Pro-Life Idolatry

29 05 2018

It’s an interesting statistic. First coming to my attention back in the early 2000s in a Christianity Today article, it was recently confirmed again in a 2018 essay by researcher Krissi Danielsson.

As many as 75% of fertilized eggs never result in full-term pregnancy!

Yes, that’s right!! That’s the statistic that has dramatically altered my thinking on life and abortion. Three out of every four conceptions never results in pregnancy or birth.

When I first read it, I remember thinking that if life really did begin at conception, why did God allow so many of those ‘knit together in their mothers’ womb’ to never experience the blessing of living? Is it possible that eternity really is going to be full of ‘people’ who have never enjoyed life in this world?

It just didn’t make sense. Perhaps ‘life’ does indeed begin at conception, but is it human life? . . . life just like yours and mine? . . . life worthy of the exact same rights and protections? I’m not sure. Those things come somewhere between conception and birth; but where, none of us know.

Thus began my long and winding journey trying of trying to figure out where I stand on the subject. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), has worked hard to stand in the tension, maintaining that “in life and death we belong to God.” We have been bold in proclaiming that life is indeed a gift from God, and that it should always be preserved and protected.

At the same time, we also realize that a woman’s decision to terminate a pregnancy is intensely personal, and that like anyone else struggling with a moral decision, women need to be given the right to determine how the Spirit is leading them. SHE needs to be the one to read and interpret Scripture; and then in light of her own faith and walk with God, SHE needs to be guaranteed the right to make that decision for herself

Admittedly, such ‘situational ethics’ may not always lead to good decisions; but when it comes to abortion, where so many ‘people of good faith’ disagree, we must err on the side of grace. Like gun control, capital punishment, and even war — issues involving moral imperatives are often far from black and white. They are more gray they most of us would like them to be. And when it comes to abortion, because there is so little consensus, we need to be willing to live in the tension that exists within the Body, and leave the choice to the pregnant woman.

Ironically, today, the abortion rate in America is as low as it was prior to Roe vs. Wade, and it continues to decline. 90% of all abortions take place in the first trimester of a woman’s pregnancy; and in spite of the recent action in Ireland to legalize abortion, younger generations around the world appear to understand that abortion it is not a means of birth control. People DO value life, and are fully aware of the serious nature of the decision to terminate a pregnancy.

These are all positive signs, and all are taking place without reversing any action taken by the Supreme Court. People in our country are given the freedom to make their own decision about life; and because we are so divided on the issue, those against abortion are not forced to have one, and those who for some reason make the decision to end their pregnancy have the freedom to do so.

I’ve been thinking about abortion a lot these days, because for countless ‘evangelical’ Christians, changing America’s abortion laws is their primary political objective. Their on-going support for our current president, as well as his administration, comes down to this one objective; and everything else is secondary. Other issues may weigh on their minds, and many of these Christians are quick to adopt the agenda of the political party that Donald Trump represents; however the 2016 election was, in the end, all about the lesser of two evils. And the lesser of those evils was determined by which candidate would alter the Supreme Court in a way that might overturn Roe v Wade.

But here’s the thing, abortion is simply too ‘grey’ for such a choice. And when considered alongside everything else that has been sacrificed, the choice to elect Donald Trump for ‘Christian’ reasons can only be justified by a bastardized reading of the Gospel and by the idolization of so called ‘pro-life’ politics.

As has been pointed out for years, far too many Christian ‘pro-lifers’ are . . . not! They are anti- abortion, but they are not pro-life. And their commitment to only protect and care for life ‘in the womb,’ denies the most bascic Biblical teachings about human life and our call to care for the most vulnerable among us. Forcing women to bear children against their will, and then punishing those women and children by not making sure they are provided for is hypocrisy at best. Leaving such families wanting is not ‘teaching’ them, nor is it ‘motivating’ them, to take responsibility for their decisions. It’s punishing them, nothing less. And it in no way reflects an attitude that even comes close to the ‘valuing’ of human life.

