January 18, 2013

Extinguish This Bloody Traffic

by Mike Riccardi

“Never, never will we desist till we . . . extinguish every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times, will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonor to this country.”

TWilberforcehese words were spoken by William Wilberforce, the British politician who worked tirelessly to end the slave trade in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Though Wilberforce penned those words in reference to the centuries-old and universally-condemned practice of slavery, they very well could have been written today in reference to our own national “disgrace and dishonor.” I am speaking, of course, of abortion. The constitutionally protected right to murder one’s own unborn child is the preeminent social injustice of our day. Should the Lord Jesus choose to patiently prolong His coming, the history books will surely regard such a moral atrocity with the same shame and outrage that we experience as we read about the African slave trade or Hitler’s Holocaust, bewildered that such miscarriages of justice could have been allowed to persist in a civilized and educated society for so long.

Forty Years… Too Long

And yet it was 40 years ago next week—on January 22, 1973—that the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Roe v. Wade that a child in the womb is not to be considered a human person. Since that time, over 50 million babies have died in America under the sanction of the law. Statistics tell us that one in three American women will have had an abortion by the age of 45. This illustrates that the right to take the life of a preborn child has been woven into the fabric of our cultural consciousness for an entire generation. It is now time for a new generation committed to the sanctity of life to stand against this injustice. As followers of Jesus Christ, we should be leading the way in defending the defenseless (cf. Prov 31:8) and in honoring the image of God in all people (Gen 1:27; cf. 9:6).

Now, if you’re reading this and you name the name of Christ—if you profess to follow Jesus as the Savior from your sin and the Lord of your life—I pray that you have not been so deluded as to need convincing that abortion is evil, and that supporting it in any fashion is repugnant to the Father, grieves the Holy Spirit and is antithetical to the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. But if I’m not going to spend this post arguing for that, what do I have to say to you?

Well, even we who abhor this wicked practice need to be encouraged and exhorted. See, some things are just so horrible that it becomes difficult for us to think about them for too long. It’s the same reason we turn our eyes away from a terrible car accident, or can’t dwell for too long on a particular national tragedy like 9/11. Our instinct of self-preservation can tempt us to avoid thinking about such things for the sake of our own emotional comfort or peace of mind. But this is where we need to be strengthened. As grisly as it is, Christians must be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1), and face such a discomforting reality head-on. We need to feel the injustice of abortion and mourn the loss of life long enough that we might be stirred to action.

So What Can We Do?

Praying Hands BibleOur first response to contemplating such an evil should be to pray that God would eradicate it. We must recognize first of all that this battle is not merely one of flesh and blood—of partisan politics or competing ideologies. There is no question that a nation whose feet are so swift to shed innocent blood—sacrificing our own children on the altar of convenience—is under the judgment of God, given over to the deluding influence of Satan. We must come to the realization that our struggle is against spiritual forces of wickedness (Eph 6:12), and, as a result, the weapons of our warfare must not be of the flesh, but must be divinely powerful (2 Cor 10:3–5). God alone is sufficient for such a task, and so it falls to us to pray that He would mercifully change the hearts of a nation who calls evil good and good evil (cf. Isa 5:20).

Secondly, we can support our local pregnancy resource centers. In his book, Answering the Call, Pastor John Ensor writes, “In practice, the best way to bring this winsome invitation to abortion-vulnerable women and couples in our neighborhoods is to partner with local pregnancy help ministries.” These pregnancy centers often offer free services and literature, and usually provide ultrasound free of charge. When an abortion-minded woman is presented with ultrasound imaging of the life growing inside of her, it becomes much less likely for her to follow through with ending their pregnancy. Our church comes alongside our local pregnancy center by hosting fundraisers, sending volunteers, and encouraging members to pray for and give to this ministry as they discern the Lord would have them to do.

