Note: On January 20, 2019, the Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Evangelical Action Director Chelsen Vicari addressed the congregation at Skyview Baptist Church in Fancy Gap, Virginia in observance of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday. Here Chelsen shares her abridged remarks.
Thank you, church, for allowing me to share this talk about the sanctity of life with you.
The reason we pause in honor of Sanctity of Human Life Sunday is to acknowledge that this week marks the anniversary of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade, the infamous case known to legalize abortion nationwide. The decision was handed down on January 22, 1973. So we join other churches nationwide to consider abortion’s impact on our society and how as Christians we can better strengthen our pro-life witness moving forward.
I want to tell you a brief story about how I decided to approach the topic of sacred human life with my toddler daughter. In preparation for this Sunday, I took my toddler to the library and we read the Dr. Seuss book Horton Hears a Who. Maybe you’ve read it to your kids or grandkids. It is one of Dr. Seuss’ more popular children’s books and has a famous line “A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
If you don’t know the story, it’s about Horton the elephant who hears a scream coming from a pellet-sized dust ball. On that small speck, tiny Whos are housed in their city of Whoville. When Horton the elephant agrees to protect the Whos from a deadly fate, a mama kangaroo tells everyone that Horton is crazy. Poor Horton is ridiculed and mocked. But Horton stands by his promise to protect his new friends, the Whos, by explaining to everyone that “Even though you can’t see them, or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”
So simple is this message that a “person’s a person no matter what” we teach it to our toddlers to teach them that everyone is created the same no matter what they look like, where they live, or if they resemble us like or not. “A person’s a person” and therefore (1.) deserving of life and not only that, but this book sends the message that (2.) we bigger folks have a duty to defend the smallest lives around us.
It’s a pre-school lesson, isn’t it? But as simple as this pre-school lesson is, our society doesn’t really practice it.
The world will say that some unborn children—the smallest of the small—are deserving of life and others or not. Some unborn babies might be called disposable because some are determined to be a “mistake” or “physically disabled” or “a girl, and not the desired boy” or maybe because their parents’ circumstances are deemed too unfortunate.
But we are sitting in church this morning, and you probably expected a sermon and not Dr. Seuss. That’s okay because this simple message is essentially the same. “A person’s a person.”
Turn with me, if you please, to Genesis chapter 1:26-28.
The very first chapter of the very first book of the Bible tells of the Almighty God speaking the earth, the land, plants, and animals into existence. And then starting in verse 26, with his breath, God created his masterpiece: humankind.
Genesis 1:26-28 reads:
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
That God miraculously created men and women in His image and we are therefore blessed by him is awe-inspiring. But I want to be sure we catch the enormous weight of that phrase “in His image.” This morning I was trying to better picture the significance of this phrase. The best I could come up with was considering how my daughter resembles my image. Even though she is not identical to me, I can sometimes see how her smile or her silly behavior reflects me and therefore stirs a bit of pride in me. If your children are adopted, then perhaps you can see how they’ve picked up on your mannerisms or favorite phrases, and I imagine this stirs pride because your child is reflecting you. This is how I imagine God looks at men and women. As human beings reflecting His image, we are precious to Him in ways that no other part of creation can match.
Looking back at Genesis 1, we read that God created man, male and female, in his own image. I do not see any caveats here, do you? It does not say anywhere here that God created only healthy “wanted” men and women in his image. I see nothing here that says men and women with Down Syndrome or other special needs are not included in those created in His image. Or that a specific race, or a certain amount of money in the bank, or a stable home life meet the requirement to be created in God’s image. Only that verse 27 is clear “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
Every life matters because every life is created in the image of God. No matter how big, or how small “A person’s a person.”
In the Spring of 2017, I was pregnant with my daughter. And my little sister was also pregnant with her daughter Mia.*
Two unborn babies girls. But two very different circumstances.
You see, my husband and I had been praying and planning for our child. Our daughter would come home from the hospital to a home we own, to a nursery specially prepared for her, and relatively comfortable and stable home life. The outside world would probably call our daughter wanted,” and so deserving of birth and life.
My sister, on the other hand, was nineteen years old. Not long graduated from high school. Her unborn baby girl was not planned, not exactly wanted.
Unborn baby Mia’s circumstances were pretty rough, by the world’s standards and the world. Abortion advocates would say that it would probably be better if she had been aborted. Her parents were not married. Neither had a home, or apartment. Neither really wanted her. Neither had much money, and her dad struggled with drug addiction.
My sister did not realize that she was pregnant until she was about five months, past her state’s legally allowed period to have an abortion. My sister has admitted that if she would have known sooner about her pregnancy, then she likely would have had an abortion. But we believe that God was watching out for Mia’s life, even in the womb.
Here are two sonogram photos of two different unborn babies. Both around the same age of gestation. 18-20 weeks.
