This is a parenting book grounded in the gospel and authored by a couple that has a great deal of experience when it comes to parenting. Jimmy and Kristin Scroggins are the right people to address this crucial topic, and they do so exceptionally well. This book takes difficult topics, explores them biblically, outlines how to talk about the issues with children, and offers helpful principles throughout. The book is concrete, thoughtful, and will be a mainstay in churches and homes for many years to come.
I can still remember the tears rolling down my cheeks after hearing the ultrasound tech say, “It’s a girl!” My husband Barry and I had two boys, ages 9 and 11, and now we were having a baby girl. We couldn’t have been more thrilled.
Molly Kate was such a sweet, laid-back baby, but as she grew, we noticed that she didn’t do things quite as quickly as her brothers had done. As the months went by, she began missing more and more milestones, and we began to realize that something else was going on. When MK was about 12 months old, an MRI and genetic blood work were ordered. The MRI revealed that MK had cerebellar hypoplasia, a condition affecting the development of the cerebellum in her brain, which helps with balance, equilibrium, muscle tone, movement, speech, and learning. Our world was turned upside down.
Looking back, that was a really tough day and a really tough year. We went from thinking that we were dealing with something temporary to knowing that it would be lifelong for her. As we began to research her condition, we saw that the effects of cerebellar hypoplasia varied widely in children. Some could walk with minimal impairment, while others used wheelchairs. Some just had speech delays, while others remained nonverbal. Cognitive levels varied all over the place. We had no idea what was in her future, but as one of her specialists said, “Molly Kate is the captain of this ship and she will show us what she can and will do as we go.” We agreed that God, as the true captain of her ship, would write her story, regardless of what the research might say. The doctor refused to put limits on her, and so did we.
As time went on, MK progressed with her therapies but continued to be severely delayed. We would celebrate every “inchstone,” as we would call them, and it was so exciting to watch her accomplish even the tiniest things. We were watching, in slow motion, as she learned to do the things that most of us take for granted. We were learning more and more that the promises in Scripture that we had heard and read all of our lives were so very true as God upheld us each step of the way.
When we first realized that MK would probably need a wheelchair, we were devastated. But by the time she was 2 ½, we were thrilled to see her with a way to get around. People couldn’t help but smile when they saw this sweet and happy little girl on wheels.
As she continued to grow, she remained nonverbal. I would sit in her room at night, with tears streaming down my face, praying that one day I would hear the word “Mama.” We were realizing, though, that this little girl who couldn’t speak a word was teaching us more than we ever dreamed we would learn.
At age 4, she finally said that beautiful word, “Mama.” Now, at age 8, with the help of a communication device, she can say hundreds of words and uses her device to memorize and quote Scripture. Still, even if she never made progress in any of her physical skills, we would love her just as much. We know that she is made in the image of God and her worth is determined by the fact that he created and loves her more than we can fathom.
Today, MK requires a lot of assistance with her daily activities, but instead of seeing it as a burden or a chore, God has opened our eyes to what a privilege it is to walk with her through each stage of life. Although the road is not always easy, the blessings of being MK’s parents far outweigh that. The joy she has brought to our family and to every person she meets is indescribable. God’s glory is put on display through what he has done and continues to do in and through her. The beautiful community of families in the disability community is something that we may have never known without her. We have learned a new level of compassion and empathy for others and of leaning into God’s promises.
This is not the way we imagined her life to look, but we stand amazed as God continues to reveal his plan. We know his story for her is so far from over, so we continue to hold onto his promises and watch his glorious unfolding. To him be the glory!
The ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project has had the privilege of funding the placement of ultrasound machines in 22 different pregnancy resource centers, including the Sanchez Center, a Baptist Community Health Services (BCHS) clinic in the Lower 9th Ward of New Orleans, Louisiana; Liberty Women’s Clinic in Liberty, Missouri; and Care Net Pregnancy Center near Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Launched in 2014, the Sanchez Center is operated by BCHS, which runs five clinics delivering a range of services from prenatal and elderly care to behavioral and mental health care. Its mission is to demonstrate the love of Christ by delivering high-quality healthcare services in medically underserved communities.
Since 2002, Liberty Women’s Clinic (LWC) has sought to minister with the love of Christ by empowering people to make informed, life-affirming choices about pregnancy, sexual health, and relationships.
Likewise, Care Net Pregnancy Center is a ministry that seeks to partner with its clients by confirming pregnancy, extending comprehensive support, and cultivating healthy relationships to help them flourish.
Through the donation of ultrasound machines by the ERLC’s Psalm 139 Project, these and other centers have had a notable effect on their surrounding communities, offering life-saving ultrasounds and influencing numerous pregnancy decisions every year. We talked to the leaders of these incredible organizations about their ministry and the people they get to serve.
ERLC: What type of community do you serve?
Carol Graham, Liberty Women’s Clinic: Liberty is a community of approximately 60,000 which includes Kansas City addresses. Because of our location, we serve women from urban, suburban, and surrounding smaller towns. During COVID-19 closures, we actually provided virtual services to women in every single county surrounding Kansas City.
