How Should Christians Live Out the Gospel in a Post Roe v. Wade World?

What does God do with babies who die in the womb?

Davide French has expressed some of my own angst at the news that the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a recent article, Roe Is Reversed, and the Right Isn’t Ready. Like him, I have championed the pro-life cause. My wife and I marched in Washington. We protested at an abortion clinic. We supported a crisis pregnancy center. I have largely been silent, however, for the past 30 some years.

In 1988, the year I entered law school with two children, financial difficulty, and a very uncertain future, my wife became pregnant. It was the most difficult year of our lives. She was severely sick, living in a strange place 1000 miles from her family under extreme pressure.

When the doctor told her the baby tested positive for spina bifida, and she should consider an abortion, she changed doctors. I supported her fully. We were committed to life.

My son who was born in 1989 is 33 years old now. He bears the scar tissue at the base of his spine where his spinal cord once looped outside his spinal column. He was born that way – with the scar tissue, healed over, fully formed and perfectly healthy.

He became a champion wrestler, All-State, many times All-American, many times national finalist, multi-time national champion. My wife might not have been born if abortion was legal in 1961, and my son would not have been born if we we listened to our doctor.

We were very fortunate, and we are very grateful, and I realize the story could very well have been different. Many people are not as fortunate.

There is a constitutional issue with abortion, a moral issue, and then there is the issue of how the body of Christ demonstrates God’s love in this broken world. I have some thoughts on each of these issues, and I feel compelled to weigh into these turbid waters despite my hesitation.

The constitutional issue has been settled… for now. As an attorney and having studied the Roe v. Wade decision in law school, I can say with some degree of confidence that it had thin precedential support. It’s foundations were shadowy and wispy as a matter of constitutional jurisprudence, relying on a medical understanding of the day, and not legal principles, to shore up a lack of solid, legal precedent.

In the David French article he quotes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg who seems to admit the same point. She once “declared Roe ‘breathtaking’ and warned that ‘Doctrinal limbs too swiftly shaped, experience teaches, may prove unstable.’” Her prescience was accurate. It stood for one year shy of 50, but those doctrinal limbs have given away under their own weight.

“The Court’s job is not to determine which rights we should possess but rather which rights we do possess,” says French. (Emphasis in the original) So, it should be. So, the Constitution is written. So, the jurisprudence informs us.

Lawmaking is the province of Congress, not the judicial branch. Ironically, though, the instability of that decision haunts not just the left today. Framed on the back of a politically motivated opinion for which little precedent existed for support, that one decision has greatly politicized the Supreme Court to our jeopardy.

That most people perceive the opinion that struck down Roe v. Wade as a political accomplishment is proof, and that should not be comforting news. A Supreme that can be lobbied and jockeyed and filibustered to do the majority’s bidding is a threat to freedom and sound government.

And, of course, the recent decision was just as political as the decision it overturned – maybe more so. The Court that decided such a progressive decision as Roe v. Wade was largely appointed by conservative presidents. Richard Nixon appointed Justice Blackmun, who write the majority opinion.

There was a day when Presidents made an attempt to appoint the most impressive legal minds to the high court. Confirmation hearings focused on their credentials and legal acumen. The justice appointees and the senators who vetted them knew well and respected the value of impartiality that is essential to true justice. In an odd way, Roe v. Wade, penned by a conservative appointee is proof.

For the last 40 or more years, however, most confirmation hearings on appointments to the high court have been political circuses. No question is off limits, including the direct question of how a justice will decide an issue that comes before him or her. It no longer matters that the Rules of Professional Responsibility that govern all judges forbids that very thing.

Pro-life champions are notching the recent decision as a win, but the battle rages on. This decision pushes the battle to the legislatures of the 50 states.

More fundamentally, though, pro-lifers may have won this battle, but the Republic may be losing the war. The more our Supreme operates by political fiat, the less stable we become.

