Do pro-life pastors offer pro-life counsel to women who are experiencing difficult pregnancies?
Certainly, pro-life pastors would unequivocally answer “yes” to that statement. Yet I also believe that a significant number of babies are aborted because of the counsel provided by many of these same pastors.
A recent case in point is the counsel provided last week by Pastor Chuck Smith on his radio program Pastor’s Perspective. (Some apparently don’t recognize his name, but as the founder and leader of the Calvary Chapel movement for over four decades, Pastor Chuck has undoubtedly been one of the most influential Christian leaders of the last half-century — I doubt that there are many churches in our nation which have not in been influenced in some way by the ministries born under his leadership.)
After a week of mounting controversy, Pastor Chuck still maintains that the counsel which he provided to “Nicki in Riverside” was consistent with his pro-life stand. This is clearly not a case of a mental slip-up by an elderly pastor as some are suggesting. No, the problem is much bigger than that. Few have detected how this reflects upon counsel typically provided by other pro-life pastors.
|Nicki: “…We learned that we have conjoined twins who share one body but have two heads. The life expectancy is not very good….”|
Pastor Chuck: “…if you go ahead and decide to allow the doctors to perform an abortion on this fetus that is just not developing right and has no chance of living, that I’m sure the Lord will say, Neither do I condemn you….”
Listen to the entire conversation
After being given repeated opportunities to clarify his original counsel to Nicki, Pastor Chuck continues to insist that he did not counsel her to abort her baby, and that Christians across the nation are guilty of falsely accusing their brethren (himself and Pastor Don Stewart, host of Pastor’s Perspective). But we don’t even need to argue this point. Even if we assume a pure, life-affirming intention in the hearts of pastors Chuck Smith and Don Stewart in handling Nicki’s call, could it be that their counsel had a deadly result? Could Nicki be expected to respond to their counsel by deciding to end her babies’ lives? Could she have done so while stating honestly her belief that these high-profile pastors advised her that it was permissible to do so? Could it be that the counsel of these pastors gave her courage to commit abortion when she would have otherwise continued to maintain that she did not want an abortion? Furthermore, would their counsel have led her to assert that she could be confident in God’s grace even while willingly walking into a dangerous killing center and submitting her body — her Holy Spirit-filled temple — to the knife of an unscrupulous abortionist? If so, did these shepherds (pastors) fail to fulfill their scriptural obligations to protect their sheep?
I believe that an accurate assessment of this situation would require “yes” answers to all of these questions. Furthermore, I believe that many pro-life pastors throughout our nation, if they are honest with themselves, would need to answer “yes” to these questions in relation to counsel that they themselves have offered to vulnerable pregnant women.
My belief is based not upon conjecture, but upon decades of experience with pregnant Christian women entering abortion chambers. Many times we have been told, “I talked to my pastor about this, and he recommended abortion.” We have even witnessed pastors bringing women from their church into killing centers (and even after being “caught in the act” at the abortion center, these pastors continue to insist that they are pro-life).
Women frequently assure us “God will forgive me” on their way into the abortion chamber. (As I wrote in my book several years ago, I believe this is a primary reason that abortion continues among Christians.) Most likely, this counsel can be traced back to a pro-life pastor in many cases (certainly we can see how Nicki would respond in such a way if someone tried to speak to her outside a killing center, as this seems to be the obvious interpretation of Pastor Chuck’s statement that God would be “gracious and forgiving.”). After Laura Hope Smith died with her baby on an abortion table, her Calvary Chapel pastor told the 600 people attending her memorial service, “Christ forgave her sin as it was being committed.” Tony Marinelli, Laura’s pastor, had left pro-life activism to become a pastor when he became convinced that the way to stop abortion was to bring people to Christ. When I spoke to him a few short weeks after Laura’s death, he continued to maintain the attitude that bringing people to Christ will stop abortion, even though Laura was not only a committed Christian but probably one of the most inspirational members of his flock.
