The Controversial Nelson Mandela

It has been very interesting to watch the reactions to the death of Nelson Mandela. Most people seem to have responded by praising him and acknowledging him as a hero of our time. On the other hand, there is a vocal minority of people who suggest he was a terrible human being. What are we do with all of this?

I will confess that I am not an expert on Nelson Mandela or apartheid or South Africa. I do know that one of the reasons certain Christians do not like Mandela is that he was very liberal in his abortion policy. I have heard accusations of him fighting for the freedom of the post-born but condemning the pre-born to death by abortion. Again, I am not an expert in Mandela’s abortion policy, but I accept that he was prochoice and that the abortion rate likely went up while he was in office.

While the situation is likely more complicated, let us for the sake of simplicity assume two things: Mandela was influential in ending apartheid and he held to a prochoice public policy. How do evangelical Christians sort through this? Do we praise him for his role in ending apartheid or do we condemn him for his position on abortion? I guess we have to ask if we think that any prochoice person can do a good thing or if a position on abortion contaminates everything else they do.

I think we have to realize that the reason people love Mandela so much is not just that he helped end apartheid. Rather it is the story of his persistence, even through decades of imprisonment and the eventual victory against all odds. We see in that an inspiration that if we stick to it, perhaps we can be used for something great.

That is what people are celebrating. One can respect many aspects of Mandela’s life without agreeing with every political position that we took or turning a blind eye to his imperfections. Yes, he did a number of things wrong but none of that should take away from what he did right. Continue to disagree with his abortion policy and his Marxism and anything else, but at least acknowledge that with apartheid he did something right.

 

Why I am Pro-Life

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Many people consider the pro-life position to be based on a faith or religious system. Some suppose that people would be pro-choice if their religious teachers or tradition would allow them. That may be true in a few cases but this has absolutely nothing to do with my experience. I actually came to a pro-life position during my time as an atheist. I figured if this life is the only chance we have at existence, we should give every person that chance to live. However, my reason for being pro-life at this stage is not based in either atheistic or religious presuppositions.

I sometimes hear pro-choice people offering abortion as a compassionate response to certain situations. The truth is that not every pregnancy is planned, not every relationship is ideal and some circumstances are very unfortunate. What about women who become pregnant and yet are totally not able to raise a child? What about cases when there has been substance abuse and there is a risk of harm to the child? For our family, these are not just “what if” questions.

My wife and I had two children. Because both were diagnosed with autism, we decided to not have any more children as there was a good chance that a third child would also have autism. After a few years, we began to wish that we could have another child, perhaps a child without autism. We approached the Children’s Aid Society and began looking into adoption. Do not let anyone tell you that mothers that give up their children are abandoning them to a lonely existence in an orphanage. We were told that there were far few children than there were parents looking for children. We were told that we might be waiting close to a decade and even then it was not guaranteed that we would get a child. It was discouraging but we decided to go through with the adoption classes anyway.

During this time, there was a girl that we knew that was pregnant. Because she was doing drugs during the pregnancy, Children’s Aid became involved and they planned to apprehend the baby at birth. Instead, my wife and I decided to put together a plan of care and take the baby into our home. It was an interesting situation for us as we attended our last adoption class and while all the other parents were dreading their long wait, we already had a baby at home.

During that first year, we discovered that the mother was pregnant again and that drugs were still involved. While I was hesitant to bring another baby home, since we already had two children with autism and we did not know what effects the drugs would have, we decided to bring this baby home (the decision was literally made the day she was born). After getting our son out of the baby stage, we suddenly had a baby girl. Our house was now very full. However, we soon discovered that the mother was pregnant again. We decided that we wanted to keep the children together and so brought another little girl into our home.

People could easily condemn the mother of our children for taking drugs during her pregnancy. It definitely was not a good choice. However, I respect her for not taking the “easy” way out by getting an abortion. I am sure she was very uncomfortable during the pregnancy and I can’t imagine the emotional toll of knowing she would not keep the babies and having to part with them. And yet she did go through this hardship and allowed those babies to find a home and to be healthy and happy.

But what about the drugs? Is it fair to have babies go through withdrawal at birth, to possibly develop delays or other health issues? Would it not be more compassionate to end it all quickly in abortion? It was hard to watch them go through withdrawal and there are a few areas in which we see the effects of the drugs. But over all, these are beautiful, happy, loving, fun, intelligent, healthy children that we love very much. I do not see how anyone could look at our children and wish that their biological mother had chosen abortion instead. Experiencing these fantastic kids is a huge part of why I am pro-life.

 

Down Syndrome and a Father’s Heart

I recently posted this picture on my Facebook wall and had an interesting response.  I generally do not post much on abortion, although I am very pro-life.  I have no desire to condemn mothers who have terminated pregnancies.  However, as a father of two special needs children, I am very concerned with the trend of removing special needs from society through abortion.  It was in that spirit that I posted this.

In the conversation, my friend Bob Davies shared some of his thoughts as a father of a son with Down Syndrome.  I appreciated his thoughts and wanted to share them here.  So here is our guest post by Rev. Bob Davies.

