The below is a copy of a letter I wrote to my parishioners in our weekly pew sheet for Sunday 11th August 2019.
This week I am writing about a very challenging topic. My letter will deal with the topic of abortion, and may be upsetting or distressing for some. If you believe you may struggle with this topic, I encourage you not to read on, or to read it in the company of someone who can support you. I am always available to talk and provide support for any of you, don’t hesitate to call me.
I have real concerns about the abortion legislation which has been passed by the NSW lower house this week. Now this is an emotive and polarising topic. Let me be absolutely clear, if you or someone you love has had an abortion, you/they will not face any judgement, hate or discrimination from me. You and/or they are welcome here, you are loved here and you are deeply loved by God.
I know having an abortion is an incredibly hard decision, and it has long lasting emotional, psychological and sometimes physical effects. And while the traditional Christian view on abortion is that it is against God’s will, because it amounts to taking another human’s life, it is not something that God will forever hold against you, it is not something that is unforgivable.
When we turn to Jesus for forgiveness and restoration, we are forgiven everything. I want to make this clear because I know that sometimes in the past (and even today in some parts of the church) people are made to feel unwanted, unloved and unforgivable for having had an abortion—that is simply not true. Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (c.f. Romans 8:38-39).
What I do encourage, though is if you or a loved one is struggling with having had an abortion in the past (or any other thing), if you are struggling with doubts, or guilt, if you are not sure of God’s love or forgiveness, please ring me and arrange a time for a private sacramental confession. As always in a confession anything you share is completely confidential, I cannot share it with anyone—not even my wife. Speaking out loud your fears, your brokenness, your heart ache, and hearing those words of absolute forgiveness, hope and restoration in the absolution is a powerful and liberating experience, and I truly wish more Anglicans would avail themselves of it.
I want to tell you also, that if you disagree with my view on this, as always you are welcome to do so, and I would be happy to have a private chat with anyone regarding this or any other issue.
A view compatible with scripture:
So what exactly could be a Christian understanding of this issue? What would be acceptable in legislation for us as we seek to honour God, and value the life of all people? These are my own thoughts on this very difficult topic—I believe them to be honouring of scripture, honouring of life and also honouring of women.
Interestingly, based on this understanding the only thing that needed to be changed in NSW, was removing abortion from the criminal code, as it is already legal for women to acquire abortion where medically necessary. Abortion itself was not illegal in NSW as has been reported in some parts of the media, only abortion without a valid reason, such as protecting the health/life of the mother was illegal, it has been readily available for decades where there is a valid medical reason.
So, if it was already legal, why do I have concerns about the new laws? Primarily because they could allow for the abortion of a baby right up to birth, and do not require that there be a valid medical reason.
That means, that technically under the new law it would be possible for someone to procure an abortion at 36 weeks pregnant, due for example to a relationship breakdown, and no longer wanting the child. Now of course that is a very unlikely scenario, and even if it did happen it would be exceptionally rare… but why would we want to allow it to even be a possibility? Why would we not close that loophole in the interests of protecting life?
My second reservation is around the new provision for those less than 22 weeks which means abortion would be an ’on demand’ service. It will no longer need a doctor to say it is medically necessary to protect health or life—abortion will be done essentially no questions asked, up until 22 weeks. This opens up the possibility of gender selective abortions, where, primarily girls, are aborted by people because they aren’t as valued as a son in certain cultures—there is already evidence that girls are being selectively aborted in Victoria (see article from The Age)
Finally, and incredibly importantly, we as a society, if we want to lower the number of babies being aborted, need to provide proper care and support for mothers—especially young single mums. We need to provide access to medical, psychological and spiritual care for pregnant women, that allows them to know all of their options, including options for adoption where a woman is not in a position to care for the child post birth.
Other situations that lead to abortion include domestic violence and abuse, and again this is a place where we as a society should be demanding our governments provide proper care and support. Women in danger from their spouse should never be forced to face the added trauma of choosing to terminate a child.
I want to conclude this week by again emphasising that if you and/or someone you love has had an abortion—for whatever reason—you will never face judgement from me. I want to also re-enforce that you are deeply loved by God, and that nothing you or anyone has done, can ever separate us from that love, that hope and that forgiveness.
If this letter has distressed you, and you need to talk, please don’t hesitate to talk to me, or if you would prefer to talk to someone else please call:
Pregnancy Help Australia:
Offer post abortion support and counselling.
24 hour support:
1300 792 798
Lifline: 24 hour counselling support:
13 11 14
Within the Anglican Communion we often see those on the liberal end of the theological spectrum choosing to ignore our formularies and make up their own doctrine on the run.... today though I found an example of a conservative evangelical Anglican Church doing the same thing... Their website makes the following statement:
"Baptism is a sign or a seal. It neither confers God’s grace, nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)."
Now, that may seem fairly innocuous and many non Anglican evangelical Christians would have no problem with it... however if you are an Anglican Christian you cannot accept this.
