The Morning After an Abortion Referendum

I am writing this reflection early on Saturday morning after a referendum campaign that has highlighted great divisions in Irish society. The official counting has not yet begun, but the exit polls show so wide a margin in favour of repealing the Eighth Amendment that it seems inevitable that abortion will now be legalised in Ireland in a wide-ranging fashion.

In recent months I have invested a huge amount of time and effort into spreading the message that every human being, including unborn children, deserve to be cherished and protected. So obviously I am profoundly disappointed that the Irish people have, by a significant margin, apparently voted to remove all Constitutional protections for the unborn child, thereby paving the way for the Government, as an initial step, to introduce abortion for any reason whatsoever in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy.

But we need to remember that the Christian Church has, for most of its history, proclaimed the message of Christ in the midst of empires, kingdoms and cultures that followed values and practices that were totally unchristian. From the Day of Pentecost to the present, most Christians have lived their entire lives and borne faithful witness in societies that practiced persecution, discrimination, slavery, racism, genocide, child abuse, oppression and extreme cruelty to both people and animals.

Of course we have an obligation to fight injustice, making a difference where we can. William Wilberforce succeeded in his battle against the slave trade, and he also positively impacted future generations by helping found the first national animal welfare organisation (the RSPCA) and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. I had hoped that Christians in Ireland could make their voice heard on behalf of the unborn with similar effect, but that has not been the case, and for the foreseeable future, abortion is set to be a part of our society.

So how do we respond to this disappointment? It is certainly appropriate to grieve for the increased numbers of unborn children who will be killed. It is only honest to acknowledge that a disregard for the infinite value of life will inevitably have a knock-on effect in many other areas of our culture. Ireland’s future looks a bit darker for all our children today, born or unborn.

But our task, as the Church, is not to retreat into a corner where we can issue angry denunciations and imprecations against those who don’t hear our message. Instead, we are called to respond with love and grace and declare an alternative Kingdom where life, compassion and hope triumph over death, selfishness and despair. When I look at the early Church after the Day of Pentecost, I don’t see that their main priority was to make Rome great again, nor were they trying to create a Christian Empire. They were not even primarily focused on challenging the many evils that characterised Roman society. They had a mandate from heaven to live out their radical discipleship for Jesus and to shine as lights in a dark world. And the darker that world got, the brighter their light shone.

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For example, when Roman models of family life were chaotic and violent, the Church simply provided a better alternative by living out a different kind of family that proved attractive to others. History tells us that women and slaves, excluded from many areas of Roman society, found meaning and significance within the community of the church. Indeed, looking back with the benefit of hindsight, we understand that the greatest tragedy wasn’t that the Church lacked the power to initially change the status of women and slaves in society – but that later on, when it did have that power, it still took centuries to effect such change!

Many of us, as Christians, have been very vocal recently in pointing out that abortion will impact disproportionately on unborn children with disabilities such as Down Syndrome. I believe it was correct and appropriate to point that out. But how many of our churches are now prepared to work to be welcoming spaces for families with children with disabilities? Shining as a light in a dark culture must, more now than ever before, include providing welcome, support and encouragement for such families.

So, while the referendum result looks to be extremely disappointing, our mission remains to worship Jesus, to point others to His truth and grace, and to demonstrate His kingdom in our lives.

Speaking at a Baptist Church in Dublin a few weeks ago, I said that I would wake up on Saturday the 26th of May waiting to hear two things. The second most important thing would be to hear that Ireland had voted to protect the human rights of all. The exit polls suggest that is something that I will be extremely unlikely to hear! However, I went on to say that the most important thing I wanted to hear was the confirmation from the Holy Spirit that we had represented Jesus well in this campaign, and that we had manifested the truth and grace of Jesus Christ in equal measure. I do believe that I can hear that this morning.

In my role as a church pastor I will continue to serve God, and the people of our community, with joy and passion. I am committed to seeing the Church of Jesus Christ shine brighter and brighter as a beacon of light and hope.

In my other role, as an Executive Director of Evangelical Alliance Ireland, I remain passionate about equipping, connecting and representing evangelical Christians. There isn’t any other time in history where I’d want to be alive, any other country in the world where I’d want to live, or any other message that I’d want to be proclaiming.

Yes, Ireland does feel somewhat darker this Saturday morning. But the Church’s opportunity to shine is greater.

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Recognising a Fellow Human Being

Tomorrow (Friday 25 May) Ireland goes to the polls to determine whether their Constitution should continue to grant the fundamental human right to life to unborn children, right up to the point of birth. The key question, as I see it, is whether we recognise an unborn child as a human being, a person, or whether we view them as a thing with the potential to later become a human being.

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If you are 100% certain that an unborn child is a thing rather than a person, then it follows that it should not be afforded human rights. In that case abortion is purely a medical procedure.

