Tag Archives: Abortion

Jesus, Justice, and the Social Gospel

There’s a lot of talk these days about social justice.  Caring about and correcting injustice has suddenly become fashionable and trendy in popular culture.  Many in the Church have jumped on board the social justice bandwagon.  Who, after all, is more concerned about societal justice than Jesus?

There’s nothing wrong with following a cultural trend that moves society in the right direction, of course. Who can seriously argue against the need to eradicate racism, abolish sex-trafficking, and advocate for fair wages and safe working conditions for the underprivileged?  Still, I as argued in previous posts, Christians must avoid being misled by false or inadequate definitions of justice.  They also need to discern what are the means and ways used to rectify such wrongs, unmasking and repudiating any use of ungodly and unhelpful methods masquerading as “social justice.”

But what about Jesus?  Was He a “social justice warrior,” or has the contemporary movement simply used His name and made Him into a caricature of the biblical portrait?  One of the primary passages cited to prove that Jesus was all about social justice is Luke 4:16-21.  Used by Jesus to formally inaugurate His earthly ministry, the passage mentions proclaiming “good news to the poor,” providing “liberty for the captives,” “sight for the blind,” and freedom “for those who are oppressed.”

Another popular passage is Matthew 25:31-46, which comes at the end of His earthly ministry.  Here Jesus lists the activities and criteria He will use to judge between the righteous and the wicked.  He puts it this way to the righteous: “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”

On the face of it, this looks like a program of social justice at its finest, and it would hardly be appropriate to question the value and importance of Christians caring for people in the situations Jesus mentions.  Christians certainly should be actively caring for the poor, needy, and disenfranchised!  This is inherent to God’s kingdom work on earth and should not be relegated to some sort of second or third-class concern.

Having said that, however, when Jesus begins His earthly ministry of social care and service, one looks in vain for any significant political activism, commentary, or critique.  This is not due to a dearth of potential material, of course.  The moral atrocities, slave system, oppressive racism, and socially sectarian Roman policies of Jesus’ time are well-documented.  In addition, Jesus’ followers fully expected and hoped for Jesus to be, as Messianic King, an expressly political figure (see, for example, Acts 1:6).  Despite many clear opportunities, Jesus unveils no formal political activist program to rectify the systemic evils of His time and place.  In fact, it is remarkable how utterly apolitical Jesus’ ministry of social justice actually is.

I highlight this to make a critically important point: Jesus did and does care about those who are oppressed, disadvantaged, and damaged by a sinful system and society.  But the solutions He offers, while endowed with supernatural power, are not especially political or external in nature.  Instead, they are mainly invitational, educational, and especially spiritual and moral.  And while many are manifest in clearly material ways, those solutions point beyond the material toward our need to first and foremost be reconciled to God.

In contrast, many contemporary Christians advocating for social justice tend to couch it almost entirely in political and systemic terms.  In their minds, social justice means the political reformation of societal systems and norms so that marginalized people can be empowered, heard, and taken seriously.  The unjust social systems are assumed to be the primary (if not sole) reason these people are marginalized.  What is often ignored or discounted is the individual problem of sin.  In this sense, marginalization is real, but the reasons for it are not merely political and systemic, grounded primarily in the sins of others.  There are intensely personal moral and spiritual problems here as well, and the means to providing genuine solutions must also account for our individual need to repent and be reconciled to God as well as to others.

I say this to demonstrate that when talking about Jesus’ brand of social justice and the gospel, the kinds of priorities and programs promoted by those passionate about social justice today often miss the primary problem of personal depravity.  If you disagree, consider the book of Acts.  Granted, in Acts 2:42-47, they “had all things in common.”  The picture presented sounds very socialistic and just, but it was an entirely voluntary kind of sharing and not governmentally mandated or coerced.  In addition, the rest of book says virtually nothing about these types of arrangements among Christians.  It’s not that they had or didn’t have them.  Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.  That’s beside the point.  What’s important to notice is that they prioritized sharing the gospel, planting churches, and making disciples.  They pursued virtually no formal program for rectifying the overtly racist and unjust social systems of their time.

Instead, they directly ministered to the spiritually poor and blind as well to those who were materially afflicted in various ways.  As Matthew 15:14 and Revelation 3:17 make clear, the problems highlighted by Jesus in Luke 4 were not simply material, they were also deeply spiritual.  They had material manifestations, of course, but every physical solution He provides points beyond itself to the spiritual significance of His miracles.

In this way, the need for physical healing ultimately points beyond itself to the need for spiritual help and healing.  As Jesus points out in Mark 2:17, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”  Beyond a normal doctor, we need the Great Physician to spiritually heal us.  Our need for physical sustenance points beyond itself to our spiritual need for heavenly bread.  Thus, Jesus is our real physician as well as our “true bread” (John 6:32).  While we need healing from physical blindness, our deeper need is for spiritual light and guidance.  Thus, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).

