February 16, 2012

Have you ever spent hours on a puzzle only to find out there are a few pieces missing? If you step back, the picture looks so beautiful and yet not quite complete. Maybe it’s a part of a leaf, or the tip of the kitten’s ear, or a brick in the foundation of a castle. You want to celebrate your accomplishment of assembling all these pieces! However, knowing that there are gaps in the smooth surface of assembled pieces dampens the celebration a bit.

Consider the attempt to build a culture of life. Gallup polls show that Americans between the ages of 18-29 are becoming increasingly pro-life. (1) Hooray! I read everywhere that our young people are more pro-life than their parents. These are the future leaders who could turn the pro-choice tide in our country to one of the belief in the sanctity of life. Abortions will decrease; old people will be valued; ethical research will be conducted without endangering human life. I pray that this is so. It certainly creates a nice picture!

But a recent encounter has caused me to step back and wonder if there aren’t some missing pieces in this nice picture. A few weeks ago, I was working at an event for expectant parents and met a woman carrying her eighth child. Now, I get really excited about big families. I admire couples who go against the world’s idea that limiting the number of children you have to one or two is being responsible. So, I had to smile when I heard this woman say this was her eighth child. However, her next statement revealed that she was not married. I don’t know if she had ever been married, but it was obvious that this child was conceived and would be born outside of marriage. This concerned me. On one hand, in today’s culture of death, a woman could easily abort a child who has come at an inconvenient time or will make a family too large. Thank you for choosing life, I thought. But, like that puzzle, I had this feeling that my picture was missing a piece and it wasn’t quite right.

The woman moved on to another booth and again she was asked about the number of children she had. This is when I heard her proudly proclaim “I’m very pro-life!” Again, I looked at my puzzle picture and felt something was missing. Is this what pro-life means to our young people? To not abort children is commendable, but to conceive them in temporary relationships is inconsequential? According to an analysis of census statistics by the Pew Research Center, just 51 percent of all adults who are 18 and older are married. As Andrew J. Cherlin, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist who studies families says, “In the 1950s marriage was mandatory. Now it’s culturally optional.” (2) Add to that the fact that according to familyfacts.org, more than 4 in 10 children are now born to unwed mothers, a six-fold increase since 1960.(3) 

Putting together a puzzle can be difficult. As Christians, we have filled in some of the pieces that the world may ignore. We have the Word of God to guide us. We have the Gospel to offer to those who feel trapped in their sins. We have people who are willing to care for the pregnant teen, adopt children when their mother cannot raise them, and speak forgiveness to those who have made wrong choices. Our puzzle is so much more complete because of God giving us those missing pieces. We need to keep these pieces in the puzzle! We need to thank God for giving us those pieces!

But, what are the missing pieces and how do we address them? To start a discussion, I offer the following possible issues that must be addressed if we are to truly build a culture of life. I know there are more. I know there are better ways to articulate them. But I hope these will stimulate others to identify and address the pieces that keep the culture-of-life puzzle from becoming complete.

Acceptance of the worldly ideas of sexuality. We may be more pro-life but, at the same time, less equipped to guard life because our identity as “sexual persons” will reign supreme. Is it enough to celebrate our youth turning away from abortion? Are we teaching our children that sexual desires are natural and acting on them is unavoidable? Or, are we teaching them that as children of God, we can turn away from sinful desires and focus our actions on glorifying God, not man?

Diminishing God’s gift of marriage. Even within Christian families, marriage is no longer the strongest hope for our children. Parents allow their children to date at an early age. But, even if the right person comes into our son or daughter’s life, early marriages are frowned upon. Marriage prevents our children from achieving their education, getting the perfect job, paying off their student loans, and other “goals” in life. Instead of considering God’s desire for His children to form families and to have children as a lofty goal, marriage is one of many equally important goals. Are we setting our children up for failure when we accept sexuality but restrict marriage?

Incorrectly applying Law and Gospel. The proper application of Law and Gospel is essential in building a culture of life. Yes, we need to offer God’s grace and forgiveness to the young woman facing a crisis pregnancy. But we also need to address the sin that caused this situation. God’s grace forgives again and again, but what do we say to someone who repeatedly has children outside of marriage? I’ve heard it said “When you sin, which you will, come to the Church to receive forgiveness.” Do we teach the Law with the caveat that we expect our young people to sin? How do we make sure the law is taught without scaring the sinner away before they hear the Gospel? Praise God for those pastors who understand and apply both Law and Gospel correctly!

Is the pro-life movement missing something? Is the Church missing something? Will we take the opportunity to speak out For Life, but not against immorality? Sexuality, marriage, law or Gospel—puzzle pieces that need to be addressed if we are to complete our culture of life puzzle. May the Holy Spirit guide the discussion.

Karen Frohwein is president of Lutherans For Life of Iowa.

(1) www.gallup.com/poll/118399/more-americans-pro-life-than-pro-choice-first-time.aspx

(2) Married Couples at a Record Low. Washington Post. 12/12/2011. www.washingtonpost.com/local/married-couples-at-a-record-low/2011/12/13/gIQAnJyYsO_story.html

(3) familyfacts.org/charts/205/more-than-four-in-10-children-are-born-to-unwed-mothers?utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=culturewatch