Protecting the Least of These

In his sermon last Sunday, Keith focused on James’ exhortation that one way to demonstrate the obedience that comes from genuine faith (“religion that is pure and undefiled”) is to “visit orphans and widows in their affliction” (1:27). I can’t help but think of that teaching’s relevance to two alarming news items that I ran across this past week.

Orphans and widows were prime examples of those who were disadvantaged in the ancient world, and James’ reference therefore can be understood as representing any effort to help “the least of these” (Mat. 25:40). Historically, Christianity has understood this group to include not only the sick, poor, and imprisoned, but unborn children as well. Indeed, a little reflection reveals that the children of unwanted pregnancies have a great deal in common with the orphans that James specifically mentions.

All of which leads me to the aforementioned news stories. First, a recently released report from Juan E. Mendez, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, included the following:

The Committee against Torture has repeatedly expressed concerns about restrictions on access to abortion and about absolute bans on abortion as violating the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment.

In other words, this portion of the report suggests that restrictions against ending the life of an unborn child amount, inexplicably, to torture.

The second item concerns the debate over a bill before the Florida legislature that would require abortion doctors to provide care for infants surviving attempted abortions. As the Miami Herald reported:

Under questioning, [Planned Parenthood] lobbyist Alisa LaPolt Snow offered vague, awkward answers when asked what should happen if a baby is born as the result of a botched abortion. 

“We believe that any decision that’s made should be left up to the woman, her family, and the physician,” Snow first said.

When pressed whether the baby would be a patient in need of medical care, Snow said, “That’s a very good question. I really don’t know how to answer that.”

Planned Parenthood later issued a clarifying statement, which included the following:

Medical guidelines and ethics already compel physicians facing life-threatening circumstances to respond, and Planned Parenthood physicians provide high-quality medical care and adhere to the most rigorous professional standards, including providing emergency care. In the extremely unlikely event that the scenario presented by the panel of legislators should happen, of course Planned Parenthood would provide appropriate care to both the woman and the infant.

All of this occasions a few important points:

1. Christians from both sides of the political spectrum have historically and rightly grounded their opposition to abortion in biblical and theological principles rather than partisan ideology. Fundamentally, human lives, not political points, are at stake.

2. Here at ESI, Charles has recently referenced Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s observation that the line of good and evil runs through every human heart. That this reflects a biblical perspective should make us slow to issue sweeping moral denunciations concerning anyone’s character and motivations. However, the same biblical revelation requires us to make moral judgments concerning particular issues and actions. With that in mind, the aforementioned U.N. report reads as if sound moral understanding has been tragically distorted in a fun house mirror. To put it another way: can one seriously doubt that, if given a voice, the unborn children protected by the restrictions and bans mentioned in the report would vigorously dispute whether they constitute torture? The report calls to mind the words of Isaiah 5:20: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!”

3. As for the issue in Florida, it’s certainly disconcerting that anyone would entertain the idea that there is any kind of “decision” to make when confronted with a living baby outside the womb. And while Planned Parenthood’s clarifying statement might be step in the right direction of sorts, one is left with an obvious question: why would such a baby be suddenly worthy of “appropriate” care when shortly before it was seemingly appropriate to end his or her life? And can we really be confident to entrust the former task to the same medical personnel who attempted the latter? 

What then are practical steps that Christians could take regarding this issue? Here are four simple suggestions:

  • Pray. Pray that God would change minds and hearts in our country and around the world in order to foster cultures of life rather than death. This is not a perfunctory effort in going through the right motions. It is petitioning the Lord to give help and protection to those he’s promised to care for. 
  • Participate (winsomely) in the cultural debate surrounding abortion. People both within and without the church have often suggested that Christians should concern themselves with social issues other than just abortion. This is quite true, but it’s critical that the church continue to be involved in protecting unborn life. Raising this particular issue carries with it a potential social cost, and there is a constant need for those willing to bear it with the winsomeness and grace the gospel supplies.  
  • Help to make the church a place of support and compassion for women who’ve had or are considering an abortion. It’s critical that the church be a place where women can find compassion and grace to deal with the myriad issues surrounding abortion, potential or otherwise.

HT: Wesley J. Smith and John McCormack

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