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Why is abortion still legal?
We can point fingers at the abortion industry, pro-abortion politicians and our, licentious, secular culture. However, that's only part of the story. These forces would never be able to keep abortion legal if the mass of pro-life America were zealously fighting to illegalize it. In poll after poll, at least 12% of the population has consistently proclaimed itself to be 100% against abortion. That's about 38 million people. If not enough to vote abortion out of existence, this is definitely enough to instigate a massive social movement that would eventually lead to abortion’s downfall. After all, 60 – 70% of the population is already uncomfortable with the majority of abortions that take place in America.
Tragically, we are not taking advantage of this situation. The overwhelming majority of pro-life people are not doing anything substantial to defend preborn babies. Frankly, most of us are living our lives just the same as we would if abortion wasn't legal. Pro-life leaders are usually very hesitant to talk about this problem, assuming they recognize it in the first place. From time to time, however, some speak more candidly. Here are a few choice quotations:
"There are more people working full time to kill babies than there are working full time to save them .... many who call themselves pro-life are not lifting a finger to stop the killing, and those that do lift a finger are doing just enough to salve the conscience, but not enough to stop the killing."
Gregg Cunningham, executive director of the Center for Bio-Ethical Reform (1)
"Every abortion clinic should have a sign over the door that reads: this abortion clinic is open by permission of the Christian churches in this area."
Francis Schaeffer, Christian author and anti-abortion leader (2)
"Too many people are trying to fit the battle into their lives, instead of changing their lives to fit he battle."
Frank Pavone, national director of Priests for Life (3)
"Until the church begins to allocate serious time and money to defending the innocent, there can be no lasting political solution to the abortion holocaust."
Mark Harrington, executive director of Created Equal (4)
"The one most responsible for the abortion holocaust is the one sure she is doing everything in her power to stop the slaughter: The Church of Jesus Christ!"
Flip Benham, president of Operation Save America (5)
“We could not lose our lives in order to find them even if we tried. This is the tragedy which [the pro-life rescue movement] uncovered in the church. It showed us we could not even cross the street to save a baby . . . The fact is, America, we do not want to put ourselves in a position where, for God’s victory, we must die to our own agendas.”
Joseph Foreman, anti-abortion Rescue Movement leader (6)
“Most Christians tend to refuse to take strong public action on a controversial issue. You would never catch them taking a public stand against child-killing … They wouldn’t want to appear at a prayerful protest with a bunch of radicals.”
Randall Terry, founder of the anti-abortion Rescue Movement (7)
"The silent and dormant church is the abortion industry's most valuable ally. The abortion holocaust would end overnight if just a fraction of this nation's 600,000 churches became active in the battle."
Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics (8)
ARE INDIVIDUALS TRYING?
Are anti-abortion leaders exaggerating? Well, let's take a closer look at it. How do we determine the amount of effort a person is putting into the fight against abortion? Generally, it comes down to how we spend our time and our money
There are 168 hours in every week. How many of these hours does the average pro-life person spend trying to end the slaughter of our preborn neighbors? Think of your pro-life friends and family. Think of yourself. Is it 8 hours (around 5%)? Maybe 2 hours (just over 1%)?
What about money? What percentage of our income is being spent towards the goal of defending preborn kids from destruction? How many people do you know who routinely give, for example, 1%? A person who makes $20,000 a year and contributes 1% would be giving $200 annually. How common is this?
If we're honest, we have to admit that the total amount of time and money each of us is sacrificing to end abortion is pretty meager. Indeed, in most cases, it's non-existent. Ask the average pro-life person what they're doing about abortion and you'll probably be met with a blank stare. Press the question and you're likely to hear something like "Of course I'm fighting abortion! I pray about it and I vote pro-life!" The trouble is that praying and voting, while important things to do, take relatively little time and effort, and cost us nothing. In addition, they are actions that we would be doing even if abortion wasn't legal. It is therefore unfair to think of them as a special contribution to the fight.
ARE CHURCHES TRYING?
Some might argue that the collective action of our religious institutions satisfies what is lacking in our personal behavior. However, this is a false hope. Neither Evangelical nor Roman Catholic congregations are contributing substantial amounts of time and/or money, though this might not be apparent on the surface. Strongly worded official statements and the actions of a few exceptional individuals may give the impression that a particular congregation or denomination is zealously committed to anti-abortion activity. The occasionally generous funding of certain favored pro-life programs enhances this image. But when we compare the total amount of time and money being contributed to the overall amount of time and money churches have available, their contribution looks much less impressive.
