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Book Review

Helping Christians respond to a pro-choice theological ethic

A critique of "Abortion and the Christian Tradition"

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January 17, 2020

I serve in pro-life ministry, and I hear a wide variety of reasons for abortion. Most frequently, the reasons are medical, financial, or related to the responsibilities of parenthood. However, a few weeks ago, a post-abortive woman said something that significantly shifted my understanding. She said, “I know that it was a baby, and I know I killed my baby. But at least I know that he or she will go to heaven, and that will be a much better thing for my baby than to let it suffer here.”

I wrestled with this statement for several days. I know this is certainly not the only mother who is post-abortive who has justified her actions with such a thought. How should Christians process and respond to this logic?

A mothering decision? 

Ironically, the same week that I heard about this particular woman’s reason for abortion, I began reading Margaret Kamitsuka’s newest published work, Abortion and the Christian Tradition: A Pro-Choice Theological Ethic. The central argument she makes happens to be that the decision to abort is actually a mothering one. It is not a woman’s decision to become a mother or not, but instead it is a decision that ends a mother’s obligations before her child comes into the world. 

Kamitsuka identifies herself as a “Protestant feminist,” and I’m afraid her justifications for abortion get even more disturbing. Not only does she suggest that the decision to abort is a mothering one, but she also argues “for why abortion should not be labeled as ipso facto sin (and certainly not murder), and why Jesus’ definitive sacrifice on the cross should be seen as freeing women from offering their bodies for compulsory gestation.” 

In addition, she suggests that if we look at the crucifixion from the perspective of God as “Mother” (she recommends this is necessary, because viewing God as “a begetting Father of the creeds who might be seen as turning away from a woman considering or having an abortion” is not helpful for understanding the prism of women’s reproductive loss), then we can hold a theology of death at reproductive losses, including abortion, and can be healed in the “womb of the Trinity.”

Considering both the statements made by the post-abortive woman and Kamitsuka, the believer’s response can be summarized as this: a correct knowledge and understanding of theology and the gospel is critical to being pro-life. 

An attack on the image of God

Kamitsuka’s argument cannot stand without denying that all human beings are made in the image of God from conception, accepting a processive, emergent view of the incarnation and personhood, and believing that there is a female component to the Trinity who sympathizes with and accepts a woman’s right to end the life in her womb.

The author downplays what is stated in Genesis 1:26-27, with the pivotal statement, “So God created mankind in his own image” (v. 27a) by writing, “The concept of humans created in the image of God is rooted in a few decisive verses in the book of Genesis.” Essentially, she begins trying to dismantle imago Dei because it’s only in the Bible a couple of times. Later, she implies that even if we do accept imago Dei as being relevant to all humankind, we still cannot directly apply it to fetal personhood. 

If God made the first living man and woman in his image as is stated in Genesis 1, and science shows that life begins at conception (Kamitsuka cites research from 2008 and 2016, arguing that there is scientific ambiguity on when life really begins; however, even as recently as 2018, we have seen increasingly more scientific evidence that life definitively begins as soon as fertilization occurs), then we must believe that we are made in God’s image from the moment that our lives began. Because everything else about our humanity is inherited from Adam and Eve, we must also conclude that our role as God’s image-bearers was inherited from them as well. Therefore, if image-bearing is an inherited part of human life, and human life begins at conception, then image-bearing begins at conception. 

In order to stand firm for life, we must know, understand, and believe biblical theology. We also must affirm that it is only the hope of the true gospel that will transform minds and hearts to value human persons from conception. 

Even though verses like Psalm 139:13 are describing the lives of specific individuals, and New Testament verses such Colossians 1:20, James 3:9, and 1 Corinthians 11:7-9 are describing discipleship, we can conclude that the authors of Scripture show an inherent understanding that life begins in the womb. If this were not the case, then they would not use such language to address their audience. Kamitsuka argues that we cannot take Psalm 139:13 (“You knit me together in my mother’s womb”) as being applicable to all fetal life, because it’s a reference that David makes specifically to himself. However, if this is true, then that implies that we cannot take any personal statement made by David in the Psalms to be true for all humanity. When he says “The Lord is my shepherd” in Psalm 23, does that mean God is only David’s shepherd, and God is not a shepherd to anyone else? Of course not. 

