Responding to A Good Friend Backsliding into Abolitionism
First of all, I consider My friend to be a good friend. I consider My friend to be a solid brother in Christ. And I hope after this article, that My friend will still feel the same about me as I do about him. But, make no mistake about it, My friend is in need at the moment and I hope I can say something that might be useful. I will say this before I launch into the post: it is my imagination or is there a growing number of men who can’t seem to walk from here to there without embracing over painfully flawed logic, shameful cultural practices, and utterly bankrupt exegesis. And yes, I think my friend is guilty of all three of these errors. So here goes nothing.
Recently My friend announced that he had changed his mind, yet again, on the issue of abolish human abortion. I am beginning to lose count of how often My friend has vacillated regarding this group. He puts up the posts the AHA symbol and along with it, their “mission verse” for lack of a better term. That mission verse is a verse lifted out of context from Isaiah 1:16–17. The verse reads, Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause. There is no sense whatsoever in which this verse actually speaks to the matter of Christians opposing abortion in 2016. None! Isaiah prophesied during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah. He witnessed the fall of the northern Kingdom into the hands of the Assyrians and the siege of Jerusalem by Sennacherib.
It is not entirely clear to whom the AHA folks are directing their rebuke. America is not ancient theocratic Israel. But I fear that AHA sees this verse as just as applicable to the Church as it does to America. Why would I say that? I say that because I have had My friend and the AHA leaders on more than one occasion claim that the Church that does not engage in this intense effort to make abortion illegal is not really loving her neighbors and doing justice as she ought. It is only good hermeneutics and sound exegesis to place Isaiah’s words within their ANE context and to interpret them in that setting. ANE religions were primarily concerned with sacrifice, ritual, ritual purity, prayer, and offerings, etc. This mindset had surely influenced Israel. In contradistinction to pagan ANE religious practice, Yahweh had issued a remarkably unique set of ethical principles around which the Israelite religion. The Hebrews are told that the ways in which they treat their parents, their neighbors, their children, and the strangers among them are matters of intense religious concern. [John Oswalt. The Bible Among the Myths.]
For starters, if one if going to defend AHA, as My friend’s article surely does, then it should begin with a defense of how they employ Scripture to make the case for their existence. My friend does not begin with Scripture in justifying his return to his old position. What My friend does is begin with what I think is dishonest rhetoric. My friend says that “AHA” is not a group. But AHA has chapters, leaders, facebook pages, etc. And My friend admits this. What is AHA? My friend says it is a platform to spread the abolitionist ideology. So, I wonder if that means that the SBC is just a platform to spread the gospel. There is even an “International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies.” To be sure, AHA is clearly a group, an organization, a movement of people who share a very narrow philosophy where abortion is concerned. My friend knows this to be absolutely the case. Whitewashing and dishonest rhetoric will not change the fact that AHA is exactly what My friend claims it is not. And I have a serious problem with the ethics being employed in his attempt to make his return to this movement and its philosophy more palatable.
The second step My friend employs is to defend the notion of shared ideologies. He makes the point that ideologies are not inherently bad. I agree. So what is My friend getting at? What is his real goal in writing this article? Here is the next significant point My friend makes:
It’s all quite simple, really. I want legalized child killing to be outlawed. I want you to want it outlawed. I want us all to realize it will take more to outlaw abortion than checking the Prolife box, writing checks to crisis pregnancy centers, casting a vote, or tending to abortion mill sidewalks. I want us all to realize it won’t be outlawed while so many Christians are fighting against each other. I want us to realize that until we – who know mercy best, who know justice best, who know righteousness best, who know love best, namely Christians – unite to seek abortion’s immediate abolition, it won’t be abolished. I want us to realize that seeking the abolition of abortion is not putting justice before the Gospel, but it is an expression of love from a heart changed by the Gospel.
