Confrontation versus Antagonism

The great Reformer Martin Luther once argued for, “Peace if possible, truth at all costs.” The merit—and of course the context—of that statement can be debated. His attitude, it seems, is one that people are often uncomfortable with. In our interactions with “the world” and secular society at large, how are Christians to conduct themselves in the face of sweeping and devastating societal evils, evils which strike at the heart of what it means to be a human being created in God’s image?

There is an argument circulating in some circles that what I would refer to as “confrontational pro-life outreach” is antagonistic—and furthermore, that being antagonistic is something profoundly (if not inherently) unchristian. This argument bears examination—if only to assure those who feel uncomfortable with such outreach that their concerns are not dismissed without careful thought.

First—how is “antagonism” defined? Generally, it is interpreted as “active hostility or opposition.” In this sense, all pro-life work is antagonistic, in that it presents itself as a worldview inherently hostile and opposed to the idea that image-bearers of God can engage in an activity that butchers and destroys in the most gruesome fashion other image-bearers of God. Rather, it can be argued that those of us who believe in God and that all human beings were created in His image have an unrelenting duty to be hostile and opposed to this grotesque 21st century version of child sacrifice, which God condemns in the most explicit terms in the Old Testament. We are called to be obedient to the governments set up in authority over us, undoubtedly—however, the government is not permitted to take that which is God’s. Luke 20:5 records the Lord Jesus telling us to, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar’s, and unto God the things which be God’s.” The pre-born child in the womb bears not the superscription of Caesar, but of God Himself, Who created man in His image.

However, I realize that people are probably not considering the technical definition of “antagonistic” when they refer to tactics such as anti-abortion postcards, literature, or signs. Rather, they are referring to how these tactics feel—it feels like we are somehow provoking people in an ungodly, unchristian way and that this type of “hostility” perhaps crosses the line into something they are distinctly uncomfortable with. And indeed, that is hard to argue with—the reactions of pro-abortion forces to the exposure of truth are often shocking in both their lewdness and their crudeness. That being said, I would argue that these pro-life tactics are not so much “antagonistic” in the way that people often perceive that word as they are “confrontational.”

We do not seek to “antagonize” those who hold that abortion is a right rather than a brutal human rights violation—we seek to confront them with the truth and change their point of view. Time and time again, we see those who are confronted with the horrible truth of what abortion is, change their point of view. As pro-lifers, our duty is to be the conscience of our nation, and to ceaselessly confront the public with the crimes being committed out of sight. The fact that we cannot see abortion often impacts even how Christians view it—as John Calvin once noted, “In forming an estimate of sins, we are often imposed upon by imagining that the more hidden, the less heinous they are.”

Confronting our country and our countrymen with truth does not just involve noting that truth exists, but necessarily includes drawing their attention to what that is. (A pastor dealing with a church member who is guilty of repeatedly cheating on his wife, for example, would not simply content himself with a sermon on the seventh commandment, but would actually meet with the man and confront him with his actions.) If the battle for human lives resides only on the field of philosophy, with no victim and no perpetrator, then the victims remain forgotten (as they so often are) and the perpetrators carry on their way undisturbed (as they so often do). I would draw your attention to one of the many brilliant speeches given by the abolitionist William Wilberforce in the British House of Commons, who sought to confront the government of his day with the evils of slavery in the most explicit way:

“Policy, Sir, is not my principle, and I am not ashamed to say it. There is a principle above everything that is political. And when I reflect on the command that says, ‘Thou shalt do no murder,’ believing the authority to be divine, how can I dare to set up any reasonings of my own against it? And, Sir, when we think of eternity, and of the future consequences of all human conduct, what is here in this life which should make any man contradict the principles of his own conscience, the principles of justice, the laws of religion, and of God?

Sir, the nature and all the circumstances of this trade are now laid open to us. We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is now an object placed before us, we cannot pass it. We may spurn it, we may kick it out of our way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it. For it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this house must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences, the rectitudes of their grounds and of the principles of their decision…Let not Parliament be the only body that is insensible to national justice.”

