When I first encountered the following quote on a popular pro-life blog, I had to do a double take and reread it in full context.
Remember that these abortionists are misguided. They are sinners, just like you and me. And they are also REDEEMABLE. They are not our enemy. Our enemy is the sin of abortion.
These misguided souls are our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you like it or not. Let this be a reminder to pray for their conversion with increased fervor.
If you don’t believe that these abortionists featured in “After Tiller” can experience a conversion, then you don’t know the same God I do. The God I serve is in the business of miracles.
On one hand Abby Johnson says abortionists are “our brothers and sisters in Christ.” Then she asks us to “pray for their conversion.” Although tempered with some truth, this is a serious error.
First, people who are unrepentant and murder children for a living are not our “brothers and sisters in Christ.” No Christian disagrees that an abortionist can repent and experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ. No one disagrees that our enemy is sin and the devil. But are abortionists already our “brothers and sisters in Christ” because they may be redeemable? Of course not!
Second, the idea that abortionists are simply “misguided souls” who are “just like you and me” belies a deep underlying misunderstanding of what is meant by “conversion” and “salvation.” While it is true that believers in Jesus Christ are sinners in that we fall into sins of omission and commission, to equate the abortionist’s unrepentant sin of child murder with the struggle that believers wage against sin is a shocking perversion of the Gospel.
The Word of God itself makes a strong delineation between those who love God and those who hate Him. What does the Word of God say about sinners?
- They are slaves to sin (Romans 6:17).
- They are haters of God (Romans 1:30).
- They are haters of Christ (John 15:18-20).
- They are haters of Christ’s followers (Matthew 10:22).
- They are children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
- They are children of the devil (1 John 3:10).
While it is true that we are all sinners and deserve hell, the doctrine of “total depravity” does not mean that each sinner is as bad as he can possibly be. Nor does it mean that all sins are equally as abominable in the sight of God. In fact, the “shedding of innocent blood” is singled out many times in Scripture as something that God especially hates (cf. Proverbs 6:17). That is not to whitewash the nature of sin in general. In fact, in order for there to be the “Good News,” there must first be the “Bad News.” By nature, we have hearts that are hardened toward God both by our sinful nature and a lifetime of sinful actions that add up with “compound interest.” This is a most radical corruption.
Jeremiah 17:9 – The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
Romans chapter 3:10-18 is the famous passage by the Apostle Paul that gives a litany of scriptures that show that non-believers are by nature at hateful toward God.
As it is written:
“There is none righteous, no, not one;
There is none who understands;
There is none who seeks after God.
They have all turned aside;
They have together become unprofitable;
There is none who does good, no, not one.”
“Their throat is an open tomb;
With their tongues they have practiced deceit”
“The poison of asps is under their lips”;
“Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
Destruction and misery are in their ways;
And the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
From a modern perspective, this is “hateful” language toward sinners. In fact, liberal theologians have committed the error of stating that although Jesus preached love, it was that Pharisaical scoundrel, Saul of Tarsus, otherwise known as St. Paul, who lobbed a stink bomb into the newly born “religion of love.” Of course, liberals ignore the dozens of scriptures in which Jesus himself speaks of hellfire and eternal condemnation for those who will not enter the kingdom of God.
Softening the Heart – Is it Scriptural?
It is true that the Bible uses the hardening or softening of the heart as a metaphor for those who come to saving faith in God. There are dozens of scriptures that speak of this. But who is ultimately responsible for our salvation? It is the Lord himself who hardens and softens.
Exodus 7:3 – But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt.
Note that what God has decreed always comes to pass. God promised to harden Pharaoh’s heart and in response, Pharaoh hardened his own heart.
Exodus 8:15 – But when Pharaoh saw that there was a respite, he hardened his heart and would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
Then as a result of Pharaoh hardening his own heart, God hardened it to the point where he could not even hear the words of Moses and Aaron.
Exodus 9:12 – But the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had spoken to Moses.
Exodus 10:20 – But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the people of Israel go.
Throughout Scripture, we see it is the Lord who hardens and softens hearts.
Ezekiel 11:19 – I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.
Ezekiel 36:26 – And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.
John 12:39-40 – Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them.”
Romans 9:18 – So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.
No one by the strength of their own will has the power to soften their own heart so that God may account them “good enough” to merit salvation. Neither do Christians have the power to soften sinners’ hearts. Only God may do that. Although we can’t pretend to know the will of God perfectly, there is a simple way of understanding and applying this truth.
- If God has hardened the hearts of sinners, then harsh preaching will harden them more.
- If sinners are not convicted by the Holy Spirit of their sin, then soft preaching that affirms them in their sin will also harden them.
- If God has softened a sinner’s heart, then hard preaching will convict them of their sin and lead them to repentance.
- If the Holy Spirit has already convicted them of sin, then soft preaching might still serve to lead them accept the love and mercy of God – but it is still a deficient Gospel.
But the issue isn’t hard preaching vs. soft preaching. The objective is to preach a pure Gospel full of truth with a heart of love for all.
The Gospel tells us that we are all sinners and deserve nothing more than the wrath of God. Therefore, repentance of sin should be taught and preached. Those who are born-again as a result of hearing the Gospel are able to repent and believe. Christ’s perfect righteousness is imputed to us by grace through faith as a free gift. Our sins are imputed to Christ through His once and for all sacrifice. Our sins are all washed away by the blood Jesus shed on the cross. This is called justification. Not only are our sins forgiven – which is a great thing – but Christ also broke the power of sin in our lives at the cross. We are then sanctified or “made holy” as we continue to grow in grace.
This is true conversion.
By way of disclaimer, I am Reformed in my theology of salvation. However, none of what I’ve claimed here would have been foreign to the great scholars of the Catholic Church such as Augustine of Hippo or Thomas Aquinas, who certainly taught that we obtain salvation by the grace of God, who alone is able to change hearts. This would not have been foreign to the many popular Arminian preachers, such as John Wesley, Andrew Murray, A.W. Tozer or Leonard Ravenhill. They might disagree with a few of the above points, but they would certainly agree with the following.
Soft preaching can just as well “love” sinners into the pit of hell because it justifies them in their sin rather than pointing them to the cross. However, the message of the cross will always be offensive to those who are perishing. This is unavoidable. A cross-less message is a message that is powerless to save. Of course, we must preach out of a heart of love, having been forgiven ourselves, showing the grace and mercy of Christ we have received.
Truth vs. Experience
What of the charge that sidewalk preachers are hateful and ineffective because they and yell and scream at women?
First, “screaming” is a subjective term. In the few seconds that these preachers have to reach a women entering the front door of a death mill, there is a sense of urgency. There is wisdom crying out in the street (Proverbs 1:20-33).
Here in Orlando the sidewalk counselors use “truth horns.” At right is a picture of Reilly Sproul, who is R.C. Sproul Jr.‘s son (and R.C. Sproul’s grandson), pleading with abortion bound women at Orlando Women’s Center to save their babies. He is adopted. He is telling the women that his birth mother loved him enough to give him to a loving family and how much he loves his adoptive family. No one can doubt this is a precious example of God’s grace. I’ve seen God use all sorts of methods and demeanors to save lives such as Reilly Sproul’s.
I don’t make the presumption that anyone is wrong when they say sidewalk counselors need to be compassionate in their preaching. I do fault them for really bad theology when they presume to call people who are trying to save lives, “hateful” or a “cult” — as some have done on social media and elsewhere. I will continue to defend street ministers who preach the Truth against these attacks.