Why? Because those same formularies that we as conservatives so often direct the liberals to, also reject the notion of Baptism being a mere sign with no effect.
Lets look at what those formularies say:
In the 1662 Book of Common Prayer it says in the Catechism (emphasis mine):
Question. How many Sacraments hath Christ ordained in his Church?
Hmmm…. Our friends said “…nor is it a precondition to receiving God’s grace (his gift of salvation)…” But it seems the Book of Common Prayer views it differently, making it clear that Baptism is in fact generally necessary for salvation… there will be exceptions, for example where it was impossible to baptise someone for some reason… but generally it IS necessary.
Question. What meanest thou by this word Sacrament?
The baptism is a sign, yes, but it is a sign of something that is actually happening – in fact it is the means by which that something happens. What is that something? Grace! So our friends have it wrong again when they say: “…It neither confers God’s grace,..”
Question. How many parts are there in a Sacrament?
So Baptism is actually a means by which we receive the grace of God through dying to sin, and being born anew unto righteousness. Our sinful nature is overcome, the wrath of God against us is overcome through his Grace and we are made His children.
It seems Baptism is much more than our friends at this church would have us believe. But lets look a little further shall we? Let’s examine relevant articles from The Articles of Religion – also part of the standard for doctrine in the Anglican Church of Australia - again the emphasis is mine.
XXV. Of the Sacraments.
So we see Article 25 declaring that the sacraments (including Baptism) are not mere ‘tokens’ but are in fact effectual signs of God’s grace being invisibly worked in us… in other words the baptism is the means by which the grace comes.
XXVII. Of Baptism.
Article 27 is clear also – speaking specifically about Baptism, it declares that it is not only a sign of profession, but is in fact the very instrument through which we are grafted into the church – i.e. it is through Baptism that God pours forth the grace of God to adopt us as His children.
It is clear then, from the catechism and Articles that if we are to call ourselves Anglican, that we must hold to the belief that Baptism is not merely a ‘sign or seal’, but that it is in fact an outward and visible sign of the invisible grace of God acting in the soul of the person baptised. Baptism therefore does bestow the grace of God, which leads to us dying to sin and being reborn to righteousness. We are transformed through baptism to become ‘children of grace’ rather than the children of wrath we were born as and for this reason Baptism is generally necessary for salvation.
Then of course in the Nicene Creed we declare that we "acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins"... Through baptism then, our sins are remitted - in other words we acknowledge that God has established Baptism as the primary way in which we receive the Grace of forgiveness bought for us through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. The baptism is not the thing that saves us - we are saved by the grace of God, through faith. However God has given us baptism as a means by which to receive that grace, We are called to put our faith in Jesus, that faith is enough to save us, but Jesus gave us baptism as a way to experience that saving grace in a real, tangible way.
Am I arguing then that someone can be baptised as an infant and then live a life without faith and still be saved? No. Of course not. Baptism pours out grace, the grace of forgiveness and adoption, but just as with any gift (grace means unmerited gift) we need to accept it, and we accept the gift of forgiveness and adoption given in Baptism by putting our faith in Jesus - it is the faith that actually unlocks the grace - it is the faith that saves us. So the baby is baptised in anticipation of their own faith, with promises made to raise that child in the faith of the church. If they as an adult reject the faith, the grace (unmerited gift) they have received is also rejected.
Recently a footballer in Australia listed a group of people he believes need to repent or face judgement after death - while also assuring them that they are loved and anything can be forgiven - the media and activists become apoplectic and his employer sacked him because it is unacceptable to say something so offensive - the offence being that he included homosexuals in that list of sinners who needed to repent.
Meanwhile our closest neighbours just to the north, regularly drag people into the public square and repeatedly whip them with a cane for 'getting to close to the opposite sex' or sex outside marriage and also for engaging in homosexual behaviour. Homosexuals and fornicators face up to 100 lashes.
What is the response of our media? - simply a matter of fact article that describes what happened (view it here). No outrage, no lengthy commentary about how the religion that endorses this (Islam) is horrible or backward or bigoted, no declaration that people who do this are extremists or fundamentalists. No cries of homophobia, no demands for action. In fact not even one harsh word.
People have told me many times this year that I am basically imaging things when I suggest that the media has an anti-Christian bias. Things like this however demonstrate the hypocrisy in the media when reporting anything to do with religion. To see it in action just wait for the next prominent Christian to say something that can be construed to go even marginally against what is the new social orthodoxy - there will again be outrage, calls for sackings, boycotts, mocking of Christians as 'sky fairy' worshippers - then recall and compare the article about homosexuals facing 100 lashes in Indonesia...
The media seems to become obsessed whenever a Christian makes a comment or suggestion that goes against the grain of society. Meanwhile the Islamic extremists to our North are publicly beating people for holding hands. Meanwhile child marriage is still being practised in this country, meanwhile female genital mutilation is still happening... but there is no outrage, there is no vitriol, no calls for boycotts, sackings and certainly no mocking of believers. To mock our Muslim neighbours for their faith would be Islamophobic!
