We Are Missionaries to This Time in History
by Jim Denison
Howard Stern is considering a presidential bid. He says his platform will be simple: to amend the Electoral College and to add five more Supreme Court justices.
Stern is heavily critical of the Supreme Court, calling Justice Clarence Thomas a “lightweight” who has been “sitting there like Darth Vader, dormant” while waiting for other conservative justices to join him. Stern would add more Supreme Court justices to “overturn all this” and thus to prevent “back alley abortion.”
In related news, the Atlantic is running an article by sports journalist Jemele Hill in which she describes choosing an abortion at the age of twenty-six because she “simply had no desire to give birth to a child.” She explains that she “wanted the freedom to live wherever I wanted and to navigate my career without having to factor a child into my plans.”
She seems to have no questions about the nature of the life she ended, repeatedly calling it a “child.” However, she claims, “That’s the meaningful thing about choice: You have the right to make a decision based purely on what you think is best for yourself.”
Hill concludes, “No woman needs to think of herself as immoral because she had an abortion or wants an abortion. What’s immoral is telling women that they don’t deserve bodily autonomy.”
A BRILLIANT RESPONSE
Anglican priest and New York Times opinion writer Tish Harrison Warren would disagree. In her response to the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe, she critiques the myth of “bodily autonomy” that Hill claims and defends. Warren makes three arguments in response:
One: “Bodily autonomy is limited by our obligation to not harm others.”
Warren illustrates this with the fact that one cannot go seventy-five miles an hour in a school zone even if slowing down poses a burden on the driver. She reports that the Supreme Court’s majority opinion describes an appeal to autonomy as possibly licensing “fundamental rights to illicit drug use, prostitution, and the like.”
Two: “The term ‘autonomy’ denies the deep interdependence and limitations of every human body.”
Warren notes that “no human has complete bodily autonomy from birth to death” and reminds us that “the only reason any of us is alive today is that someone cared for us as children in the womb and then as infants and toddlers.” She adds, “Abortion seems to punish a fetus for its lack of bodily autonomy and deny the profound reliance that all of us who have bodies hold.”
Three: “The pressing issue when it comes to abortion is whether championing bodily autonomy requires us to override or undo biological realities.”
Warren notes that the state does not impose the risk of pregnancy as a result of sex, “biology does.” And she adds, “Except in the horrible circumstances of rape or incest, which account for 1 percent of abortions, women and men both have bodily agency and choices about whether they will have sex and therefore if they are willing to accept the risk of new life inherent in it.”
Jemele Hill admits that she freely made the choice to have sex with her boyfriend, but she was clearly unwilling to accept the consequences of her choice. Now she demands the “bodily autonomy” she denied the child produced by her decision.
According to Warren, “For both men and women, bodily autonomy can’t mean that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want, with our own bodies without natural consequences or obligations to others. If this is what we mean by ‘autonomy,’ then no one can champion bodily autonomy without ultimately advocating harm.”
HOWARD STERN AND THE "NEW NORMAL"
We’ve been discussing this week the urgency and privilege of being empowered every day by God’s Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). How does today’s conversation contribute to this theme?
Though she is a priest, Tish Harrison Warren makes her case without using Christian terms or biblical references. As a result, her argument is far more likely to be persuasive for someone who rejects Christian beliefs and biblical truth claims.
Paul followed a similar strategy. He quoted the Hebrew Scriptures when speaking to a Jewish audience in Pisidia, leading several to faith in Christ (cf. Acts 13:13-43). However, he cited Greek philosophers when speaking to Greek philosophers in Athens, again leading several to faith (Acts 17:22-34).
Their examples call us to respond to the increasing adversity of our culture with reasoned persuasion. Howard Stern’s enduring popularity (it is estimated that he has about ten million active listeners today) illustrates the new “normal” of our post-Christian, even anti-Christian culture. We can expect this “normal” to be even more normalized as the “culture wars” intensify.
You and I are missionaries to this time in history. Like other missionaries, we must learn the language of those we are called to reach. In a skeptical, secularized age, the fact that we believe the Bible is not enough—we must “honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, my emphasis).
Would you ask the Holy Spirit right now to help you be “prepared” for conversations he intends you to have today?
William Carey, the founder of the modern missions movement, made famous two imperatives: “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
Let’s obey both, in that order, today.