Leaving the Church over Roe?
A friend recently shared with me a piece of correspondence he had had with a young lady whom he had known since childhood. In her note to him, she shared her anger and frustration with the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, and one of the things she said and reiterated is something I’ve heard stated more than once. It goes like this: “don’t you understand that taking a pro-life position is causing the church to lose young people?” I want to respond to that in two ways, the second of which, as I’ll get to in a few moments, is to say that this is simply not the case, that the stance of the evangelical church toward the sanctity of life is not what is causing young people to leave.
But first things first, and “first” in this case involves this truth which must be stated clearly and forcefully (and in love, because telling the truth is not inherently unloving): losing people from the pews is not, indeed cannot be, the primary concern for a faithful church (this leaves aside the very real question of whether in practice this is always true–I would suggest that in practice it almost certainly isn’t–but I am speaking of the God-ordained role of the church, not of the fact that some churches which call themselves “evangelical” are, in practice, not terribly concerned with evangelical commitments).
Boy, that was a long sentence/paragraph.
Let me rephrase more simply: our first concern isn’t keeping people, and we are unfaithful when we behave as though it is. Now, as a pastor, it always hurt when people left the churches I pastored. Was there some element of “blow-to-my-ego” involved? Probably so, and I probably took the leaving of some way too personally. A primary image of the church that we see in the Bible is one of being a family, and family estrangement is always painful (I do grant that not all leaving is necessarily bad or unwarranted, though often it is). Sometimes, yes, people’s leaving had to do with me; I remember one family with pain to this day who left one of my churches, and though I don’t know why for certain, I am almost certain it’s because I failed to show them the pastoral care I should have. There may have been others who felt that way as well, and I hate it, I’m sorry, and I wish I had acted differently.
But there were others whose leaving was for other reasons unrelated to me, I’m sure…and there were almost certainly some who left for reasons related to me, but with regard to which I did not act improperly, but rather properly. And this leads me to this whole question: what is the church to do when it hears that someone is talking about leaving because the church has taken a pro-life position?
Keep on speaking the truth, that’s what.
As a pastor and as a church, our first responsibility is to God, to tell the truth as outlined in His Word, to warn people of the consequences of disregarding His Word, and above all, to point them to Jesus. And the Bible is clear: God created human life in His image. This bedrock, Genesis 1 teaching, along with other foundational concepts found in the Bible’s first few chapters, forms the backbone for a significant percentage of our teaching. In every human life, in other words, we find the “imago Dei”, and it’s this that separates human life from all other. Now I understand that there are entities which call themselves “churches” which posit a Darwinian understanding of origins, to which the answer is simple: you are not with us; we are not about the same business. What you do as a church may have superficial similarities to what an evangelical church might do, but the similarities are only on the surface. Evangelical churches–at least those worthy of the name–attempt to take the Bible and the Gospel seriously. It’s another topic for another time how (all too regularly) professing evangelicals fail to live up to this ideal, but the ideal must be maintained or all is lost.
And so if a church is to be faithful to God and proclaim human life as existing in His image, then it naturally and simply follows that human life is not something to be willfully discarded. Scripture does give indications that pre-born human life, retaining the same imago Dei, is to be protected as well. Put another way, as a pastor, I simply have no choice if I am to be faithful to God: I have to teach the truth. And so the implied threat of, “if you keep on teaching this way, you will lose young people”, while sad, is a threat that cannot be heeded, because as a pastor, I answer first to God, and not to people, young or old. If I lose church members because I have chosen to speak the truth, I am sad for the loss, but I have no choice but to be faithful to the charge God has given me.
And now the second point: it is not because churches teach the truth that people leave; it’s because those people elevate something above the truth of the Gospel, giving attention to it, and obeying it. We all naturally rebel against God’s truth; it’s called “sin”, and at one point or another in one way or another, every human is in the exact same camp. Naturally, I don’t like some of the things that the Bible teaches, some of the things that it calls me and holds me accountable to. Because I want my own way; because I want to be the “captain of my fate”, the “master of my soul”…by nature.So it is with friends who decide to leave the church because the church takes a stance–on whatever subject–that is faithful to Scripture.
And yet I need the church, for so many reasons, and one of the most important is this: I need to be consistently and lovingly called to a standard higher than my own understanding, my own preferences, my own proclivities, my own sin. Those who say they are leaving the church because the church takes a stance for life are in fact leaving the church because they love their own way more than God’s way.
Martin Luther took such a stance at the Diet of Worms, and while it took young Luther more courage to stand completely alone against the assembled throng of leaders of Rome, it is the same stance we must take today. So whether it comes to abortion, or marriage and family issues, or sexual identity issues, or…you name it, the approach has to be, not one of fear that someone will leave, but as Luther, “here we stand; we can do no other.”