This past spring, we spent a lot of time arguing against the notion that single evangelicals should take contraception to reduce abortions.  What we didn’t do, though, was talk about the positive case:  if not contraception, then how should we set about reducing abortions?

That’s the question that Kolburt Schultz put to me for his blog Faithful Politics.  My friend Eric Teetsel (go forth to his new blog) weighed in, as did a few others.  My contribution is, well, typically idiosyncratic.  Rather than address the issue head on, I tried to get beneath the surface to one of the core problems in the evangelical culture:  our understanding of children.


Yes, this is a shameless attempt to make you like this post.

Still, cultural transformation need not wait until we have every solution.  So let me propose one sideways suggestion, one idea that comes at the question not from head-on but through the back door.  I would like to see evangelical churches end “children’s church” and nurseries and keep all the crying infants in the services.  If we segregate infants because they “distract us” from our worship and learning, then we undermine our own imaginative resources to welcome distractions in other parts of our lives.  The posture of welcome to infants and children begins at the center of the universe, in the person of Jesus.  We ought not want a more professional and more distraction-free worship experience than he does, and if we look at the Gospels he seems quite interested in allowing the little children to mess up his plans.  If our worship on Sunday is a microcosm for the rest of our lives, then it seems deeply inconsistent to separate ourselves from children while singing only to claim that we want them every other moment.

Will that reduce abortions?  Empirically, probably not.  At least not right away.  But like all problematic ethical behaviors, the willingness in our people to abort their children is a sign of our deeper dysfunctions.

 I’d be curious to hear from you, dear reader, on this question as well.  What should we think about how to reduce abortions?


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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.


  1. Amen and amen! In a context other than abortion, I was discussing this underlying devaluing of live which is seeping into the evangelical church. I know of a couple of young married evangelical woman who have decided that they doesn’t want to have children. Both women came from believing homes with loving parents. I know this attitude is growing in the world at large, but I admit I was taken aback to hear it expressed so easily in the church. Perhaps we need to re-address the questions: What is a child? Why is a child?
    Signed, a lurker who appreciates you idiosyncratic style


  2. Chris Blackstone October 8, 2012 at 7:55 am

    I agree 100% Matthew. As I think through God’s calling on me to plant a church the role of children in corporate worship is definitely one of the biggest things I’m thinking through.

    I also found the other comments at Faithful Politics very interesting, particularly the one about avoiding the Liberal/Conservative divide, which didn’t seem to offer any actual recommendadtions into how to reduce abortions.


  3. Well that is one way to punish parents for having children. After all it is more important that parents be an example to singles on why not to have children than to actually have some time without a crying infant to worship

    I am pro-child. I love children. I have spent the last five years as a full time nanny. And on the side I work as an evaluator for a non-profit after school program. My wife is an educator. We love kids.

    But we feel that we have been called to not have them ourselves. We believe that our own children would mean that we would be unable to have the kind of impact on other people’s children that we currently have.

    Children are a good from God. And I want to work to protect them from harm and to reduce abortions. But I do not believe that everyone should be a parent nor do I believe that making parents keep their crying infants in worship would do anything to reduce sex outside of marriage or abortions.

    Instead we need to actually come to terms with what the purpose of marriage and sex are. For the past several years my wife and I lead a small group for newly married couples. We were asked to take a break from leading that small group in part because ‘our church policy is that small groups leave discussion of intimacy at the bedroom door’. (Still not sure what that means.) So in spite of the fact that the couples in our group were desperate to discuss a Christian understanding of sex, some in our church thought that it was an inappropriate discussion topic. Even with gender separated discussions and a clear attempt at staying appropriate. (We were not discussing sex positions). We were discussing why sex is important in marriage and dealing with issues of bad previous teaching by the church on sex, non-existant teaching on sex by our group member’s parents and how to deal with previous sexual experience (which most members had.)

