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It’s Time for Believers to Talk Graciously About Abortion Again #QDC

There have been a number of Q Talks that stood out to me and this is among them. Part of it is because we need to talk more about the abortion issue but we need to do it with more grace and compassion. Given the sensitivity of the conversation, I’ve been waiting to re-listen to the talk and it has recently become available on Q Premiere. (You can subscribe here and please know that I promoting this completely out of my own volition. I am receiving no compensation or courtesy membership. My gain is participating and the sharing of the conversation).

This panel was moderated by Rebekah Lyons. The panelists include Jenell Paris, professor of anthropology at Messiah College in Grantham, PA; Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy; Angie Weszely, President of Caris, a faith-based nonprofit providing support to all women facing unplanned pregnancies; and Johnny Carr, National Director of Church Partnerships for Bethany Christian Services, America’s largest adoption agency (panel description taken from the Q site)

So the first thing that seems obvious to ask is why are some of us still not ready to talk about abortion? It needs to be said that there is a sizable evangelical demographic that is still not ready to talk about it. Of course the abortion issue has never gone away but many cannot bear the thought of discussing it again which begs the question why.

For some of us, we were brought up in “culture war” settings where abortion was the classic example of evil and those that performed them or had one were cast as the worst type of human. Some of us are still drained and disillusioned from this part of the culture war and cannot bare to bring it back up again. I understand that some people will not find that acceptable but among the lessons that I take is the “culture war” does too much damage to too many people (including our “own”).

Further, even if we/they have never actually stood in protest at an abortion clinic, having a pro-life conviction cast a great deal of tension with those that were pro-choice. And many of those that have pro-choice stances hate abortion as much as we do, but they are convinced that the choice must be honored. For me, these include some dear people whom I regard as good friends. We may disagree but it makes less sense to me/us to break fellowship.

So here’s the interesting part. It turns out that despite a sizable demographic not talking about it, teen pregnancy has gone down, the number of teen abortions has gone down and there is always a story of an abortion clinic that has had to close its doors so why bring it up now? This has also resulted in the number of adoptions having gone up. In light of that, it’s tempting to think that if we wait a few more years in complete silence, the whole issue might all go away.

That’s the interesting part. The crazy part is the beginning of the bestseller Freakonomics where there is a connection between the reduction in crime in major cities like New York and the increase in abortions among particular demographics that are believed to would have contributed to the crime rate. It’s horrifying and offensive while being statistically staggering.

Sitting in silence is not going to do any long term good and statistics implying the social benefits of infanticide is not going to help either. It’s time for Christians to talk graciously about reducing abortion.

The first thing that some of my conservative brothers and sisters will notice about that last sentence is why I chose to use “reducing abortion” language than say, overturning Roe v. Wade. My answer is threefold: First using overturning Roe v. Wade rhetoric is a hyper-politically charged conversation, therefore polarizing, therefore not helpful for legitimate conversation.
Two, the reducing language not only avoids villiianzing others but it suggests that people sincerely want to help others.
Three, just about everyone publicly agrees that we need to reduce the number of abortions – therefore we have common ground.

During the panel discussion, Sarah Brown pointed out that of the 1.2 million abortions per year, 85% are by unmarried women and fewer than 20% are by teens. Majority of women who have unplanned/unintended pregnancies and having abortions are unmarried twenty-somethings. Among them are women with stable careers.

Three-fourths of evangelicals have admitted they have had pre-marital sex so as others have pointed out, the message of abstinence has not exactly been well-received. Whether certain people care to admit or not, among the key reasons the teen pregnancy rate has gone down is because of the increased use of contraceptions. Which brought up the need for discussing the use of contraception in churches.

I’ll admit, I don’t really hear myself saying from the pulpit, “Those women who do not wish to get pregnant, you are to be abstinent and if you can’t, use contraception …” For one, when I preach, I don’t preach like that (not intended to sound condescending to those that do). Further, I am not a weekly preacher so most of my ministry happens away from the pulpit. But I am not uncomfortable talking about the use of contraceptives. Truth is, I have in specific instances for years because frankly, you don’t have to wait for the Pew Forum to release the research saying that 3/4s of evangelicals are having pre-marital sex to figure out what’s going on.

And while I do I try to avoid sending conflicting messages, these messages are contextual. If you really listen to what some people are saying whether in your office or your small group or wherever people are choosing to be vulnerable, you might understand what I’m saying here. My point for saying all this here is – let’s be faithful with these opportunities to help reduce the number of abortions.

