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Abraham Lincoln, on abortion

How would Abraham Lincoln have addressed the biggest moral issue of our time? We don’t have to wonder. While President Lincoln may not have spoken to abortion directly, he did still give us guidance on the issue.

In the 1800s American slave trade supporters tried justifying the practice of slavery all sorts of ways. Lincoln was very good at tearing those justifications apart and the technique he used is one that transfers directly to the plight of the unborn. In one of his speeches he argued:

If A can prove, however conclusively, that he may, of right, enslave B why may not B snatch the same argument, and prove equally, that he may enslave A?

You say A is white and B is black. It is color, then; the lighter, having the right to enslave the darker? Take care. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with a fairer skin than your own.

You do not mean color exactly? You mean the whites are intellectually the superiors of the blacks, and, therefore have the right to enslave them? Take care again. By this rule, you are to be slave to the first man you meet, with an intellect superior to your own.

But, say you, it is a question of [self] interest; and, if you can make it your [self] interest, you have the right to enslave another. Very well. And if he can make it his [self] interest, he has the right to enslave you.

Biblical inspiration?

Lincoln turned the slave trade supporters’ justifications back on them, arguing that if it is good for you, then you shouldn’t object if this same logic is then used by someone else to justify enslaving you. If his strategy seems familiar, it’s because it aligns perfectly with what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-2:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

What Jesus issued as a warning Lincoln used as a tool. So how might this tool work in the abortion debate? We could begin by noting that if someone argues the unborn can be killed because they are smaller than us, then, as Lincoln might have put it, “Take care. By this rule you could be killed by the first man you meet who is bigger than you.”

Or if it comes down to some ability, then watch out when you meet someone who is more able than you.

Self-interest? This is a major justification for abortion: a child would interfere with our lifestyle. But, “take care again – by this rule you may be killed by any who can show it is in their self-interest for you to be dead.”

Conclusion

Lincoln lived more than 150 years ago, but we can still learn from him. Lincoln showed the standard of justice that slave owners were trying to apply was one they wouldn’t want applied to themselves. That sort of hypocrisy still happens today, and not only to the unborn. We have only to think of Christian bakery owners or flower shop owners who are not allowed to work according to their conscience. And yet the world celebrates when a dress designer refuses, because of her own convictions, to dress the First Lady.

Let’s do as Lincoln did, and ask them to apply their own arguments to themselves. And then let’s insist on an answer.


Up Next


Culture Clashes

What’s the best response to a wedding cake request?

What do you say to a homosexual couple who asks you to bake a cake for their wedding a month from now? That was the question that Joel Belz posed in his WORLD magazine column a few years back. A little over a month later, he revealed the difficulty that both he and over 200 readers (including five in prison!) had in answering it – by the end of this second column, Belz was no closer to an answer. What made Belz’s challenge tougher were two of his conditions: it had to be a brief reply, and, like Christ himself was prone to do, the couple’s request had to be answered with a question. What further complicates the situation is the fact that we don’t know the couple’s motivations. Are they simply unaware of our Christian moral convictions? Or are they trying to cause trouble? That's why any answer to the question needed to challenge the couple to make their intentions clear, so that we need not cast pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6) if they hate the gospel and those who bring it. And our response needs to 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; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). So if this stymied Belz and his readers, how can we answer it? Well, we can start with what we’ve been given in the first question of our Heidelberg Catechism. Here is my response to, as Belz calls it, “the baker’s challenge”: "I am a conservative, Bible-believing Christian, and I believe that I belong, body and soul, both in life and death, to my faithful Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Do you want me to disobey my Savior?" The couple (one or both of them) have three possible responses: “Yes, we do!” in which case, you may still face a human rights tribunal, but you have made the issue clear and exposed their hostility to Christ and Christianity; “No, we don’t, so we withdraw our request!” which may keep you out of legal trouble and still give you a chance to explain your moral stance as an working out of your hope in Christ, rather than as simply an individual issue of conscience; “We don’t understand the problem” which may be the answer we should most hope for since it allows us, with gentleness and respect, explain how our hope in Christ compels us to honor the commands of God. There seems to be an increasing number of situations in which we might be pressed to do something that compromises our Christian convictions: Sunday work, using certain pronouns, shading the truth on a tax return, celebrating a homosexual wedding, etc. What is most important in any response is to love Christ more than even our conscience (because it’s about Him, not us), and to confess, as it says in Lord’s Day 1: “Because I belong to him, Christ, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him.”...


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