As the Executive Director of Pregnancy Resource Center, I hear many stories. Stories of destruction. Stories of regret. Stories of redemption. Stories of life! And I am always intrigued in the part the Church has within each story. Life stories that promote adoption or support foster parenting and even stories of those being rescued from human trafficking. These stories reflect the grace and mercy of God to a watching world. Many of our own patients have been showered by great generosity and love from partnering churches who believe that every life matters. But there is still much work to be done.
In a recent poll by Lifeway and CareNet*, it was revealed that four out of ten women who have an abortion were actively attending church at the time of their abortion. When asked, these women said that they felt the church would be an unwelcome place for their unplanned pregnancy. They feared judgment, gossip, and the “scarlet letter” their pregnancy would bring.
Many of the stories we hear, sadly confirm the study. But, as it is often said, where there is a challenge there is a great opportunity. And today there is a growing opportunity to truly transform our community into one where every baby –and mother- is wanted. PRC recognizes that there is still much stigma in the church for unwed pregnant women, we thank God for the open discussions that are happening to change the dialogue with which we speak of abortion and the unwed pregnant woman.
One of the hallmarks of PRC is our integration program, which seeks to connect our patients with life-affirming communities like a local church. We do this through mom’s groups, special events and one-on-one discussions with our patients. But is there more to be done? The answer is yes! We all must begin to seek and to see women who find themselves unwed and pregnant, in the same way that Jesus sees them. And we must understand that they are not just outside our church doors, but may be sitting right next to us in the pew.
Jesus- equal opportunity grace shocks our reality.
Jesus said “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." Jesus came for the very woman who today leaves a Sunday sermon to go to an abortion center on Monday. He came “while we were sinners”. He also came for the one out of four who is walking in shame and grief, unable to talk about her past. He came to set the captives free!
If we examine the four gospels, we find that Christ consistently reached out to the marginalized of society, including those viewed as practicing the worst sins, and met them with compassion instead of judgment. We read many stories of Him eating and drinking with tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, and other "sinners." This fellowship with the religiously reprobate earned intense ridicule from the religious elite of Christ’s day. Many of these sinners not only had the audacity to eat with a holy rabbi, they had the guts to ask Him to help them – and Christ readily granted their requests.
If you examine the Gospels, you will not find a single example of a person who received Christ’s healing contingent on his or her lack of sin. Every one of us can shout a hardy “amen” to that! But the reality still remains – how many pregnant unwed women do we see in our churches? And the most indicting question- why don’t we?
Jesus- His words from our head to our heart.
What would abortion in Lee and Collier look like if we loved more like Christ? When the adulterous woman was about to be stoned, Jesus said “if you are without sin, cast the first stone”- by that simple statement the crowds dispersed. Jesus then said to her “Go and sin no more”.
We learn several things from this story- no one is free from culpability and also no one is free to condemn others. The Bible teaches “for all have sinned”. As followers of Christ, the way we ought to look at those who are held captive to sinful patterns of behavior should reflect the way God looked down on all of us- with great sorrow but yet with grace. If we would simply remember from where we have come, we CAN and should be able to love and extend grace to everyone- especially when their sin is so easily recognized. A pregnant unwed woman needs to, not just hear about grace, but experience grace. She will experience grace as the church comes around her.
There are so many things we learn from Jesus- We see what Jesus’ priority was action first through life-saving intervention and then the words- “go and sin no more”. Actions authenticate the words. Jesus cared for this woman first so when He speaks, His words have authority because of what she saw and experienced.
Jesus- we want to look and sound more like you.
Not long ago I was standing in a line and overheard the discussion of two women talking about their friend whose daughter was caught having sex in the band room at school. They talked about how they could see this a “mile away” because of the behavior of the mother. It seemed the mom “must have had an abortion or two” and they were sure the same would follow the young girl. To my astonishment they said “better that she has an abortion than for her to not finish school or bring that baby into that home.” The saddest thing of all was that I knew those women attended a local church.
Christ freely offered compassionate help to all He met, regardless of their lifestyle. “God sends the rain on the just and the unjust alike.” His goodness and mercy were always available and freely given.
One question often asked is –“But if Christians offer such compassion to those living in sin, don’t they condone sinful behavior?” As it is often in scripture, there is a divine tension between what we are called to do and what God is doing. Notice that Jesus did not wait for the woman to repent and change her lifestyle. He just said “Go and sin no more”. Jesus was not speaking of sinless perfection. He was warning against a return to sinful lifestyle choices. His words both extended mercy and demanded holiness. Jesus was always the perfect balance of “grace and truth”. It goes without saying that the woman caught in adultery did not return to her infidelity. She had met Jesus. She would not be perfect. No one is. But she was forever changed. Her eyes had been opened to the depravity of what she was doing. Sin no longer held the appeal it once did. When we meet Jesus, sin no longer holds its fatal attraction. Grace changes things.
What if the Church followed that pattern? Can we be that? Yes!! I believe the church is the perfect place to be just that.
Here are three things to keep in mind if we are to reflect the perfect balance of grace and truth. First remember from where we have come. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; “Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men, nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were.” Second, remember that we were saved by grace not of works, so that none can boast. Third, we never look more like Jesus than when we extend grace to sinners, “of which I am the chief one”- 1 Timothy 1:15.
The Church- A new dialogue that extends grace
What if we all began to talk differently about an unplanned pregnancy? What if we stepped in as a life-source to men and women contemplating an abortion? What if they heard such things as “we will be the family that loves you through these challenges”? “We will be the father-figures to those babies”. “We are with you for the long haul” What if we said “Go and sin no more” because of the love and support of this church? What if we stopped talking about “them” and started talking about “us”?
If each one of us wants to stop the need for abortion, we must start to look, sound and act more like Jesus. His words and actions are filled with grace which leads to repentance. Every one of us knows, that is our story too.
- Janet Custer, Executive Director of the Pregnancy Resource Center of SWFL
*CareNet is an organization that support pregnancy centers throughout the country.