    As much as some evangelicals are inappropriate about sex discussion, the reality is that many Christians believe that sex is dirty, inappropriate (even in marriage) and something that absolutely should not be discussed. That is a position that cannot be held by Christians if we are serious about reducing abortion, strengthening marriage, and living as people that are to be examples to the world.


  4. Sorry I had a fake /sarcasm tag at the end of the first paragraph, but evidently the site viewed it as a real tag. Really need to find a sarcasm font.


  5. Encouraging abstinence and contraception use is effective for preventing unwanted pregnancies, but what about those who do get pregnant? I think Christian churches need to establish a nationwide program to help these mothers and fathers. Having a nationwide, very visible organization to help these people would go a long way to reduce abortions. It would be great to have well defined support programs (housing, support networks, education, financial support) and well defined adoption programs. People do not feel that adoption is a viable path to take. We need to show people that adoption is okay for unwanted pregnancies and is a wonderful gift for people who cannot have children.


  6. Children’s Church is another way the Church has bought into modern society. A society the rejects the notion that man is created in God’s image. I completely agree that Children’s church is hurting our families.


  7. I grew up the oldest of 15 kids. (see here!) My parents always struggled to get it together and keep everyone quiet and paying attention on Sunday mornings (even kids above the children’s church age) and there were numerous wary looks as well as pointed comments about “teaching your children obedience.” I think Matt’s proposal is a really good one– after all, it’s how millions of congregations around the world do worship– but I think this short blurb underestimates how hard it will be for Western Christians to absorb the culture shift in worship. You might say that a big handful of Christians like their church to be a performance that is consumed and another big handful of Christians like their church to be a solemn service of teaching and ritual. Neither ideal jives very well with the possibility of a crying baby interrupting for any longer than it takes for mom to run out of the sanctuary.


  8. I don’t know if this is a generation-gap thing or an age thing, but a lot of the older (40-ish and up; I’m 26) Christian men I’m around make much of one’s legacy — specifically, the work done (for Christ or in general) that carries on through time. Obviously, there’s the potential for cultivating a self-centered legacy, but I think there’s a lot of potential in challenging ourselves and others to think about 1) the fact that we [even the not-C.S. Lewises or what have you of the world] actually can and do leave a legacy, and 2) what legacy it looks like we’re on a trajectory of leaving.

    It may be that some of us saw our parents try to impress a selfish legacy on us (my child will succeed where I failed, carry on my hatred for Democrats or my love for Alabama football or whatever). We should by all means avoid that. But maybe we could consider a legacy we would really want to leave — a legacy of blessing others, giving and enriching life, helping a child or children trust they are loved and be able to be a further blessing to other people. We could cultivate a desire for a life-giving legacy; and having a family is one of the easiest and greatest means for doing that.

    I think all of us want to leave a good legacy behind us; but it’s really, really easy to get distracted by video games, silly things, and low-commitment pleasures, and cultivating a legacy requires both effort and sacrifice. Maybe we could turn our attention and our conversation to that and do some culture-making to create a desire for a legacy that isn’t our my own mean, selfish dreams projected into the future but a stream of love and blessing flowing down into time.


  9. Prbably a good argument can’t tell. Kids need atttention right now. Matt argued something about abortion and worship services. seems ver. thoughtful and I would like to look into his argumet, just can’t track it u ntil aftr bedtime if I have any energy then. bookmark


  10. I am curious to know what are the reasons you think a church going evangelical would have an abortion? Do you feel that it is because they don’t value children enough?


  11. I think I like your argument from the adult perspective, but I’m not sure what I think of it from a child’s perspective. Looking back on my own childhood, I feel like I would have vastly preferred to keep it the way it was — Sunday School both “hours” — instead of joining the grownups for “big church” one hour. Sunday School was more interesting and more personal (it was a large church) and I wasn’t even one of the easily bored children. That said, I did attend a Sunday night service with the grownups every week as well, and I’m glad I had that experience. Hmm. After a certain age, I think. Can’t remember the age division for those.


