Unspeakable Horror

The Massacre of the Innocents by Peter Paul Rubens, 1611-12

People hate abortion protesters. They’re so shrill and awful. They think babies are being murdered. What are they supposed to be like? “Uh, that’s not cool. I don’t wanna be a dick about it, though. I don’t want to ruin their day as they murder several babies all the time.” I don’t think it’s killing a baby. I don’t. I mean, it is, it’s a little bit… It’s a little bit killing a baby. It’s a little bit… It’s 100% killing a baby. It’s totally killing a whole baby.
-Louis C. K., 2017 Netflix Special

There are few times in my life when I can honestly say without exaggeration that I wept. On one such occasion, I had just finished reading an assignment for my seminary class, Christian Ethics. This is a course that examines the philosophical/ethical framework of Christian teaching in order to help the students develop a method for moral decision making. I’ll never forget the night I read the material on the topic of abortion. I intended to race through the reading like always, but I was stopped dead in my tracks. The first chapter covered methods of abortion, statistics of abortion, and the physiology of human development. Alone in my office, I closed my book and wept.

I don’t offer this as a reason for/against whether or not abortion should be acceptable (how a given issue makes you feel is not reason good enough to legalize/prohibit it). I say this because—while it was an issue that I had long been decided on—it was an issue whose horror I had not yet fully grasped. I didn’t realize how barbaric it was, how pervasive it was and how damaging it was.

My purpose in writing this post is not to sway the political opinions of any who read it. No, my very narrow purpose is to make the case to people who claim to be Christians that abortion is an evil inconsistent with their professed faith. The biblical evidence demands that their support of this practice is sinful.

The Biblical case against abortion

1. God is the creator of human life:

We see in the creation narrative that God is the author of life, having given life to Adam and Eve who are the parents of all humanity (Genesis 1-2). As the author of human life, God is the one who decides when it begins and when it ends.

2. Human beings are image bearers of God:

We read in Genesis 1:26-27 that God intentionally made man in his image and likeness. This idea of being God’s image bearer is something exclusive to humanity, and while the implications of this are many, we’ll focus on the high points. When God fashioned man after his image, it marked man as the pinnacle of God’s creation—intentionally set apart from all else that God made with a special dignity and honor. And this honor extends to all of humanity, regardless of their age, ethnicity, intelligence, physical ability or attractiveness. This means that in God’s economy Jeff Bezos has no more inherent value than a disabled child starving to death in an orphanage, because the highest thing that could be said for either of these people is that they bear God’s image.

3. God declares that murder is wrong:

The clearest condemnation of murder is found in Exodus 20:13, the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” The taking of a life is not something God thinks little of, because it is the destruction of a person who bears his image. In fact, in Genesis 9:6, when God establishes that the penalty for murder is death, he does so on the basis that man is made in the image of God. In reference to this, Kenneth A. Matthews said it better than I can, “Capital punishment is not interpreted as a threat to the value of human life but rather is society’s expression of God’s wrath upon anyone who would profane the sanctity of human life.” In other words, this image of God that is knit into the creative fabric of humanity is so majestic and extraordinary that the only reason a person should be put to death is to make the purposefully grand statement about how wicked their actions were in snuffing out another human life, another image bearer. This is not me making a case for prosecuting mothers who seek abortions (I don’t advocate for that); I’m simply trying to show how seriously God takes the issue of murder.

4. God shows love and value for an unborn baby’s life:

Verses supporting this point are numerous and nuanced.

Jeremiah 1:5 speaks of God knowing an individual from their mother’s womb.

In Psalm 51:5, David speaks of being a sinner from conception. David viewed himself to be in need of a savior from his mother’s womb.

In Psalm 139 much is said about life in the womb in verses 13-16. It paints a beautiful picture of a God personally forming the life of an individual who is fearfully and wonderfully made.

In speaking of both John the Baptist and the unborn Jesus, Luke 1:41, 44 and 2:12 uses the Greek word “brephos” to describe the unborn babies. This is the same word used in Luke 18:15 to describe the born children that were being brought to Jesus. This indicates that God views born children and unborn children on an equal plane.

Exodus 21:22-25 describes how to handle an issue of accidental homicide when it is caused by two men fighting that bump into a pregnant woman, causing a premature birth. If no harm comes to the woman or the child, a fine is assessed. But if there is harm—to either the woman or to the child—then the law of retaliation is required. “This is the only place in the Mosaic Law and Scripture as a whole where the death penalty is required for accidental homicide” (Feinberg, see sources below). This shows the high value that God places on unborn children, as they are his image bearers.

When Pharaoh ordered the Egyptian midwives to execute the male children of the Hebrew slaves in Exodus 1:15-22, they refused because they feared God and God dealt well with them because of this. This is in reference to birthed children, yes—but that is because the children had to be born to determine if they were male or female.

These examples add to the picture the scriptures overwhelmingly paint of children being a blessing from God and the desire of parents.

[Part of this section is quoted from a post I wrote which deals with the Imago Dei as it pertains to Christianity and Racism.]

5. Therefore:

Because God is the author of life, because he has made human beings in his image, because he values life inside and outside of the womb and has declared murder to be wrong, Christians therefore believe that abortion is wrong because abortion is murder.

Concerning pro-abortion arguments I have witnessed from Christians

It is unfortunate that the issue of whether or not an unborn child’s life should be protected by law is politically divisive. In the past week, these are arguments I have seen professing Christians make on social media that I find deeply concerning. Because their arguments are made in the political sphere, I am going to address them in the political sphere. Because it is my conviction according to biblical evidence that abortion is a moral evil, I do not believe that Christians should endorse or vote for pro-abortion candidates (labeled by their supporters as “pro-choice”). That is in no way an endorsement of any candidate simply for their pro-life platform. Rather, it is simply a declaration that endorsing pro-abortion candidates is a moral evil.

