|By Brian Elroy McKinley|
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Elroy's poetry on love, loss, and sorrow can be found in
One sided. That's the abortion stance of most
Christians -- one sided. We hear the
Christian Coalition speak against abortion. We hear
Focus on the Family tell Republican candidates it will not
support them unless they state their opposition to
abortion. We hear Operation Rescue's Christian members
praying God will turn back the clock and make abortion
illegal again. Over and over we are bombarded with the
"Christian" perspective that abortion is outright wrong, no
With all these groups chanting the same mantra, there must be some pretty overwhelming biblical evidence of abortion's evil, right?
Wrong. In reality there is merely overwhelming evidence that most people don't take time to read their own Bibles. People will listen to their pastors and to Christian radio broadcasters. They will skim through easy-to-read pamphlets and perhaps look up the one or two verses printed therein, but they don't actually read their Bibles and make up their own minds on issues such as abortion. They merely listen to others who quote a verse to support a view they heard from someone else. By definition, most Christians, rather than reading for themselves, follow the beliefs of a Culture of Christianity -- and many of the Culture's beliefs are based on one or two verses of the Bible, often taken out of context.
This is most definitely the case when it comes to abortion. Ask most anti-abortion Christians to support their view, and they'll give you a couple of verses. One, quite obviously, is the Commandment against murder. But that begs the question of whether or not abortion is murder, which begs the question of whether or not a fetus is the same as a full-term human person. To support their beliefs, these Christians point to one of three bible verses that refer to God working in the womb. The first is found in Psalms:
But even if we agreed to interpret these verses the same way that anti-abortion Christians do, we still have a hard time arguing that the Bible supports an anti-abortion point of view. If anything, as we will soon see, abortion is biblical.
Anytime we take one or two verses out of their context and quote them as doctrine, we place ourselves in jeopardy of being contradicted by other verses. Similarly, some verses that make perfect sense while standing alone take on a different feel when seen in the greater context in which they were written. And we can do some rather bizarre things to the Scriptures when we take disparate verses from the same context and use them as stand-alone doctrinal statements. Some prime examples of this come from the same book of the Bible as our last quote. Consider these verses that claim that God has abandoned us:
But rather than interpret that God is with us as a fetus, but forgets us as adults, and yet will allow us to plead for the death of our enemies, we need to look at the greater context in which all these verses are found: songs.
Called Psalms, these are the songs of King David, a man of great faith who was also greatly tormented. He was a man of passions. He loved God, lusted for another man's wife, and murdered him to get her. He marveled at nature and at his own existence. All his great swings in emotion are recorded in the songs he wrote, and we can read them today in the Book of Psalms. What we cannot do is take one song, or one stanza of a song, and proclaim that it is indeed to be taken literally while taking other stanzas from David's songs and claim they should not be taken literally.
Yet that is exactly what anti-abortion Christians are asking us to do. They use those few verses from the Psalms to support their dogma that abortion is wrong. They proclaim those verses as holy writ and the other verses as poetry that we should not be following. Clearly, this is a perfect example of taking verses out of context. And it leads us to only one conclusion: if we cannot trust that God wants to kill our enemies and abandon us, we must also conclude that we cannot trust that God has defined the fetus as being a person.
For indeed, if we allow that kind of thinking we could also make an argument that God is willing to maul children to death if they make fun of a bald guy who just happens to be in God's favor. You think I'm joking, but I'm not. In the book of Second Kings, our hero, the Prophet Elisha, who was quite bald, so it seems, was taunted by a group of young boys. Elisha's response was bitter and cruel:
Likewise we can also use the anti-abortionists' methods to establish that God approves of pornography, as seen in these following verses by Solomon as he pondered the female body:
The same is true with the other two verses used by anti-abortion Christians to defend their cause. From the book of Jeremiah, these Crusaders are fond of quoting the phrase, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee," from the first chapter. But they never quote the entire passage, which changes the meaning considerably:
Another problem in this passage is the phrase, "Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee." In Psalm 139:13-16 the anti-abortionists claim that because God was active in the creation of King David in his mother's womb that we must conclude the fetus is recognized by God as being a person. But here we see God stating that he knew Jeremiah "before" he was formed in the womb. By anti-abortionist logic, we would have to conclude that we are a human person even before conception. Since this is a ridiculous notion, we must, therefore, conclude that the anti-abortionist is interpreting these verses incorrectly.
The last verse most often quoted by anti-abortion Christians relates the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, while both were pregnant. When they meet, the pre-born John the Baptist leaps in his mother's womb at Mary's salutation. Let's read the original:
The point to all this is simple: we cannot take the verses we like and interpret them to support what we want to support. And, more to the point, we cannot simply accept what some Christian leaders proclaim as being God's word on a given subject without carefully reading the full text of the book and taking into consideration the entire context. We cannot, as we have shown, simply interpret those few verses from Psalms, Isaiah, and Luke as a reason to be against abortion. And, as we will see in a moment, there are still other verses -- if interpreted in the sloppy manner demonstrated by anti-abortion Christians -- in the Bible that could easily lead us to argue that indeed God, at times, supports abortion. Let's take a look.
