriptures for our understanding.

What Did Jesus Actually Say

In Matthew 23, we read what are called the seven woes. Jesus addressed the crowd and his disciples in the presence of the Pharisees, and warned the people not to follow their false teaching. In the last of his woes, he said the following:
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, 'If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in the shedding of the blood of the prophets.' Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation." (Matthew 23:29-36)
Brood of vipers = Abortion ghouls. Same thing. Prior's argument that "referring to abortion providers as abortion ghouls... is unchristlike" simply doesn't hold water.

Did the Pharisees murder Abel and Zechariah? No, they did not. In fact, they probably hadn't murdered anyone yet, and still Jesus called them murderers. He warned his disciples that the murder that was in the hearts of the false teachers would be revealed when prophets sent to them by God (referring to himself and later the apostles) would be killed and crucified.

Likewise, those who are not the children of God have murder in their hearts. God will give them over to their sinful passions and they will be revealed (Romans 1:28-29). He will send them a strong delusion "so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:11-12).

Last month, I made a very impassioned appeal to a former congregant who showed signs of following a delusion instead of walking in the truth. In that moment, I really didn't care how he perceived the manner in which I said what I was saying. I feared for the eternal state of his soul, which I said to him. You are not listening, I said, and this will go very bad for you unless you repent. But he remained stubborn and cold.

There are settings when that kind of passion is necessary and Christ-like. Jesus did it. So will I. (My eyes have filled with tears as I write. Emotions surrounding some recent events have gotten to me. But I hope you understand the sincerity by which I write when I say these things. I boast not in myself but in the Lord.) There may be other settings when that kind of passion may not be as helpful, and a more gentle touch is required. It takes discernment to know the difference.

Consider Jesus's conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4. He was direct but loving, showing her more care than was customary according to the cultural norms. When addressing her, he didn't say, "You're an adulteress. Now go get all your friends to hear me preach." It should not be overlooked, however, that Jesus indeed pointed her sin out to her, and the woman quickly changed the subject (John 4:16-20).

Jesus showed himself to be the long-awaited Messiah. The woman responded with such enthusiasm that she brought the entire village to listen to him preach. Part of her testimony was, "He told me everything I ever did!" (John 4:29). It didn't scare her off. It led her and many Samaritans to repentance.

Wise to the Ways of God

There is a gentle way in which we should go about reaching women (and don't forget men also) who have had an abortion. Jesus said to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10:16). Pointing a finger at someone and calling them a murderer might be the correct label. But it might not be the wisest or most gentle course of action.

It is equally unwise and disingenuous to make the "murderer" label completely taboo. A man or a woman guilty of abortion must be shown why what they have done is murder. They have destroyed what was made in God's image. To not show them that is worse than unwise. It's unloving. If they don't know what they've done, they cannot repent of it, nor can they be healed.

In Psalm 51, David prayed that his sin would be ever before him so that he could be purged of his sin, washed of his iniquity, and completely restored in the righteousness of God. Then and only then would he be able to lift praises to God that would not be rejected. For if we cherish sin in our hearts, the Lord will not listen to us (Psalm 66:18). Don't let a person hide the sin that keeps them from God's healing and saving grace. The truth will set them free (John 8:32).

Let us be wise to the Scriptures and the ways of God, imitators of Christ and also his apostles. "When human lives are at stake, our language must reach not the bears but the heavens." That's not my line, by the way. It's Karen Swallow Prior who said that. And on that point, I wholeheartedly agree. Let us speak to please God and not men.