The following is from a sermon delivered on January 28, 2001 by Gary Dyer, pastor of First Baptist Church, Midland, Texas.
I have seen some stunning still pictures in my lifetime — photographs that have permanently etched scenes into my memory. But I don't think any photograph has so moved me as the one of little Samuel Armas' hand holding onto a man's finger.
There is nothing unusual about a picture of a baby's hand, and yet this picture, taken by Michael Clancy for USA Today, has been labeled by some as the photograph of the century. What makes this picture so unique is that Samuel had not yet been born. He was a twenty-one-week-old fetus still developing in the womb of his mother, Julie Armas.
Samuel had been diagnosed with spina bifida, a birth defect in which the spinal column fails to close properly during the first months of pregnancy. Julie and her developing little boy were taken to Vanderbilt University Hospital in Nashville for an innovative operation to be performed by Dr. Joseph Brunner. Near the end of the operation, a USA Today photograph captured an amazing moment. Having completed the procedure, Dr. Brunner was preparing to close up the opening in Julie's uterus when Samuel's little hand slipped out. As Dr. Brunner reached down, he stuck his finger under that little hand, and Samuel clutched the surgeon's finger. It's as if he was holding on for dear life.
Contrast the efforts made to save Samuel Armas with the thousands of perfectly healthy babies, who had their lives snuffed out by torturous abortion procedures at the very same stage of development. Their hands were just like his — capable of holding a surgeon's finger.
We must ask and answer this question, "Is the fetus a child, or not?" If a fetus is a child, then that child needs to be loved and encouraged even before birth. That child needs to be cherished and treasured from the beginning.
The Bible clearly shows that the unborn baby is a child, and science backs it up. Luke 1 records a meeting between Mary, the mother of our Lord, and Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. Both were expecting their sons when they met. Verses 41-44 tell us of their meeting: When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting the baby leaped in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit (41). Elizabeth told Mary, As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears the baby in my womb leaped for joy (44). Elizabeth also said to Mary, Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child you will bear! (42).
Elizabeth said the child was already blessed though not yet born. The word that is used for the unborn child here is the Greek word brephos, the same word used in Luke 2:12 when the angel said to the shepherds, You shall find the brephos wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manager. The very same word is used to depict the unborn child and the child already born. The difference is not one of substance, but rather the stage of development.
Science has made it undeniable that the baby in the womb is not merely an extension of the mother's body. That baby is a unique individual with a unique genetic makeup and often a different blood type from the mother — half the time the baby is a different gender from the mother. The newly conceived child has all the genetic information it will have when fully developed as an adult. The mother obviously is vital to the life and health of that child. She is the very lifeline to the child, but the child is not the mother, the child is the child!
Dr. Hymie Gordon, professor of medical genetics and physician at the Mayo Clinic, wrote, "Now we can say unequivocally that the question of when life begins is no longer a question for theological or physiological dispute. It is an established scientific fact. Theologians and philosophers may go on to debate the meaning of life for the purpose of life, but it is an established fact that all life, including human life, begins at the moment of conception." The unborn child is not, as Dr. Eileen McDonaugh, professor at Northeastern University teaches, a violent and dangerous intruder into the woman's body justifying the use of deadly force to repel it — no more so than the children of Susan Smith in South Carolina were intruders interfering with her freedom to be with her new lover, justifying her drowning them in her car.
Have you ever noticed that abortion advocates emphasize a "woman's right to choose," but always stop their sentence right there? "We favor a woman's right to choose," period. To choose what? They don't complete the sentence. They no longer refer to it as choosing what to do with her own body, because science now backs up what Scripture has always taught. Women have the right to make millions of choices. The right of choice that I question is the right to choose at will, to deprive another living human being of any choices at all.
Some call this "right to choose" progress. I call it a reversion to the barbaric ways of inhumane societies. The article "Life In The Year 1 AD, 2000 Years Ago," from the January 8, 2001 issue of US News and World Report reported that in the Roman Empire, "Children, until they walked and talked, were not considered humans." Compare that assessment with that of Dr. Peter Singer, professor of bioethics at Princeton University, who says he sees the future as one in which babies and infants are declared non-persons because they are not "rational and self aware" and are replaceable, like chickens and other farm yard animals. He says no babies should be granted any legal protection until at least one month after birth. We've come a long way only to revert back to the decadent days of the Roman Empire.
