Editor’s Note: Below is a guest post from my brother, Brendan McCaskell. Brendan is finishing up his B.A. in Business Administration and Biblical Studies at Canadian Mennonite University. He is also a youth pastor at City Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Find his blog at Reformed Ramblings.
I grew up in small town of 1000 people. On Easter Sunday my church would push 100. When I was in high school a friend of mine from youth group, Alice (not her real name) got pregnant. News of this spread quickly (it is a small town after all). Soon I began to treat her differently at church. There was a stigma attached to Alice, conversation with her seemed to be off limits because, “she was the girl who had sex before marriage.” I noticed it wasn’t only me. As soon as my friends and the students at school found out there was snickering as Alice entered the room or was passed in the hall. And while we knew that people were having sex but without the belly to prove it, we largely ignored that fact.
At church people began to distance themselves from her. There was no celebration of the new-life that was going to enter the world. There was no church-organized potluck to congratulate the couple. There was only condemnation. I am sure a few well-intentioned members tried to reach out to Alice but the impact was hardly felt throughout the church. Alice stopped attending youth-group, church, and stopped going to school. Anytime a reference was made in church about youth going astray minds would quickly wonder to Alice. It took me 7 years to realize the hypocritical role myself, and the church played in caring for her. We thought only of the implications of having a pregnant teenager in our church.
We can learn a lot from Alice and what I believe is a far-too common situation.
We need to be serious with sin but also free with grace. We would do a disservice to both the church and Alice if we ignored the sin. Sin needs to be recognized and addressed but there is no reason to dwell in it. When King David was approached by the Prophet Nathan after committing some heinous crimes (killing a man’s wife to sleep with her) what was his response (after he worked through his ignorance)? “I have sinned against the Lord,” David said. Simple. To the point. He was forgiven by God and had to deal with the consequences (2 Sam 12).
Yes, there are consequences to actions. The often forgotten ending of David and Bathsheba: David’s child ends up becoming very ill. We don’t like taking responsibility for our actions and when we do we hope there are no consequences. The important aspect of the story is what happens next. David’s son dies and he moves on in God’s forgiveness. He does not dwell on his past failures. Dwelling does not mean forgetting. David would always remember his sin and God’s greater grace (Psalms 51).
As the church we need to embody Jesus’ words and actions when he says, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Acknowledge sin. Accept responsibility for actions. Move in the Grace of Christ. Without the ill-deserved love we receive from Christ we have no basis for loving those who also deserve nothing but contempt. Instead of ostracization let us move in grace.
The unfortunate reality is that many girls who are like Alice do not go through with pregnancy. They look around, see the Alice’s before them and understand that if they keep the baby they will face condemnation and scorn from their family and friends. The church needs to be a place that promotes the holiness of Christ while showing the love of the cross. Both of these realities cannot be separated.
It would be natural now to shift and talk about how Christians should all be pro-life and fight vehemently for the well-being of the unborn. It would make sense to criticize cultural movements about abortion and what women’s rights are. But how does picketing outside of a clinic help Alice? Change needs to happen, and it will by the grace of God. As for you and I, let us look for the Alice in our own churches and extend the same grace we have been extended countless times. Spending a little less time discussing the issue of abortion, and a little more time supporting the Alices around us, may be the better way of reducing abortions in the long run.