Resolution on Abortion (Mennonite Brethren Church, 1975)
Resolution on Abortion (Mennonite Brethren Church, 1975)
A Resolution on Abortion adopted at the 1972 General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches was affirmed. The delegates also requested the Board of Reference and Counsel to continue to study this question during the next triennium in order to expand and refine the statement and include a positive statement concerning the General Conference's commitment to Christian ethics as it applies to the area of human sexuality. The delegates also asked that a paper by the Board of Reference and Council entitled "The Church and Life/Death Issues" be included in the minutes following this resolution.
We believe that man was made in the image of God; that an attack on man's life constitutes a violation of God's expressed will; that life begins for man at conception and that even in the unborn state, man possesses life as God gave it, with all potential for development into knowledge of, and faith in God as Creator, Saviour and Lord. Because we so believe, we affirm:
- that all abortion, that is, the deliberate termination of a pregnancy except where the mother's life is seriously threatened, is a violation of God's will.
- that we as brotherhood support and encourage those in the helping professions (social workers, nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and ministers) to stand firm in this view, and to seek to bring their colleagues and the community at large to see how abortion seriously contributes to the erosion of human values.
- that we as individuals inform ourselves as best we can towards a realistic understanding of the whole issue of abortion with its related considerations, and that we give expression to such understanding as we have opportunity, and that when we can do so without suggestion of compromise we align ourselves with like-minded groups to strengthen our witness in the community.
- that we as individuals and as church(es), share the above concerns with the elected representatives of our governments, influencing the formulation of the laws of our land with respect to abortion.
- that we recognize our responsibility for the social, moral, and spiritual conditions in our communities, and the shaping of attitudes, and that we seek to fulfill such responsibility by:
- lending support to whatever preventive measures we can conscientiously support.
- seeking to develop attitudes of social acceptance of the single parent without endorsing their actions leading to the pregnancy.
- helping to provide caring facilities for those who choose to let their pregnancy go full-term rather than choosing abortion.
The Church and Life/Death Issues
I. The view of Scripture on Life/Death
God is the giver of life and He affirmed that life is good. God made man in His own image. Allegiance to God means that we care for life. We do not create it; it is a trust to keep and use and transmit. Man's appropriate response to life is nothing less than a sense of awe and wonder. We have a fundamental respect for human life because its source is in God.
God, in His plan for man, delegated the sacred responsibility for transmitting life to our children within the structure of marriage. That arrangement was instituted to provide an environment conducive not only to physical, but emotional and spiritual nurture and growth. The capacity to procreate is a gift from God, a sacred trust and an awesome responsibility fulfilling the command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). The sacredness of life is equally reflected in the command: "He who strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death" (Exodus 21:12).
Since the biblical concept of the sacred of life applies not only to its transmission, but also to its termination, then all the issues surrounding not only life's beginning or ending, but its quality, are valid concerns for the believer. The biblical concept of life applies to all life/death issues. Abortion must be considered in the same context with some forms of contraception, capital punishment, killing in self-defense, war, euthanasia, psychosurgery, excessive prolongation of life by artificial means, fetal experimentation and population control. The deliberate termination of life is always an extraordinarily tragic event. Abortion, along with most other forms of interference in the life process, is always wrong.
The fact that there are current legal and cultural sanctions for taking fetal life aft conception has occurred, as there are for war, capital punishment, etc., does not necessarily determine the standard of conduct for the Christian believer. No set of laws constituted by the state can serve as the necessary and adequate basis for moral judgment for the believer. The will of God as revealed in the Scriptures and in the life of the church as it is led by the Holy Spirit forms the basis for our convictions about life/death issues.
The Bible upholds ideals that are intended to be kept but which, because of our estrangement from Him, are often violated. Those violations, however, do not alter God's ideals (laws) for man. Just as the willful termination of life in war is wrong, so the deliberate abortion is sin. Just as divorce is a travesty against God's plan for fidelity in marriage, so induced abortion violates God's plan for man. Abortion constitutes man's efforts to deal with an unwanted pregnancy whatever the reason for the "unwantedness" might be. There may be times when interrupting a pregnancy in the face of "unwantedness" may be the lesser of two wrongs, but it remains wrong nevertheless.
II. The Response of the Believing Community to Sinners
The Scriptures say comparatively little about allowable exceptions to violating the laws of God (see Exodus 21:22 for one reference to accidentally induced abortions). Sometimes the Bible speaks hardly at all to issues very vital to us. Just as the New Testament gives relatively few directives for those who violate the principle of permanence in marriage, so the New Testament says little about violators of the sanctity of life, except in the case of outright homicide. While the Bible says little directly and specifically about abortion, euthanasia, contraception, manipulation of genes, etc., it speaks clearly about the church being a redemptive community for those who fail to live according to God's laws.
Life has meaning not only because its source is in God, but because God's plan for transmitting and preserving life is to be carried out in the context of relationships--with Him and with others. His design for life revolves around interdependent relationships--male with female, parent with child, believer with believer, etc. Life and death issues, therefore, involve more than the individuals directly concerned. The community, both believing and unbelieving, is adversely affected when the ideal of preservation of life is lost.
The decision and consequences of whether or not to abort an "unwanted" pregnancy are far too consequential to be made by one person alone. In actuality the individual's decision in life/death issues is shaped by his/her relationships, past and present. The individual attitudes of the persons most closely related (spouse, sexual partner, parents) or the collective attitudes of the community to which one belongs are frequently the most compelling forces in the decision. The background of a decision to abort often involves one or more of the following:
--the failure of prior relationships (home, church, community) to impart Christian values of life and sexuality.