For instance, certainly the most common thing churches do to combat abortion (besides praying and voting) is to support crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) where abortion minded women can be convinced to choose life. This is a laudable effort but not a significant one, as a CPC can be managed by a relatively small staff. Besides, we ought to be supporting distraught mothers whether abortion is legal or not. Finally, lest we fool ourselves into thinking that the existence of CPCs is itself enough to cause any noticeable reduction in the number of kids being murdered, please heed the words of Operation Rescue's Senior Policy Advisor Cheryl Sullenger, a long time veteran of the anti-abortion movement. She has written:
"Many in the churches want us to believe that supporting a CPC is enough, but this excuse falls flat when we consider the thousands of women who will never take advantage of the CPCs." (9)
The average Evangelical congregation spends 82% of its budget on staff salaries, building expenses and administration. (10) The remaining 18% is generally not going towards anti-abortion initiatives. You'd be hard pressed to find an Evangelical congregation that has any sort of meaningful anti-abortion ministry whatsoever. By "meaningful" we mean a ministry that involves a significant portion of the congregation and/or a significant portion of the church's budget. Even some those outside of the antiabortion movement have recognized this. For example, respected Christian author R.C. Sproul has stated:
“If I know anything about God, I’m absolutely positive He hates abortion on demand. And I would think that the Christian church would literally be screaming bloody murder about that issue in our culture ... I don’t understand. I just don’t get it. I don’t understand how we can sit back and watch that happen.” (11)
Despite its unswerving official commitment to the pro-life position, the Roman Catholic Church is little better. This may come as a surprise to those who have observed the overwhelmingly Catholic presence at the March for Life and the distinctly Catholic tone that most visible pro-life activity usually takes. Yet again, we need to look at these phenomena in perspective. The fact that a particular group of people is doing more than another is not what matters. What matters is whether that group is sacrificially dedicating a significant portion of its energy to defending preborn children.
Each Roman Catholic diocese, and each parish within each diocese, is supposed to operate a Respect Life Office, from which its pro-life efforts are to be managed. Unfortunately, these offices are often unstaffed. When someone (usually a volunteer) does take on the role of Respect Life Coordinator (RLC), they typically find that fighting abortion is not high on the list of parish priorities, and has a commensurately small budget. Most of an RLC's time will be spent desperately attempting to convince parishioners to contribute even the smallest portion of their time towards pro-life activity, typically with little success. At best, he or she may be successful at persuading a few to pray more often and return each January to the March for Life, at which they will promise to do better in the coming year. Contact your local RLC and inquire about upcoming pro-life activities if this seems like an exaggeration.
The US Conference of Catholic Bishops provides links to most diocesan Respect Life Offices here. A survey of these webpages permits us to draw several generalizations about the nature of anti-abortion activity within American Roman Catholicism:
1. A number of dioceses do not consider the Respect Life mission important enough to warrant its own webpage. When information can be found, it is often out of date, sometimes by as much as 16 years.
2. There appears to be a concerted effort to expand the meaning of the term "pro-life" to include anything and everything that in any way touches on human welfare, and to downplay the church's duty to save preborn lives in favor of more popular and less controversial causes. Abortion is often only one of a wide range of topics falling under the Respect Life or Social Justice headings, a long list that may include such issues as human trafficking, pornography, domestic violence, poverty, HIV, climate change, capital punishment, marriage counseling, abstinence, natural family planning, immigration, prison ministry and 'workers rights'. It is a wonder the preborn get any face time at all.
3. The ratio of rhetoric to action is very high. Respect Life webpages include many statements about "education" and "fostering a culture of life" but relatively few about how the diocese plans to accomplish these goals.
4. When they do touch on abortion, diocese Respect Life Offices seem almost exclusively focused on getting Catholics to pray more, vote pro-life, and support local CPCs. Most activity is either outsourced to para-church organizations or left up to the parish level RLCs.
We can say with confidence that neither Evangelical nor Catholic churches are expending much energy to end abortion.
The problem is so bad that abortion often escapes the notice of some of the most prominent names in the religious landscape. During his 2015 visit to the US, Pope Francis spoke quite a bit about climate change, but very little about abortion. He isn't the only example. In 2008 Pastor Rick Warren, author of the best-selling book series The Purpose Driven Life, launched the PEACE Coalition, an international effort to combat what he calls "the five global giants", worldwide problems that affect billions of people. These five global giants are: spiritual emptiness, lack of servant leadership, extreme poverty, pandemic disease and illiteracy. Somehow Warren forgot all about abortion, the leading cause of death in the world!
ARE PRO-LIFE ORGANIZATIONS TRYING?
Tragically, even many pro-life organizations are not addressing the problem of abortion with the zeal it deserves. Out of the numerous pro-life organizations that exist today, the majority consist of extremely small groups of people, and are either strictly political or strictly focused on crisis pregnancy / post-abortive intervention. This is a very insufficient answer to the unrelenting carnage that occurs every day in every state of the union. Sadly, professional pro-lifers have mostly resigned themselves to the belief that rank-and-file pro-lifers are never going to participate in the fight to any significant degree, and therefore focus on activities that require relatively few people to succeed. Those that haven't given up on the masses are nevertheless setting the bar pretty low.
