We shouldn’t be deterred from doing what we believe is right.
8 MINUTE READ
It would probably be fair to say that most committed Christians believe that abortion is something that we should be concerned about.
Human life is precious: it is uniquely created in God’s image and Jesus gave his life for us. Therefore, since abortion is the deliberate taking of young human life, we recognise that it is not a practice that should simply be ignored. We know we ought to be concerned about it.
But how much concern should we as Christians have about abortion? What is the appropriate response to about one hundred thousand young human lives being deliberately ended each year in Australia?
These are very challenging questions: questions so challenging that it seems that most Christians today would prefer not to address them at all.
That is perhaps understandable. Abortion directly and immediately raises very personal, highly emotional, and deadly serious matters. Nevertheless, we must ask, is it acceptable, is it responsible, is it right, for Christians to relegate it all to the too-hard basket?
Back in 1985 when my wife, Liz, and I were theology students preparing to be involved in overseas missions, someone gave us a few leaflets on abortion written by Keith and Melody Green. Up until that time I had given little thought to what abortion was about and those leaflets were an absolutely shocking revelation, to the extent that I couldn’t even read or look at them.
But neither could I forget them. If abortion was that bad, how could I just try to ignore what was being done? Eventually I took the leaflets down again and read them and wept. How could this be allowed to be going on? Liz and I thought we should at least do something before we headed off to work in Japan.
“There is more open antagonism against those who would continue to dare to speak up and there is also more indifference generally, including it would seem amongst the Christian community, toward the plight of the unborn children.”
Well, because of health concerns, we never got to Japan. But we did do something regarding abortion and have been endeavouring to do so since. Firstly, we imported thousands of those leaflets and distributed them through the churches in Queensland. Perhaps, we thought, most people were as poorly informed on this as we had been. If these leaflets could make such a big impact upon us then surely all that was needed was to educate people and things would surely change for the better.
But no, we soon found it wasn’t going to be that easy. We became involved in the wider pro-life movement and organised protests, walks, life chains, speakers, lobbying, educational events, anything that we could think of. In 1996 we opened a crisis pregnancy centre in Brisbane, now known as the Priceless Life Centre, to provide counsel and practical support to women and couples.
As the years went by though, things didn’t seem to be getting better. When we became involved there were two specialist abortion “clinics” in Queensland – now there are five in Brisbane alone plus others around the State. Perhaps most concerning of all, the tide of public opinion turned against us in significant ways. There is more open antagonism against those who would continue to dare to speak up and there is also more indifference generally, including it would seem amongst the Christian community, toward the plight of the unborn children.
In 1993 another friend passed on a book to me – and I have to admit that I could not read that document either. The book, Shattering the Darkness, written by Presbyterian minister, Joseph Foreman, was completely unlike any other pro-life book I had seen. When I did eventually force myself to read it through I passed it on to Liz and then to another couple, Anne and Jim, and we were all profoundly challenged. (More from the book later.)
“… over a few days in December of that year, Anne and I engaged in our first non-violent direct action against abortion, i.e. sit-ins in front of the doors of one of Australia’s most notorious abortion clinics.”
The outcome was that, over a few days in December of that year, Anne and I engaged in our first non-violent direct action against abortion, i.e. sit-ins in front of the doors of one of Australia’s most notorious abortion “clinics”. The abortionist unsurprisingly sought a Supreme Court injunction against us but withdrew his complaint when it became evident that he could be shown in court to be operating illegally.
Sadly at that point, despite this victory of sorts, I lost my nerve. I did have my reasons/excuses – Liz was about to give birth to our fourth child, I was enrolled to go to university part-time, etc., but primarily I got scared. So, Shattering the Darkness went back on the shelf and stayed there, for eight years.
Once again though I could not forget what I had read and on the completion of my course, I reread the book, became re-enthused, and decided to approach things in a more determined manner. After setting up a small group called Protect Life, the first thing we did was to send out a letter explaining our thinking – in short, can we expect anyone to take us seriously when we say that abortion takes the life of a child if we are not prepared to act like that is true? – along with a copy of “the book” to about thirty Christian leaders whose opinion we respected.