Second, it is never a legitimate argument to pit experience against biblical truth. Abby Johnson may be able to show a hundred converts to the pro-life cause out of a gentle and loving witness. I may be able to show in central Florida alone a few dozen true conversions to Jesus Christ who came through a loving witness that included some harsh words and confrontation. I can also show at least a few dozen abortion “doctors” who simply quit doing abortions after being exposed to their business associates, OB/GYN patients and neighbors as child murderers.
In her book, Targets of Hatred, abortion clinic owner, Patricia Baird-Windle, stated that the Aware Woman abortion center had a total of 24 abortionists over the years who chose to quit rather than be exposed as child killers by pro-life advocates. We don’t know for a fact whether any of them ever came to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. However, we need to face the reality that there will always be a reprobate element in this world. God hardens those whom He hardens. Note that Pat Windle titled her book, Targets of Hatred. In the end, she completely ignored the dozens of Christians who prayed for her conversion, talked to her one on one, and had nothing but a loving and long suffering attitude toward her.
One could argue that if a few had not been so harsh with Pat Windle or if others had just loved her more, then she could have been loved into the kingdom of heaven. But that is simply a false hope. It ignores a simple truth. We can harden our own hearts, but only God can soften our hearts. And despite the experience of those who have come to the Lord out of either hard love or soft love, our mandate is to preach the Gospel to all creation.
Sinners an active role in hardening their own hearts. What do we do then about those who have hardened themselves against God and will not ever be saved? Even in those cases when there is not true repentance, we can rejoice when an abortionist quits because babies will be saved. We don’t need to shed endless tears over the wicked who refuse to repent.
In fact, Jesus even commanded His apostles in Matthew 10:14, “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”
This essentially means we should concentrate on those who have not yet heard the Gospel. This does not mean we cannot be long suffering with the wicked and continue to work for their salvation.
God can change the heart of the most hardened sinner. But it will not be due to our continual work to try to “soften” their heart by neglecting the hard sayings of Scripture. When the full Gospel is preached, then we have an assurance that souls are being won to Christ. With a deficient Gospel, we can never know if former abortionists aren’t simply being won to a “cause.”
I would like to believe that the pro-life movement will reform itself. Unfortunately, what I believe is that even the word “pro-life” will in time become irrelevant and meaningless as a description for defending all Persons who are created in the image of God. What is needed is not a simple reform, but a revolution, a 180 degree shift toward a biblical, Christ-centered ministry that will take the Gospel of Life to the gates of hell.
None Dare Call it Murder
Critics of Gospel street preachers often attack a straw man. They say that harsh confrontation at abortion centers is unloving – or that those who preach repentance from the sin of child murder using strident tones are hateful.
It is difficult for me to criticize Students for Life because they are solid on many issues. They oppose abortion in cases of rape and put out good material to answer the hard questions about the abortion “exceptions.” Their Planned Parenthood awareness campaign is top notch. I have used their resources and graphics, which are excellent. They also hold to the truth that life begins at conception/fertilization.
The above, although not a Students For Life graphic, appears at their website. They readily contend that women who have died due to complications from abortion at Planned Parenthood were “killed” in the “hood” and are not afraid to bring the issue of race into exposing abortion as a form of genocide.
This shows they are not afraid to frame abortion as a “moral issue.” Hooray for Truth!
Then they inexplicably come up with the following nonsense.
Bad pro-life sign slogans are ones that reinforce negative stereotypes about the pro-life movement. These sign slogans are often preachy, condemnatory, and hard to understand. These types of signs are ultimately counterproductive and a waste of time. For example, if you are on an abortion clinic sidewalk, signs that scream, Abortion is murder!, Thou Shalt Not KILL, or God hates murder are not going to receive a positive, constructive response from your audience. Please, please, please avoid using this type of messaging and language (Bad Pro-life Sign Slogans).
What is unclear here is whether Students for Life opposes calling abortion “murder” because they do not really believe it is murder, or if they merely oppose standing for Truth because it will not be well received. Does Students for Life deny the Truth? Are they ashamed of the Truth? Do they really believe that Truth is “counterproductive”? Either way, this stance is one of theological and moral schizophrenia.
Gualberto Garcia-Jones of the National Personhood Alliance has written of this exchange of Truth for political expediency that is plaguing a wide swath of the pro-life movement.
Truth is the only thing that will win this battle, for if Americans are only exposed to middling incremental pro-life arguments, how will their hearts and minds ever be truly changed to accept, even demand, the protection of each human life? (Prudence and Moral Clarity).
So where does the aversion to call abortion “murder” or “child killing” come from? It is one thing to oppose abortion and have bad theology. It becomes even more problematic to stand for life when the Gospel is jettisoned altogether. On various Students for Life websites you will not find the name of God mentioned one time. You will not find the Word of God even once. Simply, their error is a preoccupation with promoting a natural law view of “human rights” over and above the Word of God.
Abortion is not a women’s rights or reproductive rights issue. It is a human rights issue. This issue challenges our society to determine the values and rights of the most vulnerable among us. When we recognize abortion as a social justice issue, the discussion boils down to one question: Does a pre-born human being have the right to be born or not? (Why Should You Care About Abortion?)
Well, what if I say, “No”? What if I say that a woman’s right to choose outweighs the right of a preborn child prior to its ability to feel pain. Then what?
Then it’s feeling against feeling.
There are Christians who say that we cannot deal with the abortion issue based upon the Law of God. Some are PR reasons: “It makes us look bad. It makes us look narrow.” Some are ideological reasons: “Well, these people don’t believe in the law of God so we can’t quote it to them.” The language of Scripture is the language of God. God spoke to us in His Word. If we think we can improve upon the Law of God, if we think we can be more clever and get people to go along with us, then this is just a surrender of the Christian religion to the enemy. We cannot surrender the premise of there being a God who is Sovereign, the Rule-maker, and the Law-giver and then expect to prevail on the field of battle. He who frames the question wins the debate. If we don’t believe in moral absolutes and then we get into a cultural-political debate, how are we going to win? It’s who can be the most clever, who can take the best poll. My feelings aren’t really that relevant. God’s Law is (God’s Law and Society).
In a nutshell, this is the error of Students for Life and many pro-life groups. They have jettisoned the authority of the Word of God in favor of an impotent weapon. Instead they have donned the humanistic equivalent of Saul’s armor. They have exchanged the solid rock of God’s Word for a campaign of “public relations,” “focus groups,” “relevance” and popular rhetoric such as, “justice,” “human rights” and “values.” Even though many of the Students for Life members believe the Bible, they are taught within their ranks to have no faith in its authority and power to win hearts and minds in the public arena. They would do well to remember what the Word testifies about itself.
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart (Hebrews 4:12).
There is something to be said for knowing our audience and using wisdom in our approach. There are many Proverbs that show us that it is right to use wisdom in a case-by-case basis. Proverbs 15:1 tells us
A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger.
But then a few verses later, in Proverbs 15:31,32, we are also told that
The ear that hears the rebukes of life
Will abide among the wise.
He who disdains instruction despises his own soul,
But he who heeds rebuke gets understanding.
Ironically, critics of what they perceive as “hellfire” preaching can become just as shrill toward those Gospel preachers they attack. In many cases, they have never actually stood with the evangelists who have bravely assaulted the gates of hell with the preaching of the Word. There are many who have used this method of biblical preaching for years who have had great success in saving babies and convincing workers to quit the child killing business.
Biblical Law vs. Natural Law
Biblical law must always be regarded as superior to natural law. This is the framework of the conflict within the pro-life street activist movement.