My friend and I agree, as do all genuine believers who have been in Christ long enough to understand the evil of abortion, that abortion is murder and should not be permitted. It is My friend’s next point that takes one off course. My friend not only argues that Christians have to oppose abortion, but he shifts gears and tells us that we must oppose it his way. And this is the problem with AHA at its core. It is a legalistic ideology regarding how Christians ought to oppose abortion and for that reason, it violates the clear teachings of Scripture. And since the ideology of AHA violates the clear teachings of Scripture, it is an inherently bad ideology, top to bottom. When you write a check to ministries involved in helping women who find themselves in this very difficult situation, you are absolutely showing mercy and justice. You are being obedient to the ethical commands of Scripture in this areas. To say it isn’t enough is not for My friend to say. It is not only theological misguided, it is unkind and it is arrogant. John told his community that to support the missionaries was to actually participate in their missionary work with them: Therefore, we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 8) My friend, along with the rest of the AHA movement is terribly misguided in their understanding of what it means for a Christian to show mercy in the particular circumstances of women and unwanted or difficult pregnancies. The specific actions of Israel in the days of Isaiah, some 1700+ years ago would have been remarkably different for those of us today, especially the Church, operating under a radically new covenant and living in a radically different set of circumstances. Failure to take this into consideration is a complete abandonment of sound exegetical principles. For Israel to repent, they would need to begin to enforce, and stop ignoring the enforcement of their civil codes as just one small example. There was much more that they needed to remedy but this is an example of something Israel would need to do to show repentance that we obviously do not. My friend ignores this fact completely. He has no excuse at this point. He has been exposed to more than enough exegetical reasoning to understand how AHA fails to properly represent Christ in the public square.
My friend implies that Christians are not united against abortion. He says that Christians should not fight against each other but should unite in the goal to make abortion illegal. He says that unless we do this, abortion will not be abolished. This is My friend’s clarion call, an emotional appeal to rally people to the cause. But the call is empty of healthy theology. You see, as a Christian you are not responsible for putting an end to abortion in America. You are not called to engage in activities designed to change unjust laws in whatever culture you are in. The Russian Christian lives in a culture where I am sure there are laws that are inconsistent with justice and mercy, as does every Christian on the planet. That does not mean that you are not showing justice and mercy to people. You see, what My friend and AHA refuses to admit is that Christians are called to show justice and mercy personally toward those who need it. We do that through individual encounters in our life. We do not do it by shaping the laws of secular governments. My friend says Christians ought not to fight with one another which is just his backhanded way of saying shut up and agree with me or I will label you as one who wants to fight with other Christians, unloving, and divisive.
My friend then tells us that seeking the abolition of abortion is an “expression of love from a heart changed by the gospel.” Now, keep in mind that My friend is the one who has decided to once again identify with AHA and to speak to these issues through that grid. So, when we see this kind of language, it is not entirely wrong to interpret My friend’s remarks as being something along the lines of “unless you are seeking the abolition of abortion, you are not expressing the kind of love that indicates your heart has truly been impacted by the gospel.” That is the conclusion we must reach if we read My friend in context. In response to this I want to say that My friend’s idea and AHA’s idea of abolishing abortion and the way in which they go about is not “an expression of love from a heart changed by the gospel.” There are groups who oppose abortion and who also have the very same objective that My friend and AHA have whose hearts have not been changed by the gospel. Second, one does not have to adopt abolitionist ideology in order to oppose abortion or to show justice and mercy. Therefore, if it is true that My friend’s reclaimed ideology on abolition is shared in common with unregenerate people, and if it is true that it is not mandated by sound exegesis of Scripture, then it is absolutely not the case that the expression itself is a necessary consequence of a heart changed by the gospel. Please keep in mind that we are talking about something very specific: The Christian ethic requires that Christians seek to make the practice of abortion illegal within their respective culture. That statement is false. And it is that statement that I am subjecting to criticism in this post.
My friend continues his argument, but he does so with great care. He wants to have his abolitionist cake and eat it to:
Opposing injustices of any kind is merely a fruit of regeneration, and the level to which a Christian opposes injustice is proportionate to their maturity in applying the biblical principles of justice to the injustices around them (and no, I’m not questioning anyone’s salvation in case someone is tempted to twist my words in their blog or podcast). Opposing injustice isn’t the main thing, it’s just a significant thing that characterizes the Christian in one degree or another. In sum, then, Christians love justice and hate injustice of all kinds.
Abolitionism, therefore, is the application of opposing injustices out of mercy for the love of God and neighbor. Abolitionists, therefore, are those who desire to consistently apply that principle.
