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Talking about abortion: emotionally harmful to women?

Updated: Oct 25, 2023

Podcast Transcript | About Abortion with Dave Brennan

Emotionally harmful to women? Soul or Spirit? Ft. Beth Davey | 20 Sept 2022 | Episode 15

Dave Brennan: Hello and welcome to this week's episode of About Abortion. I'm Dave Brennan, and I'm here with Beth. Beth, thanks for joining us. Great to have you again. For those who didn't catch Beth a few weeks ago, we did an episode together on the image of God. So I really do recommend going back and listening to that. That was a really helpful episode, looking at what the Bible has to say about why human beings matter and what it really means to be made in the image of God. But today we're looking at something a bit different.

But Beth, we introduced you a bit last time, didn't we? You are married to the man behind the camera, Gwil, who our viewers may not know, be able to recognise his face or voice, but he is the man behind all of this. And you’ve just got back from Wilberforce, haven't you?

Beth Davey: A fantastic time away.

Dave Brennan: Tell us, what is Wilberforce?

Beth Davey: So the Wilberforce Academy is an academy run by Christian Concern, which is seeking to equip people aged eighteen to twenty five in how to apply Biblical worldviews to their areas of work. So it's for people in media, in medicine, in education, in business, all these things, and how we can really live out what it means to be Christian in those areas.

Dave Brennan: That's really helpful actually, because what we're looking at today is how we bring a Christian worldview to bear on a secular society. And that's very much the heart of what we're going to be looking at today. So that's great that you've come fresh from there.

Before we proceed, we do need to do something very cringe, which I've been resisting for some time. We need to beg people to like us. We are asking you to subscribe, comment, and share. Hit the bell. You need to hit a bell, apparently. Please do that. That would be great. It is a bit cringe isn't it? It's a bit like sitting on the friendship bench, isn't it?

Beth Davey: Oh, I did that. In first school I was the one who sat on the friendship bench. It was where you sat if you had no friends in the hopes that someone might come and befriend you there. And I got to play with some Tamagotchis, if you remember Tamagotchis?

Dave Brennan: I do. This is a really inspiring story of how the friendship bench can work. So we are asking you to sit on our virtual friendship bench today by liking, subscribing, commenting, sharing, and dinging a bell. But seriously, it's not us you’re liking, it's this podcast. And to my knowledge, this is the only podcast in the UK, (this is no exaggeration,) speaking truth into the issue of abortion, bringing God's word to bear on this. It's the greatest issue of our day, morally speaking. This is the one, and there are no other podcasts out there. So the problem is of course, if someone goes on to Google and just searches for abortion, they're just going to be bombarded with propaganda that's supporting the baby genocide. So if you can just help our algorithms, we can get the message out there and people will find this instead of the sorts of lies that will encourage the taking of innocent life. So you're not befriending us, you're befriending the unborn. So please do that.

Today's a bit different, isn't it? Beth, what we're doing today is we're going to respond some feedback, and we've got an email here. Now, just by way of context, I went to speak in a church some months ago. And it's a very large church actually, and certainly a church that I would say is Biblical and is seeking to be Biblical very intentionally. Indeed it has pretty much got that in the title of the church. And yet as one would expect within that church, a great diversity of people and ideas and so on.

And interestingly, the response to this church on the day was one of the strongest I've ever encountered. People coming up to the front, committing themselves, recommitting in prayer to the Lord, committing to take action on this vital issue. A very responsive church. A lot of positive feedback, but then also this email, which we're going to read through in just a moment. When I received this email I was troubled by some of the things I was reading and felt it deserved an adequate response. I wrote back to the sister who wrote to me and said, “Look I really want to do justice to this and give you a full response, but I'm conscious by email that's going to take a long time. And actually, how would you feel about us doing a podcast on it? Because then others can benefit from thinking about these issues.” And to her great credit, this sister got back to me and said, “By all means, do a podcast on it and send me the link.” We're reading this through with her permission. We've taken out any personal bits so she can't be identified, including the name of the church.

But the reason we are doing this is that it brings to the surface a number of issues that are shared by many in the UK church. And I thought it'd be a benefit to others to hear us talk these things through in the light of scripture. So the plan is, Beth, you're going to read it. I'm going to pause you just a couple of times to clarify some minor points and then we're going to talk through it. In these episodes, we're getting to the point now where we've set the landscape of abortion in the UK and we're coming to the conclusion that the great issue in a sense is not abortion, but the great issue is the church with regard to abortion. And I think what this email helps us to understand is just how deep that problem is. That's where we're going. So Beth, would you kindly just read this out to us?

