I’m planning over the next week or so to look at how we as churches address some of the ethical and pastoral issues that matter to people in our congregations. Last week, I ran a twitter poll asking my followers about when they’d last heard a pastor talk about particular issues.
The first issue was “abortion” because it was this matter that had prompted the question. Last week a case was taken to the High Court with the aim of ending a situation where babies van be aborted up and until term if they have severe disabilities. Sadly the case was lost meaning that we will see ongoing discrimination against babies with Downs Syndrome.
Here are the results from the survey.
Over 50% have heard the issue addressed within the last year and yet at the same time, 31% had not heard a pastor talk on this issue within the last five years. It might therefore be worth considering why some of us may be reluctant to talk about it. I suspect that there are two considerations here. The first is that for some, it feels more like a political issue than a Gospel issue. Do we want to get involved in controversies which might distract from the Gospel. You may find Glen Scrivener’s short video here helpful.
What I would particularly want to say here is that actually abortion is likely to be a pastoral issue before it is a political one. There are several reasons for this. First of all, we want to consider the pastoral care of young people including school and university students and part of that includes equipping them to engage with ethical issues in the classroom. Secondly, you may well have medics in the congregation and issues such as abortion and euthanasia are unlikely to be hypothetical for them.
Then you are going to have people in the congregation who have been put under pressure to have an abortion. I know of women who have been pressed to do so for their own health. You may well also have members who are raising children with Downs Syndrome or other conditions and find themselves in a society that increasingly judges people negatively for choosing to have babies with disabilities. What are you saying to those families?
It is highly likely that you will have within your congregation at some point, someone who has had an abortion. They may well want to know your views on the matter and how it will affect your treatment of them. They may be still struggling and wrestling with pain, grief and guilt.
So, how do we address the issue? Glen’s video is helpful as is this one from Pete Jackson from a pastor’s perspective.
For me, the crucial things to cover are:
- That we are made in God’s image. That’s the ethical foundation for our views on life, death and medical treatment.
- That when we say that humans are made in God’s image that this includes those with severe disabilities including Downs Syndrome
- That God knit us together in our mothers’ wombs and knew us there. Life begins at conception, not birth.
- That Scripture forbids us from taking another human’s life.
- That God’s grace and mercy are deeper than we can ever grasp and so that there is hope, forgiveness, comfort, healing and welcome for those struggling with guilt and grief.