My blood was boiling for a couple days over the story of abortionist Kermit Gosnell and the unconscionable lack of coverage of the story. In the midst of my “righteous indignation” I felt a twinge of guilt. Was this level of anger healthy for a Christian? I also wondered about my decision to post about a controversial “political” topic on an otherwise “apolitical” blog. After all, I’ve written, but decided not to post, on other political topics. How is this case different?
This led to some soul searching. Something similar happened to me when I heard the news that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I was relieved, even “happy” at his death. Is this kind of emotional reaction warranted for a believer?
I have come to the conclusion, however, that such emotional responses are not inappropriate and are, in fact, called for from believers. Believers ought to love justice because God loves justice. Justice has two significant components. Justice (1) rewards those who do right and (2) punishes those who do wrong. It’s popular to love the first kind of justice. It’s not as popular, at least in some circles, to love the second. In the case of Osama bin Laden, a Christian love for justice finds relief that the second kind of justice was met – at least as much as it could be in this world carried about by human agents. In the case of Kermit Gosnell, a Christian love for justice leads to outrage that, for far too long, the second kind of justice was not met, that an innumerable number of babies were murdered, that women were pressured into abortion, and that Gosnell continues to try to skirt justice by claiming the babies he murdered were already dead. Such outrage is justified given what we know about the case up to this point.
Coupled with this love for justice is a love for God’s creation: in this case, babies. We hate evil for the same reason God hates evil, because it destroys the creation which he loves. In order for God to love his creation he must hate that which destroys it. We are in the same position. If we love babies (and we believe it’s a baby inside the womb) we hate abortion. Be aware though, we must first hate our own participation in the evil. We must hate our own sin first.
This brings me to the question of advocacy. Let’s say I am justified in my emotional response. Am I justified in my public advocacy? Am I justified in re-posting stories which contain gruesome details and of calling for the media to report on this newsworthy story? What about the protestors who stood outside Gosnell’s clinic for years? Are they justified? Are they misguided? That’s an excellent question. Over the past couple of days I’ve come to believe that they are.
First, if we follow the line of reasoning above regarding love for God’s creation and add to that the notion love without action is not love (in a Biblical sense) then we must ask ourselves, what kind of actions can we do that will help protect God’s creation? In regards to abortion there are innumerable possibilities, public advocacy being one option. I don’t think everyone is called to every kind of action but we are each called to something. If public advocacy falls with the appropriate boundaries (see below) I believe it is a legitimate course of action, when combined with other activities, in response to love for God’s creation.
Second, this time following the line of reasoning regarding love for justice, public political advocacy is often times one of the more appropriate response to injustice, especially within our democratic system. I say this because the primary role of a civil government is justice. A government egregiously erring on the side of injustice is in need of reform and, in a democracy, the method of reform for injustice is civil political action and advocacy. Notice I am referring to this as an issue of justice (in the secular sense) and not just as morality (in a religious sense). This is important for my reasoning and a point which many may disagree. Nevertheless, I see abortion as a case of basic justice, not just as a case of morality, which means I place more responsibility on the civil government for rectifying this wrong than I do with other political issues.
There’s one more part of this puzzle and that is the gruesome nature of the crime. I don’t like to think on such horrors. Several of the articles I have read or videos I have seen have caused me to feel physically ill. Should I repost these stories and subject others to this discomfort? I have struggled with that but have come to the conclusion that it is justified. As believers, we are called to live in the light and expose the darkness. I hope advocating for this issue will draw attention to it, expose the darkness of abortion, touch the consciences of abortion supporters, and lead to systemic change. Such a hope may be optimistic, but I believe it is justified.
Many Christians, myself included, are afraid of feelings of outrage, hatred toward evil, and public advocacy. Such fear is justified. It is justified because each of these can and has been abused in the past and their abuse has done serious harm to the cause of the gospel. To completely abandon them, however, potentially leaves us with a muted gospel whereby we abandon our duty to stand up for the powerless. Instead, we need a more full understanding of how all these emotions fit together. To that end, if we having feelings we believe might fall under the category of “righteous indignation” we need to keep the following things in mind.
We love justice, we don’t enact justice. God is the one who enacts judgment, not individual vigilantes. God’s chosen instrument of justice on this earth is the civil government. To the extent it does its job, we rejoice. Where it fails, we mourn and hope for God’s ultimate justice. We are not at liberty to take justice into our own hands.
We must not repay evil for evil. No matter how justified our outrage may be that should never lead us to sin.
We should combine advocacy with other “constructive” ways to solve the problem. Advocacy may be a legitimate response to the problem of abortion but it shouldn’t be the only one. Others who oppose abortion are working on ways to reduce the demand for abortion in the first place. These are important efforts that should be applauded.
We must always leave room for the mercy of God. God acts in surprising ways. Kermit Gosnell could repent and believe. We would rejoice in that – while still desiring that the civil government enact justice on behalf of the infants he slaughtered.
We must love our enemies. Somehow I must be able to unequivocally say that Kermit Gosnell is evil, feel the appropriate sense of sadness and outrage over his crimes, and still desire the best for him (his salvation). For a slightly different perspective, see my “Footnote on Loving Our Enemies” in my Osama bin Laden post.
We must not let righteous indignation lead to self-righteousness. Sometimes, being mad at the evil we see in others gives too high a view of ourselves. If the sin in others makes you feel righteous, you’ve got the wrong attitude. We’re saved by grace.
Hope and Joy
Our outrage must not steal our joy. Festering outrage, even justified outrage, will lead to bitterness and resentment. Unwatched, this resentment will kill us from the inside out. We are a people called to rejoice in the Lord always. The gospel gives us reason to rejoice even in the face of pure evil. It gives us reason to rejoice because we know that where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. God will win. Justice will be done. There will be a day with no more tears and no more pain. This isn’t something we bring about through political advocacy it’s something we wait for. This day is inevitable. For this we rejoice.
There’s a lot of material on the Gosnell case out there from individual advocates. If you have some time, I recommend the video at the link below:
At points, the video is quite disturbing so discretion is advised.