Which brought up a major theme in the panel discussion. Those in the church need to better express “grace theology” when it comes to women and unplanned pregnancies (and to the men who don’t cut and run). I will say this doesn’t feel as big of an issue in the churches that I’ve been a part of but sadly, I have heard too many horror stories of women feeling shamed in some way. The flip side though is I don’t know how many people never came to the churches I was a part of because of what attitudes and judgements they thought may have been lurking inside. We need to make sure that the church is a place of many things including belonging, grace, and unconditional love.

This is where the graciousness conversation comes in. In my scope I do see a number of churches (and Christians in general) getting better at encouraging each other to adopt, foster and support children. Some are also getting better at reaching out to single moms and families whose financial circumstances make it almost impossible to survive. Some pulpits have eliminated culture war language and a spirit of hospitality is emerging but not only is there so much work to be done, very few actually regard the Church as a place of welcome.

For serious Christians, that needs to change. Much of the work to be done begins in conversation as it is one of the elements that changes culture. We need to invite those that have stopped talking about this issue back into the conversation and foster a gracious discussion on such a crucial issue. Thoughts, concerns, push-backs, feel free to comment. Also, if you share some similar feelings here, please share – the more people that talk about worthy things, the better.

Here are a couple other posts on QDC  – thanks for reading.

Reflecting on David Brooks’ Q Talk on Humility at #qdc

Photo by Ken Worth


I was excited that Q invited David Brooks this year for a couple reasons. One, I appreciate his thinking, two, I really liked Bobos in Paradise, three, he’s Jewish and we need great voices speaking into the Church, even if they identify themselves as outside of our faith.

In his introduction he told a story of Dwight Eisenhower who apparently had a terrible temper when he was a young child. During one of his tantrums, instead of consoling him, his mom told him that, “He that conquers his own soul his greater than he who conquers a city.” Eisenhower would later say that was the greatest piece of advice anyone had ever given him and that quote served as an excellent backdrop for the 18 minute presentation.

Brooks noted that in today’s culture, there is a shift in self-conception, low pre-self occupation, and the sense of vocation differs greatly from that of previous generations. To illustrate this, he cited a number of disturbing stats that illustrated American arrogance. The formula basically was asking a group of engineers, accountants, etc, about their job performance, get a high number of self-approval, find a statistic that completely undermined their effectiveness, safety record, etc. thereby revealing their collective arrogance. I know I ruined the illustration but it was kinda funny.

Along with our vocational arrogance, there is the cultural trend that personal debt has increased in young generations, public debt as well. The idea is that current generations push the cost onto their future generations, past generations didn’t do that. Brooks was very clear – all of this is connected.

He touched on the way we handle risk and, the nature of polarization today but paid special attention to the idea of “moral inarticulateness”. He said, “We have raised a generation of good people but inarticulate of morality. They have no vocabulary for morality, we told people to discover their own morality.” Powerful.

There was a little humor as well, he mentioned how some 20’s and 30’s admitted how much they wanted to be famous. In fact, some said that they would prefer fame over sex. Brooks said something like, “As one who enjoys some relative fame, believe me, sex is better.” I do wonder about the admission of the 20’s and 30’s. It seems to be more about access than the actual experience. Meaning, it’s easer for that age group to find sex than fame and that becomes the allure. It probably also has to do with the notion that fame and power inevitably allow for things like sex, money, travel, connections to celebrities, material amenities/experiences connected to pop-culture’s “good life.” But that’s another story.

There are a lot of people talking about humility these days. And generally, I consider that as a good thing unless it’s just the token “humility” talk to insert in the conference that goes on about how amazing we are. In truth, initially I wasn’t particularly excited to discover Brooks was going to talk about humility but he did such a great job framing it against our cultural mindset, it’s a presentation that comes back to mind frequently.

In thinking about it, my appreciation is largely due to his critiquing of his fellow Boomers in order to help X’ers and Millennials. Further, though he was contrasting inter-generational arrogance with previous generations, I did not get the sense that he was romanticizing them. Like countless others in my generation, we are inspired by the many who have walked these roads before us, so the Eisenhower illustration works. Our frustration lies more with the over-prescribing and the undermining tone along with the hypocrisy that we have found among our elders (that’s among the reasons why so many have either been jaded by or have completely given up on the institution and organized anything).

And so the cycle finds itself ready to repeat itself. Thus, humility (and self-awareness) becomes a key virtue, not only for us personally but for us as a society. We cannot serve the issues of the world with unresolved hearts. For me, our personal and collective arrogance has everything to do with where we have found our sense of identity and how/what we are really pursuing with our lives. May among our prayers be that we in all generations rely on God to tame our souls so we can bless our families, our neighborhoods and our world.