What then is “natural law”?
Inherent in all human beings the sense of good and evil. We all know deep down that murder is wrong, theft is wrong, adultery is wrong. According to Romans 1:18-21, natural revelation testifies of the nature of God, His power and the nature of His creative acts. Man recognizes the existence of the power of God and His creative acts even without knowledge of the Bible.
Obviously, natural revelation teaches us that abortion is wrong. So there is some truth in natural law theory. But this knowledge will not alleviate the evil of abortion. In many cases, knowing that abortion is murder will only sear the consciences of the unconverted. Such is the depravity of man. This is why extravagant forms of activism designed to grab media attention are actually counter-productive in the long run unless the Gospel is the center of the message. Even graphic images of aborted babies divorced from the message of the Gospel can eventually become an acceptable consequence of “pro-choice” freedom in the eyes of the unregenerate. We would do well to remember that the natural man is not basically good. He is intrinsically evil.
My first foray into pro-life direct action was in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1988. I understood that the purpose was threefold — repentance, spiritual warfare, evangelism. Operation Rescue was a way of waking the heart of a sleeping church and gaining media exposure. Before long, people would see that abortion was murder because here were Christians who were finally acting like it was murder. Or so I thought.
Over the next few years, I noticed that there was a wide difference in what some pro-life leaders were saying. On either side, there are two extremes.
On one side there are the biblical evangelists. They preach the Gospel in the open air in the places where sin is prevalent. They passionately and courageously call people to Christ by exposing the sin of abortion as well as many other sins plaguing our nation. Their main message is repentance. The Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostles declared in the open air, “Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-20).
On the other side, there are the pro-life activists. They appear at abortion clinics and other public places with slogans and signs. They seek to educate students and people of all ages about the reality of abortion. Their purpose is to bring the force of science, consensus and propaganda in the public square to convince people that abortion is the killing of a human person. They use natural law arguments to achieve the purpose of pro-life activism.
Now it’s true that in a godly or predominantly godly culture, people will understand natural law in a way that mimics or comes close to biblical law. We see that in pro-life organizations with no religious affiliation in which Christians are doing the work. However, natural law can also be co-opted by corrupt, humanistic worldviews. Natural law can be interpreted from many different angles. In so doing, morality becomes relativistic. We see that in National Right to Life, Students for Life, Feminists for Life, the Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians, and so on.
Grounded as it is in natural law theory, the pro-life position appeals to a supposed objective neutrality among humanity that, if it sees the issue aright, would logically oppose abortion. It does not take the depravity of mankind and the harmful effects of that depravity on man’s moral views seriously. Christians who support the pro-life position must recognize that in giving the unregenerate individual the opportunity to adjudicate on the issue of abortion on the basis of natural law, they are compromising the message of Scripture which depicts the unconverted as spiritually dead and unable to so adjudicate. And this is only the tip of the iceberg (Andrew Sandlin, The Sanctity of Life Versus the Sanctity of Law).
A simple way of illustrating the wisdom of each side is to look at slogans.
A biblical preacher will make use of Jeremiah 1:5, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Luke 1:15 describes how John the Baptist was “filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother’s womb” (v. 31) and goes on to say that Jesus also was conceived in the womb as the Son of God and was even recognized as such by John the Baptist when both infants were still in utero. “And it happened, when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, that the babe leaped in her womb” (v. 41).
A natural law pro-life advocate will make use of Dr. Seuss’, “A person’s a person, no matter how small” from the children’s book, Horton Hears a Who. What they may not know is that Theodor Seuss Geisel (pen named Dr. Seuss) and his wife were longtime supporters of Planned Parenthood. At one point, Geisel even threatened to sue a pro-life organization for its use of the slogan.
Of course, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with using children’s literature. In fact, the Horton Hears a Who analogy is biblical. It matches the teaching of Scripture that a human being is made in the image of God from conception. We can use natural law to persuade people that a fully formed child in the womb is a legal person deserving of the right to life. However, it is a lot more difficult to persuade someone that a poor woman undergoing cancer treatment who conceives after being raped is making the wrong moral choice if she uses the morning after pill. Natural revelation alone does not answer these so-called “hard cases.” Only specific revelation, in the form of the inspired Word of God, is applicable in these cases. This is why it is difficult to take the concept of natural revelation and build a natural law theory that will prevail in the cultural arena.
It’s hard to fathom how even some professing Christians see this “Horton Hears a Who” approach as superior to the eternal, unchanging and inerrant Word of God. The irony is that many pro-life advocates down in Whoville preach that signs using biblical commandments will “reinforce negative stereotypes about the pro-life movement.” Further, they are supposedly “preachy, condemnatory, and hard to understand … ultimately counterproductive and a waste of time.”
The greatest error the pro-life movement made early on is that it was not based on biblical ethics. That is, we did not stop and teach among ourselves that abortion is not simply wrong, abortion is murder, a violation of God’s commandment. If we believe abortionists as well as the fathers and mothers who kill their little girls and boys in the womb are murderers, then we must not be afraid to portray them as murderers.
These misguided souls [abortion industry workers] are our brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you like it or not.
You can call someone a “baby killer” all day long.
Not one of them left because people yelled at them and told them that they were going to hell. – Abby Johnson
Does confrontational preaching at abortion centers work? Does urgent pleading to repent produce true converts to Jesus Christ?
The evidence shows that when we go and stand at abortion mills and preach the Gospel, it is effective. Not only do women turn away from abortion, but some are convicted of their sin and repent. When we picket abortionists’ neighborhoods and places of business, we see quite a number quit the trade of child killing. Reducing the number of abortionists in any region is an effective tactic in turning the tide of child murder. When boldly go into the “highways and byways” with the Good News of salvation, we confront the culture with the reality of sin, death and hell.
We do this out of love for God, preborn children and those committing the sin of child murder. It is out of love that we use strong biblical rhetoric to speak of the abortion holocaust. It is out of love that we show the horror of the aftermath of abortion through graphic images. It is out of love that we tell aborting fathers that they are cowards for not defending the lives of their children. It is out of love that we tell aborting moms that they are murdering little ones who were created in the image of God. It is out of love that we tell people who murder their children that they are bound for hell unless they repent.
Below are three video testimonies of abortion industry workers who quit in recent years. These are just in the Orlando area alone.
In May 2012, abortionist Scott Spagnolo-Hye announced on video that he was quitting abortions and going into family practice. Sidewalk evangelist John Barros wrote on his Facebook page:
I have been speaking to Scott Hye for about two years. I have prayed with him and shared God’s Word with him. I have even stood in front of his house. I have continued to pray and talk to him. He has said he hated doing abortions, but after so long I wondered. Then today, he promised that he is going to quit and said he would meet with me to discuss where he stands with God and repentance. Won’t you pray with me? – John Barros
An abortion clinic worker in Orlando quit on the spot one Saturday morning, August 20th, 2011 after talking with sidewalk counselor Daniel Howell and several of the team who minister each week at All Women’s Health Center abortion mill in Altamonte Springs, Florida. She never made it inside. We invited her to church the next day. She attended and sat with us. Clarissa came to church again the next week and publicly professed faith in Christ during an evangelistic service. – Deanna Waller
A lady stopped by today to see what we were doing. She confessed that she ran the All Women’s Health Center abortion clinic for 10-1/2 years. She was absolutely amazed at what was going on here. She saw the Reformation Bible College kids as well as a couple others singing hymns and conversations going on with people coming for abortions. Terri also saw ladies that had come to Christ here and the joy that was in their hearts. She encouraged us all to never quit. I got to spend quite a bit of time speaking with her. She told how abortionist Randall Whitney worked for her and he hasn’t changed a bit. She has repented of her sin and is in a church. She is dealing with the consequences of her sin and there is much pain. – John Barros
In each of these cases, the workers were confronted – at their jobs, in their communities, and even in their neighborhoods – with the reality that abortion is child murder. What is important to remember is that each of them encountered a number of rebukes and exhortations – some harsh and others gentle – but the two women have shown Godly sorrow for their own sin. Once converted to Christ, they did not throw rocks at those who were trying to snatch them from the fire.