Beth Davey:Following on from your talk on abortion at [the church] a few weeks ago, I felt a stir in my spirit, which led me to ask the Lord to help me to write and express some of my thoughts and views on this very difficult and emotive subject in relation to my personal experience on that Sunday.

Speaking as a Christian with my nurse's hat on, I couldn't help but feel troubled by the amount of women who left the church in tears during the sermon and after the video. I was concerned by the risk of emotional harm that could have been caused to these women who may already have been in a vulnerable place. And I believe no person should ever expect to come to the church, their place of worship and be subjected to any form of harm. Even though I realise this would not have been your intention.

Having listened to Pauline Peachy talking on her podcasts from her own experience, I agree with her views on the high levels of sensitivity that we should be using with women who have had abortions and may well be suffering with PTSD, as such, I gauge from the reactions of many, not just those who left the church early, that some women may not have been ready to watch such an explicit and brutal video on abortion.

Dave Brennan: Just pause you there for a second. Just to clarify what happened there and what happens whenever I go to speak at a church. It is true, there is a moment in the presentation where I do give people the opportunity to see the reality of abortion. And I won't go into the details now of why I do that, but if people want to see how I do that, there are probably literally dozens of videos on YouTube, etc. giving examples of that. The one thing I just want to clarify here is that I always give plenty of warning, a good few minutes of warning, and I make it very easy for people to opt out of that and say, “Look, that's not for me.”

I even say that often. I say, look, maybe this isn't for you. Maybe you can't look at this. I know, for example, my own mother chooses not to look at it. She doesn't need to see it. She's already totally convinced. I believe she's seen it in the past anyway. But whenever she gets the opportunity nowadays, she doesn’t, and it's made possible for her not to. And so there is that optout. This is not sprung on people. It's up to them. So what we're talking about here is people who've chosen to leave and not see it, or people who have seen it by choice, but they've been upset.

Beth Davey:At the beginning of your presentation when you talked about forgiveness and no condemnation for women who have had terminations, I felt the spirit inside me became grieved, and I didn't understand why at the time, but after seeking God I had more clarity.

A majority of women who have had termination of pregnancies do so lawfully under the authority of the NHS. They are cared for and guided by medical professionals who offer choices to women, and at no time are told that any of these decisions are wrong. In fact specifically, medical staff are told to hold back from using terminology with women who are considering, or have had terminations, which could be construed as suggesting that they are wrong or did the wrong thing. That said, medical professionals without being judgemental are obliged by their employer, the NHS, supported by the law of the land, to facilitate the abortion process.”

Dave Brennan: Pause just very briefly, just a minor correction here. Doctors do have the conscientious objection possibility still under law. So they don't have to be involved in facilitating abortions. Certainly some doctors, nurses, etc., are put in very difficult situations. It may be easier or harder to use that right to conscientiously object. But I just want to clarify, it's not quite true that NHS workers are obliged to.

Beth Davey: “As such, it is my strongly held belief that those who support the mission of saving the unborn child should target the legislative authority, rather than telling the women they are wrong, and need forgiveness for acting under the authority God has allowed.

Romans 13 v1, ‘Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God’.

As you're aware, the NHS lays out three choices for women with an unplanned pregnancy; to continue with their pregnancy and keep the baby, to continue with the pregnancy and consider adoption, and finally, a termination of their pregnancy. At a time when women are at their most vulnerable and distressed due to their situation, the NHS advise that she talks this through with a parent, family member, close friend, counsellor, or professional, to come to the best decision. Information on adoption is provided and a list of counselling organisations are also provided. If, however, she opts to terminate the pregnancy, then to be told afterwards that she was wrong to make the decision is completely going against the ‘established by God’ authority that the woman came under.

I believe there are so many ways in this world we are called to preserve life, and I certainly think there are ways we can work with women to not only help prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also to help prevent termination of pregnancies in a way that never makes a woman feel bad about doing what she was led to do under the lawful authority of the medical professional.

Maybe the health authority were wrong to offer abortions. But as a follower of Jesus, to point a finger and say the woman is wrong, especially before hearing her individual circumstance, I feel could potentially be very damaging. To save the unborn, I believe we have first to save the woman, come alongside, support. Do not judge them or withhold reassurance as the PASE leaflet suggests after they have been through such a potentially traumatic experience under the correct medical authority. To sum up, I do not think a woman in a desperate place, and coming under the law of the land, should be named as wrong by mankind for making her decision.

In John 8 v7, when Jesus protected the prostitute in response to being questioned, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let any of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Thank you for reading my perspective, and of course I remain open to further discussion. God Bless.”

