This is a sermon series in which I am trying to talk about some divisive social and moral issues from a biblical perspective. I wasn’t as happy with the one below as I would like to have been. But it’s actually the first time I’ve done this sort of topical series. And I am well aware that each individual topic could be extended into its own series. These issues are complex and vitally important for Christians to think about and address. They are not matters of theological abstraction, but profoundly personal. They touch our lives in the most intimate ways as we think about life, death, and living in a culture increasingly at odds with the biblical worldview.
I preached this message on May 14, 2023, and the Scriptures were Psalms 95:6, 100:3, and 139:1-16.
Today is Mother’s Day, and no doubt each of us is grateful for our mothers. Our mothers carry us, bring us into the world, and nurture us. I know I am grateful for my Mom. It’s hard to believe it’s been 12 year since he passed away. There are lots of moments when I wish I could still ask her questions, especially as a parent of teenagers!
When my mother became pregnant with me, she was not in a committed relationship with anyone (including with my biological father), she was financially insecure, and she was estranged from family. She had no support system to help her with an unplanned, unexpected pregnancy. She was largely alone with few resources. She was in precisely the kind of situation many would point to as the reason we should have legal, even unrestricted abortion.
Yet she never considered abortion. And I think the reason is that having been raised Catholic, she had been raised with a particular view of human life and its value. Her beliefs and her worldview played a profound role in her response to an unplanned pregnancy.
Now, abortion, as we all well know, is a divisive and emotional issue for many. It’s not abstract; it’s personal.
Last year the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion. This development left abortion legislation up to individual states, with some remaining adamantly pro-choice and others adamantly pro-life.
The result was a loud public outcry from pro-choice politicians and organizations. Some US politicians even called for the shutting down of crisis pregnancy centers for supposedly lying to women about healthcare and trying to keep them from accessing abortion services.
But at least in the US abortion is a matter of debate. At least there are some restrictions. Here in Canada there are no restrictions. No politician is willing to touch the issue, because it would likely be political suicide.
So what about us as Christians? How do we approach this issue? Because here in Canada there are situations when our beliefs will bring us into conflict.
Our Canadian Context
Some of you might remember that back in 2018 Christian organizations had to make a decision. Because that year the Canada Summer Jobs Program — and this is a direct quote — “required applicants to declare that neither the job nor the core mandate of the organization opposed human rights, including those related to abortion, sexual orientation, and gender identity.”
In other words, you had to stipulate that you were pro-abortion (among other things) to apply to the Canada Summer Jobs Program. That year Camp Jordan did not apply. The same was true of many Christian organizations and churches.
As it happens, the outcry from faith-based organizations was so great that the wording was eventually changed to read that applicants had “to declare instead that the organization does not actively work to infringe human rights.”
Of course, even that wording is incredibly vague. Would abortion fall under the category of human rights? What does it mean to “actively work” against abortion? What about a Christian camp or church that holds to and teaches the pro-life position? Are they eligible to apply to the Canada Summer Jobs Program?
And what about Christian organizations that normally would apply to this program? If they are pro-life but do not actively seek to discourage abortion or to organize a pro-life march, can they in good conscience apply? Should they?
And what is our view of a government that adds such a stipulation or requirement? Doesn’t it contradict the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
Because the Charter explicitly lists freedom of conscience and religion at the top of the fundamental freedoms our government ought to acknowledge. And when we consider our Charter, it also speaks to the issue of abortion, even if not directly.
Consider these words from the Charter: “Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of the person and the right not to be deprived thereof except in accord with the principles of fundamental justice.” Or these words: “Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination.”
The question that Canadian politicians are apparently not able to ask or discuss is if this “everyone” the Charter refers to includes unborn children. And if not, why not? Where is the cogent argument for excluding them?
It’s incredibly disturbing that in our country a child can be aborted at any time at all during a pregnancy. This is a sad reality that should elicit profound grief on our part. In Canada, there are nearly 100,000 abortions performed each year. Yet so often it escapes our attention, especially since it is rarely if ever in the news as an issue we’re dealing with in Canada. Though there is one current story worth noting.
From Global News: “A private member’s bill from a Conservative backbench MP is stirring up debate over abortion in Canada, though the proposed legislation does not mention it even once. Conservative MP Cathay Wagantall’s bill would encourage judges to consider physical or emotional harm to a pregnant victim as an aggravating factor during sentencing. Wagantall opposes abortion but she said the legislation, known as Bill C-311, has nothing to do with that and is entirely focused on violence against women. But the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada is urging MPs to vote against the bill on the grounds that it promotes fetal rights, even though there is no mention of fetal rights in the text of the bill itself. Executive director [of the Abortion Rights Coalition] Joyce Arthur said some groups who oppose abortion view the bill as a positive step because they feel it would legally recognize ‘pre-born children’ in the case of violent crimes, which is not the case now.”
So this is where we are in Canada at the moment. Unborn children have no rights and are not recognized as individual persons in any legal sense. An unborn child can be aborted at any time during a pregnancy. So the words I read from the Charter about the right to life of individuals do not apply to them as our law currently stands.
“Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his”
Now, speaking of the Charter, it’s important for us to note that it opens with this preamble that I think is quite significant: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.”
So you would think this means that our laws are meant to reflect in some measure what the Bible teaches. If the principles on which our country is founded is supposed to reflect the “supremacy of God,” then doesn’t that mean our laws need to reflect what God has revealed about us as human beings? Doesn’t that mean that our laws ought to reflect what God has revealed about the source and value of human life?
Think about the passages from the Psalms we read. Psalm 100:3 simply says: Acknowledge that the Lord is God. He made us, and we are his. Our Charter reflects this biblical language. To acknowledge that the Lord is God seems very much the same as recognizing the supremacy of God. The implication is that there is an authority above and beyond us that determines who is and isn’t a human being worthy of rights, protection, and life.
Now I get that in our current political environment we have a government that would either prefer editing those words out of the Charter or interpreting the meaning out of the them so that they have no practical, much less legal, value.
Because if God is who God has revealed himself to be, then we do not belong to ourselves. He made us, and we are his. Put another way: if God is our Creator, each human being receives its worth from having been created, from being made in the image of God. And if God is our Creator, then each of us automatically has the right to life and protection and care.
And God is not a distant, dispassionate Creator. Listen to Psalm 139:13 and how it paints God as a loving Creator: For it was you who created my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. Think of how God cares for the vulnerable and helpless. Speaking of the poor and helpless, Psalm 72 says that their lives are precious in his sight. Are not unborn children also poor and helpless? Is not each child in the womb precious in God’s sight?
And it’s not only a matter of what we believe because of what the Bible teaches. We can think for a moment about what we know from science. For instance, here are some facts about unborn children at 15 weeks gestation:
· All major organs have formed
· Their hearts pump 29 liters of blood each day
· Each finger moves separately
· The entire body responds to touch
· The brain has formed connections that last into adulthood
· The skeleton is visible in an x-ray
· Surgeons have successfully performed surgeries on babies at 15 weeks gestation
· A baby at 15 weeks gestation can feel pain
Again, what do we read in Psalm 139:14? I will praise you because I have been remarkably and wondrously made. The individual developed in the womb as an individual thanks to the work of God’s gracious hand.
One of the arguments people still make for legal abortion is that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. Whatever we make of that argument, the main problem with it is that we’re not actually only talking about the woman’s body. We’re also talking about the body of an individual distinct from the mother. And science confirms this. That means our government is in the wrong to have no laws whatsoever protecting the unborn.
The late Canadian philosopher George Grant in an essay called “Abortion and Rights,” in his 1988 book Technology and Justice, wrote these words: “The public place we give abortion will be a central mark by which it can be known what rights will be given to the weak by our directors. Obviously the justice of a society is well defined in terms of how it treats the weak. And there is nothing human which is weaker than the foetus.”
Grant also notes in his essay, still very much worth reading after all these years, that to say unborn children have no rights actually undermines the basis of all human rights.
It means having to continually specify the criteria by which this or that human being can have rights. Simply being an individual person, a human being like all other human beings, is not enough to guarantee the right to life.
But it should be, including for unborn children. Dependent as an unborn child is upon their mother, they are not simply another organ, appendage, or a clump of cells. An unborn child is a person, someone wih their own DNA, toes, lungs, and bones. That makes every unborn child a child deserving of the same rights as each one of us here today.
Now, there’s a lot I haven’t been able to touch upon. There are ways in which some in our culture are trying to move towards what we may rightly call infanticide. There is the method by which women can have an abortion, whether surgical or by medication, which makes things all the more complicated. There is also the reality of selective abortion, like the move to abort children who will be born with Down’s Syndrome or other health issues. I know, too, that there are more difficult, extreme circumstances when a woman might consider abortion when she otherwise would not.
I think this is why we need to support crisis pregnancy centers. It’s why we should do more to petition and encourage our pro-life political leaders to stand up for their convictions and advocate for the unborn.
This is why we need to work continually in our society to create conditions that encourage pregnant women to carry their children to term. Because it’s true that some women who become pregnant are not prepared to have the responsibility of being a mother.
This also means the church has the responsibility, the calling, and the privilege of coming alongside women who have made difficult, sometimes terrible decisions and doing so with the grace and compassion of our Lord Jesus, who treated each person he met with dignity and love.
There are stories of the early church rescuing children who had been left abandoned to die of exposure, a practice that continued in various ways into the Middle Ages. Whenever they were unable to save children, they would give them the dignity of a proper burial. Now, of course, these children had already been born. But it points to the ethic of life that followers of Jesus have always had.
Psalm 95:6 says this: Come, let’s worship and bow down; let’s kneel before the Lord our Maker. Acknowledging that God is our Creator and that we belong to him is part of what it means to worship. It’s what it means to recognize, as our own Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, the “supremacy of God.”
Let’s pray that here in Canada the tide may turn and hearts may change. Because each child who is conceived and formed in the womb is precious in God’s sight and therefore ought to be precious in ours.