A poor teenage girl from the middle of nowhere with hardly any social services just found out she is pregnant. She’s scared and lonely. Who can she turn to? She racks her brain for any and all possible options as she’s faced with the thought that makes her sick to her stomach. How will she tell her boyfriend? The baby isn’t his.
She didn’t finish school. Her family doesn’t have much money, so they won’t be able to help out much, if at all. If she’s being honest, it’s likely they’ll throw her out or send her away when they find out. And the second that baby bump starts to show, everyone in her small town will know. Let’s be real – they’re not too forgiving, and if a girl wants to avoid being the talk of the town, she shouldn’t have gotten herself in this little predicament in the first place.
She finally musters up the courage to tell her boyfriend. He’s shocked, hurt, betrayed. He plans to leave her, and rightfully so. The baby isn’t his. It’s not his responsibility, and there are certainly other options to take care of the situation. But, for whatever reason, he chooses to stick around. Maybe it’s a pipe dream, but he’s always wanted a family. Maybe they can do this together. We all make mistakes, right? So he stays.
And I’d be willing to bet Jesus was really thankful his parents chose life.
I’m in the middle of a series that explores what Jesus said and thought about some of the issues we Americans face today. As the Presidential race continues with debate after debate, propaganda after propaganda, and promise after promise, we Christians have a responsibility to vote according to our conscience. And while there may be a legal separation of church and state, that’s not a call for us to separate our ethics from the public arena. My first piece explained my rationale behind the series, and last post was all about refugees and immigrants – I wrote that last piece before the France attacks, and I still stand by every single word I wrote. I will most likely write a follow-up to that one, so be on the lookout!
One of the major talking points for both Republicans and Democrats this season has been Planned Parenthood. After videos leaked that seemed to incriminate the organization for selling fetal tissue (an illegal action), it was the talk of the town. #defundPP and #standwithPP became the rally cry for both sides of the issue; Congress held a hearing, and an investigation found the videos to be edited.
Of course, this has not stopped the debate. And when the topic is abortion, we all know how heated it can get. Virtually every candidate had something to say about it. And virtually everyone on Facebook did too. Believe me – I unfollowed plenty of trolls on both sides of the issue.
Some anti-abortion rhetoric became more than just inflammatory – it was dangerous. On November 27, Robert Lewis Dear, shot up a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs, claiming to be a “warrior for the babies.”
Jesus never said anything directly about abortion. I’ve read and heard speculation that he didn’t because abortion wasn’t a “thing” then. That’s completely inaccurate. It may not have been the same method used today, but abortion absolutely was a “thing.” Women were subjected to toxic poisons and other violent methods of terminating a pregnancy. If an infant was born deformed or disabled, it was left to die from exposure or drowned. This went all the way back in history. In Rome, some unwanted infants were “lucky” enough to be taken in at the Roman forum, where they would grow up to be gladiators and prostitutes.
While Jesus didn’t touch on abortion, he did speak about children. “Let the little children come to me.” He blessed them. We’re to become like children in order to inherit the Kingdom. As the disciples argued over who would be the greatest in heaven, Jesus pointed to a child and said that one was the greatest of all. The lowliest, most vulnerable. Jesus surely valued children.
But Jesus didn’t value only children.
“I came that they may have life and life abundantly.”
Jesus valued people. All people. Children, adults. Women, men. Gentiles, Jews. Poor, rich. Sick, healthy. And God became flesh in order to offer abundant life to all. Part of that abundance includes compassion and understanding for an individual’s circumstances.
While I think that Jesus would have been saddened by a loss of life in the womb, I wholeheartedly believe Jesus would have been equally saddened by the set of circumstances in which a woman feels like abortion is the only option. Rape, incest, lack of access to adequate health care and contraceptives, little to no sex education, lack of education in general, the mother’s life at risk, living in poverty, and other systemic issues…these things are not abundant life.
Valuing and maintaining the dignity of every person is abundant life. Recognizing the Imago Dei in every human being is the foundational Christian principle necessary to this conversation.
Jesus is pro-life. Pro – abundant – life. This means that we as Christians must consider approaching the pro-life/pro-choice debate holistically.
Being pro-life means so much more than being pro-birth.
Being pro-life means caring for individuals physically, mentally, spiritually, and socially.
If you are pro-life, you cannot celebrate the Planned Parenthood terrorist attack in Colorado Springs.
If you are pro-life, you cannot be for “carpet bombing” the Middle East.
If you are pro-life, you cannot mock disabled people.
If you are pro-life, you have to value people over money or power.
If you are pro-life, you cannot be against offering care to those who need it.
If you are pro-life, you should be concerned about the 415,00 children in foster care in America.
And if you are pro-life, you better be for supporting those mothers who can’t support their own children.
Jesus spent a great deal of time with women, the poor, and the outcast – the most vulnerable and those who felt the pressures of oppression more than anyone else in society. He forgave sinners, leading with compassion and mercy. He provided health care to those who needed it. He went so far as to go outside the city gates and touch the untouchable so that they could be reintegrated into society. Life, and life abundantly.
And if Jesus is pro-life, you can bet your last dollar he’s pro-life from womb to tomb. That includes taking care of people until they’re gone. All of life, from cradle to grave, which is why the death penalty and life sentences are so important to talk about.
Darryl Burton spent 24 years of his adult life behind bars in St. Louis. He was convicted of murder during a shooting at a gas station, sentenced to life in prison. Listen to his story.
I had the honor of sitting near Darryl in one of my seminary classes this semester. In our evangelism small group, I slowly learned about his story, and the more I got to know him, the more powerful his story became to me. This man had every right to be bitter, angry, and resentful. In fact, for quite some time, he was. But Jesus did some work on him, and he’s now a pastoral intern at the largest United Methodist Church in the United States, he recently finished his Master of Divinity, and he travels the world speaking to groups about social justice and the death penalty. The work he has done and continues to do is only possible because he was exonerated.
Darryl Burton has been restored to abundant life that otherwise would have been denied to him because of false charges.
Jesus was innocent when he was sentenced to death row as well. As Christians who worship a God who was unjustly murdered by the government, how can we condone such a practice? In Darryl’s words, “If our Lord was killed, we don’t stand a chance!”
In all likelihood, Jesus would probably upset both the progressives and conservatives on this front. He’s good at doing that – it’s what got him killed. Abortion would be unthinkable as a form of birth control, but he would recognize the need for women’s health care provision, especially in poor areas that tend to have higher birth rates. He would extend prodigal grace and mercy to those who had undergone such a procedure, and he would have looked ahead and found a way to reintegrate that person back into society without shame or disgrace. He would have also taken into account multiple systemic issues as to why a woman would feel like abortion is her only option: income, family situation, conception situation. He would unquestionably be pro-life in the sense that he is for the advancement of life. But life is not merely existing – life is living abundantly. Physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being. This type of care does not end outside the womb; it ends at the grave.
When reading up on candidates, keep in mind their position on abortion, contraceptives, social services such as medicare, the Affordable Care Act, welfare, WIC, adoption agencies (and who can adopt), prison reform, and the death penalty – and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Take special care to remember that we worship a savior who was put to death unjustly by a political system. We wear that reminder around our necks as jewelry now, but dear readers, that’s like wearing the electric chair as a charm bracelet.
Above all, as you’re doing your research on candidates, consider how a person treats and talks about people – are they a means to an end, a problem to deal with, or do they bear the image of God? And what types of policies might a candidate who values human life – from womb to tomb – endorse?