Finally, we must proclaim the Gospel faithfully in our circle of influence. James tells us that the root of murder lies in the sinful desires that enslave the human heart (4:1–2). Therefore, victory in the pro-life cause will not ultimately come from a change in policy or new legislation. Though we would happily welcome that, the only remedy for the sinful human heart is the Gospel of Christ. If we want to change the thoughts, desires, and behaviors of the unsaved, we must first change their hearts. And the Gospel is the only thing that can do that. At this point, our compassion to protect innocent human life and our compassion to see sinners saved from eternal punishment come together in the church’s mission to preach the Gospel to all creation.

Not Theoreticians, but Heralds

In January 1984, nearly 30 years ago, President Ronald Reagan designated the third Sunday of every January as Sanctity of Human Life Sunday, to coincide with the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. That’s this Sunday. So take some time this weekend to reflect, even if painfully, on the reality of this evil in our society, and mourn the loss of life that has been perpetrated in our midst under the protection of law. And along with praying for God to be merciful, prayerfully consider how you might strategically give of your time and talents in 2013 to bring the Gospel to bear particularly on the issue of abortion. As Ensor and Klusendorf have said, “The world does not need highly developed pro-life theoreticians. It needs [Gospel heralds], people sensing the call of God on their lives and effectively appealing to the conscience of their generation. And it needs [those who will love their neighbors as themselves], ready to act on their convictions in practical lifesaving ways” (Stand for Life, 4).

May we who love Christ in this generation never desist until we have extinguished every trace of this bloody traffic.

Mike Riccardi

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Mike is the Pastor of Local Outreach Ministries at Grace Community Church in Los Angeles. He also teaches Evangelism at The Master's Seminary.
  • kevin2184

    As usual, so well said. Thanks for writing it, Mike.

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  • wonderjen

    I have been thinking and researching the topic of a believers response to abortion quite a bit lately. It was very interesting to me that the evangelical position has only considered conception the beginning of life since about the 70s, (which, of course, doesn’t mean they were RIGHT before then, but like I said, interesting) and mainly adopted the “life begins at conception” view to engage the catholic vote with the moral majority. Meaning, the move was likely more political than moral.

    In my reading, one of the things that point to this being, by and large, more of a political question than a moral one, is that it’s estimated that up to 50% of pregnancies end naturally in miscarriage. If we TRULY were concerned about all life beginning at conception, we would be more concerned about this statistic as well, and stemming the tide of miscarriages. You might argue that miscarriages happen naturally, and often because the life they contain isn’t sustainable. And I would suggest that cancer happens naturally, and creates unsustainable life, and we pour research dollars into fighting it. If we were truly about life beginning at conception, we would be more concerned with sustaining ALL life from conception.

    I mention this, mostly because it was a catalyst to look to when, Biblically, life begins, and it’s really not as clear cut as I had assumed. There is nowhere in the Bible that takes a definitive stance. While women are considered “with child”, the lost of a child in the womb does not require the payment of a life. When read objectively, the Bible is far from clear on the subject. We all bring our presuppositions to see what we want in the text.

    I’ve also been reading that abortions happen much less frequently when women are supported and financially stable. There was a declining trend in the number of abortions in America until the recession of 2008 hit. It seems that when women have adequate health care and support from family, friends and social services, they are generally less overwhelmed by the prospect of an unplanned pregnancy, so it seems that the only effective secular approach is to support pregnancy with social (local, individual and governmental) and health care availability, as well as living wages for all workers.

    Of course, as people of faith, I completely agree with loving our neighbors well. We need to love people well enough that the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy is able to be faced. it’s not hopeless. We need to support women throughout that child’s life, as we are ultimately expecting her to commit the rest of her life to raising this child. We can’t expect to cut social care, cut health care, cut access to contraception, and see abortion rates go down, when historically the exact opposite has proven to be true.

    • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

      Thanks for your comments Jen. I wrote a long response that for whatever reason never went through. I’ll try to reproduce my thoughts more briefly.

