For over 40 years, the pro-life movement has been almost exclusively focused on saving the lives of unborn babies. This is clearly a God-honoring, noble, and necessary goal. However, the number of abortions per year in the United States has remained at about 1 million annually and is not declining as rapidly as we would hope. A primary reason for this is that the pro-life movement has largely failed to address several key issues contributing to and affected by abortion.
Abortion does not exist in isolation. It is linked to issues around the breakdown of marriage, the absence of fathers from family life, and the breakdown of support for and trust in religious institutions. Accordingly, a new movement must form whose basis is not a pro-life perspective but a “pro abundant life” perspective, which Christ himself calls us to in John 10:10 – He came not only so that we could have life, but have abundant life in Him.
Indeed, a pro abundant life perspective on the “life issue” does not have to be developed; it is laid out perfectly in the Bible. In other words, this new “movement” doesn’t have to be invented; it simply has to be recovered. Indeed, both of the “pillars” that hold up this pro abundant life movement are found in the gospels, at the beginning of Christ’s story here on earth and in his last actions before ascending to heaven. Those pillars are the family and discipleship. Let me explain.
The first chapters of both Matthew and Luke, through the story of Christ’s birth, tell us everything we need to know about the “why” and the “what” of conducting effective pro abundant life ministry.
Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus is the most famous “unplanned pregnancy” in history; it was certainly unplanned from Mary’s perspective, who had hopes and dreams for her future that did not include a child at that time and in that way. But when she was visited by the angel Gabriel, despite her uncertainty about her future, she bravely chose life without hesitation when she said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38) Indeed, when ministering to women faced with unplanned pregnancies, we are essentially encouraging them to ascribe the character and virtue of Mary to their lives and situations.
But God did not stop there. He could have had Christ come into the world through a single mother, since scripture only says that Jesus was to be born of virgin; it would have fulfilled God’s purpose to have the Word become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14). But such an action would have violated God’s principles concerning the importance and centrality of marriage and the family to his design. Therefore, God sent the same angel to Joseph to tell him to be a husband to Mary and a father to the child growing inside of her, in that order! (Matthew 1: 20-21).
Remember, Joseph’s intention as a righteous man was to put Mary away quietly (Matthew 1: 19) so she could avoid the public humiliation of having a child out-of-wedlock. In other words, Joseph was “abortion minded.” Indeed, since Joseph could not put the baby away, he was determined to put the woman and the baby away, as a cultural abortion. But God’s actions reveal that His desire was for Joseph to be part of the story; for Jesus to have both a mother and a father, and for Mary to have a husband. The Creator of marriage and family understood that the best environment for raising a child was within the shelter of a loving marriage, even when the child was Jesus. And this was done, like everything in Jesus’ life, as an example for us all.
This story teaches us that we should not be against abortion – nor fight abortion – based solely on the premise that it is a violation of the sanctity of human life, but also because it is a violation of the sanctity of marriage and the family as God designed them - a mother and father united in marriage, loving each other, their child, and God. There is our “why” for pro abundant life ministry.
And the way God ministers to both Mary and Joseph to bring them to a life decision shows us the “what.” Our work in providing compassion, hope, and help to women and men considering abortion must address them as individuals and as a potential family that needs to be nurtured and lovingly guided towards the value of healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood.
Moreover, God’s intervention illustrates the transformative power that only relationship with Him can bring. Both Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed by the compassion that God gave them in a difficult situation, and their subsequent actions – choosing life, traveling to Bethlehem to give birth, fleeing to Egypt to avoid Herod, returning to Nazareth (Matthew 1:18 – 2:23) – were shaped by His immeasurable grace.