Jamie Dickerson, Care Net Pregnancy Center: The community we serve is diverse. We see a large percentage of Hispanic women and men, some of whom are undocumented immigrants. This reflects the population of our wider community. We also serve from high school students up to women in their 40s. The most common age range of women we serve is from 20-30. In addition, we have the opportunity to serve college students from New Mexico State University, including many international students.
Shawn Powers, BCHS: BCHS clinics are located in medically underserved communities, where we engage with patients of all backgrounds and socioeconomic statuses at little to no cost.
ERLC: How has the Psalm 139 Project affected your pregnancy resource center?
CG: The Psalm 139 project provided our clinic with a second ultrasound machine, offering the opportunity to double the number of scans within the current facility and hours.
JD: The Psalm 139 Project made it possible for us to start providing life-saving ultrasounds. We transitioned to being a medical pregnancy center this year with trained nurse sonographers. Now, in addition to providing free pregnancy tests, we are able to share images of unborn babies with their parents.
SP: With the ultrasound machine provided by the Psalm 139 Project, BCHS is able to convey the miracle of God-given life in the womb and develop relationships between parents and their children. The free ultrasounds help mothers understand the dignity and value of all life.
ERLC: How has the Lord used the sonogram machines to influence Kingdom work?
CG: A woman who is in the valley of despair between choosing life or death for her unborn child will change her mind almost 80% of the time after viewing her baby on an ultrasound. She is shown mercy, grace, truth, and the love of Christ during her interaction with staff and volunteers, perhaps affecting her entire future.
JD: We believe that providing women and men information about their options is a powerful tool in both saving and transforming lives. The sonogram machine adds a valuable layer in providing parents full information about the implications of their pregnancy decision. Though we have only been providing ultrasounds for a few short months, we have had the opportunity to see women choose life after viewing their baby on an ultrasound.
SP: The machine has helped communicate the dignity and value of human life, setting in motion a relationship in which BCHS gets to walk with mothers and their children long after delivery to build community trust and long-term flourishing. With the machine, we’re able to provide a service to patients who may not otherwise receive it, giving us the opportunity to minister to those in need.
ERLC: What usually happens after a woman sees her baby through an ultrasound?
CG: Typically, we see clients in their first stages of pregnancy. During those early weeks, the signs of pregnancy are usually morning sickness and a missed period. For the client, those symptoms are not enough to make the pregnancy real. When a woman sees her baby in the ultrasound, a shift in thinking takes place. The client no longer sees her conditions as symptoms to be diagnosed but as signs of life growing in her womb, and a relationship is established. With the ultrasound, the client can make a truly informed decision about her pregnancy.
One of our first expecting moms who came in for an ultrasound had been to our center for a previous pregnancy and was fairly set on abortion. This time, she was unsure about how far along she was. She stated that seeing the images and the heartbeat on the ultrasound made a difference for her in making a pregnancy decision for life.
ERLC: How many women or couples come for advice, resources, and other services?
CG: In 2019, God worked through LWC with 3,900 services provided during 643 transformational client visits and 195 ultrasounds. We had 225 known decisions for life. At the halfway point of 2020, we were only slightly lagging behind our 2019 services provided number, even with the temporary closure of our physical clinic due to COVID-19. Despite the pandemic, we had 1095 appointments. And at our clinic, where 8 out of 10 women choose life, we received 433 abortion-seeking calls.
We’ve seen a spike in women leveraging our virtual services plus an increase in inquiries about abortions and abortion pills. We were blessed to stay “open” during this time to assist these women and continue to carefully provide client services as we worked slowly toward a full reopening. God has been faithful to continue to grow us.
JD: In 2019, we served 587 unique clients with 1,346 total visits. These included free pregnancy tests as well as providing emergency baby and maternity supplies. In addition, we normally provide around 20,000 diapers to our community annually. During COVID, our numbers of diaper distribution have been even higher.
We have so much to celebrate despite the difficulties that 2020 brought with it. I will remember 2020 as the year that God answered my prayer and the prayers of so many for Care Net to become a medical clinic able to provide ultrasounds and even more care to each of our clients.
When our El Paso pregnancy center neighbors had to close because of COVID for a few weeks, we were able to see their clients who were in desperate need. We are still seeing the fruit from those weeks as we are walking with several of those clients as their babies are growing.
We provided 99 pregnancy tests and 47 ultrasounds for clients in 2020. We also increased the number of at-risk pregnancy test clients by more than 20% in the second half of 2020 compared to 2019. We ramped up the number of supplies we offered to the community. We received calls from so many people who needed diapers and wipes due to the scarcity created by the pandemic and provided over 25,000 diapers and so many other necessities to families last year.
ERLC: Do you have any additional information you can share that highlights the importance of pregnancy resource centers?
