Wednesday, January 19, 2005

One Pastor's Erroneous Take on Abortion

JT at Between Two Worlds has been covering a story about a pastor of a large church in Minnesota. The senior pastor, Greg Boyd, was recently on a Christian radio show where he said he was disappointed that John Kerry lost the election and stated that he thought second and third trimester abortions should be made illegal but first trimester abortions should remain legal. The statement on abortion has seemed to spark the ire of a few people within his church. Greg has provided his abortion views on the church's web site here.

They have also posted a response from Lyle Larson, the church's Board of Overseers Chairperson.

I e-mailed Pastor Boyd a few questions. At first, I received the following automatic response and figured that's all I'd get.

"Thank you for your comment, question or concern. Due to the large number of e-mails he receives each day, Greg is no longer able to personally resond to each message. Also, your e-mail may be forwarded onto a more appropriate pastor or staff person for consideration. Thank you for your understanding and flexibility."

However, Pastor Boyd was kind enough to respond to my questions last night. My questions, his response and my return email will be below. My questions are numbered, Pastor Boyd's responses will be in italic, and I will respond after that.

1.) If abortion doesn't end the life of a human being created in the
image of God why do you abhor abortion, including first trimester
abortions? If abortion (in your opinion) does intentionally kill a
human being created in the image of God, why should it be legal? Are
you in favor of keeping/making other things that intentionally end the
life of an innocent human beings legal?

Greg: Do you think a person can abhor something only if they are sure it
is equivalent to the most abhorent thing -- killing a human being.
(actually, there are even more abhorrent things than this) Aren't there
levels to this?

Pastor Boyd completely dodges my questions and responds with a few of his own. My reponse will be, "I think someone can abhor something even if it isn't killing a human being. I abhor numerous evils such as rape, child abuse, torture, etc. that don't end the lives of innocent human beings. However, I asked you to explain why you abhor abortion. The only reason that makes sense to me as to why someone would abhor abortion is because abortion is an action that intentionally kills an innocent human being.

Someone might say that abortion hurts women physically and emotionally. While this is true, I would point out that football hurts people physically yet most people don't abhor football and that abortion hurts women emotionally because women who suffer emotionally after an abortion recognize that their action of abortion resulted in the death of their child, a human being created in the image of God. My previous questions still stand unanswered and I would honestly like to know (if you have the time) your answers to them."

2.) Since when does brain death have to do with "personhood" or levels
of "brainwaves?"

According to the Uniform Death Act (which defines death in legal codes
of states):

"1. For legal and medical purposes, a person is dead if he has
sustained an irreversible cessation of:

(a) Circulatory and respiratory functions; or

(b) All functions of his entire brain, including his brain stem."

Unborn children who are less the 3-months-old have not sustained an
irreversible cessation of all function of their entire brain, including
their brain stems. The way you presented brain death was either
intentionally deceptive or ignorant.

Greg: Perhaps. But the issue here isn't the end of personhood, but the
beginning of personhood. And you're right, no one I know of is
officially advocating reversing the criteria of loss of personhood to
make it the criteria for the beginning of personhood. Hence my
proposal. Perhaps if we did this we could bring the two polarized sides
closer together and work together to do what we all want: make abortion
as rare as opposite, and late abortions non-existent.

But you're equating the beginning of "personhood" with an incorrect view of the brain death. How is a living unborn child, who isn't brain dead by the definition provided above, a brain dead human being? I've pointed out that brainwaves have nothing to do with the definition of brain death. It is the "irreversible cessation of all functions of his entire brain, including his brain stem" which makes human beings dead. The Uniform Death Act also doesn't mean that a brain dead human being is a living human being that isn't a person. It means that they are a dead human being. The unborn aren't dead by any accurate biological definition.

By polarized sides, I'm guessing you don't mean those organization that advocate for abortion like Planned Parenthood and NARAL (as opposed to individuals who consider themselves pro-choice yet want to make abortion rare). Those organizations don't want to make abortion rare or make late term abortions non-existent.

3.) What happens at 11-12 weeks according to the neurologists you spoken
with that makes the unborn into living persons? I've personally never
heard one person claim that 11-12 weeks is when the unborn have a
certain level of brain activity that makes them "legal persons" by the
standard of the Uniform Death Act.

Greg: What happens between 11-12 weeks is, I am told (I'm no expert, I'm
going what others have told me) is that the level of electromagnetic
currents in the brain becomes higher than the threshold from "brain
dead". If you know that I'm wrong about this, please let me know.

You are wrong on this. As I wrote in my first e-mail, brain death doesn't have to do with electromagnetic currents in the brain - it has to do with the "irreversible cessation of all functions of his entire brain, including his brain stem." The unborn clearly do not fit into this category. I'm sorry if you've been misled on this but the criteria you've been given doesn't match up with what brain death really is.

BUT, finally, and more importantly David: I actually am far far more
invested in what the church can do to help make going full term feasible
for women than I am in how we I or anyone else resolves the difficult
issue of when exactly the unborn should be considered "legal persons."
I confess I don't have the certainty you and others seem to have that it
attains full personhood the moment of conception (if you infact believe
this). In the eyes of some, this makes me evil. But I'm just being
honest. Yet, I do nevertheless recognize the newly conceived zygote as
a marvelous, precious, creation of God. I may change my political
opinion about what is best for the polis (community) in the future
(politics). But I shall not change (I pray) my conviction that the
unborn child, and her mother, are worth sacrificing for and saving, if
at all possible.

I don't think you're evil. I strongly disagree with your position on abortion because to me it makes no logical sense. I have close friends who think abortion should remain legal. I don't think they are evil. I think that they have been misguided and their positions make no sense. I agree that the unborn child and her mother are worth sacrificing for. I also believe that the human zygote is a marvelous, precious, creation of God- made in His image and therefore deserves to be protected by law.

I think the legality of abortion has allowed both of our nations main political parties to sweep the enormous problem of unplanned pregnancy under the rug. Instead of supporting women and providing easy access to more resources that women in crisis pregnancies need, we've allowed legal abortion to "take care" of the problem. Instead of caring and providing for the women that need it most, we've allowed them to be pointed in the direction of someone who will take their $400 and the life of their unborn child, possibly scarring them forever. I hope that you change your position on abortion while at the same time continuing to work to help make going full term feasible for women in unplanned pregnancies.


  1. Good questions, JivinJehosaphat. As a pastor in Greg's city and in his denomination, I felt that I had to say something about this issue on "Sanctity of Life Sunday." I don't know Greg - he's a very established, prominent pastor in our city and denomination and I'm just a church-planter in the inner city - but I've listened to enough of his sermons to think he's sincere. I just strongly disagree with his views on this and some other things.

    It boils down to this: I think his theology is heavily influenced by his desire to present a theodicy that is appealing to the intellectuals of the world, and he sometimes (or often) errs on the side of being too human-focused rather than God-focused. I'm sure he'd disagree with that assessment, but it's one that I've come to after listening to him for years from afar.

  2. If you're curious, you can check out my sermon about this topic on my blog. It seems that you understand this issue well enough not to need the sermon, though.