I realize I must maintain a delicate balance between truth and grace. In John 1:14, John described Jesus as full of grace and truth. It would not be fair to hammer home truth devoid of grace, anymore than it would be proper for me to dodge the truth in the name of compassion. I refuse to back away from my convictions, but I also want those who have, in any way, been affected by abortion to be assured of my genuine concern for them. The Guttmacher Institute recently reported that one out of every four women in churches on an average Sunday has had an abortion.
It would be hypocritical for me to stress the importance of caring for the tiniest of human beings while being utterly discouraging to those who have had an abortion. While I believe in the sanctity of life, I also believe in the forgiving, healing grace of God, and I desire to be a channel of the grace of God as well as the truth of God. There are women who have been victimized by smooth talking consultants who urged them to take an action they thought was cheap, easy, painless, and guiltless. Later, when the guilt came, what service did those smooth talking consultants offer?
Indeed, when I examine the parties who are in some way associated with abortion, I find myself and my human nature being more naturally sympathetic to some than to others. Frankly, I find it rather hard to be sympathetic with the phony rhetoric of leaders of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) and the National Organization for Women. I find it challenging to be sympathetic with abortion doctors who make a killing on abortions. I find it rather difficult to sympathize with women who have abortions for selfish, juvenile reasons, or for their husbands, boyfriends, and parents who push them to do it. Some will even drive their daughters, girlfriends, or wives to an abortion clinic in another town to protect their own image and financial state, to sweep their little problem under the rug.
I find it easier to sympathize with young women who are scared and vulnerable when they discover they are pregnant. They may even be threatened if they don't take such an action. They may be told they are going to be kicked out of the house if they don't have an abortion. I know there are cases where there is certainty of the child's disability, though I believe that never justifies taking a human life. I recognize the oppressive power of fear, so I have to admit that I find myself concerned for people with those motives and fears.
But I must admit before God that this, by itself, is not true grace. True grace requires caring about a NARAL leader as much as a woman who is terrified. Simultaneously, truth calls for acknowledging that whatever the extenuating circumstances, we are still talking about a child.
So I confess the difficulty in striking the balance between grace and truth, but I sincerely desire to achieve that balance. In that vein I want to make five brief statements about God's concern for protecting innocent life, and our ministry as it relates to the sanctity of life.
1. God cares for every human being, born and unborn, and so must we. When John 3:16 says for God so loved the world, that means the whole world of humanity. God cares for the aborted and the abortionist. Some may find it hard to care for the abortionist, and others for the aborted child, but God cares for both. God cares for the elderly woman of ninety-nine and the unborn child ninety-nine days along. God cares for the child born with the debilitating birth defect as much as the baby with no evident physical impairment. Isaiah 49:1 says, Before I was born the Lord called me. Jeremiah 1:4-5 says, The word of the Lord came to me saying, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart, I appointed you a prophet to the nations." The psalmist even says in Psalm 139:13, You knit me together in my mother's womb.
It's encouraging to me as a forty-eight-year-old man to know that God knew of my development in my mother's womb and He took a personal, active interest in me even then. He had a plan for me even then. He loved me with an everlasting love even then. And Jesus said in John 13:34, A new command I give you, love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. In light of the Word of the Lord to Isaiah and Jeremiah and the Psalmist, how can we legitimately exclude pre-born children from that command to love others? God cares for every human being, born and unborn, and so must we.
2. Defending the worth of persons before they are born can have a positive impact on them for years to come. One argument for legalizing abortion was that it would eliminate the abuse unwanted children would suffer. The opposite has happened. Since Roe v. Wade child abuse in America has increased by 1,112 percent. One high school girl shared in counselling about her years of abuse at home. What hurt her most was her mother saying to her after beating her, "… and you just remember, we didn't need to have you at all." The availability of abortion on demand has led to such an attitude.
Can we deny the relationship between the tremendous self-esteem problems facing children born in the last twenty-five years, and the cheapened value our nation has placed on the lives of our youngest citizens? On the other hand, there is a strong correlation between a person's sense of self worth and the example of parents who are firmly committed to the sanctity of human life. It helps a child's sense of personal worth to know that his parents' attitude is, "Even before you were born you were more important to us than anything else in the world — finances, health, career, anything. We valued you more than anything else in the world. If we had learned that there was a physical problem we'd have done anything and everything we could to help you, like the Armas parents did for little Samuel. But even if we couldn't have helped you, we still would have had you, and we still would have loved you just the same. We love you just like you are, and we would have loved you like you were no matter what!"
