When was the last time you heard a sermon about abortion? Maybe abortion doesn’t seem a proper topic for the pulpit. After all, people who hear sermons are in church, right? And church people don’t get abortions. Right?
In fact, 37 percent of women who had a first abortion were attending church at least once or twice a month at that time. Twenty percent were attending every week.
These numbers come from a survey commissioned by Care Net, a network of pregnancy help centers. The survey focused solely on American women who’ve had an abortion. The results challenge every pastor and layperson. The survey asked questions and plotted numbers with percentages marked in colored bars. But, behind those colored bars are real women with real needs.
Pastors, teachers — anybody who shares the Good News — appropriately speak about God’s forgiveness. But, somehow that message isn’t getting through to women who face an unplanned pregnancy. Somehow, when it comes to unplanned pregnancy and abortion, most don’t believe what the church says about forgiveness. Or, they don’t believe the church believes what the church says about it.
In fact, as they considered abortion, 75 percent either perceived or expected to receive a “cold,” “judgmental” or “condemning” response from their church.
My first thought when I read this was, “Wait! So for some, that’s what they expected to receive, not what they actually would have received.” It doesn’t matter. Perception, as they say, is reality. Whatever the reason, only 7 percent turned to “someone at the local church” before they turned to abortion. And 76 percent said the church had no influence whatsoever on their decision not to abort. They turned to the baby’s father, to doctors, to friends and family, and even to abortion center staff far more often. The church was one of the last places they’d go for help.
Interestingly, despite the reaction they received or expected to receive, more than half believe churches are prepared to provide support to women who choose life for their babies. Even then, though, about two-thirds of the women surveyed believe church folks judge single women who get pregnant and gossip about them.
Even if they do feel it’s safe to confide in a pastor — and 43 percent do — almost half the women surveyed feel that pastors’ teachings about forgiveness don’t apply to abortion. And 42 percent feel that same way even if they acknowledge that pastors do teach that forgiveness extends to abortion. That last number — 42 percent who don’t believe forgiveness applies to them even if the pastor says it does — hit me hard. It indicates that whatever a woman may believe about the church, her most difficult part of the journey to forgiveness is fully accepting Christ’s forgiveness.
The church must get better at reaching out to these women, and outreach should start before the baby’s on the way. Especially in the urban areas — prime targets for the abortion industry — churches far outnumber pregnancy help centers. They’re on the front lines of the fight against abortion. They must speak about it, up front and out loud.
In a very specific way, churches must follow a teaching that’s so important it was the last instruction Jesus gave on earth: make disciples. Churches have the opportunity to offer what can’t be found anywhere else: forgiveness that goes beyond words to transformation and support that goes beyond diapers to discipleship.
Help your church reach out to women. Help make your church the first place they come for help, not the last. You can find resources at www.lifeissues.org/the-clergy-connection to get you started.
[This column by Bradley Mattes, CEO of Life Issues Institute, was posted online on March 4, 2016 at www.lifeissues.org.]