Tomorrow is the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling that made up out of judicial thin air a constitutional right to abortion on demand. Some view the ruling as a giant step forward, but it was really a quantum leap back–back about two millennia.
The ancient world was incredibly open to the killing of children. For starters, they had almost none of the sentimentality we have towards kids in 21st century America. There was no Disney, not Toys R Us, no Chuck E. Cheese (can I get an Amen?). Family life–even if there was such a thing–certainly did not revolve around the children. Children, if I may generalize, were useful at best, burdens at worst, and rarely coddled.
The dominant fact regarding children in the ancient world were the high mortality rates, especially infants. Many newborns were still born or died in labor. Those who made it often went hungry. There were too many mouths to feed and too little food. As a result, children were often abandoned, exposed to the elements, literally left on trash heaps to die. From 230 B.C. onward, the commonest family in Greece was a one-child family. Families of four or five were rare. Some families might want two sons, but rarely would they want two daughters.
Unwanted children were disposed of, often sold into slavery. Others were aborted in the womb. Many more were simply killed as infants. Newborns were not considered part of the family until the father officially acknowledged them and received them into the house by religious ceremony. Consequently, the ancient Greek and Romans thought little of little babies, and thought even less of getting rid of them.
In the ancient world, it was uniquely the Jewish people who prohibited abortion and infanticide. And the practice was not overturned until Christianity became privileged in the empire. Christians have always opposed killing children, whether infants outside the womb or infants inside the womb. The two were one and the same crime. “You shall not abort a child or commit infanticide,” commanded The Didache, a late first century church constitution of sorts. Despite the muddled arguments of denominational study groups (whose obfuscation with language is positively Orwellian), opposition to abortion and infanticide is not simply one position for Christians, it is the Christian position.
Jesus welcomed children when others wanted to shoo them away (Mark 10:13-16). Moreover, he said the measure of our love for him would be measured by our love for children (Mark 9:36-37). He took the children in his arms as if to say, “Honor these little ones, and you honor me. Send them away because they are weak, socially insignificant, and bothersome, and you’ve demonstrated you don’t understand the values of the kingdom.”
On the eve of Roe, let’s pray for our society to change its mind regarding the smallest and most helpless of its citizens. Let’s pray the change starts in the church (those parts too cowardly or confused to condemn abortion). Let’s pray that every judge, politician, and doctor becomes convinced of the sanctity of unborn life and acts accordingly. Let’s pray for the flourishing of pregnancy centers and women’s clinics that provide an alternative to abortion. Let’s pray for the women contemplating such a tragic choice, and for the family members encouraging them in the wrong direction. Let’s pray for men to be men, to stop fooling around and to stop fleeing when they have. Let’s pray that hundreds of politicians, thousands of pastors, millions of would-be moms and dads, and 300 million hearts are gripped by a Jesus-inspired view of children.
Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. Whether they’ve got an umbilical cord or not.