3. Expectant parents should begin the habit of encouraging their child, even before birth. Take the instance in our text. The joy of Elizabeth somehow affected her child. An unborn child may not be aware of specific positive things that are said about him or her. I am confident, however, when a mother is proud to be carrying her child, and is thus filled with joy, this positive emotional state bears on her own physical health and the overall health of her child. Is it crazy to talk and sing to your child before the child is even born? I don't think so. Even if it has no affect on the child, the positive effect it has on parents — getting them in the habit of being encouragers to the child — will pay dividends for a lifetime.
4. We are compelled to show compassion for those who have had an abortion and to reach out in love to those considering it. Standing for the sanctity of life raises some pressing issues. It means being pro-mother and pro-father, not just pro-baby. Let me ask you, if a pregnant teenager were tossed out of the house, would you take her in? If you knew of a woman who had been abandoned by her husband while she was pregnant with her third child, and who was facing fierce money pressures, would you offer financial help? You see, abortion is often an act of despair. In fact over 70 percent of women undergoing abortion admit that they believe the procedure is morally wrong, but they have it anyway out of desperation.
Many abortions could be stopped if women just knew they had a haven of encouragement and support from the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Too often they don't know it, and too often they don't even have it. You and I cannot transform a woman who has had an abortion into one who hasn't, and we cannot treat abortion as if it's no big deal. But we can be God's messengers of forgiveness and vessels of healing.
One of the most stirring testimonies I've ever heard came from the young wife of an army captain at a former church. She shared with me of having not one, but two abortions as a teenager. She was consumed with guilt for several years especially after God gave her and her husband two beautiful little boys. For a number of years she had hidden it from her husband, but the guilt was consuming her. She came to me and we visited and prayed. I counseled with her and I introduced her to some godly people who could minister to her. Together we shared with her the offer of God's grace — and she received His forgiveness. Eventually she was able to stand before that congregation and testify how she went from dark despair to great victory. The burden of guilt was lifted and she was set free. She was so sorry for what she had done to her own little ones, but God assured her that the slate was still clean and she would see them in heaven.
God used that lovely young lady to bring a message of hope to many young ladies in a pit of despair.
We extend that hope to anyone who has been down this road of despair. We want to be encouragers, and we want to be instruments of grace and truth, though we are not going to brush off the truth as though it were secondary. We do not wish to use the truth as a club, but as a tool to help. We don't want to be barriers, but carriers of God's unconditional love. Jesus reminds us in 1 John 1:9, If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. God hates the sin of abortion, but He loves the sinner. He desires a person's recovery and return to fruitful living.
5. Finally, our priority should be the sanctity of life, not just the sanctity of birth. Some have rightly observed that Christians seem to be a lot more pro-birth than pro-life. Too often we defend the right of a baby to be born, but we'd never be bothered by taking in a child who had been abandoned or who was impaired. Sometimes we'll carry a sign in front of an abortion clinic, but we don't give financially to help feed starving children. When we fail in this, we indirectly contribute to the abortion problem by condemning abortion on the one hand, but not being there to reach out to a young woman who is desperate, lonely, and afraid on the other. Clearly this is not true of all of those who are actively involved in pro-life causes, but it is true of some. Marching in a protest line shows you to be pro-birth. Volunteering every week in a children's home, or a home for troubled kids, or a crisis pregnancy center, or a benevolence ministry, or at a school in a lower socio-economic area of the city — that shows you to be pro-life.
I've heard people say, "Gary this is a losing battle. Abortion will never be stopped." I don't know about that. But I know there have already been some major victories won. George W. Bush has already initiated some strategic changes for the better. But, admittedly, at its heart this is a battle for the heart — and the heart can only be changed by God. My good friend, Bill Merrell, faced a local abortion clinic owner, Carol Everett, in a debate. After the debate, he felt compelled to pray for her regularly, which he did for six months. God eventually saved her, and now she travels the country proclaiming the pro-life message.
There is a place for peaceful protest at abortion clinics and for signs and displays that protest abortion. But the greatest weapon in seeing victory for the masses of the threatened unborn is prayer — praying for the souls of those who still favor taking the lives of the innocent.
Only by the power of God will we see any enduring victory over this evil that has prevented 40 million children since 1973 from seeing the light of day. And so I ask you to pray earnestly for those who, blinded by Satan, continue to fight for the right to take the lives of the innocent.
January 20 is Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. On this day Christians around our nation will focus on the supreme value God has placed upon human life, and will pray for the end of abortion. For more information on printed resources, contact the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission at 800-475-9127.