Friday, June 8, 2012

We Need More Than Conversation: McLaren on Abortion & the Bible

Some time ago, Brian McLaren was asked an important question regarding abortion. Here is that question: 

The topic of abortion touches such a sensitive nerve with so many people, that I honestly don't think there are many who could even conceive of the idea of having an unbiased discussion in which the participants jointly searched the scriptures in a serious and unprejudiced effort simply to find out what (if anything) the Bible says on the topic. And I very much want to understand why that is. When I read the New Testament and consider the things that Jesus actually did say, I see that He talked about things that most churches never explicitly talk about (which is why I keep buying copies of your "Secret Message of Jesus" to give away to anybody who looks willing to read a book). It seems obvious to me that the Church ought to take its priorities from the priorities of Jesus. He never said one word about abortion, yet the Church says a lot of words about it. He did say a lot of words about the Kingdom, yet the Church has very little to say about it in any way that could be recognized as what Jesus was talking about.

Here is Brian McLaren's response:

Underneath the political surface, I think abortion became a battleground (for some people, not all) in the deeper social struggle over patriarchy. As patriarchy gave way to more democratic, egalitarian social relationships in home, church, and society at large, some advocates of feminism had much to gain by making the issue a battle over the rights of individual women to make decisions about their own bodies, struggling against the rights of powerful men to make decisions about women's bodies. Traditional Christian religious bodies (speaking of bodies), always led exclusively by men until very recently, tended to respond to this struggle as an attack on their own right to exist as they always had - with men in control. The issue couldn't be discussed without calling into question the whole authority structure of their communities, and thus nobody could pretend to be a disinterested, objective participant.

And there's the larger historical framework as well ... that conservative/fundamentalist Christians (especially in the South) had "lost" a series of battles (evolution, segregation) and wanted to stop the erosion of their power. When Protestant fundamentalists and conservative Catholics created an alliance on the issue, it was a pivotal moment.

Meanwhile, many people don't fit in any of these dualistic rivalries. Some are progressive on feminism and gay issues, for example, but not pro-abortion. To add to the complexity, many people are personally against abortion (meaning they wouldn't choose it if they were a contributor to an unplanned pregnancy) but also against imposing their personal view on others through legislation. They find the pro-life versus pro-abortion framing of the argument inherently unfair, because they consider themselves both pro-life and pro-choice. . . .

The Biblical passage that was used to condemn abortion was Psalm 139:13-18. It was always presented as an open and shut case - proving that life begins at conception, etc. (By the way - we never talked about the next passage, Psalm 139:19-22, which seems to have had an equal influence in the tone of the discussion!)

I never found those verses to be as convincing as my friends seemed to, but my "gut" said that abortion wasn't something I wanted to defend. Neither was it something I wanted to elevate to the single litmus test for orthodoxy and the single issue for voting, etc. So I didn't fit in with either pole of the "liberal" or "conservative" continuum. . . .

The subject deserves the kind of dialogue you suggest. But if people approach the subject with a dualist/win-lose/us-them mindset, the outcomes will be very predictable.

To get beyond that mindset, participants would have to break the big subject down into smaller questions ... i.e. addressing "What does the Bible say directly about abortion?" and then "What does the Bible say indirectly about abortion?" and then "What does the Bible say about morality and legality?"

All of this would soon get us into some deeper conversations like, "What does the Bible say about democracy and democratic processes?" As we both know, those discussions would quickly force us deeper still, to ask questions about how the Bible is supposed to exert authority - the kinds of questions I grappled with in A New Kind of Christian and A New Kind of Christianity.

My guess is that until we have those deeper conversations, the other ones won't be very productive. And unproductive controversies are a subject about which the Bible has a lot to say, by the way! (See, for example, 2 Timothy 2)

By the way, Protestants (who emphasize the Bible) and Roman Catholics (who emphasize the magisterium and things like natural law) tend to approach these matters quite differently. And in recent years, under the rubric of "conservatism," many Protestants have become much more Roman Catholic in their reasoning, I've noticed. It's important to remember that even when we come to a table of conversation as individuals, we tend to bring our communities with us, and so the table gets very crowded very fast!

All of this reminds me why the word "conversation" has been so important to so many of us in recent years ... conversation suggests there's more to do than square off in opposing camps and lob verses versus one another. Thank God for cohorts and communities where the kinds of honest, respectful conversations we need can happen - whether online or around a dinner table or in a classroom or around a campfire or along a trail or wherever. You would be an excellent person to convene such a conversation and guide it in fruitful, productive paths. Well, I've rambled on and on ... but hopefully there will be something of value in all of this. We have a long way to go!

This is a great example of why people get frustrated with McLaren and other Emergents. He dances around the issue without dealing with it directly. Sometimes clarity isn't overrated. McLaren once served as a pastor and still gives advice to them. What would he advise an eighteen year old high school student if she were to find herself pregnant and her boyfriend is pushing her to have an abortion? The time for conversation about democracy and patriarchy is over at that point. Counsel needs to be given. A decision needs to be made. Should she abort?

Christians need to have an answer to such important questions and they need to be formed by a full Biblical worldview. Instead of just highlighting a few verses here and there, we need to develop a comprehensive theology to drive our politics, social morality, and stances. Here are a list of questions McLaren needs to consider:

What does abortion say about God's providence and Sovereignty?
What does the Bible say about life, children, marriage, family, sex, relationships, parenting, and children in the womb?
Is there ever an example in Scripture where infanticide or abortion is praised?
What insight can be gained from church history with special emphasis on the early church fathers who had to deal with both abortion and infanticide in Roman culture?
What does the gospel say here? 
If Jesus gives life, what does it say if we take it, even in the womb?
When will we stop talking and starting deciding?

Brian McLaren - Q & R: Abortion and the Bible

For more:
Thesis - Brian McLaren and Emergent Soteriology:  From Cultural Accommodation to the Social Gospel 
Theology - God as Butcher: McLaren on Penal Substitution 
Blogizomai - The Problems With Penal Substitution: McLaren on the Atonement
Blogizomai - Emergent Panentheism: The Direction Towards Process Theology Continues
Blogizomai - Repost | Revelation and the Ambiguity of Justification: McLaren Adds to the Confusion
Blogizomai - Who Isn't One?: Brian McLaren and Social Christians
Theology -Hamilton: McLaren and Whole Foods Stores
Theology -  SBTS and McLaren: A Response to SBTS Panel Discussion
Theology -  The Evolving God: McKnight's Critique of McLaren
Theology -The Future of the Emergent Church: McLaren Weighs In
Theology -  The Gospel According to Emergents: An Insightful Article
Theology -  The Gospel Once For All Delivered to the Saints: Theology for the Next Decade
Blogizomai - A Fad Within a Movement: What is the Emergent Conversation and Where is it Going?
Theology - The Emergent Gospel In 140 Characters or Less
Theology - The Postmodern Social Gospel:  Brian McLaren Proves My Point   
Theology - Does McLaren Reject Penal Substitution:  A Look at the Evidence
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