“What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue? It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without intuition or restraint. Those who know what virtuous liberty is, cannot bear to see it disgraced by incapable heads, on account of their having high-sounding words in their mouths.” –Edmund Burke
In the fall of 1980, a young Christian from south Florida by the name of Albert Mohler entered as a student at Southern Seminary. As a social conservative and as a graduate of Samford University where the issue of abortion was rarely raised in public, Mohler walked unknowingly into what he would later describe as a Civil War battlefield. “All the guns were pointed out,” he later recalled. Speaking of the emerging modernist-conservative divide on campus, the man who would later become President of that very institution stated plainly, “Abortion was the stick of dynamite that exploded the issue.” For Mohler, it wasn’t inerrancy or Calvinism or gender issues that cast the sharpest light upon the ills of liberal theology; it was the issue of abortion. “If they’re willing to do that, what does that say about the whole system?” Mohler asked himself. Eighty years earlier, Karl Barth had become disillusioned from progressivist thought after watching his former liberal professors sign a manifesto supporting Kaiser Wilhelm’s war policy. In some sense, the Southern faculty’s celebration of Roe v. Wade (1973) was Mohler’s manifesto experience. What Mohler learned almost four decades ago, the church continues to witness today: shallow theology breeds moral bankruptcy.
While Southern Seminary has since remedied its abortion culture, and while many statistics testify to the decline in documented abortions, America still remains a country deeply divided over the issue. The Women’s March in Washington D.C., for example, released a statement a week ago excluding pro-life women from their “movement,” essentially declaring that millions of women who wish to defend both women and the unborn are necessarily precluded from true “feminism.” What likewise hasn’t changed are the arguments for abortion since Roe v. Wade was handed down, effectively legalizing the murder of 58 million unborn children in this country. Within the church itself, Christians have adopted the language of “freedom” in the Bible to endorse the “reproductive rights” of women to kill their babies. As the secular argument goes, no person or legal entity has the authority to tell a woman what to do with her body, regardless if there are two hearts beating inside of it.
At the “heart” of this darkened reasoning is the concept of liberty: freedom is now sacrosanct. The violation of said freedom is now the only ultimate evil left in a postmodern world. This includes all kinds of liberty: economic freedom, freedom to arms, freedom to marry, freedom to abort. When freedom is the highest unchecked value in a culture, moral freedom will also begin to flourish and justice will naturally diminish, as 21st century citizens steadily return to the land of the Judges: “everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (21:25) In a freedom-intoxicated society, true evil is no longer the taking of a life; it’s the prohibition of just such an action. We all have free will, right? Who are we to judge? Inevitably, nothing will stand in the destructive path of a culture that desires its own freedom above any enforceable moral code. In his book Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America (1992), Marvin Olasky traces the origin of America’s lust for abortive freedom back to a fixation with other freedoms: “Technology did not determine action; the abortion surge came in the 1960s with a change in values. The sexual revolution of the 1960s made extramarital intercourse and its pregnant results a mainstream activity. The employment revolution of the 1970s made the major economic loss that could result from pregnancy a major concern.” (295) Perhaps James summarizes this freedom-addicted abortion culture best when he writes, “You desire and do not have, so you murder.” (4:2) It’s a war over children that also becomes a war over words. The dehumanizing language of the abortion culture would have us believe that the unborn are merely “cells” or “fetuses,” and that this imprimatur of mass killing is subsumed under the innocuous title of “pro-choice.” But with the advancement in sonogram technology, our consciences…and now our eyes…know better.
The Women’s March in Washington is a part of a long line of progressive demonstrations in this country that have achieved great milestones of freedom for this country. We should all recognize that legacy before casting our stones. However, without any biblical grounding in their concept of freedom, today’s dominant feminist groups no longer speak for the marginalized; they snuff out the voiceless – the least of these. A pro-abortion activist fighting for “human rights” is no less ironic than a God who would become man. The difference is that one boasts life while actually taking it; the other lays down His life while actually giving it. Modeled after our Savior, Christianity is about using our freedom in Christ to serve and save, not about exalting our own freedom to harm the weak. For these the church bestows the “greater honor.” (1 Cor. 12:23) For this reason, pulpits across America must exercise caution in explaining the definition of “freedom,” especially when it involves our bondage in sin. Without the constant reminder of their sin, Christians will lose sight of their own need for freedom in the Spirit and seek to find that freedom in themselves. (John 8:31-47) Shallow theology always breeds moral bankruptcy.
Oddly enough, abortion didn’t become a standard campaign issue as we know it today until the late 1970s. Compared with Roman Catholic activism, Protestants for years appeared hesitant to engage the issue head on. Megachurch pastors like W.A. Criswell were initially and publicly pro-choice. Jerry Falwell, a prominent leader of the Christian Right for decades, did not make a statement in opposition to abortion until 1975, two years after Roe v. Wade. But that was then. Today the moral ambiguity and verbal subterfuge cannot mask the evil of abortion from the church. This week evangelicals watched hundreds of thousands of people march on behalf of the freedom to abort unborn children. Will our love for the unborn cause us to stand up? Will we speak out? Let the saints march.