- 2017Jan 18
The abortion rate has fallen to its lowest level since the Supreme Court legalized the practice in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The news comes from a study by the pro-abortion research group, the Guttmacher Institute. How should Christians, and our other pro-life allies, receive this news?
On the one hand, we ought to celebrate. God has called us to lives of gratitude, to acknowledge God’s goodness to us. Certainly, when there is less of something as violent and unjust as abortion, we ought to give thanks and pray for the trend to continue. We also ought to see behind this the ongoing power of the pro-life witness in this country.
Certainly, there are multiple factors behind any rise or decrease in virtually anything in American life. But the fact that abortion is still a contested issue in America is due to the tireless advocacy of a vibrant pro-life movement before and after Roe. The power the pro-life movement has is the power of witness. In communities all across the country, the pro-life movement has appealed to the conscience, bearing witness to what our culture wants to keep invisible: our shared humanity with unborn children.
The pro-life movement has matched this witness with action. In communities all across the country, women in crisis receive ministry at churches and pregnancy resource centers of various kinds. This ministry is holistic, addressing needs that are spiritual, relational, psychological, and economic. In addition to this, churches and organizations are working to create alternatives—such as networks to promote adoption and foster care. The pro-life movement hasn’t simply told the truth about abortion but has also followed up with compassionate action.
We should celebrate all of that. At the same time, though, we ought to have mixed feelings. Our celebration should be joined to lament. Even one abortion ought to prompt us to grief. Every life lost, every life harmed, rips at the image of God himself. Every life lost is a horror and an unspeakable tragedy. The rate of 14.6 abortions per 1,000 women of child-bearing age is better than what it has been, but it is still so terrifying in scope that we should weep. And then we should press forward, making the case everywhere that human life does not consist in its “usefulness” or in its perceived power. Human life bears inherent dignity because human life reflects the life of God himself.
We should celebrate advances when they come, but we should groan inwardly, as the Bible tells us to, until the creation is set free from this bondage to death. That means we should work to protect life, and we should long not only for the falling of abortion, but also for the abolition of the Fall itself.
Join me January 26-28 in Washington, DC, at the Evangelicals For Life conference. You can find more information on Evangelicals For Life here.
Photo courtesy: Thinkstockphotos.com
Publication date: January 18, 2017
- 2017Jan 17
Today our country pauses to honor Martin Luther King, Jr. As we do so, we may ask ourselves: Why, especially in a time of so much racial tension, injustice, and strife, did Dr. King’s message resonate with so many?
King was, of course, a gifted orator, and his calls for justice and and equity were often poetic and deeply historic. But I think a great deal of the power behind King’s message came from the way that he was pressing a claim onto consciences.
He drew frequent contrasts between the promised end to the injustice of slavery and the ongoing injustice of Jim Crow. In his “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” King, against the so-called “white moderates” who counseled “patience,” pointed out “an appalling condition” that Americans were still, in large numbers, exiles in their own land. With such injustice, there was no room for the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”
This is the kind of prophetic, sin-and-judgment language that we see in the Old Testament. We often hear caricatures of evangelical “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. But most evangelical churches breezily converse about sin in terms of consequences to be avoided. In fact, most of the preaching I hear on sin and judgment sounds an awful lot like my dentist telling me I should really floss more.
King’s words though, were intentionally resonant with the cadence of the King James Bible, because he was speaking a word of judgment to a Bible Belt who knew that Bible. He wanted to confront consciences with what they said they believed.
But King didn’t simply preach judgment. After all, Malcolm X could preach judgment, and did, in harshly nationalist Islamic terms. King knew that his argument wouldn’t resonate with Christian consciences unless it appealed to the Christ-haunted imagination. That’s why so much of his language evoked a distinctly biblical view of justice.
White supremacy is, like all iniquity from the Garden insurrection on, cruelly cunning. Those with power were able to keep certain questions from being asked by keeping poor and working-class white people sure that they were superior to someone: to the descendants of the slaves around them. The idea of the special dignity of the white “race” gave something of a feeling of aristocracy to those who were otherwise far from privilege, while fueling the fallen human passions of wrath, jealousy, and pride.
Thus, Jim Crow repeated the Satanic strategies of trying to convince human beings simultaneously and paradoxically that they are gods and animals. In the Garden, after all, the snake approached God’s image-bearer, directing her as though he had dominion over her (when it was, in fact, the other way around). He treated her as an animal, and she didn’t even see it. At the same time, the old dragon appealed to her to transcend the limits of her dignity. If she would reach for the forbidden, she would be “like God, knowing good and evil.” He suggested that she was more than a human; she was a goddess.
