Your pastor is silent on abortion, now what?
It’s really not enough to complain that your pastor is silent on abortion, if you really want to help him overcome his fears, you must learn to artfully engage the reasons he’s silent on abortion
An Interview with John Ensor, President of PassionLife Ministries. Visit PassionLife.org for more information about the great work they’re doing!
Welcome everybody to the Case for Life podcast. I’m Scott Klusendorf, your host. I am the President of Life Training Institute and today I have a very special guest with me, a man that I admire a lot who’s been a friend, a mentor, a colleague. He is the co-author of this book, Stan for Life. His name is John Zer.
He is President of Passion Life, a pro-life organization that uniquely links gospel proclamation. With pro-life advocacy better than anyone I know. And John, it is absolutely wonderful to have you with us. Thanks for joining me. It’s always good to see you, Scott. Yes. And I’m all the better for seeing you.
Hey, before we get started, tell people a little bit about passion life and what, what drew you into this work, your story, in other words. Yeah. Passion Life is a, a pro-life World Missions organization that is really predicated on the painful truth that 97% of all abortions in the world are outside of the United States.
We represent about 3% or less of all the. Abortions annually in the world. And so some years ago it became a burden on me to start thinking about how to take this robust, thriving, growing, expanding, uh, pro-life movement as it was, uh, flourishing in the United States and expand it into a world missions movement and begin to target places of greatest need where abortion, infanticide, and gender side, the targeting of baby girls was especially concentrated.
And so Passion Life simply became a World Missions movement with a focus on training the church in countries where abortion is most concentrated. How to stand for life. Yeah. By the way, any of you listeners that are wondering the significance of John’s work, he was re recently featured in this book, A Legacy of Life, which highlights 50 pro-life leaders and they have a great section on your work.
John, in the work you’ve been doing worldwide and. Uh, what an honor for you and well deserved. I might add, because I don’t know anybody that has done more work helping Christians understand that the abortion issue is not merely a political issue. This relates to gospel proclamation and world missions, and you better than anyone embodies this.
And if any of our listeners right now have been frustrated, as I know many of us have been about how do we get Christian leaders to see pro-life advocacy as ministry, you’ve done a great service to the pro-life movement helping us do that. One of the things you do that I think is absolutely helpful, you’ve reduced the abortion issue down to four key questions that Christians need to understand.
Brief us on those four questions. Yeah, I think there’s always a, a sense that the abortion or the pro-life issue is complicated and it really isn’t. And as I began to teach in Asia and uh, Cuba and other places, I wanted to be able to help pastors reduce everything down to four questions and say, if you can help your people answer four questions, you as a pastor or a leader will lead well.
And, uh, so the four questions are, One, what does the Bible say about human life, including life in the womb? Uh, this allows us to start with the foundational philosophical truth of the value of human life made in the image of God. Establish that, uh, the Bible sees human life in the womb as human, and so on and so forth.
And we start with the Bible because we’re training mainly. Pastors, and that’s their entry point. That’s their comfort zone. So we start there. Before we go to apologetics number two, what does the Bible say about the shedding of innocent blood? As you know, the Bible doesn’t use the word abortion, but it also doesn’t use the word lynching or genocide or other kinds of, of language, right?
The biblical language is the shedding of innocent blood, and so we look at that language to help them understand what abortion is. Number three. How do we bring the grace of the gospel to the guilt and the grief of abortion particularly? Uh, we want to make sure that all of those who’ve experienced abortion in the past are armed and equipped with the gospel and the freeing power of the gospel to join our movement.
As you know, lots of people can’t stand for life because of their past is plaguing them still. So we see the, um, the abortion issue as an. Entry point for the gospel rather than being off point to the gospel. And then number four, what does the Bible call us to do to stop the shedding of innocent blood?
And what examples do we have from both the Bible going back to the midwives in Egypt, all the way up to the more modern and recent examples of pregnancy crisis intervention as it’s unfolding in the US and other parts of the world. And we believe that if. Pastors can reteach these four questions to their people.
