Amnesty International recently changed its long-standing neutrality on the abortion issue by coming out in support of abortion in cases where rape, incest and enforced impregnation are used as weapons against women. The Roman Catholic Church was quick to condemn the change and to begin to withdraw its long-time support that it has given Amnesty since almost its inception. The Orthodox Church, of course has been silent on the whole matter. Then again abortion is not an issue that has been at the front burner of the church's mission. And this is precisely part of the problem that has plagued the church for generations.
Except for the occasional, serious-sounding hierarchical statement or press release, the church has nothing to back-up the moral claims and ethical absolutes it likes to issue on paper. Oh sure, we may hold silent prayers once a year and hold up some placards crying that abortion kills and that God loves everyone, even a tiny fetus, but beyond that we do nothing and have little to offer the women who are faced with often agonizing dilemmas and unbearable living conditions. It is easier for us to throw a few verbal stones of self-righteous condemnation and return to the comfort of our insulated lives, than to stand with the woman who has had the multiple abortions and reach out a hand of forgiveness and help. It is easier for us to issue grandiose statements full of politically-sounding language and Biblese and return to the opulent cathedrals we've built, than it is to convert these towers into sanctuaries for the unborn and unwanted.
Abortion is a Choice
Whether they believe it is right or wrong, abortion is still a choice for many women. The reality is that unplanned motherhood is often seen by women as a paralyzing intrusion that robs them of any self-control they may have felt they had. Even women who decide to go ahead with an abortion feel like they are stuck with a choice that has no positive. Panic usually sets in, and women feel caught in a frantic dilemma with endless questions. Do they go ahead with an embarrassing pregnancy and unplanned motherhood, and try to raise a child they are not able to properly provide for? Do they go through with giving the child up for adoption and suffer what could be never-ending agony of feelings of abandonment and doubt? Or do they go ahead with the killing of a child they do not see or know in an act of self-preservation? Regrettably, like all sin, abortion does not undo the consequences of sin nor does it ever make a woman 'unpregnant.' But if the Church is going to gain the attention and sympathy of these women, then the church needs herself to start being sympathetic to the desperate struggle many of them face.
A Redundant Message
So how do we reach these women before their mortal decision? There is no longer any point to rehashing the sobering statistics of abortions around the world nor to display photos of children at various stages of growth in a woman's womb. Almost everyone has seen and heard it all to the point where the message has become redundant. Most people are no longer shocked by the barbaric methods used to kill an unborn child nor do they worry much after going through with the abortion. We have made sure of that by anaesthetizing our society with enough material wealth and entertainment that we no longer suffer the guilt pangs of the past. We have tried for decades to legislate morality, but have largely failed. Actually, we have failed because, in the end we cannot legislate righteousness.
It is disheartening to realize that practically nobody listens to us anymore when we preach about morality, the good news of the gospel, or even about Jesus. They have heard it all before and are so bored with a message that has become so redundant it is no longer good or news. Even the converted are barely stirred to life by the church's message anymore. The reason is because there is a disconnect between the radical truth of the gospel and the availability of a church ready to lay down her life so that those who witness her daily death and see the blood and water flow from her bosom are willing to cast off their indifference and proclaim that "in truth this is the bride of Christ."
Yes, abortion is wrong. Yes, abortion kills a child that God has formed. And yes, abortion should be denounced for the sinful evil that it is. But if this is all we are doing we are spewing out sound and fury that signifies nothing. We are like the believers St. James condemned who when someone begs for food and clothing, all they offer is God's mercy and blessings. We make all the right sounds and say all the right things, but the power of Christ's life-changing spirit left us a long time ago. Gone are the days of Basil the Great who poured money, sweat and tears into building sanctuaries for the needy and the unwanted. Gone are the days when the church was an alive community of believers who related to each other in sacrifice and giving.
Souls Not Facts
In order for the church to reclaim her Christianity, she must once again be the sanctuary of forgiveness and the hospice for the needy. The church must proclaim the good news of the gospel with outreach to financially and physically help women who are alone and pregnant. The church needs to once again make the good news of the gospel both new and good by not permitting children to be discarded as common trash but who is ready to adopt them and love them as her own. Let us no longer flatter ourselves with mere words and well-versed statements of faith. If we are truly for life, then our families and churches should be filled with adopted children of every color and race that we have made co-heirs of our riches and wealth. Instead of holding hands with each other and marching down city streets demonstrating, we should be holding the hands of unwanted children that we feed and clothe, educate and support throughout their whole life. That is when the world's indifference and irritation with the church will be removed and the redundancy of our message find fertile soil in the hearts and souls of the men and women of the world.
St. Augustine wrote:
Let no one declare himself to be Christian unless he both follows the teaching of Christ and imitates His example. Do you think that man is a Christian who nourishes no needy person with his bread, who refreshes no thirsty person with his wine, whose table no one shares, under whose roof no stranger or wayfarer abides, whose garments clothe no naked person, whose helping hand assists no pauper, whose blessings no one experiences, whose mercy no one feels...? Far be such an attitude from the minds of all Christians, far be it that any person of this sort be termed a Christian, far be it that such a one should be called the child of God. He is Christian who follows the way of Christ, who imitates Christ in all things, as it is written: 'he who says that he abides in Christ ought himself to walk just as he walked.'"
"Do You Love Me?"
A look at Paul's pastoral letter to Timothy shows the effective and extensive network the early church had to care for vulnerable widows. The challenge facing the church today is to care for women who are facing crisis pregnancies. Sadly, the church as a whole has failed miserably in shepherding and serving these women and children. We'd much rather talk and write about doing what Christ said than walk like He did. Mark Galli, senior editor of Christianity Today in his article "On Not Transforming the World" insightfully writes:
I remain puzzled as to why we're so bored with the very things Jesus asks us to do, like picking that foreigner up out of the ditch, giving away our goods to the poor, going to court with a young man who's being railroaded by the system, taking an orphan into our home, going the extra mile with the oppressive and manipulative, forgiving the offender, baptizing, and witnessing. I find these things really, really hard to do. I fail all the time. If I can't even do these things well, why would I believe that I could transform my culture, let alone change the world?
Before Christ commissioned Peter to shepherd His church, Jesus asked him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these others do?" He asked him again, "Do you love me?" And a third time Jesus asked: "Do you love me?" (John 21:15-17). This is the central question of our existence as a church. Are we in love with Christ? Do we know the heart of God, a heart that forgives and cares, reaches out and heals-a heart that loves so much it lays down life itself for others. Saying that we dwell in God's presence means our love must be shown in very concrete and radical ways-ways that reveal the love of God. It is not enough for the church to be moral. It must be a church that knows the heart of God. It must be a church that has to be prepared to be lead to undesirable and painful places-even painful places like the heart of a desperate mother and her unborn child. This is what Christ did when He emptied Himself and willingly suffered because He loved us. We, the church, cannot say that we love God if we do less than this.
John Kapsalis has an M.T.S from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology.