The Gospel and Dr. Gosnell: What Church Must Learn from Media Silence on Abortion Horrors

on April 14, 2013


Rev. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of First United Methodist Church of Union Springs, Alabama, a Ph.D. candidate in New Testament at the University of Gloucestershire, and an adjunct member of the faculties of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. Connect at or follow @mporeilly.

Sometimes silence is deafening. In the case of major media silence on the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell, who is charged with mass murder of defenseless newborns, it is also sickening. The horror is only amplified as it comes on the heels of the defense of infanticide by a Planned Parenthood representative in testimony before the Florida House of Representatives, a story that also received little coverage. Despite the lack of media coverage, word has spread about these events by means of social media sharing and commentary. These events and the media’s silence provide a valuable learning opportunity for the Church. Here are few key lessons we need to learn.

It will not stop.

Abortion and infanticide are two stops on a single road, and the road has a downhill slope. Make no mistake. The current situation in which abortion practitioners are engaging in infanticide is the result of our desensitization by the decades long effort to devalue and destroy the lives of the preborn. Sin and death always look for new territory to conquer, and having eradicated the safety of the womb, they now proceed to do violence against the newly born. They will not stop until infanticide is canonized as a basic constitutional right of free choice. Then they will move on to wreak havoc and destruction elsewhere.

Don’t believe me? It’s already happening. As I’ve indicated above, a representative of Planned Parenthood has argued that ending the life of a child born after a botched abortion should be a decision left to the woman and her doctor. Sound familiar? The exact same language that was used to normalize abortion-on-demand is now being applied to infanticide. In 2011, two bioethicists argued in the peer-reviewed Journal of Medical Ethics that ending the life of a newborn, which they nonsensically call “after-birth abortion”, is moral and should be permitted under law. Sure, there is outrage now, but give it a little time. Congressional testimony and the scholarly opinions of allegedly respected ethicists are significant steps down the path to what will one day be horrifically called safe, legal, and rare infanticide. It would take only a single lawsuit heard by the Supreme Court in which the petitioner claims an undue burden in maintaining the life of a newborn baby to change the law of the land. We aren’t there yet, but we are closer than we think. Let me be clear that I’m not suggesting that every pro-abortion advocate is also in favor of infanticide. Many are horrified by Gosnell’s crimes. I am simply calling on the Church to recognize that there is a greater power at work, and that power is on the offensive. The people of God must understand this and stand against it.

It’s our job to speak

We must stand against that power with our voices. We need to learn something we should’ve learned a long time ago. When it comes to matters of morality, we cannot count on the media to be the watchdog. It’s the Church’s job to call the nation to righteousness. It is our job because our God commissions his people to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute” (Prov. 31:8), for he “has pity on the weak and the needy” and “From oppression and violence he redeems their life” (Ps 72:13-14). Who has less voice than these little ones on whose tiny tongues lingers the aftertaste of amniotic fluid? Who will speak up for them? At the end of the day, the media will focus on stories that advance their agenda. Stories that do not, no matter how newsworthy, will receive little or no attention. God will hold us accountable for whether we’ve used our voices to speak up for righteousness by taking up the case not only of the preborn but now also the newly born.

It’s a Gospel issue

We also need to remember that as we speak to the gross immorality of abortion and infanticide, we must speak in the context of the gospel. Christ died to purchase forgiveness for sin, including the sin of ending the life of a preborn or newborn child. By imputing to us his righteousness, which is the basis of our acceptance by God, Christ sets us free from guilt, shame, and condemnation, including the guilt, shame, and condemnation that come from ending the life of a preborn or newborn child. Christ was raised on the third day in order that we might share his new life. It is certainly true that those who have been a party to the death of the preborn and the newly born need the new life that Christ gives as much as any of us. Like us all, Dr. Gosnell needs the gospel. The gospel shines the light of God’s extravagant love to redeem us from the horror and darkness of our sin. Abortion and infanticide are gospel issues because they are sin issues.

We’ve got a lot to learn as we watch our society react to the lack of media coverage on these important events. We also have a great opportunity to live into the gospel by speaking justice, mercy, grace, and redemption to the twin issues of abortion and infanticide. Let’s pay attention, and let’s learn our lesson well.

  1. Comment by hollyboardman on April 14, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Thank you for this thoughtful blogpost. However, I must disagree with you. I too am horrified by the reports I’ve read about Kermit Gosnell’s murder of near-term, viable babies. He is a criminal who should have been stopped many years ago. Public health officials failed to bring him to account.

    I also concur with the official statement of the United Methodist Church Social Principles with regard to abortion. Here is the 2012 updated statement:

    Social Principle on Abortion

    The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion.

    But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child.

    We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers. We support parental, guardian, or other responsible adult notification and consent before abortions can be performed on girls who have not yet reached the age of legal adulthood. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection or eugenics (see Resolution 3185) [Book of Resolutions].

    We oppose the use of late-term abortion known as dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) and call for the end of this practice except when the physical life of the mother is in danger and no other medical procedure is available, or in the case of severe fetal anomalies incompatible with life. This procedure shall only be performed by certified medical providers. Before providing their services, abortion providers should be required to offer women the option of anesthesia.

    We entrust God to provide guidance, wisdom, and discernment to those facing an unintended pregnancy.

    We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may cause them to consider abortion. We entrust God to provide guidance, wisdom, and discernment to those facing an unintended pregnancy.

    The Church shall offer ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies. We commit our Church to continue to provide nurturing ministries to those who terminate a pregnancy, to those in the midst of a crisis pregnancy, and to those who give birth.

    We mourn and are committed to promoting the diminishment of high abortion rates. The Church shall encourage ministries to reduce unintended pregnancies such as comprehensive, age-appropriate sexuality education, advocacy in regard to contraception, and support of initiatives that enhance the quality of life for all women and girls around the globe.

    Young adult women disproportionately face situations in which they feel that they have no choice due to financial, educational, relational, or other circumstances beyond their control. The Church and its local congregations and campus ministries should be in the forefront of supporting existing ministries and developing new ministries that help such women in their communities. They should also support those crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women explore all options related to unplanned pregnancy. We particularly encourage the Church, the government, and social service agencies to support and facilitate the option of adoption. (See ¶ 161.L.) We affirm and encourage the Church to assist the ministry of crisis pregnancy centers and pregnancy resource centers that compassionately help women find feasible alternatives to abortion.

    Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, family, pastoral, and other appropriate counsel.

    The Gosnell case highlights the need for our church to focus more energy on providing quality sex education, providing feasible alternatives to abortion, and counselling and praying with families who are dealing with such a difficult decision.

    I believe that there ARE situations when abortion is the best option. As a pastor, I have been able to support some women who made the terrible decision to terminate a pregnancy. For example, a young married woman in my congregation was told that the triplets she was carrying would be born with severe handicaps. If she ended the life of one of the babies, the other two would have a much better quality of life. In another situation, a young, 13 year old child was sexually molested by her mentally retarded step-father.

    I do not encourage abortion, but I believe it should be a safe and legal option. I am glad that the position of our church is what it is.

    Some good may come from the Gosnell situation if we step-up our efforts to prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place, and work to make abortion safe, legal and rare.

  2. Comment by cleareyedtruthmeister on April 15, 2013 at 10:52 am

    4 points:

    1) The Bible trumps the Social Principles. Social principles are human-derived and malleable, often based on which political point-of-view screams the loudest at General Conference.

    2) That said, even the Social Principles are being violated by current abortion policy in the US: well over 90 percent of abortions are performed essentially as birth control. That’s unconscionable.

    3) The cases you mention are exceeding rare and most people would not object to abortion being available in those circumstances. Those very rare cases cannot rationally or morally justify current abortion policy in the US (which, with the overturning of The Mexico City Policy by our current President, now even includes US funding of elective abortions overseas).

    4) The political advocacy of the UMC as exercised by The General Board of Church and Society is heavily weighted on the pro-abortion side. I have never seen the General Board of Church and Society advocate for Crisis Pregnancy Centers that were not also abortion-providers. That is not just a violation of the Social Principles, it is morally repugnant.

  3. Comment by hollyboardman on April 17, 2013 at 7:32 am

    I agree that the Bible trumps the Social Principles. But I obviously interpret the Bible differently than you do on this point. The Bible generally identifies the beginning of life with the first breath of a child–not at conception. Christian tradition identifies the beginning of life at an earlier point–when the child is “quickened” in the mother’s womb. This traditional understanding considers “quickening” the point when the soul enters the developing baby.

    I agree that the Social Principles are NOT being adhered to by our church in a satisfactory way. We need to do better to make sure that abortion is safe, legal and rare.

  4. Comment by cleareyedtruthmeister on April 17, 2013 at 9:58 am

    Holly, please give me your source for stating that the Bible identifies the beginning of life with the first breath of a child and how that jibes with the following analysis:

    The phrase “conceived and bore” is used repeatedly (see Genesis 4:1,17) and the individual has the same identity before as after birth. “In sin my mother conceived me,” the repentant psalmist says in Psalm 51:7. The same word is used for the child before and after birth (Brephos, that is, “infant,” is used in Luke 1:41 and Luke 18:15.)

    God knows the preborn child. “You knit me in my mother’s womb . . . nor was my frame unknown to you when I was made in secret” (Psalm 139:13,15). God also helps and calls the preborn child: “You have been my guide since I was first formed . . . from my mother’s womb you are my God” (Psalm 22:10-11). “God… from my mother’s womb had set me apart and called me through his grace” (St. Paul to the Galatians 1:15).