Dave Brennan: Brilliant. Thank you, Beth. And again, all credit to this sister of ours who wrote and shared these thoughts and that's what we need so much in the church. It's what this podcast is about. We’ve got to bring this stuff to surface and talk about it. And I hope people can hear the spirit in which we're approaching this. I'm genuinely grateful that this has been brought to the surface. So thank you to that sister. So, Beth, we haven't colluded on this at all yet, have we?

Beth Davey: No, not yet. This is the first time we're going to discuss it together.

Dave Brennan: That's right. So I'm fascinated to hear, what did you make of this? At first reading, what, if anything, jumped out to you, anything you think needs looking at?

Beth Davey: On reading it, the first thing that jumped out to me was when this person said, “speaking as a Christian with my nurse's hat on”. To me it seemed that primarily it was looking at it through a medical lens, through the professional lens rather than coming to it through the lens of scripture, which as I was saying, at Wilberforce, this is something that was really encouraged even in this medical field, that we can approach things first and foremost through scripture rather than just through what medical professionals say.

Dave Brennan: Certainly that's something that hit me pretty hard when I first read it and I think it's quite common that people will adopt a certain persona, as a teacher or as a lawyer, as a medic, as a counsellor in particular. And this sort of persona comes with a whole set of rules, and its own morality, almost its own worldview. “I'm a Christian, but as a counsellor of course, I can't be directive. It's for the client to decide what's right for them”. I don’t know how we might label this, but I was thinking earlier, it's almost quite simply secularism in the church. It's a secular mindset that we adopt almost a godless perspective in certain situations, rather than taking our Bibles with us.

Beth Davey: It's this idea that there are areas of neutrality, and we can enter those areas of neutrality and kind of have our Christian bit on the side. But in actual fact there is no neutrality. Everything is coming through a morality or a worldview that is saying certain things are good and certain things are bad.

And so within the NHS there's this idea that it's this neutral field, it's neither good nor bad. There's no moral negative or positive to it. But in actuality some of the things that they say are okay, from a Christian perspective, we're saying that it is not morally neutral. They're making moral absolutes about these things.

Dave Brennan: That's absolutely correct, for example, our sister here remarks correctly, “medical staff are told to hold back from using terminology with women who are considering or have had terminations, which could be construed as suggesting that they are doing or did the right or wrong thing”.

That is correct. They are trained to use language that seeks to suck the morality out of this issue and suggest it's “just a medical procedure, there's no right and wrong here”, but of course, that itself is a moral judgment. It's like saying, “Look, when it comes to racism, let's not be judgemental here. There's no right or wrong. Some people are racist, some people aren't. It's up to them.”

And yet, because so many have sought to construe abortion as a medical issue, it belongs in the medical world. Hands off. We can't touch it with our moral judgements. And yet, of course, that itself is a moral judgment. Saying it's okay to kill a baby is a moral judgment.

So we've been hoodwinked by this secular worldview. And we're playing ball with it, which is quite concerning. And I think it's one of the deeper issues we're up against with regard to abortion. It's not just that the church has failed to understand this singular issue, or is unaware of the facts. It's a whole web of ideas and attitudes that means we've hardly even got the foundations to approach this issue correctly because our foundations are so unstable.

Beth Davey: I agree.

Dave Brennan: Anything else jump out at you in particular?

Beth Davey: Yes. Even in that first paragraph, still this idea about what is the purpose of church jumped out. The talk about “the risk of emotional harm”, people shouldn't expect to come to church “and be subjected to any form of harm”. What is the role of the church? Are you expecting to go just to feel good about yourself? Or are you expecting to go to church and be challenged by your way of life and things that you haven't submitted to the Lordship of Christ, areas that you still need to repent on? What is the role of the church?

Dave Brennan: That's really interesting because just to remind us this email said “no one should ever expect to come to church, their place of worship and be subjected to any form of harm”. Now, I'd agree with that. However, how are we using this word harm? And what's really interesting in this email, again, this is not by any means unique, (I've come across this in some other places, in recent history actually) this idea that being upset is equivalent to being harmed, and therefore offense is equivalent to violence. That if I've offended or upset someone, I might as well have punched them.

Now, there's a story behind that if people are interested. About a year ago, we were on the streets of Norwich. You were there that day, when one of our team got punched and the policeman actually said that what we were doing by causing offense was equivalent to punching someone. So who’s to say in a law court, whether the judge would find in favour of the one who was punched or the one who felt offended?