This reality illustrates the need for pro-life ministries to make the sharing of the gospel part and parcel of their work to end abortion. Evangelism can’t be an afterthought or an option, but instead, it must be recognized as the game-changer it is. Indeed, it is what differentiates a “transactional business” from a “transformational ministry.” What prevents gospel-sharing pregnancy centers from having a “Thank You. Come Again” sign on their doors is that their clients’ lives are being transformed by the gospel. Indeed, like Jesus with the woman at the well, our hope is to see her vulnerable and at risk just once. We want her to be transformed from one who needs to be served to one who is of service to others in need. This is the central difference between the work of pregnancy centers and abortion clinics. We are interested in transformation, not a series of retail-style transactions
However, evangelism is only the first step towards full transformation. Sharing about the value of marriage and the importance of fatherhood is only the first step towards building strong, God-honoring families. In both cases, the next step is discipleship, the second pillar of the pro abundant life movement.
While the story of Christ’s birth gets us started, the story of Christ’s final interaction with his disciples shows us how to round out our work. In Matthew 28: 16-20, Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all the nations” and to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
Today, the institution charged with making and teaching disciples is the Church. However, few churches are proactively engaged in pro-life ministry. Instead, para-church ministries have emerged – such as life-affirming pregnancy centers – to take ownership of this critical work. But is that really God’s design? Para-church ministries should be working alongside the church in its work to end abortion. Instead, churches come alongside para-church ministries to help them (usually financially and with volunteers) with their work to end abortion. The hierarchy needs to be reversed.
Places like pregnancy centers are designed to work with women and men during pregnancy and maybe for a short time after the delivery of the baby. But discipleship is a long-term process – a lifetime process – that can only be handled by the church and the community of Christians. A “crisis pregnancy” presents a wonderful opportunity to enter into a discipleship relationship with a couple. That is why Christian ministries focused on feeding the hungry, helping the poor, giving water to the thirsty, and giving aid to the grief-stricken and addicted are also focused on sharing the gospel; indeed, they assist with these temporal issues for an eternal purpose – sharing the gospel. But the church has made an exception for providing compassion to the pregnant, claiming that “abortion is a political issue” that shouldn’t be handled by the church, rather than a disciple-making and ministry issue that the church was designed to handle.
That is why Care Net has developed Making Life Disciples, the first and only curriculum designed to equip the church to provide compassion, hope, help, and discipleship to women and men considering abortion. It trains churches to walk women and men through tough pregnancy decisions, and also provides the “on-ramp” churches need to enter into discipleship relationships with those they serve. Until now, there has not been an effective and comprehensive resource to enable churches to use crisis pregnancies as an opportunity to enter into deeper ministry with their congregants. In fact, a national survey Care Net recently conducted found that a majority of women who had abortions did not view the church as a welcoming place for them while they were wrestling with their abortion decision.
But the good news is that there are over 400,000 churches in the country. While pregnancy centers are amazing ministries doing amazing work (Care Net’s 1,100+ affiliates alone have saved over 530,000 lives since 2008), there simply aren’t enough of them to reach every abortion-minded woman or man who needs help.
So, it is upon these two pillars – family and discipleship – that the pro abundant life movement is built. That is why Care Net’s vision, the foundation upon which these pillars stand, is that we create a culture where women and men faced with pregnancy decisions are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered to choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families. To take the building analogy further, we are under the covering (a roof) of a pro abundant life perspective based on John 10:10. We are inspired by the “manger family” -- Mary and Joseph united in marriage, loving each other, their child, and God – to disciple the “modern family” towards choosing life for their unborn child and abundant life for their family (a short 2 minute video animation of the “Pro Abundant Life “structure’” can be viewed here).
Over 60 million babies have died in the United States since Roe v Wade was decided. Much effort has been committed to stem the tide of abortion; yet about one million abortions will likely still take place this year. Abortion is an assault on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage and the family as God designed. Therefore, our messages and ministries must reflect an understanding of this. Our work must offer the compassion, hope and help that mothers, fathers, and unborn children desperately need while casting a compelling vision and call to them to form stable and loving families and to enter into life-giving relationships with Jesus Christ. To do all of this, Pro Abundant Life messaging and outreach are essential.