Back in January WORLD Magazine published its annual issue focused on right to life issues. One of the articles in that issue was titled “Still-silent shepherds.” The article, by Joe Maxwell and Stephen Hall, begins with this editor’s note: “In 1994, WORLD published “Silence of the shepherds,” an article addressing the reticence of many evangelical pastors to preach on abortion. Two decades later, a WORLD survey shows that many are still silent.”
Just that caveat by itself should be enough to spark outrage among anyone who believes that the Bible is absolutely clear on the subject of the sanctity of life. The article begins by explaining that John Piper did not preach on the subject of abortion until the late 1980s. A change came over him then, though: “It was a combination of seeing other people taking it seriously and then beginning to check my own soul, and God just mercifully taking away some blind spots, showing me in the Scriptures all kinds of reasons for standing up and defending these little ones,” Piper said. Since that time Piper has preached more than twenty sermons on the subject of abortion and has become so active in defending life that he was arrested in a sit-in. “I don’t regret it,” he said. The article goes on to quote Piper saying that pastors need to take abortion seriously and they need to address it biblically, including from the pulpit.
Shortly thereafter, however, the article provides a perspective from the other side. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, does not address abortion from the pulpit and that is by design. The article quotes an article Keller wrote for Leadership Journal in 1999: “Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. …Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for virtue for the good news of God’s salvation.” The WORLD article includes the story of a woman who was approached several years ago by a woman who thanked him for not addressing abortion from his pulpit, saying, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.” Later she accepted Christ and asked Keller if he thought abortion was wrong. He said yes, and the woman–who has had three abortions–said that she was coming to see that perhaps it is wrong.
I think that’s a great story and a good example of the transformation that occurs when someone accepts Christ — the “renewing of the mind.” However, it is not, in my opinion, a justification for not addressing the issue of abortion in church and from the pulpit. Abortion is, plain and simple, the murder of a human being, albeit one that has not yet been born. Would any pastor argue that churches should avoid speaking out against murder? Of course not. Why, then, allow the culture’s pervasive efforts to define abortion as something other than murder to influence our willingness to stand firmly on the Scripture and state unequivocally that abortion is wrong? Billy Graham apparently once told Larry King, “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” suggesting that doing so might interfere with his main message of salvation. Of course salvation is the main message, and of course salvation will, hopefully, bring the renewing of the mind that caused the woman in Keller’s story to reexamine her previous beliefs about abortion, but that does not mean that we keep mum on the subject until after salvation. Franklin Roosevelt was unwilling to take a stand on civil rights issues during his presidency because he feared it would undermine the support he needed for his economic policies. Was that a reasonable justification for keeping silent on the discrimination that African Americans were facing? I think not.
WORLD‘s article reports that it conducted a random survey of forty pastors from seven different denominations within the National Association of Evangelicals. Interestingly, all forty said that life begins at conception and that pastors should preach against abortion. Despite that unanimous response, eighteen of the forty pastors had not preached on abortion in the past year and five more had never done so! Many of the pastors surveyed indicated that their churches work with or fund crisis pregnancy centers, provide pro-life information within their churches, participate in Right to Life marches or even–in 10% of the churches–picket abortion providers. That is all well and good but it is no substitute for addressing abortion from the pulpit.
One reason suggested within the WORLD article for the reluctance of pastors to address abortion is the impact it may have on giving within their churches. Another reason is the possibility of offending influential church members. Might I respectfully point out that the Bible itself is offensive? R.C. Sproul recounts creating materials to help pastors and churches address abortion several years ago. The response Sproul received was overwhelmingly consistent, he says. “It was like a broken record. Pastors said, ‘I can’t use this material. It will split our church.'”
Interestingly, those pastors who refuse to address abortion from their pulpits are ignoring a subject that an overwhelming number of Americans already believe is immoral. According to an August 2013 Pew study 85% of Americans believe that abortion is immoral. So why would pastors shy away from addressing it? The reasons WORLD received could be divided into four categories according to the article: (1) it might make some church members uncomfortable or “hurt women in congregations who’ve had abortions”; (2) addressing abortion should not be handled in an issue-specific manner, especially if expository preaching is the church’s focus; (3) addressing abortion might politicize the pastor or the pulpit and could scare off seekers; and (4) speaking out on abortion might be “uncool or anti-intellectual.”
If I may, I’d like to state in no uncertain terms that I find those four reasons ridiculous. There are very few subjects in the Bible that will not make someone in the church uncomfortable. When churches refuse to address those topics they cease to become biblical churches and instead become feel-good gatherings and support groups. There is no reason that abortion can not be addressed in a way that also extends forgiveness, love and support to women who have experienced abortions. Given that abortion is explicitly addressed in the Bible I disagree that it could politicize the pastor or the church. If it did, though, I would consider that a cost worth paying for taking a stand. If any pastor fears being uncool he better get out of the ministry now, because the Bible was never intended to be cool. In this increasingly hostile world there will never be a time when preaching the truth of God’s Word will be “cool.” The only one of the four reasons that even comes close to being legitimate in my mind is the second one, but even that is a stretch and is, in my opinion, a flimsy excuse for ducking the issue.
Mike Huckabee, a former Southern Baptist pastor and Republican presidential candidate, provides some of the best comments on the issue of abortion being addressed in the church that I have seen. As to the possibility of addressing abortion being divisive, Huckabee asks, “How can you claim to proclaim a gospel that turns its back on the slaughter of innocent babies?” He accurately addresses the concern about hurting women who have had abortions, too: “We need to be careful and offer grace to people who’ve made bad decisions and give the gospel to them, while at the same time drawing a line in the sand and saying, ‘This is not something that can be acceptable.’ It’s forgivable, but not morally acceptable.”
To that I say simply, “Amen.” If your pastor speaks out against abortion from the pulpit, thank him. If he does not, ask him why, and challenge him to step up and defend life. There is simply no excuse to not do so.