And he was trying to suggest that they're equivalent. But again, that way of thinking has made its way into the church. This idea that, there's risk of emotional harm. Upset, yes I'd agree. If you look at the issue of the baby genocide, yes, there's a risk of being upset. That's an emotionally healthy response that shows you've got a functioning conscience. But is that harm? Is it damage? I'd say no. We got to come back to scripture on this. Some scriptures that came to mind were in 2 Corinthians. Paul talks about these two kinds of sorrow. The Corinthians have been quite upset by Paul's challenge to them, his letters and so on. And Paul says in 2 Corinthians 7 v8 to v11:

8 Even though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it - I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while – 9 yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended, and so were not harmed [interesting, the word harm is there!] in any way by us. 10 Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. 11 See what this godly sorrow has produced in you…”

And it goes on to talk about all these beautiful characteristics and activities that have actually been generated by godly sorrow. So it's very interesting that not only Paul, but God intended sorrow there, but it's a godly sorrow. There is such a thing as worldly sorrow. We're not trying to heap manmade guilt on anyone. Of course not. And I'm very careful not to add any kind of emotional manipulation to my presentations. I don't need to. The facts speak for themselves. But what we are talking about here in this email, it seems, is the very fact that someone has been upset is meant to be evidence that harm's been done and wrong has been done. And that's an issue I think that's quite widespread in the church.

Beth Davey: It's this distinction between conviction and condemnation. And there is a distinction there. And we never seek to bring condemnation, but we do believe that the work of the Holy Spirit brings conviction, as this passage then says, “which leads to repentance”.

Dave Brennan: And again, just to say this is not a one off. Even just over the summer, I've been at a couple of events and one actually was an event packed full of church leaders. These are all adults. Probably the youngest there must have been, I guess twenty-two, twenty-three. These are not children, they're not teenagers, they're not even students anymore. And yet, because one or two people were a bit upset, the conclusion drawn by some was, “Oh, do you regret what you said because these people were upset. You must have got it wrong. Do you regret how you went about that?”

And again, of course I'm not infallible. I can always improve the way I go about things. But the interesting thing was, the very fact of their upset was meant to prove something had gone wrong. And then you think, wow, what has church become, if there's no place for tears, there's no place for, “Oh that hurt”.

We're in this kind of therapy culture. The other scripture that came to mind was the beginning of Acts when the apostles preach, and people are cut to the heart. And the apostles don't apologise, “I’m sorry, I didn't mean to upset you there”, but no, it's what we should do, godly sorry leading to repentance.

Beth Davey: And leading to action as well, which is one of the things that we hope for, when you go to churches, is that it will lead to action.

Dave Brennan: That's right. We need to be upset. One of the greatest problems in the UK today, without exaggeration, is we are not upset enough about the baby genocide. We ought to be upset. I was up in Wales recently, speaking on this issue, and seeing tears during the presentation, I thought, “Of course that's right. That's natural. How could you not be moved by what's going on? This is appropriate.”

And yet here we are. It's a kind of hedonism, isn't it? We hate feeling upset. We just want to be happy. We're not people ruining our tea party, and so we just want to keep difficult things at bay. Here we are. The vast majority churches in the UK won't engage on the baby genocide.

Beth Davey: And as you've been saying in the past few weeks, the problem is that this issue hasn't been coming through the pulpit. And I guess if the risk is that some people might be upset or offended, that only contributes more to the problem that people aren't talking about this, they're not hearing about it, and so then they are using their secular worldviews to engage with this issue rather than seeing it as something that they can bring their Christian faith to bear upon.

Dave Brennan: And I think many pastors, if not advocates of this worldview, they are secondary smokers of it, and they do play along with its rules. So many pastors I've spoken with, or heard secondhand, the reason they're not speaking on abortion is they don't want to upset people.

And they wouldn't necessarily use that language. They'd talk about causing further harm or damage. And there are wrong ways of doing this for sure. But again, the assumption that unless I can find a way through this where no one gets upset, it can't be right, I'm not going to do it. And actually what we're so often doing there is just protecting our own emotions. We don't want the backlash. We don't want the agro, we could do without the complaints. And again, I think some of that is exaggerated fear. I think the enemy loves to psych us out, and suggest that your whole church is going to blow up if you look at this.

What tends to happen from my experience, is 95% of the people are just so grateful to hear the truth. Many people feel helped, including those who've had abortions. And then maybe, one or two people will complain, or say I didn't like that, or whatever. And that also is great because it brings the surface, “What's going on there? What is your world view? “

It's a great discipleship opportunity, but perhaps a word to pastors out there: Are you, are we, unwitting falling prey to this idea that we've got to avoid upset at all costs?