    1. I was in the adult service (at a church that sometimes equated “longer” with “godlier” and therefore had services that often ran 1.5+ hours) starting at 7am, and I was just fine. Of course Sunday School would be more preferred by a child – but is it better for the child? Is it better for the congregation? Is it better for the child in terms of his or her participation in the life of the congregation? I’d actually argue in every case: no. Being part of the full congregation, as soon as possible, is best.

      Part of the problem, as usual, seems to be that we’re thinking of things primarily in terms of the individual, rather than seeing that the individual needs to give to the needs of the congregation and not simply the other way around.


      1. I attend a church were Sunday after Sunday I hear people being baptized that say, I was forced to attend church from an early age, but I never really heard or understood the gospel. Many of these went to real bible preaching churches, but the message was being spoken to adults and the children were inoculated against really understanding the gospel because they heard enough about the gospel without really understanding it on their level. I am not opposed to children being in church. But I am opposed to churches that expect children to just get it and never really addressing children.

        I have been thinking the last couple months about the problem of children that grow up in church never understanding Grace. I think that it is related to church being identified with good behavior (sit up straight, be quiet, act right). Maybe it is just me, but I think that many churches will be judged quite harshly according to the number of children that were pushed away from God.


  12. I think it’s an extremely good post, if not perhaps in practice than in point. Children are treated as accessories and accoutrements, not people. Whatever needs to be done to change this view would be helpful.

    Perhaps, though, I’m naive, but I’m of the mind that “Christians” having abortions is in the same league as “Christian” wife beaters, “Christian” drug addicts, and “Christian” murderers or paedophiles. I’d be more intent on keeping them out of the Church than in it, and I wouldn’t want the door to hit them on the way out. It is an action so demonstrably on the outside of Christ that it doesn’t qualify as a lapse in judgement — it’s a wilful rejection of God Himself.


    1. “I’d be more intent on keeping them out of the Church than in it, and I wouldn’t want the door to hit them on the way out.”

      Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. This is the worst possible response to a Christian whose had an abortion.


      1. There but for the grace of God go we all. And who is to say when abortions have happened, and under what circumstances? I know of pastors’ daughters who were pressured into abortions by one or the other of their parents (often the mom) in the interest of preserving dad’s reputation when getting pregnant outside of wedlock. Who should be punished for that sin? Who should be shown grace? Where does real, genuine repentance come into play? And are you really so sure this is so different from your own sin?

        There’s certainly a place for church discipline, but a single, much repented of decision born of panic or pressure or any number of other things, and a habit of abortion-as-birth-control or simply a self-aware, premeditated, unrepentant aborter are nothing alike, and ought to be treated completely differently.

        Praise God that he is not so harsh with us.


        1. So you’re saying that killing a child is not worth tossing a person out of church for, but molesting a child is? Or are you saying that a live child is worth more than a dead one?

          I’d bet neither.

          However, you’re drawing a distinction that doesn’t exist and offering up that a choice made in “panic” or under pressure is somehow less of a choice than a choice that isn’t, which means you’re A) either saying women are weak and not responsible for their actions, or B) that a choice made under stress doesn’t qualify as a choice, in which case the whole of human will and therefore responsibility is suspect. Neither of these scenarios works in philosophy, theology, or reality. Motivations and mitigations be what may but it does not excuse sin.

          Regards “Praising God that he is not so harsh with us.”: God IS that harsh with us, so harsh Christ was needed; His wrath is still constant, still vivid, still very much alive, the difference is that we are hiding behind the blood of Christ. Our sins are gone, and our grace is true, but Christ did not negate sin, he usurped it. There’s a vast difference between negation and usurping; one justifies and the other overpowers.

