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These little ones

I decided to raise a political issue today, while we are all safely tucked away in our bubbles.
By the time you see me again, you might forgive me for that. Anyone listening to my sermons closely might have noticed that now and then there are political undertones just beneath the surface. Indeed faith cannot be fully separated from politics.

Recently the New Zealand Parliament passed a law that would allow far easier access to abortions and make them just another medical procedure. I have read a few of the speeches and noted that those promoting the law accused those who opposed it as being influenced by religious leaders. The implication was that these religious leaders maliciously promote views and ideologies that are opposed to modern life and that those who have deep ethical views based on religious considerations do not think for themselves. That is the common view among many people out there.

Nevertheless, research suggests that in mainline protestant churches, on average, clergy hold a more “modern, liberal” view on those matters than congregations. Also, for well-informed Christians it is difficult to advocate for abortion. After all, one of the defining ethical issues for the Early Church in the pagan environment was abortion. Christians were opposed to it, in contrast with the world around them. In the Greek and Roman world (as in many other societies) abortion and the killing of infants due to shame, lifestyle, sex and “birth defects” was common.

While there is no clear prohibition against abortion in the Bible, the opposition to child sacrifice, the understanding of children as blessing, and the great value placed on human life ensured that abortion and killing of children was generally considered against the law. When Christianity, infused with the love of Jesus for these little ones, spread into the Greek and Roman world,
the opposition to practices there was unavoidable. And so abortion and infant killing became defining issues for the Early Church: “the pagans do it, but we certainly do not.” Sometimes, this became quite polemical.

As the Church became more accepted in society, it also adjusted its ethical standards. Theologians took up then current philosophical (biological?) theories and suggested that there occurs a “quickening” of the foetus in the womb, when at some point it receives a soul. The theory was that between conception and that “quickening” the child did not yet have a soul. Therefore, abortion before that “quickening” was acceptable.

That’s why the Roman Catholic Church was not that clear on the issue on abortion until its position became quite strong in recent times. In the Protestant Churches, we see on the one hand a tradition that goes along with whatever the dominant thought is at the time, on the other hand a more ethically stricter tradition, which is opposed to abortion and other “social evils”, and which often resulted in action—either politics or charitable services.

As a “religious leader” of sorts in the Christian Church, I can accept the view that while Christians should advocate for life, we cannot impose such ethics on others. I can also see the viewpoint of those who want to save as many babies as possible, because of their care for the most vulnerable. However, we must face the reality that we are a minority in our society today. As those who value these little ones, we need to surround babies and their families with love and practical help, whether their arrival is seen as a problem or a cause for joy.

Blessings – Tim