Beth Davey: Because the very notion of the gospel itself is that it's an offensive message. And so if we're not willing to cause offense, are we truly preaching the gospel? That would be my question.

Dave Brennan: Absolutely. This is something that underpins a lot of this, and it's about discernment, our very tools for distinguishing truth from falsehood. And something that struck me actually even before the paragraph we started with, the very opening paragraph was, “I felt a stir in my spirit, which led me to ask the Lord to help me” and so on, and similar language came up elsewhere.

Beth Davey:I felt the spirit inside me became grieved and I didn't understand why at the time”.

Dave Brennan: That's right. And then another line, “my spiritual awareness can be extremely sensitive”. And I think what we are not very good at in the church in the UK is distinguishing between soul and spirit. And of course for that we need the word of God.

So I just want to read some verses from Hebrews 4 v12 & v13. I was so grateful another sister in the Lord actually texted this to me just moments before I went into a debate on the morality of using vaccines that benefit from organ harvesting from babies. It was such a helpful, timely reminder that the word of God is that sword that divides between what maybe feels right and what actually is right. So I'm just going to read this:

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

What it's talking about there in verse 12, dividing soul and spirit, is a soulish response to something is really how it feels, it's our emotional ‘doesn't feel right’, ‘doesn't resonate with me’. But there's something which can feel quite similar, but is different, which is spiritual discernment. Conviction would be spiritual, but feeling uneasy could be just a soulish thing. And it's difficult to distinguish, because we experience so much through our feelings. Our feelings feel very real. They feel who we are, they feel what we really believe, and yet scripture is able to help us to distinguish between what is just a soulish or fleshly response, and what is actually the truth of God. I think our anthropology actually is very weak in the church. We don't understand what we are. Yes our spirits are alive to Christ, but we still need to be renewing our minds, our flesh still needs to be crucified. And so we are, I think, ill-equipped to distinguish truth and falsehood.

Beth Davey: I agree. We just caught back from a course on prayer ministry and they were talking about the soul being the seat of the mind, the will and the emotions. And so I think you can see all of those things can seem very similar to the spirit, which is made alive to God. And we know God's spirit communicates with our spirit. So we can have that discernment, but we do need that sword, the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit, in order to judge between whether it's us, or it is God's spirit.

And I think that's a problem in the church today about elevating experience above scripture. And so it's often about sensitivity to feelings. People go to churches and they base their judgment on the church as to whether it felt good. Again, this comes back to the offense doesn't it? If it doesn't feel good for me, then it must be wrong, or if it doesn't feel right, then it must be wrong. And we need to be careful that we don't disregard the word of God and say that God's word is wrong, just because we feel something different. We need to submit our feelings to the word of God.

Dave Brennan: I was saying to a dear pastor friend, Ebo in Basingstoke, who's been out with us on display. I'm really grateful for him. His understanding of this stuff is really clear and he helped me to think through this. Our minds are still in the process of renewal. And we were talking about how in a sense, it never feels right. Going out on the streets and doing a display never feels right. It never feels like a good idea, really, moments before you set up, that people are out and about doing their shopping and you're about to put up these massive banners confronting them with the reality of life in the womb and the genocide.

It violates etiquette basically. It violates the kind of spirit of the age. It violates people's agenda. People are just doing their shopping, they don't want to hear about this, but that's precisely their problem. There's a genocide going on and no one wants to hear about it. And so you actually have to, like Paul said, “I'll beat my body and make it a slave.” You actually have to fight against your flesh, and what kind of feels right in a sense, and do what is right. And I think when this email says, “I felt the spirit inside me become grieved. I didn't understand why at the time, but after seeking God, I have more clarity”. And then it goes on to say basically people who have abortions are acting lawfully, therefore we are not to judge, basically is the argument.

And that's why she felt uneasy. I think what's going on there I think she's feeling defensive of women who've had abortions. I can understand that. That's a natural sort of loyalty. Maybe she feels she doesn't want them to be upset. Again, that's natural. But does that mean it's wrong to bring the word of God to bear on something because it was legal?

And perhaps we'll come on to this in a second, to this treatment of Romans 13, but that's where the word of God needs to be understood correctly in context.

Beth Davey: And that it reminds me of the passage in 2 Corinthians 10 that talks about:

5 casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 6 and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.

I can't remember who it was, but I think it was Martin Luther who talks about you don't have control over the air traffic in your mind. So things can fly through your mind, but you do have control about what lands in your mind. And we need to be careful about only allowing those things that submit themselves to the authority of Christ to land and make a home in our minds.