Their people will answer the call to become rescuers or an army of good Samaritans in, in their neighborhood. John, what I love about those four questions is it’s true they’re theological, but they’re also deeply philosophical at the worldview level. Right now, a lot of people think the abortion debate is about trusting women who loves women who hates them.
It’s none of those things. It’s really about one question, who counts as one of us? And it’s a debate about who we are as human beings. What does it mean to be human, and what makes us valuable in the first place? And your first question, what does the Bible say about human value? Is really where the crux of this debate is.
Because if we don’t have. A basis for establishing human dignity and human value. We’re gonna end up with believers who really don’t understand what’s really going on in the debate over abortion. I don’t know if this has happened to you, but I’ve gone into churches where believers will say to me, well, you know, abortion in the first trimester isn’t that big a deal.
The child isn’t self-aware. There’s no brain activity, and therefore, We’re really not doing the same kind of killing we’re doing if we kill a two year old’s. Right? But that’s not the biblical view of human value. Could you cash that out a little bit? Well, it’s the fundamental question of when do we become a human being and therefore when do we start to have human rights?
That’s exactly it. And when do we start to protect the rights of those who are having their rights taken from them? That’s the biblical call to defend the weak and the, and the oppressed. It’s, it’s those who are human beings. Who are not having their human rights, uh, respected. So there’s, we go from the philosophy to the call to action and eventually policy and law and everything else.
But, uh, I think that you can, especially with the church, uh, we start with the Bible. I. Start to say that, you know, the foundation of the entire Bible is Genesis one, being made in the image of God and how it points to our intrinsic value, our equal value as human beings, our exceptional value as human beings, and our eternal value as human beings.
So that’s the foundation for everything. Even the gospel itself is founded on how God values human life and seeks out, uh, to redeem us. From, uh, sin and death. So we start with that fundamental question. And the fact of the matter is that when we teach these four questions, we spend most of our time on question one.
We set, we spend the second amount of our time on question two, helping people recognize that if the unborn is human, it’s a moral violation to destroy that human being. Question three, people are more familiar with the gospel. So we can, we can, uh, apply the gospel to, uh, people whose conscience are afflicted, including many pastors and, and other leaders.
And question four almost answers itself by that time. Yeah. Uh, because once. It’s established that the unborn is a human being and therefore it has rights and protections, and God calls us to do that, then the call to obedience just kicks in. And a lot of good works are produced in places like Vietnam and uh, Cuba.
And today we have a team in Bolivia training in five, uh, cities in Bolivia. And it’s exciting to see that within a year from now, those churches will start their own. Pregnancy help ministries, whatever that looks like in their context in the neediest places in the world. It’s very exciting. In that regard, how does, how does pro-life adv advocacy differ in the US versus these countries like Vietnam, China, and Cuba, for example?
How does that. International element change your messaging or does it? Yeah. There’s one really big difference when you go outside the US and that is that the issue of abortion is not political. Oh yeah. I mean, this is, this is the. Biggest difference. And for someone like myself who sees himself as mainly a, a Bible teacher, a preacher, pastor, this is like the World Series every year going outside the US where you don’t have all of these political defenses up between right, and laugh and your views of government and all the political debates that everything gets filtered through here.
Uh, if, if, if abortion is morally wrong, then I can’t vote, uh, democratic because they’re, you know, so on and so forth. So it’s all divisive and political a lens here in the us but you go to places like China, Vietnam, Cuba, and abortion is just a hard reality of life that they’ve never had a chance to talk about.
And you say, well, let’s begin with what the Bible says about human life and human dignity. And once we’ve established that we have value, then it makes sense that we should ask, well, when does human life begin? Begin? Because that’s when we became valuable. And you start just build the case the way the Bible does it.
