October 2021 | Dave Brennan
Abortion victim photography: is it the Christian thing to do?
Dave Brennan presents something of the biblical case.
Transcript | The biblical case for using graphic abortion imagery
"Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them." Ephesians 5:11
Exposing evil visibly is a biblical thing to do. Now let me just address two objections to that. I hear objections a lot to this work. Let me just address two objections to exposing abortion visually.
Objection number one is, “This is offensive. This isn’t loving. This will put people off. This will make people feel bad.” A lot of people think that if something if offensive or someone finds something offensive it’s not the Christian thing to do. I hear this a lot. Now let’s just be clear, our intention in doing this is not purely to offend. We’re not going out to offend people for offence’s sake. We’re not just going round trying to find something to take issue with trivially and offend for its own sake. No. What’s our motivation? Our motivation is to get help for the victims, that they can be seen and get relief, and our motivation is to expose sin because unless sin is exposed, how can repentance happen? How can life happen? Both the victims of this injustice and the perpetrators knowing and unknowing, need to know the reality, otherwise they are stuck in the injustice, either as victims or perpetrators. Exposing is necessary. If we keep it hidden the victims can’t get help and the perpetrators can’t get repentance.
The prophets, John the Baptist, Jesus Christ and the apostles, were in the habit of exposing things in a way that was offensive. You know there’s a reason why almost every prophet and almost every apostle was put to death. It wasn’t because they never offended anyone. It’s because they offended people. It’s actually impossible to be a faithful Christian and not offend people. The gospel is an offence. The gospel is good news, but it’s also a declaration of war. Jesus is coming with a claim on the entire world to take back what is rightfully His, but currently is under the power of the devil, and he’s waging war against principalities, against rulers, against every thought that is against the ways of Christ. His gospel wages war against the desires of our hearts, our flesh. It’s warfare. The gospel is an offence because it’s aggressive against everything that’s evil and dark, and that’s in our hearts and around us. Scriptures tells us that everyone who wants to live a Godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. You only get persecuted if you offend people. We cannot say that because some people find this offensive we can’t do it. We just can’t say that biblically. It is loving and it is biblical to expose sin, so I wonder what’s really holding us back? Perhaps it’s self-love. We might say it’s loving other people, but maybe we’re trying to protect ourselves, avoid persecution. Maybe fear of man has got more of a grip on us than we realise. The Bible says that the fear of man’s a snare. It’s easy to fall into it. Perhaps we’ve fallen into the trap of believing what our culture tells us that what feels right is right, and making people feel better is how you love them. That’s not biblical.
Objection number two that I hear is, “Ok, well let’s say we’re fine with the offense of it, but surely we don’t need to resort to pictures. Surely words are enough?” They say to me, “Resorting to pictures – isn’t that just emotive? Can’t we just rely on arguments? We’re people of The Word. We don’t need pictures, we’ve just got The Word.” The thing is, it’s a false dichotomy, because in The Word, in the Bible, what do we see? The use of imagery all the time. From beginning to end, how does God speak to His people? Yes, through words, but also through pictures, visions, dreams, all the way right through to Revelation, striking visions. And then God’s servants, the prophets, Old Testament and New, use visual imagery to get their point across, as well as words, Old Testament and New. Think of Agabus taking Paul’s belt from him. He tied his hands to show what was going to happen to Paul. It was visual. Jesus often used visual aids, didn’t He? He took the coin – “Whose inscription is on this?” There was a visual aspect to so much of what Jesus did. There were signs and wonders that were visible, and of course the crucifixion itself was an intensely visible, public affair, horrific to look at, but He didn’t hide it away. God in his sovereignty chose a very public place on the very busiest day of the year for a gruesome death. He didn’t hide the visual aspect. The prophets, Old Testament for example, Ezekiel, had to lie on his side for 390 days and then 40 days on the other side, to show the sins of Israel. He was commanded by the Lord, Ezekiel 4, to cook food on human excrement, to burn human excrement, to show what was going to happen to Jerusalem. And do you know what he did? He protested to the Lord, “No Lord, I can’t do this,” not because it was uncomfortable, not because it was unpleasant, not because it was going to be offensive, but purely because he didn’t want to be ceremonially unclean. That would have made him ceremonially unclean, so he protested and the Lord relented, and said, “Okay, do it over cow manure instead”. But the visual impact was the same. The point was being made. It is totally unbiblical to think that the use of imagery, even shocking, offensive imagery doesn’t belong.
But the most striking example I can give you, if you can turn with me please to Judges 19, and I’m going to give you this one example before we come to close. Just to give you the back story here - horrific story where this Levite concubine had been horribly abused and was murdered when she was staying in the town in Benjamin, and here’s what happened next. This is chapter 19:29. “When He reached home, [so the concubine has died by this point already] he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts and sent them into all the areas of Israel.” Why did he do that? “Everyone who saw it said, “Such a thing has never been done or seen, not since the day the Israelites came up out of Egypt. Think about it. Consider it. Tell us what to do.” Do you see what the visual impact of this was? It led to action. Read on with me. “Then all the Israelites from Dan to Beersheeba and from the land of Gilead came out as one man and assembled before the Lord in Mizpah. The leaders of all the people in the tribes of Israel took their places in the assembly of the people of God, 400,000 soldiers armed with swords. (The Benjamites heard that the Israelites had gone up to Mizpah.) Then the Israelites said, “Tell us how this awful thing happened.” So the Levite, the husband of the murdered woman said, “I and my concubine came to Benjamin to spend the night. During the night the men of Gibea came after me and surrounded the house, intending to kill me. They raped my concubine, and she died. I took my concubine, cut her into pieces and sent one piece to each region of Israel’s inheritance, because the committed this lewd and disgraceful act in Israel. Now, all you Israelites, speak up and give your verdict.” All the people rose as one man saying, “None of us will go home. No, not one of us will return to his house. But this is what we’ll do to Gibea: We’ll go up against it as the Lord directs.””
Do you see what happened there? Evil was exposed visually and it brought about this radical righteous action on the part of God’s people. It wasn’t words alone. It was the imagery that did it. So, friends, we might feel squeamish about exposing evil visually, but God doesn’t share our squeamishness. We might object to exposing abortion visually, but God does it, the apostles did it, the prophets did it, Jesus himself did it. Aren’t words enough? Well God doesn’t seem to think so actually. Because if words are enough, why did he use pictures as well? Evil must be exposed, and I can’t go into this now, but I want to commend a video on our website: cbruk.org/endabortion
And you can see that this has been played out in the history of social reform. Every injustice that’s ever been ended was ended because it was exposed visually, and that’s something that Martin Luther King Jr understood better than anyone else, when he said, “Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.”