These former abortion industry workers are scarred individuals who live with a lot of pain and guilt over what they experienced killing preborn children for a living. Dozens more we’ve talked to have not been interviewed on video. Throughout the nation, hundreds if not thousands of abortion industry workers have not only quit their jobs, but have come to faith in Jesus Christ due to Gospel preaching. If the message is to be loving and compassionate toward them, then we hear that loud and clear.
In the case of abortionist Scott Hye, he did not profess Christ, but expressed great joy in leaving the child killing profession. John Barros let him know that he was one of the group that had picketed his neighborhood several times. He also told him repeatedly to repent. Anyone who knows of John Barros’ ministry knows that he uses strong biblical preaching over and above any other approach. Scott Hye now works as a neuromusculoskeletal specialist in south Florida.
Here is a short video about my friend John Barros, who heads up the ministry, Who Will Stand. Consider that there are thousands more like John throughout America bringing the Word of God boldly to the gates of hell and seeing miraculous results.
Norma McCorvey used to work for an abortion clinic in Dallas. The Operation Rescue National office was next door. She said she used to come and spend many hours there because the spirit in that office was so different. Finally, she professed Christ. If you have followed the ministry of Flip Benham and Operation Save America you will see a demeanor that is both loving and confrontational. True love is tough love.
T.H.I.N.K. for a minute!
In writing this article, I am trying to apply the acrostic THINK.
T – is it True
H – is it Helpful
I – does it Inspire confidence
N – is it Necessary
K – is it Kind
In the history of The Forerunner since it began in 1981, this has been our policy. If I can find a good thing to say about a person, I try to note that, even if the person is not a professing Christian. It is honoring to God to accentuate the positive in any person. Since we are all image bearers of God, He is able to work even through the actions of people who are opposed to Him through “common grace.” However, only those who are born-again are called, “children of God” (1 John 3:1). The Apostle John goes on to write, “For this reason the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” It is a grave error to speak of child murderers as our “brothers and sisters in Christ.”
The quotes used here are an example of a typical attitude within the pro-life movement. The intent is not to attack anyone personally. I have encountered the same error among dozens of pro-life leaders. I have heard this compelling, yet false, argument from all quarters of the movement, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Reformed, evangelical and charismatic. I could just as easily replace Abby’s name here with “Pastor X.”
So when I mention Abby Johnson, it is as a poster child, not a punching bag. I hope Abby Johnson reforms her views. As she likes to point out, she is a novice. She was accepted into the role of a spokesperson too soon, but I hope the best for her.
And Then There Were None is the ministry of Abby Johnson, a former Planned Parenthood CEO. In the past four years since her conversion to the pro-life cause, she has valiantly tried to reach out to those who were formerly trapped in the child killing industry.
She has also become a vocal critic of sidewalk preaching at abortion clinics. In her frequent postings on the Internet, she frequently issues a disclaimer that she is a novice in ministry and “no expert.” Then she goes on to claim that she certainly knows what works and what does not. She uses her own experience as a convert as proof.
I was heartened when I first heard about another abortion industry worker’s conversion. I don’t need to agree with Abby Johnson on everything in order to be glad that she is no longer caught in a destructive lifestyle. She wants to help others escape as well. Abby is the latest Wunderkind trotted out by pro-life ministries as evidence that none are so lost that they cannot be saved. I’d be even more heartened if she would exhibit the same “non-judgmental” attitude she preaches toward those doing sidewalk evangelism at abortion mills.
That being said, Abby Johnson is a “work in progress.” She is far from perfect. She does not speak for what is always effective despite her powerful testimony. She doesn’t stand in judgment of the entire movement. She cannot peer into other people’s hearts to see how “loving” they in fact are and what motivates them.
Instead we judge a tree by its fruit. Are abortion mill workers coming to Christ? Are abortionists quitting? Is the Gospel being preached without compromise? God is doing a great work here in our region. No evangelistic ministry is perfect, but I would rather spend a day with these people than anywhere else. These Christians are peaceful, loving and sweet. The abortion mill workers who observe them long enough come to a begrudging respect because the difference between the two spirits is like day and night.
Where there is Revival, there is no tranquility for child killers!
A Personal Invitation to Abby Johnson
The Internet and social media being what it is, at some point I hope this will be read by Abby Johnson.
Abby, the next time you are in Central Florida, I would like you to link up with some of the saints here who stand daily at the abortion centers in Orlando. Please come as an observer with an open mind and an open heart and stay for a few hours to observe.
I’d also like to suggest that many different parts of the Body of Christ work together to bring the lost into the kingdom of God. My friend, Dick Maxwell, who leads an evangelistic team at the abortion mills in Clearwater, Florida each week, puts it this way.
Prophetically, some warn sinners with threats of hell correcting those who are in opposition to God. Evangelists are those who offer hope through the Good News. If God grants repentance, then it is time for a pastor to lead them. Finally, a teacher will help them to expand their knowledge of the truth. Many of the people who respond to a kind-hearted evangelist will be unaware of the other secondary causes that God used to draw them to Christ. For any of us to say that we have the better way is foolish, divisive and rebellious toward God’s purpose in using the whole Body of Christ.
Sometimes we need wisdom from the Holy Spirit to discern which message a sinner needs to hear. Jude 1:22 explains the distinction.
And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
We can easily fall into the trap of thinking that only our ministry or our church understands the Gospel correctly. Several years ago, I was at a Christian Reconstructionist Society meeting in Florida. During a panel discussion, someone asked, “What should be the limits on how much the we will cooperate with other groups who don’t preach the Gospel or preach another Gospel? Should we cooperate with them in attempts toward social reform?”
I have always loved the answer that was given.
When we are Christians, to the extent to any degree we are faithful to the Gospel, we are bigger than ourselves. And that is why whether they are Arminian, Roman Catholic, or Calvinist, people who are truly serving the Lord are bigger than their own thinking, bigger than their own faith. We transcend ourselves. And that is the glory of the Gospel. It enables us to do more than we can do. It is the grace of God working through us. It is not that we teach different Gospels; we are trying to teach the same Gospel even though at times our emphasis will be a warped one, a limited one, a partial one. All the same, God can use it (Panel Discussion).
The Modern Abortion Abolitionists
An MSNBC feature on AHA co-founder Toby Harmon came from a left-leaning slant, but did not expose the “fanaticism” the reporter was looking for.
In my previous article, I described how I spent a week in a timeshare in New Orleans while attending Operation Save America’s National Event with Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) founders T. Russell Hunter and Toby Harmon. AHA sees itself as a movement and not an organization. They do not have members or affiliates. They strongly advocate non-violent, peaceful resistance to abortion. Groups that brandish the AHA logo understand that there is a philosophy behind the Abolitionist cause. There is also a certain amount of baggage as there is with any ministry that fights abortion aggressively. This infamy tends to weed out the pro-lifers who like AHA’s graphics and slogans, but cannot go the whole way and adopt their ideology and tactics.