For more on Q check out:
Q Ideas –  They will be making these presentations available soon for subscribers. I think it’s a worthwhile investment (I think all the talks will be available for around $50-75)

David Brooks’ New York Times Opinions Page

My other posts on  #QDC so far here like:

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q

Reflecting on Mark Batterson’s 5 Points on Church & Place at Q #qdc

Been looking at my notes and thinking about Mark Batterson’s Q Talk on Church & Place.
Here were his five main points:

1 – We need to find ways of doing church that no one is doing yet
2 – We need lots of different churches bc there are lots of different people.
3 – Church ought to be most creative place on planet
4 – Be known for what we are for, not what we are against
“Criticize by creating” – Michelangelo
5 – Church belongs in middle of market place.
“Coffee houses are postmodern drinking wells, screens are postmodern stained glass.”

Mark is the pastor at National Community Church, has authored a number of books and is a regular speaker at national events. From the few times I’ve heard/read him, I appreciate his balance of ideas and numbers. Here’s an example from a Q piece he wrote a while back “Postmodern Wells: Creating a Third Place.” Though I’m not really following his work but what he’s saying is what I’ve been thinking about and trying to apply to my ministry. Hmmm, maybe I should start following his work.

Anyway, in general I agree and respect Mark’s points. He said quite a lot in the nine minutes he was given. Certainly resonate with the first one. In some sense, it’s a bit over-stated but I think it’s a great question to begin asking in any ministry context. It’s this mindset that had my friends and I are wondering about concerning alternative worship services, pub church gatherings, small group dynamics, etc.

Completely agree with the second point and I find myself saying something like this all the time. We need churches like Solmon’s Porch and McLean Bible churches. We need churches that meet in pubs and coffee house, I believe there is still a place for the traditional church and I of course believe in the large church structure as well. We need different churches that are always reforming and seeking the Spirit for the sake of the Kingdom.

Point three sounds nice. If by that, we mean the Christian community (as opposed to only the institution) needs to be the most creative place, yeah, I guess so. But I’m not sure I would say it like that. I certainly think we need to aspire to be creative and pioneering. We honor the great Creator when we create. When I think of creativity today, I of course, think of Apple, the Arcade Fire and The Tree of Life (are you reading Bo?). In any case, Mark is right to encourage us here.

I would outright disagree with point four if so many people I respected didn’t keep saying it. I understand that for too many people outside the Church, we are only known for what we are against (gay marriage, abortion, Democrats). Of course these generalizations are not helpful. I do want the Church to be known as a community of love, compassion, open-mindedness. However, I think we should be known also as a people that are against unfair discrimination, injustice and closed-mindedness. When there’s a hate crime, society should say, “People in the Church are going to be angered, there is no room for racism here. We need grace and love.” People are not saying that and I know that sounds idealistic but it’s certainly consistent with the teachings of Jesus.

And regarding point five, I wish he could have had more time to unpack this. I need to take a closer look at what they are doing with the Ebeenzers Coffee House. I have visited, it is cool, great space, and they serve One Village!   It felt that very few communities could use this as a model but again, I would need to learn the story.

As a staff, we’ve talked about things like this a couple of times and I think this is a needed conversation in our churches. Not only because of the economical climate, not only because American culture is steeped in the marketplace, but I see it as stewardship. Even further, should local churches enter the market place, I hope we can do so with a countercultural attitude that confronts the negative aspects of consumerism and celebrates the better things like fair-trade, fair-wage, ethical marketing and a Kingdom-minded mentality.

For more check out:
the church he serves at, National Community
His new book The Circe Maker

and you can follow him on Twitter.

For related posts on my time at Q, you can read:

Reflecting on Andy Crouch’s Discussion on Power (And How it Relates In the Church Sector) at Q
Reflecting on the Q Conference, Washington DC Post 1 – Back Home & Grateful

Will Be Blogging the Collyde Summit 2013

Today and tomorrow I’ll be at the Collyde Summit in Princeton, New Jersey. I was honored to be asked to blog/tweet some thoughts on the event and I am hoping there might be some helpful takeaways for you ministry types. For me, I like the people organizing the event (like Jinu Thomas).  I think their hearts are in the right place and really felt compelled to come down from Boston.

A few years, I was able to attend the first Collyde Summit (they would tell you last year was the real first, I attended the beta ;). Whatever it was I liked it and here my links are included below.

In the meantime, here’s a little more about the Summit from their website:
“What is Collyde Summit?
Collyde Summit is a gathering of passionate next generation believers in the New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania area, who love Jesus and are convicted to become world changers.”
This year’s theme is “Only Believe” and you can read more about that here.

