My wife and I recently moved to a new state. This of course meant we needed to find a new local church to worship with. We found a small church plant and decided to check it out. We got there about 30 minutes early and so decided to wait in the parking lot. Then we saw it: a van with blown up gruesome images of bloody baby parts driving up to the church. It parked in the street in front of the door and a few people got out of the car. My wife turned aside when she saw it. “That’s horrible” she said.
I sat there for a few minutes to see what they’d do. They took signs out with more graphic images and stationed themselves on the sidewalk a few feet from the church entrance. This raised a red flag in my mind. If these people are members of this church, I’m not entirely sure if I want to come here with my family, I thought. “I’m going out to talk to them and see what this is about,” I told my wife, and stepped out of the car.
I walked over to them and asked the one who appeared to be in charge, “Hey man! Are you guys members of this church?” He had a camera strapped to his chest and was the one who had been driving the gruesome van. “We’re members of the body of Christ,” he said.
I raised an eyebrow. For some reason this man and his companions weren’t in church during this time of day, even though they were professing believers. Obviously, they could have gone a different day or perhaps had met very early in the morning, but this certainly raised some questions.
“Is there a reason you’re parked here in the street and not in the church parking lot?” I asked him. At this, he began to explain his cause. He was a member of the abolitionist movement. A group of Christians that seek to end abortion. He explained that he and his group protest at the local abortion clinic throughout the week. But they were the only ones who were, and churches in the area were passive and don’t care about the unborn. They “need to repent from their sin and join us at the clinic,” he told me.
To provide some context, even being at this church for only one week, I could see very clearly that this was an unashamedly pro-life church. The statement of faith maintained the sacredness of life, the welcome table even had a pamphlet for a pro-life organization for members & visitors to check out and support. But for this group, being pro-life wasn’t enough. To them, if we “truly cared for the unborn”, then we’d be out there with them, protesting.
Later in the conversation, I learned that the church body had asked them to leave multiple times, but they refused to leave, since they were technically not on church property (even if they were fifteen feet from the door). This would not put them in any legal trouble, but it certainly raised the question of the quality of their intentions. Upon doing more research, I found their YouTube channel, in which they show a video of our conversion with their description questioning whether or not this church body could even be called a real “church”. Yup. Bad intentions, alright.
While I do have great respect for the goal of this movement: to end abortion, they way in which they are going about it is incredibly wrong, and dare I say, even harmful to the cause they are seeking to advance. I write this, not to combat abolitionism (I strongly believe Abortion should be completely abolished), but rather to warn about an improper method that is too-often used in advancing it. While there were a large number of issues with the way this specific group approached this issue – including raised voices and making deceitful comments– I believe there are three primary areas where they misrepresented Christ, and in doing so, worked against the cause of true abolishment. These are areas we can learn from, so as not to fall into similar mistakes ourselves.
PROBLEM 1: THEY DISPLAYED GROSSLY PROVOCATIVE IMAGERY. While it is certainly true that sin is evil and has real effects, there is a point where depictions of those evils do more harm than good. A prime example of this is the sin of rape. In this particular location (Polk County Florida), human trafficking is a major problem. The “I-4 Corridor” ranks as one of the worst places in the entire United States for abduction of teens & little girls for sexual exploitation & abuse. Yet, as horrible and common as this crime is, very few people – even in the secular world – would say that it would be appropriate to display a graphic image of that same type of violent rape in an effort to “wake people up to its evils”. The Apostle Paul makes this very point in Ephesians 5:12, where right after calling for us to “expose the works of darkness” (v11) says, “it is shameful even to mention what is done by them in secret.” In other words, even the description of certain sinful actions are themselves shameful. How much more so a disturbing image of chopped up, bloody baby parts?
