6 ideas for leading your church in pro-life ministry in light of Dobbs

The Mississippi abortion case and how a pastor can disciple his people

June 23, 2022

In what is expected to be the highest profile abortion-related case in decades, the Supreme Court is soon to release its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. For those desiring the details of the case, you can view the ERLC’s explainer and another summary from The Gospel Coalition. At the center of the dispute is Mississippi legislation that outlaws elective abortions at 15 weeks’ gestation, an overt challenge to the current abortion legal landscape informed by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. This is the first major abortion-related case since the partisan balance of the court shifted to what conventional wisdom presumes is at least a 5-4 or even 6-3 majority aligned against Roe

The unprecedented leak of Justice Alito’s first draft opinion confirmed that the stage is likely set for a Dobbs decision to significantly change the legal landscape for abortion policy, though we won’t know for sure until the actual decision is released. The policy wonks among us watch the court drama and political fallout closely. But those questions are not the most important for pastors and local churches. What if a court decision does actually make a significant change? What will change, if anything, for a local church and its approach to the abortion issue in its community? How can pastors and ministry leaders lead their churches well in pro-life ministry? 

Here are a few suggestions to guide our intra-church chatter about Dobbs and this dramatic political moment:

1. Pray. “Sure, but how?” Corporate prayer in particular is an invaluable tool for discipling church members, even on civic issues. Regarding abortion, a church has a real opportunity to lift not only the governing activity in prayer but also to enunciate the redemptive message of the gospel for those who have participated in or are considering abortion. 

The understandable temptation for any church engaging the abortion issue is to steer into one of two opposite ditches, either by emphasizing only the political and legislative issue, or by emphasizing the message of grace. The former misses the opportunity to draw in attendees (even members) to the healing message of Christ’s forgiveness and grace. The latter misses the opportunity to advance justice and love of neighbor as citizens participating in governing.

But churches can affirm both redemption and justice together, and corporate prayer is a perfect venue for doing so. Why? It’s a frequent, if small, opportunity to disciple consciences, over time, in the life of a church. Corporate prayer benefits from our attention to the presence of God, the use of biblical language, and a pastoral tone. 

Praying about abortion includes opportunities to pray across a spectrum of church interests: 

2. Foster a policy aptitude that fights apocalypticism and disenchantment. There are a few ways to do this. First, anticipate apocalyptic rhetoric from partisan actors, and ignore it. In the wake of any major court decision, endless media personalities and organizations will immediately engage in “messaging” intended to influence public perception of what just happened. There are numerous reasons for that, and not all are nefarious. But much is fundraising, and fear is helpful marketing for donations. 

Pastors can anticipate the “sky is falling” rhetoric and inoculate their congregation against it. The truth about public policy ramifications is often more complicated and, frankly, more boring and slow moving than the talking heads and Twitterati allow. 

If Roe’s legacy is significantly curbed, the abortion industry’s apocalyptic rhetoric will scream about the imposition of religion, the power of “the patriarchy,” and call for “court packing.” Following the Alito draft leak, we’ve already seen some commentators and government leaders extrapolate—from that draft—catastrophic implications for other civil rights established by court precedent. Field those claims lightly.

If the final court opinion either flips, or seems like the Alito rhetoric was in anyway “watered down” from its first draft, then handwringing among some pro-lifers is inevitable. Disenchantment is caused by overestimating or overpromising what the possibilities are in any given political moment. We risk that disenchantment again, having now seen a first draft of what would always have seen future revisions. 

American politics, instead, is a long game, wherein sustainable change in governing typically happens slowly and incrementally. Even when some events seem like watershed moments, those are most often the tipping point of cultural and political trends that had grown over time.

Will Dobbs be one of those watershed moments, overturning the Roe/Casey abortion regime? Will it be a setback to the pro-life movement? Or will it be another pebble, adding weight to the pro-life cause? Thoughtful pastors can prepare their members emotionally whatever the contingency.

3. Partner with a local pregnancy resource center (PRC), if your church hasn’t already. How? Start by asking the center what they need. PRCs have long been the front lines of the pro-life movement. Highly trained staff and volunteers meet mothers, fathers, and families where they are: in the midst of their fear, when they feel like they have no one to talk to. The myth about the pro-life movement (or “the church”) only caring about babies until birth (not after) is disproven—daily—at any PRC

While PRCs often view themselves as the first responders of the pro-life community (meeting mothers in the crisis moment), virtually all PRCs provide some mixture of material and education support for their clients, long after a baby is born. That support comes in the form of everything from diapers and formula to subsidized boutiques to education in parenting and personal finance. I can’t emphasize this enough: PRCs want more churches involved as partners. They recognize numerous family and social influences occuring upstream from an abortion decision, and they see churches as key to addressing them. 

