Apparently there’s a pretty lively debate among Christians regarding the appropriate approach to criminalizing abortion. One side will accept nothing less than complete prohibition, while the other side thinks it more realistic to attempt an incremental approach, gradually working through the legal system to put smaller prohibitions in place until a full ban is achieved. Diehard members of the first group portray members of the second as spineless compromisers, and members of the second group believe members of the first to be completely out of touch with reality.
[Some of my remarks below come from comments I made on this topic on another blog that dealt with this debate.]
While this debate rages in certain corners of Christendom, abortion as a concept becomes more accepted in society due to its association with women’s health, privacy, and civil rights.
I find this debate to be detrimental to both Christians and non-Christians. I’ll get to the reason why, but first, let’s take an off-topic detour to look at the unhealthy worldview that has brought this debate to life.
Christians around the world, but particularly in the United States, are obsessed with the law in one form or another—be it vestiges of the old testament law, the “law of God” (wherever they draw that line), or the legal code of the United States. This obsession stems from a misunderstanding of God’s view of mankind. They see God as a punisher who must be appeased with constant pleas for forgiveness and a rigid system of personal and institutional discipline to keep His anger from flaring up. Human-driven systems facilitate this endeavor, which is where we get religion. Politics is a society-wide extension of this mentality, which gives us a human-driven effort to impose order on society. For the last 1800 years, the vast majority of religious Christians have tried to use politics to enforce morality and impose on society an environment that is favorable to the Christian worldview, with devastating consequences.
In my experience, many Christians immediately bristle at statements like the one above and begin asking questions, heavily laden with negative implications, such as, “So I guess you prefer a society which is not favorable to the Christian worldview?!?” Please read carefully and note that the key words in the above statement are enforce and impose. Using the threat of force to make someone accept your worldview may result in the apparent popular acceptance of your worldview. However, this apparent victory will be short-lived, as many people will fraudulently assent to the worldview, and those that do accept the worldview will not have any foundation for that worldview other than peer pressure.
Let’s bring the conversation back to the anti-abortion legal strategy debate. Because pursuing political solutions to spiritual problems is always a failing endeavor, with any gains temporary and superficial, I would suggest that Christians consider a new approach. That is, focusing efforts on building the kingdom of God and laying a spiritual foundation that will produce genuine societal change.
This article is not intended to mandate the level to which Christians should or should not participate in government. I’m not trying to dissuade anyone from voting nor from writing their elected representatives. What I am trying to do is encourage Christians to give up their reliance on the political process as the primary driver of societal change. Our society does seem to be in a state of moral decline, but legislation is not the solution. Why? Because law is irrelevant in the kingdom of God. Because of our entrenched political and religious worldviews, this is difficult for many to accept. How dare one suggest that we not establish a written code with harsh penalties for reprehensible acts? I suggest this because cruelty to others is antithetical to the tenets of God’s kingdom. When one sees others as God sees them, there is no desire to harm them.
Make no mistake, human nature left to its own devices will always tend towards societal breakdown. The unfortunate reality is that many people are committed to evil. For some of these people, the only thing restraining their actions is the fear that something bad will happen to them. Yet regardless of the form of government under which people fall, law is merely a social contract that is ultiamately kept in effect by the consent of the governed. The rule of law does not result in a society that is more virtuous than one that is ungoverned. Which is why I recommend allowing God’s spirit to work through us for the good of society rather than taking an adversarial view and pursuing political solutions to spiritual problems.
Again, following this course of action requires one to set aside political and religious ambitions. Because many Christians refuse to do this, let me illustrate the issue with a less controversial crime: rape. Rape is almost universally viewed as immoral, with most theists and atheists in concurrence. Rape is rightly considered to be one of the worst crimes one can commit.
The modern Christian perspective is “Why, even in God’s kingdom, would you not have a law against rape?” My response is “What the hell is wrong with us that we need to have a law against rape?” Do we really need it written down in an official archived government document that is signed by the governor before we acknowledge the gross inhumanity of the act? Is it really only the possibility of receiving 25 years to life in prison that makes us condemn the act? Our prisons hold examples of many rapists who heeded neither their conscience nor the law. Far from disproving my point, this fact actually supports it. The law has proven to be completely ineffective at internalizing moral values or developing virtue in human hearts.
Yet, Christians spend time, energy, and resources (or maybe just spend time complaining to the Internet) strategizing how we can possibly get anti-abortion legislation through a Republican legislative majority in a state that has both a Republican governor and a favorable judiciary, at which time, Christians across the country could hold marches demanding that we replicate the legislation at the federal level and thus end abortion in America. They manage to accomplish nothing but establish an adversarial relationship with the half of the country that views killing babies as being pretty ok.
Let’s play make believe for just a moment and imagine that a national ban on abortion were passed and upheld by the supreme court. I know, it’s pretty farfetched. Yet if that were the case, Christians would cheer and thank God for His miraculous intervention and congratulate each other on once again, making America a Christian nation. And many of the 50%-ish (my somewhat less than scientific rough estimate) of people in this country who applaud abortion would still find a way to abort pregnancies, and it’s likely that some would carry babies to full-term only because abortion was illegal. So the religious establishment would have won a political victory but lost the souls of their opponents.
Because attempting to do God’s work through the institutions of men will always result in failure, political change (legislation) is irrelevant to our efforts. The kingdom of God transcends human regulation. The good news of the kingdom may eventually influence our culture to the point where legislation prohibits abortion. Or it may not. In either case, our efforts would be better spent building the kingdom than engaging in legal battles that will only generate hostility. Jesus has called us out of the artificial kingdoms of this world and into the authentic kingdom of God. Yes, that requires that we give up our quest for political power. But the victories won will be authentic and permanent rather than superficial and transient.
The kingdom of God does not need to criminalize abortion because the taking of human life is antithetical to its tenets. Again, if our ultimate goal is the legislated prohibition of abortion, then any victories will come at the expense of the deeper kingdom. If our ultimate goal is to build the deeper kingdom, then any victories will negate the need for legislation.
Only when we give up our quest for power, be it political or religious, will God work through us to change the hearts of people who don’t know Him. The kingdoms of this world will always attempt to utilize law and the threat of force to achieve order in society. As followers of Jesus, we ought to avoid relying on human government, legal systems, and coercion to bring about societal order. Rather we should focus on building the deeper, spiritual kingdom of God in which love for God and neighbor is the highest aim. Anything less is a human-driven effort which will ultimately result in failure.