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How the debate on life might be won through friendship

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December 8, 2021

You may have seen the video that’s making the rounds through the internet after the Dobbs arguments. A group of presumably pro-choice women, vehemently protesting on the steps of the Supreme Court, recently took part in a demonstration wherein they each swallowed what were purported to be “abortion pills.” 

Did we just witness the intentional killing of four pre-born babies?

In our pro-life circles, there were, and continue to be, plenty of commentators. Some called it a form of religious worship; others, a sort of sacramental ceremony. And they’re right — this demonstration was without question an act of worship. But instead of merely pointing our fingers and diagnosing the problem — quote-tweeting from a safe distance — isn’t there a better way for us to engage with the issue and the people involved in it?

As those on both sides of the debate grow further apart and the conversation grows more militant, a piercing question hangs in the air: how will this divide ever be mended? 

Many don’t believe it will be. Some don’t even believe it can. Others just aren’t willing to do the work involved in rebuilding what’s been broken, preferring instead to wag their collective fingers and comment from afar. But how should Christians approach and seek to answer this question?  It’s really not all that complex. And we don’t need to look any further than the ministry of Jesus for our marching orders.

Jesus, friend of sinners

In the Gospels according to Matthew and Luke, readers are introduced to a supposedly derogatory phrase used to describe Jesus. Speaking to the crowds around him, Jesus repeats to them the charge that’s been levied against him: he is a “friend . . . of sinners” (Matt. 11:19; Luke 7:34). While Jesus offers no immediate or explicit comment either for or against this accusation, Luke wants his reader to understand that this Pharisaic charge is true. But what the crowds and the Pharisees saw as evil, Jesus embraced as good (Gen. 50:20).

In the very next scene recorded by Luke, after being invited into one of the Pharisee’s homes, Jesus was approached by “a woman in the town who was a sinner” (Luke 7:37). While he was reclining at the table, presumably sharing a meal with “upright” and “clean” religious men, this woman — this sinner — descended on Jesus, fell before him, and spilled her tears and a jar of perfume on his feet. In response, the Pharisee who had invited him reiterated in his mind, with seeming disgust, that she was a sinner (Luke 7:39). Responding to this man’s thoughts, Jesus proceeded to tell a story, eventually commending this woman, declaring that her sins were forgiven, and charging her to “Go in peace” (Luke 7:50). 

While all the men around the table were clamoring for a spot in Jesus’s inner circle, it was the most unlikely character who left the table as his friend.

Christians, friends of sinners

In his book, Friend of Sinners: An Approach to Evangelism, Harvey Turner opens the first chapter with a powerful question: “Do you like sinners?” He goes on:

“I hear many Christians talking about personal holiness. They talk about being like Jesus, walking like Jesus, and following Jesus. But most Christians I know don’t love sinners like Jesus did. They don’t hang out with them, they don’t share the gospel with them, and they just plain don’t like them. But could it be that the process of becoming more holy includes hanging around those who are considered unholy?”

Jesus loved sinners, and still does. And not just that, but Jesus liked sinners, and still does. How else would we have been welcomed into the kingdom of God if Jesus hadn’t befriended us? 

So, what does all this have to do with the group of women standing on the steps in our nation’s capital, swallowing abortion-inducing pills for public viewing? After watching the video and surveying the large number of comments being offered by men and women who I greatly respect, and whose comments I mostly agree with, I couldn’t shake (and still can’t) this single question: what amount of progress might be made, in this conversation and others, if, instead of making an example of these women with our clever and incisive comments, we simply walked across the street and sought to befriend them?

Would the culture change overnight? Certainly not. But, little by little, as friendships are born “across enemy lines,” maybe the temperature of this heated debate would begin to lower, maybe pre-born babies lives would be saved from the prospect of abortion, and maybe, when confronted with the kindness of God’s people, “sinners” would be made disciples and be welcomed into eternal life with God. It is God’s kindness that leads men and women to repentance (Rom. 2:4). May God’s people go and do likewise.

“Our mission from Jesus,” Turner says, “is to make disciples of people who are not currently disciples (Matt. 28:18-20) . . . If we are not friends to sinners, we are not following him [Jesus].” 

Christians, befriended sinners

I suspect that part of the reason we find this so difficult is because we’ve forgotten some crucial things about our own pathway into God’s family, namely that Jesus has come and made friends with those of us who follow him (John 15:15). The “hound of heaven” chased us down, sinners though we were, and slathered us with lovingkindness.

Where were you when Jesus came and befriended you?

This should force us to ask a couple of questions. Are the steps of the Supreme Court off limits for Jesus to come and birth a new friendship? Are women with abortion drugs under their tongues too unclean for Jesus to welcome them, forgive them of their sins, and offer them the shalom of God? The answer to these questions is clearly no. So, why would we not follow in the way of Jesus and invite them into friendship with God by making friends with them ourselves? Can we expect to win them, and the persistent debate on life, any other way?

The people of God, regardless of where we find ourselves, have been given a new vocation: we are fishers of people, charged with going and making disciples of men and women, teaching them what it means to follow the one who says to them, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We, imitating the God we worship, have been called to make friends with our enemies.

So, whether on the steps of the Supreme Court or the cubicle across the hall, may we, for the love of God and neighbor, have the courage to put down our commenting devices and go befriend someone into the kingdom of God. And, in the stead of our Savior, may we wear the label “friend of sinners” with joy.

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. He is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Arts in Theological Studies. Jordan is married to Juliana, and they have three children. Read More by this Author