We hoped to gain insights they may have had regarding our intended course of action, i.e. taking repeated non-violent direct action at the doors of the abortion “clinics”. It was a mixed result: we heard back from just two people – one who said, “Don’t do it”, not because he thought it was wrong but because he thought it may cause too many problems for the church, while the other person, a pastor, decided to join us. We decided to press on.
In 2002 a handful of people commenced the actions with no idea of where things would end up. In the years since we have had over sixty sit-ins at Brisbane’s four abortion “clinics”, been arrested, convicted, fined, and for myself, spent a total of eighteen months in jail across six occasions. We have not had crowds of people join us in the sit-ins as we had hoped, but nevertheless we have not lost our convictions.
Is this being too concerned about abortion?
Space precludes being able to address in this article the many questions and concerns that usually arise in people’s minds when they hear of our actions. I would point out that there are quite a number of short articles (e.g. Are ‘rescues’ acts of rebellion? Being in jail – isn’t it just a waste of time? Should violence be used to stop abortion?) on the website http://www.protect-life.info which endeavour to answer such questions. As well, full copies of Shattering the Darkness, or alternatively a 22 page condensed version, are available and we are always glad to hear from people at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And what lessons do I believe I have learned over the last twenty five years of pro-life involvement, and in particular during the last thirteen years of taking direct action to try and stop abortion?
Firstly, I don’t believe that either I, or just a few people, acting on my/our own are likely to see significant changes brought about in our society’s attitude toward abortion. When we started the non-violent direct actions we had hoped that over time many would join us. Thus far, that has not happened.
When just a few people take such action it is very easy for the members of our society to tell themselves that this is the behaviour of a handful of fanatics who can be safely ignored. However if hundreds, dare we say thousands, of otherwise apparently responsible citizens – teachers, bus drivers, doctors, plumbers, pastors, etc. – were willing to risk going to jail for standing up for the unborn children then that would be a lot harder to dismiss.
Certainly it may be the case that simply more jails would just be built. But nevertheless people would be forced to ask themselves, like they have never had to previously, “Are all these people crazy to care so much about the unborn, or could they possibly be right that young human lives truly matter?”
I do not believe that attempts to bring about change from the top down will be successful. It is tempting to think that by changing the law or even just by enforcing the existing law (e.g. in Queensland the law against abortion has never been removed) abortion can be stopped. However, ready access to abortion has become so convenient and so normalised in our sex-soaked society that it would have to be expected that there would be riots if the “clinics” were forcibly closed down. Rather, change needs to be made at the grassroots level as Christian people simply act consistently with what they say they believe.
Christians and the church must not, cannot, sit on the fence when it comes to abortion; that is because when it comes to abortion, there is no fence. The almost complete silence about abortion from virtually the whole Christian community sends the loud message to the rest of society, whether we like it or not, that the life of the child in the womb does not matter. What a difference it would make if, as a minimum, every church displayed a prominent sign on its property: “Pregnant? Worried? We will help. Ph…”
If abortion is as morally serious as the taking of the lives of innocent born human beings, then it should not surprise us if it costs us everything to make a stand against it. The church in Germany needed to be prepared to lose all in order to stand against Nazism and the persecution, and ultimately the destruction, of the Jews and others. But it largely failed. Are we doing any better? The fact that we may have no idea how things will turn out should not deter us from doing what we believe is right.
To conclude, two quotes from Shattering the Darkness:
p. xvii: …the heart of authentic Christianity is Rescue. Not the act of sitting-in at abortion clinics, not a complex systematic theology, but the heart of utter abandonment to God on behalf of others, regardless of risk and price. It is this heart I want you to see, because it is God’s heart – His Son’s Cross.
When we learn to die to self, then giving ourselves to Rescue others will seem quite normal – neither heroic, nor radical, nor wrong. If reading this book does not get you arrested, that is fine, if only you understand the way of the Cross for what God has called you to do…
p. 165: I do not believe that we will see an end to child-killing until enough people do for the children what Christ did for us – make it a personal matter of life or death to protect them…
Graham Preston Graham Preston has been staging sit-ins and protesting on the footpaths outside Queensland abortion clinics for over 30 years. In his words he has been "speaking up for those who cannot speak for themselves". As a result he has also spent time in jail. www.protect-life.info