In the full context of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon makes the point that much of life is futile. Over and over he writes that if life is good then we should be thankful. But when life is not good, Solomon makes some interesting statements:
And Solomon was not alone in this argument. Consider the words of Job, a man of great faith and wealth, when his life fell upon the hardest of times:
Actually, I will stop short of making that claim. In fact, I will stop short of making the claim that the Bible condemns or supports abortion at all. It does neither. The condemning and supporting comes not from the words of the Bible but from leaders within our Culture of Christianity who use verses out of context -- the same way I just did to support abortion -- to support their views against abortion. The condemning and the supporting comes not from the Scriptures but from average Christians who take the easy way out, accepting one or two verses of the Bible as proof that their leaders are speaking the gospel truth. The condemning and supporting comes not from God but from those who do not take the time to read the Bible, in its own context, and decide for themselves the meanings therein.
For indeed, there is one passage in the Bible that deals specifically with the act of causing a woman to abort a pregnancy. And the penalty for causing the abortion is not what many would lead us to believe:
This is a very illuminating passage. In it we find a woman losing her child by being stuck by men who are fighting. Rather than it being a capital offense, however, it is relegated to a civil matter, with the father-to-be taking the participants to court for a settlement. But, as we read on, if the woman is killed, a "life for a life," then the men who killed her shall be killed. Some have claimed that the life for a life part is talking about the baby. But from reading the context we can see this is not true. It also states a tooth for a tooth and a burn for a burn. Babies don't have teeth when they are born, and it is highly unlikely a baby will be burned during birth. It is pretty clear that this part refers to the mother. Thus we can see that if the baby is lost, it does not require a death sentence -- it is not considered murder. But if the woman is lost, it is considered murder and is punished by death.
It's important to note that some anti-abortion lobbyists want to convince us the baby in this passage survived the miscarriage. They point to the more "politically-correct" translation they find in the New International Version of the Bible. There it translates the term "miscarriage" into "gives birth prematurely" (the actual words in Hebrew translate "she lose her offspring"). While this may give them the warm and fuzzy notion that this verse might actually support their cause if maybe the child survived, it is wishful thinking at best. In our modern era of miracle medicine only 60% of all premature births survive. Three thousand years ago, when this passage was written, they did not have modern technology to keep a preemie alive. In fact, at that time, more than half of all live births died before their first birthday. In a world like that, a premature birth was a death sentence.
Others have looked to the actual Hebrew words, themselves, to try and refute these verses. They note that the word "yalad" is used in verse 22 to describe the untimely birth, and that yalad is also used in other places to describe a live birth. They then go on to say other places in the Bible use the words "nefel" and "shakol" to describe a miscarriage. Therefore, the argument goes, the baby in Exodus 21:22 must have been born alive. It's easy to see how a novice might make this mistake, but a closer look at the words in question reveal the flaw in this argument.
The word yalad is a verb that describes the process of something coming out - the departing of the fetus. Since it is describing the process, and not the result, it could be used to describe either a live birth or a miscarriage. Shakol which shows up in Hosea 9:14, is also a verb, but its meaning is to make a woman barren. Now a barren woman certainly might miscarry, but with this understanding of the word, it's clear why the writer of Exodus would not have used it since this miscarriage was caused by an accident, not by barrenness. And the word nefel is not even a verb. It's a noun. True, as a noun it is the term for a miscarried fetus, but the writer wasn't using a noun. He was using a verb to describe the coming out of the fetus. Thus, if I were describing a man falling to his death, I would use the verb "to fall" which can be used for both those who die and those who survive a fall, but to describe the man himself I would use the word the "fatality." So we can see that while a novice might mistake a verb for a noun and come to the wrong conclusions about the original Hebrew words used in the Exodus passage, a more careful look proves that the words only describe the action of losing the fetus, not the fetus itself. And that being the case, we can't use the Hebrew translations to determine if the fetus was alive or not when it came out - so we are forced to accept that in all certainly, considering the medical knowledge at the time, the preemie died. This makes it even more clear that the "tooth for a tooth" passage refers only to the mother, not to the miscarried fetus.
What has been so clearly demonstrated by the passage in Exodus - the fact that God does not consider a fetus a human person - can also be seen in a variety of other Bible verses. In Leviticus 27:6 a monetary value was placed on children, but not until they reached one month old (any younger had no value). Likewise, in Numbers 3:15 a census was commanded, but the Jews were told only to count those one month old and above - anything less, particularly a fetus, was not counted as a human person. In Ezekiel 37:8-10 we watch as God re-animates dead bones into living soldiers, but the passage makes the interesting note that they were not alive as persons until their first breath. Likewise, in Genesis 2:7, Adam had a human form and a vibrant new body but he only becomes a fully-alive human person after God makes him breathe. And in the same book, in Genesis 38:24, we read about a pregnant woman condemned to death by burning. Though the leaders of Israel knew the woman was carrying a fetus, this was not taken into consideration. If indeed the Jews, and the God who instructed them, believed the fetus to be an equal human person to the mother, then why would they let the fetus die for the mother's crimes? The truth is simple. A fetus is not a human person, and its destruction is not a murder. Period.
It is time to stop the one-sided view of abortion being
proclaimed by Christian leaders. These leaders do not --
despite their claims -- have a biblical mandate for their
theologies. It is time to stop preaching that the Bible
contains an undeniable doctrine against abortion. It is time
to stop the anger and hatred being heaped on abortion
doctors and upon women who have abortions, especially when
it's done in the name of a God who has not written such
condemnations in his Bible. It is time to stop, because the
act of making a judgment against people in God's name, when
God is not behind the judging, is nothing short of claiming
that our own beliefs are more important than God's. We must
stop, because if we don't, then indeed the very type of
theological argument being used against abortion can be
turned around and used to proclaim that abortion is
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