There are about 70 Abortion Abolitionist Societies throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and England. Do not call them “pro-life” or an “organization” or they will immediately correct you. Although the theology of the group cuts across a wide swath of the evangelical spectrum, they tend to be covenantal in their thinking and not pietists.
What I noticed while fellowshipping with several of the Abortion Abolitionist Society leaders last July is that they tend to be rigorously consistent in matching their theology with their activism, which is a trait absent in many pro-life groups. They also tend to be young, intelligent and highly committed to the cause of Abortion Abolition.
There is among them a duality of personalities. They tend to either be movement leaders or serious theological-philosophical scholars. The movement mentality tends to be very different from the scholar mentality. For the movement leader, everyone should either be for the cause or against it. You are either hot or cold. Those who accept some ideas, but not all, are compromisers. Jesus was a movement leader. So were the Apostles Peter, James and John.
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, had the ability to live in the Gentile world as a Jew. He was called to write scholarly treatises on the faith, not in contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, but explaining them to the world in a way that some of the Jewish Apostles could not initially grasp. Similarly, Luther and Calvin had a movement mentality. You were either for the Reformation or you were against it. A scholar like Erasmus who wanted to accept some aspects but not others was demonized.
Movement leaders set things in motion and then the scholars systematize, critique and solve the problems that arise within the movement. T. Russell Hunter is that rare combination of both. He’s a charismatic leader and a student of history. I therefore see great promise in the Abortion Abolitionist movement. Among these leaders there is a precision of rhetoric and a gifting for branding and marketing the message through social media. This has been effective in reaching and converting younger generation leaders to the abolitionist call.
As a student of the effort to end abortion over the past 25 years, I am critical of a few of AHA’s tactics and stances. However, I consider the vast majority of their Christian theology, strategy and practical logistics to be sound and biblically based. The strategy to boldly state that we want to end abortion at the outset and settle for no moral compromise is correct. I believe that some initial problems created by their penchant for polemic posturing will be corrected in time. Some attacks by outsiders are based straw man arguments – stating that “Abolitionists believe or practice this or that …” when they deny it. Other attacks are based on outright lies.
I found it interesting to watch an MSNBC feature on Toby Harmon. The reporter for the left-leaning news network stated that she was expecting to find wide-eyed fanatics in the Bible Belt leading a protest. Instead she found reasonable, intelligent young men and women trying to dialog with high school students.
More importantly, the Abortion Abolitionist movement is evidence of a paradigm shift in the pro-life movement back to the original view that abortion must be abolished – not with a pragmatic, political, social or economic argument – but on the call to embrace the sacred Truth that we are each image bearers of God and the call to love our neighbor as ourselves.
Slavery and Abortion: A Comparison
The comparison between slavery and abortion is not a new concept, but it has been developed in the last few years with the reemergence of William Wilberforce as a popular figure in the modern evangelical culture. When we look at the arguments used by pro-slavery advocates in Wilberforce’s day, there is an eerie similarity to that of the pro-abortionists.
Two hundred years ago, those hoping to maintain the institution of slavery liked to argue that slaves living free in Africa were subject to violence, famine and sickness and were better off as slaves on a New World plantation. Today, those arguing to maintain abortion rights like to argue that it is better for a fetus to be aborted than to be born into a family who will abuse the child.
British legislators in the time of Wilberforce worried that if Great Britain abolished the slave trade, it would be taken up with vigor by France, Spain and Holland. American pro-abortion advocates argue that if abortion is banned, poor women will still seek illegal abortions and rich and middle class women will simply travel to places where abortion is legal.
Slavery advocates trumped up fears of uprisings, massacres and rebellions led by freed slaves. Pro-aborts like to argue that thousands or even millions of women will die of illegal abortion if it is outlawed.
Slavery was often defended as a “necessary evil” that was profitable for commerce and to support the British economy. Abortion is often defended because women who cannot afford a child will have to sacrifice their income, education and career. Therefore abortion is necessary to support their private economy and by extension helps the national economy.
Slavery defenders claimed that slaves were treated humanely. Slavery abolitionists showed photos and sketches and published narratives to show slaves were treated harshly. Abortion providers tell patients that their preborn children are only cells or “potential life.” Abortion Abolitionists show photos of perfectly formed preborn children killed through abortion and the grotesque horror done to them.
Abolitionists were called dangerous religious fanatics and told to keep their moral and religious beliefs to themselves. Those fighting abortion today are portrayed by the liberal media as dangerous fanatics.
Every generation has its moral evil. Every generation has an abolitionist movement to oppose the evil.
Incrementalism vs. Immediatism: Who is right?
The most interesting comparison between slavery and abortion, however, is a current controversy within the sanctity of life movement itself. As it was 200 years ago, there are those within pro-life groups such as Americans United for Life and National Right to Life whose policy in the past 20 years has been to only advocate bills that are incremental in nature and to include rape and incest exceptions in hopes of avoiding a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade until the Supreme Court bench is “stacked” with conservative justices and it can be effectively overturned. Then there are those within the Personhood movement and the Abortion Abolitionist movement who advocate first recognizing that all human beings are Persons from conception with the right to life because they are created in the image of God.
Both sides of the debate agree that William Wilberforce is a model. There is no question that the abolition of slavery serves as a model for an effective model to end abortion. However, even though Clarke Forsythe wants to give Wilberforce the credit for being the moral center of the debate to abolish the slavery in the 19th century, he faults him for being a moral crusader who focused his efforts throughout his lifetime on being the president of “no less than 69 societies” dedicated to social reformation. In other words, Forsythe criticizes Wilberforce’s moral absolutism in treating many social issues, when he should have been a practical incrementalist centered on one issue – ending the slave trade.
At the height of Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish the slave trade, he published the first of only three books he wrote in his lifetime, A Practical View of Christianity. This took to task the false, dead Christianity of many within the Church of England and other denominations as not being true to a lifestyle renewed by faith in Jesus Christ. Wilberforce methodically covers a variety of topics that apply to everyday life. Far from being a preachy polemic against society’s ills, he takes the time to reason with the reader, leaving them with arguments, according to one reviewer, that are “intelligent and well reasoned, make perfect sense and cause the reader to wonder how it is that they hadn’t thought of it before.”
Wilberforce also understood that the moral atrocity of slavery was allowed to continue not due to the ungodliness of the slave holders, but due to the inaction of Christians. According to Wilberforce, the source of all of society’s ills was the Church failing to preach and practice authentic Christianity. Wilberforce understood that without the engine of revival in the Church, no reformation of society will ever take place.
In Politics for the Greatest God, Forsythe argues that Wiberforce’s wider focus on anything other than the slave trade was a “weakness” and a “personality trait that may have actually distracted him.” This attitude represents in a microcosm the error of the pro-life movement. While it is true that students of history bring their own filters and read their own experience to interpreting what motivated a great figure, it is much more likely than an evangelical Christian who has had a born-again experience can interpret the intents and purposes of a man who was impacted by the First Great Awakening. Thankfully, William Wilberforce was more than a lawyer working for an anti-slavery organization dedicated to using a natural law argument to convince the Parliament to incrementally do away with a human atrocity. He was a voice calling for repentance with the zeal of a Gospel preacher, while using a Divine eloquence and empathy toward his hearers.
