Does the PCA Endorse Anti-Abortion Force?
In 1988, while serving as a pastor in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I attended the denomination’s General Assembly in Grand Rapids, Michigan. During this meeting, in God’s providence, the denomination’s General Assembly overwhelmingly voted to adopt a position statement supporting passive civil disobedience in defense of the unborn. When this vote took place, I knew that the denomination had adopted several truths that had incredibly far-reaching consequences.
Soon after Michael Griffin killed the abortionist, Dr. David Gunn, in Pensacola on March 10, 1993, I reexamined this position paper to see if the PCA’ s rationale for passive civil disobedience could be extended to justify forceful civil disobedience. I remember being somewhat frustrated that the piece was not written in a more straightforward manner. But as I read and reread the piece, and gradually came to understand the underlying issues, my appreciation for it increased.
I can now say that I agree with the entire statement (although it neglects an important aspect of the Moral Law that is essential to the protection of the unborn). The Bible extends the protection offered to the unborn beyond the pacifistic tactics the PCA’s statement has in view to also include the means necessary required by the Sixth Commandment. The following summary position, which is contained in the PCA’s published Position Papers, should be read with this in view.
E. PROPRIETY OF THE CHRISTIAN’S NONVIOLENT DISOBEDIENCE TO THE CIVIL MAGISTRATE IN THE ABORTION CONTROVERSY
The Christian’s Scriptural responsibility to preserve, protect, and promote the lives of others (Exodus 20:13) includes a duty to so preserve, protect, and promote the lives of the unborn. However, this duty, as with all duties established by the Moral Law, is to be pursued according to the various callings that belong to men and women within the structures of order ordained by God. Private Christians, by self-appointment, are not normally called by God to take up the role of civil magistrate in the enforcement of the Moral Law. Nor is the private Christian called to take up the strategy of breaking just laws in order to protest laws that are unjust.
Nevertheless, when the state, or any other authority, commands one to do what is contrary to what the law of God requires, or to refrain from doing what the law of God commands, the Christian “must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29b). As always, in these matters the disciple of Christ must follow his own conscience as it is informed by the Word of God.
This is especially true when danger of death to human life is imminent, as in the case of abortion (the unlawful taking of human life in the womb). Christians as individual citizens should pray that unborn children would once again be protected by the law of the land, and should pray that the Lord would raise up magistrates who would take up the cause of restoring protection to unborn children.
Since the law of the land declares that the killing of unborn children is legal, a Christian who interposes himself in a non-violent way between the unborn child and the abortionist is breaking the law, but he is convinced he is doing so in order to obey God’s moral law to protect an innocent human life in imminent danger of death.
Such a Christian is worthy of the concerned and prayerful support of other Christians in the church. The Christian who seeks to protect the unborn child who is in imminent danger of death in this way should nevertheless maintain high respect for the civil magistrate, should act with humility, out of a sense of duty rather than superiority, and should recognize the spiritual nature of the battle (p. 99 & 100).
PACIFISM VS. THE MEANS NECESSARY
The position adopted by my former denomination upholds the individual’s duty to intervene in defense of the unborn (as required by the Sixth Commandment) in spite of governmental prohibition. And although the denomination’s position deals with passive civil disobedience, and does not directly address the use of defensive force, their official teachings on the Sixth Commandment do. The PCA’s Catechism requires both the individual and corporate means necessary for defending the innocent, and in no way limits those protecting the innocent to passive means.
The PCA, as a part of its constitution, has a rather detailed Catechism (The Westminster Larger Catechism) which contains a relevant interpretation of the Sixth Commandment:
What are the duties required in the sixth commandment? The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others by...avoiding all...occasions, temptations and practices which tend to the unjust taking away of the life of any; by just defense thereof against violence...and protecting and defending the innocent (Q. 135).
The Larger Catechism also details the sins that are forbidden by this Commandment:
The sins forbidden in the sixth commandment are, all taking away the life of ourselves, or of others, except in case of public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense; the neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life;...(Q. 136).
This section of the Catechism teaches that it is sinful to neglect the "...necessary means..." for defending the innocent. And since the PCA asserts that the unborn have a right to the "...full protection of the Sixth Commandment..."1 it necessarily follows that it is sinful to neglect the means necessary for defending the unborn.
Furthermore, the PCA’s Catechism specifies the means which may be employed in defending the innocent: it justifies the use of lethal force. This force is justified in the case of "...public justice, lawful war, or necessary defense..." Thus, the PCA’s Catechism is not pacifistic; it does not limit those defending the innocent to non-harmful or non-lethal means. It justifies the killing of aggressors, if necessary, in defense of the innocent.
