Abortion in Politics, Pulpit, and Pew


John Stonestreet

I’ve talked a lot about abortion in the last month, since the New York legislature cheered it’s extreme late-term abortion bill. Part of that story was how badly the legislation reflected on Christians. Just days after touting his Roman Catholic faith in a speech, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act into law, making it legal to kill unborn babies in his state all the way up to birth.

I’m not Catholic, but I’ve long admired the Catholic Church’s moral clarity and courageous stand on behalf of unborn children. When many evangelical and Protestant churches were AWOL on abortion, Catholic theologians stood strong, denouncing it as the evil it is. Pope Paul VI went even further in his famous encyclical, Humanae Vitae, condemning the culture of death and identifying the wrong ideas about sex and the human body at its root.

In view of this history, the failure of top Catholic clergy to clearly confront and to, yes I will say it, excommunicate prominent members of their flocks like Cuomo when they openly defy church teaching on the sanctity of life is disappointing.

Thankfully, not all Catholic shepherds have been silent in recent weeks. Some, like Spokane’s Bishop Thomas Daly, spoke out boldly. In a public letter released recently, Bishop Daly urged that politicians in his diocese “who obstinately persevere in their public support for abortion should not receive Communion without first being reconciled to Christ and the Church.”

He continued, “Efforts to expand access to abortion, allowing murder of children up to the moment of birth, is evil,” and “For a Catholic political leader to do so is scandalous.”

Amen! I wish we would see more of this kind of moral clarity and courage, and not just from Catholics. In many ways, most Christian denominations, and many evangelical non-denominational churches, show worrying signs that even official doctrinal stances against abortion aren’t accepted by average members.

According to a survey last year by Pew Research, a staggering 48 percent of self-identified Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Protestants aren’t doing any better. I’m not even talking about liberal mainline denominations, many of which already caved on Christian essentials and which have been mostly abandoned by Bible-believing evangelicals. Conservative churches must confront the problem in their midst as well.

Pew reports that an unbelievable 30 percent of self-identified Southern Baptists think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. For the conservative Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, it’s 46 percent. And Pew reports that a majority—54 percent—of those who belong to the Presbyterian Church in America say they support legal abortion.

Now, as Joe Carter points out at The Gospel Coalition, these numbers really are tough to believe. We’re talking here about theologically conservative denominations. Despite Pew’s excellent reputation, Carter suspects pollsters may have accidentally mixed in respondents from liberal, mainline churches.

But, even if the numbers are as much as 15 points off, they still represent a catastrophic failure of discipleship in our churches. For a third to half of Christians in officially pro-life denominations to support legal child-killing means that there is a massive disconnect between pulpit and pew.

Churches, Roman Catholic and Protestant and evangelical, ought to confront, withhold communion, and, if necessary, excommunicate members who support abortion, even those in the governor’s mansions, state legislatures, and the United States Congress. The New Testament instruction on dealing with grave and unrepentant sin includes phrases like “purge the evil person from among you,” and even “hand them over to Satan.”

But ultimately, we must deal with the failure of our churches to effectively teach a Christian view of the sanctity of life in the first place. Otherwise, public denunciations will be nothing but a band-aid—certainly not enough to stem the flow of innocent blood flowing in this country.


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