Further, maintaining the provincial and unnatural position that abstinence is the best form of birth control, also denies any theologically or psychologically sound understanding of sexuality. And denying or restricting access to contraceptives, or to resist sex education is schools for whatever reason – from ‘that’s a parent’s job’ to ‘it will encourage pre-marital sexual activity’ – only exacerbates the problem by perpetuating a puritanical and grossly misguided understanding of one of the most meaningful forms of physical expression.

I am willing to recognize and that Republicans, Independents, and even some Democrats had valid reasons for electing Donald Trump. But Christ-followers who did so solely because of their pro-life passions, have made an idol of their politics. And the Church of Jesus Christ must name such heresy, and resist it again, and again, and again.

Christian ‘Radicalization’

20 05 2018

BlogIt was an “Invisibilia” podcast from July 15, 2016 titled ‘Flip the Script.’  Transformative in many ways, the content was designed to lift up the importance of fighting hate with love, judgement with grace, and exclusion with acceptance. At one point, when considering the radicalization of young, Muslim men in Denmark, it was suggested that they are not being radicalized in Mosques, but in their social circles.  There, a vastly different message is being given.  Nothing is being ‘flipped”; and instead, the impressionable young are being taught to meet hate with hate, judgement with judgement, and exclusion with more exclusion!

Now the vast majority of Mosques, in Denmark and around much of the west, ARE teaching a faith that is full of love, grace, and acceptance – teachings that are not all that unlike the teachings of most historically ‘mainline’ Christian Churches.  But the social lives of the radicalized include vastly different teachings; and I would contend this is true not just of Muslims in Denmark, but of Christians in America.  Radicalized Muslims and Christians are NOT living out distorted and flawed expressions of their faith because of what they are hearing in their Mosques and Churches.  Rather, they are becoming radicalized because they are not listening to what is being taught in their Mosques and Churches.

Now to be clear, there are many churches in America teaching a Gospel that is not at all reflective of the life of Jesus.  And ‘radicalized’ Christians from those congregations are indeed frightening.  But by far, most churches in our nation are doing a fine job of teaching people to love God and neighbor; to care for widows and orphans; and to “seek justice, love mercy, and walk in  humility.”  Do we have our issues?  Of course we do.  But in most instances, I still believe the Church of Jesus Christ to be ‘the hope of the world.’

So what is the source of America’s ‘craziest’ Christians?  Are they coming from America’s craziest churches?

I think not.  And that is the primary problem with American Christianity.

Most American Christians today know little, if anything, about the life and ministry of Jesus.  They have been blindly led to believe that Christmas is about his birth to a virgin named Mary, in a stable, with angels singing in the heavens and shepherds nearby with their sheep.  And they have been naively told that Easter is about his body being raised from the dead, evidenced by his friends finding an empty tomb three days after his crucifixion.  But that is the extent of their knowledge of Jesus.  And most know even less about the Bible.  They spend little, if any time, studying faith or spirituality.  And while perhaps ‘members’ of a local congregation, they rarely darken the doors of those churches, and thus they fail to ever really connect with a faith community that might help them to grow and expand their knowledge of God.

Most American Christians are pretty clueless about our faith.  And it pains me to say that.  But after 32 years of ordained ministry in the PC(USA), by far, the majority of the members of the Churches in which I have served – not all, but a majority! – spend more Sundays out of worship than in worship, and they never attend a Sunday School class or Small Group to help in their spiritual formation.  Membership in a local faith community is treated like membership in some kind of social club – where they have a chance to visit with friends, sing some of their favorite songs, and enjoy a cookie and a cup of coffee . . . that often is not even very good.

So is it any wonder that American Christians are so misguided when it comes to matters of faith, and the way of Jesus?  We’re no different than the radicalized Muslims in Denmark.  And while we may not be blowing up buildings, or driving our cars onto crowded sidewalks; too many condone the evils of colorism, sexism, and lying.  And too many continue to support a president, an administration, and a devolving political party that violate the most basic of Christian values, and deny the way of the Christ.

“Radicalized” American Christians, which apparently are most American Christians, need to get themselves into a church; because in the shadows of America’s so-called Christian sub-culture, they are learning little, if anything, about the One they claim to be following.