As a recent recipient of the Sacraments of Initiation of the Catholic Church and a former Assembly of God minister, I want to share how the Assembly of God position paper on abortion was part of my journey home to the Catholic Church. Growing up as a pentecostal (protestant) Christian, I had a distinct awareness that as Christians, we were pro-life and anti-abortion. Growing up during the market-driven, church growth fanaticism of the 80’s and 90’s I would often hear differing views regarding the controversial topic of abortion, as many would claim that in cases of incest, rape, possible death of the mother, or other circumstances the life of the baby could be terminated. These views were never articulated clearly or thoughtfully in my experience, but somehow were imparted to me.
As an adult and a protestant minister, I found myself in need of better defined doctrine to be best equipped to shepherd and lead the people under my care and direction. In the protestant world there are as many doctrines as opinions and as many opinions as their are people regrading any topic you could imagine, hence the search for consensus outside of emotional feelings and notions is difficult in those communities.
I was initially drawn to the Assemblies of God as a denomination because of it’s shared statement of fundamental truths, and other reasons not pertinent to this writing. I am regretful and embarrassed to admit, I never read the position paper of the AG regarding abortion before pursuing ministerial recognition with that organization.
But in my quest for truth and on my journey to the Catholic Church, I took my family to a publicized pro-life rally in Tucson. I was very curious if I would encounter any other denominations in attendance. Upon arriving, I found I was the only protestant. You may ask how I knew, well, when they all prayed the rosary, I figured it out quickly. After that, I went back and I finally took the time to research the AG’s position on abortion. I knew where the Catholic stood publicly on it, but where did my origination stand?
The first document I found was the AG abortion position paper. Not much information, doctrinal position or direction is given there and a is a short outline of a larger paper on the Sanctity of Human Life. In the latter we find a longer but still incomplete and open ended explanation of the position of the AG on this most important topic.
The paper admits, “The nobility of human beings is seen in the divine mandate: “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:28)”, and admits that, “At the end of life, all persons will stand before God to give account for their actions”, but regarding contraception and any interpretation or application of these statements it fails to convey anything substantial, instead stating, “these are matters of personal conscience”, hence not giving any real direction for a life pleasing unto God.
Regarding contraception, some explanation is given that the IUD and morning after pill are ‘some methods’ that abort. The language falls short of conveying a clear message to the reader that these methods citied are specifically the murder of a baby. There is wholesale ambiguity regarding contraception and an uninformative explanation that life doesn’t begin until the sperm fertilized the egg.
Regarding In Vitro Fertilization, the first item the AG is concerned about is the cost, rather than moral implications. Other concerns are stated after, such as unwanted embryos. Rather than giving direction, more ambiguity is given in, “prayerfully seek godly and knowledgeable counsel, and engage medical professionals with compatible ethical standards”.
Regarding abortion specifically, the AG admits that it is evil, and stresses ‘sexual responsiblity’ eluding that a decrease in sexual activity will somehow affect a lower abortion rate, affectively conceding that when there’s sex there must be abortion.
Thankfully, a portion of the paper is given to Biblical citations of the life and personhood of the unborn. But then the argument that seems to seperate many comes up, namely, the life of the mother. The AG concedes that incidents of this kind: the risk of the mother’s life in child birth, are extremely rare in our modern era. But then goes onto make a bold, bothersome and possibly a heretical claim, “historic Christian faith usually has favored the life of the mother above that of the unborn child”. And those who make the decision to take the life of their baby in preference of their own are given the advice that they do it, “responsibly and with a clear conscience, (sic) what will be a very painful decision”.
We can see in this position paper, an emphasis on personal conscience as opposed to adherence to a truth outside ourselves and outside of our conscience. Why does it matter and whose business is it? It’s all of our business and it matters immensely.
Mother Teresa is quoted as saying, “If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for us to kill each other.”
The review and critique of this position paper cited was not the deciding factor in my decision to become catholic but was a significant step on my way. It highlights the confusion, infidelity, incongruence, confusion, and plethora of ideas, notions, and opinions present in the protestant world, and denies absolute truth. It also puts the protestant christian in exactly the place the world puts them except now they have some guilt attached to their difficult decision no matter what they do, because the truth they sought was not given outside of themselves, rather, in a moment of life crisis, they’re told once again to follow their conscience. And that at a time of raised and frazzled emotions. And then they are left the rest of their lives to wonder if their conscience was lined up with God’s Divine Law.