I’m the father of Owain, my little man with Down Syndrome – and am a pastor with firm convictions about separation of church and state. This is a longer post, if you read it, I hope it proves useful to you :-)

Let me say that the rights of the child are never really taken into account unless the parents own that responsibility. And they do own that responsibility. Whether they come to terms with that responsibility in the course of their hard decisions, or later on in life afterwards, they will own that decision. Whatever the state does, ultimately, it’s a mom and dad who’ve been entrusted with that child, and no moral or right choice really comes under duress. Only they, really, can protect that child’s rights – even if the state did have the kinds of structures that they should which actually reflected equal protection and rights under law. Laws against abortion are totally about that question – the protection of individual freedoms – in this case, of course, the child’s.

Let’s avoid the politics here, though, and I hope you’ll bear with me here ultimately in terms of the question of sensitivity to people who’ve ended their pregnancies.

I think that the harder things in life are unavoidable realities: having a child with a special need, certainly handling the tension of what to do if it’s discovered during pregnancy, but maybe more the question of dealing with the decades of guilt and remorse and self-doubt and grief that can come after having terminated a pregnancy. I’m not sure the role of the church is to help someone find a reality where they don’t have to face this stuff. Having that child will be hard. I think aborting that child will be a lot harder down the road. 

It’s not as though there were some sanctuary of ambivalence that could free someone from facing the decision in question for what it is, nor the consequences for what they are. I do believe in the church as a place, a sanctuary, of safety and grace and gentleness and kindness and healing and forgiveness. But not of simple ambivalence where murder is understated and the destruction of a child is shrugged off as the sad consequence of a difficult time. 

It’s in the hard thing – whether having the child, or struggling with our own grief over the depravity of our sin – that we’re driven to cry out for God. 

That’s been the gift of Owain to us. The miracle of a child who’s very nature cries out for more of us, who cries out for us to let go of our motives and prejudices and even the designs of our parental dreams, so that we’re taught to love and receive the child that is. Not even taught, God help me, Owain’s presence makes that love erupt from us not because we’re good parents, but because in the gift of Owain we’re driven to the feet of Christ for his love and help. It’s in the hard things that we cry out God and find him. It’s in the scuttling of my dreams and designs that I’m finding some of God’s. No one should be spared this kind of gift if it’s offered – the most wonderful gift, so quickly refused because our cultural bull of success and independence and personal freedom from any kind of hardship. 

The appropriate grief and regret and remorse that follow the murder of a child like Owain is like a second chance at the same gift. 

I don’t think we need to whack people with guilt – I expect they’re already doing that to themselves. And the church is the place for hope for them. But that hope is not necessarily, “oh there, there, we know that was so difficult, but don’t worry that decision was ok.” Maybe in some circumstances, sure. But the real hope we offer is about those times when we know for certain that we’ve blown it; that we’re frigged, and that we’ve frigged someone else. It’s for those times when we know it not because some mean legalist beat us with his Bible, but because we know that whatever we’ve done is dissonant with God. That it is clear evidence that our selfishness, perhaps, or at least that our refusal to receive the gift of the hardship and suffering of caring for that child, drove us to murder. It’s in that confession, in that painful truth where our brokenness has been revealed – maybe not to anyone else – but to ourselves. There, we may find God’s grace for us has meaning as we’re left with no hope but to cry out to him for our very souls. From that brokenness, if they can experience it for what it is, they might cry out to God in grief for their sin and be healed. That’s what our brokenness does for us. 

No church that intentionally spares us the fact of our brokenness, or which mitigates its severity, is doing anything ultimately worthwhile for others at all. That would be almost worse than a church that could point out every sin in the book and say nothing about the grace of God that can restore and forgive us! It’s certainly not better.

Think of it this way. If I post the picture above, and someone who was or is faced with the terrible decision of ending their pregnancy reacts with pain and sensitivity – then that’s saying something. It’s saying they are not at peace with that decision. It’s saying they’re still wounded and in pain. They are not ok as they are. They will own that decision inside like a tumour or outside like a scar. It’s the truth about what they’ve done, and so frighteningly hints at who they fear they might actually be. Now we can have a world where we all go around trying not to touch the sore spots – but isn’t our role also about seeing people healed as they’re reconciled to God? There is no healing for us outside of the grace and forgiveness of Jesus meeting the truth of who we are and what we we’ve done. I’m not really in the business of going around hitting people to see who’s sore or to prove that their bad (or that I’m better, God help us) – that’s devilish in its design. But I’m not sure avoiding the matter altogether is any better for them. It might actually be worse. God’s been consistently kind to me as he comments on who I actually am. But at the same time he’s been speaking, as painful and shameful as that can be. With grace and love, isn’t that what he’s asked us to do?

Christopher Hitchens on Abortion

“As a materialist, I think it has been demonstrated that an embryo is a separate body and entity, and not merely (as some really did used to argue) a growth on or in the female body.  There used to be feminists who would say that it was more like an appendix or even-this was seriously maintained-a tumor. That nonsense seems to have stopped.  Of the considerations that have stopped it, one is the fascinating and moving view provided by the sonogram, and another is the survival of ‘premature’ babies of feather-like weight, who have achieved ‘viability’ outside the womb. … The words ‘unborn child,’ even when used in a politicized manner, describe a material reality.”

- Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (pp. 220-21)