Yesterday, my friend Jared Wilson wrote on the need for churches and Christians to focus not just on changing laws regarding abortion, but also to focus on changing hearts. I agree with Jared that we need a both/and approach, not an either/or (a point he makes explicitly).
I do worry, however, that some people might hear Jared’s point as saying something to the effect: “It’s more important to change hearts; therefore, let’s not busy ourselves with seeking to enact legislation.” Within the cultural climate I mentioned yesterday (where young evangelicals are less inclined to seek cultural change through the political process), I fear that we may be backing away from seeking legislative victories when they are right within our grasp.
Not long ago, I saw a clip from The View in which the hosts were discussing a new Oklahoma law that requires women to see an ultrasound before choosing abortion. Elisabeth Hasselback defended the law, but then acted as if it were misguided to seek this sort of abortion legislation. She said something like: “Change a law or change a heart? I’d rather change a heart.”
Put me on record saying, I’d like to change both. The moment we dichotomize changing laws and changing hearts is the moment we postpone the day abortion is illegal.
So, even though I agree that changing laws doesn’t ultimately solve the problem (yes, yes, yes – on all of Jared’s points), I want to make sure that we do not in any way downplay, denigrate, or discourage Christians who are actually seeking to change laws. All over the country we’ve seen a decline in the number of abortions where legislation has been enacted. Whether it’s in the form of parental notification, 24-hour waiting periods, banning late-term abortions, etc., we’ve made significant progress in pushing back the murderous rage of the Evil One against the children.
It’s one thing to say, as Jared does, that we would happily line up to cast a vote ending Roe v. Wade. It’s another thing entirely to be on the front lines of creating and passing legislation that does indeed decrease abortion. If all we say is, “I’ll vote to end it when it’s on the ballot,” the ballot will never arrive because no one will think it’s productive or effective to work at ending abortion from the legal angle.
Let’s imagine a different scenario. Pretend you live in the Deep South in the 1960’s, and you say, “I’d like to see civil rights enacted, and if I had the chance, I’d vote for it. But we need to be more concerned with individual hearts than with enacting legislation.” If we had taken that approach in the 60’s, then the Civil Rights Act would have never gone into effect. Even today, we wouldn’t have civil rights, as there are still racists out there whose hearts have yet to be changed.
Likewise, if we sought to change hearts before passing laws against human trafficking, the evil of the sex slave business would only increase. Don’t get me wrong. I believe the gospel is powerful enough to regenerate the pimp and his prostitute, the businessman with a double life and the woman who has been forced into subjugation. But it’s irresponsible for us to downplay the good work – even the legislative work – being done by Christians who want to make it harder for this kind of evil to flourish.
In the same way, there is more than one front in the battle against abortion.
So, I urge my missional pastor friends: by all means, preach the gospel of forgiveness. Preach against moralism and legalism. Offer the balm of the gospel to those who have had abortions. Let’s tirelessly seek to change the hearts of people who would snatch a baby’s right to life.
But let us never place a barrier between changing laws and changing hearts. We need to do both. And while it may not be every Christian’s responsibility to work to change the law, we must be thankful for those who are on the front-lines of the legal battle. Their work in squashing opportunities for the Evil One to snatch away more children is a crucial part of the fight for life.