Several weeks ago, Hillsong pastor Carl Lentz appeared on the television show “The View”. Host Joy Behar asked him specifically whether abortion was a sin.
He responded in the following way:
That’s the kind of conversation we would have finding out your story, where you’re from, what you believe. I mean, God’s the judge. People have to live to their own convictions. That’s such a broad question, to me, I’m going higher. I want to sit with somebody and say, “What do you believe?”
As you can imagine, the conservative internet responded with much gnashing of teeth, mud slinging, lengthy screeds against Lentz, and flat-out condemnation. He was called a coward, a theological ignoramus, spineless, and many other pleasant things. It was a beautiful brouhaha of fast and furious internet anger. (Note: He did clarify later)
So what should have Lentz said? What would I (hopefully) say if I was asked the same question, either on national television or by someone considering an abortion?
What I Appreciate About Lentz
Before I answer the question, let me clarify a few things.
Abortion is a sin. The Bible isn’t fuzzy about that at all. And as Christians, we’re called to stand for the defenseless and the unborn.
But, I believe that the way we speak about abortion to the watching world matters, and for this reason I appreciate one small aspect of what Lentz said: his emphasis on people’s story.
Abortion is certainly a huge, nation-wide catastrophe, but behind all the statistics are real women – women who are often in incredibly vulnerable situations. Maybe they’re young and terrified at the thought of being a single mother. Maybe they don’t have enough money to provide for themselves, let alone a child. Maybe they feel like having a baby would bring great shame upon them.
I recently had the opportunity to speak at a pregnancy center banquet, and the director told me that many of the women he sees actually want to have children in the future. They just can’t fathom that happening at age 20. They’re scared, ashamed, and don’t know what to do.
What I so appreciate about him and his staff is that they focus a large portion of their time and attention on simply knowing and caring for the woman. They know that if the first thing they say to a terrified young woman is, “This is sin and you need to stop right now,” they’ll drive her away.
When Jesus encountered the woman at the well in John 5, he didn’t immediately launch into a diatribe about her sinful philandering. First, he spent time with her. Asked her for a drink. Talked about smokescreen issues like worship. Patiently listened to her questions. Only after spending time with her did he directly address her immorality.
Abortion, like so many other issues (sexuality, etc.), is intensely personal. Quick, impersonal answers are almost always unhelpful and even hurtful. They fail to treat people as individuals created in God’s image, with desires, fears, baggage, and personal history.
Remember, God cares about both the mother and the baby.
So What Would I Say?
If I was on The View and Joy Behar asked me about abortion, I hope God would help me say something like this:
First of all, I want to acknowledge that this is an intensely personal issue for many women. I don’t want to address it flippantly or lightly. I don’t love the way you’ve phrased your question either because it boils a massive personal issue down to a single yes or no question. People aren’t yes or no questions.
But, in answer to your question, yes, I believe abortion is a sin. The Bible says that life is precious and that to eliminate life is a sin. I can’t compromise what the Bible is clear on.
However, if a woman came to me who was considering an abortion or who had already had one, I wouldn’t start with that. I would start with simply getting to know her. With understanding what her story is and why she is asking this question in the first place. I know that many women are genuinely conflicted about the subject and I would want to allow space for her questions and struggles.
I would also want to care for her needs – spiritual, emotional, and physical – because I believe that theology without love is dead.
Eventually, I believe we would have the opportunity to talk about whether having an abortion is right or wrong. In that moment, I would make my position clear to her. But in that moment I would also tell her that I too am a great sinner who desperately needs Jesus. I am not better than her or morally superior. Like her, I’m a sinner in need of forgiveness.
Theology + People
Too often, people boil situations down to either love or theology. Either you answer a question in the correct manner or you give a squishy, lovey-dovey answer.
The Bible offers a much better way. It calls to us to speak truth to people not situations. Yes, there will be rare times when we have to answer a question with a simple, “Yes,” or, “No.”
But 99% of the time, there are real people with real struggles behind questions.
In those moments, love and theology need to go hand in hand.