JD: There are 13,300 abortion-related searches online each month in the Kansas City area. Approximately 3,708 pregnancies are ended yearly in the Kansas City metro area. And from March–June 2020, LWC staff fielded 75 phone calls from abortion-minded women during our critical time of offering exclusively virtual services. This is in addition to calls and texts from non-abortion-minded women. We know of 45 life decisions and two decisions to abort made during that same time period.
ERLC: Can you estimate how many pregnancies are saved per ultrasound machine at a pro-life pregnancy center?
CG: There were 225 lives saved at LWC during 2019, but we do not keep statistics per machine. However, the ultrasound machine we received from the ERLC is our first choice when it is available because the technology is newer and superior.
ERLC: What else would you share with those who are passionate about saving unborn babies as well as preserving life and the human dignity of others in the name of Jesus?
CG: Pregnancy resource centers are vital to proclaiming the dignity and right to life of preborn children, mothers, and fathers in unplanned pregnancy situations, and maybe especially so during trying times like a pandemic. LWC’s mobile services coordinator summed up best the work of these centers—and the call for every Christian as we stand for life.
JD: The language we speak around issues of life and human dignity is as important as the actions we take. As we seek to minister to women, men, and the unborn, it is vital that we recognize the dignity of each person involved. They are each made in the image of God and deserve our love and respect no matter their circumstances.
In the pro-life arena, women often get thrown under the bus for the choices they have made. Our hope at Care Net of Las Cruces is to meet women right where they are, love them in that space, and walk with them as they seek information and help. We also firmly believe that standing for life includes so much more than words but includes meeting physical needs. This is important in every community because abortion is often chosen due to a lack of resources. But for us in Las Cruces, we see the ability to meet such needs as a unique and incredible opportunity to minister and honor life in our borderland.
BCHS: The abortion industry exploits underserved communities. But when these communities become a priority for those intent on preserving the life and human dignity of others, not only do these free ultrasound services save lives, but in our experience, they establish a relationship of trust. Often that trust results in parents bringing their kids to the clinic, becoming long-term patients. These ultrasound machines allow us not merely to save a life but to invest in the ongoing care of entire families.
Carol Graham is the founder & CEO of Liberty Women’s Clinic.
Jamie Dickerson is the executive director of Care Net of Las Cruces.
Shawn Powers is the CEO of Baptist Community Health Services (BCHS).
When Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton were handed down by the United States Supreme Court in 1973, the question everyone was asking was, “When does human life begin?” Every honest person already knew the answer to that question, and every honest person knows the answer today. Human life begins at conception. When a living human sperm unites with a living human egg, fertilization takes place, and the new organism, the human embryo, begins to develop.
Since that is clearly the case, why doesn’t that fact lead everyone to the conclusion that elective abortion is the killing of a living member of the human species and is, therefore, morally wrong? That’s a very important question, and we will explore the answer here.
Today’s question: Who is a person?
The question being asked today is not when does human life begin, but, “Who is a person, and what do we owe persons?” Most people believe that we have a moral obligation not to unnecessarily harm another person. So the question, “Who counts as a person?” is crucial to understanding our ethical responsibility toward other persons.
The legacy of Peter Singer
Arguably, the thinker who has done more to advance the notion of personhood in the 21st century than anyone else is Peter Singer. Australian by birth, Singer has occupied the Ira W. DeCamp chair of bioethics at Princeton University since 1999. In his 1975 volume, Animal Liberation, and in numerous other writings, Singer has advanced the notion that what grounds our moral obligation not to harm others is their personhood. To make things more interesting, Singer believes that not all persons are human beings, and not all human beings are persons.
What makes a living thing a person? According to Singer, only beings who are self-aware or self-conscious are persons. In particular, persons are self-conscious, sentient beings. That is, they are living creatures who can experience pleasure or pain (sentient) and who can consciously reflect, however primitively, on that experience of pleasure or pain (self-aware). They are the sorts of creatures who when pricked with a needle say to themselves something like, “Ouch, that hurts! I wish that pain would stop!” They do not just react negatively to noxious stimuli (an oyster or a roach does that); they self-consciously resist and at some level lament the harm.
For Singer, self-aware, sentient creatures should not be subjected to suffering. He believes that great apes and dolphins are self-aware, sentient beings, so they have a “right to life”—that is, a right not to be unnecessarily harmed; so do members of the bovine (cow) and porcine (pig) species. But what about fish and fowl? Are they self-aware, sentient beings? Singer isn’t sure. It’s difficult to know what it’s like to be a chicken or a flounder. So, just to be safe, Singer and his wife, Renata, are long-time vegetarians who stopped eating meat in 1971.1https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2006/05/chew-right-thing/
Singer is not alone, either in his vegetarianism or in extending the right to life to animals. In 2008, the Spanish parliament announced it supported granting legal rights to gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans.2https://www.discovermagazine.com/planet-earth/great-apes-have-the-right-to-life-and-liberty-spain-says Thomas White, a philosopher at Loyola Marymount University in Redondo Beach, California, has argued that dolphins are “non-human persons” who have a “right to life.”3https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/02/dolphin-person and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-17116882 In 2010 in Helsinki, Finland, the Collegium for Advanced Studies issued the Declaration of the Rights of Cetaceans to affirm the right to life, liberty, and well-being to whales and dolphins.4https://www.cetaceanrights.org/ The extension of the right to life to animals may eventually have implications for the right to life of non-animal “persons” like robots and other artificial intelligence (AI).
