Abortion: Legislation vs. Persuasion

Jason Micheli —  July 21, 2016 — 5 Comments


I was told by a friend, whose views I respect, that my previous post on abortion was insufficiently robust. Here’s another pass through my thoughts on this matter that matters:

A paradigmatic text that can inform Christians’ approach to the question of abortion is found in Acts 4.32-35. In Acts, Luke tells us that the power of the resurrection was made manifest in the apostolic community in concrete ways: in common prayer and eucharist celebration, in mutual care and in the sharing of possessions.

For Luke and for the early church, Easter meant that believers had been freed to share their money and resources with one another. Easter had freed them to care for the needs of one another. A community that so shared their possessions was equipped then to care for the needy and for the needy within their faith community.

What does this have to do with abortion? Within the church at least, abortion should not be necessitated by economic hardship or the inability of the mother to care for a child. If an unwanted or an ill-advised pregnancy occurs in a Christian community, the Christian response, according to Luke’s paradigm of the Acts’ church, should not be abortion but the sharing of the community’s resources: the congregation’s money, time and nurture.

Stanley Hauerwas adds to this perspective by noting how Christians share not just our resources but one another. The sacrament of baptism, he points out, quite clearly makes us all the parents of one another’s children. Again, the church’s response to an unwanted or ill-advised pregnancy should not be abortion but a willingness to live into their baptismal identity and assume the role of parent. Hauerwas observes how such expectations for a Christian community often sound far- fetched and idealistic to white, upper and middle-class Christians, but just such an ethic is commonly practiced by African-American congregations.

In reflecting on the issue of abortion, the model of the early church reminds Christians that often our preoccupations with defining whether abortion is right or wrong and at what point life begins are distractions from a more primary calling. How Christians should advocate their abortion convictions in the public square is a separate question. Clearly, however, Luke reminds Christians that if our congregations more closely mirrored the early apostolic community in terms of sharing and mutual care, then there would, at the very least, be fewer abortions among Christians.

In addition, Richard Hays comments that the early church’s example reveals how Christians’ confusion over abortion is indicative of a greater unfaithfulness to the economic ethic of Jesus. If the Church were more faithful in witnessing against poverty and advocating for greater economic justice, then the tragic factors that lead to many abortions would decrease.

The paradigm offered by the early church also provides Christians another contour to guide our thoughts on abortion. The apostolic community was marked not only by sharing but by mutual- and moral- accountability. Too often the cultural and political debates regarding abortion stigmatize the mothers of the unborn. In doing so, opponents of abortion frequently make these women the bearers of the moral burden. Luke’s model of the early church, however, does not allow Christians to resort to this response. A community of genuine accountability and love will insist on holding Christian men accountable to the responsibilities and consequences of their relationships.

Many of these moral reflections suggest Christian-specific responses to the issue of abortion, but if Christians are meant to transform the world, then a necessary first step is for Christian communities to begin looking more transformed themselves. Before Christians can effectively persuade the public square to their ethical perspective, that ethical worldview should be embodied in their communities. The first measure of our faith in the power of the resurrection is not the legislation we advocate but the sharing and accountability we practice with one another.

Jason Micheli


5 responses to Abortion: Legislation vs. Persuasion

  1. The first response of civil government is to restrain evil. Abortion is evil. The Christian response in electing legislators is to vote for those candidates who will uphold the biblical vocation of government to restrain and punish evil.

    I agree with some of what you said concerning church communities, although I think your emphasis on the law (of love) is out of balance and somewhat utopian. The only power to transform is not within the Christian, but is worked by the Holy Spirit working through the proclamation of the Gospel (as distinguished from the Law).

  2. Jason, I support and agree with what you have written, but for me that does not go far enough. Just as I can’t speak from the woman’s perspective about abortion, or from the African American perspective about “Black Lives Matter”, the discussion that he church’s teaching that shared responsibility and resources would help to minimize the need for abortion, promote justice, and minimize the divides; is just not specific enough. By taking the discussion to the macro level, the discussion becomes about everybody. And when it is everybody’s responsibility, it is no one’s (no one person’s) responsibility. If we want to have the hard discussions then we have to be willing to say “here I am send me.” Who can the woman really go to for non-judgmental caring counsel when facing that question in her life. Who will care for that child if she cannot, or does not choose to. The “church” is not the answer, the people of a caring church community may be.

  3. “Hauerwas observes how such expectations for a Christian community often sound far- fetched and idealistic to white, upper and middle-class Christians, but just such an ethic is commonly practiced by African-American congregations.”

    While the observation would seem to be very positive, I find romantic statements like this to be “othering,” in their own way. African-American congregations are varied, moreover, they do not necessarily have any more resources–financial and otherwise– for assisting families with — pick one or all — special needs children, mental health issues, addictions, homelessness, unemployment — than other congregations that might be predominately white and upper middle class.

    The reasons a woman might choose to have an abortion are many, and not always simple economic want, so this presumes a lot. It presumes that obviously, a Christian cannot make a decision in good conscience to terminate a pregnancy. Then, I think it goes looking for the place to lay responsibility and blame because it is currently regarded as distasteful to place it on the woman herself–which would at least honor her as a moral actor. Instead, it seems that in some corners of the Christian church the kinder, gentler approach these days is to place the blame on the church for not meeting needs. Whether or not a woman has decided that what she needs is for her church to do something for her. That doesn’t mean the church couldn’t or shouldn’t do more to care for our own and the world. But this presumes we know what is best for any individual woman, and it is up to us to give her what we think she needs. As I talk with Christians about abortion, it seems they imagine two categories of women contemplating abortion. Either they are young, middle class and sexually promiscuous or they are of any age and poor. So we villainize them or pity them.

  4. “Then, I think it goes looking for the place to lay responsibility and blame because it is currently regarded as distasteful to place it on the woman herself–which would at least honor her as a moral actor.”

    The biggest target for blame and indignation that many conservative Christians aim at (in order to lessen the responsibility of the woman) is the abortion doctors and abortion clinics.

    One of the problems with the pro-abortion lobby is their dishonesty about what an abortion is. It’s the murder of a human life.

  5. I found this post much better. Thanks.
    But aren’t you on the record as Christianity not being meant “to transform the world,” a point I agree with you on. I think you’re position on abortion might be that we have bigger problems and we’re not pure enough to do anything about it. Since I resist the idea that we’ll ever be pure enough of or right standing enough to really offer critique on any issue and that a ranking of our problems as world bent on death being a dumb exercise, how do we be the protest in the meantime? (BLM included as form of this protest.) If you don’t care about the issue and find it to be avoided in our current climate, then that’s fine. But it seems you want to care but not care that much (because of those people), and I find that kind of a cheap place to be, only because it hasn’t stopped you being fully supportive of other controversial issues, albeit ones of leftward persuasion.

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