By now, many of you will have heard that the Stop Taxpayer Funded Abortion petition effort in MA fell short in its campaign to collect nearly 65,000 signatures. Despite a tremendous effort by a motivated team of volunteers, we missed the mark by a little more than 7,000 signatures, or just under 12 percent. Practically speaking, if we had just gotten one or two more for every ten signatures collected, we would have been successful. There’s always room for improvement in any campaign, and indeed we collected twice as many as the previous petition drive in 2015. However, one missing ingredient that would have quickly and easily made the difference is the cooperation of our churches.
This summer, the four Catholic Bishops in Massachusetts issued a new policy that banned the collection of signatures on church property. Thanks to a large public outcry amongst faithful Catholics, as well as editorials in the NewBostonPost, this policy was at least partially reversed. But the message sent from church leadership was conflicted at best. How many potential signatures were lost amidst this confusion?
This was not, however, a problem unique to Catholics. Many Protestant churches, including those that identify as evangelical, were equally unsupportive. One volunteer was not permitted to gather signatures in the fellowship hall after a Sunday service. The pastor assured him that he and the church leadership were absolutely pro-life, but defended this decision by saying that participation in such a politically charged issue would cause the church to lose the opportunity to reach some people, who may believe differently, with the gospel.
As a result, the volunteer and his 11-year-old daughter then stood on the sidewalk outside of church property, in the freezing November rain, to try to collect signatures. They did their best to keep the petitions dry, but who knows how many signatures were rejected due to being rendered illegible from the water? Even more disheartening was the fact that only about 60% of the congregants would agree to sign the petition. This should be more than discouraging to the leadership of that church, and it reveals the actual result of their timorous approach. By avoiding issues like abortion out of fear of offending some members of the church, they fail in their mission to disciple the whole of their flock. Christians are then effectively instructed by the culture instead of the church on biblical issues like the value of all life and abortion, and they follow their leaders’ examples of inaction and indifference.
The sad irony is that I have consistently found that the people in the pews are hungry for moral clarity and Biblical teaching on these matters. I was asked to preach a sermon on Sanctity of Life Sunday this past January by a church whose only guideline to me was that it be Biblical and not political. That was easy. Abortion is a clear moral issue with numerous examples to draw on from scripture. During my sermon, one young woman did walk out, but after the service multiple women thanked me for speaking about abortion and told me they were visitors to the church that day. It was especially encouraging that one woman even told me that although her boyfriend was pressuring her to have an abortion she would not do it.
I know we are all concerned about not unnecessarily offending seekers, but how can we anticipate the response of visitors? My experience has been that pastors alienate more people by avoiding controversy than they do by helping guide their flocks through it. Meanwhile, it is impossible to avoid such issues in the media, school room or the workplace. And, if we love our neighbors, our churches shouldn’t cede these moral issues to a hostile culture.
As scripture says in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” There can be no greater example of an orphan than the child who is abandoned while still in his mother’s womb. We cannot fulfill God’s command to care for orphans if their lives are terminated. Just because the current culture of death labels abortion as “political,” does not mean that the church should accept that addressing it is off limits. Many churches in Boston have an honorable legacy of participation in the abolitionist movement to end slavery. Abortion should be no different. Someday, when the protection of all human life is finally restored in our nation’s laws, a future generation will look back and ask why it took so long and wonder that their church didn’t help to make it happen sooner.
We are most grateful for the churches and parishioners who did participate in the signature campaign, but obviously there is much work to be done. We will never give up the quest to end the holocaust of abortion, and we will never give up on the goal, exhorted by the Apostle Paul, of “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). If your church did not participate in the campaign, please encourage your pastor to consider our Sunday School curriculum, Engage the Bay State, a 10-week video-based curriculum that focuses specifically on some of the most controversial moral issues of our day and their impact in Massachusetts.
For our families,