      I wanted to begin by letting you know that I’ve heard the sort of reasoning and objections that you raise here, and I’ve found them wanting. There are a couple of resources I would recommend that can answer your questions and objections very ably. Two books by Scott Klusendorf and two by Randy Alcorn do a very nice job of providing a Christian response to the various objections to being pro-life. They should be the top two on each of those lists.

      Now, to an abbreviated version of my response:

      1. That life begins at conception is neither a political nor a(n exclusively) moral pronouncement. It’s scientific. No serious science in the field of embryology has denied that a zygote is alive. It grows, moves, consumes, is distinct from the mother, has its own chromosomal makeup and its own unique DNA. To not call this life, indeed: human life, is scientifically baseless. Even pro-abortionists grant this. (What they dispute is whether such human life should be considered a person. It’s this disputation that makes the comparison of abortion to slavery or the Holocaust legitimate.)

      2. The argument about cancer research and miscarriages is facile and naive. In one case we’re talking about something in which all persons are entirely passive and have no control. In the other we’re talking about the active intrusion of one human being to intentionally destroy the life of another human being. We have more of a moral responsibility to protect innocent children from murder than to cure cancer, or any other disease for that matter. And even if we should do more to cure disease, it in no way follows that we should let up an inch in preventing the legal murder of millions of children.

      3. The Bible isn’t a philosophy textbook, much less an embryology textbook. Sure, you won’t find an explicit statement that, “Fetuses are human persons.” But it does teach that all human beings are made in the image of God (Gen 1:27; cf. 9:6; Jas 3:9). Science clearly establishes that a fertilized egg is a a distinct being with its own chromosomal makeup and unique DNA, and that it grows, moves, and eats. There’s no scientific reason for which we should refrain from calling this a human life, and thus there is therefore no scientific or philosophical justification for why this unique human life would not, at conception, bear the image of God.

      When you add to this that Scripture speaks of unborn children as “children” or a “baby,” using the same words both inside (Hb. benim, Gen 25:22; Gk. brephos, Luke 1:44) and outside the womb (Hb. Gen 27:1; Gk. Luke 2:12, 16), the only reasonable conclusion is that to terminate the life of an unborn child is to take the life of an image-bearer of God. This is the definition of murder and is punishable by death (Gen 9:6).

      4. Regarding improving social/psychological/financial conditions being the “only effective secular approach” to this issue, I say: no way. If, as we’ve established, the science is incontrovertible that a fetus is a human life created in the image of God, to destroy that life is murder. What would you say about a society that agreed that murder and rape were bad things and that we should work to reduce their occurrence, but that laws against such things weren’t the way to go? Rather, what they advocate is cultivating such a society in which people do not want to (feel forced to?) commit murder or rape. I hope you’d see the moral bankruptcy of such a philosophy of government and justice. Our primary commitment in the secular sphere for reducing the murder of children is to make such a practice punishable by law, just as is the case with other murders.

      Finally, I want to reiterate that this issue is not a matter of being a victim of one’s circumstances; it’s a matter of the heart. The answer is not to treat the symptoms but to address the cause. And like I said in the post, James tells us that the root of murder is our sinful hearts and desires. Only the Gospel can change those. If we truly love our neighbors as ourselves, we won’t neglect proclaiming to them this message of life — indeed, of eternal life.

      • Dan Leake

        Couldn’t agree more Mike. It is also important to note that while legislation doesn’t save souls, it is important to say that we can stop most abortion through legislation. The fact is that abortions were committed in the 1,000 to 10,000 annually (impossible to know because as Bernard Nathanson admitted, they [being Roe's side] lied about the numbers before 1972) and after Roe v. Wade the number went to 700,000 and then steadily climbed to reach a peak of 1.2 million. We must not be people who say that “legislation will do nothing to change the heart” on issues we disagree with, and then declare “we must pass this law even if it will save only one life” on other legislation we like. I find all pro-choice people I’ve met and heard to be very hypocritical in this regard.