As for morality, it seems that many people assume the pro-life position is a religious view. While many religious people are pro-life, many religious people are pro-choice also. I have seen many of my religious friends categorically criticize the decision in the last few days.

At the same time, the pro-life crowd includes non-religious people, including atheists, like Kelsey Hazzard, who says, “The abortion industry would have you believe that people like me do not exist.” Reducing the abortion issue to a religious category is scapegoating and insulting to people who claim not to be religious.

No other modern issue offers less common ground for compromise. A fetus is either human life with intrinsic value, or it isn’t. A women’s body is either an inviolable vessel subject to her self control, or it isn’t. A fetus in a woman’s womb is part of her body, or it’s an unborn baby with separate and distinct personage, value, and legal status.

I find the arguments for life to be compelling, but the arguments for choice are compelling also. The stories are real. The fact that women, alone, bear the burden of the consensual (or non consensual) act of sex is reality.

A man can and often does escape all responsibility, but a woman has nowhere to hide. The fact that man are not compelled by the state to bear their responsibility is criminal.

Yes, many states have laws on the books that allow a woman to prove paternity and make the man pay support, but that’s on her dime! Some local prosecutors will take those cases, but those positions are too few, too overworked, and have insufficient resources to take on all cases.

I have slowly come around to an uncomfortable angst on the morality of abortion.

Thirty four years ago, our conviction about what we should do when faced with the probability that we might have a physically deformed child was unwavering. We chose to protect the life God gave us. I still think abortion is morally wrong.

It doesn’t matter whether that life might be deformed or have down syndrome. It doesn’t matter what the economic, social, and other circumstances are. I am not saying there are no exceptions, but most exceptions do not justify taking a life.

This is the black and white, analytical position I believe in, but I know the challenge is not in the black and white, but in the grey. The exceptions to the rules are always where the difficulty lies. Life is complex, and complexity is nuanced.

I am not going to say much more about the morality. I know where I stand, but I know good people who share my faith – people I have prayed with – who do not share my position.

About 18 months go my view of things shifted through the unlikely coincidence of my annual Bible reading and a serendipitous sermon on Sanctity of life Sunday. (See Thoughts on the Sanctity of Human Life….” I hope you will take the time to read it, because it informs my questions to the body of Christ.

Does God hear the cries of unborn babies? Does God hear the cries of women who have been abused and misused? The answer is certainly, “Yes”.

There are people on both “sides” of the abortion story. I believe Scripture warns us about our focusing on the “sides” and urges us to consider the greater purposes of God. Do you remember what the angel of the Lord told Joshua, when Joshua asked which side he was on? Go ahead and check it out.

Do you think God rejects innocent babies who have not yet taken a breath? How you answer that question may well reveal how you perceive God.

How you answer that question likely influences how you respond to this issue. Read Exodus 2 and Exodus 3. Whose cries does God hear, and what cries prompt Him to respond?

I hope you don’t gloss over these questions. I hope you wrestle with the implications. Who is it that God is concerned about? And why?

Go back to the question about how God handles the death of an unborn baby who has yet to take a breath. Does He receive them? Or does He reject them?

I urge you not to gloss over these questions.

How we answer them informs how the Church should orientate itself on the issue of abortion. Our answers suggest the priority of our focus and how we should live out the Gospel on this issue.

How we do that individually is a matter of the gifting God has giving each of us, the burden He has put on our hearts, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. We will only make our way forward as the salt and light God intend us to be with much prayer and humility and trepidation.

The New Religious Tribalism in Modern America According to Tara Isabella Burton

The new spiritual movements in the US are “religions of the Internet”

I recently read a review by Chris Smart on the Solas blog of the book, Strange Rites, by Tara Isabella Burton, published by Public Affairs, New York 2020. My thoughts come third hand, but I found enough meat to chew on (hopefully) in the review to warrant some attention.

The author of the book is an American, though she establishes some objective distance through her Oxford education in the UK. Only about five percent (5%) of people in the UK attend church on Sundays, and the trend in the US is moving in that same direction.

