For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
1 Peter 2:19-25
I have long admired the work that Americans United for Life has been doing over the years, seeking incrementally to change the legal landscape of abortion in the United States. Given the broad reach of Roe v. Wade, it is an uphill battle. But the reason it is so is that abortion is not, in the end, a legal battle but a cultural battle. And so the question becomes, how do we influence culture? For fighting a legal battle may be necessary (and I believe it is), but it is not sufficient.
Two texts from this week speak, even if implicitly, to the churches witness within our culture. The first, from the book of Acts, is essentially a description of early Christian community. Hear again the character of the early church they learned the Scriptures, shared life in homes together, including meals (and likely Eucharist), and prayed together. They were a glad and generous community, willing to part with their possessions for others in need. They looked to God, because they trusted him. Is it any wonder that day by day people were added?
A woman in a crisis pregnancy is often alone, without community, and often without any idea that there exists a community into which she might be gladly received and helped. Is the local church known to be that kind of community? Where a woman senses that she will be welcomed gladly, without judgment, by people that have the willingness and the resources to offer practical help, whether finances or a home or a job or help with child care or whatever? Certainly not at an abortion clinic. For all their rhetoric about choice, it is curious that Planned Parenthood offers no practical help to a woman who might want to choose life.
The second text is from 1 Peter, where Peter exhorts the church to suffer with grace. Jesus was accused unjustly, yet entrusted himself to God and did not return like for like. As Jesus suffered, so the church is called to suffer for doing good, knowing that it is a gracious thing in God’s sight. As he trusted God, who judges justly, so do we. Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just suffer–he suffered for the sins of others, even praying, Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. The effect was immediate. One thief dying next to Jesus repented and recognized him as king, and a soldier praised God and proclaimed Jesus as innocent (Luke 23).
One can get a sense of the animosity toward the pro-life world by comparing signs at the March for Life. Pro-abortion signs are often vulgar sloganeering, trading on caricatures of pro-life people as callous, power-hungry (white) men obsessed with controlling the sexual lives of women they don’t know. Pro-life signs, with the rarest of exceptions, are never vulgar and do not seek to shame the other side. Which is as it should be. The testimony of Abby Johnson, a former director of a Planned Parenthood facility in Texas, bears witness to the power of kindness, as she was eventually won by the kindness of those involved in 40 Days for Life. And the kindness is genuine, for we know personally what it is like to have been blind, and therefore we shouldn’t despise those who cannot see. Besides, as the proverbs tell us, “Pleasant speech increases persuasiveness” (Proverbs 16:21).
It is not enough for the church to have the right perspective on abortion. Rather, our call is to be the kind of community into which women and men in crisis can be gladly received. In the end, the church is called to be a light to the world, a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden. If we are being the church God has called us to be, the lines will be distinct–light will be seen as light, and darkness will be seen as darkness. For the world knows nothing of communities who love and trust God gladly, who are generous as they love their neighbors, and even love and extend kindness to their enemies. Some will, of course, continue to choose the darkness, but some will be drawn to light. It will happen little by little, community by community. But light will be seen for what it is.
This week’s reflection has been written by Anglicans for Life’s Board Member, the Rev. Dr. W. Ross Blackburn. Rev. Blackburn is the Rector of Christ the King, an Anglican Fellowship in Boone, NC.