From human value to human rights to human protections, and then the Good Samaritan story just kicks in. So that’s the biggest difference, is that, that that defensive mechanism is not there in most other parts of the world, it’s mainly in the US and in places that are, uh, have a, a US worldview still. You know, if you go to.
Most of, of Western Europe, you still see a lot of that. But the further east you go and the further you go down to Africa and Latin America and Asia, there’s no political lens that you have to cut your way through in order to just make a biblical case. When you make this point to US pastors or pastors in western nations, does it help remove the roadblocks they have to talking about abortion?
Not really. I just think the. Here, just the word abortion throws them all kinds of defenses here. And you have to figure out, when you’re talking to pastors in America where their objections are, what is it that they’re, that’s stopping them from speaking confidently, even just. Doing their most basic job of teaching the will of God in the Bible to the people of God.
Yeah, there are reasons that pastors are primarily silent on abortion and they’re almost all political in nature. Uh, uh, and and below that is just a, a level of fear and cowardice. If you want to, to have to stand on a, on a, on a controversial issue in the way that that. Puts us to shame. When we look back in history, when we, and we admire those who took a stand, whether it was the abolition movement and so on and so forth.
Uh, people who rescued the Jews during World War ii, these are all heroes of our faith today. But somehow, we’re not able to recognize, even on our watch, there are places that require courage, uh, to take that stand. And that’s okay, because that’s what God has done throughout this. Generations. What do you think is the best strategy for pro-life leaders in approaching clergy?
Is it to challenge the notion that their political life over here has nothing to do with the biblical worldview and try to show them that the two are connected and they need to act consistently? Or is it better to downplay the political side and just try to get them to focus on the moral? Yeah, that’s a question I’ve been working on for about 33 years now, Scott.
Yeah, me too. Uh, 33 years and, and the easy answer has evaded me so far. Uh, and I do believe that things in the United States are now moving to a point where we’re not gonna be able to avoid politics. Yep. Uh, unfortunately, I, I. I came to Faith in Christ at 17 during the Jesus movement days. Yep. Of the early seventies.
And one of the first lessons that I learned was that God was neither Democrat nor Republican. And, and that, and that we’re above politics and so on and so forth. And I’ve always tried to live in that space there. Uh, and certainly when I go to other parts of the world, I don’t get into their local politics whatsoever.
I just take the Bible and say, let’s start with with what we all believe in. Right. Uh, but like in the, in the, with slavery, you know, it, it became a political issue. It, they always do. It becomes unavoidable. It becomes unavoidable. And, and at some point, failure to stand, uh, isn’t avoiding politics. It’s avoiding the moral mandates of the scripture itself.
And so, right. I think we’re moving there if we’re not there already. And that grieves me. And I think that makes our, our work harder. But with the end of, uh, Roe v. Wade, God has really handed it over to the church to be, uh, influencers within our neighborhood and within our towns and within our states. And the battle for the hearts and minds is now in front of us in a way that was never allowed to happen before.
And so I think there’s an urgency for your work and mine. Mine primarily starting with pastors and churches and yours primarily, to take those people and give them the confidence that they can make their case for life in a secular culture. They can win people to a pro-life position, even those who are not ready, uh, to be one to the gospel itself just as a moral issue.
Itself. So we’ve got a great challenge in front of us. But, but, uh, the hurdles, the barriers, the obstacles that most pastors have built up to defend their silence are well constructed. Yeah. And firm. Share a little bit about your own story, because you were one of those pastors. You were one who wasn’t saying much about abortion, but you had an experience that fundamentally changed you.
Yeah. Give us that experience. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I. My own personal testimony is that, uh, Christ came into my life before I could make a lot of bad decisions. Mm-hmm. I always say I was saved before I fell into the pit. Yeah. Others were saved out of the pit. Uh, And the blessing of that is that I don’t have a lot of personal experiences that of, of regret in that sense.
