Abortion and the Illusion of Sovereignty: Addressing the Real Issue

This Sunday’s cover story, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy”, for The New York Times Magazine is nothing new. I wrote several years ago, in “When the Fertility Clinic Meets the Abortion Clinic: A Modern Paradox,” about a similar article in the Los Angeles Times. In fact the only thing that has changed in these four years are the numbers. The reasons and the response are the same things that have been around since the first abortion and if we were to go back further to the origins of infanticide. When reading these articles, or the responses to them, they are so predictable that they almost appear to be scripted. With that I hope to take a departure from the typical response and argue that the real issue here is not life, it is not choice, and it is not even murder. The real issue is sovereignty.

Let me explain what I mean. In her June article, “Yes, Abortion is Killing. But It’s the Lesser Evil,” Antonia Senior explains how having a child changed her perspective regarding abortion. After explaining the lack of a consensus regarding a scientific or philosophical definition of life she concludes,

What seems increasingly clear to me is that, in the absence of an objective definition, a foetus is a life by any subjective measure. My daughter was formed at conception, and all the barely understood alchemy that turned the happy accident of that particular sperm meeting that particular egg into my darling, personality-packed toddler took place at that moment. She is so unmistakably herself, her own person — forged in my womb, not by my mothering.

Any other conclusion is a convenient lie that we on the pro-choice side of the debate tell ourselves to make us feel better about the action of taking a life. That little seahorse shape floating in a willing womb is a growing miracle of life

She then explains that such conclusions have resulted in a movement aimed at separating feminism from “fertility control.” However, she views this as entirely incompatible with the central aim of feminism exclaiming, “The single biggest factor in women’s liberation was our newly found ability to impose our will on our biology.” The freedom of women then depends upon one thing the unencumbered exercise of the will.

With a shocking candor she concludes,

As ever, when an issue we thought was black and white becomes more nuanced, the answer lies in choosing the lesser evil. The nearly 200,000 aborted babies in the UK each year are the lesser evil, no matter how you define life, or death, for that matter. If you are willing to die for a cause, you must be prepared to kill for it, too.

For Antonia Senior, and I would argue for all of us, the principal issue is sovereignty, a woman’s ultimate right to impose her will upon herself and upon others.

Sovereignty occurs vertically in the form of worship, we could use other words but the concept remains the same. We either rejoice in the sovereignty of the God in whose image we are made or we deny it by worshipping any number of god’s made in our image. Horizontally human interaction exists upon a continuum of two extremes; escape and conflict. Both extremes end in death and both are false exercises of sovereignty. At the extreme end of escape is suicide where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over the self by taking one’s life. At the extreme end of conflict lies murder where the sovereign self claims sovereignty over another by taking another’s life.

The first two articles mentioned, “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” and “The abortion debate brought home,” regarding reduction, which let’s be honest is a clever play on words to sanitize something far more grisly and sinister, bring another exercise of sovereignty into the question, namely in vitro fertilization and the creation of life. Imposing one’s will upon one’s own biology may require medical assistance and donated eggs which is where our current discussion often begins. With in vitro fertilization, when multiple embryos are transferred, there is always the possibility of multiple embryos implanting and when multiple babies are not wanted or the mother is unable to give birth to multiple children then one or more of them must be put to death. In 1988 Dr. Mark Evans penned guidelines for this procedure stating that “most reductions below twins violated ethical principles.” Things have changed over the past 23 years; the medical community has rethought its ethics and is now willing and able to reduce your pregnancy to one. “The Two-Minus-One Pregnancy” ends with a counterintuitive conclusion. After choosing to reduce their pregnancy to one child the author asks the women what would happen if they miscarried to which one of them replied, “I’ve come to realize there’s only so much we can control. There’s a point where you just have to let nature take its course.”

After all this talk of a woman’s complete control of her own fertility comes the tragic conclusion that “there’s only so much we can control.” Ultimately you cannot impose your will upon your biology because ultimately you are not sovereign. Your sovereignty is an illusion.

How are we to respond to this? Should we call our senator or state representative? Should we start building picket signs and begin protesting abortion clinics? No, we must respond with the Gospel, in word and deed. We must respond in the same way that God responds to humanity’s first act of false sovereignty in the garden, with grace and the promise that in Christ we will be liberated not unto self but from self and sin and set free to worship the one true Sovereign. Any other response is incalculably inadequate and nearsighted.

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Acts 8:26-40: Philip and the Sexual Deviant Part 2 — Responding to Alternate Interpretations

This is the second post in a series (Part 1) explaining Acts 8:26-40. This post in particular is aimed at addressing Brian McLaren’s post “Synchro-blogging on Sexuality.” He begins by explaining:

I knew from my many years as a pastor that sexual orientation was not a choice . . . So, I was uncomfortable with the conventional approach, but I was unsure how to construct an alternative that was equally faithful to Scripture and faithful to the reality I saw in human beings who came to me as their pastor, friend, and family member. Over many years, that alternative has become more and more clear, and surprisingly (to some), it was a passage of Scripture that opened the way for me to see it.