While some seek to defend Chuck Smith from criticism by citing his pro-life track record which goes back to even before Roe v. Wade, his firm public statements consistently opposing abortion do not negate his error in counseling Nicki from Riverside. On the contrary, listening to his “clarification” on the February 9 program shows that his blanket statement “I am totally opposed to abortion” does not prevent him from being “reasonable” by allowing abortion in “extenuating circumstances.”
What did Pastor Chuck mean by “extenuating circumstances?” Such a vague phrase uttered by a pastor cries out for scriptural clarification, but Pastor Chuck (and his representatives at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, KWVE, and the Pastor’s Perspective radio program) refused to provide any such clarification even after my repeated efforts (and the efforts of countless others who have been concerned about this situation). Yesterday, Michael David, producer of Pastor’s Perspective, informed me that the pastors have said all that they are going to say on this subject, and that they will not allow me to go on the air to ask this question.
If “extenuating circumstances” includes the situation when a doctor claims that there is a possibility that a woman may die if she doesn’t abort her baby, this blurs the lines beyond any hope of moral clarity. Many times over the years women have told us that a doctor recommended abortion, sometimes due to a maternal health issue, or due to a problem with the developing baby. Sometimes we have even been told that the baby is already dead. But when women in these situations place their trust in God instead of trusting in the doctors’ bad reports, we have witnessed amazing results: healthy mothers giving birth to healthy babies, defying the odds! Are doctors lying to women? Are women (in an emotionally charged situation) exaggerating their doctors’ advice? Is Jesus working miracles through the power of the resurrection? Yes on all counts! But even in the rare cases when the doctors’ diagnosis has proven to be accurate, we have always found mothers and their families to be grateful for the opportunity to hold their precious children, if even for a moment, no matter what the problems were. Some of the most precious memorial services we have ever attended were for “imperfect” children who were saved from the abortionist’s knife.
No matter what Pastor Chuck really meant by “extenuating circumstances,” the practical impact of his statement (not only in the life of Nicki, but likely also in the lives of other pregnant women who were listening) was to prepare the way for the abortionist.
When a distraught woman like Nicki comes to a trusted pastor for help and hears this man of God tell her that God will be “gracious and forgiving” if she chooses to abort her baby, she is likely to latch on to abortion as the way of escape (thus missing the opportunity to choose the true way of life-affirming escape our Lord promises). Such “reasonable” counsel seems to be based upon human reason, with twisted scriptures used to support a human conclusion which contradicts the Truth of God’s Word.
Proof that Chuck Smith’s counsel is not an anomaly among pro-life pastors is readily available now from online discussions. For example, on the Phoenix Preacher website, after some pastors stated that they would “support [Nicki’s family] in whatever choice they made,” a pastor offered this counsel:
Dear lady, you are in a position that no person should ever find themselves. You are faced with a decision that is so traumatic, so painful, so impossible to manage that I would never presume to judge you for your actions. Furthermore, I do not have enough information about the real nature of the facts. I simply cannot offer an adequate answer to your dilemma.
Consult your family, your doctors, and your pastors and make a decision so that you can deal with the implications. Be aware that you will feel guilt regardless of your decision. Be aware that you will pay a high cost regardless of your decision. However, I will tell you that if I were your pastor I would walk with you in love no matter what you do… and I will do my very best to prevent the body of Christ from dealing with you in judgment or condemnation. If you have the child/children we will stand behind you and offer our love and support in every way possible.
Furthermore it is my firm conviction that there is nothing in scripture to adequately address this situation. We have the knowledge of God;s love, care and compassion. We have clarity about his sovereign power to sustain you in every way. But we have no clarity about a birth of this nature. Do as your conscience and sense of God’s voice leads you. I am so sorry you have to face this awful decision. I do not know if I could face it.
Other pastors responded to the above advice (which is post #49 on the thread) with great enthusiasm:
That’s one of the finest things you’ve ever shared here.
Thank you… and amen.
You just modeled a true pastor’s heart & soul.
I am proud to say I know you
I too want to shout a hearty amen to your #49. I also think Don Stewart went a good way along that path having now listened to this five times. You said more, and you said better…..
you are a wonderful man of God with the heart of a pastor – it shows in your #49 which i must say “amen” to…
And I want to add my affirmation of #49… well said…..!
