Cover Story
Krieg Barrie

Still-silent shepherds

Roe v. Wade | Some evangelical pastors have several reasons for not preaching on abortion—and one is fear of man

Issue: "The wonder of life," Jan. 25, 2014

Editor’s note: In 1994, WORLD published “Silence of the shepherds,” an article addressing the reticence of many evangelical pastors to preach on abortion. Two decades later, a WORLD survey shows that many are still silent.

Recently retired pastor John Piper did not plan to speak out about abortion. He began preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis in 1980 and didn’t touch the subject. One day late in the decade, though, he and his wife were eating at a Pizza Hut, watching a pro-life demonstration on TV: “I said—you know what? That’s just right. That’s just plain right.”

Piper began stepping out on the issue: “It was a combination of seeing other people taking it seriously and then beginning to check my own soul, and God just mercifully taking away some blind spots, showing me in the Scriptures all kinds of reasons for standing up and defending these little ones.” Since that time, Piper has preached more than 20 sermons against abortion. He was arrested in a sit-in—“I don’t regret it.” Most every pro-life ministry has blossomed at Bethlehem: “It has become a part of our culture.”

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The Pipers adopted a child in 1995, and he says pastors should be “exemplars of a way to engage abortion, both on the ground at the clinics, at counseling and intervention situations, and in the pulpit.” The pro-choice complaint that “all you Christians do is shout at us” is no longer valid, Piper says: He advises today’s pastors “to take [abortion] seriously and to address it biblically, … and there are just dozens of ways to do that.”

Another famous preacher has chosen a different way. In New York City several years ago, an Ivy League graduate approached Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church to thank him for not focusing on abortion from his pulpit. She added, “If I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service.”

She was a lawyer, a resident of Manhattan, and an active ACLU member, according to Keller. She also had had three abortions. Eventually, the woman converted to Christianity under Keller’s influence; later she approached him—“Do you think abortion is wrong?” she asked. Keller said yes. She replied: “I am coming to see that maybe there is something wrong with it.”

To Keller, this story illustrates the right approach to biblical preaching at Redeemer Presbyterian Church concerning controversial sin areas. “Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. … Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for moral virtue for the good news of God’s salvation,” he wrote in Leadership Journal in 1999.

But Keller also said in a Dec. 16, 2010, talk now on YouTube, “If people are doing something wrong, they need to be, well, prevented from doing it. … You both have the people who are doing the abortions; and as far as I see, they should be prevented from doing it, and that would be justice. But then you also have the unborn children, and they are not being treated as they deserve.”

How should other pastors act? For four decades evangelical pastors have wrestled with how to, when to, and whether to preach against the nationwide, day-to-day murder of babies in abortion mills not even a jog away from church steeples. In 1994 WORLD reported Billy Graham’s belief that addressing abortion in the pulpit could impede his “main message” of salvation. “I don’t get into these things like abortion,” Graham told talk show host Larry King.

‘We shake our heads in disgust at the German church’s tolerance of one holocaust while ignoring our own tolerance of another.’Randy Alcorn

Fresh research gathered by WORLD indicates that many shepherds are silent on abortion—or only whispering.

THREE SETS OF EVIDENCE bear this out.

First, WORLD conducted a random, informal survey of 40 pastors from seven member denominations in the National Association of Evangelicals. All 40 said that life begins at conception and that pastors should preach against abortion. However, 18 pastors had not preached against abortion in the last year, and five more had never done so.

On the other hand, when standing outside their pulpits, pastors were more likely to encourage their churches toward pro-life work: 29 of the pastors’ churches worked with, or funded, crisis pregnancy centers; 24 offered in-house pro-life education to members; 15 participated in Marches for Life or similar events; and four picketed clinics. Significantly, pastors who preach against abortion are about twice as likely to see congregants involved in pro-life activities as those who don’t.

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