This Catechism cites Scriptural support for justifying lethal force in the case of "lawful war" and "necessary defense." In support of killing people in lawful war, the Catechism references both Jeremiah 48:10 and all of Deuteronomy Chapter 20. In support of lethal force in the "necessary defense" of the innocent, the Catechism references Exodus 22:2 (where an individual is justified for striking and killing a thief who is caught while breaking in).
By inference, thus, the PCA’s Catechism not only forbids committing murder by abortion, it also requires the individual and corporate means necessary for preventing abortion.
Neglecting the appropriate use of these means should be viewed as a violation of the Sixth Commandment.
And not only do the Westminster Larger Catechism, and the Scriptures quoted in it, require the use of necessary force, Christ Himself used the immediate physical force necessary to cleanse the temple. He "trashed" the money-changers’ business by overturning their tables. He also drove the offenders out with a whip clenched in His hand, and "...would not permit anyone to carry goods through the temple" (Mark 11:16)..
We also have the example of Abraham and his men (Genesis 14) who grasped and swung their weapons in defense of Lot and those who had been abducted with him. This use of lethal force was given the seal of God’s approval through Melchizedek (a type of Christ) when he blessed Abraham and declared that God had granted him this victory.
And since the Bible, and the Westminster Larger Catechism, justify use of the greatest degree of force, it follows that lesser degrees of force are also justified, when they are necessary. For instance, since it is justified to kill a violent aggressor, it is also justified to wound him, threaten him, or destroy the property he is using-as necessary to protect the innocent.
Being a follower of Christ, thus, does not mean that you must become a pacifist, and stand by as your family or neighbors are being slaughtered. Christ is God, and the Bible repeatedly demonstrates that God is anything but pacifistic. Therefore, both the Bible and the PCA’s exposition of the Sixth Commandment set forth the means that may be used in defense of the innocent: the means necessary are justified, including lethal force.
TIME TO RECONSIDER
When the PCA’s position on passive civil disobedience was adopted, clinic blockades were much in the news, and using more forceful means was commonly regarded as being unthinkable. It is now time to reconsider this controversy with the use of conventional force in mind.
In response to the shooting of several abortion providers, some members of the PCA, who had previously adopted its position on passive civil disobedience, have reasoned against these shootings as though they no longer recognized the principles upon which the PCA justified passive civil disobedience. They have tried to disassociate their support of passive civil disobedience from their stand against forceful civil disobedience. But considering the many similarities that exist between these two means of defending the unborn, and the common ethical principles they share, this is illogical and irresponsible. Both of these positions are based on the defensive duties required in the Sixth Commandment, and currently forbidden by the government. Both of these positions also maintain that the defensive duties required in the Sixth Commandment are inalienable and cannot be removed by the government. The essential difference between the pacifist position and the justifiable force position is that the one limits those protecting the innocent to passive means, while the other believes the Sixth Commandment requires the means necessary for defending the innocent, including lethal force.
It should be noted that while the PCA’s position statement justifies the use of passive force on the basis of the Sixth Commandment, it in no way denies that lethal defensive force is also required by this Commandment. The PCA, thus, cannot be presumed to have adopted pacifism or to have rejected the justifiable force position.
The question is now before the PCA: will it move beyond upholding the individual’s duty, under the Sixth Commandment, to defend the unborn with passive force? Will it also acknowledge that individuals have a similar duty, under the Sixth Commandment, to use the means necessary for defending the unborn? What should be done appears to be obvious.
After I shot Dr. John Britton in Pensacola on July 29, 1994, several members of the PCA raised objections to my actions. I will not, in this brief paper, list and resolve each of these objections. But, with a few exceptions, if these objections to my actions were valid, they would also invalidate the passive means the PCA has officially affirmed. (The majority of these arguments assert that the individual use of defensive force is illegal, and stress obedience to the "powers that be.") But these objections no more annul individual forceful action than they annul individual passive civil disobedience.
The position adopted by the PCA supporting passive civil disobedience, together with the Larger Catechism’s exposition of the Sixth Commandment, concedes virtually every substantial objection that could be raised against defending the unborn with force. Those in the PCA who debate these matters should carefully examine the objections raised for discussion to determine whether they have already been conceded by the PCA’s stated positions. It is inconsistent to debate positions that have already been conceded by those in the debate. Eliminating these types of objections helps to clear the waters and provide a clear view of the matter. The PCA’s position supporting passive civil disobedience is based on the inalienable nature of the defensive duties required in the Sixth Commandment. Once this is understood, and the Sixth Commandment is also understood to require the means necessary for protecting the unborn, defending the unborn with the means necessary becomes an inescapable concept (although people deny and suppress even the most obvious truths).