And lest we think that these pastors were just posting out of ignorance, all of the above comments came after others in the same discussion had explained how they were advised to abort their children (who were later born healthy), or how their mothers were told to abort them, or how conjoined twins have lived happy lives.
So do these comments reflect the counsel these pastors have been providing privately long before this controversy arose? As one pastor asks introspectively “I wonder how much of my private counsel to people would indict me if it were made public?” Another pastor responds with “Yep… I’d have a bigger problem than you….”
In essence, these pastors seem to equate having “the heart of a pastor” with being unequivocally compassionate, as they stand behind Pastor Chuck stating that “he erred (if he erred) on the side of compassion.” While it is commendable for pastors to be compassionate, shouldn’t the “heart of a pastor” be focused upon the Truth of God’s Word in addition to the needs of his flock (especially when innocent lives hang in the balance)? Does “love” trump “truth” in this case? No, we must speak the truth in love, not allowing ourselves to let go of either of these (seemingly opposing) extremes. We must also refuse to choose “mercy” over “justice,” or “mother” over “baby.” The Gospel encompasses truth and love, mercy and justice, mother and baby.
Even in a difficult case such as conjoined twins, God may prove a doctor’s prediction wrong. Conjoined twins Abigial and Brittany Hensel were not expected to survive their first night after birth, but they are now happy, healthy adult women. But what about if the conjoined twins do die at birth, as predicted by the doctor? Would it have been better for the mother to abort the babies? Lisa Chamberlain’s conjoined twins died at birth (as predicted by doctors) in July 2009, but she said “The moment they were placed in my arms was the best moment of my life.” If she had chosen to abort the babies due to a pastor’s counsel, she would have exchanged the best moment of her life for a lifetime of post-abortion regret.
I would like to hope that no matter what difficulties a pregnancy presents, a pastor could emphasize the way that (like the blind man Jesus encountered) our imperfections and sufferings provide more opportunities for God’s glory to shine through. But if a pastor like Chuck Smith feels that he doesn’t have enough knowledge about a particular case to provide life-affirming counsel to a woman he is dealing with, he should at least have the integrity to tell her “I don’t know the answer but I will find someone who does.” Many pregnancy help ministries would jump at the opportunity to help someone like Nicki find a life-affirming path through their “extenuating circumstances.” (And there are ministries like Choices Medical Clinic which specialize in bringing hope to seemingly hopeless pregnancies through perinatal hospice.)
When our daughter Amy told us what she had heard on Pastor’s Perspective on February 8, and when Pastor Chuck’s February 9 “clarification” magnified the problem, my hope was that God would use this situation to not only do a great work in the life of Nicki and her babies, but that He would also work to turn this scandal around, using a repentant Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel to help lead pastors to stop unintentionally preparing the way for abortionists instead of preparing the way for the glory of the Lord to be revealed through difficult pregnancies. At that time, before this exploded across the Internet, I intentionally focused our video efforts on displaying scriptures (knowing that a verse-by-verse study is the foundation of Pastor Chuck’s own belief system) rather than commenting extensively. But I looked forward to the time when I would have the opportunity to explain how addressing these problems is essential for today’s pro-life pastors. Now that Chuck Smith and his representatives have effectively closed the door to dialogue, this seemed to be the right time.
Although Pastor Chuck seems to be unmoved, determined to rebuff all of our private and public efforts toward this end, we continue to have reason to hope that God will set a new course, providing practical help for pro-life pastors very soon — hopefully before the end of this year. I remain thankful for the courageous pro-life pastors who refuse to compromise in any way with the culture of death. This post is not intended in any way as an indictment against such pastors. But even if just one pro-life pastor leads a woman down the path of death, we all still have work to do.
May God continue to use the publicity generated by Pastor Chuck’s handling of Nicki’s pregnancy to lead His shepherds to take more seriously their scriptural responsibility to protect the lives of vulnerable little ones in coming years.
(Note: later I wrote this follow-up post focusing on forgiveness after abortion, which further explains the scriptural danger of following Pastor Chuck’s counsel.)