And abortion was one of them. I don’t have that experience in my life, um, being involved with it at all. And so it was more of an academic subject to me. It was a, it was a topic that you discussed in ethics class at a seminary level. It never dawned on me. I mean, it’s so silly to say this now, but it never really dawned on me that people were actually having abortions.
I, I was just sort of in an intellectual world about ethics and, uh, when I became a pastor in Boston, uh, back in the eighties, uh, I had an experience in which the subject of the shedding of innocent blood came up in a sermon and. After the sermon, uh, first one woman stood up and then another, and then another, and then the men began to stand up.
And with many, many tears, Scott, they started just telling their story of their one abortion, their two abortions, their three abortions. And I was in kind of a pastoral shock at this point because I was completely ignorant and had never spoken to the issue of abortion. And then one woman stood up and she says, the most devastating words I’ve ever heard as a pastor.
And that was, I got pregnant a year ago, and I prayed and asked the Lord if what I’m doing is wrong, please send one someone to stop me. And all of a sudden I realized that. Everything that I understood about the Bible was actually true. You’re guilty if you shed blood, but you’re also guilty if you close your eyes to it and pretend it’s not happening and say that you’re ignorant.
And my ignorance of abortion, I. Was intentional. Uh, there are reasons why I never addressed it. And this woman’s testimony was a, was a moment of insight in which I realized, yes, God did sound someone to stop her, he sent me. That’s my job, my fundamental job as a pastor. Is to make known the will of God to the people of God.
That’s all it is. That’s my primary goal as a, as a faithful minister, and I had. I failed her. Uh, and I was embarrassed. And I was ashamed. And so I got to repent along with everybody else in my church. And it turned out that about 30% of the people in my church had a firsthand experience with abortion.
The men and the women, which I soon learned afterwards was just about the national average. So we were a reflection of our culture. We were worldly in that sense, but, In the other sense, if you’re going to be a church that’s winning people from the culture, you’re winning people who have abortion in their background.
Yep. And among all the things that inflame the conscience, uh, I would say that uh, sexual sins and abortion are the most painful for people to bear. And that’s why. Uh, I think that it’s a great opportunity for us to expose the truth of abortion, let our consciences be inflamed, and then bring the, the sve and the, and the medicine of the gospel right to it.
Yeah, that’s a great point because I think there’s a lot of clergy who think that if we bring up abortion, we’re gonna lay a guilt trip on people when it’s actually actually the opposite. When we don’t talk about it, we don’t spare them guilt, we spare them healing because this unconfessed sin in their past is not addressed.
That’s right. It’s, it’s a. I confess to the sin of pastoral malpractice in that regard, uh, that it was the silence. Uh, pastors do not get in the pulpit and then become silent. That’s not our job. Our job is to bring God’s word to God’s people, and that silence, uh, was a form of, of, of condemnation for them.
So again, abortion does not produce unhealthy guilt. It produces healthy guilt. It helps people recognize their need for Christ. And as in my own church, again, we, within weeks we were saying to each other, there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood.
That is so powerful. So it’s. Yeah, it is the entry point. It’s what brings the two together. Yep. And, and means that all of the people that are our opposition today are going to be our co-laborers within a short time. And that’s how I view all of them in that regard. That is such a powerful point that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood without the shedding of innocent blood.
And yet, Pastors I respect for some of their writing. People like Tim Keller, for example. I don’t want to pick here on a man who’s recently deceased, but he was very specific that he would not preach on abortion and that it was better to let people just come to the conclusion on their own that it was wrong, and he cites the example.
Of an A C L U attorney who visited his church and she was there for three years before she finally came to him and said, you know, do you think abortion is wrong? And to his credit, he said, yes. And she said, I’m beginning to think there may be something wrong with it too. But implicit in that approach in my mind is this idea that clerical silence in the face of child sacrifice is a, a good way to evangelize.
And I think just the opposite is true. You’re a former pastor. What would you de, what would you say if you had had the chance to sit down with someone like Tim Keller and say, could we revisit that statement you made? Yeah. Yeah. Again, uh, I have great admiration for Tim Keller, especially some of the work he’s done in Asian world missions.