Clarke Forsythe is a non-Catholic using Roman Catholic nomenclature regarding the “virtue of prudence.” As an advisor to the American Catholic bishops, he is largely responsible for the bishop’s opposition to Personhood in many states – even though the official position of the Vatican is for Personhood. Judie Brown, the president of American Life League, wrote the following rebuttal using a more Gospel-centered argument.
With all due respect to Forsythe and his colleagues, it is my fervent belief that the pro-life movement is at a critical crossroads. It is imperative for each of us, upon examining our own attitudes and praying for guidance, to choose God’s way and stay the course; regardless of the barbs, the public insults and the efforts to undo what we are putting together in the various states and at the federal level in our quest for human personhood.
We are not at war against legal positivists and secular humanists; we are engaged in a battle with evil. Forsythe concludes by saying, “There are other goals that are more important — and more achievable in the current environment — than an illusory test case to ‘challenge Roe’ based on questions that the current justices simply aren’t asking.”
Contrary to that view, I would argue that it is not wise for us to base our efforts on paying attention to the “questions that the current justices” are asking, but rather to make absolutely certain we are faithful to God in our public witness to the questions He will be asking when we face Him, as each of us surely will, at the judgment.
Judy Brown hits the nail on the head. Our strategy isn’t primarily legal or political, but spiritual. Indeed the goal of Personhood is often thought of as a legal strategy to challenge Roe. In reality, the leaders of Personhood believe that due to our petitioning and education efforts the culture will be so changed in time that Roe will be ignored, and the right to life will be recognized for all human beings, much the same way that Americans ignored the Dred Scott case that declared a black slave to be a non-citizen without the right to liberty. This can only occur as we change the culture.
Much in the same way that Wilberforce failed by bringing the same Slave Trade Act year after year, it was the debate in British Parliament spilling over into the popular culture that eventually changed public opinion in England. In the same way, debate over Personhood is bringing the debate over when life begins into the culture. So the number one goal of Personhood is education. We don’t educate by debating a woman’s right to privacy or whether abortion clinics should be safer for women. We put the focus squarely on the imago Dei, the biblical truth that all human beings are created image of God. We are endowed with the right to life from conception, not because Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution gives us this right, but because God himself declared it as a creation ordinance.
The reason Wilberforce prevailed is because he fought with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Only the Gospel preached in power – as it was in Whitefield’s and Wesley’s day – can change the heart of our nation and restore our culture to Godliness. This is the reason why it has always been the church that is at the head of social reform movements that bring about greater morality in society.
The Present Crisis
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
– James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis”
When the “fireside poet,” James Russell Lowell, penned these words in the 19th century, the “present crisis” was the institution of slavery. If 21st century Christians are truly concerned about the present crisis confronting America, we must set about to restore our nation with the same evangelical zeal. This includes rescuing babies, but the strategy is to preach the whole truth of the Word of God.
The call to national repentance is what fueled the abolitionist movement. Practical steps in the forms of laws and amendments followed, first the spiritual temperature of the culture was intensified by the Gospel. The same was true of the Civil Rights movement over 150 years later when Martin Luther King outlined this call with great eloquence in his Letter From Birmingham Jail.
There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.
Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.
Lawyers and politicians are those who barter with money and power. The job of a lawyer is often to defend a position that he knows is not true. The work of a politician is often to compromise principle in order to gain a pragmatic foothold upon which to climb. The job of a Christian Reformer is to call the nation to repentance and to agitate the consciences of individuals in order to force them to confront a moral evil that they would otherwise deny.
In the time of Basil of Caesarea, the Christians had the majority in fifth century Rome, but abortion and infanticide was allowed to continue in the pagan backwater districts. The collagen of aborted infants was even used a cosmetic among Egyptian merchants and brought a high price. St. Basil used a program of agitation, education and political activism to bring an end to abortion and infanticide in the Roman Empire – and as a result abortion remained a criminal offense for over 1400 years in all parts of Europe.
It is a historical fact that social evils – abortion, infanticide, racial genocide and slavery – have been brought to an end when Christians have agitated, educated and lobbied for political change and legal relief. But the culture always changes first as it is leavened by the Gospel and then laws and politics follow.
Definitions: Amelioration, Incrementalism and Immediatism
There is a debate going on within the pro-life movement over the morality of incrementalist or immediatist efforts and which is the more effective strategy.
Abolitionists are often accused of advocating an “all or nothing” strategy. Therefore, it is thought that abolitionists do not seek to save lives any way they can even while calling for a total abolition of abortion. According to T. Russell Hunter, this is a strawman since abolitionists teach that 50 percent of their work ought to be assistive or “ameliorative” in nature. The “all or nothing” accusation is meant to deflect from the contradiction of stating that life begins at conception while advocating measures that allow for the killing of some preborn children and attacking those that are principled on the truth of the imago Dei.
Incrementalists are often accused of compromise if they phrase a step-by-step approach to eliminating abolition as a strategy. The reality is that some incremental tactics are moral if they don’t explicitly allow for some human beings to be killed while trying to end abortion. Other incrementalist strategies are compromised.
Unfortunately, the debate is often muddled because there is confusion is over the terms, amelioration, incrementalism and immediatism.
Amelioration is simply the act of making something better or an improvement to the human condition. Amelioration is not necessarily a compromise with evil. In the time of slavery, amelioration efforts were those that tried to ease the suffering of slaves while slavery was still legal. Likewise, we can work to make the conditions better in a society that condones abortion on demand. Crisis pregnancy centers and sidewalk counseling offer assistance to women seeking abortion. These attempts are ameliorative. In and of themselves, they can never end the abortion holocaust, but they are good attempts to make a pregnant woman’s situation better and in turn save some lives today.
Incrementalism is the strategy of working to abolish abortion little by little. It is what Wilberforce called gradual abolition. In terms of the fight against abortion, we use the term incrementalism to speak of restrictions on abortion or regulations on clinics. Incrementalism can be either compromised or moral.
Compromised incrementalism includes any law that identifies a class of human life we may kill while identifying a class of human life we may not kill. An example of this would include rape and incest exceptions. Compromised laws include those abortion clinic regulations that begin with the language, “A physician performing or inducing and abortion must …” In the end, compromised incrementalism undermines the sanctity of life argument by including exception for who we may murder.
In my opinion, this is a difficult area to discern whenever we consider implications over objective wording and explicit legal intent. For instance, a 20-week abortion ban does not explicitly state that 19 week-old preborn children may be killed. The law does not say, “Make sure the gestational age is under 20 weeks and then you can kill the baby.” To claim that the law says this is to use an argument from silence, which is a logical fallacy. The difficulty here is not the wording or the moral intent. The problem is that many of these measures are probably a waste of time in the effort to end abortion. That is, we will never end abortion by taking baby steps. One law advocates parental consent. Another law puts restrictions on partial birth abortion. Although some might consider these laws moral, we have to consider if they are effective. Do they simply reinforce the goal of “safe, legal and rare” abortion in the culture at large?
Moral incrementalism might include measures such as defunding Planned Parenthood or advocating bills that would recognize the Personhood of the preborn in cases not directly related to abortion. Moral incrementalism would also include a state-by-state approach in ending abortion.
Another factor to consider when determining if a bill is compromised or moral is the language itself. A parental notification law that would require minors to get parental permission before killing a preborn child is different than a law that require all minors to get parental consent before having any medical procedure in general with no exceptions. The effect of both of these laws is identical in intent. Both may have the effect of curbing some abortions. However, the difference in the second case is that we are not codifying with legal language a class of human beings that we may murder with impunity. The same principle can be applied to a law encouraging or requiring all pregnant women to undergo an ultrasound or a law requiring surgeons at all out-patient clinics to have hospital privileges. These laws can never end abortion, but they might morally ameloriate the problem by saving some lives.