However, if we allow for the view that the unborn child is a person, a human being, then everything changes.

Even though the majority of abortions carried out are for social reasons, the referendum debate has focussed on the very small percentage of abortions that are carried out in very traumatic circumstances – the victims of rape, or where the baby has a very serious abnormality or disability. These cases are indeed heart-rending, and the Irish government has argued (untruthfully, in my view) that the only way to address such cases is to permit abortion on demand for any reason.

But, once we view the unborn child as a human being, even these ‘hard cases’ look very different. Of course any decent person grieves for rape victims, or for parents who have received a devastating pre-natal diagnosis – but do such situations really justify taking the life of another human being? Is the killing of another innocent human being really an appropriate response to the gross violation that is rape?

So who decides whether an unborn child is a human being in their own right or not? The concept of personhood is philosophical, not scientific. We don’t actually have any scientific criteria that determines when somebody becomes a person. Religions offer dogmatic answers, as do the advocates of abortion, but dogma does not make good law.

I would suggest that we look to how we view unborn children in contexts other than abortion. Think of how new parents gasp in wonder when they see the first ultrasound scan of their child. Think of how we congratulate couples when we learn that they are expecting a child. Do we talk about their ‘foetus’, or do we ask after the health of their ‘baby’? When we suffer the heartache of a miscarriage or a stillbirth, are we mourning the loss of a life that never was? A prospective person? Or are we mourning the death of a tiny person?

The fact of the matter is that most of us, irrespective of whether we are religious or not, instinctively view an unborn child as a human being in all contexts other than when we are trying to rationalise its deliberate destruction. And that is very telling indeed. We are, as human beings, hard-wired to recognise other human beings with a sense of kinship. For me, one of the most effective posters that I have seen in the current referendum campaign has not mentioned abortion at all. It simply portrays an unborn child in the early stages of pregnancy with the caption “One of Us”.

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We instinctively recognise unborn children as part of our common humanity. Mothers, in particular, tend to feel this bond much earlier than the rest of us – and we should learn to trust mothers.

Is Ireland really going to vote to amend its Constitution so as to reduce the scope of human rights and exclude a particular group of human beings?

Vote NO.

No Vincent, Being Human Matters Very Much

 

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Former television presenter, Vincent Browne, made an extraordinary claim on Monday in an article in the online Irish newspaper ‘The Journal’:  http://www.thejournal.ie/readme/vincent-brown-eighth-amendment-yes-vote-4026621-May2018/

Other advocates for abortion on demand have attempted to deny the status of the unborn child as a human being. Browne argued for the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, but he claimed that it doesn’t actually matter when human life begins. “The argument about when human life begins is also confusing. The truth is we don’t know – but it doesn’t matter.”

Just think about that for a moment. Browne is saying that it doesn’t actually matter whether an unborn child is a human being in their own right or not. Instead, he used a hypothetical and untestable argument that if men, rather than women, gave birth, then we wouldn’t have laws against abortion. Therefore, his reasoning continues, in the real world where men don’t get pregnant, it is unfair to women to have laws against abortion.

Let’s leave aside for a moment the obvious fact that we have no way of knowing what the laws would be like in Browne’s alternative world where men could get pregnant. Let’s look at the actual thrust of what he’s saying. He is arguing that discrimination (even imaginary discrimination in a non-existent hypothetical world) is so wrong that it justifies taking the lives of other human beings.

This argument is remarkably similar to justifications of slavery prior to the American civil war. It was argued then that the Northern states in the US had very different economies to those of the Southern states. Northern states, so the argument went, would not be opposing slavery if their own economies depended upon slavery. Therefore it was discriminatory for them to object to the practices in Southern states where the economic well being of so many whites depended upon slavery. It didn’t matter whether slavery was morally repugnant or not. Nor did it matter whether African-Americans were viewed as human beings or not. All that mattered, according to this argument, was that any hint of discrimination between Northern whites and Southern whites should be avoided, and if that meant that other human beings were denied basic human rights then that was acceptable.

To see such ‘logic’ rearing its ugly head in 2018 is shocking indeed. Human rights do matter. And it is vitally important whether we see unborn children as being human beings or not.

Discrimination is wrong. It is wrong on so many levels. That is why civilised nations should have laws and protections that prohibit slavery, oppression, or any other denial of anyone’s human rights. But discrimination is not tackled by inventing imaginary worlds and then using that as a basis for justifying the killing of another human being. Discrimination is tackled by defending the human rights of all, irrespective of anyone’s race, religion, gender, sexuality, nationality, age or stage of development.

Like so many other pro-abortion arguments, Browne’s claim is bogus and should be rejected. Voting ‘No’ still represents the least discriminatory way forward for Ireland.