When Christianity Today approached us to have a conversation about the revolutionary work happening in our space, we jumped at the opportunity to tell the story of how churches and pregnancy centers across the nation are shifting their approach toward the issue of abortion. However, when the article came out, we found ourselves disappointed by the missed opportunity to shed light on how in-depth this change has been.
The ProGrace shift is not about strategy, it is about the transformation of minds and hearts.
In missing this, the article illustrates when we buy into false binaries, it is nearly impossible to get out of them. However, part of being a Christian is inviting God into all areas of our thinking to show us where we fall short of what Jesus intended—this is the article we hoped could have been written. For anyone feeling something needs to change, we would like to unpack this a little more.
Shifting False Binary to Kingdom Perspective
In our culture, we have accepted what is really a false binary around abortion, meaning we have to be either:
- For the child (pro-life)
- For the woman (pro-choice)
However, as Christians, we don’t have to accept this either-or approach to the issue. Instead, we can look to all the instances in the Gospels where Jesus addresses a false binary question (usually meant to trap him) with a third, Kingdom answer:
- Do we pay taxes to Rome or not? (Mark 12: 13-17)
- Do we stone this woman or not? (John 8:2-11)
- Who sinned to make this man blind, his parents or him? (John 9:2-3)
- Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not? (Luke 14: 1-4)
If we believe abortion is important to God, and neither side of the false binary feels exactly right to us, then we need to seek a third, Kingdom answer. And that starts with God’s design of pregnancy.
God’s Design of Pregnancy
Our creative God could have chosen to bring life into the world any way He wanted. But His design is pregnancy. There is nothing else like it. The lives of two people are intertwined in such a way that anything you do to one impacts the other. Because of this, He has made it impossible for us to try to help (or “save”) one while ignoring the other. It won’t ever work. It’s the false binary at the root of the current political stalemate. God loves and values the woman and child equally—so, He calls His people to work for the dignity and welfare of both.
God loves and values the woman and child equally—so, He calls His people to work for the dignity and welfare of both.
We may be nodding now—yes, God values them both equally! However, the next question is why have we accepted this false binary for so many years and turned our attention primarily to the child? When we read Christian arguments about this issue, we rarely hear about the woman and her needs—she is either ignored or treated as someone we have to “block” and legislate against.
Shifting False Judgment to a Grace Response
We have not applied the radical grace of Jesus to the issue. In fact, we treat it as an issue, not as a human struggle. We talk about it as “out there”, involving “those people” and needing to be legislated against. From there, it becomes easy to dehumanize and lose empathy for the people impacted.
We haven’t stopped to ask, why? Why would a woman [who either wants children someday, or already has children] choose to have an abortion?
Three out of four women who have abortions state that their primary reasons for doing so are lack of emotional support and/or practical resources (Finer LB, Reasons US Women Have Abortions, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 2005). In addition, an April 2019 research study completed for ProGrace by Mindsights Consulting found that the prominent themes shared by the majority of the women who faced an unintended pregnancy were panic, isolation, shame and loss of self.
Three out of four women who have abortions state that their primary reasons for doing so are lack of emotional support and/or practical resources.
Women reported experiencing deep shame, believing people would view them as irresponsible and judge them. They isolated themselves from support because they felt nobody would be able to help them. Yet, emotional support was the one thing they most longed for because they felt so alone.
Women also experienced a complete shift in their sense of self. They believed the person they knew themselves to be was gone now that they were pregnant. An emotional experience of “my life is over/death of self” was further complicated by the rejection felt by many from the father of the child.
Another study found that 4 out of 10 women who had abortions were regular churchgoers at the time—yet only 7% of them talked to anyone at their church before making that decision, out of fear of judgment. (Lifeway/Women Distrust Church on Abortion/2015)
How Would Jesus Respond?
We can stop here, close our eyes, and try to imagine a time in our own life when we felt such crushing feelings of panic and shame. We can begin to empathize and understand why a woman might consider abortion as her only or best option. We can also start to see what would be most helpful to her and her child. We’ve seen from experience that both acceptance and support can help to mitigate these overwhelming emotions and help a woman see she is still herself, and there is hope for the future.
We’ve seen from experience that both acceptance and support can help to mitigate these overwhelming emotions and help a woman see she is still herself, and there is hope for the future.
We’ve also seen that Christians will readily offer support—however, it’s the acceptance that causes them struggle. “But… what about how she got pregnant?” they say. So, we’ll answer that question with a question (another way Jesus commonly responded to questions!). Is this any different from any issue in our own life we’re struggling with? According to the Gospels—no.
In John 8:2-11, Jesus defuses a crowd about to stone a woman caught in the act of adultery with these words, “Let any one of you without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” And after everyone walked away, the one who actually was without sin and could have thrown a stone assures her there is no condemnation. This theme is woven throughout Scripture—it’s the holiness of God and the inability of any of us to live up to His perfection.
God’s Path to Transformation
God’s path to transformation is always grace. He extends grace and forgiveness, giving us a new identity as His child. Then, from that place of acceptance and love, we start to change. Research continues to affirm no one changes as a result of shame or judgment. Only grace gives us the identity and hope that we can live a changed life.
Research continues to affirm no one changes as a result of shame or judgment.
When we start to see abortion through the lens of grace, we can see how counterproductive so much of our judgment, shame and fighting really is. Grace is a third Kingdom response we need to sit with, absorb and wrestle with, in light of how we’ve approached the topic of abortion.
Shifting Language From Politics to God’s Full Heart
Once we shift our mindset toward a third, grace response, how do we express it?
We can’t expect the language used in a political battle for the last 45 years can also be used to offer an accurate representation of our God whose holiness and love transcend either political argument.
The words “pro-life” and “pro-choice” just emphasize the false binary.
In fact, the words “pro-life” and “pro-choice” just emphasize the false binary and keep us from talking to each other. When we use these words, we are slapping a label on ourselves as either anti-child or anti-woman. Language only works if what we’re trying to communicate is understood by our hearer. Yet, we shut down half of the population when we use either term. So, let’s not.
As Christians, let’s talk about God’s value for both the woman and the child.
Let’s talk about empathy and grace, being vulnerable about our own challenges and weaknesses—and let’s understand we might consider abortion too, if we were in her place.
Let’s also talk about this with humility, realizing we’re talking about people who are incredibly valuable to God. His full heart is that both the woman and child would thrive—physically, emotionally and spiritually—during and after pregnancy.
ProGrace isn’t a strategy.
ProGrace seeking after the heart of God and asking Him to align our mindset and language with His.
ProGrace asking Him what we can do to create pathways of grace, hope and support so the people He loves can thrive.