Becoming human

However, since Kamitsuka believes that relating imago Dei to fetal value lacks reliability, she takes her processive, emergent view of the incarnation and relates it to human personhood. She believes that, just as Jesus became divine over the course of his life, becoming God at the resurrection, we also gain personhood over time. While there are multiple passages that show that a processive, emergent view of salvation is contrary to Scripture, the most obvious is in Luke 2 when the angel comes to the shepherds and says in verse 11, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The angel did not say that this newborn baby will become Christ the Lord; he said that he “is Christ the Lord.” 

Also the book of John, we see Jesus identify that “The Father and I are one” (John 10:30). Throughout his ministry, his disciples identify him as God as well. In John 20:28-29, “Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Do you believe because you see me? How happy are those who believe without seeing me!’”

Just as Jesus did not become God over time, but was born fully God and fully man, so we are also not saved over time. Ephesians 1:13 makes this clear: “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal the promised Holy Spirit.” Salvation occurs in an instant upon the belief of the gospel; the process of sanctification (becoming more like Christ) occurs over time. 

God as father, not mother

Finally, regarding God as “Mother” is a common facet of feminist theology, yet it is not backed by Scripture. As John Cooper makes clear in his book Our Father in Heaven: Christian Faith and Inclusive Language of God, even the passages of Scripture that illustrate God’s tender and nurturing character do not include feminine titles. There is never a case in Scripture where God is identified by a feminine pronoun, or even a metaphorical predicate noun. Cooper states, “In other words, God is never directly said to be a mother, mistress, or female bird in the way he is said to be a father, king, judge, or shepherd.” 

If God is not a “Mother,” then there is no “womb of the Trinity.” Kamitsuka states near the end of the book, 

“In this context of miscarriage and stillbirth, God is envisaged as compassionate Mother, because God also suffered the death of her own Son. I submit that this same image of a mothering, suffering God could also speak to abortion. I imagine a woman having an abortion and, between the painful dilation and cramping, uttering a prayer to God: ‘Shekhinah, in the darkness of your womb we find protection and comfort!’ For the stigma of abortion to be overcome, one needs to imagine this prayer being heard by a mothering God who turns her face not away but toward such a woman and feels compassion for the death that the woman brings into her own womb.” 

Since there is no biblical ground to stand on that God is a mothering God,  “the stigma of abortion” cannot be overcome.

Without misrepresenting the biblical understanding of imago Dei, without denying that Jesus was fully God from birth, and without adding “God as Mother” to the Trinity, we cannot have a pro-choice theological ethic according to Kamitsuka’s definition. This is why theology matters.

Conclusion

Kamitsuka remarks, “Ethicist Bertha Manninen has recently noted how ‘voices within the younger generation of pro-choice advocacy’ are reconsidering speaking of the fetus as having inconsequential value, especially given the reality that some women experience abortion as an entailing loss.” We are facing a new generation of pro-choice advocacy that acknowledges that a fetus has value, but without the full consequence of personhood as made in the image of God. In order to stand firm for life, we must know, understand, and believe biblical theology. We also must affirm that it is only the hope of the true gospel that will transform minds and hearts to value human persons from conception. 

The Church must understand the profoundly difficult responsibility that we are asking a woman to take on when we plead with her to preserve the life of her child. And, yes, the local church will fail at supporting her sustainably if a firm plan of action is not in place. This is why every local church must understand what it looks like to be holistically pro-life. We must organize intentional plans and take action to establish pro-life advocacy. Most importantly, we must be willing to provide continual spiritual and material support for women, families, and orphans in need. 

It is our primary obligation to reach abortion-minded individuals winsomely with gospel hope. We must also commit to the care of women, families, and orphans with the utmost intentionality within our local churches and on the mission field. Believers, may we be moved with compassion to take action, and may we see the hope of the gospel transform abortion-minded hearts throughout the world.

Laurelen Muller

Laurelen Müller serves as the executive director of Speak for the Unborn. She helps to implement the big picture vision and mission of the ministry in every capacity, oversees administrative volunteers, trains & equips Network Churches, and plans organizational development. She and her husband, Michael, live in New Albany, Indiana, with … Read More