Sections "I. D. 6. Positions A & B" PDF Print E-mail

Two Views Expressed in the Background Portion of the Current Abortion Policy of the PC(USA) Problem Pregnancies and Abortion (1992)


Sections "I. D. 6. Positions A & B" (pages 9 and 10) of the Report of the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion to the 1992 General Assembly Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

Though we agreed on this biblical and theological foundation, there remain significant differences beyond this point. What follows are two different approaches as to the biblical material that is seen as central to this issue. They are not necessarily mutually exclusive, nor are they the only approaches.

Position A

For some of us, there are biblical passages that speak clearly and directly to the issue of abortion. For example:

The Scriptures clearly testify that not only is all life precious to God, but that all life also belongs to God. Despite the fact that human beings have been made in the image of God- an image now distorted by our sinfulness- we do not own either human beings or anything in the world that God has made. No. "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it; the world and those who live in it" (Ps. 24:1), and this view is supported by a multitude of texts (see Deut. 10:14; I Chron. 29:11-12; Ps. 50:10-11; 60:7-8; 95:7; Isa. 66:1-2; Jer. 27:5; I Cor. 10:26). It therefore follows that since God alone created life, God has the right of life and death over it (see Gen. 9:1-6; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17; 32:39; I Sam. 2:6; Matt. 5:21-22).

God's ownership of life extends not only to those who have been born, however, but also to those still in the womb. In the biblical view, God is actively involved in the creation of life in utero, before birth. This activity is vividly and poetically portrayed in Job 10:11-12, 31:15, and Psalm 139:13. There is also this statement about all persons: "Did not he who made me in the womb make them? And did not one fashion us in the womb?" (Job 31:15). The life that is formed in the mother's womb, as well as that already born, is made by God and therefore belongs to God.

To be sure, there is no doubt that the formation of life in utero is sometimes corrupted by the sin of the human race, and thatmiscarriages, congenital deformities, and birth defects occur because of the fallen nature of our universe. But the glad promise of God in Jesus Christ is that when the Kingdom of God, begun in the Son, comes in all its fullness, such grievous effects of the sin of the whole human race will be done away forever (see Isa. 33:24; 65:20; Rev. 21:3-4). God is the Ruler yet.

Nevertheless, by God's grace and mercy, God has also formed you and me and all persons while we were in our mothers' wombs, and we and all persons belong to God (see Mal. 2:10). It follows, therefore, that when we are dealing with life in the womb, we are dealing with that which belongs to God alone and we must always answer to God, both now and hereafter, for what we do with that life.

Interestingly enough, the Scriptures also never deal with life in the womb in impersonal terms. John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit even while he is in his mother's womb (Luke 1: 15) and Luke says that John leapt with joy at the arrival of Mary, the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:41). Paul testifies that he was set apart and called before he was born to be the preacher to the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16). Jeremiah is told that before he was born, he was appointed a prophet to the nations (Jer. 1:5). The psalmist tells how God planned all his future days even before his body in the womb took on recognizable human shape (Ps. 139:16). Life in the womb may be just an embryo or a fetus or an impersonal blob of flesh to some, but that is not the case in God's eyes, and surely the grief of a woman over a miscarriage mirrors something of that reality. For God, the unborn child is human life, created for a purpose and belonging to God, incorporated into God's plan and loved by God, and then birthed and surrounded by God's mercy (Ps. 22:9-10; Gen. 4:1). Surely we must deal with such life only in reverent awe and responsibility toward the God who has given it.

Position B

Some of us would focus on the biblical material that emphasizes human decision making. Real decision making is one of the gifts of God to us as human beings. It is part of being created in the image of God. God's own dominion over all of creation does not deny this intention of the Creator: that human beings must make real decisions that have real consequences for their lives and for the world. Were every conception directly willed by God, it would be difficult to understand why methods of birth control are legitimately matters of human decision making. Would that not be preventing conceptions God has intended? What of conceptions that take place outside of marriage, or as a result of rape or incest? Did God intend that these parents marry, though that would have been difficult or abhorrent to the people involved? It is also difficult to claim that God's intentionality is present in every conception when there are so many genetic deformities and such a high percentage end in miscarriages.

To be created in the image of God and to be given dominion are gifts made jointly and equally to male and female (Gen. 1:25-28). The responsibility and consequences for sin are assigned to both (Gen. 3:16-19). These consequences include a distortion of the image of God and a corruption of dominion. The social barriers that stem from our fallenness, including those of gender, are broken down in the community of faith (Gal. 3:25-28). In his own ministry, Jesus affirmed the full moral responsibility of women in ways that contradicted their low status within the Jewish and Palestinian community. For example, his instruction to the woman at the well (John 4:7-42), his teaching of Mary and the confirmation of her choice to be taught by him which challenged Martha's choice (Luke 10:38-42), and his resurrection appearance to the Marys at the tomb (Matt. 28:1-10), all demonstrate that Jesus recognized women as responsible persons, capable of making decisions in the light and power of the good news of the gospel.

This stress on human responsibility does not take away from God's providence. Human reproduction brings human responsibility and God's sovereignty together in ways that are often confusing. Passages of Scripture do point to God's intentionality in the conception and birth of specific individuals, raised up for the continuity or preservation of the people of God. For instance, the theme of the barren woman makes it very clear that the survival of the people is in God's hands and is not left simply to the natural order. Isaac, Joseph, Samuel, John the Baptist, and others all are born to women who had been barren.

The list culminates in the Virgin Birth of Jesus in which God's direct involvement is of an even greater order, even as the role of Messiah is of a greater order than that of patriarch or prophet. In all these cases, the child born had a crucial role in the continuity of the people of God and, therefore, such cases ought not to be made into a universal model of God's direct involvement in the planning of every conception.

We cannot conclude that God intends some children, but not others. Even the child whose conception was under circumstances that are totally at odds with a biblical understanding of how human life should be ordered, is nonetheless loved by God as much as the child conceived by a loving, married couple. Sarah stopped believing the promise of a child for Abraham would be fulfilled in her and so she offered her slave Hagar to her husband. The child, Ishmael, was not the one God intended as the fulfillment of the promise. Yet God did not abandon Hagar or her child, but rather protected them and worked them into God's purposes (Gen. 16:1-15; 21:1-13). The first child of David and Bathsheba was the result of adultery. This pregnancy led to the intentional killing of Bathsheba's husband. God did not permit this child to live, perhaps since God did not wish the future ruler of Israel to be the result of such violence. Yet the next child of this union was blessed by God, who continued to work with the family in this new situation. In neither of these instances was the willingness of the woman considered. In the case of the Virgin Birth, Mary's consent is recorded and significant: "Let it be with me according to your word" (Luke 1:38). The Virgin Birth is not a violent act or a show of God's dominion without the need for human decision.

There is a mystery at the heart of life, a mystery that holds together God's providence, human decision making and responsibility, and the wider nature of which our bodies are a part and over which we do not and cannot exercise total control in regard to fertility and procreation. But there is a clear realm for decision making, for moral choice that faithfulness can and must carry out. It is in this area of decision making that the difficult choice of abortion can arise.


 

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