He goes on to tell that “Acts 8 was waiting with a story that is more powerful than many have realized.”

What follows is his explanation of Acts 8:26-40 and its implications for our understanding of human sexuality. Prior to addressing his explanation his motivation must be examined. He begins by explaining that he knew, by means of experiential knowledge, that sexual orientation was not a choice. Furthermore he sought out Scripture which would conform to his experience of reality. Yes, Scripture should accurately describe reality; however, we must also recognize what Scripture has to say about reality as we experience it. It is expressly clear from Scripture that the reality which we experience is a world at war. It is a world where man is at enmity with God, where man is at enmity with his fellow man, where man is even at enmity with himself, and where man is at enmity with creation. Within such a world these questions cannot be answered by experience rather they must be revealed by one who is not plagued by the curse which has beset our world. Answers based upon experience are like developing a theory of human sexuality based upon the horrors of D-Day. McLaren’s mistake is that he views his experience within a fallen world as normative. This thought will be returned to in part 3 of this series.

Turning to McLaren’s explanation of Acts 8 there aspects of his argument that we can agree with, although at points necessary critique will be given. Ironically at the outset McLaren makes much of the eunuch’s inability to fit within “the traditional family,” “to become heterosexual,” and to be “categorized in traditional sexual roles” he also notes that the eunuch exists in a “not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.” This admission has no bearing upon what follows in his argument; although he admits that this man’s sexual identity has been profoundly affected by the fall he does little to speak of how redemption in Christ addresses this issue. McLaren also notes that:

He [the Ethiopian eunuch] has come to Jerusalem to worship God, but has, no doubt, been turned away- first because of his race and second because of his sexual identity: the Hebrew Scriptures explicitly excluded both Gentiles and people in his nontraditional, not-part-of-the-created-order sexual category.

One would have hoped that McLaren would have done his homework at this point and note the greatness of redemption in Christ, sadly he does not. There is no mention of Old Testament prophecy concerning eunuchs and foreigners or of prophecy concerning the coming Messiah whose inheritance is the nations, whose salvation will be made known among the nations, and around whom the nations will gather in praise. Instead McLaren gives the impression that the Old Testament has nothing to offer except condemnation. Furthermore the text itself paints a far different picture that the one given by McLaren. Rather than being turned away from worshipping in Jerusalem it would appear that he actually worshipped in Jerusalem and obtained a fairly costly scroll containing some or all of Isaiah’s prophecy. This mistake is poor exegesis at best or pure eisegesis at worst.

McLaren continues to explain the text as he tells of how Philip ran to the eunuch’s chariot and asked if he understood what he was reading. Then he explains:

The man invites Philip into the chariot and asks if the writer was writing about himself or someone else – a question that suggests this man feels the prophet is talking about him in his sexual otherness: he too will have no descendants; he too has been rejected, misunderstood, despised, shamed … he too has been brought like a sheep or lamb before people with cutting instruments.

At this point McLaren’s exposition is laughable both in his treatment of the New Testament narrative and the Old Testament prophecy. Even a cursory reading of Isaiah 53 lends itself to quite a different understanding of the text than McLaren’s suggested lamentation of “sexual otherness.” The propitiatory tone of the text is unmistakable. Thus the eunuch’s question becomes one which asks “Who is it that has taken our grief, our sorrows, our transgressions, our iniquities, and given himself as an offering for our guilt so that we may be accounted righteous and have peace with God? Is it the writer or another of whom he speaks?” McLaren also notes that like the eunuch this “man of sorrows” had no descendants (v.8). Again McLaren has failed to do his homework. The word here means generation (דור) if Isaiah had intended to speak of His descendants he would have used זרע as found in verse 10. He appears to be using the NIV which poorly renders verse 8 and stands at odds with most other translations by translation דור as descendants. What the text is asking is “Did any of his contemporaries, the people of that generation, consider that he had been put to death for their sins?” The text is not mourning his inability to have children. Even more problematic for McLaren’s translation is that verse 10 speaks of how this suffering servant will see His offspring whose iniquities He has bore and whom He has made righteous. The text is clearly at odds with McLaren’s interpretation.

McLaren continues, “Philip explains that this passage can be read to describe Jesus, and he shares the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God.” McLaren so distains exegetical certainty that he must put words into Philip’s mouth at this point as he notes that Philip explains “the good news of Jesus and the kingdom of God” as one of many readings of Isaiah 53. This is a messianic prophecy it is not enough to say that it “can be read to describe Jesus” this text describes Jesus, that is what the text is doing and any reading which does otherwise is not faithful to the text.

Ultimately McLaren concludes:

Neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles in welcoming a new brother into the community of faith. . . That’s why I am among those who dissent from the conventional approach and attitude, appealing back to Philip’s even more ancient church tradition.