WHY THE RELUCTANCE?
As with passive civil disobedience, the initial use of forceful civil disobedience has been met with considerable skepticism. The PCA’s Church/State Committee on Nonviolent Disobedience forewarns that those who merely intervene with passive means will meet with disagreement: "The Christian who violates the law within the confines of this issue must remember that many fellow Christians will disagree; uncertainty and ambiguity usually surround any acts of civil disobedience".2
Several reasons may be offered for the ambiguity that formerly surrounded passive civil disobedience. These same reasons also help to explain the current uncertainty towards defending the unborn with the means necessary. First of all, since both of these types of civil disobedience are against the law, those who engage in these activities are regarded as lawbreakers, and expose themselves to the coercive power of the state.. Being considered a lawbreaker is, in and of itself, enough to exclude those who bear this stigma from many responsible positions in society (including church and civic positions), and the income they produce. If you add to this the threat of monetary fines, and extended periods of incarceration, it helps to explain the "...uncertainty and ambiguity..." that "...usually surround any acts of civil disobedience."
This problem is not new. When the apostle Paul was arrested and put in chains (II Timothy 1:16), the believers in the area distanced themselves from him: "You are aware of the fact that all who are in Asia turned away from me, among whom are Phygelus and Hermogenes" (1:15). "At my first defense no one supported me, but all deserted me; may it not be counted against them" (4:16). The duty to support the apostle, as he upheld the truths of the gospel, was sinfully neglected by those in the region. Those who deserted Paul must have known that this was wrong, but for unknown reasons they turned away from him nevertheless.
Jonathan Edwards, in his treatise, Christian Cautions, or The Necessity of Self-Examination presents numerous reasons "why many live in sin, and yet not know it." He considers these reasons under five points:
1. From the blinding deceitful nature of sin. The heart of man is full of sin and corruption, and that corruption is of an exceedingly darkening, blinding nature...
The lusts of men’s hearts-prejudicing them in favor of sinful practices, to which those lusts tend, and in which they delight-stir up carnal reason, and put men, with all the subtlety of which they are capable, to invent pleas and arguments to justify such practices. When men are very strongly inclined and tempted to any wicked practice, and conscience troubles them about it, they will rack their brains to find out arguments to stop the mouth of conscience, and to make themselves believe that they may lawfully proceed in that practice...
2. Satan also sets in with our deceitful lusts, and labors to blind us in this matter...
3. Sometimes men are not sensible, because they are stupefied through custom. Custom in an evil practice stupefies the mind, so that it makes any way of sin which at first was offensive to conscience, after a while, to seem harmless.
4. Sometimes persons live in ways of sin, and are not sensible of it, because they are blinded by common custom, and the examples of others... Perhaps we see them practiced by those of whom we have a high esteem, by our superiors, and those who are accounted wise men. This greatly prepossesses the mind in favor of them, and takes off the sense of their evil....
5. Persons are in great danger of living in ways of sin and not being sensible of it, for want of duly regarding and considering their duty in the full extent of it...
Many men seem to be very conscientious in some things, in some branches of their duty on which they keep their eye, when other important branches are entirely neglected, and seem not to be noticed by them. They regard not their duty in the full extent of it.3
Thus, it is entirely possible for Christians to sinfully neglect a difficult duty (such as maintaining the duty to intervene in defense of the unborn), and also suppress their knowledge of this neglect. Yet, in spite of the fact that "...uncertainty and ambiguity usually surround any acts of civil disobedience," the PCA overwhelmingly voted to adopt a position which supports those who illegally protect the unborn.
CALLING AND ACTION
One important matter the PCA’s position on passive civil disobedience helps to resolve is the relation between the general moral obligation to defend the unborn, and the individual’s duty to act according to his calling and station in life. The PCA’s statement rightly asserts "the Christian’s Scriptural responsibility to preserve, protect, and promote the lives of others (Exodus 20:13)," and extends this protection to the unborn. It also boldly proclaims that "...when the state, or any other authority, commands one to do what is contrary to what the law of God requires, or to refrain from doing what the law of God commands, the Christian must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29b)." The PCA’s statement is also correct in not leaving the impression that every individual is necessarily obligated to intervene in defense of the unborn: "However, this duty, as with all duties established by the Moral Law, is to be pursued according to the various callings that belong to men and women within the structures of order ordained by God." The PCA, thus, recognizes that while some may be called of God to boldly and openly break unjust laws, not everyone has this calling.