Into the vacuum that is growing with nones in the US are rushing other objects of our religious impulses. This seems to be the focus of the book, analyzing the places religious impulses are taking modern Americans as they drift away from Christianity.

If Protestantism that has dominated the religious landscape in the US in the past is a religion of the printed book, the new spiritual movements in the US are “religions of the Internet”. That remark certainly doesn’t surprise me, though I had not thought of it that way.

The Internet is larger than life in our world. It has replaced encyclopedias and asking our parents (or even your doctors) for information. It eats up our spare time more completely than the television did in my youth and the radio did in my father’s youth.

The Internet is everywhere. It never leaves our sides. We turn to it feverishly at all hours of the day and night. We can’t wait to communicate with it, and we constantly check it for validation through its communication with us.

Chris Smart, summarizing Burton’s observations, describes our preoccupation with the Internet as a search for transcendence in which people are “looking to create meaning, purpose and community through new rituals”. Those “modern rituals” are exploited and perpetuated by big business.

Some of the largest big businesses are the purveyors of community and connectivity on the Internet. They help to lead people with the breadcrumbs of their own preferences to tribes that are personally tailored for them. Our new temples are the echo chambers of our own inclinations and the tribes to which they tend to lead.

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Pulling at the Threads of the Christian Paradigm that Uniquely Influenced the Western World

Down at the bedrock of modern, western values remains a Christian foundation.

Galleries under the central arena of the Colosseum in Rome, Italy

I read Tom Holland’s new book, Dominion, about a year ago, and I have written about it a few times. Many Christians would not think to read a history about Western Civilization by a self-described secular humanist (once atheist, perhaps now agnostic) historian.

Most non-Christians are likely to be uncomfortable with the chronicle Holland describes of the radically influential role that Christianity played in the development of Western Civilization, providing the foundation, in fact, for secular humanist ideals. When Holland dug down to the bedrock of modern, western values, he was surprised himself to find them anchored on a Christian foundation.

Holland did not set out to write a Christian apologetic, and he seems to remain somewhat uncertain how to process what he “discovered”. What he found, though, changed his mind about Christianity. He gives a brief explanation in the following clip:

Though Holland has had a turnabout on his view of Christianity, he finds himself caught in an odd position wrought by the unexpected discovery that his lifelong, secular humanist values flow from the radical catalyst of Christian influence and remain embedded ubiquitously in its very fabric. The awkwardness of his current position is evident in his interviews and discussions about the book.

Christians and secular thinkers, alike, wrestle with his book. Holland doesn’t hide any warts, and he doesn’t pull any punches. Neither does he obfuscate the thoroughly paradigmatic shift in Western thinking that Christianity worked into a society that once proudly and unashamedly championed strength and privilege over the poor, the weak, and the lowly.

Holland exposes the metanarrative developed during the Enlightenment and thereafter that belies the foundation on which the Enlightenment structure was built. Far from advancing the progression of human values, the Enlightenment threatened to undo the distinctly Christian concern for the poor, weak, and lowly while attempting to wrest western civilization from the hold of the Divine. Humanism saved the Christian ethic, albeit divorced from Christ.

Consider the full title of Darwin’s great tome which staked out the ground of a scientific (and social) revolution free from God’s interference:

“The Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”

The title of Darwin’s book championing the evolutionary paradigm, harkens back to the Greco-Roman value system that despised the poor, the weak and the lowly. That value system did not just turn a callous eye at wanton and discriminate cruelty, it cheered on the strong while they snuffed out the weak. It was national sport!

The very reason the full title never “stuck” (I now believe) is due to a fundamental, pervasive, and thoroughly entrenched counter-value of the intrinsic worth of human life that is uniquely Christian in its source.

The intrinsic value of all human life, from the greatest to the least, from the wisest and strongest to the weakest and most imbecilic, from the fittest to the most infirm, is traceable to the Christian belief that all human beings are made in the image of God. That the survival of the fittest did not take hold as a western social or ethical value is attributable to the deeply ingrained Christian ethic that survived yet, despite the efforts to eradicate its God from modern equations.