          It is infuriating when people pull the cheap intellectual “when you point one finger, two are pointing back” shot of psuedo-godly nonsense philosophy. It is a stupid comment; it is the ruin of the Church and the cheapening and burial of grace, Christ, sin, and reality in general. It is a lie, and what it teaches is that sin is common to all men so we might as well condone it. Our sin is not rendered any less evil by virtue of Christ; our assumption (in the physical sense) of new life and purity is not because we made a choice but rather because Christ’s righteousness is our new life. We are dead; crucified, dead, deceased. Our life is Christ’s, who is alive. And the treatment we are to give sin is the same as Christ, who died because of it.

          I am not sure you grasp quite just how sinful you (and I) am and are. You say I am harshing your mellow and the mellow of the poor girl that got the abortion and why harsh our God-mellow? I’m saying your mellow would disappear into absolute sobriety if you saw that the child was killed atop a pedestal footed in status, girded in wealth, sheeted in pride, and lit on fire by hell itself. It wasn’t a one-off any more than you or I would walk into a mall and cap the first person who got in our way.


          1. Andrew, he didn’t say pretty much anything you are attributing to him.

  13. […] Lee Anderson offered what I thought was a particularly interesting response. Check it out over at Mere Orthodoxy. My own contribution is copied below. What do you think? How would you have answered?What is the […]


  14. @ Adam Shields:

    Then what did Chris and Eric say?

    They said I was wrong because I was harsh.

    Chris then elaborated on my perceived error by intimating that decisions made under pressure are not decisions at all, when most of life’s decisions are made under pressure of some real or imagined necessity, which makes his point weak and useless.

    Chris then inferred in closing by plagiarizing Luke 18:11 that I am a graceless and harsh person devoid of any understanding of same.

    I defended myself and justified my position, a position that I’ve given incredible amounts of attention and prayer to, and that I can base off of many, many aspects of Scripture and common sense as reliable, but don’t have time to explain. I drew vivid parallels between what at least in my mind are easily understood scenarios of daily life (ie not tolerating pedophiles in Church) and similar egregious wilful sins such as murdering babies, and sought to confer that the excuses and justifications made were invalid, for would any of us care if the adult male Sunday school teacher was “in love” with a young boy? Right now, we’re discussing the best type of condom for the purpose.

    But we wouldn’t discuss it, and he’d be out on his ass, and that’s why the discussion to me seems wrong in the first place.

    Party on Wayne.


    1. What he did not say is that there is an equivalent to pediphelia and abortion. By introducing a clearly off topic point you are creating a straw man.

      What Eric did says is that ostracizing sinners is not a helpful position. And that is all he said.

      Chris then said that we should actually pay attention to the context of the sin. You ignored that comment. He did not say that decisions made under pressure were not decisions, he said that decisions made under pressure were often bad decisions because they did not deal with the actual problem. Which in his example was a pastor’s poor parenting and pressure to maintain image over the life of a child.

      He said nothing about ‘harshing your mellow’.

      My point is that if you want to have a conversation deal with what people are saying, not what they are not saying. And straw men rarely help a discussion.


      1. The Ten Commandments equates abortion and pedophilia (lit. porniea if I’m not mistaken, as a word for adultery); I don’t need to, it’s in the same list.

        Regards being posted as a straw man fallacy, it isn’t; the point could more likely be accused of absurdity but that is the purpose of it — hyperbole illustrating a point.

        Regards paying attention to the context of the sin, it was a comment worth ignoring and I demonstrated why; it is a literal straw man, the context of which is immaterial to the fact, which I referenced to the hyperbole. No one cares why a man falls in love with a boy, neither should we care why a person is seeking an abortion, not for the purposes of church government, although we should for rehabilitation and restoration of individuals within the church, but there is no rehabilitation when there is no repentance.

        “Harshing a mellow” is when the friend sitting in the middle of the front seat encourages the people on either side of himself to stop passing the joint and just concentrate on driving. In this case, the allegory is “Stop thinking so predictably and start concentrating on not dying” which is the state that all intellect in the church should be taking these days.

        Regarding your last sentence, you know well as a person that writing is 90% what’s not written, just like a drawing is where the pencil hasn’t been on a sheet of white paper.