        So while the Christian’s ultimate goal is not bodily salvation but spiritual, we must not make a false dichotomy of saying, “Saving a life is not a command of Christ, but saving a soul is.”

        • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

          Yup, I’m with you. Like I said, I’d welcome legislation happily. I long to see the overturning of Roe. I just want to make sure I keep the main thing the main thing.

          Incidentally, though it’s off topic and may seem nitpicky, I do want to briefly note that “bodily salvation” isn’t at odds with “spiritual salvation.” As Christians, we believe in the resurrection of the body and eternal life on the New Earth.

          But I know what you mean. We need to care about both temporal suffering and eternal suffering.

          • Dan Leake

            :) I’m totally in agreement there. It is good to be more careful so I don’t cause confusion.

      • wonderjen

        Thanks for your reply, and I would agree that destroying humans, in any form is wrong. I would then posit that where I am still questioning is “when” a fetus becomes human, or gains a soul. I’ve been reading much on different theories on this, and haven’t come to a definitive or clear conclusion, hence I continue reading. I would say all of your argument is dependent on ensoulment happening at conception. There are several complex medical examples that cause me to question that potentiality, the simplest of which is identical twins- when the zygote splits after conception, what happens to the “soul”. There are much more complex things that happen in utero that seem to point to logically concluding that ensoulment isn’t immediate. Traditionally, it seems, that the church generally believed that ensoulment happened when “quickening” happened, that is, movement was felt. We now know that this coincides with the beginning of brain function as well. This seems to be a more reasonable marker of “human life”. again, I’m still reading, learning and processing.

        I haven’t yet (but it’s on my list) done word studies and cultural studies of what language is used that gets translated to “child” in the text, and compare it between in and out of the womb. I have contacted and am in dialogue with old testament scholars that I know to gain understanding on the cultural influences of the Bible and WHY they didn’t consider the loss of a child in utero the same life-for-life payment as the loss of a child out of the womb.

        I accept that abortion is different than cancer in that it is a willful act, however I still think that this doesn’t dismiss the question of why we aren’t more concerned about miscarriages, if we really believe that life begins at conception. to broaden the analogy- we put money into figuring out how to deaths from gun violence AND to stop deaths from cancer. one is a malicious act, one is a natural flaw, both end in death. That we seem to only focus on the malicious abortive act, not the natural abortive occurrence makes me question the political motive.

        Lest I seem dismissive, I’m truly not trying to be. I am trying to understand what the actual problem is, objectively, without years of simple answers that I’ve received in church clouding. As I’ve read many many points of view, the complexity of this issue, and of the solutions to this issue grows.

        I also agree that saving a life AND saving a soul is of utmost importance. I think reasonable legislation is a part of the answer- legislation that addresses when human life begins (and as I wade through this, I’m less and less a “from conception” and more a “from quickening” advocate), but also legislation that relieves some of the burden of bearing and raising a child from squarely and only the mother’s shoulders.

        In my conversations with people on both sides of the topic, I find inconsistencies, such as mentioned above. I do find that NO ONE is looking to destroy human life. There is, however, great disagreement as to when human life begins. The talmud and Jewish tradition, for instance, asserts that life begins with breath, just as it did with adam, and therefore has little problem with the termination of pregnancy at any stage. Traditionally the church has believed that human life began at quickening, until, in defense and explanation of the immaculate conception the theory of the “homunculus” came into play- that each sperm contained a fully formed tiny human, and therefor life began at conception. This, believe it or not, is the beginning of the Catholic view, that has influenced the current evangelical view. Now, just because this view is based on faulty science, doesn’t mean it’s incorrect- it just means that it warrants investigation- if we’re basing all of this on a false premise, well, we could be wrong.

        Anyway, I’m enjoying the discussion and thankful for the resources. I will keep reading!

        • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

          Thanks Jen.

          Unfortunately, you seem to have skipped over some of the things that I said. I’ll try once more to be more plain.