Implications for humans
In the meantime, defining personhood as sentient self-awareness not only has implications for animals, but also for humans. On Singer’s view, human embryos and fetuses are not sentient and self-aware. Even though they are human, they are not persons. There is no harm in killing nonsentient, nonself-aware members of the species Homo sapiens. In fact, species membership has nothing to do with personhood for Singer. In fact, species membership has nothing to do with personhood for Singer. Privileging species membership is “speciesism,” or viewing humans as more morally important than animals, by Singer’s way of thinking. Like other forms of irrational prejudice—racism, sexism, and other “isms”—speciesism is unethical and immoral. Just because a living being is human does not mean it is wrong to harm him or her, says Singer.
In his book Practical Ethics, Singer claims, “Human babies are not born self-aware, or capable of grasping that they exist over time. They are not persons . . . the life of a newborn is of less value than the life of a pig, a dog, or a chimpanzee.”5Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 122–123. In 2000, he clarified his view, affirming that normal newborns are sentient, but not self-aware.6https://www.nytimes.com/2000/03/12/nyregion/l-peter-singer-clarifies-his-attitudes-on-sentience-210803.htm In 2015, disability activists launched an effort to get Singer removed from his academic post because of his public support for euthanizing disabled infants.7https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/jun/16peter-singer-princeton-bioethics-professor-faces-c/
The imago Dei and the dignity of human beings
Personhood—at least as philosophically defined—can be problematic. Worse, it can lead to horrific abuse. So it is important to understand the basis for human exceptionalism, the view that we owe human beings special respect.
A theological foundation
Theologically speaking, personhood has a rich and robust legacy. There are non-human persons, including God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There are also angelic non-human persons. But what distinguishes human beings from other living creatures is not personhood per se, but the image of God (imago Dei).
In one of the clearest biblical texts on the subject, God himself declares human life to be distinct from other forms of life. After the catastrophic flood recorded in Genesis 6-8, God renewed his covenant with Noah and Noah’s children. Just as with his covenant with Adam and Eve in Genesis 2, God blessed Noah’s progeny, calling them to, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear and terror of you will be in every living creature on the earth, every bird of the sky, every creature that crawls on the ground, and all the fish of the sea. They are placed under your authority” (Gen. 9:1-2 HCSB). The new humanity, like the old humanity, were to be good stewards of all that the Lord had made.
There was, however, something new. God declares, “Every living creature will be food for you; as I gave the green plants, I have given you everything. However, you must not eat meat with its lifeblood in it. I will require the life of every animal and every man for your life and your blood. I will require the life of each man’s brother for a man’s life” (vv. 3-5). Noah and his family are given permission to kill the animals for food. It should be noted that this is not permission to be cruel or to kill the animals indiscriminately. Stewardship, not exploitation, remains the overarching paradigm.
Nevertheless, a very pointed distinction was made between killing an animal and killing a human being. Dire consequences will result from the killing of another human being. This is underscored in Genesis 9:6a, “Whoever sheds man’s blood, his blood will be shed by man.” But why? What’s the difference between killing animals and killing human beings? How are they different? Genesis 9:6b offers the distinction: “for God made man in His image.” To kill an innocent human being, a member of the species Homo sapiens, is an affront to God himself, who made man in his image. The distinction is not personhood, at least as understood by Peter Singer. The distinction is the imago Dei.
God has made every human being in his image and after his likeness (Gen. 1:26-27). We have an obligation before God not to unnecessarily harm another human being. In addition, we are to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Mark 12:31). Unborn human beings are image bearers of God. Disabled human beings are imagers of God. The frail elderly are image bearers of God. They are human beings deserving of respect, care, and protection because God himself has made them in his image.
Personhood debates depend on who is defining the terms. If “persons” are “sentient self-aware creatures and only sentient self-aware creatures” then Peter Singer may be right. But if respect for human life doesn’t depend on arbitrary definitions of personhood but on the revelation of Scripture about the nature of human life made in God’s image, then every human being has a right to life grounded in the sanctity of human life which has been declared sacred by the Creator himself.
- 3https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2010/02/dolphin-person and https://www.bbc.com/news/world-17116882
- 5Peter Singer, Practical Ethics, (Cambridge University Press, 1979), pp. 122–123.
“Daddy!” Our daughter was crying out my name for the first time. She was 4 years old, and we were staying in Addis Ababa, Ethopia, for medical checks and visas so we could fly our three newest kids home. She didn’t know much English yet, but she knew what to call me. And she knew when to call me.
Her new brother, who was 3, had just taken a toy car from her. She’d tried to get it back, but having no real power, she eventually cried out to the only person in the room who could right the wrong and bring order to chaos. I walked over, figured out what had happened, and returned the car to her. In that micro-world of toy-taking injustice, order was restored.