Having said that, I am not naïve and realize that even within the Personhood and Abortion Abolitionist movements there is going to be disagreement over what is moral and what is compromised. Further, there will be even greater disagreement on what will be effective and what will be counter-productive. To discern the difference will often take the wisdom of Solomon.
Immediatism is the strategy of calling for the end to a moral atrocity – a crime that murders or diminishes the dignity of an image bearer of God. Immediatism may take various forms, but it is really just one strategy – which is the Church taking to the highways and byways a call to compel all people to repent and to come into the kingdom of God. In every generation, there is one sin or social evil that exemplifies mankind’s rebellion toward God and denies that we are made in the image of God. In our generation, the most prominent example of that is abortion.
It is a strawman argument to say that some pro-life advocates want “compromised incrementalism” merely because the measures they support cannot end all abortion. It is also a strawman argument to say that some Abortion Abolitionists are “absolutists” meaning that they want an all or nothing approach and will refuse to save some lives unless they can save them all.
It is hoped that the goals and efforts of the Abortion Abolitionist movement will be better understood by the incrementalists who oppose the idea of immediatism. Abolitionists use other tactics in the short term to save lives and call individuals to repentance. The goal is national repentance, but it begins with individuals. It is also hoped that Abolitionists will realize that many pro-life Christians are in sync with the theology and practice of Abortion Abolition and have been since the time of Basil of Caesarea, event though they may not choose to use the label “Abortion Abolitionist” or identify themselves with the growing numbers of Abortion Abolitionist Societies.
Never, never will we desist till we … extinguish every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonor to this country.
— William Wilberforce, The British Parliamentarian on describing his battle for the freedom of Africans from slavery
There is a battle among modern day sanctity of life advocates to claim the spirit of William Wilberforce. On one side, natural law incrementalists want to chip away at Roe v. Wade prior to engaging in a state-by-state campaign to regulate abortion and gradually abolish it. They see in Wilberforce a man of principle willing to bend within the political system to “prudent compromise” for the “greatest good.” On the other side, advocates of God’s moral law call for immediate repentance for the national sin of abortion. They see in Wilberforce a man who stated in no uncertain terms that the arguments in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery were “sophistry.”
Clarke Forsythe, M.A. in Bioethics from Trinity International University and Senior Counsel for Americans United for Life, has held forth the argument that Wilberforce was both a moral immediatist and a strategic incrementalist.
Although Wilberforce sponsored a motion for general and immediate abolition annually for several years, abolition came not immediately and totally, but intent and in effect, incrementally. The slave trade was incrementally reduced by regulations and partial prohibitions, and those incremental reductions were tied, in public debate, to issues of national interest rather than strong arguments of morality – “justice” and “humanity” – which were reserved until the final stroke. The incremental reductions served to eliminate the fears raised by the claims of the slave traders. Though Wilberforce and his allies had the strongest moral motivations, they exhibited strategic, tactical and rhetorical flexibility in their actions and arguments in large part because they stayed focused on the end result and did not confuse the goal with their motivations (Forsythe, Politics for the Greatest Good).
T. Russell Hunter, M.A. in History of Science from University of Oklahoma and founder of the Abolish Human Abortion movement, disagrees.
The kind of incrementalism that pro-lifers are trying to defend today, such as a fetal pain ban, is not the type of incrementalism that William Wilberforce was even close to advocating (Did William Wilberforce use incrementalism to abolish slavery? Video interview).
In July 2014, I spent a week in a timeshare in the French Quarter of New Orleans while attending Operation Save America’s (OSA) National Event. My roommates for the week were Abolish Human Abortion founders T. Russell Hunter and Toby Harmon. At least a dozen other leaders of Abortion Abolitionist Societies throughout America linked up with OSA for a week-long evangelistic outreach to the city of New Orleans. I had heard a lot about Toby and Russell and the growing AHA movement, so it was great to spend a week in a tiny apartment and driving around the city in Toby’s van getting to know them. This video interview was shot on an outreach to the University of Louisiana campus in Baton Rouge. Russell describes how his study of William Wilberforce as a Ph.D. candidate led him to become a full-time Abortion Abolitionist.
In Politics for the Greatest Good, Clarke Forsythe, who opposes Personhood amendments on the basis that they are not incremental, mentions several amelioration efforts that are not covered in our video. On further research, I found that Wilberforce did support three versions of “amelioration measures.” I asked T. Russell Hunter to respond to these as a follow-up interview.
1. Banning the slave trade in certain parts of Africa and to certain parts of the colonies. This appears to be an incremental measure. How would you answer that?
Hunter: It’s not the same thing as a pain capability act. It’s similar to state-by-state abolition or state-by-state Personhood amendments. And that would be immediatism today and yesterday. The American slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought a state-by-state approach could be done without compromise. I think it can be done with abolishing abortion.
2. Limiting the number of slaves that can be shipped. This was specifically introduced in the context of advocating for humane conditions on the slave ships. Were there other slave trade limitation/amelioration laws that were supported by Wilberforce?
Hunter: That was the measure that Equiano and others suggested that William Wilberforce support, and on which he capitulated, but was not huge on promoting. Wilberforce wasn’t perfect as I said in the video.
3. Amelioration bills for better conditions for slaves. Shouldn’t we want to treat human beings well regardless of whether they are slaves? It is not any more immoral to write a law saying you can’t mistreat a slave anymore than to write that you shouldn’t be able to mistreat a free person. Agree or disagree?
Hunter: Agreed. But there is no possible analogy to abortion there. One successful abortion cannot be done in a better condition than another. In every successful abortion, an image bearer of God is murdered.
In creating this video, my interest in Wilberforce was reignited. I wanted to write a longer article exploring the points made by T. Russell Hunter more in depth. What follows is the result of further research.
A Brief Biosketch: William Wilberforce
Born in 1759 in Yorkshire, England, Wilberforce began his political career in 1780 at age 21 as Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull. He eventually became the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire from 1784 to 1812. Then he served as MP for Bramber from 1812 to 1825.
Wilberforce was barely five feet tall and was sickly his whole life. Historian James Boswell, witnessing the young Wilberforce’s eloquent oratory in the House of Commons, described the young statesman, “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table; but as I listened, he grew, and grew, until the shrimp became a whale.”
In 1785, he underwent a conversion experience and became an evangelical Christian, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.
In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton, who persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition. He soon became one of the leading English abolitionists.
Wilberforce got his inspiration by luminaries of the Great Awakening, such as the world famous preacher George Whitefield and former slave trader and author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” John Newton. While many would describe Wilberforce as a Neo-Puritan Calvinist, Wilberforce was probably most influenced by John Wesley – at least in his practical Christian life – if not in his theology.
Wesley had spoken out forcefully against slavery for many years. In 1774, he had written the influential, Thoughts Upon Slavery. On February 24, 1791, at age 88, six days before his death, Wesley’s last letter was addressed to William Wilberforce.
The text of the letter is given below. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa, otherwise known as “Olaudah Equiano,” who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold as a slave in Barbados. In 1757, he was sent to England and was converted to Christianity.
Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.
Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!
That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,
Your affectionate servant,
Right: William Wilberforce and John Wesley
Wilberforce was active throughout the 1790s in annual unsuccessful attempts to pass bills for the abolition of the slave trade. Debate continued for years, finally stalling amid the public’s fears of radical change that were exacerbated by the French Revolution.
