With rare exceptions, abortion is contrary to the life God created us to live. From the prophets’ call to speak up for the fatherless, to the psalmist’s realization that God knit him together in his mother’s womb, to Jesus’ demand that his followers let children have access to him, to the epistles’ summons for us to prioritize ministry to widows and orphans, there can be no doubt that God prizes children. In the words of one of my mentors, “children mean the world to God.” God must therefore be unspeakably saddened at abortion.
Yet abortion in our culture cannot be stopped unless something in our congregations is started—the care of every child once destined for abortion. Ending abortion will grant many unborn children their lives. But it will not grant them a life. They may be given a heartbeat. But they will not necessarily have a home. And until Christians are willing to welcome into their homes these once-dead-now-alive children whose birth-mothers are incapable of caring for them, calls for the abolition of abortion are empty.
Christians, it seems, have an especially strong obligation to be part of the solution. In his stunning book about Jesus called Who is This Man? John Ortberg writes that “Children would be thought of differently because of Jesus… in the ancient world, children usually didn’t get named until the eighth day or so. Up until then there was a chance that the infant would be killed or left to die of exposure— particularly if it was deformed or of the unpreferred gender. This custom changed because of a group of people who remembered that they were followers of a man who said, ‘Let the little children come to me.’…As the movement that Jesus started spread, it created an alternative community for children. Early instructions among his followers, such as the Didache in the second century, prohibit the widespread practices of abortion, exposure, and infanticide…By the late fourth century, a Christian emperor outlawed the practice of exposure for the entire empire. Over time, instead of leaving unwanted babies on a dung hill, people began to leave them outside a monastic community or a church. The beginnings of what would be known as orphanages began to rise, usually associated with monasteries or cathedrals” (15,29,30).
In other words, Jesus and his followers created a contrast-community that welcomed the children who could not or would not be welcomed by others. Part of what set the Christian faith apart from the surrounding culture was its practical care for fatherless or motherless children.
Last week I sat around a table of Christians seeking to restore this very thing in the city of Memphis. Representatives of churches and Christian non-profits prayed and brainstormed how to help the hundreds of orphaned children in Memphis. One of the leaders summarized the situation this way: “Memphis City Schools has a mission statement regarding children. LeBonheur Children’s Hospital has a mission statement regarding children. But only one organization has a divine mandate regarding children: the church. The church has been called by God to care for orphaned children.” He and his wife had adopted four children. Near him sat a young professional holding an infant for whom she was providing foster care. They had paid great personal costs to be part of the solution.
So let’s raise our voices to end the practice of abortion. But let’s also open our hearts and our homes to start the practice of adoption. Because, as one around that table pointed out, we’ve all been adopted by the one we call Father. And who better to practice adoption than those of us who have already been adopted?