As a follower of Jesus committed to a holistic pro-life ethic, from the moment of natural conception to the moment of natural death, I find myself in awe that we are perhaps weeks away from Roe v. Wade being overturned by the United States Supreme Court. And as a pastor of a small church in Studio City, California, an influential neighborhood of Los Angeles, I also realize the ruling likely won’t change much practically for our community in terms of decreasing the number of abortions.
We live in one of the most progressive pro-choice states, and California is already passing legislation to encourage people to visit our state in order to obtain an abortion in the case that their state outlaws the procedure. These so-called “abortion tourism” policies should be no surprise to anyone familiar with the hold abortion ideology has on our country. So how should pro-life pastors and other ministry leaders in neighborhoods like mine respond to such developments, especially as more vulnerable women in need may be coming to our state?
What stays the same
In one sense, nothing should change. The calling of a pastor is to help lead his church in obedience to the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20) and the Great Commandments (Matt. 22:36-40) in their own context and in their own community. That calling is true whether one pastors in Mobile, Alabama, or Los Angeles, California. And so, when our God describes himself as One who “executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing” (Deut. 10:18) and tells his people they should “open [their] mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open [their] mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy,” then it is not difficult to see a part of that calling should be to foster a holistic pro-life culture and ministry within one’s congregation.
This must include caring for and protecting both the unborn life in the womb and vulnerable women who are seeking help in a desperate time. At our church I try to make it a point to speak to and preach toward caring for and protecting both of those groups. Our tribal political world often only speaks to the need to protect the unborn at the expense of (or ignorance of) vulnerable women, and vice versa. The Kingdom of God never makes such bifurcations. Neither should pastors. The passions in our country around abortion are impossible to change overnight, and progressive neighborhoods like my own will, I believe, only be shifted by the pro-life side through sustained advocacy on behalf of vulnerable women along with their unborn children.
What needs to change
But in another sense, if Roe gets overturned and more “abortion tourism” policies go into effect in states like California, things should change. Jesus told us to “let [our] light shine before others, so that they may see [our] good works and give glory to [our] Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). The ending of Roe would give a special, heightened cultural awareness to abortion issues and how followers of Jesus choose to respond. If our non-Christian community sees us respond with disdain toward Californians rather than California’s progressive policy responses, for example, it will likely only cement the tribal divisions around abortion.
We absolutely should deplore the policy that leads to a holocaust of life, but we should look with compassion on those who are deceived by sin. If they see us respond like the prophet Jonah to the city of Nineveh, pouting in the dirt and bitter that things have not gone the way we desired, we cannot expect that either the unborn nor vulnerable women will be any more protected here. Worse yet would be to stand before our Lord at the end of time in regards to this issue and hear him implore us, “Should not I pity California, that great state, in which there are more than 39 million persons who do not know their right hand from their left?” (Jonah 4:11, changes mine).
If Roe ends and California enacts more progressive policies to encourage more abortions for those local and outside the state, pro-life followers of Jesus will have a great opportunity to proclaim and show that we are a people who care about every individual affected by an unplanned pregnancy. There will be plenty of tribal culture warriors who, like Jonah, call for fire to reign down on the state. Not so for us, pastor. We must be those who vocally teach our people that the way of Jonah with Nineveh must not be our way. Instead, we must emulate the way of Jesus when he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We must be the people who compassionately show people that there are options other than terminating the precious preborn life inside of them. And we can do this while graciously advocating for the protection of these lives.
California pastors like myself can also lead their congregations to take one tangible step together to help such women, whether giving to or volunteering at PRCs (Pregnancy Resource Centers), connecting with already active pro-life organizations, or supporting local foster care and adoption services. And may I humbly submit that we can advocate for our local and state government to enact more fiscal policies that help reduce abortions? Many progressive legislatures will never seek to reduce abortions directly but will absolutely seek to lift vulnerable women out of poverty and situations which make abortion seem like an attractive option. Pro-life followers of Jesus should be able to encourage such legislation if, in the end, it leads to the protection of more life and the formation of more healthy families.
If we take these overall tactics, then we’ll be on our way to loving our vulnerable neighbor as ourselves, the very way that Jesus, at the cross, has loved us when we were most vulnerable in our sins.