In light of this, the ministry accounts of Jesus’ early followers show that they were largely disinterested in much of what many today consider “social justice.”  Instead, they primarily focused on proclaiming the simple message of the gospel concerning our need to trust in the crucified and gloriously risen Christ for the forgiveness of sin and helping those who believed to grow together in their new-found faith.  But again, this does not mean that Jesus and His followers were unconcerned about people’s physical problems and needs.  After all, when there was a famine in Jerusalem, many churches took up a collection to help the poor and needy there (see 1 Corinthians 16:1-4), and Paul speaks about his eagerness to “remember the poor” in Galatians 2:10.  Not only this, Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 25:31-46 that Christians are supposed to feed the hungry, give drinks to the thirsty, welcome strangers, cloth the naked, and visit the sick and imprisoned.

We cannot and must not ignore our Christian obligations to care for people in need.  There is no dichotomy between sharing the good news that Jesus Christ came and died to save sinners and meeting the social and physical needs of people made in God’s image.  But the ministry of the early church reveals that their primary mission was concerned about helping people be reconciled to God.  They met physical and social and educational and economic needs, but not through political action committees or any educational, economic, and social initiatives enforced by local, state, and federal governments.

Instead, while proclaiming this divine message of healing and hope, they also fed the hungry, gave drinks to the thirsty, healed the sick, visited the imprisoned, clothed the naked, parented orphans, educated the illiterate, prayed for their leaders, loved their enemies, and cared for one another.  And they did all of this at great personal and communal cost, placing no demands or expectations upon the governments of their time to rectify these widespread and on-going social injustices.  They understood that before Christ’s second coming, the “kingdom of God” was not, first and foremost, a political and material kingdom, but a spiritually powerful kingdom that in Jesus’ own words was “not of this world” (John 18:36).  As a result of this kind of ministry, they radically change the course of history and “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).

I close with an acknowledgment and a warning.  First, I acknowledge that in democratic societies, Christians still have genuine opportunities to influence and encourage good governance, and they should take full advantage of that.  I also agree that political, educational, economic, and social institutions have an important place in helping to bring about a more just society for everyone, so long as they are willing to hear wise counsel and enact genuinely just policies.

My warning, however, is this: When something (like social justice) becomes vogue in the broader culture, the church should be wary of uncritically jumping on board the populist bandwagon.  Given many of the openly hostile and anti-biblical assumptions of contemporary culture, it is no accident that some brands of “social justice” openly embrace things like abortion (touted as “women’s healthcare and reproductive rights”) and the LGBT+ lobby (touted as “justice for the marginalized and oppressed”).  In this vein, you can no longer be anti-abortion, question the wisdom of sex-change operations, or consider sexual intimacy outside the context of heterosexual marriage immoral and still be “standing on the right side of history” or an advocate for genuine justice.

I am reminded of the dire reprimand in Isaiah 5:20-21: “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!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and shrewd in their own sight!”

Only when Jesus returns as the conquering King will social injustice and sin be completely eradicated and everything rectified.  It is to that eschatological political vision that Christians must continuously look while seeking to bring the healing and hope of Jesus into the midst of a crooked and perverse generation where we are to “shine like stars” in the face of so much moral injustice and spiritual darkness.

Abortion: From a Necessary Evil to an Essential Service and a Blessing

 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, there were many debates about abortion laws.  Some were trying to put limits in place while others argued that regulating abortion in any way was an affront to human rights, especially those of women.  Limiting abortion, they contended, was regression into the dark ages of ignorance and insensitivity toward “women’s healthcare” and the right to self-determination.

Within this spirit of “women’s healthcare,” abortion has again come to the fore during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Many are arguing abortion is an “essential service,” but as I read some of the online rants, one thing is exceptionally clear: No one advocating abortion as an “essential service” mentions or talks about the baby in the womb.  Instead, it is argued that women must continue to have the unrestricted right to do whatever they want with their bodies, especially in the arenas of human sexuality and reproduction.

But herein lies the rub: What is the true identity of the “product of conception” in the womb?  We cannot simply pass over that question in favor of a woman’s “right to choose,” because no one, male or female, has the unrestricted or unregulated right to do things with their bodies that intentionally inflict harm upon another human being.

It’s convenient, of course, to claim this an issue of “women’s healthcare” and call what’s in the womb a “product of conception,” “a ball of cells,” or “a blob of fetal tissue.”  But these labels only subvert and obscure the true nature of what (or better, who) resides within.  Relabeling something or someone does not fundamentally alter its true essence or nature.

