I write as a member of the Mennonite Community in respect to the problem of abortion. I have read the statements from various Mennonite Conferences, and will try to distil what appears to be a consensus of understandings on this very difficult moral and social issue.
We believe that the family continues to be the basic unit of our society. The New Testament guides us toward marriage fidelity and family solidarity. We believe that the sexual permissiveness of our time is the root cause behind the 65,000 plus abortions in Canada each year. We believe parents have the responsibility to plan for families, and that abortion is not an acceptable form of birth control.
A second understanding which shapes Mennonite response to abortion is our belief in the sacredness of life. This point has been expounded by many, and I will here affirm it as a sound guiding principle.
We believe persons are more important than regulations and systems. Jesus said the Sabbath was made for the good of man, not man for the Sabbath. When Jesus had to choose between the Sabbath system and service to people, he chose the latter. In our dogmatic defense of systems, we are often blinded to the ways of compassion and Christian love.
It should not be assumed that a clear and easy answer for every problem can be found by turning to the right page in the Bible. We believe the Bible offers guiding principles for faithful believers to respond to. The following is a quotation from a statement on abortion adopted by the Mennonite Church in 1974.
“We believe that – abortion violates the Biblical principles of the sanctity and value of human life…we should work toward making counsel concerning alternatives, available to each person who seeks abortion…in those rare situations when very difficult decisions must be made about the life of the mother or unborn child, Christians should prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit with a group of believers committed to discerning the Lord’s leading.”
It could be said correctly that the majority of us believe that most abortions cannot be justified on moral grounds, although we are unwilling to say that abortion is never justified. The hard question follows, how and who gives the answer in such cases?
Here are some alternatives:
- The pregnant woman will decide
- The woman and her medical counsel will decide
- The Bible will guide us on moral issues
- The answer will come from the ecclesiastical structure of the Church
- The caring community of believers will discern the Lord’s leading in prayerful dialogue with those concerned.
The non-religious community will probably not expect help from the Bible or the Church to determine moral direction. Our attempt to fit Christian ethics in non-Christian settings is often quite futile. From a Christian perspective, and as a Mennonite Community, we believe the hard question above becomes the responsibility of the caring community of believers rather than that of the individual person. This approach will take into consideration all of the above alternatives.
We believe that out responsibility does not end when the decision has been made to continue the pregnancy. The caring society is responsible to minimize the burden on those who decide in favour of life. The Mennonite Central Committee has prepared a fine brochure titled “A Service Response,” describing how a service response to abortion can work.
“The possibility of a service response arises from the fact that some of the women, many of whom are quite young, would not have abortions if they knew that they could obtain the help that they need. Such help might include advice on medical care, clothing, a place to live for some time, finances, much personal encouragement and ongoing friendship and support. Giving such help could make an important difference, not only for the birth of a baby, but also in helping the mother, so that this experience, while difficult, perhaps even traumatic, might also lead to a new direction in her life.”
This brochure can be obtained by writing to Mennonite Central Committee, 50 Kent Avenue, Kitchener, Ontario N2G 3R1.
Need to help
We believe that a primary need in the human personality is the need to help and serve those who are in trouble. Jesus describes that well in Matt. 25:31-46. He speaks of the poor the lonely and the sick, and goes on to say that the very essence of Christianity is to care and to help. How impoverished we would be if we annihilated all such needs.
As Christians we testify to the sacredness of human life. We confess the Lordship of Jesus Christ, whose will, as we understand it, is not to kill anyone; we cannot kill anyone, nor can the state or sub-Christian society without violating Christ’s Lordship.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; Therefore choose life, that you and your children might live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
The Rev. Paul Martin is pastor of the Wanner Mennonite Church in Cambridge, Ontario. This article is reprinted from the Cambridge Right to Life newsletter.