For example, Students for Life of America (SFLA) is a nationwide network of nearly 850 university pro-life clubs. With such a wide sphere of influence over the most critical demographic in the population, you would think that these clubs would be exploiting their unique position to the fullest potential, as busy as bees in a hive of activity. Hardly. Most college pro-life clubs exist in name only. Skeptics are free to contact the group at their local institution and inquire about upcoming activities to clear up any doubts. As an example of how low the bar has been set, consider the list of projects SFLA recommended to its chapters in 2015 as part of their “Event in a Box” project:
January Set up a Cemetery of the Innocents
February Support pregnant students and student-parents
March Distribute anti-Planned Parenthood literature
April Help post-abortive women
May Celebrate successes during the past year
June No event promoted
July No event promoted
August Recruit new members
September Distribute anti-Planned Parenthood literature
October Day of Silent Solidarity
November Promote adoption
December Assist a local crisis pregnancy center
Though SFLA should be credited with at least trying to encourage local chapter activity, it must be pointed out that, of the 10 ‘events’ recommended, only 6 could be said to have anything to do with preventing abortion(s), and all of these could be accomplished in the space of a day by a minimal number of students. Of course, nothing prevents local chapters from doing more. The point is that regular (weekly?), sacrificial anti-abortion activism is not being promoted.
As a further illustration, consider that in March of 2014 SFLA awarded Boise State Students for Life the Group of the Month Award for 1) demonstrating a live ultrasound on campus one time, 2) inviting SFLA to campus for a few days to erect an anti-Planned Parenthood display, 3) hosting a baby blanket making event, 4) collecting diapers, 5) chalking the sidewalk on National Pro-Life Chalk Day and 6) encouraging members to participate in other events throughout the Boise community. Again, notice that these events took place over the course of an entire year, and the most impressive item (number 2) was primarily the work of SFLA and not the local college students. Yet in today's low-achieving anti-abortion culture, this warrants an award!
40 Days for Life, an international effort to get pro-life people praying outside abortion mills, is probably the closest thing in existence today encouraging the average pro-life person to do more, and in this way it has sometimes been possible to bring large groups of pro-life people together. The part that these campaigns have played in saving babies and closing abortion mills should not be dismissed. However, considering the widespread reach of 40 Days for Life and its general acceptance by (at least) Catholic and conservative Anglican churches, you would expect far greater results. Many people involved in leading the programs have hoped that by asking people to donate a very small amount of time, more people can be persuaded to participate, and those that do will eventually learn to do so more frequently. Yet during the nearly 3,895 local campaigns that have taken place since 2007, the total number of individual participants is estimated to be only 675,000. (12) This means that in eight years, less than 2% of the nation’s 38 million stridently pro-life citizens could be persuaded to spend just one hour praying outside an abortion mill! As anyone who has run one of these campaigns will tell you, convincing pro-lifers to take part is still a monumental task, and most of the time, most abortion mills continue to operate practically without opposition.
Don’t be mistaken. There are people out there striving hard to end abortion. But they are very few. Almost everything the pro-life movement has accomplished in the last 43 years has been done by a tiny minority of people. The rest of us are just watching from the sidelines or, at best, "doing just enough to salve the conscience, but not enough to stop the killing". All the evidence supports this unfortunate conclusion.
If this sad state of affairs bothers you, and you want to know what we ought to be doing to turn it around, please keep exploring the Revelation 3:2 Project.
REFERENCES AND FOOTNOTES
1. Cunningham has publicly made this statement upon numerous occasions since the late 1990’s
2. A Christian Manifesto, published by Crossway Books (1981)
3. Interview with Josh Brahm of Life Report (January 22, 2013)
4. In a personal message to the author of this article in 2012
5. Abortion: Who is Most Responsible? published in Operation Save America blog
6. Shattering the Darkness, the Crisis of the Cross in the Church Today, published by the Cooling Spring Press (1992)
7. The Idol of Reputation: Are you Nicer Than Jesus? published in Forerunner Magazine, (November 1, 1993)
8. Access, the key to pro-life victory, published by Life Dynamics (1998)
9. Why Supporting a Crisis Pregnancy Center is Not Enough, published by Operation Rescue (2003)
10. 2013 Church Budget Allocations, Learning Priorities, and Quarterly Financial Trends, published by Evangelical Christian Credit Union (December, 2012)
11. Interview with R.C. Sproul, Jr. broadcast by Ligonier Ministries (January 5, 2011)
12. This information is current as of January 15, 2016. The majority of 40 Days for Life campaigns continue to take place in North American cities, primarily in the US