But what if I hadn’t been there?
On your own
For the first four years of her life, I wasn’t. Orphanage workers had done their heroic best, but children aren’t designed for systems and institutions, no matter how merciful their mission or excellent their care. Children are made for families.
I remember touring her large orphanage in the one opportunity we had to see it. At one point, we came across a roving pack of kids, and there was a commotion. Some of the kids had taken a boy’s sandal, and he was yelling for it. A passing worker shouted something, and they tossed the boy’s sandal to the side and ran off, snickering.
A toy car. A stolen sandal. These are tiny wrongs in the annals of human grievance. But pile them up—and they do pile up—and they scar the spirits of those too young to understand but not too young to feel that their world is not the way it’s supposed to be. This constant vulnerability, with its unrighted wrongs and untreated wounds, sends a dark message to far too many children: you’re on your own in the world.
The Lord comes
Psalm 98 sends an opposite message. In Psalm 98, seas roar, rivers clap, and hills break out singing. Why the celebration? Because “the Lord comes to judge the earth” (Ps. 98:7–9). This cosmic judicial action doesn’t just mean consequences for wrongdoing but the renewal of creation—the way things ought to be. The created world is longing to be “set free from its bondage to corruption” (Rom. 8:20–21). So when God finally arrives to set the world right, a celebration erupts.
But God doesn’t just wait until the end of time to start healing wounds, righting wrongs, and restoring order.
In these days between the first and second comings of Christ, God’s kingdom comes to earth in the form of his redeemed church, the new covenant family that calls Jesus “Lord.” As our Lord welcomed little children, we welcome them ourselves (Mark 10:13–16). The healthy church is an embassy of orphan-loving ambassadors, birthed out of the heart of an infinite Father.
Holy and here to help
Many Christians are familiar with James’ challenge to care for the vulnerable: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” (James 1:27). But why does James draw a connection between helping the vulnerable (“visit orphans and widows”) and personal holiness (“unstained from the world”)?
James is remixing lines from a hymn written by King David 1,000 years earlier: “Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home” (Ps. 68:5–6).
The world system, corrupt and polluted, worships power and position and prestige. In this value system, the weak and vulnerable mean little. But God sees the weakest in his world with the love of a creator, the heart of a father, and the moral commitment of a holy judge.
God, in his holiness, protects the vulnerable, so God’s family—by nature—does the same. Over and over, we’re told that we share his moral DNA. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Pet. 1:16). “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God” (Eph. 4:24). “Be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph. 5:1–2). “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:46). “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean . . . bring justice to the fatherless” (Isa. 1:16–17).
A long road
But there is no triumphalism here, no hagiography about the holiness of orphan care. Adoption and fostering can be hard for all involved—traumatic transitions for the kids, confusion and stress for parents and siblings, a long road of hoped-for healing with no guaranteed results. There are gravities that are hard to rise above, and ceilings that are hard to break through.
Most families who step forward to help vulnerable children will walk some very dark valleys. Sometimes I cringe when I reread my sincere but naïve enthusiasm about orphan care from many years ago. Now, mid-marathon, we’re just limping forward as parents, doing our best to steer our kids straight into their fast-approaching adulthood.
Yet, our confidence in God’s calling to care for children in need has never wavered. Because I also know this: A stable family is its own therapy. Like a stream on a stone, families who choose this path shape and are shaped by the invaluable image-bearers God providentially brings us.
Today, our four East African children are all teenagers. Their arguments aren’t about toys, and our conversations are mostly about school and decisions and truth and emotions and wisdom. My kids don’t cry out “Daddy!” anymore. But I do.
I cry out to my Father because I trust that the God who loved my kids before I ever knew them still loves them better than I ever will. I cry out to my Father because I’m asking him to save them, give them godly spouses, and make them wise. I cry out to my Father because we’re all broken, and I need the Lord to come each morning with new mercies for our family. I cry out to my Father because the day I became their dad, I became their advocate, protector, and lifelong intercessor. And I cry out to my Father because he has all the wisdom and strength I need for raising my adopted children—because he adopted me. And someday, when I grow up, I hope to be just like him.
For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Rom. 8:15).
As we near the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the pro-life movement is committed now more than ever to advancing the sanctity of human life and to making abortion unthinkable. For years, trailblazing organizations and individuals have worked tirelessly to help empower women to make life-saving decisions. Many of these organizations regularly work together in order to reach even more women and make a greater impact.
As a collective of pro-life leaders all doing unique work in the movement, we share the belief that we need all of you for the future of the movement. We need the church, because it’s going to take all of us doing our part to change hearts and lives.
The church isn’t a building. People are the church. We are the church wherever we go, and we represent Jesus wherever we are. The church can play a powerful role in saving lives. We can help prevent unplanned pregnancies by affirming people’s identity and value as those made in God’s image—and for those who trust in Jesus, as daughters and sons of the King—and by talking about hard topics like sex and abstinence.