Here, Wilberforce confronts the politicians with the evil and appeals not to his own point of view, but to that of a Higher Power. The truth that we seek to confront our culture with must not be our own, but one based on principles that are eternal. We as pro-lifers have to confront our politicians, yes. But we can’t forget that the human beings that are being destroyed are not created in our image. They are created in His. And their destruction constitutes a violation of His law, not of ours.

It is tempting in the face of antagonism and confrontation to simply hide away in our own communities, to work our jobs and raise our children and leave the fight. It is not pleasant to be opposed and confronted, just as it is often unpleasant to be the one opposing and confronting. But consider the words of J.C. Ryle on Christian duty: “True believers are always represented as mixing in the world, doing their duty in it, and glorifying God by patience, meekness, purity, and courage in their several positions — and not by cowardly desertion of them. Moreover, it is foolish to suppose that we can keep the world and the devil out of our hearts by going into holes and corners! True religion and unworldliness are best seen, not in timidly forsaking the post which God has allotted to us — but in manfully standing our ground, and showing the power of grace to overcome evil.”

Indeed, if we read the major and minor prophets of the Old Testament, we see that they did not place themselves in opposition to the government God had placed over them, but instead loudly and persistently pointed out where the actions of these leaders blatantly contradicted God’s laws and God’s sovereignty. They confronted their leaders with the sins of their nation, and demanded a change. They were, by all accounts, considered to be very antagonistic. I think few Christians would argue that we, as those who claim a belief in Christianity, are not called to confront our leaders with the sins of our day and our nation.

The question we should perhaps ask ourselves, then, is the reverse of what pro-lifers are so often asked: Is there something we should be confronting, which we are not? Or, if you prefer: Is there something we should be antagonizing, but we are not? Should our response to the systematic butchery of human beings be one of philosophical discussion, or a concrete conflict of worldviews that results in action on behalf of those who are “drawn unto death, and those that are ready to be slain” (Proverbs 24:11)? Should we be seen to mutter our opposition to those who embrace a culture of killing, or should we instead follow the command in Proverbs 31:8 to “Open they mouth for the dumb in the cause of all such as are appointed to destruction”?

These are, at least, questions worth considering.

Abortion and the Bible: Why Pro-Life?

As almost every pro-life activist can attest, many conversations about abortion start something like this:

Pro-lifer: “What do you think about abortion?”

Passerby: “Stop forcing your religious values on us! Which church do you go to, anyway?”

It might surprise many, then, (as it certainly surprised me), that so-called “mainstream Protestants” in the US were very pro-abortion prior to Rev. Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, with groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention publicly stating their support for abortion—and this prior to Roe v. Wade. Many, it seems, take the Bible’s apparent silence on abortion to mean tacit support.

What does the Bible’s supposed silence on abortion mean? According to the “Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice,” Protestants can be pro-abortion because “the pro-life position is really a pro-fetus position, and the pro-choice position is really pro-woman.” Even Joyce Arthur of the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, who grew up in a Christian home, took a break from writing her unreadable atheist diatribes and wrote an essay called “Why the Bible is Pro-Choice.”

So the automatic assumption that a pro-lifer must have derived his or her beliefs from the Bible or the church is not a necessarily safe assumption. While most believe that the Bible is unequivocally pro-life, people have argued and do argue that one can support abortion—the violent destruction of a developing human life in the womb—and still claim to be a Christian living consistently with the commands of Scripture. Both the pro-life and pro-abortion side, it would seem, agree that what the Bible says or doesn’t say is important.

The main argument touted by abortion supporters to highlight the Bible’s support of abortion, or at least tacit acceptance, is that the Bible remains supposedly silent on the issue. One professor wrote sarcastically that nowhere does Scripture say “Thou shalt not abort.” This argument in and of itself, of course, is patently ridiculous—the Bible does say “Thou shalt not kill” (or “thou shall not murder”), and so we simply have to ask ourselves who exactly the pre-born are, and whether or not their destruction would be permitted under God’s injunction against murder. Further, the idea that the Bible does not oppose abortion simply because it does not explicitly say “Thou shalt not abort” is facetious—the Bible doesn’t explicitly say “thou shall not use toddlers for target practice” but no one thinks that the Bible’s “silence” on this matter means tacit endorsement of such a practice.