Simply saying that “neither race nor sexual identity was an obstacle for the apostles” fails to do justice to the issue as we find it presented in Scripture. These were big issues that they took time to work through as they grasped the nature of redemption within the New Covenant. So we cannot say that these were non-issues it took time for them to understand the extent of redemption in Christ. At the same time we must recognize that ultimately Scripture declares, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). The gospel transcends the barriers which previously separated humanity, these barriers are still real and yet they have been overcome by the unity brought about by redemption in Christ. Ultimately, however, McLaren’s conclusion is both incorrect and it belittles the Gospel because of its failure to take into account the pervasive affects of the fall and the glorious riches of redemption in Christ.

In the upcoming and third post in this series we will examine the pervasive affects of the fall and the glorious riches of redemption in Christ as we seek to correctly understand what Scripture has to say on this issue.

The 2009 SBC Convention

I have one reflection from this year’s convention. You need to watch David Platt’s sermon from the Pastors Conference. It was a profoundly encouraging message and an extremely challenging one. I hope that its challenge weighs heavily on the hearts and radically reshapes the ministry of all who were present. The video is available here.

If you are interested in other’s reflections on the convention I would recommend the following posts by Timmy Brister:

You can be Bought and You can be Sold: Exploring the Marvel of Modern Medicine and the Human Commodity

In December Connie Culp became the recipient of the world’s first ever complete face transplant thanks to the skilled doctors at the Cleveland Clinic. You can read the rest of the article here. What seems very hopeful quickly becomes disturbing when we come to read that “The family of a brain dead woman granted [the doctors] permission to use her face. . . . Surgeons sheared out the donor’s mid-facial area including the lower eyelids, cheekbones, the nose, some of the sinus and the whole upper jaw, with the blood vessels.” I posted on a similar topic in 2005 when a team of French doctors performed the first partial face transplant. My thoughts remain the same and I have reposted them below.

Earlier this week in France a 38-year-old woman underwent the world’s first partial face transplant. The CNN.com article Face transplant woman thanks team recounts this amazing medical feat. Of all the ensuing controversy, none of it has dealt with the true issue surrounding this surgery. CNN.com reports, “The donor tissue came from a woman who had been declared brain-dead, with the permission of that woman’s family, doctors said.” This surgery has ushered in a new age in human history, the birth of the Human Commodity.

The Human Commodity is nothing new; black-market organ sales have occurred for a long time and recently embryos have been used as a source for stem cells used in research. What this event represents is the normalizing of the abnormal that occurs due to ecumenism within the monoculture. From the normalizing of homosexuality into merely another alternative lifestyle to the “Dutch Cure,” the monoculture embraces and normalizes the most abhorrent and base behavior.

The issue is that the “donor tissue,” a female face, was removed from a living human being and surgically transplanted onto another. In the September/October 2005 issue of Foreign Policy Peter Singer writes, “During the next 35 years, the traditional view of the sanctity of human life will collapse under pressure from scientific, technological, and demographic developments.” He goes on to assert that, “Hence, a decision to remove the feeding tube will be less controversial, for it will be a decision to end the life of a human body, but not of a person.” Singer believes that being alive does not necessarily constitute being a person and thus believes that there is a difference in killing a body and a person. The sanctity of human life is already collapsing and has already collapsed to the point that the organs of a living woman are now a harvestable commodity, with her family’s permission of course. According to the ecumenical monoculture, you are no longer a person you are a commodity, and your life has no intrinsic value.  (Click here to see original posting.)

We have come a long way in the past 70 years. In 1939 with Aktion T4 Hitler ordered the execution of the mentally disabled; now we use them as spare parts.

Faux-Pentecost: Rick Warren Fakes History

In late March Rick Warren announced that he would be attempting to fake make history if he could find 3,000 individuals willing to be baptized by him in a single day. From his blog he offers the following eight reasons for signing up:

  1. I’m personally teaching Class 101 for the first time in ten years.
  2. I’m personally baptizing after Class and you’ll receive a photo & baptism certificate.
  3. You’ll get a free one year subscription to Purpose Driven Connection magazine. (Never offered before)
  4. You’ll get free copy of The Purpose Driven Church book.
  5. Your name will be included in the historical list of Saddleback Pioneer Members who joined in our first 30 years. (This Easter is our 30th Easter and I want you included in this list.)
  6. The class is 1 hour shorter than normal. You can watch session 3 here online now.
  7. You’ll be a part of making Christian history! The largest membership class ever!
  8. We love you & want you in our family. There is no good reason to procrastinate.

I for one am thankful that on this historical day Pastor Warren has decided to stick with the same motivations Peter issued during his sermon at Pentecost. On the day before this watershed moment in church history Warren posted that they still needed 600 more people to make history. I don’t know how this turned out, nor do I care, but if you do I am sure Google can find the answer for you. What are your thoughts?