PROBLEM 2: THEY SHAMED OTHER BELIEVERS FOR NOT MINISTERING THEIR WAY Throughout our conversation, they repeatedly made clear that the church needed to “repent” and “join them” and if we didn’t, then we didn’t really care for the unborn. This is actually a fairly common problem in Christian circles – not just on the issue of abortion, but in many ministries. You’ll see hints of this from speakers at mission conferences, representatives for humanitarian aid groups, and even church pastors for church events. The idea is, “If you aren’t ministering my way, you’re sinning”.
The statement, “if you really cared about ____, you would do ____” all too accurately describes so much of church culture. Yet, taken to its logical end, this idea falls apart. Compare it to the emphasis of scripture, and there isn’t a single leg for it to stand on.
But what’s the harm in asking the church to be more involved in such a great cause? Shouldn’t the church care enough to do something? Valid questions. But ask yourselves, who determines what cause each Christian should be involved in? And who determines how they are to be involved in it? After all, abortion is not the only problem around the world. World hunger is massive problem in poverty-stricken countries. Human trafficking is a major problem even in America. Countless children in Ukraine and other countries are parentless and left to care for themselves. Even more important than all of these things (including abortion) is the epidemic of the billions of people across human history dying and going to hell. What is the Christian to do? Should the Christian try really hard to serve in them all? Should he even own décor in his home when the money spent on those things could be spent to feed children or share the gospel? Should he even own a home at all? Should he even be living in the comfortable United States instead of serving as a missionary in Southeast Asia? You see the dilemma?
The way many Christians respond to this dilemma, is either by feeling incredibly guilty and doing little to nothing, or just caving to whoever pressures them the most to participate in their ministry. But what is the correct way for the Christian to respond to all these serious world problems? God’s word tells us how, through the Apostle Paul in the book of Romans chapter 12, starting in verse 3:
3 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. 4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Notice something here. Each member of the body of Christ has been given certain gifts for the work God has called him or her specifically to. And from those gifts, Christians are called to go and carry out God’s mission in the way He designed us to. I, for example, am called to pastoral ministry, and God has gifted me accordingly. My sister is called to be a missionary, and God has gifted her accordingly. My father is called to share the gospel in the “secular” workforce. We are not all called to the same ministry – which includes the ministry of holding signs out by abortion clinics. Lest there be any disclairity, Paul says of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. … 24b But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
The members of the body of Christ are called to do different tasks. Paul makes it very clear here that to say otherwise is contrary to the will of God – and is therefore, sin. This group was refusing to acknowledge this truth, and instead continued to insist that their will for the church took precedent over even God’s will for the ministry of His church. We must be careful not to do the same with the ministries we are most passionate about.
PROBLEM 3: THEY WERE DIVISIVE IN THEIR DELIVERY. At the end of the 1 Corinthians passage referenced above, Paul made it quite clear that members of Christ’s body were not to incite division. Now, to be clear, by division, Paul is not saying we cannot disagree with one another. There is a major difference between a command for uniformity (everyone agreeing on everything) and a command for unity (civility and grace, agreeing on the issues of greatest importance and working together for the common goal). He’s not saying that speaking on controversial topics is necessarily divisive. What Paul is saying, is to target other members of the body of Christ, is divisive. When Christians do this, the world sees the opposite of what Christ asks of us in John 13:35, where he says, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
When we quarrel with one another publicly & aggressively, like these individuals were, we misrepresent Christ to the lost world – and scripture says God hates it (Proverbs 6:16-19). Refusing to leave after reputedly being asked to leave doesn’t show boldness. It shows divisiveness. We must be careful not to do similarly. Sometimes by “standing our ground”, we do damage to the cause we propagate.
CONCLUSION: LET EVERYTHING BE DONE IN LOVE If not in this way, how should we engage in disagreement – either with the world or with other Christians? In love. Paul speaks of the type of love God asks us believers to demonstrate, in 1 Corinthians chapter 13:
1 “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Abortion is a horrible wrong – and we should fight it, just like many other issues. But we must always remember to do so in trust that God calls His church for His purposes and that He knows what He’s doing. From this, we can rest in the security that God is in control, and from that security, we can minister effectively and with Christlike love.