Presenters include Pete Wilson and Margaret Feinberg, Dr. David Ireland and Bonnie Gay as the keynotes on Saturday and [Read more…]

Reflecting on Eugene Cho’s “Water Your Own Grass” Idea From the Justice Conference

One of my favorite parts of the Justice Conference was listening to Eugene Cho’s seminar and message Saturday morning. He’s sharp, interesting and he is able to challenge his listener without them feeling guilty or frustrated.

I find there’s a good number of “justice” types who given their prophetic nature, frustrate their listeners. I’m some of it is meant in a well-intended provoking but some of it is likely unintended and I wonder how much of that speakers are actually aware of. While there is a significant population that needs to be confronted with the failures of apathy and inaction, there are a number of people who are already serving “almost the best the can.” When you push that latter group too hard, it starts to be counter-productive, especially if they are not in a life position to directly serve in say, a non-profit justice-seeking organization. So for the everyday person in the Church and the workforce, I think Eugene has a lot of wisdom to offer.

(Photo: From World Relief Responds)

Here were my notes:
1. Be generous.
2. Shut up and listen.
3. When you dehumanize the poor, you have no value in their redemption
He told a story of a man who shine shoes for a living. Over many years, he saved $200,000 in tips, then gave it to a kids’ home in Pittsburgh. If I heard the story right, the man himself was raised in an orphanage and never forgot either the pain of his childhood or those that were there to help.
4. Need to get deeper in the story
Study, Read, Search – Be informed, “Not enough to say I read it in Relevant, heard it on [Read more…]

Reflecting on the Lutheran Pastor in Newtown Who Was Forced To Apologize for Particpating at the Interfaith Vigil

A few days ago, news broke about a Lutheran pastor who participated in an interfaith Newtown prayer service and forced to apologize.

Here’s an exert:
“Lutheran pastor in Newtown, Conn., has apologized after being reprimanded for participating in an interfaith vigil following the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School.The Rev. Rob Morris, pastor of Christ the King Lutheran Church, prayed at the vigil the Sunday following the Dec. 14, 2012, shootings alongside other Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Baha’i clergy. Morris’ church is a member of the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS), and the denomination’s constitution prohibits ministers from participating in services with members of different faiths…”
You can read the rest here.

I saw the headline flash through my twitter feed  earlier in the week and didn’t click because I knew I’d find it frustrating. Upon seeing the word “interfaith,” I was afraid he was forced to apologize because of some old- [Read more…]

It’s Time for Believers to Talk Graciously About Abortion Again – Part 2 #ODC

Over the weekend, I saw this article on Christianity Today online entitled “Critics Challenge National Association of Evangelicals’ Abortion-Reduction Initiative’s Funding.” Here is the first line:
“Recent criticism over the National Association of Evangelicals’ (NAE) choice of funding partners highlights the continued difficulty of seeking middle ground across the abortion divide.”

I was disappointed after reading the post. Not because people and organizations have strong pro-life convictions, I admire that, and I consider myself among them and am grateful for so much of their incredible work.  I was disappointed because it’s clear that some do not want to converse and seek middle ground.  To some, this is nothing new, but in another sense, I have been sensing a shift happening within evangelicalism that is understanding that growing divide between the Christian narrative and the American narrative. I trust that shift is still happening because I do see the evangelical world is filled with bright, generous, Spirit-led people (that may not get a lot of media attention). I hope this scene is not accurate of the changing big picture.

Here’s the brief recap from the CT post:
“The Generation Forum, a four-year-old NAE initiative to “converse and cooperate without compromising” in order to reduce abortions, drew criticism from World Magazine last week for being primarily funded by a pro-contraception group.”

The Manhattan Declaration issued a statement that they removed from their blog but here’s part of it:
“Reducing unintended pregnancy is a laudable goal, but here, as in all things, how matters a great deal … If, as in this case, it is through programs that undermine God’s plan for sex in the context of marriage, we must not compromise our values.”

World Magazine’s Marvin Olasky had a bit to say including: “He also noted that Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign, was one of four panelists invited to speak about reducing abortion rates at a Q conference in April. In a vote during the panel, moderated by Q executive director Rebekah Lyons, nearly two-thirds of audience members said churches should advocate contraception use by single 20-somethings. Such poll results send the message that it’s fine for unmarried evangelicals to use contraception …”

“As a professor and elder, I’ve seen how conflicted many young unmarried evangelicals are,” Olasky said in an e-mail to Christianity Today, “Many are hoping to garner some wisdom from their elders. It’s neither helpful nor compassionate when the elders follow polls rather than the Bible.”