The Bible clearly states that human beings were created in God’s own image. Thus, taking their life would constitute murder.

Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute puts it this way:

A century ago racists argued from the alleged silence of Scripture that blacks were not human. Some even denied that black people had souls. Again, this was hardly persuasive. While Scripture does not mention every specific race and nationality, it does teach that all humans are made in God’s image and were created to have fellowship with Him (Genesis1:26; Galatians 3:28; Colossians 3:10-11, James 3:9). The inference is clear. If blacks are human beings, they are made in God’s image, too. No further proof from Scripture is necessary. The same is true with the unborn. If embryos and fetuses are human beings, commands that forbid the unjust taking of human life apply to them as they do other humans. Appealing to the Bible’s alleged silence on abortion misses the point entirely.

The Bible clearly tells us that the child in the womb is one created in God’s image—see Isaiah 46:3-5, Psalm 127:3-5, Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 119: 73, and Luke 1:41-42, among others. Thus, the Bible’s injunction against shedding innocent blood would apply to the child in the womb, as per Genesis 1:26, Exodus 23:7, and Proverbs 6:16-17. The claim, then, that the Bible is “pro-choice” because of its “silence” is one that, quite simply, fails the reading comprehension test.

Scott Klusendorf also points out that permissiveness of abortion is the context of Scripture—beyond simply being not true—would also be ahistorical, since children were viewed as being a special gift from God (Psalms 127:3-5, 113:9, Genesis 17:6, 33:5) while infertility was often considered to be a curse (Samuel 1:5, Genesis 20:17-18, 30:1,22-23.) Simply put, the idea of having one’s offspring poised, dismembered, or suctioned in piece inside the womb is one that would have been completely counter-cultural for a culture that saw children as a visible blessing from God.

Biblical opposition to abortion, then, is really quite simple. The Bible is not silent on abortion—rather, the Bible lays out for us that it is wrong to kill innocent human beings created in God’s image. Thus, we must simple determine whether or not the pre-born child in the womb is a human being created in God’s image—which both Scripture (think of the fetus John the Baptist leaping in the womb to greet the Lord Jesus, at that point only a zygote) and science confirm.

What Should We Do with Our Frozen Embryos?

Dear Dr. Moore,

I know you don’t believe in in vitro fertilization, but my wife and I found it was a good solution to our infertility problem. We created multiple embryos, and carried two to term. We cannot afford any other children, so another round of pregnancies is not an option. Our quiver’s full. My conscience is bothering me a little, though, since we banked a number of other fertilized embryos, just in case the first round didn’t take. Do we have any responsibility for these embryos?

Sincerely, A Stressed Dad

Dear Stressed Dad,

Your quiver’s fuller than you think.

You’re right that there are complex ethical questions regarding IVF, and I’d be happy to have that discussion later. Once IVF has been done, though, the issues are simple, even if the consequences are complex.

In a Christian vision of reality there is no such thing as an “almost person,” which is what we think with the abstraction of “fertilized embryos.” Someone is either a human person, and therefore my neighbor, or not. You do not have “frozen embryos.” You have children, frozen in this cruelly clinical world of suspended animation.

It is one thing to decide you can’t afford to have children, before you conceive children, just as it is one thing to decide you can’t afford to marry, before you marry. You’re married though, and you’ve conceived children. You have an obligation to them. The one who does not care for his own household is, the Apostle Paul says, “worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8).

This doesn’t mean your game-plan is easy. There’s a cross to take up here. The path from frozen storage to birth is difficult, whether through bearing those children or making an adoption plan for them into loving families. But these are not things; these are persons, worthy of love and respect and sacrifice.

I’d advise you to meet with some respected spiritual advisers, to look at your situation and come up with a map to take responsibility for your children. The first step is to start thinking of them that way, not as your “embryos” or a project to be managed, but as your children, your neighbors, and the “least of these,” who bear the image of our Lord Jesus.

Your conscience might seem to be a nuisance to you; it does to all of us sometimes. But a nagging conscience can be a sign of grace. It might be that what you are hearing is a happy foretaste of obedience to Christ, as you hear his voice saying, “I was frozen and you remembered me.”

Reprinted with permission from the author; originally posted on Moore to the Point.