By asserting the inalienable duty to protect the unborn, and also supporting those who intervene in their defense, the PCA has struck a daring blow into the very heart of legal abortion. But as praiseworthy as this is, under the circumstances, it is not nearly enough. The PCA’s statement, while it is accurate and truthful, falls short of the biblical requirement. It upholds the individual’s duty, under the Moral Law, to protect the unborn, but as we have seen, it does not extend this protection beyond passive intervention to the forceful means justified by the Bible.
It also states the moral obligation to protect the unborn, and upholds the duty to obey God rather than men in this matter (according to one’s calling). But rather than serving as a call to sacrificial action, it merely justifies those who are called to perform this duty, and declares them to merit the prayers and concern of the church. It is true that the defense of the innocent may, at times, be omitted due to human limitations. As a general rule, however, it must be stressed that neglecting someone who is about to be murdered is an impermissible omission of duty. The Larger Catechism forbids "...neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life" (Q. 136). Thus, the PCA’s Position Paper neglects to uphold the duty of the Moral Law put in question by legal abortion with the clarity and boldness required by this ongoing atrocity. Nor does the PCA give the call to action that is required by the extremity of the circumstances. (It should be noted that it is currently legal to advocate direct intervention in defense of the unborn. It is illegal to defend the unborn with passive or active force, but it is not illegal to advocate either of these types of intervention [in a general manner].)
A CALL TO SPECIFIC ACTION
The PCA’s current response to the atrocities being committed is sinfully inadequate. Since the government has legalized the use of lethal force, and thousands are being slain every day, it is imperative that individuals and the denomination uphold the duty to resist this force with the means necessary (as required by the Sixth Commandment). The inalienable nature of the Sixth Commandment must be proclaimed. The PCA should assert that, by legalizing abortion, the government requires a sin of omission. The duty to obey God rather than men in this matter (according to everyone’s calling and station in life) must be upheld. The government must also be exhorted to protect the unborn on the people’s behalf so the obligation to perform this duty will no longer revert to the people.
The PCA’s Larger Catechism is not pacifistic; it justifies lethal defensive force, and thereby justifies lesser degrees of defense force, as necessary. Therefore, the defensive measures the PCA currently supports should be extended beyond passive intervention to include the means necessary. The PCA should also issue a clear call urging people to uphold the duty to intervene with these means in defense of the unborn (according to everyone’s calling and station in life). The denomination should also urge those not called to take direct action to provide prayer and support to those who are so called (similar to the support currently encouraged for those who intervene with passive means).
In summary, the Sixth Commandment requires the means necessary for defending the innocent, including lethal force. The Westminster Larger Catechism forbids "...neglecting or withdrawing the lawful and necessary means of preservation of life". The PCA also asserts that the unborn have a right to the "...full protection of the Sixth Commandment..."4 The PCA further teaches that when the Christian is forbidden by the state to do what God’s law commands, he "...must obey God rater than men," especially when unborn children are about to be killed.5 We must, therefore, conclude that, in spite of men’s prohibitions, the force necessary to defend the unborn is required by both the Bible, and the teachings of the PCA, and must be maintained.
Careful attention should also be given to the concluding paragraph of the report of the PCA’s Ad Interim Committee on Abortion:
"We cannot stress too strongly our authority in this matter. God in His Word speaks of the unborn child as a person and treats him as such, and so must we. The Bible teaches the sanctity of life, and so must we. The Bible, especially in the Sixth Commandment, gives concrete protection to that life which bears the image of God. We must uphold that commandment. There is a danger of weakening our witness by either retreating from an absolute ethic revealed in God’s Word or by uncritically associating ourselves with a humanistic philosophy of right to life based on human wisdom. The Church as the repository of God’s revelation must speak from the authority and must do so without compromise or equivocation."6
This statement emphasizes the Church’s responsibility to maintain and proclaim the defensive duties owed to the unborn in spite of all opposition. Yet, in spite of these words, few pastors urge the performance of these duties. For leaders to continue to neglect this great cause, and thereby encourage this neglect in others, is a travesty of immense proportions. Millions are literally being slaughtered as a result of this guilty neglect.
There is only one medicine strong enough to cure this apathy-repentance. You must get a clear sight of your sin, and with grief and hatred of your neglect turn from it unto God with full purpose of, and endeavor after, new obedience.
God’s word requires the means necessary for saving the innocent. Will you refuse and rebel against the clear command of God as millions continue to be slaughtered? It is imperative that you promote the means necessary for protecting the unborn!
1 PCA Digest Position Papers, 1973-1993, Part V, p. 33
2 Ibid, p.145
3 The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. Two, Banner of Truth Trust, p. 175-176.
4 PCA Digest Position Papers, 1973-1993, Part V, p. 33.
5 Ibid, p. 99-100.
6 Ibid, p. 31
List of Appendices
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