On the Church and Society
August 25, 2006
Should Christian churches provide guidance on abortion, or should they just leave such life-and-death decision-making to the whims of personal opinion and secular culture?
A commentary article written by Tom Ehrich, identified as an Episcopal pastor, author, teacher and writer, in the August 14 USA Today seemed to favor the latter approach.
Ehrich states the obvious, i.e., that not only is their disagreement in secular society on abortion, but also within religions as well. But he does so with tacit approval. He proclaims that "biblical arguments seem to have lost their zing" when it comes to abortion, and besides, what the Bible has to say "depends on one's interpretation." Ehrich apparently views confusion among churches and those in the pews regarding this grave issue as a positive, and does not like "absolutist language and claims of divine sanction." This pastor concludes: "Perhaps it is time for the common-sense middle to assert itself against both extremes in abortion and in the next hot-button issue."
Here is moral and biblical relativism on full display. Who is to say if abortion is wrong or not? In this view, not even the church should stake out clear ground at the risk of being viewed as "extreme." (Just how then can the church stake out ground on practically any controversial moral issue?)
Confusion within Christianity today over abortion is not due to a lack of clarity as to what is right and wrong, what Holy Scripture tells us, or what tradition instructs. Instead, confusion emanates from a desire by various Christian leaders and bodies to subjugate church teachings to cultural trends, political agendas, or mere personal opinion or convenience.
Indeed, Christianity played a critical role in history in affirming the sanctity of life, and in revealing abortion to be against God's will. In Greece, the Roman Empire, and Egypt, for example, abortion had been commonplace. It was Christianity's emphasis on the value of each human life that led to laws against abortion.
The church fathers condemned abortion. In the fourth century, for example, St. Basil wrote: "The woman who purposely destroys her unborn child is guilty of murder. With us there is no nice enquiry as to its being formed or unformed."
Were Christians merely slaves to the culture or creatures of particular moments in time? Obviously not, as they went against the prevailing winds of the period.
But did these Christians just pull all of this out of thin air? To the contrary, they found enlightenment from the Holy Spirit through Scripture. A fundamental message throughout the Old and New Testaments is the value of each human life, made in God's image, no matter how weak, inconsequential or inconvenient they might appear in the eyes of some.
And then there is the unmistakable commandment: "You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:12) But of course, the inevitable response from those favoring abortion is that the fetus somehow is not human, and therefore, this does not apply.
Again, though, Holy Scripture speaks of humanity and the soul in the womb. In Jeremiah 1: 4-5, we read: "Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you ...'" In the Gospel of St. Luke, an angel sayss John the Baptist "will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb." (Luke 1:15) And later when Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, John "leaped in her womb." (Luke 1:41)
Of course, Christians today, like their brethren from the past, must find guidance and inspiration from the same Scriptures. To say that the Bible, church tradition, and fundamental morality are open to any individual's interpretation is to say that Christianity can mean anything to anyone, and therefore, is meaningless.
That in fact is the implication of what Pastor Ehrich is saying. We must shun absolutes in favor of "compromise" and the "middle." It sounds so nice, so civilized, that is, until one realizes that truth, morality and substantive faith are lost as a result.
If the Christian church cannot speak out clearly and forcefully against abortion, then what could it possibly speak on with authority?
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.
Copyright © Raymond J. Keating