[This post is a response to a comment on my original post, Why I’m a Christian but I’m not pro-life. The comment noted the lack of Scripture in the original post, and it pointed out the survey discussed below.]
A 2013 Barna Group survey found, among other things, that Christians “are twice as likely to adopt than the general population.” This makes for a great headline, but the survey also found that this amounts to only about 5% of Christians (compared to 2% in the general population) who have adopted a child. While that’s a great start, it’s certainly nothing to pat ourselves on the back about; after all, Scripture provides an overwhelming number of unequivocal commands to care for orphans – see, for example, Psalm 82; Deuteronomy 10:12-22; Exodus 22:22, Psalm 68:5-6; Psalm 10:14-18; Psalm 146; Isaiah 1:10-20; Jeremiah 7:5-7; Zechariah 7:8-10; Malachi 3:5; James 1:26-27.
I am also very familiar with the texts commonly used in the abortion debate – Jeremiah 1:5 and especially Psalm 139, are among the most frequently used to show that God has an intimate knowledge of and concern for human beings, even from their time in the womb. But the Psalm 139 text, for instance, is not quite the slam-dunk it appears to be. While pro-life supporters place a lot of weight on v13 – “you knit me together in my mother’s womb” – v15 complicates things by suggesting we were made not in a womb, but in the bowels of the earth – “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.” V16 then complicates matters further by saying that God’s knowledge of us extends back to a time even before we existed: “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.” Finally, v19 seemingly comes out of left-field and begs God to kill those who oppose the Psalmist – “O that you would kill the wicked, O God, and that the bloodthirsty would depart from me!”
Now, I don’t point any of this out to suggest that we should be cavalier about commodifying human life. As I tried to make clear, even if I did not say it explicitly, an abortion is one of the worst possible outcomes for a pregnancy, and more importantly, it falls far short of God’s dream for the world. However, the point I’m trying to make is that it’s unwise to cherry-pick Scriptures to bolster a modern political platform. At the end of the day, Psalm 139 isn’t about making a forensic declaration about the source of life. It marvels instead at the magnitude of God’s throughgoing love and intimate knowledge of our very souls. The Psalmist is bowing in awe to the grandeur of God’s presence that overflows the bounds of time and space. His response is both a doxological act of worship and a plea for God’s holiness to envelop every dark corner of his heart. By allowing this Psalm to speak on its own without forcing it into a political agenda, it stands out as a beautifully rich expression of worship and devotion on its own terms. To put if another way, this Psalm is fundamentally about God, not us.
An honest, even-handed reading of the whole Bible reveals a God who is immensely concerned with justice, mercy, and rightly-ordered relationships (Tim Keller does a great job of unpacking this; see also this helpful piece from Christianity Today). Preserving life is certainly a part of that. But – as with every social problem – there are no easy solutions in the abortion debate, and I think we’re woefully naive to assume that merely outlawing abortion will give rise to a world that is ultimately safe and just for everyone. Instead – and this was the spirit of my original piece – we as Christians are called to take the lead in actually caring for people who are in the regrettable position of having to consider an abortion. This, I believe, is the first step towards living out God’s calling to be agents of peace and ambassadors of redemption (2 Corinthians 5).
More broadly, most pro-life rhetoric overlooks the complexity of the problem by failing to help Christians gain a sober understanding of how enmeshed our world is in ecologies of evil (Ephesians 2:1-3). A Christian response to abortion should be multi-pronged, context-aware, and comprehensive, and it must take seriously the collateral damage any hasty ban on abortion may cause. Most importantly, though, it begins with a biblical view of a just world where believers, compelled and empowered by the Spirit, work tirelessly to create ever-new ways to radically open our lives to “the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind” (Luke 14:13 and 21).