The Freedom of Abundant Life
As I’ve reflected on my work in the pro-life movement, I’ve been struck by how the right to life is embedded in the very documents Americans hold most dear in the founding of the nation.
The Declaration of Independence states that we have three unalienable rights that have been given to us by our Creator, “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Note that life comes first. After all, you can’t have liberty or pursue happiness if you don’t first have life.
The Preamble of the U.S. Constitution similarly indicates that an important purpose of establishing a federal government is to allow us to “secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.”
Protecting and defending the unborn is central to our pursuit of freedom as Americans.
Protecting and defending the unborn is central to our pursuit of freedom as Americans. How free can we be if we don’t proactively secure freedom for our fellow citizens, born and unborn?
The rest of the story
But as Christians, we must know that there is more to the story. For over 40 years, the pro-life movement has been almost exclusively focused on saving lives of unborn babies. This is clearly a God-honoring, noble, and necessary goal. However, the number of abortions per year in the United States has remained at above 800,000 annually and is not declining as rapidly as we would hope. Therefore the pro-life movement must redouble its efforts to address several key issues contributing to and affected by abortion.
Abortion does not exist in isolation. It is linked to the breakdown of marriage, the absence of fathers from family life, and the breakdown of support for and trust in religious institutions. Accordingly, a new movement must form whose basis is the “pro abundant life” perspective Christ himself calls us to in John 10:10.
We don’t have to develop a pro abundant life perspective on the “life issue” – it is laid out perfectly in the Bible.
We don’t have to develop a pro abundant life perspective on the “life issue” – it is laid out perfectly in the Bible. This new “movement” doesn’t have to be invented; it simply has to be recovered. Both of the “pillars” that uphold this pro abundant life movement are found in the gospels, at the beginning of Christ’s story here on earth and in his last actions before ascending to heaven. Those pillars are God’s design for family and God’s call to discipleship. Let me explain.
Abundant Life - Family
The first chapters of both Matthew and Luke, through the story of Christ’s birth, tell us the “why” and the “what” of conducting effective pro abundant life ministry.
Mary’s pregnancy with Jesus is the most famous “unplanned pregnancy” in history; it was certainly unplanned from Mary’s perspective, who had hopes and dreams for her future that did not include a child at that time and in that way. But when she was visited by the angel Gabriel, despite her uncertainty about her future, she bravely chose life without hesitation, saying, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38) Indeed, when ministering to women faced with unplanned pregnancies, we are essentially encouraging them to ascribe the character and virtue of Mary to their lives and situations.
But God did not stop there. Scripture could have been written so that Christ comes into the world through a single mother. It would have fulfilled God’s purpose to have the Word become flesh and dwell among us (John 1:14). But it would have violated God’s principles concerning the importance and centrality of marriage and the family to God’s design. Therefore, God sent the same angel to Joseph to tell him to be a husband to Mary and a father to the child growing inside of her (Matt. 1:20-21).
Remember, Joseph’s intention as a righteous man was to divorce Mary quietly (Matt. 1:19) so she could avoid the public humiliation of having a child out-of-wedlock. But God’s actions reveal that his desire was for Joseph to be part of the story; for Jesus to have both a mother and a father, and for Mary to have a husband. The Creator of marriage and family understood that the best environment for raising a child was within the shelter of a loving marriage, even when the child was Jesus. And this was done, like everything in Jesus’ life, as an example for us all.
This story teaches us that we should not fight abortion based solely on the premise that it is a violation of the sanctity of human life, but also because it is a violation of the sanctity of marriage and the family as God designed them – a mother and father united in marriage, loving each other, their child, and God. There is our “why” for pro abundant life ministry.
The way God ministers to both Mary and Joseph to bring them to a life decision shows us the “what.” Our work in providing compassion, hope, and help to women and men considering abortion must address them as individuals, and as a potential family to be nurtured and lovingly guided towards the value of healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood.
Moreover, God’s intervention illustrates the transformative power that only relationship with him can bring. Both Mary and Joseph were overwhelmed by the compassion that God gave them in a difficult situation, and their subsequent actions – choosing life, traveling to Bethlehem to give birth, fleeing to Egypt to avoid Herod, returning to Nazareth (Matt. 1:18 – 2:23) – were shaped by his immeasurable grace.
Abundant Life - Discipleship
This reality illustrates the need for pro-life ministries to make sharing of the gospel part of their work to end abortion. Evangelism can’t be an afterthought, but instead, must be recognized as the game-changer it is. It is what differentiates a “transactional business” from a “transformational ministry.” The central difference between the work of pregnancy centers and abortion clinics, is that we are interested in transformation, not retail-style transactions
However, evangelism is only the first step towards transformation. The next step is discipleship, the second pillar of the pro abundant life perspective.
While the story of Christ’s birth gets us started, the story of Christ’s final interaction with his disciples shows us how to round out our work. In Matthew 28:16-20, Christ gives his disciples the Great Commission, to “go and make disciples of all the nations” and to “teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”
The institution charged with making disciples is the church. However, few churches are proactively engaged in pro-life ministry. Instead, para-church ministries have emerged – such as life-affirming pregnancy centers – to take ownership of this critical work. Is that really God’s design? Para-church ministries should work alongside the church in its work to end abortion. Instead, too many churches view themselves as coming alongside para-church ministries to help them (usually financially and with volunteers). This framework needs to be reversed.
Places like pregnancy centers are designed to work with women and men during pregnancy and maybe for a short time after the delivery of the baby. But discipleship is a lifetime process that can only be handled by the church and the community of Christians.
That is why Care Net has developed Making Life Disciples, the first and only curriculum designed to equip the church to provide compassion, hope, help, and discipleship to women and men considering abortion. It trains churches to walk women and men through tough pregnancy decisions, and also provides the “on-ramp” churches need to enter into discipleship relationships with those they serve.
The good news is that there are over 400,000 churches in the country. While pregnancy centers are amazing ministries doing amazing work from conception to birth, there simply aren’t enough of them to reach every abortion-minded woman or man who needs help long term. This is the role of the church.
A “Pro Abundant Life” Message
The pro abundant life movement is built upon two pillars – family and discipleship. Care Net’s vision is that we create a culture where women and men faced with pregnancy decisions are transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ and empowered to choose life for their unborn children and abundant life for their families.
The pro abundant life movement is built upon two pillars – family and discipleship.
Over 60 million babies have died in the United States since Roe v. Wade was decided. Abortion is an assault on the sanctity of life and the sanctity of marriage and the family as God designed. Our work must offer the compassion, hope and help that mothers, fathers, and unborn children desperately need while casting a compelling vision and call to them to form stable and loving families and to enter into life-giving relationships with Jesus Christ. To do all of this, pro abundant life messaging and outreach are essential.
Indeed, our very freedom as Americans depends on it.
Roland C. Warren is the President and CEO of Care Net. A graduate of Princeton University and the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, Roland is an inspirational servant leader with a heart for Christ and a mind for business. After 20 years in the corporate world (with IBM, Pepsi, and Goldman Sachs), Roland spent 11 years as president of National Fatherhood Initiative before joining Care Net in 2012 as president and CEO.