Innocent Blood: Conversations

I am in China for 6 weeks. This is not the place to tell you in specifics what and why I am here, nor even where. But I can give a testimony. I came to faith in Christ when I was 17, in the fall of 1972. As my awareness of world missions grew, I can remember reading of the terrible persecution of the church in China and being told ”pray for the Christians in China.” In the 80’s I started reading of the explosive growth of the church. Reporters were stunned at the estimates of some 20 million believers. Now the estimates range from 70-120 million believers.

It has been my very great honor to travel all over China and to witness a sliver of the Great Awakening in China. They are organized. They are training. They are passionate. They are wrestling with both the new opportunities that increased prosperity affords them and also it’s dangers. In many places they have already seen how materialism has undermined their fervency.

The blood-guilt of 13 million abortions a year, 38,000 every day, has also devastated the faithful here. I have had occasion to read Psalm 32:1-5 with many believers. In this Psalm we read that if we cover over our own sin, we dry up; our strength is sapped away. But if we uncover it, and give it to God (through Christ), he will cover over our sin and we will find it no more. The Cross is the greatest cover up in all history.

By any measure, abortion is the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever unleashed in the history of the world against human life.  If 45 million 2 year olds around the world, rather than unborn children, were being slaughtered every year, our whole lives would be ordered around the horror of it.  We would all believe that satanic powers of evil were an agitating force behind whatever policy or laws that permitted or demanded the killing.  We would grasp how such a demonic weapon was a blood-war against life itself and an assault on the kingdom of God. And we would be earnest in rescuing those we could.

The late Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who helped legalize abortion in America, later said of it,

“The abortion holocaust is beyond the ordinary discourse of morality and rational condemnation.  It is not enough to pronounce it absolutely evil…The abortion tragedy is a new event, severed from connections with traditional presuppositions of history, psychology, politics and morality.  It extends beyond the deliberations of reason, beyond the discernment of moral judgment, beyond meaning itself…This is an evil torn free of its moorings in reason and causality, an ordinary secular corruption raised to unimaginable powers of magnification and limitless extremity.”

As we mark the 39th year of abortion, I thank you, brothers and sisters, who have like Nathanson, come to regret your involvement in abortion. Thank you for finding your courage and voice, saying “I regret my abortion.”  Thank you, you who serve and support the 2,300 pregnancy help centers and maternity homes that have been started by Christians since Roe v Wade.  Thank you, you who have prayed in the rain and snow outside abortion businesses.  Thank you pastors, who spoke up this past Sunday and called God’s people forward. Satan devours but God delivers (Rev 12).

I loathe going to my home church service this morning.  It is again Sanctity of Human Life Sunday.  It is Jan 22, the 39th anniversary of legalized child-killing in our land.  Some churches will take the occasion to ask penetrating and challenging biblical questions about the shedding of innocent blood and what our redemptive response should be.  In my own home church, we will say nothing, again.  

At most they will make an announcement about the date and assure everyone that “we loathe abortion.”  Then it will be over.  We will revert to the schedule as usual. Even more disheartening, there is a special praise service scheduled tonight.  We are going to clap and shout and lift up our hands to God.  

But you can also honor God with your tears.  And there are occasions when you honor God more with your tears than with your praises.  Otherwise we would not read in James, “Be wretched and mourn and weep.  Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. (Jms 4:9-10).  What would occasion this today?  In my church, evidently it is not the slaughter of our own children. 

The many people in my church, who know by bitter experience the blood-guilt of abortion, will have to wait still longer. It would be right for them to confess the wretchedness of abortion and weep.  It would be transforming to be told that such humility before the Lord Jesus Christ, as an expression of faith, leads to being exalted as a trophy of the cross.  Innocent blood shed for innocent blood shed!  

I say with fear and trembling, there are occasions when lifting hands to God is dishonoring.  “When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood” (Isa 1:15). Full of blood?  Does this word have anything to say about abortion? 

There are occasions when God is so much more honored by our mourning than by our music, that he provided us a whole book in the Bible—Lamentations— to aid us in honoring him.  When ought we to use it?  Lam 1:16 says, “For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my spirit; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed.” (Lam 1:16).  When we break faith with God by failing to protect innocent babies and strike back at the the powers of death, then it is a time for lamentation.

