For the past several decades, many churches in America have set aside a Sunday in January to commemorate a horrible anniversary: the Roe v. Wade decision declaring a constitutional right to abortion on demand. Since the Supreme Court decided the Roe v. Wade case on January 22, 1973, most churches observe Sanctity of Human Life Sunday (SOHLS) on the Sunday nearest that anniversary.
While I firmly believe there is great value in taking a special Sunday to deliberately expose the evils of abortion (Ephesians 5:11), we must do so with great care. While a special SOHLS service may generate plenty of hearty “amens” in your church, the truth is it’s incredibly risky. Here are three pitfalls to avoid on Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.
The Pitfall of Legalism
First, observing SOHLS is risky because we can fall into the pitfall of legalism. It’s easy to forget that taking a Sunday to expose the evils of abortion is helpful, but not necessary. In other words, pastors and churches who choose not to address this issue the same way we do are not spineless cowards, pro-abortion, or anti-life. There may be many reasons why a pastor and/or a congregation may choose not to address the issue of abortion in such a focused way. While some of those reasons could be sinful (for example, fear of man), there could be legitimate reasons. After all, observing a special Sunday like SOHLS is not commanded in Scripture. Therefore, it would be foolish to condemn those pastors and churches who (for good reasons) choose not to address the issue. The church has advanced for 2000 years without SOHLS and its thriving in many countries across the world that have never even heard of SOHLS or Roe v. Wade. So let’s not turn a good thing into a requirement for everybody.
The Pitfall of Indifference
Second, observing SOHLS is risky because we can fall into the pitfall of indifference. It’s easy to forget that SOHLS may be a painful Sunday for many in your church. A couple wrestling with the pain of infertility may cringe through an entire sermon exposing an evil that to them seems very personal and unfair. They may be asking themselves (or God) “how can so many choose to abort their children when there’s so many couples like us that are unable to conceive?” An entire Sunday devoted to the horrors of abortion may feel like pouring salt on the wound.
Others in your church may have experienced the evils of abortion up close and personal. In your church this Sunday may be someone who’s worked (or is working) in the abortion industry, a young lady who aborted an unwanted child, a young man who drove his pregnant girlfriend to the clinic, an upstanding father who hushed up his daughter’s teenage pregnancy, or a lady who aborted a baby to cover up an affair. Whether these sins are recent memories or skeletons long hidden in the closet, a sermon exposing the evils of abortion will likely be very painful for those who’ve experienced it firsthand.
The Pitfall of Politicization
Third, observing SOHLS is risky because we can fall into the pitfall of politicization. If you asked ten random American adults which political party opposes abortion, what would they say? Virtually every American adult knows that the pro-life (or anti-abortion) cause is a decidedly Republican issue. Not that long ago one could find staunch advocates for the sanctity of human life on both sides of the political aisle, but that is becoming more and more difficult every year. The fact of the matter is, the Democratic party platform is unashamedly pro-abortion.
So what’s the point? The point is that while it is right to expose the evils of abortion, it is risky because it may subtly suggest that Christianity equals Republican politics. Let me be clear: following Jesus is not about following a political party. As Chuck Colson used to say, “the Kingdom of God doesn’t arrive on Air Force One.” Our Kingdom is not of this world. It’s bigger than America and it’s bigger than your political party. If as a Christian you’re not able to take your Bible and expose the propensities towards evil in both political parties, you’ve lost a little something of what it means to look like the God-Man who opposed and exposed sin on both the right and the left (Mark 8:14-15).
Walk the Line
So how can we expose the evils of abortion while avoiding the three pitfalls of legalism, indifference, and politicization?
First, we should humbly remember that while observing SOHLS is part of our church’s culture, that doesn’t mean every other church will do it the same way. Don’t look down on Christian friends from other churches who do nothing to commemorate this day. Love them, pray for them, and trust that God is leading them to respond to the evils of abortion in an appropriate way for their context.
Second, we should be considerate to the hurting in our congregations. Pastors, take great care to extend grace to those who are haunted by the skeletons in their closets. Avoid careless and unnecessarily harmful statements that could hurt those you’re called to love. Church member, pay attention to hurting people around you this Sunday. Be sensitive to them. Just because SOHLS doesn’t conjure up painful emotions for you doesn’t mean that others aren’t deeply broken by the topic. Love them. Pray for them. And if someone sitting near you is deeply and visibly moved, don’t be afraid to put an arm around their shoulder and pray with them.
Third, we should intentionally look for opportunities to remind the church that the gospel is bigger than a political party. One of the ways we do that at PBC is by following Sanctity of Human Life Sunday with Racial Harmony Sunday. After intentionally exposing the evils of abortion (a sin often tied to the political left), we intentionally expose the evils of racism (a sin often tied to the political right).
Finally, in all these things don’t forget the most important thing: preach Christ. A world without abortion (or racism) and still without Jesus is a world on its way to hell. So even as we expose the polarizing sins in our culture, may we never do so without pointing sinners to the Savior who bore the wrath of God on a cross in our place. “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.” (Colossians 1:28)
© M. Hopson Boutot, 2018