Do Evangelicals really believe a fetus is life?
Just about every evangelical I’ve ever met tells me they are absolutely opposed to abortion. Almost every one of them believes that life begins at conception (a few say in 2-3 days at that cell division). My evangelical friends seem absolutely sure that abortion is murdering a person. And I agree with them on these points.
The trouble with the evangelical church however we teach our people the opposite. We teach by our actions and rituals that the fetus may be “sacred” but is not a “real” life. This contradiction between what we say and what we do will eventually erode our commitment to being anti-abortion. When a church pronounces one thing with their mouths but practices something else in ritual and actions the kids see it and know they aren’t serious about their stated beliefs—“What we do speaks louder than what we say.”
So, how does the church communicate in ritual and actions that the fetus is less-than-full-life? I could list a dozen but I’ll only give three and let you finish the list.
1. When a baby is born we place a rose up front and announce the birth from the pulpit. We do not put the rose there when the baby is conceived or when the mother knows she is pregnant. What does this ritual say every time we do it? The message is clear—it is at birth that something happens. Whatever the woman had inside her before birth was sacred—but it is not worth the rose celebration. Our roses-at-birth/breath quietly says “they were pregnant with a fetus but now they have a child.”
2. When a one-week old child dies we do not have a funeral, people take off work and few send sympathy cards. A miscarriage in the church is seldom treated like the death of a ‘real” child. Often even the cells are disposed of just about like the cells of an aborted fetus. Since as many as 1/3 of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage, the church teaches regularly and systematically that these “miscarriages” (often not called “unborn children” in this case) aren’t as important as “real” children. (Please don’t argue it is too expensive for fetuses but we can afford it for [real?] children.)
3. We dedicate a child only when they are breathing and out of the womb. The child does not need to be a witness to the ritual of dedication but we wait until they are breathing to do it. Why? What does this say to our people? It announces that a breathing life is worth dedicating to God, “potential life” in the womb must wait. Why don’t we dedicate the life to God which we believe begins before the life breathes.
Evangelicals (and Catholics) are right on the issue of abortion. We’ve been busy fighting for the cause in the world and I applaud that. However while we’ve been out fighting the anti-abortion battle we’ve forgotten that we practice pro-choice behaviors in the church. We’ve been acting like a breathing life is more valuable in some way than fetus life—and this is exactly the position of the pro-choice folk. We talk pro-life and behave pro-choice. Which will our children adopt—our talk or our walk?
So what should a church do? I have an answer but I already know hardly any evangelical church will do it. Here it is: A church who believes a fetus is really the equivalent life as a breathing child should:
1. Have a meeting. It will only take an hour. But most of the regular church folk need to be there.
2. Make a list. Simply present the issue then brainstorm a list what we’d do differently if we acted like a fetus was of equivalent value to a breathing child. What would we stop doing? Start doing? What rituals would we relocate to another time slot? Ignore my list and make your own.
3. Vote on the ideas one by one. Decide what ones we’ll do as a church
4. Pick a starting date. Once you’ve decided on the actions that will communicate what we really believe then pick a date when we’ll implement the new actions and rituals “from that day forward.”
I already know few (if any) evangelicals will do this.
How do I know this? Because I wrote most all of the above ten years ago—in 1994—and that column has been read by more then 5000 people since—and, to my knowledge I do not know of any church that seriously changed these practices (and others too numerous to mention). I say this: our practice is the only true indicator of what we really believe. The truth is we do not believe “life begins at conception” and we do not believe “a fetus is an unborn child of equivalent worth as a born child.” If we believed it we‘d behave it. So once again I play the prophet’s role. And once again I’ll be ignored and dismissed. For the most part few or no evangelical church will change its practices to reflect its stated beliefs.
This is the real issue for us evangelicals to discuss. Why we are so unwilling to act in line with our stated beliefs. Why is this? Where will it eventually lead? You tell me. (Again, ten years later.)
Keith Drury 1994, (and now again in 2004)
(I’ll keep nagging the church even though ignored.)
Of course we know the real answer to Keith Drury's question is no. I asked these questions earlier to make the same point.
- Should women who miscarry be charged with involuntary manslaughter? What if they did something like trip because they weren't be careful, negligent homicide?
- If life starts at fertilization then what should we do about all these couples carelessly having sex 9 or days after ovulation. According to NHS these are the implementation failure rates for the average women in days after ovulation:
- 3% by day 9
- 26% on day 10
- 52% on day 11
- 86% on day 12 or more