Can you tell me, by looking at these sonogram images which one is a planned pregnancy? Unplanned pregnancy? Which unborn child has a nursery at home specially prepared for its birth? Which one is wanted? You can’t tell. You can’t even tell their skin tone, or eye color, or hair texture. Doesn’t matter. You can tell which baby was created by God, and in His image and blessed by Him. We don’t need sonogram pictures to know that the answer is both.
Different unborn babies. Different outside circumstances. The same Creator. The same God-given dignity, value, and worth in His eyes.
David, in Psalm 139:13 testifies to this, that God is the giver of life even before we enter the womb. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote:
For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
What does the sanctity of life mean? Exactly what Psalms tells us.
That God as Creator miraculously knits us together in our mother’s womb despite any outside circumstances. Though we are all physically different, our situations and environments are different, health might be different, finances are different. We are all created in God’s image, and because so all our lives are sacred.
But there’s more Good News: Every unborn child is loved by God so much even before their conception He sent His only son Jesus Christ to die for them, to conquer death for them, to be raised from the dead for them, and is right now sitting at the right hand of the Heavenly Father so that they might be saved.
This is a picture of baby Mia today. This weekend my family celebrated her first birthday. She is a sweetheart, and we love her. For a 19-year-old who called her baby “unwanted,” my sister adores her daughter and couldn’t imagine life without her.
But I won’t lie. Mia’s life will have more challenges than others. Her parents continue to make bad choices. But thank God, Mia is not the sum total of her parent’s bad decisions. She is not defined by her circumstances, or others’ bad choices, or even her own future mistakes.
Jeremiah 29:11 tell us that God knows the plans He has for Mia. Plans to prosper her and not to harm her, plans to give her a hope and a future should she only choose to follow Him as her Lord and Savior. And we pray that she does.
We are all more than the mistakes of our parents. And thank the Lord none of us are the sum total of our own mistakes, our own sin.
Statistics tell us that 4,000 babies are aborted per day here in the United States. That’s not just 4,000 babies. That’s also 4,000 women per day who suffer through an abortion. And who suffer afterwards. Many secretly dealing with their loss, shame and pain over the course of many years.
And if perhaps abortion is a part of your past mistakes, please know that you too are created in God’s image. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God knows you and loved you so much, that even before you were born He sent His son to die for you, raise from the dead for you. Don’t let abortion define you or determine your future. God is a God of mercy, forgiveness, healing, and peace. You need only lay down your burdens, accept Him as your Lord and Savior, and daily follow Him.
Church, we Christians have a duty to testify that every life is made in the image of God, no matter how small. Every life is precious. Every life is beautiful. Every life matters.
We are blessed to belong to a local church where our church leaders do testify to the sanctity of unborn life, to all life.
But not all churches and church leaders do that. And I know that can be hard to believe.
As part of my job at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, I monitor and report on cultural issues affecting the Church such as the sanctity of life. I’ve seen ministers praise abortion as Christian compassion with my own eyes.
Last Summer, I attended a conference not far down the road in Hot Springs, North Carolina. The conference used to be called a progressive Christian conference, but I am not sure use the term Christian anymore. I think now it is defined as more spiritual. But many Christians still attend, especially those affiliated with Mainline denominations.
I was tasked to go to this conference, called the Wild Goose conference, and report on what I witnessed. And one session was on the issue of abortion. Well, two Planned Parenthood workers gave the presentation and basically proclaimed abortion to be ethical and compassionate. But during that session, I was astounded when a Presbyterian minister stood up and proudly identified herself as a minister and an abortionist. She received a round of applause from the audience.
In 2017, a group of liberal Christian clergy gathered at a Fort Worth, Texas abortion clinic to “bless” its staff and patients, as they sing “Hallelujah.” The clergy told a local paper that they were there to support abortion as a woman’s “God-given right.”
This was called a pro-abortion prayer event. Here’s what one of its organizers, a minister, told the local paper:
Women seeking an abortion are largely women of faith. They’re not having an abortion in spite of their faith, it’s in many ways informing the decision they make. … They have a God-given right to make decisions about their life.
Another minister affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church recently told an NPR radio show that because Genesis tells us that life starts with breath, that abortion then can be viewed as morally acceptable.
Imagine how those who are unsaved hear statements like this from professing Christian leaders and are deeply misled.
Christians, your public witness matters. Your voice on the subject of abortion matters. It matters to little babies like Mia who the world would have deemed disposable. It matters to post-abortive mothers seeking forgiveness and healing. And it matters to our lost, broken world in need of hope.
It’s a simple message, as I warned you from the start. Because all life is created by God in the womb and in God’s image then “a person’s a person no matter how small.”
(*To respect the privacy of my niece and her identity, I decided not to use her real name on the blog.)