          I should note, first, that the history of this debate and interpretations of Scripture are infinitely less important than what the Scripture actually says. In other words, reports about the Talmud and the historical developments of Catholicism and Evangelicalism are entirely lost on me. My only concern is what Scripture itself (God Himself) says. And Scripture says what it says irrespective of what others have said it says.

          And so my argument, as I said, is that Scripture teaches that human beings are made in the image of God. You’ll note that nothing I said had anything to do with “ensoulment.” We’re never told in Scripture that a soul is what makes us particularly human. But we are told that what separates us from all the rest of God’s creatures is that we’re created in His image (Gen 1:26-27). And we’re also told that the reason murder is a capital offense is because man is made in the image of God (Gen 9:6). So the question has nothing to do (or, at the very least, it has much less to do) with when a zygote receives a soul, but when it bears the image of God.

          My point above was: there’s no biblical category for “human being not bearing the image of God.” When we consult the science, you don’t need to (in fact, you don’t get to) decide about “when a fetus becomes human.” A fetus (i.e., a human fetus) is human by definition. What else would it be? It’s alive. It’s the product of two human beings. It’s got human chromosomes and DNA distinct from its parents. What else would you call a living being with human DNA? Thus, a human fetus is a human child and bears the image of God at conception.

          Of course, all of this is moot when we come to the actual point of the post, which is about 40 years of legally sanctioned murder of children way past the point of fertilization or “quickening.” We can satisfy our philosophical curiosities and wring our hands about the timing of ensoulment after we outlaw the murder of so-called “non-persons” who nobody disputes are already alive and are humans.

          • wonderjen

            Yes, it is human in potential, but not able to sustain itself. so more accurately, it would be a human parasite, completely dependent on the host. now, I don’t want to think of children that way, but if you insist on brass tacks, well there you go. It’s also interesting to me that you are unconcerned with “interpretations” of the talmud and the church, but don’t recognize that you are providing your own interpretation, colored with your presuppositions, and pointing me to John Pipers interpretation as well. I have read (and will point you to when I get the chance) just as clear interpretations that life begins with breath, with ample Biblical citations and hebrew to support it.

            we all interpret, especially in this discussion. we all bring presuppositions, none are truly objetive. that you don’t recognize or acknowledge your own presupposition leads me to read your points with caution.

            My intrest in this discussion is two-fold, to find, as much as possible to discover, where God believes life begins- and I continue to assert it is less clear cut than you assert, and to work toward solutions to this incredible loss of life. In both cases I’m willing to look at and evaluate any position, and dismiss none out of hand.

            Alas, I don’t think I have much more to contribute to THIS particular discussion, because I think we both plainly understands where the other stands.

            Thanks for the conversation. and the sources.

          • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

            Yes, it is human in potential…

            No, I’m sorry, but you are simply mistaken here. It is not human in potential. It is human in actuality. Again: it’s a living thing, from two human beings, with human DNA that is unique from any other human being’s DNA. The only things that distinguish a fetus from you and me is its size, environment, and level of development, none of which has an effect on one’s essence as a human being.

            …but not able to sustain itself.

            Here it seems you make independent viability a requirement to be human. But I doubt you would want to say that adult human beings who are unable sustain themselves on their own are less human. That would force you to concede that dialysis patients or insulin-dependent diabetics are merely “human parasites.” We would have to say that conjoined twins sharing a blood type and bodily systems are not individual human persons (or are at least sub-human) and should be able to be legally killed because neither can survive without the other.

            So, that doesn’t hold water. Humanity, and more specifically, personhood, does not depend on one’s ability to survive on its own.

            It’s also interesting to me that you are unconcerned with “interpretations” of the talmud and the church…

            My point was just that the history can only be descriptive, not prescriptive. What various religious groups have taught on the issue means nothing unless it can be demonstrated to be founded upon the text of Scripture, because the Bible is the authority. None of the historical references you made reference to provided a handling of any text. So what I mean to say is: I’m not interested in conclusions or assertions without arguments from the text. I would be perfectly comfortable disagreeing with history if I could prove that history was at odds with the text.