Dr. Alveda King is an admired friend.  She is an earnest lover of the gospel and a hard-working co-laborer in the prolife movement.  She claims,

"My uncle once said, ‘The Negro cannot win as long as he is willing to sacrifice the lives of his children for comfort and safety.’  I know in my heart that if Uncle Martin were alive today, he would join with me in the greatest civil rights struggle of this generation—the recognition of the unborn child’s basic right to life."  

For words like this, Alveda suffers rejection from the broader King family and from the leaders of the ongoing cilvil rights movement.  But it is in speaking like this that she most honors and imitates her uncle.  

In Innocent Blood, I tried to show from the Scriptures that there are times when courage is required of our faith and that this courage is supplied by God through faith.  When I look for contemporary examples, I think of Alveda.    

Alveda once told me how painful it was for her to realize that when she had her abortion, she had violated everything the King family lived and died for.  (Alveda’s home was bombed  when she was a young girl and her father also died suspiciously).   She turned this pain and guilt over to Christ, the one who shed innocent blood to cover over our guilt for shedding innocent blood.  Then she took up her uncle’s prophetic mantel.  I say prophetic because she has had to speak especially painful truths to her own community.  Black Americans represent 12% of the population but suffer 39% of all abortions.  Alveda says, 

"Abortion is genocide. It’s killing populations. It’s killing generations and certainly the population that is most impacted by abortion in America is the black community. So I feel that as a civil rights leader I have responsibility to proclaim that black Americans are being exterminated by the genocidal acts of abortion. Today, I call on all of us, regardless of nationality, race or religion, to admit our wrongs and turn from them. I believe that the denial of the right to life is the greatest injustice we face in the world today. There is no compassion in killing.  There is no justice in writing people out of the human race."

It’s mind-boggling to read in Dt. 19 that God instructed his people to build not a house but a city, and not just one, but three cities, and not just to provide community, an everyday need, common to us all, but for the singular and occasional need to provide protection against the unjust taking of human life— and not of some sympathetic innocent victim, but of a man guilty of manslaughter himself (19:4).  

Think of the amount of work and expense, time and material required of the people.  All this to avoid one potential scenario: “lest innocent blood be shed” (19:10). All this to avoid what God calls blood-guilt, not for taking life, but for failing to protect innocent human life. The need for protective action is “lest innocent blood be shed…and the guilt of bloodshed be upon you” (19:10).

That God calls his people to spend themselves this way for this reason leads me to ask a question:  Has anything changed in the nature or character of God that would make us think that he cares less today about the shedding of innocent blood then he did then?  If not, are we making the extraordinary effort needed to stop the shedding of innocent blood?  

Sunday January 22 marks 39 years of legalized child-killing in our mist.  Which of these most honors God and captures our obedience to Dt 19?  

  1. Say nothing.
  2. Make a minimal acknowledgment that abortion is sad and bad, then return to the normal schedule.
  3. Speak to the weight of the offense, not of shedding innocent blood, but of failing to prevent the shedding of innocent blood, and calling God’s people to the work of refuge building.

I received this short email a few days ago from my dear friends at Heartbeat of Miami.

We had a number breaking day today at the N. Miami Clinic.

We served 26 women in crisis and to God be the glory, the ones that came in seeking an abortion left with their baby in their womb and Jesus in their heart. God is so good!

This is an example of “challenging the powers of death with the gospel of life.”  This ministry operates among 30+ abortion businesses that target the poorer Black and Latino women there and profit in the shedding of innocent blood.  Back in 2006, I was able to help Heartbeat of Miami get started. They offer free ultrasound, lots of prayer, daily encouragement and work harder than any Christian ministry I personally know.   

They never give up.  When the economy collapsed in 2009, I actually recommended to them that they close this N. Miami clinic in order to help the other pregnancy help center in the Hialeah neighborhood survive.  They said to me, “John, we are saving and changing lives every day at the N. Miami center.  We are not closing!”  Got to love that kind of tenacity!  

If you have any year end giving to do, I submit, that Heartbeat of Miami is the first place to would go.  When God does raise up enough partners they will open a third center, right in the midst of 7 more abortion businesses.  That’s impact.  In fact, I think I will go send them a gift right now.

When I returned from Asia, I found in my stack of mail, the latest issue of Mission Frontiers.  I have been reading this publication for years.  It makes me think hard and exposes, with real examples, how good intentions in missions work (and charity) can go terribly, wastefully, even tragically wrong.  But it also highlights the efforts being made to correct them.  it is a powerful read.  

