Sometimes the most unusual phrases capture my attention.
Reading through the Old Testament the other day, I ran across the command, “You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” I was immediately struck by those words. I have been unable to shake them from my mind. In particular, I’ve been contemplating how this phrase relates to the recent passage of a law in the State of New York legalizing—and indeed, actually celebrating—third trimester abortion.
Wondering if I understood the passage rightly, I went to multiple sources and, of course, received multiple interpretations as to the meaning. Learning that this phrase appears not one, but three times, in the Old Testament, I also found that it appears in different contexts. While some consider it to be a mistake in the translation of the text, others suggest that it is written in reaction to a pagan ritual, while still others see it as comparable in usage to “how much more” statements which are made in both the Old and New Testaments. (I will be working off of the premise of the “how much more” perspective.)
“How Much More” Applied
One example of Jesus’ “how much more” statements occurs in Luke’s version of the Sermon on the Mount. There, Jesus tells his hearers to consider the lilies of the field—and how God cares for them. “But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?” In other words, “If God cares for his creation as a whole, how much more does he care for every one of his image bearers?”
So, a “how much more” parallel follows in this way: If, in principle, that which gives life to a baby goat—it’s mother’s milk—should not be used to intentionally destroy it, then how much more ought that which nurtures the life of a human baby—the womb—not be the place of an infant image-bearer’s intentional destruction?
Abortion and the Line of False Choice
Life in the human womb involves a deeply intimate interdependence on both the biological level and the relational level between a mother and her child. Applying Andy Crouch’s terminology from his book Strong and Weak, this interdependent relationship exists between both human beings who are created to possess what he describes as “authority” and “vulnerability.” Andy Crouch defines authority as “capacity for meaningful action” and vulnerability as “exposure to meaningful risk.” A pregnancy involves both elements for both mother and baby—authority and vulnerability. There is the genuine capacity for meaningful action on the part of both persons, and there is significant exposure to true risk.
Source: Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by Andy Crouch
How might an unborn baby possess authority, you may ask? How can a child still in the womb have any capacity for meaningful action? The capacity for meaningful action in the lives of the most vulnerable in this world is, paradoxically, rooted in their deep vulnerability —whether they be those who are still in the womb, those who are profoundly disabled, or those who are truly at risk for any number of reasons. The most vulnerable among us draw out from the rest of us what it means to be fully human. They call us to give up our own self-protective fortresses of authority and to move, with intentionality, into a personal intersection of our authority and vulnerability in order to attempt to meet their needs. Our response to their call respects and validates the authority of the vulnerable.
Source: Strong and Weak: Embracing a Life of Love, Risk & True Flourishing by Andy Crouch
Crouch’s premise is that the we often operate along a line of “false choice.” We fail to understand that true flourishing in life takes place at the highest intersections of authority and vulnerability together. Instead, we (wrongly) believe that our only choices exist between autonomous, exploitative authority and victimized, vulnerable suffering. This is the line of false choice.
The abortion debate in America could not be more deeply entrenched in this line of false choice. On one side, the autonomous authority of the woman is championed without concern for the vulnerability and suffering of the unborn child. On the other side, the human rights of the pre-born baby are championed without concern for the vulnerability and suffering of the mother. The tragic irony is that the line of false choice is the very basis of the argument of many “pro-choice” advocates—and many “anti-abortion” advocates—yet it is fallacious at its core.
Make no mistake: Legitimizing third trimester abortion is the next step, if we continue moving along the line of false choice, into infanticide. As such, it must not be allowed to stand. Yet—at the same time—the pathway to the flourishing of the baby does not have to be at the expense of the mother, but in concert with her flourishing as well. We cannot prosper wholeheartedly as a society if we are unwilling to move off of the line of false choice (in this, and many other topics). To be more fully human, to live in ways that promote wholeness and well-being, we must simultaneously embrace a capacity for meaningful action and for meaningful risk in our relationships with others. Until we grasp this life-giving tension, nothing else will change.
The Christian’s Christ-Like Choice
For the Christian, being pro-life must be so much more than being against abortion. To only be against abortion is to perpetuate the line of false choice. Christian living requires us to pursue a Christ-like life at the highest intersections of authority and vulnerability. We lay down our lives for others in the process—so that they may experience flourishing.
Those of us who are Christians must own and continually engage in our part to move off of the line of false choice. Here are a few places to start:
- Seeing both the unborn child and the mother as image bearers—those who possess the calling to represent God’s character in this world.
- Seeing both the unborn child and the mother as rightfully possessing both capacity for meaningful action and exposure to meaningful risk in their image bearing capacities. (If you doubt that these two qualities belong together, simply consider the life of Jesus. Again, I commend Crouch’s writings to you on this.)
- Entering into the struggle alongside of those who find themselves facing unwanted pregnancy—grieving with them, listening to them, practically supporting them—not just during the pregnancy—but throughout their child’s life.
- Entering into the hard realities of a world where rape and incest and abuse occur with horrifying frequency—and actively helping women to move off of the line of false choice where they are perpetually vulnerable sufferers of these hideous wrongs at the hands of those who use their own exploitative autonomy against them.
- Entering into the struggle of those women who believe that their only option is to operate along the line of false choice—to attempt to take back authority over their lives through abortion and, instead, helping build a capacity for meaningful action while simultaneously dealing with the vulnerabilities of pregnancy and parenting and poverty.
- Recognizing and repenting of the countless ways in which we all hide in arenas of high authority and low vulnerability—the ways in which we cloister ourselves from pain via self-protective and exploitive autonomy. Those who do not practice abortion are still frequently guilty of pursuing autonomy at the expense of the suffering of others in countless other, often less obvious, ways. Moving off the line of false choice is not a liberal or a conservative issue. It is a deeply human one that applies to many, many deeply troubling issues.
Being pro-life is about being for the life of my neighbor from conception to natural death. This includes my unborn neighbor, my neighbor dealing with unwanted pregnancy, my neighbor who is the victim of rape or incest, my neighbor who is touched by disability, my neighbor of any color and any national origin, my neighbor of any religion, my neighbor who is easy to love and my neighbor who tries my soul, and my neighbor who is rich and my neighbor who utterly lacks resources.
An Earnest Plea
We can no longer live along the line of false choice. Our humanity depends upon embracing the very intersections of authority and vulnerability—capacity for meaningful action and exposure to meaningful risk. We can do better. We must do better.
“You shall not boil a young goat in its mother’s milk.” How. Much. More.
About the Author:
Steph served as Director of Mission to North America’s (MNA) Special Needs Ministries from 2007 to 2016. She currently works as a Research Fellow in Disability Ministry in partnership with Covenant Theological Seminary. She also serves on the Lancaster Christian Council on Disability (LCCD). Steph is the author of Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability and All Things Possible: Calling Your Church Leadership to Disability Ministry. She has been published in ByFaith magazine, Focus on the Family magazine, and Breakpoint online magazine and has produced a Christian Education DVD series based on Same Lake, Different Boat. Steph and her husband, Fred, have been married for 34 years. They have two deeply loved adult sons: Fred and Tim, the younger of whom has Down syndrome.