Argument 1: “Abortion is already existing US policy, so my choice for President will not directly affect abortion policy; therefore, this issue should not impact who you vote for.”  To put it simply, there are many policy debates still being waged about abortion today—methods of abortion, how late an abortion can take place, paternal rights, etc.; the issue is not as simple as its yes/no legality. By way of an example, let me bring up the issue of partial-birth abortions that was a very hot topic in the 90s and 2000s. If you are unfamiliar with what a partial-birth abortion is, here is a description:

“Partial-birth abortion is a procedure intended to be used after twenty-one weeks of pregnancy. It involves the physician delivering the baby (feet first) to the point where part of the baby is outside the woman’s body. The physician then punctures the baby’s skull, and removes the baby’s brains (typically by suction). The baby’s skull then can be collapsed more easily and the baby is removed completely from its mother.” (Feinberg)

For a long time, this particular issue went back and forth in our country’s legal system. Twice under President Bill Clinton (1995 and 1997) congress passed legislation that would have banned this horrific practice. Both times it was the president’s veto that killed the legislation. Congress was not able to overturn the veto during President Clinton’s terms. However, in 2003, pro-life President George W. Bush signed the Federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act into law.  This was challenged and went all the way to the Supreme Court, where it was upheld in 2007.

I believe this argument is deceitful because it is an attempt to solicit support for pro-abortion candidates (or to suppress support for pro-life candidates) on the basis that the president’s office is irrelevant to the issue. This is simply untrue. Appearing as an attempt to ‘cut through the weeds’ of the debate, it is in fact a pernicious lie.

Recently, I’ve seen Christians supporting “pro-choice” candidates because some statistics show that abortion actually decreases during their terms. My response to this would be (as mentioned above) if given the chance, “pro-choice” candidates will sign into law bills that hurt the pro-life cause and veto bills that protect the unborn. For example, Kamala Harris, who is radically “pro-choice,” wants to repeal the Hyde Amendment, which Barr’s the use of your tax dollars to pay for abortions. This and other issues on the table will dramatically advance the practice of abortion and the conversation surrounding abortion in our nation.

Argument 2: “You’re not really pro-life unless you meet all of my criteria for what being pro-life really is.”  This argument is usually followed by several different items: immigration reform, adoption/foster care, the abolition of the death penalty, etc. At its core, this argument is a clever ploy to take the main point of the argument—whether or not an unborn child is a human person with a right to life—and move the argument to a playing field more suitable for their interest. The problems with this argument are many.

First, both contemporary Christians and Christians throughout history have been dedicated to the value of children as persons worthy of life. Historically, Christians have been passionately pro adoption, foster care, and education. Do you know a Christian who is “pro-birth only?” Probably. Does that negate the work that Christians have done for hundreds and hundreds of years to care for widows and orphans? The book of James says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” Care for orphans is written into the teachings of the Bible. Faithful Christians have upheld this teaching for centuries.

Second, the issue at stake here is not whether or not an unwanted child will be born into the most favorable circumstances, but whether or not their life being violently snuffed out in the womb should be legally permissible. What I mean is—for the Christian—if we have established the fact that the God of the Bible values the baby in the womb and sees it as an act of murder to put them to death, then the argument of whether or not it should be permissible to kill them should really stop there. “Are they human, and do they have a right to life?” is an incredibly different question than “Who will take care of them?” It is dishonest to morally equate the two. And part of the issue with the abortion solution to unwanted children is that, because the process is so barbarically expedient, the government and culture at large feel no obligation whatsoever to build the systems that could support millions of children waiting to be adopted. Why should we? Our answer for years has just been to murder them.

Argument 3: I’m not pro-abortion, I’m pro-choice. I don’t believe that it is morally a good choice for me, but I am not judging others who make that decision. This is another argument designed to relocate the conversation. If we hold to the biblical idea that abortion takes the life of another human person, then it is wrong to allow it to continue, and it is necessary to restrict the freedom of a mother to keep her from doing harm to her child. In no other area of the law do allow the freedom of the individual to include unprovoked, fatal harm to another human being. This argument seeks to create an intentional space between the person who holds it and their responsibility to protect the most vulnerable among us. It sanitizes the intolerable.

If you say you are pro-choice, you must also ask yourself, “Pro- what choice?” The answer is that you are for a person having the choice to murder their unborn child.

Conclusion

Abortion has become a highly politicized issue. I sympathize with Christians who want to be able to carve out a space for themselves in political spaces other than the Republican Party. I understand the desire to avoid the accusation of being a single-issue voter. I would not recommend anyone vote solely based on one issue; however, I would strongly ask Christians to examine themselves. Is the issue of life one that you think you can avoid? Those of you who claim Christ—do you honestly think exterminating a life in the womb is morally permissible? Our attention to and value of human life does not end at birth, but it certainly must include the many months leading up to it.

Years ago, when I was a student minister, my church volunteered the youth group to take part in the 40 Days for Life. We were requested to visit the local abortion mill and spend time in prayer. As I gathered the students around me, we prayed for our country. We didn’t pray for conservative Supreme Court judges or for the election of a Republican President. No, we prayed that a gospel movement would sweep across the country in such a way that the desire for (the “need” for) abortion would dry up. How can this happen if Christians excuse and endorse—or take lightly—the horror of abortion? This is not an issue on which Christians can ride the fence.


Consulted Resources:

Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconceptions by Mark Driscoll.

Mathews, K. A. Genesis 1-11:26. Vol. 1A. Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996. Print. The New American Commentary.

Ethics for a Brave New World by John S. Feinberg and Paul D. Feinberg.

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