        Your nation is dying. The church is nearly dead on in the west. It revolves very much over a poor understanding of sin and grace.


        1. “Porneia” is, of course, a greek term. So it’s hard to see how the 10 Commandments could use it, unless you are referring to the Septuagint. Are you?


          1. I’ve got to say on that, I have no idea; I am not a language scholar, so you’re probably right on. It would make sense that it’s Hebrew and not Greek until sometime later.

            I find that ‘porniea’ as a word is far more useful than ‘adultery’ because adultery is so specific, and sexual mores in Scripture follow a certain tune which does not adhere to concepts of adultery proper but rather a general porniea that includes everything from bestiality to sleeping with your grandmother or nephew. Read by itself, the commandment against adultery is only about adultery proper, but we all know the commandment, regardless of what it is, does not permit by omission (say) sleeping with one’s donkey. As well, the commandment against coveting your neighbour’s wife would seem to more lend itself to adultery proper than even the command against adultery.

            Point being though is that in my opinion, ‘porniea’ needs to become part of the English language, defined as ‘innapropriate sexual expression’, and so I use it in the hopes however impossible that it will be picked up and used by others.

        2. I know what you are trying to say about what is not on the page. But I spend a lot of time trying to make sure I am not inappropriately complaining about something that was not said and was not intended. I am not always successul, but that is my intent.


    2. I didn’t say you were harsh. All I said was that you were wrong. Had I said anything about your response, I would have said it was lacking in grace. But I didn’t.

      What I will say is that if there is room in the church for Paul, then there is room for a woman who has had an abortion.


      1. If there’s room in the Church for me, there’s room for a woman who’s had an abortion. That’s not my point, and it has never been.

        Paul knew more intimately than any of the disciples the reality of sin and reality of grace. You will find also that Paul’s words are the most “harsh” and graceless against sin in the church written in the New Testament. This is the model we are to follow. He is so harsh and “graceless” because as the elohim (David’s and Christ’s words, not mine; literally “the gods”) inhabited by Christ, we have not only the knowledge but the wherewithall be righteous, and wickedness becomes a voluntary, exceedingly wilful and rebellious act towards a known and personal God. This is not folly born in ignorance but rather concious treason and is what provokes my entire response.


  15. I completely understand your point, Matthew, about living our lives WITH our children. Right now members of a family seem to have their individual lives, and a more holistic approach to family life is needed. Christian families need to model this if we are going to play a part in changing the culture.

    As for what else we can do, first I would like to point out that Christians already do a lot via crisis pregnancy centers and promoting adoption. Imagine, though, if both sides, pro-life and pro-choice, took all the resources they put toward politics and put that cash and effort towards helping people facing an unwelcome pregnancy.
    I think a cultural change and legal changes are going to make the most impact, though. Anyone who has done any sidewalk counseling or looked at statistics knows most abortion-minded women are not interested in support, but getting rid of an inconvenient pregnancy so they can continue their lives without interruption. Sounds harsh, but it’s reality.


  16. Once I served in a church where the first two pews were reserved for folks with kids in that there was stuff for the kids to use. The kids “behaved” great as the were part of the whole. some who here and there paid attention to my message I could even engage with some questions. You should see their joy of being accepted and included. It also prompted me to make my words more understandable for them, ergo the older folks would understand them too, even a bit better. Perhaps, and sadly so still counter culture, is the beauty of a mother nursing her baby within the assembly. For those who have difficulties in loving themselves, strugling with receiving the love and forgiveness of the Savior Jesus, this may continue to be hard to come to tgerms with.


  17. I like this. A lot. It’s details like this that shape our deepest-rooted understanding of the place children have in our lives and in culture.


  18. […] Matthew Lee Anderson over at Mere Orthodoxy offers “How to Reduce Abortions: an Idiosyncratic Suggestion.” He writes, “The posture of welcome to infants and children begins at the center of the universe, […]


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