Speak Out or Give in?

There they go again. The liberal media, it seems, likes nothing better than to play up what they see (or create) as divisions in the evangelical ranks. This Sunday’s New York Times featured a front-page story about Gregory Boyd, an evangelical pastor in Minnesota who is highly critical of the religious right and refuses to talk about abortion or other cultural war issues from his pulpit.

The article paints him in heroic terms, willing to stand against the tide. It quotes other Christian leaders who support him, but none of those who might give the other point of view. It seems if you want to get into the New York Times these days, all you’ve got to do is bash conservative evangelicals.

The New York Times quotes Pastor Boyd attacking “the ‘hypocrisy and pettiness’ of Christians who focus on ‘sexual issues’ like homosexuality, abortion, or Janet Jackson's breast-revealing performance at the Super Bowl” two years ago. “These are buttons,” he said, “you push if you want to get Christians to act.”

Sadly, a lot of evangelicals believe this kind of propaganda. And since we are acquiring this negative image, we ought to abandon moral issues and adopt Boyd’s position. Particularly some younger evangelicals are suggesting that we stay away from divisive issues like abortion and homosexuality altogether and just go back and be like the first-century Church—stay out of politics, tend to our spiritual knitting.

I wonder what early Church they are talking about. Take just the issue of abortion. The early Church was outspokenly prolife right from the beginning just as the Jews had been. In the second chapter of the Didache, one of the first discipleship books for young Christians written in the first century, was this stern injunction: “Thou shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill them when born.” Justin Martyr wrote about this in his first apology. And in the second century, Athenagoras wrote a plea to Emperor Marcus Aurelius: “We say that women that use drugs to bring abortion commit murder and will have to give an account to God for the abortion.” And you can be sure that that was not a hot-button issue then.

Note that the early Church was not afraid to call abortion murder. Tony Snow, the president’s press secretary, got roughed up badly last week for doing just that.

Now, Boyd is a good scholar. I was impressed with a book he wrote some years ago when he was on the Bethel Seminary faculty—although I took sharp issue with his embrace of open theology. But I think he ought to go back and refresh himself on the early history of his own church.

And as for his argument that we like these hot-button issues to gain support, let the record show that Christians did not bring these issues into public life. All the culture war issues today stem back to Roe v. Wade when the Supreme Court, by the stroke of a pen, invalidated all of the state laws in America that had been worked out through deliberate democratic debate.

Life issues, you see, go to the very heart of the Gospel, which is why the first-century Church cared so passionately. And we can do no less today. The Church does not just have the right to speak about it; it has the duty to do so.

Copyright (c) 2006 Prison Fellowship