It took until 1807 for the abolition of the slave trade to be effected throughout the British Empire.
Contrary to widely held misconception, only trading slaves became illegal at this time. In some cases, merely abolishing the slave trade led to greater abuses, such as illegally transporting slaves and then throwing them overboard when slave ships were boarded by British Navy. Slavery was not abolished in England until 1833 and took many decades enforce.
On July 26th, 1833, Wilberforce heard of the passing of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery. The following day he grew much weaker, the result of a lengthy illness, and he died early on the morning of July 29th in London.
In America, the shortage of slaves encouraged the practice of slave breeding and separating slave families. American slavery continued until 1865 with the passage of 13th Amendment.
Was Wilberforce an incrementalist?
There is no question that the abolition of slave trade was a long and gradual process. Those wanting to end abortion often ask, “Does this mean Wilberforce was an anti-slavery incrementalist rather than an abolitionist? Could it be that he was both?” To answer this question, we have to look at Wilberforce’s strategy during three separate periods.
First, Wilberforce supported the Dolben Act in 1788 on the advice of Olaudah Equiano, who had written a narrative chronicling the abuses he suffered as an African slave. The Dolben Act tackled the inhumane conditions on slave ships. The advocates of this bill did not argue that the number of slave ships or slaves should be lessened – but they were concerned with the fact that huge numbers of slaves were dying on the “Middle Passage” from Africa to the West Indies.
The Dolben Act cut the number of slaves that a ship could carry based on the ship’s tonnage by about 40 percent. However, many abolitionists feared that the Act would not establish the idea that slavery was immoral, but only needed to be regulated. Although Wilberforce lent his support to the Bill, it was debated and passed by peripheral abolitionists in Parliament during his absence due to a serious illness.
Second, Wilberforce annually advanced bills from 1791 to 1799 for the total and immediate abolition of the slave trade. His opposition, led by Lord Henry Dundace, appeared to compromise by inserting the word “gradual” into the proposal in 1792. However, Wilberforce and the other abolitionists in Parliament soon realized that the “gradualist” timeline was used as a ruse to block attempts to abolish the slave trade immediately. Still Wilberforce continued to advance Slave Trade abolition bills each year. Even though his bills were not passed, they gained support coming as close as four votes in 1796.
By the mid-1790s, the bloody French Revolution had run its course across the English Channel. The specter of the atrocities and wars committed in nearby Europe were used by slavery advocates to paint abolitionists as dangerous radicals. The motto of the French Revolutionaries was “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” To many Englishmen, the abolitionists were too much like the lawless fanatics who had cut off the head of a king and performed systematic executions during the “Reign of Terror.” They imagined that freed slaves would lead a similar rebellion in the colonies.
Third, the abolitionist movement was revived in 1804 gaining popular support. Seizing on this new momentum, Wilberforce wrote A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the months prior to the Slave Trade Act of 1807. This treatise contains a direct answer to the question of whether Wilberforce advocated gradual means to end the slave trade.
Wilberforce entitled a chapter in his book, Immediate abolition preferable to gradual, both in the West Indies and in Africa.
It is a historical fact that Wilberforce himself wrote that gradualist efforts were in opposition to his immediatist efforts. Although he compromised on points early on, he later wrote that proponents for gradualism proposed the compromise only to delay and resist his measures.
But this kind of half measure, however unintentionally, exactly answered the purpose of our enemies …
Wilberforce explained that some did this to merely assuage their consciences and in time self-deception allowed them to
… feel the complacencies arising from an act of justice and humanity, without paying the price or making the sacrifice which those principles required.
He also graciously wrote that he believed that some of the gradual Abolitionists were sincere.
Yet I cannot believe, that, could they have clearly foreseen what would be the practical effect of their opposition, it would not have been continued for an hour. Let them now, however, remember the grounds and principles on which they resisted our measure; that they themselves only stated the question to be only between two different modes of abolishing the Slave Trade.
How amazing it is that much the same argument is used today by opponents of Personhood who claim that the timing is wrong for such measures! The incrementalists of today say William Wilberforce was both an immediatist and an incrementalist. They admire his supposed “incrementalist” strategy, but want nothing do with his yearly bills for immediate abolition! Like Wilberforce’s gradualist opponents, they will vigorously oppose measures, such as the Personhood Amendments, that call for an immediate recognition of the right to life of all human beings.
What is even more amazing is that in April 1791, when Wilberforce introduced the first Parliamentary Bill to totally and immediately abolish the slave trade, it was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. Yet Wilberforce continued to move bills throughout his career until on February 23, 1807, the Slave Trade Act was carried by 283 votes to 16.
We can expect to see much the same turning of the tide in the effort to defend human life if we will only remain faithful and settle for nothing less than a total recognition of the Personhood of all human beings without exception or apology.
Who is the Real Jesus?
Ever since the dawn of modern rationalism, skeptics have sought to use textual criticism, archeology and historical reconstructions to uncover the “historical Jesus” — a wise teacher who said many wonderful things, but fulfilled no prophecies, performed no miracles and certainly did not rise from the dead in triumph over sin.
Over the past 100 years, however, startling discoveries in biblical archeology and scholarship have all but vanquished the faulty assumptions of these doubting modernists. Regrettably, these discoveries have often been ignored by the skeptics as well as by the popular media. As a result, the liberal view still holds sway in universities and impacts the culture and even much of the church.
The Real Jesus explodes the myths of these critics and the movies, books and television programs that have popularized their views. Presented in ten parts — perfect for individual, family and classroom study — viewers will be challenged to go deeper in their knowledge of Christ in order to be able to defend their faith and present the truth to a skeptical modern world – that the Jesus of the Gospels is the Jesus of history — “the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). He is the real Jesus.
Speakers include: George Grant, Ted Baehr, Stephen Mansfield, Raymond Ortlund, Phil Kayser, David Lutzweiler, Jay Grimstead, J.P. Holding, and Eric Holmberg.
Ten parts, over two hours of instruction!
Running Time: 130 minutes
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Exposes the Dangers of Abortion to Women!
These shocking eyewitness accounts expose the dangers of abortion not only to unborn children, but to the health and lives women as well. An antidote to the smokescreens of the liberal media, these short clips show what really happens in and around abortion clinics.
Although the content is emotionally gut-wrenching, these videos have been used in church seminars and small groups to educate Christians on the abortion issue and to lead people toward a pro-life position. Contains 2 hours and 40 minutes of materials that can be shown separately.
Watch these pro-life videos on-line.
“These videos helped change my mind from pro-choice to pro-life. Your videos are what did it for me. I will be walking in next year’s March For Life in San Francisco.” — A. Jackson, California
“I was going to have an abortion until I saw your video. Praise Jesus!”
— M. Drew, YouTube Commenter
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Special Two-Disc Set!
After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.
Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.
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“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
With these immortal words, an unknown German monk sparked a spiritual revolution that changed the world.
The dramatic classic film of Martin Luther’s life was released in theaters worldwide in the 1950s and was nominated for two Oscars. A magnificent depiction of Luther and the forces at work in the surrounding society that resulted in his historic reform efforts, this film traces Luther’s life from a guilt-burdened monk to his eventual break with the Roman Catholic Church.
Running time: 105 minutes
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Watch a clip from Martin Luther.
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Just what is Calvinism?
Does this teaching make man a deterministic robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism, won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps even extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards and a host of renowned Protestant evangelists embrace the teaching of predestination and election and deny free will theology?
This is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg, this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.
Running Time: 257 minutes
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