[Editor’s Note: January 22, 2013 marks the 40th anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision, which effectively legalized the roughly 50 million abortions that have now been committed in America. The following is an edited transcript of a sermon delivered by pastor and long-time pro-life advocate, John Piper. Audio and video versions are available at desiringGod.org.]
How does abortion relate to spreading a passion for the supremacy of God in all things?
The way I’ve thought about abortion over the years as a preacher—and I’m mainly a preacher, one who has to speak about abortion in the context of worship from the Bible—is to relate it to God. We always devote one Sunday (the Sanctity of Life Sunday) to abortion and one Sunday to racial harmony every year.
In fact, the Martin Luther King Sunday and the Sanctity of Life Sunday in American life come back to back. And I regard that as a wonderful providence, because usually the people that are passionate about racial diversity and racial harmony are not the same people that are passionate about abortion (and vice versa). But I want a church where everybody is passionate about both. So to preach on them back to back is really important. That they are both God issues is what I want to say year after year after year.
Abortion is a God issue, and I think the first way you see that is in Psalm 139 where it says “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (verse 14). And the language that is used is that a baby is knit together in its mother’s womb. Well who’s the knitter? The knitter is not nature. The knitter is God, which means that what’s happening in a woman’s tummy is that God is at work. God is making a human being.
Now, you don’t mess with that. You just don’t get in God’s face and say, “Let me at it! I’m going to take it out! I’m going to chop it into pieces.” You don’t do that.
And you don’t do it for God’s sake. God gives, God takes away, God makes babies. We don’t make babies. We put the pieces together through sexual relations and God causes a being that never was and now is and always will be to come into being.
Here’s the way I handle the ambiguity of the moment of personhood. How do you know, Pastor John, that the person-forming work of God happens at the moment of conception? Why not at, say, quickening, the first time you feel the baby kick? Is that when you can call it a person? Or when it takes its first breath? I talked to a Christian doctor who told me that she believed—because of Genesis 2, when God breathed life into Adam and he became a living soul—that when the baby takes its first breath, then it becomes a human. Which means that late term abortions mean nothing to her as a Christian.
So you got those options: conception, the first little kick or twitch, a full brain, breath. Where do you choose to identify personhood? (Life is there. Clearly life is there from the beginning. But the argument of some is that it is not a person yet. Of course it’s alive, just like a twig is alive.)
My answer is: If personhood happens by God’s creative decree, and you’re not sure where, which way are you going to push it?
And who can be dogmatic here? Who can say, “I know for absolute certainty it’s the breath that the baby takes where human personhood is imparted.” Or “I know when the brain stem is this big and he flinches his eyes, God has made him a person.” Or “I know that when these chromosomes come together, BANG, God has created a person.” Frankly, all I know is this: I’m going to err on the side of not killing a person.
A doctor came to me one time—it was during hunting season—and he said, “I just saw one of the most amazing things in my life. I was working down at Hennepin County, and they brought a man in. And he had an arrow going into his back and coming out of his chest. He was dead. It went right through his heart.” The doctor had never seen this in his life. And he asked, “What happened? Is this murder?” And he learned that the man’s hunting partner had shot him. He had on a brown coat, looked big, and was hidden behind a bush. And his buddy shot what he thought was his deer or bear. But he shot him.
Now the analogy is that that man was found guilty of negligent manslaughter—or something like that—because when a human life is at stake, you don’t shoot. It might be a man! You don’t shoot at a moving brown object when you’re out hunting in teams! You’re guilty!
And if this little emerging person might be a man or a woman, you don’t shoot it.
So that’s the way I come down. But to me, ultimately, it’s because God is at work. God is at work. And if he is supreme, you leave his knitting work alone and you love this woman another way.
And that’s the beautiful thing about the pro-life cause in our day. Hardly anybody says anymore, “O, you pro-life bunch of white, middle-aged males that don’t ever have to suffer. You’re just putting your morality on the world, but you don’t give a rip about born babies. You just care about unborn babies.”
Hardly anybody talks that way anymore. They did 20 years ago when I was fighting this fight. I got put in jail for sitting in front of abortion clinics, and the abortionists on the other side were shouting that kind of vitriol at us. And my conscience was saying, “Is that true? Yeah, I’m white. Yeah, I’m male. Yeah, I’ve never been pregnant. But I support and engage in multiple ways of caring for women and for babies born and unborn.”
And now there are so many thousands of almost totally Christian crisis pregnancy centers across the world, and they care for the mom and baby both before and afterwards. They do everything necessary to make this transition possible. Hardly anybody says we don’t care for born babies anymore.
That’s a beautiful thing, which is why the pro-life cause is gaining ground and, I think, will probably win in the end.
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