The reborn and the unborn

How does God view abortion? Should the church take a stand? What principles are involved? You may not agree, but you will be stimulated.

John and Millie Youngberg teach in the School of Education and are codirectors, Family Life Workshops, Andrews University.

A number of articles and editorials on abortion have appeared in Seventh-day Adventist publications. Some of these have alleged that since the Bible does not say anything definite about elective abortion, the church should leave the issue to the realm of individual conscience rather than take a stand on it. Some articles have called for religious liberty and toleration in this matter, apparently on the basis that no absolutes are involved. This contribution does not presume to be the final word on this delicate subject, but we offer it as a part of the ongoing dialogue as we search together for God's way.

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The Scriptures do contain principles relevant to this decision. If these principles are clear and well understood, then it is not essential that the specific rules that are subsets of those principles be explicitly stated in Scripture in order to realize God's instruction. Let us consider abortion within the framework of the following greater themes or propositions. Although one or more of these propositions may not be all-persuasive when taken alone, their combined weight may be able to enlighten us as to what is God's will in this sensitive area.

1. The proposition of the adequacy of Scripture

The argument has been put forth that we do not know enough about Biblical anthropology to define the subtleties of when life begins. We consider our theology in the vanguard of Christian thought about what happens when life ends. Is it logical then to plead that divine revelation has been insufficient to enlighten us about when life begins? To say this is ultimately to malign God Himself, for how could He leave us in such darkness that we are unable to make intelligent choices that involve life and death?

2. Two propositions based on the character of God

a. The proposition of cosmic abortion

What do we do when things go wrong and we face the possibility or probability of shame, affliction, and suffering because of past events? God created a world, but it went wrong. The prospect was long-term shame, the maligning of His name, suffering, death to His Son, and the separation of the Son from the Father. The Lord of the universe could have called for cosmic abortion. He could have aborted the human family but a short time from the inception of the race. He could have blotted out Adam and Eve and started over. We say He could have, but really He could not have, for that is not like His character. He chose not cosmic abortion, but cosmic sacrifice.

b. The proposition of agape love

The fundamental characteristic of God as presented in the Bible is love, self-sacrificing love. The new commandment that Christ gave is "that ye love one another; as I have loved you" (John 13:34). We should treat the unborn child as God would treat him or her. He wants His love to be communicated through us. More than that, the way we treat the unborn child is the way we would treat Jesus. "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me" (Matt. 25:40).

3. The proposition of Creation

In the Christian worldview God is seen as the ultimate Creator. Humans who "create" life do so only by delegated privilege from God. Abortion makes sense within the context of a materialistic or evolutionist worldview whose philosophy denies God as the ultimate Creator and chooses to believe that the stronger may sacrifice the weaker.

4. The proposition of creativity

If sexual intercourse, conception, and pregnancy are among the most creative activities in which a man and woman can participate, then what does this say about abortion? If the one dimension is the epitome of creativity, then the other would represent the epitome of destructiveness.

5. The proposition of redemption

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The unborn child has been redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ on Calvary. Is death the reward Christians should give to the purchase of Christ's blood? (Theologically we believe that the babe in the womb has already been redeemed. Some may object. For these we could word our proposition, The unborn child is redeemable.)

6. The proposition of the lordship of God

The secular press has made the whole abortion issue center on the rights of the mother versus the rights of the unborn child. Upon closer reflection, however, we see that this viewpoint rotates around the human rights of two parties. No divine dimension is even mentioned. How about God's rights? Does He not have inalienable rights over His relationships with His creatures?

Some may argue that a woman has a right to do what she chooses with her own body. The Bible answers, "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (1 Cor. 6:19, 20). Frail humanity may think that it knows the whole situation, whereas the only One really knowing that is God Himself. Are we to usurp the divine prerogative of life and death? By virtue of 'what "perfect" knowledge can we take upon ourselves this responsibility?

7. The proposition of the primacy of reverence for life over the freedom of choice

The power of choice is God-given and is certainly of great importance. However, this principle does not exist in solitary splendor in the universe. There are other universal principles. Here we have a classic example of a moral dilemma. Two universal principles are pitted against each other. In this case the freedom of choice must give way because its sphere is not absolute and its God-given purpose was never that we have the option of taking the life of an individual who has committed no acts against God or man. We maintain that reverence for the sacredness of life is of higher priority than freedom of choice. Indeed, the destiny of the chooser may be at stake. The Bible says: "I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live" (Deut. 30:19). Ultimately the freedom that God grants as our legitimate right is not the freedom to take innocent life, but to choose who will be our master, Christ or the evil one.

8. The proposition of the distinctiveness of Seventh-day Adventism

We hold that elective abortion violates the fundamentals of any Bible-believing community of faith, but it is particularly serious to Seventh-day Adventists. Acquiescence to abortion undermines two pillars of our distinctive theology: (1) It denies the essence of the Sabbath, and (2) it leaves us in an ambiguous position on the doctrine of the nature of man.

Let us start with the second question first. Many religions hold that at some undetermined time the "soul" infuses the fetus. Thus perhaps in the second trimester (or whenever) the fetus, which up to that time was basically animal, is infused by a divine entity that makes it truly human and in God's image. The same logic calls for this entity to depart at death and float off to its eternal existence with God or to the fires of everlasting torment. Adventism believes in "man the indivisible." Therefore, that developing Godlikeness is present from conception, and abortion is the destruction of that Godlikeness and a crime against the Creator Himself.

The Sabbath finds its meaning in recognizing God as Creator. The observance of the seventh day in the context of the three angels' messages of Revelation 14:6-12 is based on recognition of the creatorship of Him who made heaven and earth. To the point that abortion denies the lordship and creatorship of God over one of His creatures, it is denying the essence of the Sabbath.

Can we as Christians afford to be noncommittal regarding a practice that finds its origin and historical development in pagan cultures and that finds its justification in a worldview that denies the creatorship of God?

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We close these thoughts with a plea for a redemptive attitude toward the erring. Among us are those who have practiced abortion. God's mercy is great. He forgives us for Christ's sake. A great unresolved problem in our church is that many times it is more socially acceptable to get an abortion than to be an unwed mother. To turn this around, our churches and conferences will have to address the issue and search for alternatives. Caring members will have to turn from their own pursuits and become involved in the lives of others. With tender hearts we must reach out to those in crisis, providing love and acceptance as well as practical help. Perhaps some will open their personal homes to an unwed mother. Perhaps we need homes specifically built and staffed for this purpose and strategically located. Certainly caring counselors are needed to help both the father and mother as well as their extended families work through their feelings and make necessary decisions, be they for marriage, adoption, single parenting, or placement of the baby in the home of an immediate family member. Programs like Adventist Adoption and Family Services (6040 SE. Belmont Street, Portland, Oregon 97215; telephone: 503-232-1211), which provide counseling, moral support, and an understanding heart as well as professional legal and medical care, deserve our support and encouragement.

We are in the world, but our conduct must not be of the world. Let us look prayerfully at the ethical dilemmas that confront us and be sure that our standards are not based on a split decision of the United States Supreme Court in 1973, but rather on the weight of evidence from the great Bible themes.

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John and Millie Youngberg teach in the School of Education and are codirectors, Family Life Workshops, Andrews University.

November 1985

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