The church can be one of the first places a girl runs to when she finds out she has an unplanned pregnancy. It should never be the place she avoids because of shame and guilt. We can help her be brave and choose life. The church can reach out and invite these women and men into a spiritual family. We can help heal past hurts and wounds because free people, free people. And we can help practically by giving single moms a hand up so they don’t just survive, they thrive.
Getting the church ready to save lives
Most Christians say they want to live that way. But I believe the same Christians who have taken a stance for the sanctity of life take one thing for granted: If abortion became illegal today, many churches would not be ready.
What would we do if there were women who were pregnant and scared, even angry, that they must carry the baby to term? It wouldn’t be right for us to look away and say, “Good luck!” We would need to be available to assist spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
It’s time to get the church ready. We can’t ignore these women anymore.
There may be different reasons behind every woman’s choice, but all of them are rooted in fear. Together, we can ease her fears and help her be brave. How can we do it? The recipe for transforming fear to faith is simple. There is one main ingredient: love. First John 4:18 explains clearly, “there is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”
We punish women with unplanned pregnancies when we label them or ignore them. But it is not guilt that brings transformation—“The goodness of God leads [us] to repentance” (Rom. 2:4 NKJV). If we’re not showing and sharing the goodness and kindness of our Heavenly Father, how will anyone know the hope of Jesus? It is love that changes hearts and mindsets.
Simply put, love saves lives.
We can’t just vote a certain way or talk about what needs to change—we are the change. And it will take all of us to create change. Miracles won’t happen if we are content to pass by on the other side of the road when we see people who are hurting, bruised, and afraid. It is time to activate our beliefs by being “good Samaritans,” bandaging the wounds of the broken and introducing them to the Healer of hearts.
Where should you get involved?
Many of you may ask, “Okay, we need to love. But how? What does it look like in practical terms? How do I know where to start? Where do I find a place to serve or get involved? I don’t even know what’s out there or what I might have to offer.”
I felt the same way a few years ago. I didn’t even know there was a pro-life movement before I started Embrace Grace, a nonprofit that inspires and equips the church to love on single and pregnant young women and their families. After my first book, A Bump in Life, released, I received invitations to speak for various organizations. One of them was a Care Net Conference, a training conference for pregnancy center workers. When I arrived, there were hundreds of pro-life ministries lining the hotel hallways in order to share information about a service or life-saving ministry that people could connect and get involved with. I walked up and down those halls in awe of how many amazing resources were available. I kept thinking, If only people knew about all of these!
The pro-life movement is filled with love and opportunity. The possibilities are endless. Whether you partner with an organization that is already doing great things or start something new on your own, there is a place for you to help and serve. God has put certain strengths, gifts, talents, and passions within you so you can use them for his glory and your neighbor’s good.
Here are a few questions to ask yourself as you pray about where to get involved:
- What are you passionate about? What is your favorite hobby or thing to do in your spare time? Can it somehow connect to the pro-life movement? For example, if you love numbers and accounting, you might help a single mom create a budget. If you’re familiar with human resources or love career coaching, you might help a single mom create her resume and find a good job. If you love children, you could offer to babysit. If you have a knack for fixing cars, you could help repair a single mom’s car.
- What makes you pound your fist on the table and say, “Someone needs to do something about this”? That someone might be you. There’s a reason why you get fired up about a certain injustice or cause.
- What is your story? A lot of times, our purpose is tied to our story. Have you experienced an abortion and want to help others experience God’s healing the way you have? Did an unplanned pregnancy leave you feeling completely alone? Perhaps you can be the person you wish had been there for you. God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad for our greatest calling.
Look out into the world and see what breaks your heart. Run toward your heartbreak, not away from it. Ask God if your heart is broken because his is too. When your heartbreak becomes a map to find a place to serve, it will set your soul on fire. If all of us work together, we can empower women to be brave. We would be blessing future generations, because brave moms raise brave kids.
Whatever stirs your soul and compels you to act, have an open heart, and just start. Take a step and see where the pro-love path leads. God may show you an opportunity you never knew to look for.
You can be the answer to someone’s prayer. There might be a new mother out there who needs you. And while you can’t fix all of her problems, you can point her to the one who can.
Recently, I was working the Embrace Grace booth at a pro-life women’s conference, and a friend of mine named Terrisa, the founder and executive director of Pro-Life San Francisco, came by to chat. She leads a millennial-focused grassroots activist group operating in arguably the most pro-choice city in America. She speaks to pro-life groups about secular and millennial outreach throughout the United States.
But what really makes her stand out in the pro-life community is that she is an atheist.
“Amy,” she said, “I wanted to see if you would be one of our speakers at our upcoming Pro-Life San Francisco event that will take place at Berkeley College. Would you be interested?”
I couldn’t hide my surprise. “Umm, you know what my message is about, right? The church, life, love, and Jesus. Wouldn’t that be an issue for you?”
“Yeah, I know what your pro-love message is about. I don’t believe in your God. But I believe in the power of your people. If you can get the church to actually do something, then the abortion issue wouldn’t even be an issue. The pro-life side has the manpower because we have the church. We have got to activate the church to get involved, and things will start to change.”
