As a member of my church’s leadership team, this question has bothered me for too long. I have grown up in the church. My father is a pastor, my grandparents and great-grandparents were missionaries, and there have been 17 pastors within three generations of my family. To say that church has been a large part of my life is an understatement. I sang the songs, bought the youth camp t-shirts, and ate the potluck dinners.
If a woman in your congregation faced an unplanned pregnancy, to whom could she turn for support?
Yet, I am not sure that I can answer this question for my current church, nor do I feel I could answer it about the church in which I grew up.
This is a problem.
If I don’t know the answer, then the young woman facing a pregnancy decision in my church probably doesn’t either.
Sure, I have heard plenty of pastors preach about the importance of electing a pro-life and pro-marriage candidate in the presidential election. I have seen several fundraising baby bottle campaigns for local pregnancy centers. I even remember a number of revival services where the pastor preached about the national sin of abortion and God’s impending judgment. However, I can’t point to anything that would indicate a conscious and concerted effort to create a culture of life within the sanctuary. Abortion, if it came up, seemed to be discussed around November or, in more active congregations, the March For Life in January.
Why is that? Is it enough for church leaders to say, “Life begins at conception,” and “We must elect a pro-life candidate this November,” or do the women and men of our congregations need more?
The American Culture & Faith Institute recently conducted a nationwide study of spiritually active Christians. One of the goals of the survey was to discover what social issues parishioners wanted their pastors to cover. The results couldn’t be more conclusive.
91% of respondents wanted more information from their pastor on abortion and topics related to the “beginning of life, right to life, contraception, adoption, and unwed mothers.”
It is clear that our congregations do not believe that leaders are talking about this issue enough.
As church leaders, we have heard the world’s message that pastors need to stay out of issues of sexuality. No doubt, pastors often wrestle with the fear of bringing up controversial issues like contraception or unwed motherhood and decide to choose a more socially acceptable topic. However, the question of life is not in a vacuum. If churches do not actively teach on this issue, congregations will turn elsewhere. All too often, the voices they encounter will point them towards a life-denying decision.
Of course it is not simply enough to preach on life. What we say as leaders is equally important as how often we say it.
Growing up, most abortion sermons I heard made abortion sound like a problem “out there” in the world, rather than within the body of Christ. Recently, Care Net inspected the relationship between abortion and the church. Once again, the results are startling.
Our research found that as many as 36% of women who had an abortion were attending church at least once a month at the time of their abortion. A 2014 study conducted by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute found that 56% of women who obtained abortions said they were Christians. While this percentage has decreased since their 2008 study, clearly abortion is the church’s sin just as much as it is the world’s.
If women and men making pregnancy decisions feel unprepared to answer the vital questions of life and abortion, then what can we do? How can we create a culture of life within our congregations and empower them to live the abundant life Christ promises?
The first thing we can do is to affirm the blessing of life, no matter age, wealth, or circumstance.
A few weeks ago, I was speaking with some friends about children. My wife and I just celebrated the first birthday of our daughter Bethany. This other couple shared with us how encouraged they were to see a Christian couple that was happy with their children. The went on to explain that they have seen several couples in their church who have openly expressed the struggles of bringing up children and their regret at deciding to get pregnant in the first place. One Christian couple told them that they wish they had never had children. The mother told them that she went back to work as soon as possible so she could get away from her kids. Our friends confessed that the lack of positive examples in their church made them extremely reluctant to ever have children themselves.
If young men and women hear only of the struggles of childrearing and not the great joys and blessings, how can we expect them to choose life? I believe this is one of the reasons that the Apostle Paul enjoins churches to be places of cross-generational discipleship. Older couples are to mentor younger ones and help them see beyond the difficulties faced in the moment. Baby days and retirement celebrations should be part of living life in the church.
Second, we need to be conscious about teaching our congregations how to offer compassion, hope, and help to those facing pregnancy decisions. Care Net is about to release its Making Life Disciples curriculum. This six-part DVD series is designed to train congregations on how to walk women and men through pregnancy decisions, through a ministry that will be housed in the church. The abortion industry is proud of the fact that 1 in 3 women will have an abortion. While this number is debatable, as disciples of Christ we can’t wait any longer to address this issue head on; too many lives are at stake.
Finally, we need to recognize that God has specifically called us to address this issue. When a young woman visits a pregnancy resource center and chooses to raise her child or place it for adoption, her journey is just beginning. It is the church that can most easily support her in the long term. She can access marriage and parenting education ministries. Couples in the church can come alongside her. Business leaders in the church can offer her employment. Church schools can offer discounts on education. What better place to provide life-affirming support and ongoing discipleship than the church?
Ultimately, it should be my goal as a church leader that anyone in my congregation facing a pregnancy decision would know where to turn for help. The church can no longer “outsource” the work of ministering to women and men considering abortion. The church cannot wait for Roe V. Wade to be overturned in the courts; we have to overturn it in our pews first.