4. If your church is already partnering with a PRC, ask them what their dream support would look like, and help them reach their goals, quickly. PRCs are indeed the specialists for meeting abortion-vulnerable mothers, but they can’t do everything. PRC leaders recognize that abortion is a temptation because other things in a mother’s (and, often, father’s) life aren’t going well. Namely, they need mentors and discipleship in areas as diverse as education, language, housing, finances, and navigating nonprofit and governmental resources, as well as learning Scripture and developing spiritual disciplines. A church must be positioned to provide practical and spiritual helps, all as ministry in the name of Christ. As one PRC leader told me, “We need creative, practical, and attractive ministry on-ramps to refer clients to the church.” 

5. Don’t rely on only the PRC director to inspire your congregation into partnership. That’s not a fair burden, and here’s why: Directors desire to partner with local churches and to facilitate that partnership with education and strategy. By all means, bring them in to tell of the challenges and fruits of their work. Your people will be moved. 

But if a partnership between a PRC and its surrounding churches is going to work, the missional inspiration and institutional commitment to a partnership must first come from a church’s leadership. The PRC can deliver the how of the mission, but the why and the resources must come from pastoral leadership.

Most churches have some expression of mission into their local community. Many have multiple expressions. Think soup kitchens and homeless ministries. Think addiction recovery groups and collegiate ministries. Each of those is a ministry of outreach into the local community. Partnership with a local PRC provides a local church with yet another mission field that is ready and waiting.

Challenges abound, of course. Keeping in mind that PRC work is highly specialized and nuanced, a local church must be patient and willing to learn from the PRC. Abortion-vulnerable mothers and fathers have many reasons to shy away from church life. Simply handing off client names to an unprepared small group frequently falls flat. 

Building any kind of sustainable discipleship program requires persistent and hard work. Doing so for the sake of PRC clientele is all the more nuanced and difficult. Such a commitment from a local church takes time, dedicated and trained personnel, and funding. It’s a lot to consider. But more churches have the resources to partner with PRCs in more robust ways than are currently doing so. Is your church ready to embark on a new or amplified partnership with a pregnancy resource center in your community? 

6. Discuss within your church how the political and cultural landscape is about to change. This can and should be informed by your closest PRC. Assuming Roe is overturned, the pro-life cause is not over. We merely cross a threshold into a new era. The legal landscape is likely to be a patchwork of different abortion policy from state to state. Is your church located in a state where abortion will be outlawed? Heavily regulated? No regulation? The participation and leadership of your church on the abortion issue is likely to be shaped by how the policies develop and play out in your particular state.

As with any dramatic legal change, there will be unintended consequences. That’s not a reason to withhold celebration of a positive change in abortion policy, or express concern about fallout. Nevertheless, as citizens with a mind toward good, sustainable governance, it is worthwhile to keep our eyes wide open about how individuals and communities will react and behave in light of such policy changes in the short and long term. Court decisions are a necessary part of our governing systems. But they are not legislation.

Legislation involves negotiation, accommodation, implementation, and enforcement. All that is long, difficult work and made all the more difficult by a political environment that is heavily polarized. Pastors can help inoculate us against disenchantment once again by affirming those facts and challenges as the reality of the road in front of us.

Navigating civic (or “political”) issues in the life of a local church has always been challenging. Our current era of toxic political polarization makes things all the more complex and heated, especially with the Dobbs ruling forthcoming. But pastors and other leadership in local churches have the tools with which to disciple their people regarding pro-life issues and make a difference in their communities. Instead of placing the weight of that discipleship into a single sermon or event, try implementing some of the above ideas into the regular, mundane life of your church. Implementing these ideas over the next year may lead, by God’s grace, to more communities with vibrant pro-life ministry in the coming years that see babies saved, mothers and fathers served, and the gospel proclaimed. 

Matthew T. Hawkins

Matthew T. Hawkins is a former policy director of the  ERLC. He is presently pursuing a Ph.D. in public theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, and serves as chair of The One America Movement, a nonprofit that desires to build a united American society by eliminating toxic polarization. More information … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24