“Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
There are some actions for which there is a broad moral consensus regarding their rightness or wrongness. Everyone knows these things are wrong. With but a few exceptions, they’ve always known it. The trouble is, we want what we want, and we don’t much like people getting in the way of what we want. The reason this idea is trouble (beyond all of the obvious ones) is that sometimes what we want and things everyone knows are wrong come into conflict with each other. We don’t mean for these conflicts to happen. But they do. When they happen, we have a choice to make. We can change what we want. But we want what we want, so that’s probably not the first choice we’re going to make. The other option is to redefine this thing we know is wrong in such a way that we somehow excuse our doing it in order to get what we want. This option is often preferable to us in the moment (because it lets us have what we want), but it makes a whole lot of other things a whole lot more complicated because living in a fantasy world requires constant effort to keep the walls up. Well, 49 years ago, the Supreme Court issued a ruling in Roe v Wade that effectively forced our entire nation down this second path and made things a whole lot more complicated. Then, last week, with the Dobbs decision, the same institution set us back on the right path. What do we do now?
For most of the history of this nation, most people recognized that abortion was indeed a moral evil. And while some nonetheless sought it anyway, it was officially illegal in most places. When the sexual revolution hit, and our nation’s sexual mores were greatly liberalized, the results of a great deal more sex began to show themselves in more and more pregnancies that weren’t planned. The demand for abortion grew. Finally, someone sued for the right to obtain an abortion. The case wound its way to the Supreme Court and the infamous Roe v Wade decision was born. Roe v Wade was an absolute travesty of justice and made a mockery of constitutional jurisprudence. Justice Harry Blackmun was essentially making it up as he went along. He discovered rights in the Constitution no one had ever known to exist before…which was because they hadn’t until he made them up. Most notably is a right to privacy. He set in place legal precedents that have allowed for multiple terrible decisions in the nearly half-century since. The debate over whether abortion should be legal had been heating up in those days. The assenting justices thought they were issuing a decision that would help quell the rising tide of unrest over the matter by settling the question once and for all. Except they didn’t. They made it worse. Much, much worse.
They made it worse not simply because the decision not only overrode the laws of all 50 states in order to legalize abortion across the country. They made it worse because far from quelling the rising tide of unrest, they turned it into a tsunami. Their hubristic move is what sparked into existence the national Pro-Life movement. They made it worse because they not only legalized abortion, but wrote into existence one of the most extreme abortion mandates in the world. Only a handful of other nations around the world were as extreme on the question of abortion as we were. Abortion was legal up until the moment a woman gave birth and for essentially any reason at all.
In the years after Roe, as the Pro-Life movement began working to craft laws that could limit access to abortion, their efforts were largely struck down and thwarted again and again and again. But then the culture began to change a bit on the matter. It wasn’t a big change. But some new technology came along that made it even harder to deny that what was growing in a mother’s womb was a human baby. And as this kind of technology began to advance, denying reality grew harder.
Yet at the same time, in many parts of our culture, Roe was gradually become something of a creed. Its very existence as a decision became sacrosanct. Cultural and political decisions that didn’t have anything to do with it were nonetheless impacted by its presence. Politicians were either for Roe or against it. Judges were confirmed or not on the basis of whether or not they supported it. Whole political parties became defined by fealty or opposition. It wasn’t pretty. And while efforts to further limit access or otherwise restrict when abortions could be obtained made some headway, courts across the country, guided by Roe, still struck many of them down.
Yet as Pro-Life laws grew more sophisticated, and technology made supporting late-term abortions increasingly difficult to do, some bans began to receive constitutional stamps of approval. Then, last, year, the State of Mississippi passed the earliest abortion ban to date – 15 weeks. And when they were inevitably taken to court over the ban, the State’s Attorney General didn’t merely ask the court to consider the question of the legality of the ban itself, but to reconsider the Roe decision in its entirety. In a move fairly unexpected by many observers, the court took the case. Then, last week, after a full draft of the decision had been leaked to the public, they issued their decision. In a 6-3 ruling, Roe was overturned in its entirety and the question on the legality was returned to the states to decide.
In the week since, the decision has been debated and analyzed and picked apart almost endlessly. The reactions have ranged from muted to apoplectic. I don’t want to dwell on the legal question here this morning. Instead, I want to focus our attention on the question of how we should respond. Our nation is perched at the edge of the future (something which is true at every moment, but which feels particularly apropos in this moment). If those who have been praying and working toward this end don’t handle the moment in the right way, we will throw away the opportunity to change the culture in ways that matter. Because, while the overturning of Roe is certainly a good thing, rendering abortion illegal across the country has never been (nor should it be) the ultimate goal. We want to make it unthinkable. So then, how do we react?
