Ministering to the Tragedy of Abortion

by Dr. Mike Butters

Ministering to those wounded by the tragedy of abortion is a dilemma. At present, two main approaches exist. Neither is adequate.

The first approach is sensitive to the ongoing pain of the post-abortive woman or man and seeks to comfort and affirm the individual. It recognizes that a judgmental, broad-brush condemnation of the sin of abortion may wound the very souls we wish to heal and save.

The second approach seeks to identify the senseless taking of a human life as sin. This morally (and medically) accurate approach wisely recognizes that any consolation that does not include an opportunity for conviction, repentance, and forgiveness is little more than a spiritual pat on the back. Its weakness is that it lacks the compassionate concern for where people are, and may make them feel even further from Christ.

The key to the best approach, perhaps, is to keep in mind that we are not simply taking a public position on the topic of abortion. We are treating the wounded. It is said that one in five women is post-abortive. You may have at least one of them in every pew. Men, too, are victims of the tragedy of abortion. They have initiated, promoted, or consented to, the taking of a human life, often that of their own unborn son or daughter. Men, too, are post-abortive victims.

Women and men wounded by abortion generally are damaged goods before they ever make the fatal decision regarding an innocent's right to life. Speaking on behalf of abortion survivors, it can be said that "We have compromised ourselves sexually, emotionally, intellectually, morally, and spiritually, usually before we ever consult with the abortionist.

"We have been looking for love in all the wrong places. We have settled cheaply for the approval and affection of a human whose love can only be a sorry substitute for the enduring love of God that we so much hunger for, consciously or not."

Speaking on behalf of pulpit ministers, it can be said that as shepherds, "We must understand the hunger for love, affection, and approval that underlies this desperately wrong search for a 'solution.' If we do not, we do not minister as Christ does, at the level of basic human need. Instead, we either placate or pontificate. In either case, at that moment, in a very real way, yet another human soul is lost."

In a sense, the post-abortive are like victims of an auto accident. Having violated the law and the rules of common safety, they collide head-on with the consequences of their own sinful choices. Auto accident victims do not need lectures about the avoidable and predictable evils of sin. Accident victims need medical attention.

"Medical attention" from the pastor begins with an open sharing of grief and loss. This might begin with one's own post-abortive experience, as men and women are victims of this sin and many victims are now in the pulpit.

The pastor who is not post-abortive can begin by sharing the grief of some other personal sin. Jesus was a "man of sorrows and acquainted with grief." The Paraclete is the Comforter who comes alongside, not from ahead or behind, above or below.

If you cannot share a personal grief, find someone who can and grieve openly with them. There will be a time to move beyond sharing and to begin talking about what we can do to help others avoid "auto accidents."

"What we can do" is to understand that abortion is the choice of persons who are afraid and isolated. Each believer can find a way to be more supportive and less rejecting of those with crisis pregnancies. Each believer can find a way to love those who feel unlovely, so they are less likely to seek "love" in all the wrong places.

From the pulpit, or in counseling, we must share the grief and pain. We must join the sufferer in the suffering or we have no authority when the time for accountability comes. And it must come. Affirmation of the person is a dangerous half-measure, leaving open the door to more and greater sin. Confrontation without confirmation is equally dangerous, driving the rejected sinner away, with nothing left to lose, to pursue more and greater sin. As shepherds, we must pray for the courage and wisdom to affirm, confront, and bring the message of forgiveness for all sins. Even the ones we really dislike.

(Editor's note: Dr. Butters is a licensed psychologist, practicing in Chattanooga, Tennessee. But he has other qualifications for writing with empathy about post-abortion trauma. The son of a Southern Baptist minister, he is the husband of AAA Women's Services client services director Vicki Butters, who is herself post-abortive. "She teaches me," he says, "a deepening awareness of the power of abortion to wound the heart of the most loving and maternal person I know. She helps me see that God hates sin for the hurt that comes of it, the alienation, the isolation, the despair-and that ministry is a matter of grace, not judgment."

Mike also once helped a college friend finance and obtain an abortion, in 1970. Of this experience he writes: "I have a deepening appreciation, as an 'accessory,' for the consequences of my sin that goes beyond my earlier view of myself as an 'innocent bystander' or 'helpful friend.'")