Why can an atheist recognize the power within us, but we can’t? Come on, church! If we join together, using all the strengths and gifts God put inside each one of us, we would push the tipping point back toward life—and back toward love.
Babies are beautiful. There is a reason joy springs from our hearts when we learn that a friend is pregnant. There is a reason we are moved after hearing a child’s heartbeat in the womb via ultrasound. There is a reason we love to see images of a mother holding her newborn. And there is a reason we smile when we unexpectedly encounter a new baby.
All of this happens because babies are beautiful.
But their beauty is much more than physical. Sure, we love to see the chubby cheeks or hear the infectious laugh of an infant. Who doesn’t? But the reason we love babies isn’t actually their looks or laughter or the thought of them in a cute onesie, as wonderful as these things may be. The true reason is much deeper. We love babies because their little lives testify to a reality all of us know intuitively: life is precious.
This issue of LIGHT is about that reality. As evangelicals, we embrace and affirm the Bible’s teaching about the sacredness of human life. Human beings matter because we bear God’s image. And bearing the image of our Creator is no small thing. At a minimum, it means that every person, at every stage of life, has intrinsic and inestimable worth and dignity.
Sadly, nowhere in our culture is life more imperiled than in the womb. For almost 50 years, the United States has lived under the dark shadow of Roe v. Wade, the infamous Supreme Court ruling which opened the floodgates for on-demand abortions nationwide. But thankfully, that ruling has not gone unchallenged. In the intervening years, courageous Christians have joined arms with other passionate defenders of life to step into that darkness and counter it with a message of light and hope.
Across nearly five decades, the pro-life movement has grown into a comprehensive and flourishing effort to combat the culture of death with the positive vision of life. The movement has mounted countless legal challenges to America’s abortion laws. And we continue to pray for legal victories to bring an end to the state-sanctioned slaughter of innocent children. But in addition, the pro-life movement has also met the cold and callussed work of the abortion industry with a loving and hospitable pro-life alternative for women, children, and families in need of care and support.
This issue revisits the history of the pro-life movement, takes stock of the present, and dares to dream about a future after Roe. Within these pages you’ll find articles and essays from members of our team here at the ERLC, interviews with those on the front lines of pro-life ministry, and information about ROE50, where thousands of believers plan to gather in our nation’s capital to commemorate this tragic milestone and further the work of ending abortion in our lifetime.
We are working toward a day when abortion is not only illegal but unthinkable. Will you join us?
The ERLC, together with the Sexual Abuse Advisory Group of the SBC, has continued working to try to prevent more terrible instances of abuse from happening in the future and to care well for victims. That’s why we wanted to focus this issue of Light Magazine on educating and equipping Christians to stand against sexual abuse and advocate for the safety and care of those within our churches.
Too many have been hidden in plain sight as victims of abuse, and it is our prayer that our powerful and compassionate Father would use efforts like this magazine to bring hope, help, and healing to the ones who should have received the dignity and respect they deserve as those made in God’s image.
The disruption of my life began at age 14 in my small Southern Baptist church a few miles outside of Birmingham, Alabama. For months, my youth minister had showered me with flattering attention, telling me that God had chosen me to help his ministry. This grooming led to 18 months of progressively worse sexual abuse, layered with threats. When I could not tolerate the abuse any longer, I told the only person whom I thought could stop it—my pastor. Implausibly, he was not receptive, and suggested that maybe I had brought it on myself.
Now put your feet in my teenage Nikes and try to comprehend the extent of this evil. I had no way of knowing that my pastor not only knew about the abuse, but was also having an affair with my Sunday School teacher; the two ministers were locked in their own secrecy battle and had checkmated each other with blackmail, to my detriment. My pastor’s response was to fire the youth minister and pick up with me where the youth minister had left off.
For another year, I stared at the worn carpet in my pastor’s office while he told me about pornography and activities I was still too young to understand, praying for the horror to stop. Finally, a deacon caught my pastor in his affair, and my horror ended. Yet for years I remained locked in my own silent prison, held quiet by the deadbolt of their threats to harm my family if I told anyone. Meanwhile, they moved on to churches throughout Alabama during their careers and likely abused others.
I am living proof that sexual abuse has been overlooked for many years in Southern Baptist churches. The research literature in medicine, psychology, and counseling overflows with studies suggesting that sexual abuse, as an adverse childhood event, results in a predictable adult life cycle of depression, anxiety, mood disorders, posttraumatic stress disorder, substance abuse, isolation, hopelessness, suicidality, and more. When it occurs in the church, the additional trigger of spiritual betrayal instigates extensive self-blame and pervasive shame.
When we encounter trauma, we most often search for God, but what happens when trauma occurs in the church? Sexual abuse in the church is a desecration, a violation of the most sacred role and relationship, a trauma leaving emotional and spiritual blinders. It kills the spirit. It is evil of the highest order.