First, with joy. This is a moment millions of people have been praying and working toward for nearly 50 years. Being excited at the fact we have finally reached this moment is okay. We shouldn’t be ashamed of that. When good things happen, we can be glad for them. This is an indisputably good thing. I have seen too many Pro-Lifers react to this decision by giving their first and greatest attention to worrying that the Pro-Life movement isn’t ready to handle the moment. While that is certainly a question we can’t ignore (and is part of why I’m even writing this blog in the first place), that shouldn’t be the first thought to come to our hearts and minds. This is a good moment for our nation. We should celebrate it.
But there’s more.
While we are celebrating, we should not overlook the fact that not everyone is celebrating this decision. Not a few are opposed to it. Vigorously opposed to it. There are some folks who are so rooted in opposition to this decision that they are genuinely terrified of what it could mean for them or the people around them. Whatever we might think about their opposition to it, while we should not be ashamed of being glad at our moment of triumph, becoming triumphalist in our posture won’t do. There were far too many folks in the wake of the Dobbs decision who very quickly shifted gears from celebration to openly delighting at the prospect of watching the folks for whom Roe was sacred lose their minds over its undoing. That was unloving and unacceptable.
The Pro-Abortion movement has been the ideological opponent of the Pro-Life movement for more than a generation. More than being ideological opponents, though, the two sides have functioned as enemies. Well, Jesus was exceedingly clear as to how we should treat our enemies. We are not to delight at their misfortune. We are not to celebrate their defeat. We are not to heap loads of scorn on them when we score a victory over them. We are to love them. We are to pray for them. We are to seek to do good to them.
Instead of engaging in unhelpful arguments or mocking reactions to the Dobbs decision that are overwrought and misinformed, we should engage in gentle, humble conversations. We should listen to their fears and respond with grace and truth. Even if you happen to think someone has completely lost their mind over the matter, she is probably convinced you are a part of the evil regime that has taken away a sacred right in your attempts to establish a life- and freedom-destroying theocracy. If you behave down to the expectations she has about you, you won’t have accomplished anything but to reinforce false ideas. If you can instead respond with patience and kindness, you just might make a friend and build a relationship that can lead to transformation. That seems like a better outcome, all things considered.
Too often these days the church is falling into a win-at-all-costs mindset that is to our great harm and shame. It is to our harm because as the culture around us turns, anything we do which reinforces the cultural perception of the church as the enemy is not helping us advance the Gospel into the hearts and minds of those who haven’t yet embraced it. It is giving them reasons to believe they were right in their views of us. It is to our shame because it is a violation of both the spirit and the letter of the teachings of Jesus and the other apostles in the New Testament. Jesus called us to love one another as He loved us. Harassing our enemies isn’t doing that. Peter called us to “conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that when they slander you as evildoers, they will observe your good works and will glorify God on the day he visits.” Mocking the false ideas of our cultural opponents lands us rather far outside the bounds of that command.
One more thing. The great battle to make abortion unthinkable is far from over. Instead, it is shifting into new fronts. The first is the likely great proliferation of chemical abortions via abortion pills. This will have the effect of forcing the practice of abortion into the dark. Ugly things flourish in the dark. New efforts will have to be made to restrict this dangerous practice. Also, because the battle has shifted from the federal level to the state level, and because some states are committed to providing their citizens access to abortion that would make even the likes of North Korea shake their head in disgust, efforts to change the culture in those places must be redoubled.
The other front is going to be the need to go even further in our efforts to care for women who find themselves in a crisis pregnancy situation. Our efforts to foster a culture that values all life from womb to tomb are more important than ever. One of the loudest (if utterly illegitimate) criticisms of the Pro-Life movement is that it only cares for pre-born life and neglects the rest. Again, to Peter’s point, when they slander us as evildoers, we want them to observe our good works and glorify God on the day He visits. We should also begin calling for federal policies that further foster a culture that celebrates life and children and the strengthening of families. One of the arguments of the Pro-Abortion crowd is that it would be better for a child to be aborted than to be born into a situation geared in every way against the odds of his flourishing. While that argument is utterly bankrupt, we should work to further hollow it out by working diligently to make sure as few children are born into such environments as possible by eliminating as many environments like that as we can. There is no one-stop solution to this problem either. It will involve some legislation and policy goals, yes, but also education and the church being the church.
The overturning of Roe is a good thing. But the reality of what it means for the efforts of the Pro-Life movement to foster and encourage a culture of life in this nation is that very little has changed. Yes, much has changed in terms of the kinds of obstacles we may face at a national level, but until abortion vanishes entirely because the culture is so deeply committed to life that no one would seek such an end because they couldn’t imagine doing so, our work isn’t done. Let us continue to do it as happy warriors who are committed to the way of Jesus in all we do, think, and say. There is a kingdom to advance.