That’s why the words “I Am a Man” were more than a political slogan. They were a theological manifesto. Those bravely wearing those signs were declaring that they had decided not to believe the rhetoric used against them. They refused to believe the propaganda that they were a “lesser race,” or even just a different race. They refused to believe the propaganda (sometimes propped up by twisted Bible verses) that they and their ancestors were bestial, animal-like, unworthy of personhood.
The words also implied a fiery rebuke. The white supremacists believed they could deny human dignity to those they deemed lesser. They had no right to do so. They believed themselves to be gods and not creatures, able to decree whatever they willed with no thought to natural rights, or to nature’s God. The signs pointed out that those who made unjust laws, and who unleashed the water-hoses and pit-bull dogs, were only human, and, as such, would face judgment.
Dr. King’s dream resonated with so many, and bore much fruit, not simply because the arc of history bends toward justice but because, embedded in our common humanity, we know that Someone is bending it toward a Judgment Seat.
As we remember Martin Luther King’s legacy, let’s remind ourselves of how far we have to go as Americans to see the promise of racial justice realized. Let’s remember how far we have to go as Christians to see gospel unity in our own congregations. But let’s also think about the fact that there’s a reason that King’s words haunt us more than fifty years later. Perhaps there is something in our gospel preaching that needs to learn from Dr. King about what it takes to address both the conscience and the imagination.
The gospel that reconciles the sons of slaveholders with the sons of slaves is the same gospel that reconciled the sons of Amalek with the sons of Abraham. It is a gospel that reclaims the dignity of humanity and the lordship of God. It is a gospel that presents us with a brother who puts the lie to any claim to racial superiority as he takes on the glory and limits of our common humanity in Adam. Jim Crow is crushed ultimately because Jesus Christ steps forward out of history and announces, with us, “I Am a Man.”
Portions of this article were originally published in 2013.
Photo courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
Publication date: January 17, 2017
- 2016Dec 30
As the old Christmas song says, “Fast away the old year passes; hail the New Year, lads and lasses!” As we head into a new year, one thing that many people in our culture begin to wonder about is New Year's resolutions. Recently I received a question from a listener, asking if Christians should have New Year's resolutions.
Perhaps the reason someone would ask this is the reality that most people don’t keep their resolutions. That’s a reason why, for example, gyms will make a lot of money in memberships around the first of the year. People tend to come in January and February and then taper off toward the end of the year.
But I think New Year resolutions can be a good thing. Some Christians have said that these resolutions can feed into a performance mentality that undermines the gospel. I think they can do this, but I also think one positive of New Year’s resolutions is the building of habit. That’s a good thing, because we know that habits shape us. What a New Year’s resolution is ultimately trying to get us to is the sort of habit in our life that we don’t have to map out and say, “This is what we’re going to do today.” It’s just something that we naturally do. In the same way you probably don’t make a list and include, “Brush my teeth tomorrow.” It’s just part of your routine, and a resolution is trying to imitate that.
What we need to do is think through what are the resolutions we want to pursue in our life, and decide whether these are realistic. One thing many people will do is choose a big abstraction, like, “I will be a kind person.” That’s a good abstraction, but what’s better is to say, “I am going to give one word of affirmation every day to my spouse or a coworker.” Try to build into your life something specific and concrete.
This is especially true in your own spiritual life. If you don’t have a consistent plan for Bible reading and prayer, for example, you may say, “I am going to self consciously set aside time for these things.” In doing this, though, make sure you have something that is doable. If you don’t have any sort of Bible reading in your life, don’t resolve to read 3 chapters a day. Resolve instead to read 1 chapter a week, and start with something manageable that you can build on as time goes on.
One thing I’ve noticed in my own life is that if I look back on journals that I’ve written in from years ago—I just found a whole stack of them recently—I can look and see all the ways God was with me in the past. And I can also say, “Look at what I was so worried about then that never came to pass.” So I’ve realized that I want to get back into the practice of journaling, not because it’s something everyone needs to do but because I’ve found it’s beneficial to me. And since I’m in a very fast paced season of life with work and the ages of my children, I’ve found it helpful to use some technological ways to journal. That’s a good thing to do, to just sit down and say: What’s one thing I want to change and build into my life?
And this isn’t something to be a slave to. If you have a resolution that you see as something that’s going to be a drudgery for you throughout the year, don’t do it. That’s not going to be helpful. But find a way to build these patterns into your life in a way that will benefit you in the year to come. This isn’t a legalistic “performance” mentality, as long as you keep it in perspective.
Publication date: December 30, 2016