J. David Newman is the executive editor of Ministry.

Should the Adventist Church vote an official stand on abortion? This question headed the agenda as the Christian View of Human Life Committee met in Washington, D.C., April 17-19, 1989. Some committee members felt the current guidelines were sufficient, while others disagreed. One hospital administrator argued that the church needs to take a position, saying that the present situation leaves the hospitals to bear the brunt of people's criticism.

Sanctity of life

We listened to five papers but lacked a paper on the biblical understanding of the sanctity of life. Without a solid grounding in Scripture almost any ethical theory will do. Do we decide each case according to the situation? Does the principle of love mean that there are no absolute behavioral standards? Are the Ten Commandments absolute or can we allow exceptions? Does an ethic based on Scripture differ from an ethic developed apart from it?

Before this meeting concluded, we commissioned several more papersone of them to be prepared by Dr. Miroslav Kis, ethicist at our theological seminary, elucidating what the Scriptures say about the sacredness of life.

I believe Christian ethics differ from secular ethics. Secular ethics spring from the thinking of man; Christian ethics originate in the mind of God as revealed in the Scriptures. In order to understand life we must study the only document that records the origins of that life.

One Adventist scholar has advocated what many would consider an extreme position. In his book God, the Situation Ethicist, Dr. Carsten Johnsen argues for an absolutist position regarding abortion. He believes that since God is the only giver of life, only He has the right to take it. Johnsen says that when we decide who will live and who will die, we are playing God. How do we know, he continues, that God is not planning to bring some good out of the situation?

Our concept of man underlies our view of this problem. Johnsen quotes Reinhold Niebuhr: "All modern views of human nature are adaptations, transformations, and varying compounds of primarily two distinctive views of man: (a) the view of classical antiquity, that is, of the Greco-Roman world, and (b) the biblical view" (from The Nature and Destiny of Man [1955], p. 5).

How do the two views differ? The classical view saw man as unique because of his rational faculties. The Bible, however, portrays man's uniqueness as lying in the fact that he has been created in God's image. From the moment that image begins to form to the time life ceases, each individual exists in the image of God. Reasoning faculties comprise only part of this image.

Just because someone is old, retarded, infirm, or crippled does not make that individual less than a person. If rationality constitutes the basis of personhood, then 6-month-old babies have no more rights than do unborn babies.

Other people raise questions based on the life of Christ. When did Jesus start to become mani.e., when did He begin to take on the image of God? At conception? Two weeks after conception? When His brain became active? At quickening? At birth?

Deciding about abortion is particularly difficult because there are always at least three lives involved. While the father's role in producing a new life takes but a few moments, the mother's takes months. If that mother is not going to love the child, if she cannot care for it, if she will abuse it and even kill it, why should it be brought into existence?

Since our planet is already overcrowded, aborting a child that faces such a situation seems to make sense in many ways. That is why we must first decide on the sacredness of human life. If we can reach agreement on that issue, we will have begun to cut the Gordian knot that binds this subject.

Counsel needed

The Christian View of Human Life Committee will meet next at Loma Linda, California, October 31- November 3. We are interested in your ideas and suggestions.

  • Should the church take a stand on the sanctity of life?
  • Should the church vote a stand on abortion?
  • If so, how strong should that stand be? Should it be just a teaching of the church, or should it be a matter of discipline if not followed?
  • Should we allow no abortions under any circumstances?
  • Should we allow it if the physical life of the mother is at risk?
  • Should we allow it for rape, incest, in cases of pregnancy below a certain age, because of deformity, or because the fetus is the wrong sex?
  • Do we approve of abortion as a form of population control?
  • If we allow abortions in some circumstances, who would decide? The mother only? Mother and father? Physician? Others? Please send your responses to J. David Newman, Ministry, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, MD 20904, before October 31.

Whatever our eventual decision, may we learn to practice the love of God that Peter pictured when he wrote, "Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins" (1 Peter 4:8, NIV).J. David Newman.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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J. David Newman is the executive editor of Ministry.

October 1989

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