Note that My friend attempts to avoid the criticism that he is questioning other’s salvation unless they lock arms with his cause in opposing abortion in just the way he prescribes. My friend is almost prophetic in his reference to a blog that may twist his words. But this is only a preemptive strike because he knows I am out here in the jungle of blogs, watching. In other words, it is another device employed by My friend to shield himself from criticism. And he knows this is a hot-button issue for me. And he knows me. He knows that there is a good chance that I will respond by way of a blog. And since he will not allow me to refute his post in his comm-box, I am left to doing so on the blog. Now, let’s turn our attention back to My friend’s comments and notice that opposing injustice is a term that My friend continues to employ even though the text in Isaiah commands us to show justice, not oppose injustice, and to correct the oppressor. “This justice was not merely civil righteousness, but right judgment in every sphere of life.” Young points out that this term has a connection with the covenant, so that the practice of seeking judgment is actually the fulfilling of all the duties and responsibilities which a holy God has placed upon His covenant people. If My friend and AHA want to invoke this principle for abortion, they are going to have to invoke it everywhere else as well. And when we wake up after doing that, what we have is nothing less than the theology known as Theonomy. The Jews had abandoned the faithful execution of God’s covenant. They were in violation of the covenant top to bottom and Isaiah had been sent to warn and to rebuke the nation for their reckless disregard for God’s law and their blatant idolatry. But My friend pushes the envelope once more as he ties abolition to the Christian principle of loving justice and mercy. It is not that. There is no necessary connection between abolition and Christian mercy. There is only a necessary connection between opposition to abortion and Christian ethics. Remember, abolition requires that you focus be legislative in nature; the changing of the law to make abortion illegal. Christian mercy nor Christian ethics requires no such thing. I am under no moral obligation to change the laws in my culture or to engage in actions focused on changing those laws. God does not regenerate nations. He has not covenanted with a literal nation. He has covenanted with a chosen race, a holy nation, a royal priesthood. Finally, My friend claims that AHA is the group that consistently applies the principle of loving God and their neighbor. Such a statement smacks of the worse kind of arrogance. It is patently false. This is not to say that AHA does not have some good people involved in its cause. I am sure they do. But that is not the question being discussed. This has nothing to do with whether or not people on different sides of this issue are genuinely saved or not. It is a simple and narrow question: is abolition the necessary outworking of Christian principles or dogma? I answer in the negative. It is not. The fact is that I can say that Christians hate abortion. I can say that Christians think abortion should be illegal. I can say that the Christian ethic condemns abortion on every level as murder. I can say all that and I have said what Scripture says about abortion. I can donate to the local women’s clinic that works with women in these situations from a Christian perspective. And in so doing, I am doing what God has required me to do. If I see a woman in this situation and she is in need of help, my love for God and neighbor would compel me to help her to the best of my ability. In so doing, I have shown love, mercy, and justice to her. That meets the test or criteria of showing mercy and loving justice that people like My friend talk about but so very often confuse, taking it to levels of legalism that is unfortunate, regrettable, and that cannot be tolerated in the Church.
My friend closes his blog by restating that he is not a member of AHA because it isn’t a group. But we now know what My friend is doing with this kind of rhetoric. My friend thinks of AHA as just a platform for spreading the abolitionist ideology. It is as if My friend thinks he can separate the negatives associated with AHA, adopt their ideology, distance himself from AHA, and all is well. This is a very unattractive, ineffective, and I think, disingenuous tactic. The whole problem with AHA is its ideology. You see, its ideology, when embraced consistently informs its tactics. It practices are driven by its ideology. My friend seems to think otherwise. My friend then pulls out the “were all sinners” card that is overplayed these days to excuse Christians of poor behavior. It downplays the seriousness of sin and lowers the level of accountability and creates an imbalance between grace and holiness that has survived for far too long in the Church these days.
What is behind this renewed interest in abolition? I think as we examine the landscape in American politics that we might find a clue. I think it is likely that with a Trump win, the abolitionists are encouraged. I believe they think they have a real chance of making abortion illegal in America. I think My friend may think this way as well.
The basic presupposition that props up abolitionist ideology is the product of a deeply flawed logic, a profound lack of depth in the exegetical process, a poor hermeneutic, and a penchant for a certain brand of legalistic fundamentalism. There is no basis in Scripture to extrapolate from the Christian principles of justice and mercy, the mandate to focus on shaping civil codes and political cultures. Each Christian is to exhibit these traits on a personal level, with their respective neighbors, where they live, in their religious and secular communities, and in so-doing, bring glory to God by their virtuous living, to proclaim the gospel, making disciples, and baptizing converts until Christ returns. That is the expression of love from a heart regenerated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Let no man add anything to that expression directly or by way of inference and in so doing, risk the danger of the unspeakable judgment of God.