It is a children’s Sunday School answer to say that sin is the cause, and superficial at best. The cause of sexual abuse in the SBC is rooted in our culture of casual indifference to predatory sexual behavior. This indifference is the expressionless face of denial and silence. Worn like a shield, indifference results in the catch-and-release practice of catching predatory staff members in the act and releasing them to move freely among other churches and organizations and harm others.
This practice may pretend to protect the institution, but not the victims.
Indifference also leads to the upside-down prioritization of mercy over justice, demonstrated by the persistent protection of vaunted leaders who have clearly abused young people. When our churches, agencies, and seminaries try to act first out of mercy rather than justice when confronting sexual abuse, we marginalize the victims and God himself.
Likewise, we see this look-the-other-way indifference in our systemic failure to use law enforcement in favor of “just dealing with it in the church.” Sexual abuse is not a mistake, bad behavior, a reaction to stress, or a lapse in judgment. It is a crime, and abusers must face arrest and prosecution. In Southern Baptist culture, we have reversed God’s design; forgiveness and mercy originate from the victim and from God, not from the church as an employer. Determining innocence or guilt belongs to the courts. Sexual abuse is sin, but in classic preaching mnemonics, the sin driving sexual abuse is empowered by our culture of Silence, Indifference, and Neglect.
Sexual abuse in the SBC is an epidemic powered by a culture of our own making. It takes years of purposeful work to change the culture of indifference and develop a cure for such a poison. It takes a movement to change the culture, not a mandate, and movements begin with the undeniable burden that things are not right the way they are and must change. In this movement, we are not just an autonomous group of 47,000 churches; we are accountable before God as a cooperative movement capable of leveraging our enormous collective power to topple the culture of indifference.
Sexual predators won’t stop just because we start paying attention. We will never rid ourselves of their evil, but we can reduce the risk and protect our own. Do you feel the conviction that things are not right the way they are? I have lived it deep in my soul for over 30 years. We have a path forward that is within our collective power. Will we take that path and fight this evil, together as one?
It was a Sunday in the spring of 2003. Our youngest son, Wesley, was weeks from his 9th birthday. Sundays were (and still are) busy days in our household as my husband, Marty, is a pastor.
Wesley and a friend had gone camping with a family friend and colleague of my husband’s over the weekend. The boys got back from their camping trip in time for Sunday School. Wesley was tired and “out of sorts” that morning, but I brushed it off to a fun but tiring camping trip. That evening I realized I was dealing with something more complicated than an overtired child.
As we were going through our normal bedtime routine, Wesley told me that Mr. Bob had touched him inappropriately. To use his words, “he touched me where the bathing suit covers me. You’ve always told me no one should ever touch me there.” I continued to listen as he shared more. I was careful not to ask leading questions. It was easy to do because I was having problems forming words of my own at the time. I was feeling a range of emotions: horror, anger, shock, betrayal, concern for Wesley, concern for my two older children, and concern for children in our church. The repercussions of this one man’s actions seemed to have no end. This was not a normal Sunday evening!
Did I believe what my son was telling me? Absolutely. I got Wesley calmed down and immediately went to my older son’s room and asked him directly if Mr. Bob had ever made him feel uncomfortable or touched him inappropriately. The answer was no. I asked my daughter the same question and received the same response. I then told my husband, Marty, what Wesley had shared with me. The situation was unthinkable, almost impossible to wrap our heads around, but we knew it was true.
Our first responsibility was to Wesley and our family—to access the resources that were needed to handle the situation appropriately to begin the healing process. We also felt a responsibility to our church family. It was important to shepherd them through this betrayal of trust. There were other victims who needed support and guidance.
You see, Mr. Bob was the church organist and a friend and encourager to all. He was not what he seemed to be. Abusers will often befriend and groom the child, their family, and entire organizations to gain access to children. Mr. Bob had done exactly that.
We were able to stop this man because we spoke up. We did not exercise the “privilege” of keeping our experience quiet. We knew nothing would change if we didn’t talk about our experience. We made a choice to lead by example and provide a pattern for others dealing with child sexual abuse to model. We reported the abuse and worked through the legal system to seek justice. We accessed every service available to help Wesley begin the healing process, including the local Children’s Advocacy Center, medical attention, and counseling services. It was a long journey comprised of forward steps and steps backward. In time, the forward steps happened with increased frequency.
The trauma of child sexual abuse is real and had physical and emotional consequences for our son. He had difficulty concentrating and problems getting to sleep. There were multiple trips to the pediatrician for headaches, stomach aches, and asthma flare ups. The body will express your pain when you can’t use your words. School was a challenge. When one person in a family suffers, it impacts everyone. An abuser’s actions do not take place in isolation. We all felt the impact and had to work through the pain.
What got us through this difficult time? Our faith. And a lot of prayer. We had the love and support of family and friends. We had a deep and abiding faith in God and knew that he would not leave us or forsake us. We are now all stronger in our faith and committed to addressing the issue of child sexual abuse and to supporting those who have experienced it. All praise and glory belong to God.