Modern humanists may attempt to recast Darwin into a humanistic mold, but the idea of “social Darwinism” bears his name through no model of random, unguided selection. According to John G. West, Charles Darwin, himself, set in motion the inertia for eugenics, among other things, that were associated with social Darwinism:

Darwin himself in The Descent of Man provided the rationale for what became the eugenics movement, and how the vast majority of evolutionary biologists early in the twentieth century were right to see negative eugenics as a logical application of Darwin’s theory.

While the defense of Darwin against the charge of social Darwinism has largely succeeded in popular and polite company, the very title of the Origin of Species (by means of Natural Selection or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life) belies the success of that effort. The fact that the full title is merely a parenthetical today is evidence only of a concerted rescue campaign.

Christian values survived despite the Enlightenment coupe, not because of it. Humanism today assumes the evolutionary paradigm for its science alongside the uniquely Christian paradigm of intrinsic human value. That the two assumptions do not fit well together seems to be lost on modern minds.

Continue reading “Pulling at the Threads of the Christian Paradigm that Uniquely Influenced the Western World”

The Perfect Imperfection of the Mosaic Law, and the New Covenant

The Mosaic Law is not a universal moral code applicable to all people at all times.

If you read through the Torah, you will find verses that seem morally repugnant to our modern sensibilities. For instance, the death penalty is applied for what seem to us like minor offenses. Israelites were allowed to keep slaves. The Mosaic Law is also clearly paternalistic, subjecting women to second class citizenship.

This is just a start. Skeptics like to point these things out as they criticize the Bible. They claim that Scripture is full of immoral ideas. Christians try to find explanations that soften the criticism, claiming that we need to understand the cultural context and what was actually meant. Skeptics claim Christians twist the plain meaning of the text to avoid obvious conclusions.

Could it be that both skeptics and defenders of the biblical text are right? That is the position that is taken in the video by Inspiring Philosophy: The Imperfect Mosaic Law.

We have to admit by our modern standards the Torah contains some instructions that are morally distasteful. We could try to explain them away. We could take the view that our modern morality is wrong. We could take the view that the Bible is simply written by Ancient Near Eastern men, that there is no God, and that the Bible is unreliable as a moral code.

Most of the these options assume that the Mosaic Law is/was meant to be a perfect and universal statement of God’s moral code. Perhaps, though the Torah was never meant to be a perfect, universal moral law to be applied to all people in all times.

The video describes some subtle and some not-so-subtle clues that support this view in various places. One such clue is the way Jesus viewed and applied the Law.

In Matthew 19, for instance, the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus with a question on divorce. They referenced the Law of Moses, which allowed men to divorce and send their wives away and asked Jesus who would be a man’s wife in heaven if he divorced and remarried several times. Jesus responded, to their chagrin, that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives only because of the hardness of their hearts, adding, “but from the beginning it was not so”. (Matt. 19:8)

Jesus is saying, here, that God only allowed divorce in the Mosaic Law because the people were stiff-necked and stubborn (hard of heart). Perhaps, God allowed it because the people of Israel were not in a cultural, moral or psychological position to receive the full instruction of God at the time.

We don’t know for sure, but the interesting point is the way Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law as a kind of “compromise between God and Israel”. God apparently softened and calibrated the provisions of the Law to accommodate the cultural norms, attitudes and expectations of the people at the time.

The statement by Jesus suggests that the people were not open to what God intended from the beginning, so God revised the terms for them. Why would God do that?

I have often thought that the Bible demonstrates a kind of progression in the relationship between God and man, more or less. I don’t mean this in the sense of a formal doctrine. Whatever we call it, there seems to be a recognizable element in Scripture of a growing, unfolding revelation of God to people.

Scripture has an arc to it. From the creation of the world, to Adam and Eve, to Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, the first Temple, and second Temple and forward to Jesus and beyond, Scripture has a progression. There is a “sweep” to Scripture that is as important to recognize as any particular passages.

