Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:1-4)
Children are a burden. Yes, they are a blessing. But they are also a burden. No matter how much a father or mother loves his or her children, there are always costs involved—costs that make themselves felt financially; in the spending of time; in the loss of sleep; in anxiety and heartbreak; and in countless other ways. But the first cost is felt in the body of a pregnant woman, where the burden of bearing life is visibly manifest.
The world charges the church with insisting that women give birth to their babies, but doing nothing after a baby is born. Earlier this year, David Frum asked these rhetorical questions in response to 2012 Senate candidate Richard Mourdock’s contention that abortion is wrong, even in the case of rape. “OK, Mr. Mourdock, you say your principles require a raped woman to carry the rapist’s child to term. That’s a heavy burden to impose on someone. What would you do for her in return? Would you pay her medical expenses? Compensate her for time lost to work? Would you pay for the child’s upbringing? College education?”
“What would you do?” is a fair question. It may not have a political answer, but it is a question that the church should have an answer for.
A church that is for life is a generous church, recognizing that children require financial resources. A church for life is a hospitable church, intentionally creating spaces—guest rooms or garage apartments—to offer pregnant women in need of a place to stay (and perhaps in need of a family as well). A church for life is an adopting church, known for the frequency and gladness with which we adopt children. What if every pastor, priest, and/or crisis pregnancy center director had a list of people who had committed ahead of time to adopt the child of a mother in crisis, so that a counselor could say, in the moment, “here is a family that will gladly adopt your baby and raise her as their own”? Or a list of people who had resources available to aid, or completely cover, the often steep costs of adoption for others? A church for life is a welcoming church. Often women considering abortion do so in the wake of sexual sin, sin which makes some reluctant to let anyone know, especially a church. But Christ came into the world to save sinners. Like you and me and her and him. A woman seeking to do right, even if she has messed up, deserves our admiration, and friendship.
In short, a church for life is a church that seeks to help bear the burdens of those who would otherwise bear them alone.
While the world’s charge that the church does nothing after a baby is born is misleading (for many extend themselves in precisely these ways), we do well to pay attention here, lest we miss what may contain a kernel of truth. Let it never be said of the church, as it was said in Jesus’ time, “they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:1-4). Speaking of the sacredness of life while denying the costs of childbearing and childrearing does no one any good, least of all a troubled mother with child. Even as they are a blessing, children are a burden. But the church is called to bear each other’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ (Gal. 6:2).