            …but don’t recognize that you are providing your own interpretation, colored with your presuppositions, and pointing me to John Pipers interpretation as well.

            The difference is: both I, in this comment thread, and Piper at DG handled the text of Scripture, whereas you only reported conclusions with appeals to historical authority. Both Piper and I could both be wrong, sure. But that has to be demonstrated from the text itself. To dismiss our arguments as mere subjective interpretations that are, in principle, no more right than anyone else’s subjective interpretations, is standing on an unsound epistemology and an irrational approach to truth.

            The only presupposition I brought to my handling of the text is that the Bible is inerrant and authoritative. Every other claim was derived from the text, or otherwise argued-for from science. If you don’t believe that’s true, but you think my fundamental assumptions have colored my handling of the text, that’s OK, but you have to prove it. It’s unfair to simply assert it.

            It’s actually interesting to me that my pursuit of objectivity leads you to be wary of what I say. I would think one would be wary of the opposite. If I would have said that I come to this discussion with bias and am not objective but have an agenda, then I can understand some red flags. But I don’t claim authority for myself, or for history; I simply want to point to the text and accurately and objectively say what it says.

            …and I continue to assert it is less clear cut than you assert…

            It’s unfair for you to claim that I have done nothing more than “assert” my position when I have argued for it multiple times, even though arguing for when life begins was never the intention of the original post. If you continue to assert that it is less clear cut than I argue, well you may continue to assert that. But that truly is nothing more than a bare assertion and itself begs for argument.

            In both cases I’m willing to look at and evaluate any position, and dismiss none out of hand.

            I could be wrong, but that feels like you’re saying I’ve dismissed your (or another) position out of hand. If that’s what you intended, be assured that I haven’t dismissed such things out of hand. I’ve just come to conclusion based on the science (as it regards the embryology) and the biblical text (as it regards the image of God and human life). I get the impression that because you haven’t come to a conclusion you’re suspicious of those who have.

            I appreciate your reading and taking the time to comment, Jen, but you’re probably right about this being the end of the discussion. I hope you’ll keep reading the blog, and I’d look forward to hearing from you again in another comment thread.

        • http://mriccardi.blogspot.com Mike Riccardi

          (Sorry. This should go with this comment.)

          Also, I didn’t recognize it at first, but is the passage you’re
          referring to about the loss of a child in the womb not requiring the
          payment of a life Exodus 21:22-25? If so, please see this link: http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/articles/the-misuse-of-exodus-2122-25-by-pro-choice-advocates

    • http://thecripplegate.com Jesse Johnson

      I think Mike responds well to Jen, but I also think her point is this: before the 70′s, evangelicals were not speaking with one voice about when life began–what has changed? To answer that simply: science. Before the advent of ultrasounds and other medical technology, it is easy to see why especially in the early stages of pregnancy there would be no uniform understanding (religious or scientific) about what exactly is going on, and when life begins. Hence Roe v. Wade’s trimester construct. Clearly (before medical science caught up), you are dealing with life in the 2nd/3rd trimester. Not so much in the first.
      And that is exactly what has changed since then. Now the reason that evangelicals do speak so clearly on the issue (along with Catholics) is that technology has made it clear. Even the pro-abortion side of the argument is beginning to grant that life begins at conception–because otherwise they look like flat-earthers.

  • David Hoos

    Perhaps I missed it, but I didn’t notice any reference to Luke 1:15, or Luke 1:41, in any of the comments up to this point. I certainly agree with Mike and Piper.

  • DG

    The person that said miscarriages can be prevented is very uneducated on the topic. We’ve had 4 and have excellent nutriention and exercise and a great lifestyle. Miscarriage cannot be prevented. 90% of them happen because of chromosonal abnormalities. This is a stupid thing to say and hurtful to all those who have lost precious babies. The mom didn’t do anything to hurt the baby.

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