    Thanks for your response.

  5. Comment by Donnie on April 16, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Rare? As in 51 million since Roe V Wade?

  6. Comment by hollyboardman on April 16, 2013 at 8:49 pm

    We have certainly failed in our efforts to make abortion “rare”. As our Social Principles state, we need to do better at encouraging adoption, and offering quality sex education that teaches sexual abstinence by unmarried people.

  7. Comment by Greg M. Johnson (@pteranodo) on April 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    Are you calling the media to repentance, or church members to the work of being mad at the media?

  8. Comment by Saraspondence on April 16, 2013 at 10:25 am

    Holly – you are truly confused on this issue.

    First you say “We entrust God to provide guidance, wisdom, and discernment to those facing an unintended pregnancy.” Then you acknowledge that you supported the decision of congregant to murder her own child.

    I guess you only trust Him so far.

    The UMC’s record on Crisis Pregnancy Center support is ZERO.

    Sex education? You fool. Sex education in the hands of Planned Parenthood has become planned perversion and sexual addiction. One only needs to look at their materials to see that they are not seeking to stop teen pregnancy but deliberately entice and encourage sex (all kinds) in order to provide (at a cost) testing and drugs for the STDs and a suction machine for the pregnancies.

    See this video:

    Regarding incest, numerous studies have proven that having a baby ends incest where abortion is the great enabler of incest and other forms of sexual assault on minors. Additionally, the child, for whom you advocated murder, is innocent. Why should a child be held accountable and punished by murder, for the sin of its father? Who do you think you are Holly? God did not give you the authority to choose life or death for another. Christians brought about the end of the pagan practice of abortion and infanticide in the 374 AD, trust the UMC to bring back the heinous practice and have the gall to defend it.

    Holly, look at all of the disaster you’ve sown with your self-made gospel of abortion. A mother (and father) who will always mourn, siblings who will always doubt, a pedophile who got away with it, a teen who will be a strong candidate for breast cancer, and will know not just the horror of sexual assault by a trusted adult, but the horror of being led to commit murder by a trusted pastor. And two dead infants and counting.

    The only piece you got right is “Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience.” Unfortunately Holly, you do not have an informed Christian conscience. You have a Conformed Human Secularism conscience, but paraded under the banner of Christ. You have used His Name in vain. You have misled your congregants in the worst way and still you seek to justify this pagan, heinous practice. God help you.

  9. Comment by hollyboardman on April 16, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    The quotation you credit me with is not mine. It comes from the Social Principles of The United Methodist Church. I am not confused, you seem to be.

    I do not believe that Planned Parenthood should be responsible for sex education. The church has a responsibility to provide quality sex education for members and constituents and to advocate for quality sex education in schools. We should not abdicate our responsibility by leaving it up to Planned Parenthood or anyone else. I was a teacher in our Florida conference sponsored sex-ed program for many years. It was an excellent program that taught as much scripture as it did biology.

    My “self-made” Gospel of abortion as you call it is not, “self-made”. My actions are consistent with the doctrine of my church. Yours are not.

    My conscience is clear with regard to the way I handled these difficult situations as a pastor. I never encouraged anyone to abort a child, but when a member of my congregation made that decision I offered pastoral support rather than condemnation.

  10. Comment by Mike Cooper on April 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

    It is good to see a civil discusson on a vital issue. A few points:

    1. Holly, you do not answer the author’s central premise that “(a)bortion and infanticide are two stops on a single road, and that road has a downhill slope.” You, like all of us, are “horrified” by what has occurred in the Gosnell case. But why are you horrified? Is it because babies were killed? Is it because of how they were killed? If it is horrifying outside the womb, why isn’t it horrifying inside the womb?

    2. Cleareyedtruthmeister was pretty specific about scriptural support for the idea that a life in the womb is of the same value to God as a life outside the womb. What is the scriptural basis for your argument that God does not value the life in the womb the same as the life outside the womb?

    3. The 2 examples from Holly need to be addressed. As to the first, a woman carrying triplets who was told an abortion would improve the life of the other two ,is pretty straight forward. How will the survivors feel knowing their sibling was sacrificed for them? How will the mother feel every time she looks at her living children? The second, where a 13 year old was apparently impregnated by her mentally challenged stepfather, is harder to address on the surface. The young lady was clearly severely traumatized. She was also not protected as she should have been. But why compound her trauma by an abortion? An innocent life was taken. The church needs to surround the family with love, and make sure the victim is protected. She has had one life altering event. Why add another?

    4. Who exults over an abortion, Jesus or Satan? Who weeps? “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” Colossians 3:17.

  11. Pingback by The Gospel and Dr. Gosnell on April 18, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    […] of the faculties of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary and Wesley Biblical Seminary. This article appeared on the IRD blog and is used with […]

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