--the absence of a meaningful community to share the burden of "unwanted" life, and
--a realistic estimate that the judgmental or uncaring character of the community makes a fulfilled life impossible for either the mother or the child.
Any of these makes the option of deliberate abortion seem preferable to continuing the life of the unwanted child. These same factors also make killing in self-defense, as a way to protect one's life, seem preferable to suffering theft or assault. Likewise these factors apply to our disregard of the contribution and intrinsic value the lives of defectives. So it comes to be the "lesser evil" to put away from us the very crippled, idiots, mongoloids and aged parents. A completely sustaining community, one that fully shares the joys and burdens of life, would be one in which the deliberate termination or "putting away" of life would seldom or never present itself as the lesser evil. The sustaining community also confesses its share in the sins or victories of its members, whereas the judgmental community reinforces the guilt of the sinner, often as a defense against an awareness of its own guilt and sinfulness.
The community of believers, on biblical grounds, maintains that sin is forgiveable -- even the sin of terminating life. The community of redeemed sinners forgives as it is forgiven. The community of the redeemed provides a loving and caring atmosphere in which the sinner, not having found the strength or grace to live by God's law, can receive forgiveness through Christ for his guilt and work through his/her sense of shame at having failed to live up to God's ideals. Though the decision to abort is contrary to the will of God, and hence sinful, the sinning person or persons should be able to share with selected fellow believers the confession of sin and the child's unwantedness without incurring censorious judgment. Only then can forgiveness and healing occur.
So involved is the believing community in the decisions of life/death issues that it stand condemned when a member feels unable to wrestle either with his ambivalence surrounding his decision, or with his sin, within the circle of the brotherhood. When a mother decides to carry an unwanted or unplanned child, the church is guilty when she does not take active steps to create an environment of acceptance and forgiveness for the child and the parents. In standing by the side of the transgressor without a spirit of condemnation, the Holy Spirit is free to carry out His ministry of bringing about confession of sin and guilt. A censorious spirit, instead of bringing about conviction of sin, brings about a spirit of defensiveness, misunderstanding, isolation, loneliness, and sometimes bitterness. We need to open our hearts and our homes to those who have violated the law of God without condoning the sexual activity that placed him/her outside the biblical understanding of sexual responsibility. Too long we have extolled the virtues of our homes without consciously sharing them with those desperately in need. Too often we have been instrumental in secluding the mother with an unwanted pregnancy in an institution geographically distant from the home church, when the love and care most needed resides within the relationships in the brotherhood of the local church.
III. The Nurture Essential to Christian Decision-Making
Decisions on life/death issues need to be made on the basis of an informed spiritual mind and not in the heat of emotional stress or psychological uncertainty. The church must provide instruction not only after the sin has been committed, but long before. People must understand what causes them to choose and act as they do about life/death issues. They need to realize, for instance, that the child's conceptions of the sanctity of life and sexuality are most powerfully influenced by the quality of the parents' interpersonal relationships as they are perceived by the child. The child's capacity to express and control the expressions of sexuality is learned primarily within the context of the relationships with the parents.
Even as inter-parental emotional distance may lead to inappropriate sexual attitudes and ineffective sexual impulse controls in children, so also inter-marital emotional distance may result in an ill-advised pregnancy within the marriage when a wife seeks a child to fill the void in her marriage, only to complicate the relationship further. The church must speak to these other problems in interpersonal relationships.
The church must provide the spiritual and moral reinforcement needed by Christian medical staff members when they are involved in life/death decisions. Such medical personnel need to be sympathetically understood when they are wrestling with difficult decisions. Moreover, when such believers refuse to participate in procedures that involve terminating life for conscience sake, the church needs to be prepared to defend them as it would the person who is conscientiously opposed to killing in time of war.
We have concerned ourselves primarily with directives for the believing community. We recognize, however, the duty of the church and its members to witness to the larger world with respect to the sanctity of life. While the laws of the Kingdom of Christ cannot be laid upon non-members of that Kingdom, we nevertheless have the responsibility to inform them of the God who created them and His affirmations about life. We must also undergird those in the helping professions (social workers, nurses, doctors, psychiatrists and ministers) as they seek to bring their patients and colleagues to see how the deliberate termination of life contributes to the erosion of human values. Individuals likewise need to accept the responsibility of sharing their concerns about life/death issues with their elected representatives of government and to seek to influence legislation around those issues consistent with our scriptural ideals. All this we must do realizing that the primary Christian mode for promoting the concept of sanctity of life rests in the creation of communities that are life-sustaining.
IV. Questions concerning the Beginning of Life
The involvement of the believing community in corporate ethical decisions related to the termination of life may well have additional implications related to the beginning of life. If the decisions and consequences of whether or not to abort are far too consequential to be made by one person alone, then the decision to procreate and sustain life may be more than individualistic
well. Decisions regarding family planning, adoption in place of procreation, seeking a child in order to fill a void in marriage, etc., might well be tested in the context of the fellowship of believers. In brief, the church via personal and pastoral counsel is the context for ethical decision making regarding life/death issues.
Janzen, A.E., and Herbert Giesbrecht, compilers. We Recommend...: Recommendations and Resolutions of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches. Fresno, Calif. : Board of Christian Literature of the General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1978: 250-251.
Yearbook, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches 53 (1975): 36-41.