Dave Brennan: That's helpful. And I think, speaking for myself, my experience growing up in the church, I think a lot of the church is quite good on doctrine, quite good on gospel, and maybe quite good on the more sort of pietistic, (I don't mean that a pejorative sense,) but the sort of, the personal disciplines, prayer and whatever.

But I don't think we're very good at managing our minds and our feelings and preaching to ourselves. And it's hard work. It's not easy. Just going with your feelings is the easy thing, and that's what our culture's telling us to do. But taking thoughts captive, beating our body (again, not literally), this daily warfare inside of us is hard work, but we’ve got to do it. And I think that's something we need to catch up on.

So maybe as a case in point, then, let's take this issue which is raised, this idea. And you could say, this is one particular example of secularism. You could call it legislationism . It's not legalism. We're all quite hot on that. Most of the church is quite good on saying we're not justified by the Law. That's another story. But legislationism, this idea that the law of the land tells you what's right and wrong, is something we've come across elsewhere and we come across it here.

So just to recap the basic argument here: Abortions are lawful. God has established the authorities and therefore the law of the land. Therefore, they weren't wrong to have their abortions. That's the argument that's really being made here. And Romans 13 is being cited. How do we deal with this Beth? If this is not correct, where has it gone wrong? Because God has established the authorities.

Beth Davey: I think the fallacy comes by assuming that if God has established, then the laws that come from that, that government must be right and godly. And just because God has allowed that government to be established doesn't necessarily mean that then the legislation is godly.

You can, for example, say, God allowed Hitler to be established in Germany. Does that mean that because the Holocaust was lawful, that it was right to do that, that we shouldn't judge or condemn him for that? Because God established that and and it was within His authority to make those laws. I think there's a fallacy there by by conflating the two.

Dave Brennan: Someone remarked everything that happened in Hitler’s Germany was legal, but just because it’s legal doesn't make it right. But where can we go to in scripture that shows us examples of disobeying? Because of course, the default is to obey the law of the land. And the default is to say it's right to obey the law of the land. And yet there are exceptions. So where can we see men, women of god actually violating maybe the etiquette, the customs of the day, or even actually the laws of the day?

Beth Davey: I think my go-to was always Acts 4 in this where John and Peter heal the lame man outside the gates, and then the authorities tell them not to preach in the name of Jesus anymore. And they say who are we to obey, God or man? And the very next thing that they do is go out and preach in the name of Jesus again. So it seems that there's a discernment as to what laws are lawful, and what laws are unlawful under the authority of God.

Dave Brennan: And actually that's similar to a phrase that Martin Luther King used to use. There are unjust laws and there are just laws. And he said it's unjust to obey an unjust law, actually. And that's where the case for civil disobedience does come in. Another example I think of is Daniel. Daniel and his friends were respectful of the king. They went along with everything they could, but when they decided, for example, where they couldn't eat this food in good conscience, they risked not only their own lives, but the lives of the steward who was overseeing them. And yet they did that and they were willing to pay the penalty. Because God is ultimate. Every authority is derivative. God is the ultimate authority. I have the authorities of a father, but if I start transgressing and acting against God's will, I'm not the ultimate authority. God is the ultimate authority and there's a sense in which you can forfeit your God-given authority if you are working against God.

If we really were to be consistent with this idea that what if it's legal, it's right, we'd have to say Bonhoeffer was wrong to oppose the genocide in Nazi Germany. We'd have to say that the reformers were wrong to stand up against the authorities of their day, the Papal authority, which was so tied up with the authority of the land. Printing the Bible in English was wrong. Overseas mission is wrong because often it's illegal in the country where you're going to. You end up being able to do very little actually, in terms of the mission of God.

Beth Davey: And I think what strikes me particularly about this Romans 13 passage, is that Paul from verse 3, says:

3 For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to evil. Do you want to be unafraid of the authority? Do what is good, and you will have praise from the same.

And so he's talking about authorities that are supposed to be rewarding, good and punishing evil. And that's the context under which we should submit to the governing authority. What happens when the governing authority is praising evil and condemning good? That seems to be a different situation to the one that Paul is talking about.

Dave Brennan: That’s right. And it's one thing what we can actually stop the state from doing. We certainly do our best where there's abject evil, but it's quite another one when they’re telling us to participate. And that's not even quite what we're talking about here. No one is forced to have an abortion. That would be a different situation which would deserve another discussion. But we are not talking about forced abortion. We're talking about as a legal possibility. So even it being possible under law apparently is saying it's therefore right. And that's pretty problematic.

We need to read scripture in the light of scripture. We need to take the whole Bible together as one and see things in context. And we see that there are cases where people disobey the authorities if they're being asked a sin.

