Recently, Operation Save America (a Texas-based, anti-abortion group) came to our town for an organized protest against a local doctor who is known as the only abortion provider in the state. As a heads-up regarding their actions, the OSA invited local pastors and Christian ministries to discuss the upcoming protests. Though the voices were unanimous in graciously requesting that OSA not protest this year (for a second year in a row), they came anyways.
OSA requested that local churches in the area link arms to protest along with them as they sounded their voice throughout the town. For several days, protestors lined boulevards, walkways, school areas, and downtown with large posters picturing graphic images of aborted babies and signs with aggressive slogans towards the doctor.
To top off the events, and in one of the more ironic moments, OSA protested several local churches at their Sunday morning gatherings, which resulted in a handful of violations, citations, and a diffused scuffle between an individual and a protester. According to local police, it was the busiest law-enforcement day of OSA’s week in town.
As one would expect in a town not lacking wisenheimer flavor like ours, locals responded. Among other moves, a local ranch parked a stretched truck and trailer along an entire city block, covering the protester’s display. During the 2011 protests, a local drove his car into OSA’s exhibit to communicate his thoughts (no one injured, thankfully). In light of that, the local paper issued an article preceding this year’s protest encouraging locals to refrain from scrapping with protestors. Then, just prior to this year’s protests, about 2500 locals were stirred up to form an anti-protest group to state loud and clear that OSA and their approach was unwelcome.
Aside from creating small-town ruckus, situations like these done in the name of Christ provide great opportunities for us to think through what the church really should be doing. While our church whole-heartedly loves people, whether born, or unborn (and have been involved in biblically sound pro-life ministries), the leadership declined linking arms with OSA as we felt they are misguided in a few ways:
1) A misunderstanding of the problem and solution.
OSA appears to attribute the abortion problem largely to the church. One of their objectives states: “the repentance of the Church of Jesus Christ is our ultimate goal. As the Church changes its heart toward unborn children, God Himself will hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and bring healing to our land.” During the pre-protest meeting, one of the OSA leaders concluded by saying, “Christians are responsible for most of the abortions in this nation.” This explains their frequent talk of corporate repentance, using phrases like, “We must repent for our nation and for the church in America.” In other words, if the church repents of her contribution to abortion, then problem solved. This thinking explains the guy on the main drag for two years in a row holding up a 10 ft. by 5 ft. sign that says, “Where is your church?” calling out local churches for not protesting with them.
The problems with this are numerous. No one can repent on behalf of another. We pray to God for the repentance of the unregenerate in our nation, but we cannot do the repenting for them. Each individual is responsible for his/her own sin before God. I can no more repent for others than I can vicariously come to faith in Christ for another. I can grieve the sin in and around me, but I can only repent of my own actions. Plus, the church is no more responsible for the murder of the unborn than of the born. The true church love Christ, people, and will be held accountable for failure to obey her mission and preach the whole counsel of God, but not for murders she did not commit.
On top of that, as fired up about sin as OSA is, they are not fired up enough. Again, though this sin is an atrocity, OSA limits the scope of sin to abortion and the lack of protesting the issue. They miss the point from Scripture that sin is far more comprehensive. The church’s repentance and eradication of abortion will not bring healing to the land, genuine conversion will. True healing comes from the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit causing a mourning over one’s comprehensive failure to love God, along with a rejoicing at the righteousness provided by Jesus Christ through faith. Healing will be clear, not so much by the absence of abortion (though we greatly desire that), but a presence of embracing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and the abiding fruit of the Spirit.
Consequently, this misunderstanding of the problem gives way to a misguided solution. Because they see the problem as the church’s failure to repent for the nation, their solution is to make disciples of OSA: individuals who join their protesting movement by hitting the streets with them, carrying signs of graphic images, stirring up legal trouble, and calling on the church to repent.
More than making disciples who are angry about the atrocity of abortion, Christ calls the church to make disciples who are angry at all sin, including the hidden idolatry of the heart and at the deceitful pride which lurks and manifests itself in, for example, angry downcrys at the culture.
However, let’s be realistic: things will go from bad to worse (2 Tim 3:13), and there will be no comprehensive healing from the top down in any nation until Christ returns to set up his kingdom once and for all. That is no excuse for inaction. On the contrary, the church needs to stay fervently centered on her mission: making disciples by repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through his substitutionary atoning, and teaching them to observe everything he has commanded. And in doing so, disciples will be made, resulting in repentance of underlying heart-level wickedness fueling the idolatry which results in abortion: worshiping ourselves and our comfortable lives over loving other people.
I understand that OSA does not necessarily claim to be a local church. But regardless, if they are a parachurch organization, the fact that they insist on the church embracing their mission shows a grave misunderstanding of the biblical mandate to make disciples. So with the insistence on protesting as the solution, it seems that OSA presupposes Christ’s mission of the church (making disciples) is an insufficient one in itself for meeting humanity’s greatest need and accomplishing true transformation. Their approach seems to say, “we need something greater, something more effective, and powerful since the plain old way of Christ building his church through making disciples isn’t good enough when it comes to these real big issues.” But, though Christ and his Apostles were surrounded by legal moral atrocity in every city they went, the mission was the same: make disciples, gather them into local churches, and repeat.
Consequently, OSA risks an unbalanced gospel, as evidenced by the misguided understanding of the problem and solution. Their gospel seems to be: repent of failing to be more fired up about abortion and embrace civil action with us. But the biblical gospel is: repent of failing to love and honor God as he deserves and embrace Christ and his finished work on the cross.
2) A method supported by bad hermeneutics.
OSA’s approach is largely backed by OT verses ripped out of context. One of the main reasons they misunderstand the mission of the church is due to a poor hermeneutic. For example, Deuteronomy 21:1-3 was quoted as the reason our town is comprehensively responsible and guilty for the existence of local abortions.
On top of that, the KJV-only feel coupled with a generous use of exclamation points in their literature raises red flags.
3) An appearance of a martyr complex.
At certain times, the ministry seems to highlight run-ins with the law as a badge of honor. But their altercations have the appearance of unnecessarily seeking out, and publicizing, civil disobedience. The civil violations which OSA has received were not necessary to the mission of the church. For example, when locals heard they planned to protest at a Boy Scout antler auction on our town square, a local judge granted a temporary restraining order against the group within a few blocks of the area. OSA violated the restraining order and was arrested, for what they claimed, was “preaching the gospel.”
The move was unnecessary both to the mission of the church and faithfully preaching the gospel. The restraining order was not requiring sin. This incident, as others like it on the group’s website, had the appearance of seeking out civil altercations for the wrong reasons. But unless we are required to sin, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God” (Rom 13:1).
As would be expected, if they have the wrong goal and the wrong method, they have a wrong interpretation of the opposition they encounter. They see opposition as persecution, when in reality it is a result of their foolishness and pride.
4) A lack of wisdom in the approach.
In some sense, this was a case of “mostly right cause, really wrong method.” As God’s people, our method of approach to the world needs to be seasoned:
“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person” (Col 4:5-6).
Paul also says, “First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Tim 2:1-2). The context into which these commands were given at least equaled, if not surpassed, the flagrant sin of our culture. Even so, the church is to make disciples through the local church in a dignified manner.
At the end of the day, the church must mourn over the rampant sin in our nation, including abortion. However, let’s trust our Lord by sticking to his mission (disciple-making) with his prescribed methods of teaching the word and gospel-centered, day-in day-out ministries through the local church as our best approach to this and every other issue. It will be through individual lives changed by the gospel that people will choose life instead of abortion.