From a purely medical standpoint, at six weeks, though no bigger than a pea, the fetus’ arms and legs have already begun to appear, the heart is beating, and brain waves can be detected.  By eleven weeks—less than three months into the pregnancy—the baby is completely formed with its own fingerprints, a fully functioning organ system (including circulating blood), and a nervous system that can and does feel pain.  The second and third trimesters of pregnancy are primarily periods of growth in size, not complexity.

It is deeply ironic that during the COVID-19 pandemic severe limitations have been imposed on nearly everyone planet-wide in order to save human lives, yet the “right” to terminate the life of an unborn child has simultaneously been dubbed an “essential service.”

During his presidency, Bill Clinton, like many of his time, considered abortion a “necessary evil” and hoped it would become “safe, affordable, and rare.”  To be sure, abortion is relatively safe (for the mother) and affordable, but it has never become rare.  While rates of abortion are significantly lower now than they were in the eighties and nineties, every year well over half a million babies are aborted in the United States alone.  And much of the downturn in abortion rates is simply related to a significant decrease in overall pregnancies.  In short, fewer pregnancies means fewer babies to abort.

Sadly, recent rhetoric among some pro-choice advocates has become increasingly shrill and harsh about protecting the unrestricted right of a woman to decide what to do with her “product of conception.”  In fact, a 2018 billboard campaign in downtown Cleveland proclaimed abortion to be “self-care,” “a family value,” “life-saving,” and even “a blessing.”  Rather than a necessary evil, it has become a sacramental right and an “essential” medical service.  As awful as it sounds, this makes sense from a certain point of view.  If what’s inside the womb is just an inconvenience, then who cares what becomes of it?

I would argue, however, that these babies are tragic sacrifices to the (evil and selfish) spirit of the age, one that demands unaccountable sexual freedom and no unplanned and undesired interruptions to one’s self-determined lifestyle.  Somehow, in our moral confusion and hypocrisy, “selfishness” has been transformed into “self-care” instead.

In today’s moral climate, it’s difficult to imagine a publicly funded billboard campaign stating simple truths about abortion: abortion is “big business,” “brutal,” “guilt-inducing,” “traumatic,” “infanticide,” or a host of other more honest and accurate adjectives and nouns.

The fact that an unborn child is small, largely unseen, and even unwanted should never count against it.  This merely means it is doubly weak, vulnerable, and defenseless.  It is therefore an “essential service” to protect, care for, and nurture it in celebration of all God-given life.

All Will Be Well: Thoughts on Abortion and Child Sacrifice

nea-molech-sacrifice

Abortion and child sacrifice are not new practices.  As long as people have been having sex, people have been making babies; and as long as people have been making babies, they have been sacrificing them for one reason or another.

I’ll never forget standing in the jungle at the top of a beautifully criss-crossed pattern of channels carefully carved into a stone hillside in Bolivia, South America.  There, in a bygone era, the blood of countless young virgins had run down into a macabre stone pool at the bottom of the hill, “sacred” sacrifices to their murderous gods.

Although evil, there is a certain understandable reasoning and even twisted nobility in the practice of child sacrifice for sacred purposes.  Horrific as these offerings were, the priests actually believed they were religiously efficacious, providing a divine covering for the community’s greater good—appeasing the gods and bringing blessing.

In his essay, “Myth Became Fact,” C. S. Lewis suggests such sacrifices form a kind of dim mythological “type” or garbled precursor to the one true blood sacrifice of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Yes, it was a twisted and aberrant distortion of God’s redemptive plan, and yes, their hope and trust were horrendously misplaced, but in another way they were on the right track in affirming the need for propitiatory blood-letting.  And just as people sacrificed their children and their enemy’s children to appease their bloodthirsty gods, God sacrificed His only son, Jesus, so that those who do such things can be rightly redeemed of their bloodguilt.

What is especially tragic and disturbing about the contemporary practice of abortion is that any religious or redemptive motive is largely lost.  The satanic claim is still the same: “Sacrifice your child and all will be well,” but the rationale for doing so has been monstrously modified into an egotistical altar to the almighty self.  Today we do it for personal convenience, to avoid social shame, and to try and eliminate any serious consequences for irresponsible and immoral behavior.

But the demonic spirit of the age to whom we offer up our children is not a forgiving one.  All will not be well; not for the child, not for the self, and not for the society as a whole.  No community lasts long when its people selfishly choose to eradicate future generations for the sordid sake of their own perceived personal interests.

Granted, these are very hard words, especially if you’ve had an abortion or encouraged another to get one.  The great news is this: there is forgiveness and hope in Christ’s blood offering for sin.  He gave His life so that through His incomprehensible, unparalleled love anyone who has taken the life of another can be forgiven and restored to undeserved honor and joy.  This is the power of the cross.  Jesus’ once-for-all true child sacrifice appeases the wrath of God and gloriously redeems all who put their trust and hope in Him.