Abortion: A theological insight

Dear Editor,

IN my last article (The pain of the world, 31 July 2019, New Era) on abortion, we examined some preliminary issues that need to be included in any consideration of the abortion issue, particularly in the Namibian context.

Even now, being that Namibia is predominantly a Christian nation we need to consider the Bible’s view to aid in ethical decision making around the abortion debate.

What makes an act right, and what makes an act wrong? It is wrong (or right) “simply because the Bible says so?” The following examples indicate why this question is necessary:

(1) The writers of the biblical books seemed to have accepted slavery.  Yet, Christian activists were instrumental in purging the world from the scourge of slavery.  Furthermore, stoning was an accepted form of capital punishment.  Yet today, even Western countries that practice capital punishment view stoning as barbarous.  Polygamy is also a practice that was acceptable in biblical times, which no Christian would repeat today.

(2) At the same time, there are actions that we deem acceptable that were strictly forbidden in biblical times.  Today, every modern economy is based upon the lending of money, and the reciprocal charging of interest.  In Old Testament times, this was termed ‘usury’, which meant to charge another Jew interest on a loan.  It was deemed a sinful act.

(3) This brings us to a third point in ethics that some definitions have changed.  For instance, usury meant charging any interest on a loan.  We still have ‘usury laws’, which mean something different:  today, usury is the charging of excessive interest, which is prohibited by modern law. 

But if that were not enough, we also simply ignore some explicit teachings of the Bible.  For instance, most churches regularly host the weddings of people previously divorced.  In Jesus’ view, a divorced woman who marries another man commits adultery.

Is it any wonder that modern people feel confused about ethical considerations?  Some Christian movements advocate for a ‘return to the biblical laws’.  There is no problem with this, as long as those same people are willing to be consistent in their application of the laws.  This would seem very hard to do if not impossible and undesirable.  After all, who is willing to close down malls or ATMs/banks on Sundays? Or to stone a remarried divorced woman to death?  And imagine trying to implement the Jubilee Laws of the Old Testament?

So we seem to be in an unenviable situation.  Modern lifestyles make many of these biblical laws completely frustrating and there are hundreds of other Old Testament laws that are extremely problematic.  All of this simply means that proof-texting (finding propositional texts to support an argument) is wholly inadequate as an ethical methodology.  It also ignores important ethical considerations of issues that are modern.

For instance, before the interventions of life-support systems and genetic engineering, bio-ethical issues were not real problems.  Proof texting doesn’t work when a direct text cannot be found, as in the above instances.

Does this mean that all biblical precepts are irrelevant?  Should we just put the Bible in a museum? The short answer is a resounding NO.

For a people of faith, we believe that God’s word comes to us through the biblical text. As people of faith, we believe that the Bible is very relevant to us even in the 21st century.  Nevertheless, the problem is how to determine which biblical laws are still applicable to us.

The problem is more pronounced in the case of the abortion issue since there isn’t any direct “yeah” or “nay” from the biblical record.

So for Christian ethics on the issue of abortion we need to reflect wider that just some text in the Bible.

That will be addressed in the second part of this article.

Reverend Jan. A. Scholtz is the ||Kharas Regional Chairperson and !Nami#nus Constituency Regional Councillor and is a holder of Diploma in Theology, B-Theo (SA), a Diploma in Youth Work and Development from the University of Zambia (UNZA), Diploma in Education III (KOK) BA (HED) from UNISA

*This article is written in his personal capacity