This “dictate of conscience” teaching kills the Good News of Jesus Christ and is opposed to the authority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Truth. There is a singular truth about Him and Who He is. In the same way, in the family and in family life, there is singular truth for life and conduct. The Good News is repent and believe. There is no room in the good news for ‘dictate of conscience’.
I was moved to study the teaching of the Catholic Church. In the beginning of my journey to the Church, I found myself listening to all the Fulton Sheen material I could get. Fulton Sheen says in one teaching on women, “Every woman in the world was designed to be a mother. She has to have some occasion to be kind and merciful to others. She cannot look at a limping dog, a flower with a broken stem, without her heart and hands going out to these things. She is the custodian of life.” Such beautiful words setting an expectation for motherhood. He goes on to say, “She does most in the incarnation of what comes of the love of a husband and wife. She teaches wisdom through obedience.”
These teachings and more challenged me as to how I viewed not only abortion, but women in general. I began to think about motherhood and how the child receives life from the life of the mother. Her body responds with physical changes to impart life to the child. Her body is literally made to give its life to the child. How could someone tell her not to do what she is designed and instinctually wants to do?
As I sought Truth, I began a study of the early church fathers. I found that going all the way back to 50 a.d., the church taught (Didache), “you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill what is begotten.” Barnabas wrote (75 a.d.), “you shall not slay the child by procuring abortions nor shall you destroy it after it is born”. And Athenagoras of Athens wrote (177 a.d.), “…we say the those women who use drugs to bring on abortion commit murder, and will have to give an account to God for the abortion..”. Minucius Felix writes (226 a.d.), There are some women who, by drinking medical preparations, extinguish the source of the future man in their bowels and thus commit a parrricide before they bring forth, and these things assuredly come down from the teachings of your gods….To us it is not lawful either to see or to hear of homicide.” And there are many more citations of church fathers admonishing us to preserve the life in the womb, too numerous to write here. And there are as many citations of teachings against contraception, which we can address in another blog. But suffice to say, our beliefs regarding contraception influence our entire disposition toward sex. If the goal of sex is only pleasure and new life is only a by product and that, when desired, then it won’t be long before we have fallen prey to the spirit of this age and it’s false morality.
But to learn anything, let us now look to the life of the Our Lord Jesus Christ. He Himself teaches us what love is, what is looks like, and how it behaves. He says that God loved, so He gave. What did He give? He gave it all, in His Son Jesus. Jesus loved, so what did He do? He gave. He gave Himself on the Cross for the sins of the world. Love gives. Love pours out. Love does not count the cost and hold anything back.
Any normal mother would quickly exchange positions with her dying child, or push their child out of the way of bus, possibly getting injured or killed herself. We expect this. How can it be any different when the child is in the womb?
Truth is knowable and abortion is either right or wrong: Abortion is wrong.
Our Holy Catholic Church is faithful to the teaching of Our Lord, we must not take the life of the unborn in any circumstance or way. We Catholics stand for the unborn. We say they are persons. We say they are persons at inception and have a soul. We say this no matter the opinions of the culture. We say what the church teaches, our opinions take a ‘back seat’. We trust that the Holy Spirit guides our Church into all Truth, as Our Lord Promised.
In an age of situational ethics, moral, subjective truth, and morality relativism, the orthodox teachings of the Catholic Church give us safe harbor. The unchanging dogmas and her teachings are the teachings of Jesus as given to the Apostles and their successors. There is no need for us who would follow Jesus to rely solely on our conscience or the writing of some protestant marketing guru. We may run to that bulwark of truth, the Holy Catholic Church and find rest for our soul, as she gives out the teachings of Our Lord.
And I have found, though a sinner through and through, I find forgiveness in that Sacrament of Second Baptism, the Sacrament of Confession. For all sin there is an answer, and it is forgiveness, mercy and pardon, which our Lord has provided for us.
So in closing, I say, let us return to the Faith of Our Fathers. That faith in Christ and His Church that turned the world upside right more than once before. Now is the time to turn in our doctrinal opinions in exchange for the unchanging truth of Jesus Christ.