This sermon was preached for Pro-Life Mississippi, outside of the Jackson Women’s Health Organization in Jackson, MS.
Text: James 1:19-27
I know that you are all believers who aspire to be doers of the word. You wouldn’t be out here if you didn’t. This isn’t a glamorous calling. There’s little earthly reward. You are practicing your religion by being here.
But some of the people who run this clinic also profess to be Christians. They believe that they are acting out fundamental values and deeply-held convictions with what they do. And they are right. That is what they are doing. They are passionately and spiritually devoted to their cause, and they are certainly doers of the words they speak. It’s just their words are very different. Their religion is very different.
This clinic exists to practice abortions. It may conduct other services in addition, but everyone is clear about its raison d’être: it is the last abortion clinic in the state. The other services are accidental to the main thing. Other places carry out mammograms, distribute birth control, counsel expecting mothers, and offer various tests and screenings. The one thing that makes this clinic unique is abortion. And everyone who supports the clinic is self-conscious about this. They are passionately committed to providing abortions.
We should ask why people, many of whom profess to also be Christians, support abortion and support it so strongly. There is always the easy spiritual answer. People support abortion because of sin. Their wills have been bent because of sin, and thus they make choices and engage in activity that is wrong. But this answer is true of every kind of sin. With abortion there is a very specific rationale which explains why people support it, and I think it is important that we know this rationale and understand it. This is important for diagnosing the problem, but it is just as important for offering a solution. We cannot walk halfway down the same road, holding many of the same values, only to stop arbitrarily. We need an entirely different perspective. We need a different religion.
A Different Religion
Abortion is one expression of a certain religion. St. Augustine called this religion the City of Man, man’s desire to use earthly power to find fulfillment and success, even if it means carrying out violence against those weaker than you. Apart from the grace of God, Augustine taught, all men will tend to pursue power in this way. We can see this driving principle at work in the case of abortion because abortion teaches that in the case of a collision of lives, the freedom of the stronger is privileged over the life of the weaker. In order for the stronger of the two to have the opportunity for success, it must terminate the life of the weaker. Whatever else we say about it, we can say this much: abortion is an act of violence against a dependent entity.
But described in this way, you might wonder how anyone could support it. The fact is, however, much of our modern world operates this way. Much of America’s economy is built this way, and so long as we don’t have to see the messiness of it all or talk about the ugly sides, most Americans are happy to cooperate with necessary evil. We will put up with middle-eastern warlords and even fund tyrannical dictators, if means that we can maintain a functioning and secure global economy. Abortion works the same way. We boast about having public equality and freedom, success and fulfillment for all, but we also have a back room full of blood. Abortion is a privatized and clinicalized violence, which, Americans believe, is necessary to secure certain benefits.
The owner of this clinic talks in exactly this way. Diana Derzis believes that she is doing a good thing. She says that she is providing women with necessary services for them to have a supposedly full and successful life. This is how Ms Derzis explains her conviction: “I know as fervently as they do what is moral and right and, if I am wrong, that’s between the Lord and I…” She even argues against the notion that the women are desperate and out of options. She prefers to think of her service as a way to give them power. “My experience [is] that women who make this decision [do so] knowing full well they have choices,” Derzis says.
So the message is that this clinic helps the under-privileged have the same means to succeed in modern America as everyone else. We need to be honest and accurate about presenting this. There are certainly other factors involved, but the central ideology is that abortion is necessary for all people to have an equal opportunity to find personal fulfillment. And the means to that success is termination of another life. This may be contained and controlled, this may be sanitized and peripheral, but this is still, after all is said and done, the will to power. This is the sort of success that only comes with sacrifice. In this case, it is the sacrifice of a child.
Visiting Orphans and Widows
As Christians, we must lead the way in modeling repentance and love. We cannot be content to only preach against the other person’s sins. We must preach against our own. Judgment must begin, as always, at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Let us take the initiative in self-examination, repentance, and modeling a life of virtue.
James says that pure and undefiled religion is loving and serving those in need. Specifically he says, “to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). Are we loving widows or women in need? The literal term there means a time of affliction or tribulation. When is that? Certainly when a women visits an abortion clinic, it is a time of tribulation. But really, the most significant affliction occurs both before and after. How can we love them in these times, and what can we do for them to show them a better way?
What is the fullest way to love a woman in need? Can we provide them with what they need, whether materially, emotionally, or spiritually? Do we have the means to do this? Pro-life Christians must resolve themselves to tackling the whole picture, not merely the choice to abort, but the lifestyle, mindset, and peer-community which creates such a choice. We must visit women and point them towards a better way. We need to support them in such a way that they will renounce the desire to seek success and fulfillment through violence, but rather see the love of Christ and seek to follow after him. This means that we have to get to know them, to love them, and to share a life with them.
Too many Christians live like the City of Man up until they reach a certain moral line. It seems too much to violate certain specific laws, and so they back away. But to outsiders this seems quite arbitrary. You cannot place personal success over the needs of others, personal liberty over the demands of justice, and individual power over shared life, only to back away when things get too ugly. Instead, you must have an entirely different way of living. You must take up your cross and follow Christ in all of life, and this path ought to lead you to women in need.
We must also ask about the orphans. Are we visiting them in their time of need? Suppose this clinic does shut down. Do we have a plan for the children who will be born? Do we have loving communities who will not only support but actually befriend these children? Once they have life, we need to be able to help them get a life. They will need homes, families, communities of support, and the means to a future. Are we really up for this? This is an immense calling. This will require communal activity. This calls for the communion of the saints, the body of Christ. We must be in this for each other.
Unspotted From the World
And finally, James says that we must keep ourselves unspotted from the world. What does this mean? It means that we need to repent of our sins and to resolve ourselves not to continue to commit sins. It also means that we must stop looking to the world for our standards. The world should not be how we determine what is “normal.” Christians should be necessarily and qualitatively different.
But in context, James is calling us away from violence. He says that we should receive the word of salvation with meekness (vs. 21). We are to bridle our tongue (vs. 26), and we are to be slow to wrath. “So then, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath; for the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God” (vs. 19-20). Even when we are confronting sin, when we are in the trenches, we must renounce wrath. Violence does not bring about the righteousness of God.
This can be difficult at times, especially when we are confronted with true evil. It is hard to know that others are carrying out acts of violence and to not respond in kind. But we must not. This is because we are not fighting with carnal weapons. We are not living like those in the City of Man. Instead, we are called to live like Jesus. Our witness, meek yet unwavering, is what will tear down strongholds. Living as pictures of Christ on this earth, offering love and preaching the gospel, is the way of the City of God.
We must not forget our calling. We must be hearers and doers of the word. We must practice pure and undefiled religion. Our calling is to visit widows and orphans in their time of need and to keep ourselves unspotted from the world. Hold fast to this calling and remember the work of Christ, the surety and guarantee of our salvation. He has already won the victory, and it is in Him that we ultimately place all our hope and trust.