 The current issue focuses on Africa.  Rick Woods, the editor writes, “Africa is a huge mess.  It is riddled with wars, six million dead in the Congo alone, famine, AIDS, poverty, corruption and more.  Yet the gospel has made tremendous gains in the 20th Century.  How is it that so many have put their faith in Christ and yet the situation does not seem to have improved at all?  Should not the transformational power of the gospel have made a greater impact?  What went wrong?”  

 I was how true this was in Zambia this past summer.  I saw children starving to death.  There has been no severe earthquake or long drought or even war in this region that would explain why children are walking about with extended bellies.  I still can’t shake it.  Most of the people I met had cell phones.  Food markets and garden were all around.  So why are children dying of malnutrition?  Why isn’t the Gospel of Life challenging the powers of death there?

African theologian, Dr Van der Poll provides the sad answer: “Because the Gospel was not brought to the people as a new totally encompassing life view, which would take the place of an equally comprehensive traditional life view, the deepest core of African culture remains untouched.”  In other words, a truncated, narrow, and thus anemic gospel, rather than the genuine and robust gospel of life, was introduced into Africa.  I thought this a good insight into why the issues we are wrestling with in Innocent Blood are central rather than secondary issues.  

I returned home from China yesterday.  This is our third trip there in a year.  In terms of the Kingdom, there is a lot going on in China and it is great to see it first hand and find ways to make our own contribution to the Great Work.

One memorable moment was when we met a young Christian sister who is 30 years old. Nine years ago, when she was only 21, she walked by a cemetery and heard a baby crying. She found a baby girl who had been thrown away to die by exposure.  This young sister took the baby home. Given the One Child policy, the officials allowed her to raise the child, but she had to sign a paper saying she would never have a child of her own.

Besides giving up this privilege, she also gave up her prospects for marriage. Single mothers in that culture are considered prostitutes. To save a life, she sacrificed much of her own. When we met them, it was clear however that God had rewarded them both with love and joy. The nine year old was a typical happy fun-loving nine year old girl. And we learned that her mother had just gotten engaged to a Christian brother.

Don’t know all that it means when Ps 37:4 says, ”Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”  But this is the verse I thought of when I met this sister and her daughter. God loves life and God rewards those who hold each life precious. This sister laid down her own desires to do what she knew delighted God. And God, in his own good timing gave back to her the desires of her heart.  Sweet.

We are often 180 degrees out of phase with God on matters like blood-guilt.  He grieves and grows angry when we refuse to.  When we side-step the discomfort of admitting our blood-guilt, our peace with God is a false peace.  “If a man will not repent, God will whet his sword,” (Psalm 6:12).  

When we weep though, God rejoices.  When we consider the justice of his wrath; God brings forth the kindness of his mercy.  

Isn’t this the substance of Isaiah 1?  In verses 1-15 God is speaking to a people who will not repent.  They want to believe all is well.  God makes one indictment after another in order to turn their hardened peace into a shattered lamentation.  He says, “Even though you make many prayers, I will not listen.  Your hands are full of blood!” (1:15).

But when we admit that shedding innocent blood is damnable and that allowing others to do it is also damnable, and when we grieve that we have done these very things, and when we resolve to “correct oppression, bring justice to the fatherless and plead the window’s cause” then God moves in to wash, cleanse and reign his joy and power down on us (1:16-19).  

I could be wrong, but I suspect that the Pilate-like ways we have made peace with abortion, grieve the Holy Spirit and suppress the power and transformational impact that God is eager to give us.   

Yesterday I heard loud weeping and wailing.  I was with about 50 pastors and leaders in Asia.  They were studying the Four Questions. This document teaches the substance of the book, Innocent Blood in just 10 pages.

The second question is: What does God’s word say about the shedding of innocent blood, including abortion?  They read Dt 21:1-9.  Then they looked at a video showing the innocent blood of children lost to abortion.  They were shocked and broke out in tears.    

I have always been struck at how much God affirms the value of such times.  After all, he provides a whole book in the Bible just to help us weep and grieve our sins, individually and corporately.  The book of Lamentations is a reminder that some things are worth crying over.  

Lamentations stands as a reminder that there are times when we must look hard at painful truths and lament how offensive it is to God that we have participated or accommodated to the ruinous sins of our age.  In such times, we do well to gather corporately and have our leaders lead in prayer just as we are taught to do in Dt 21 and other places.  I experienced lamentation yesterday.  It was a holy time.    

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