A couple more points I wanted to raise. It's a subtle little phrase. “As a follower of Jesus, to point a finger and say that the woman is wrong, especially before hearing her individual circumstance”…

It's a small phrase, but I think it's significant because there is this kind of situation ethics that's made its way into the church where it's personal, and it depends on the situation. And so it is that many people are very resistant to saying killing a baby is wrong. Abortion is wrong.

They say it depends on the circumstance. Even in the church. Now in the church, the parameters might be, “We're happy to say that in 95% of cases it's wrong, but the last 5%, we just don't know her situation. What about rape, incest, abnormality, whatever?” And so even some of the most conservative evangelicals out there I've spoken with, are resisting to this day clarity on abortion, because what about those hard cases?

And so it's that situation ethics that's causing confusion, not just on those hard cases, but actually across the board. Because of course, it's the thin of the wedge. If you allow for those, what about this?

Beth Davey: And I think people have misunderstood the Torah, the Law, as being situational ethics. I think it's very easy to read all these different situations that there seem to be specific laws for, and think, okay, we need to apply our ethics, our morals situationally. Which comes from a misunderstanding of those first five books of the Bible, not being situationally based, but being practical outworkings of black and white issues. Just in my brief understanding I think it comes from a misunderstanding of scripture, that has allowed for people to think that situational ethics is possibly Biblical.

Dave Brennan: I hadn't quite thought about that before. But I think there is that sense of whether it comes from a wrong understanding scripture, or just a lack of consultation of scripture. I think it's certainly an idea that's popular in our culture. I think it's the kind of man-centred approach. It's, “I start with me and my world, and the things I want to achieve or avoid, and then I basically bend things to get there. I could say that abortion is generally wrong, but if I'm really upset about being pregnant, and I haven't got the support, it's not ideal, but it's the lesser of two evils, so I'll have that abortion.”

So I think it is a form of idolatry really. The chief end is not glorifying God and obeying Him. It's actually, “I want to have a happy life,” or whatever. And so everything is bent around that. But I think there's a lack of understanding of the law of God, and we are very keen to relativise it, aren't we?

Beth Davey: Which ones apply to me? And which ones can we just get rid of?

Dave Brennan: And we are used to, I think we're used to that idea of, “I'm the ultimate interpreter and I decide what applies to me,” Even down to how we discern our calling or whatever. People can have quite a worldly approach to that a bit like a career. What am I into? What am I interested in? What suits me? And it's it can be quite individualised rather than the bigger picture, the glory of God.

Beth Davey: I think talking about, “especially before hearing her individual circumstances”, this idea that we can't have a say and it's just that individual's choice and it's their situation, and so we have absolutely no authority or right to speak into that situation. It does become a very individualistic choice. Making the right decision for me.

Dave Brennan: And that is the whole pro-choice ideology. That propaganda that's just repeated again and again is, “It's nothing to do with you, it's down to the woman. It's her choice, it's private, it's personal, it's medical. And it's nothing to do with you, so stay out of it.” And so the great push by the abortion advocates is to say, “Look, she shouldn't even have to justify this decision. It's just her decision. Stay out of it.” And that's been embraced by, perhaps in a subtle way, those who say, “Look, until we know her individual situation, we can't judge.”

Beth Davey: And that's quite isolating, isn't it? To take the women out of a communal, relational context, and to isolate her to her own decision. That's very isolating and like we were saying in the image of God podcast, about it being who we are in relationship to one another, to remove that essential part of humanity from the woman and just to put it all on her and on her individuality. That's quite a tactic in my mind which can become quite scary and can feel quite pressurised for the woman, who's been cut off from all these people to say, “No one can inform you. No one can speak into your situation.”

Dave Brennan: It's certainly a tactic by the enemy to isolate, to put a woman in a situation where she can't get that information, that help, that perspective, and it makes it a lot more difficult for her to hear the word of God and to choose life. And that is a tactic by the abortion industry. They always make sure the partners don't come into the abortion room or where the decision's made. They want to keep that support out, that perspective out, and just get the woman on her own. And of course they'll tell you it's to make sure it's her choice. But actually again, what worldview is that resting on? The idea is that the individuals are sovereign on his or her own, and doesn't actually have any accountability to other people. And of course that simply isn't true. Have you got anything else, particularly you want to really bring to the table here?

Beth Davey: I think possibly in this final reference to John. I think it ties in with what has been said earlier about sensitivity, you talking about forgiveness and no condemnation, which seemed to be interpreted as being quite condemning. So the opposite of what you intended. I think that kind of relates to this reference to John 8, doesn't it?

