Recently, I ended up staying in a Louisville, KY hotel that was a little bit off the beaten path, so to speak, just outside the downtown core, out where most of the storefronts were boarded up and only fast food restaurants and strip clubs kept their lights on at night. Every time I walked from my hotel to the conference or from the conference to the hotel, I had to pass by an abortion clinic, a building with a sign that declared it a "Women's Surgical Center."
One morning, as I walked by that clinic, passing directly in front of it, I saw that three or four people were just outside, holding signs and passing out pamphlets. I was taken aback; here in Ontario it has long since been declared illegal to protest outside a clinic. Yet there they were, quietly and peacefully protesting.
Standing a little bit apart from those people were two men and a woman, each wearing an orange vest emblazoned with "Escort." These three people were escorting young women from the parking lot to the clinic, walking them past the protestors, all of whom were behaving peacefully; two were seated on the sidewalk praying, the others were calling to the women and saying, "Please don't kill your baby. You don't have to do this!" One young woman walked by them—she couldn't have been older than sixteen or seventeen—with her mother beside her, her head down. She quietly took a pamphlet and disappeared inside. The people on the sidewalk kept praying. A moment later another woman, perhaps in her twenties or thirties, passed by the protestors and went inside as well.
All of that unraveled in the few seconds it took for me to pass by—a very powerful few seconds. I was shocked and gravely disappointed—shocked again, shocked anew, that we allow this to happen, that our society not only allows this to happen, but is actually complicit in this genocide. And I was so gravely disappointed in myself, so ashamed. I felt no animosity toward those young women. They were doing only what they have been instructed to do, what parents and friends and guidance counselors and maybe even pastors have told them is the happiest outcome. "It's just like having a tumor removed. It's just a small surgery; it will be over before you know it. It's better this way."
That little girl who went in there was a sinner behaving like a sinner, an unbeliever acting out of unbelief, desperate to rid herself of the evidence of her sin or perhaps the evidence of a sin committed against her. She was wrong, of course, and will have to give an account for what she has done; but I harbor no ill-will for her. It is me I was disgusted with and me I was ashamed of. Disgusted that I could watch that and not do something, ashamed that I have no idea what to do and that I have done so little. I don't even know what I ought to do. Cry out to God and ask him to intervene? Demand answers from God as to how he can allow this to go on? What do you do, how do you react, when you see someone about to commit murder? I, we, do nothing. We feel disturbed, we feel bad, we feel guilty and ashamed, and we walk away. This atrocity has been going on all around me all of my life and I do so very little about it. I stopped for a moment, felt revulsion, and then went on my way and ate breakfast.
A couple of years ago I was reflecting on the sins that we, as Christians in this day and this time, tend to tolerate. What I said about abortion then still rings true.
Christians hate abortion. We believe that God is the creator of life and believe that life begins at the very moment of conception. We believe that each life is a gift, whether it is a life that is wanted or unwanted by the mother, whether it is a life that will be "normal" or one that will be marked by profound disability. All humans are created in the image of God and, therefore, all life has intrinsic value. And if all of this is true, then of course we despise abortion and long to see it abolished. We hate it so much that we do…well…what do we do? If we are honest with ourselves we have to admit that most of us do not do much of anything.
What have you done in the past week, the past month, the past year to actively combat abortion? If you are like me, you've done very little. You may have prayed that God will change hearts and change the laws of the land. And this is good, of course. If there is to be any change, prayer will be instrumental. You may have spoken to some friends or neighbors or family members, trying to convince them of the value of life. But very few of us have done anything substantial, anything that could possibly one day appear in a history text. Few of us move beyond the "I hate it" stage into some form of active combat.
If we imagine Christians a century in the future, or perhaps two centuries, how will this kind of action, or inaction, appear to them? What will the verdict of history be? How will we be able to explain our complacency? They will read our words, all perfectly preserved in digital media, and they will know that we wrote and spoke about our hatred for abortion and our desire to see it abolished. But will they see actions to go along with all of those words? Maybe we are just waiting for it to die a natural death.
They may judge us harshly for this. They may have every right to.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.
Originally published April 19, 2012.