But the argument still goes that Christians aren't being targeted by the media and by activists. Ironically, the mere fact we raise it as an issue is reason to mock and ridicule us more. The suggestion that we need religious freedom protected not just for us but everyone (because the freedom to believe, practice and manifest what you believe is a recognised human right) is instead made out to be a grab for 'power' or a demanding of 'special treatment' or the 'right to be bigots' because apparently wanting people who are employed by a faith based organisation to uphold the teachings and values of that faith is bigoted - yet no one ever suggests that political parties are bigoted for only wanting to hire people who are wiling to support and uphold their particular ideology.
No-one would bat an eye if the Greens fired someone for publicly advocating that climate change is a hoax, yet if a Christian school wants the power to sack someone who publicly advocates for things that go against their religious teaching and beliefs (say same sex marriage) then they are horrible bigots. Of course Islamic and Jewish schools want exactly the same right protected - to ensure people working in a faith based organisation support and promote that faith - but strangely there is no mocking of those organisations, no declaration of bigotry... hmmm...
So how do we deal with this? How do we as Christians respond to a society that is becoming increasingly hostile to traditional, orthodox Christianity? With love of course! We need to respond by loving the world around us, by loving our neighbour as ourselves - even the ones who mock us and ridicule us. We need to show the world the love of God poured out in our own lives and in how we relate to the world. What does that look like though? Do we withdraw from the public square? Do we cede to the demands to keep our faith to ourselves, caving in to societies mantra that 'faith is private'?
No, we don't do those things, instead I think we need to be bold, we need to engage and we need more than ever to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We will face opposition, and I suspect that as time goes by it will only get harder, society is on a trajectory which is moving away from faith and towards a militant kind of secularism - and this will affect not just us, as the activists and media seem to think, but also our Muslim, Jewish and Hindu neighbours. It will have a chilling effect on the freedom of faithful people of all religions, and be detrimental to the harmony of our pluralist multicultural society, as religious people withdraw into fear based 'silos' cut off from the hostility outside - indeed there are already mainstream Christians suggesting we do just that.
I don't think that is a viable or worthwhile option. I argue that in the face of ridicule and mocking, we need to respond with care and respect. In the face of threats to employment and reputational consequences, we need to speak the truth of the Gospel, the hope of the Gospel, the love of the Gospel. That means unlike much of the Christian commentary of the last few decades we cannot continue to be 'one issue' people. Issues like abortion, and same sex marriage have tended to dominate Christian commentary on society. While these are important issues and Christians can and should speak on them, we need to move away from speaking judgement - judgement belongs to God not us.
The key is that whenever we speak to the world outside the church, we need to speak not from a place of judgement, not from a place of condescension, but from a place of genuine concern, love and respect. We should only speak into the public debate for the promotion of the Gospel, and to give a Gospel focused voice into public discourse. That means we don't seek to condemn those outside the church, we instead seek to convict them through sharing the good news of God's love, forgiveness and hope.
We don't need to be targeting expectant mothers and homosexuals and warning them about judgement and Hell, we instead need to be walking along side them and sharing the love of God, being open, and supportive. Yes that will mean that when it comes up we will be honest about our view of things like same sex marriage, but our view on something like same sex marriage or abortion should not be the basis on which we establish a relationship with someone. The truth is we will never convince someone of God's love for them by seeking to argue with them, or by condemning them or their loved ones. Telling someone they are going to burn in Hell isn't loving - that footballer I mentioned at the start of this article should take that on board.
If we want to bring people into relationship with God, if we want them to know they are loved, that no matter what they have done they can be forgiven, restored, and made whole, starting with: 'you are a horrible sinner who is going to burn in hell', isn't a good strategy. The core of the Gospel message is found in these words:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
Jesus died to save us - all of us. God loves us enough come to earth as one of us, to suffer and die for us, to rise again for us. His desire is to save us, and he does that because of his incredible, all encompassing love for us. If we want people to turn from sin and the desires and brokenness of this world, we need to start from the same place God started - love.
I know some of you are thinking that I am suggesting that we ignore sin, that we never mention it, and provide a watered down version of the Gospel. That is not what I am saying. Yes, we need to explain sin, yes we need to encourage repentance, but we do so first and foremost by explaining that our sin is not what defines us, our sin will not be a barrier to God's love. We start by recognising that while justification comes through faith, sanctification is a process and not instant. We should encourage people to identify and confront their own sin, by guiding them to the scriptures, and walking with them rather than making our own judgements, condemnations and demands for change. When we are asked about sin, we do not pretend it isn't real, but we also re-enforce that through Christ, sin and death have been defeated. That we need not fear Hell or judgement as long as we are genuine in our faith and seeking to follow Christ.
Love. Forgiveness. Hope.
In a hostile, angry, broken world, our response should be living the Gospel out through love, forgiveness and hope.
Daryl is an Anglican priest living in regional New South Wales Australia. Learn more on the About page.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of my church or any other organisation I am affiliated with.