As one who wants to see among other things, the number of abortions reduced and as one who attended Q this year, here are my push-backs. I offer them not as retaliation but for perspective in hopes of creating conversation:

Just a few days ago I wrote that we needed more dialogue and that there are still a number of especially younger evangelicals who do not wish to reenter the conversation. The reasons they do not want to renter the conversation are exhibited by the tone demonstrated by those mentioned in the CT article. I’m not trying to be mean or in my small way, exasperate this, but I do want to point out when the big players in the evangelical put out these statements, they generally do more harm than good, even in their own camp.

I imagine in their minds they believe they are holding the line, but to people like me, the conversation is being stifled.

Regarding the poll we took at Q, we can debate the wording of it but in fairness to the moment, by that point in the panel discussion it had already been established that abstinence was understandably the preferred message but we also had the reality of three-fourths of evangelicals admitting they have had pre-marital sex and how do we reduce the 1.2 million abortions that happen in our country each year. Bearing in mind that this is not the number of the abortions that are happening in the evangelical world and bear in mind that we would assume that the three-fourths number does not accurately represents the larger culture’s admission to having pre-marital sex. (It would be higher but it would be incredibly interesting if it were lower, wouldn’t it?).

In light of that, if you want to reduce the number of abortions among those that are choosing not to be abstinent, eliminating the option of contraceptives increases the number of pregnancies, thereby increasing the probability of the number of abortions and at some point, creates a greater distance between the Church and the general culture.

Let me put another way to my fellow pro-lifers – if we think it’s inexcusable to terminate a birth because of someone’s act of free-will to engage in sexual activity, is it not just as inexcusable for us to condemn the use of contraception that would prevent the conception that would potentially terminate the pregnancy?  If we believe in free-will, we as a followers of Jesus must present the options of abstinence, adoption, and prevention.  As an adoptive parent, this seems not only logical to me, but theologically responsible.

Like everyone, I wish everyone thought and acted the way that I think we should.  However, even in the Christian narrative, we  know that is not how a humanity created in God’s image, marred by the consequences of a sinful, fallen world but being offered God’s redemption through Jesus works.

If the goal is to advance the message of the Christian values concerning sex, marriage, and family and gain ground in the culture war, then that’s another thing all together. But let’s be clear – fighting that type of culture war is not the same as seeking Jesus’ kingdom.

Does it not seem more Christian to channel our efforts to reduce the number of abortions (and yes, promote adoption and abstinence)? I believe the distinction between advancing the Christian ethic on sex and family and reducing the number of abortions is a necessary conversation within the pro-life camp and I do not mean to be condescending towards people I respect but this is why conversation is helpful. By saying that, I am not suggesting that we cannot do both. But we need to be clear here – being pro-life is not the same as promoting the Christian sexual ethic.

Further, As Olasky points out, I too have seen how “conflicted young unmarried evangelicals are” but to suggest that pastors/leaders/elders/etc. are responding to polls over Scripture is an unintelligent statement from a mind that knows better. That straw-man rhetoric is not helpful. In other places, I have discussed my suspicion with polls and statistics, but even I must admit at the very least, they must represent someone. And if we are serious about reaching those outside the church and if we are serious about going after the one lost sheep, we need to pay attention to what is being said.

Though I appreciate some of what World Magazine has to say, I stopped renewing my subscription back around 2003-2004. My simple reason is that’s it’s too much “culture war” language and Olasky’s reaction here is indicative of that. Prior to not resubscribing to World, I admired Olasky’s courage and his skills of reason but I couldn’t get past his insistence of a “black and white world.”  There needs to be more graciousness and nuance in these conversations.  I find myself wondering is it an incapability of nuance or a business move to rally the subscriber base because what was said at Q seems clear to me.  I commend The CT post in being fair in highlighting it:

“During the panel, Brown noted that most people in the room likely preferred encouraging unmarried men and women to not have sex.  “I think that’s a very good idea,” she said. “But for those who are having sex and are unavailable to that message, we have to talk about contraception. I understand that may be choice number two.””

Friends, it’s not about compromising our values, it’s about compromising our approach in sharing them. Jenell Paris said similar during her introduction of the panel discussion.   There is a difference.  Further, this is what people like me appreciate so much about the Q conversation and the Lyons tone should not go unnoticed (from at the event and in the CT article).

Lastly, the Church is so much more than the pastors, elders, and the words being said from the pulpit, magazines, digital print, etc. If the Church really is about glorying God and not agenda, and is really concerned about loving people, we must be able to have numerous and varying types of conversations with each other and among other things, they need to be be marked with gracious words and attitudes.

May we listen to the other, may we be willing to discuss these crucial matters graciously and may we people of prayer committed to the way of Jesus.