Thus, I believe the video is correct that the Mosaic Law is not meant as a legislative moral code to be applied to all people at all times. The Law was given to a particular people in a particular time, but it fits into the progression of revelation of God who is working with people to reveal Himself in ways that they can understand and in ways that are are able (or willing) to receive.

And this is key: God is doing these things while protecting the character of free agency He gave to people created in His image. His overarching purposes require that we be allowed to engage Him and participate in this progression on our own accord using the agency He gave us.

As I have often speculated, this is because God is love, and God desires a reciprocal, loving relationship with us. Love does not coerce. Love does not demand or impose itself uninvited. Love requires freedom both ways in the relationship.

Some of the passages that are most repulsive to us may be nothing more than the Ancient Near perspective of people through whom God was revealing Himself. These passages are colored by their limited understanding at the time and the limits of God’s revelation to them bounded by that understanding.

The descriptions of God’s wrath, jealousy and harsh dealings, are the descriptions of people who lived in a harsh world filled with arbitrary and capricious gods. God was distinguishing Himself to these people in the midst of the world as they knew it, and He could only take them so far in their understanding.


He also engages with these people in the context of covenant relationship. The relationship comes first. God engaged people in a two-way commitment, which is the context in which God is acting in the history of people who have, in turn, engaged Him.

One key to God’s character in this relationship is His faithfulness to the promises He makes. No matter how wicked, evil and determined the people are to walk in their own ways, God never abandons them. Though he warns them and even metes out judgment on them, as they understand it, God is always ready and quick to receive them back if/when they turn back to Him.

The way Jesus viewed the Mosaic Law is instructive and provides key information about the covenant relationship between God and man. We tend to read the Mosaic Law like a prescriptive code laying down universal rules for all time and all people, but that isn’t the way Jesus viewed it.

Continue reading “The Perfect Imperfection of the Mosaic Law, and the New Covenant”

How Can You Say your Religion is Right, And Everyone Else is Wrong?

“How can you say your religion is right and everyone else has it wrong?” This is a common challenge to Christianity and to all religions that claim to have exclusive truth.  All of the world religions make exclusive truth claims, and that fact is a common object of complaint.

A commitment to a set of exclusive religious principles is especially anathema in a post-modern world. It’s the cardinal sin of post-modernism. In such a world, it seems crude and out of step to believe, let alone admit that you believe, that some religious and philosophical assertions are true and others aren’t.

It’s much more acceptable to say that I can have “my belief”, and you can have “your belief”. We would quickly add, “What’s true for me doesn’t have to be true for you.” We believe with religious truth that people should be able to have their preferred spiritual cake and eat it too.

We do this with ethics also. People sometimes conflate religious or spiritual truth with ethics, but that’s another topic maybe for another time.

In the western, post-modern world, it’s ok for me to believe in chakras, or karma, or queer theory or a particular gender identity (even if my gender identity is unique to me), or aliens and whatever ethical construct goes with those things. It doesn’t need to be internally cohesive. It doesn’t really matter what a person believes, as long as she doesn’t claim it to be universal or exclusive. Claims of universality and exclusivity though, are not tolerated. 

Notice, however, that even this “tolerant” position can’t escape the charge of being an exclusive truth claim. The very claim that no one can make exclusive truth claims is an exclusive truth claim. The person who says exclusive truth claims are not valid is making that claim against all people who believe that exclusive truth claims are valid. 

I believe that people who are making the claim that religious people (especially) should not make excusive truth claims are doing so in response to the fanatical, self-righteous, judgmental and militant tendency of some people who make exclusive truth claims. Much tension in the world, cruelties perpetrated against other people and even wars are the result of exclusive religious truth claims. We can’t deny it. 

So what do we do? Following are some thoughts on the subject of truth claims, with some additional comments on the subject of tolerance and respect.

Continue reading “How Can You Say your Religion is Right, And Everyone Else is Wrong?”