There’s a post making the social media rounds in which a liberal pastor takes pro-life people to task, essentially calling the religious ones fake Christians. In so many words, he states that pro-lifers advocate for unborn humans out of convenience and hatred.
“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn. It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died to you. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe.
Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.
Let’s be clear: this is a baseless attack on all pro-life Christians. Dave Barnhart’s argument is fundamentally that because we don’t abandon unborn children to support his pet political agenda, we’re fake Christians. He implies that pro-life people don’t love “people who breathe” and, because Christians must love other people in order to love Jesus, we’re just claiming to love Jesus and lying to ourselves and others. Unfortunately, many people seem to think this hot take is a profound take-down of the pro-life movement.
Normally at ERI, we promote relational dialogue and give people the benefit of the doubt even when it isn’t merited. In this case, a public figure has called into question the ethics and sincerity of an entire class of people. I’m not in a dialogue with him. My job is to refute his empty rhetoric, and I’m taking the gloves off to do it.
There is a long list of steps pro-life advocates would like to see their pastor take to stop abortion, and, unfortunately, pastors find that list intimidating. They can’t do everything, and they often don’t feel like anything that they can do would actually make a difference. I’d like to suggest one minimal (and not even controversial) leadership decision that pastors can make that is likely to save lives within their congregations.
My view of what church leaders should do about abortion has evolved over 13 years of full-time pro-life work. I used to get very angry when I thought about pastors who are silent on this subject, because I earnestly believed that most of them were either cowards or shamefully apathetic to a serious evil in our country. I had a bad experience nine years ago with a pro-abortion-choice usher at one of the largest Protestant churches in Fresno, California who debated me about abortion in the foyer while her pastor preached. When I later told the story on the pro-life podcast I hosted, I needed to physically stand up because I was so frustrated by the experience.
I’ve since calmed down a bit, thanks partially to Scott Klusendorf. I remember that, when Scott was writing his book The Case for Life, he told me that he wanted to take a different approach with silent pastors. Instead of lecturing them, he wanted to come beside them, realizing that many of them aren’t doing anything because they don’t know what they should do.
I’ve since tried to emulate Scott’s attitude toward pastors. That’s become easier as I’ve talked to more pastors and parish priests who struggle with what to say about abortion. For many of them, their silence is not due to cowardice or apathy, but due to a very understandable concern of emotionally damaging their congregants whom they know are post-abortive. I’m not saying that the best response to that fear is silence on abortion. I’m merely acknowledging that when a pastor is shepherding hundreds of people, and he knows that some of them are post-abortive, it’s at least understandable for him to be very concerned for their well-being if someone says something in church that equates abortion to killing babies.
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Sometimes when I have an opportunity to share my faith in Jesus, I don’t take it.
Stay with me.
Sadly, many people have had negative experiences with Christians, which makes them disinclined to engage with one again. If I jump at the first chance I have to witness to them, they are more likely to close up and be unwilling to talk at all.Instead, I try to very intentionally create an environment where the person feels safe to discuss religion. [Tweet that!] It’s like the difference between welcoming someone to come inside and opening the door, and grabbing him by the hair and dragging him through it. Notice that I am not justifying Christians perpetually avoiding conversations about religion. We must be intentional about sharing our faith, but while also being prudent, making the most of the opportunity (Colossians 4:5-6). Sometimes the person never opens up, but other times, this approach really pays off.
On February 21st, 2015, Equal Rights Institute trained a group of students and community members in Bakersfield, CA. Then on the 23rd and 24th we brought them to CSU Bakersfield so they could put what they learned about dialogue into practice. We set up two simple poll tables to get conversations started.
I wrote this the day after Gosnell struck a deal with prosecutors that took the death penalty off the table, and the day that he was sentenced to life in prison.
I spent a lot of time yesterday sorting out my feelings about Gosnell and his conviction, as well as the way some extreme pro-life people are talking about him. Thanks to a few respected colleagues who took some time with me to discuss in private, I think I’ve worked out the three major feelings I have. I suspect most of my readers will agree with the first two, but have questions about the third:
I’m glad limited justice has been served.
I’m glad he’s going to prison.
Yet, I don’t want Gosnell to go to Hell. I’d rather spend time with him in Heaven.
Before you roll your eyes and move on, please give me the chance to explain why I don’t think any of those statements makes me a weak pro-lifer.