No Time for Birth: Incarnation and the Messy Subject of Abortion

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that Christians are not talking much about abortion lately, or doing much about it either. As some of you know, I have written two books on the topic, though it is not something anyone enjoys writing or talking about.

However, as we are in the season of Advent and Incarnation, a poem by Madeleine L’Engle recently came to mind as I was asked in an email, by a young public-school student (I’m guessing middle school) writing a report, what Christians think about abortion. (My response to him is printed below.)

The Irrational Season
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d have been no room for the child.

Dear ________,

Thank you for your message and your interest in this important topic.

The answers to your questions are very complicated, because different kinds of Christians have various approaches to abortion. I will try to give you an overview of the subject.

The basic Christian view of the world is that God is the creator of all life.That gives, or should give, Christians a strong presumption against destroying any kind of life. Christians also believe that humans are made in the image of God and are special forms of creation, so that destroying human life is especially serious. Furthermore, Christians believe that God became human in and through a young woman’s womb (uterus), so that should give Christians great pause when they think about destroying human life in the uterus–abortion. Abortion, then, it would seem, is prohibited by the commandment against taking human life/murder, and is a serious form of failing to love one’s neighbor.

The earliest Christians who wrote about abortion did so less than 100 years after the time of Jesus, and they began a tradition of Christian opposition to abortion for the reasons stated above. Of course, even then, some Christian women procured abortions, but it was still seen as a grave sin. Christian women who contemplated abortion were encouraged to find other solutions, with the help of their Christian family. The same has been true for almost 2,000 years and is still true for many Christians today.

However, in the last 50 years, a growing number of Christians have gone along with the cultural attitude that because sexual activity is a right and is not necessarily connected to having children, continuing a pregnancy is a matter of choice. Many Christians just take this secular attitude for granted, while others have thought about it carefully. Today, there are basically four Christian views of abortion:

1. Abortion is never permitted.

2. Abortion is permitted only in rare circumstances (it threatens the life of mother or baby; the child will likely be seriously deformed; the pregnancy is due to rape).

3. Abortion is permitted as a last resort, for good reasons (broader and more vague reasons than those in #2), if all other options (adoption or keeping the baby) seem unworkable.

4. Abortion is permitted for any reason; it is a woman’s free choice, though the decision should be taken seriously.

The majority of practicing Christians in the world who have thought seriously about abortion probably hold to #1 or #2. Those who advocate #1 or #2 (most Catholics, evangelicals, and Eastern Orthodox, as well as many others) often try to help women in problem pregnancies by providing clothing, medical care, and/or adoption services. There is also a growing emphasis on the responsibility of Christian individuals and churches to care for such women. Pregnancy is not something to go through by oneself.

Position #3 is the basic position of many so-called “mainline” denominations, the Protestant churches that have been losing members for the last few decades Position #4 is held by a few Christian individuals and by one religious organization. Although it is not the official position of many churches, some people think it is the normal Christian position.

Much more could be said (I have written two books on the subject), but I hope this is helpful.

5 Responses to “No Time for Birth: Incarnation and the Messy Subject of Abortion”

  1. Chris says:

    Mike, this is why I like you so much. Very few people in your position would take the time to answer a middle school student’s email with such thoughtfulness. So take this comment as a virtual pat on the back and hearty thank you for being that kind of person.

  2. MJG says:

    You are too kind, Chris, but thanks.

  3. John says:

    It is amazing. The entire vexed and complex 2000 year old history (etc) of Christian and Western attitudes to sexuality and abortion reduced to a few paragraphs!

    I have to disagree. Right wing Christians are always talking, or rather shouting about abortion. In fact they reduce everything in the political realm to a black and white divide.

    Part of the horrible mystery around abortions is associated within the failure to understand the condition of the unborn., and of human life altogether. The whole process of the child being able to develop until birth is something we obviously must value.

    But even infants once they are born are in a chaos of perceptions. They only gradually develop their self-sense, and social adaptation, and self-idea. But we place the design of our own fear based conventional perceptions on to fetuses and infants, and we thus cannot tolerate the idea that they, like all born beings, are a sacrifice, that they are in an unfathomable chaos. We cannot tolerate the idea that we too must be a sacrifice. That born existence is a sacrificial process.

    Which means that we are essentially afraid of existence altogether and all of these countless deaths.

    True Wisdom is thus the capacity to understand that human beings are involved in an uncontrollable chaos, all of which arises in the Inherent context of Unconditional Being or Existence. It is to be free of the fear that is invoked when we see all of the never-ending cycles of being in which all bodies inevitably and lawfully die.

    Such Wisdom releases us from the fear associated with mortality and the witnessing of the mortality of others and the mortal effects that each and every breath has. It will release us from the mortal effects that we have on everything and every one. We eat and are eaten. There is no end to it. Everything is a feast, already a lawful transformation, without anyone doing anything else to IT, without becoming violent relative to anything.

  4. MJG says:

    John,

    Just two main comments. First, as an expert on Christian and other attitudes toward abortion over the last 2,500 years (having written two books and numerous articles on the subject), I am in a better position than most to try to summarize all that for a middle-school student. But I never claimed, as you wrongly suggest, to have summarized the “2000 year old history (etc) of Christian and Western attitudes to sexuality and abortion” in a few paragraphs!

    Second, your world view makes death so central that killing and even murder itself (and I don’t mean just in abortion) has no moral status, and that is at least sad, if not morally offensive.

  5. Casey Taylor says:

    Dr. Gorman summarizes the appropriate response to “John.”

    At first I thought John’s was a typical pro-choice rant. Then he descended into absolute nonsense, perhaps the chaos of which he speaks. So far as I can see, nothing his philosophical schema leaves room for the Creating and Redeeming God in Christ.

Leave a Reply


google