Dave Brennan: It does. Because I think it's interesting that the idea is; how can anyone suggest that what someone else has done is wrong? That's not loving, it's not Christian. And so often John 8 is used as evidence for that, isn't it? Don't be judgemental. It's not for us to judge. But tell us what what's missing here?

Beth Davey: I'll read v7, but I'll continue with the story:

7 So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” 8 And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. 10 When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”

Dave Brennan: So I wonder how the woman felt when she heard those last few words.

Beth Davey: It's quite a high bar that's set by Jesus really, isn't it?

Dave Brennan: And of course the clear implication is that she has sinned. He's made that very clear.

Beth Davey: He's acknowledged that there is a transgression there.

Dave Brennan: And He's called for a change of attitude, a change of action. So isn't Jesus judging?

Beth Davey: But we're not to condemn!

Dave Brennan: It's interesting isn't that we use these words. A word like judge can be used in a number of different ways. And Paul actually says, “I do judge the church.”

Beth Davey: In 1 Corinthians.

Dave Brennan: Paul also says that we will judge angels. We're called to make judgements. “The spiritual mind makes judgments on all things”. So we are called to judge. That is to distinguish right from wrong. To say what is true, what is false and yet we even need to judge ourselves and each other, in love, not as a superior. We don't judge as the Lord judges. We don't have that moral authority, certainly don't have that kind of sense of superiority that I'm in a position to judge someone as less than myself, but we are commanded to make judgements and we need to.

Beth Davey: And it seems that there is a difference between making those judgements, distinguishing between right and wrong, and condemning people who have transgressed or acted in the wrong. So Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you,” but He clearly has made a distinction that she was in the wrong. So we need to distinguish when we are making those differentiations, as you said, there's no condemnation in just pointing out what is wrong.

Dave Brennan: And that is certainly the intention. I think it was Bonhoeffer who said that the problem was they were in a situation where the church was justifying sin without justifying the sinner. What he meant by that is we're saying sin is not a problem, but what does that do? It ironically actually leaves the sinner unjustified because the sinner cannot discern his sin, cannot repent and receive forgiveness and be clean. So actually paradoxically, when we lovingly point out someone's sin, we're giving them the opportunity to escape condemnation and to receive forgiveness.

So it is precisely the opposite of what people sometimes believe it to be. It is to free people from condemnation. And that's certainly the intention, that's the spirit in which we are trying to bring this message to those who've had abortions, those who've been complicit, those who've been supportive, and say, “Look, here is the truth of the word of God. And now that you can see that, there's an opportunity for you, through the grace of God, through the cross of Jesus, to be cleansed and forgiven and free from all of that and escape condemnation.”

Beth Davey: And what we find so often speaking to women on the street, is that they have this sense that there is a wrong there. But because everyone is promoting it or celebrating it, or saying, “It was lawful, so you have nothing to worry about,” they're wrestling with their conscience and what is lawful. And so just in bringing it out into the light, I've spoken with women who say, “Thank you for just acknowledging this.”

And so it's not about condemning, but it is about bringing to light what is going on under darkness. And even in this John passage, there is a bringing out from what's happening in secret into the light, and it gets dealt with, and then they move on from there. But it does need to be brought into the light, doesn't it?

Dave Brennan: Absolutely. And it's like any kind of illness needs to be diagnosed before it can be cured, and needs to be brought to the surface so the patient can experience that wholeness. And that is very much the spirit in which, hopefully people can understand, we're bringing this particular episode today. This is not to condemn anyone, be it the individual who wrote these things, or those out there who share these ideas. Quite to the contrary, this is to help people to see what thinking is of the Lord and from scripture.

And of course come back at us if we've got any of this wrong. Write in, comment, whatever. This is a discussion. We're not claiming to be the experts here. What we're trying to do is bring these ideas under the light of scripture and that is to help people. And that's very much what Paul does in all his letters. He doesn't write his letters to condemn people, but to correct, yes, and help them to see what's the truth of God and where do they need to get free? Because of course, sin oppresses us. Falsehood oppresses us. It’s not helping someone if we leave them deliberately in their sin, or deception, or whatever it might be. This is part of how we love each other, is we help people to see the truth.

And that's been our intention today. We'd love this to be an ongoing conversation. People, do write in. Let's hear what you think on this. But we thought it was important, helpful, to bring these ideas so prevalent in the church today, under the light of scripture. We need to continually renew our minds in the light of scripture so that we can even have the right equipment to tackle an issue like abortion correctly.

Great. Thank you so much, Beth, for joining me again, and thanks everyone for listening, tuning in, and look forward to seeing you again next week.


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