One of the most frequent responses I hear from pastors when asked why they don't address the issue of abortion in their congregation is this:
"The pro-life mission is not the mission of the Church. The Church is responsible for the Great Commission."
That may sound like a spiritual answer that shows high concern for keeping the call of making disciples at the top of the Church's priorities; but in reality, this answer shows a deep misunderstanding of the responsibility of the Church.
So what is the correct understanding?
To answer that question, let's go straight to the Great Commission passage in question:
The Church in America typically defines the Great Commission solely according to the first command Jesus gives in the two-fold command of the Great Commission. The first command is to make disciples. The second is to teach those disciples to obey everything Jesus commanded.
Everything Jesus commanded? Yes.
While that may sound like an overwhelming burden, I believe Jesus understood the potential burden that the law can be. This is why He boiled all the commandments down to two:
Jesus' brilliance in simplifying all of the Law down to two commandments has birthed the popular saying, "Love God. Love Others."
All Christian pastors believe that the Church is called to love God and love their neighbors. In fact, I bet that the same pastors who deny that pro-life ministry is the mission of the Church would ever argue the same thing about orphans, widows, the poor, and women and children enslaved in sex trafficking.
So why do pastors have a double standard when it comes to abortion?
I will answer that question by asking another question. In fact, it is the same question that a certain lawyer asked Jesus in reference to the two greatest commandments:
The most important question that pastors need to ask themselves and the pro-life movement needs to ask of pastors is this:
Is the unborn child our neighbor?
If the unborn is not our neighbor, then pastors are justified in separating the pro-life mission from the Church's mission. If, however, the unborn is our neighbor, then the Church has the responsibility to work towards the total abolition of abortion, since abortion intentionally ends the lives of innocent, valuable human beings made in God's image.
But how do we know if the unborn is indeed our neighbor?
We can know the unborn is our neighbor by looking at science and scripture.
Scientifically, embryology teaches us that from the moment of conception, the unborn is a distinct, living, and whole human being. We didn't come from embryos. We once were embryos. So science answers what kind of being we are: human beings.
Scripturally, the bible teaches us that human beings are created in the Imago Dei (Genesis 1:27) or the image of God. Because God is the creator and knitter of human life, the shedding of innocent blood is strictly forbidden in scripture (Exodus 23:7-9, Proverbs 6:16-19).
So, the unborn is our neighbor. As is his or her mother.
Therefore, if the Church is to be who Jesus has called and commanded us to be, we must include caring for unborn children and their mothers and working toward the total abolition of abortion into the Great Commission. To not do so is to redefine the Great Commission into a definition we are more comfortable with.
I will end as any good sermon does, by answering the practical question of HOW.
How should we love our unborn neighbor and his or her mother?
Rather than providing an exhaustive list of what churches and individual Christians can do to love their unborn neighbors, I'm going to let Jesus answer this one.
In response to the lawyer's question, "And who is my neighbor?", Jesus responds with one of the most moving stories of compassion by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan. As familiar with this parable as you may be, I encourage you to read it again.
In the parable, we encounter a man traveling a popular road from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he is suddenly attacked by a band of robbers who strip, beat him, and leave him for dead. To the beaten man's luck, a religious man is traveling the same road and encounters him. To the man's horror, the religious man passes him by on the other side of the road. The Priest (for that is what he was) may have felt compassion for the bleeding victim, but he kept it all for himself. Thinking his luck had run out, the beaten man was happily surprised when another religious man turned the corner and saw him. To the man's twice-cursed luck, the Levite (for that is what he was) passed him by on the other side of the road. So while the Levite may have felt compassion, he too kept it all for himself. Allowing himself to be consumed with despair, the bleeding victim readied his spirit to face death. And yet, it seemed fate gave him one last chance. A Samaritan, who happened to be traveling on the same road turned the corner, saw the bleeding victim and rushed over. He poured out his own oil and wine on the beaten man and bandaged his wounds. Fearing for the man's life, the Samaritan put the man on his own donkey and hurried him to the local inn, where he could properly care for him. The next morning, unable to avoid prior responsibilities, the Samaritan was forced to leave. But before he did, he took money out of his own purse, gave it to the innkeeper to look after the beaten man and promised to return soon and pay any other costs that might have accumulated in caring for the man while he was gone.
You can almost sense the crowd's hushed silence as Jesus finishes this parable, and asks the lawyer:
There are over 1 million unborn image-bearers who are killed through legal abortion each year in the United States alone. There have been over 55 million unborn children killed at the request of their mothers and at the hand of "physicians" since the legalization of Roe v. Wade in 1973. These deaths far outnumber any other genocide in human history.
It is the responsibility of the Church to love its neighbors. The unborn is our neighbor. We cannot ignore the horror abortion represents and still claim to care about the great commission. The full definition and understanding of the great commission forbids us from claiming that pro-life ministry is not part of the mission of the Church.
I will not provide a list of HOW to love our unborn neighbor and his or her mother here. But I will invite all of us to look to Jesus, who is the Greater Good Samaritan and study the example of the parable of the good samaritan as a model for our behavior. The Good Samaritan made radical sacrifices of his...
... to love his neighbor lavishly. And in so doing, he took compassion on the bleeding victim, keeping none for himself.
I hope and pray that the Church, the Bride of Christ will adopt and live out the true definition of the Great Commission by sacrificing her time, energy, and money to lavishly love our unborn neighbors, who are being slaughtered through abortion.
Hear Jesus' words he spoke to the lawyer and may the Church claim them and live them out:
GO AND DO LIKEWISE!