Sure. And I’ve read his books and I’ve used them. Uh, but this has always been my disappointment with that approach, and I would have seized the opportunity. To reengage him on the subject, my own story. I mean, he’s using an anecdote that, that, that, that framed his actions. My anecdote is that the greatest thing I’ve ever seen to a great awakening in my life, a revival of sorts, was when we, uh, uh, Took up the issue of abortion.
I call it the day God land a boil because it’s the moment in which all of this stuff came out. Uh, bitterness is in marriage. Uh, one woman said to me, you wanna know why I never volunteered to serve and to teach the kids in the Christian education, so on and so forth, is I figured if you knew that I had abortion in my past, you wouldn’t want me working with kids.
This kind of stuff. I mean, yeah. Our church was not a high and mighty uh, uh, a group of people. We were plumbers and electricians and carpenters and, you know, so on and so forth. And no one would’ve had that kinda attitude, but she had that attitude that the devil had placed in her that condemnation. So I would say that Lansing, the Boy of Abortion, is the entry point for Great Awakening in our country.
And silence simply gives the message that there are some. Things so evil and wicked that we can’t talk about them, and that means that they’re beyond the reach of the gospel. So I think that in his effort to be sensitive, uh, and nonpolitical, uh, that view fails, the biblical test of bringing and exposing as the bow, as Paul said, expose evil do have nothing to do with deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
And the exposing isn’t. To bring hardship to people, it’s to be able to help them see that they’re a loss and that there’s a savior to be had. Yeah. Or there’s a cleansing to be experienced in their conscience. So I see so many people, colleagues, I love and respect, who preach a very positive gospel that’s minus the bad news of our own sinfulness that we need to repent of.
And the good news simply doesn’t. Carry the weight. It should. If there’s not a backdrop of, Hey, I’ve participated in something that is evil, that I do need to repent for, and as you pointed out in our churches, there could be 30 to 40% of people who’ve participated in abortion and we’re not doing ’em any favors by just glossing over this whole thing.
Yeah, that’s very true. And um, You know, it’s just, it, it’s what makes our work ongoing challenging and, uh, and necessary is to help our people not become more and more secularized without even our realizing it. I mean, I really think, even myself, I believe essentially what I believed 30, 40 years ago when I became a Christian, In part because of my understanding of abortion as something that was wicked and sinful, that isolates and separates us from God, that, that, that crushes our conscience and sets us up for the gospel.
There aren’t many other things going on that people will feel their need for the gospel in our culture today, other than abortion, because we’ve just taken away all of that. You know, we’ve sanded down all the sharp edges of the gospel in so many ways. But abortion, when we go to a place like, uh, let’s say, uh, Asia, and you open the word of God and then you show them, uh, what abortion is, people fall on their faces and begin to weep.
Even leaders begin to weep, and then again, in many parts of the world, many pastors have a flawed or very shallow understanding of the gospel, but it’s abortion that helps us understand that God is justified to be angry. I. That there is a condemnation that is deserved. The wages of sin is death that makes us hungry for mercy.
It makes the gospel and what Christ did on the cross, powerful. It justifies God’s mercy in the cross, and so all of a sudden you’re teaching people. Awesome. Biblical doctrines of, of atonement and justification and, and, and, and, and a new birth and transformation. All because you’ve taken the time to explain the true wickedness and eve of abortion.
That is so true. We use the gospel as the fix for the bad news of abortion and people then understand why they need it. I would love to have you come back next week to talk about what the pro-Life movement is doing, what it should be doing moving forward in a post row world. Would you be able to jump back with me?
I’d be glad to. Great. So folks, we’re gonna wrap this one up again. John Zer, my co-author on this book, stand for Life. He has reached recently featured in the book The Legacy of Life, honoring 50 of the Top Pro-Life Leaders, and he has a much deserved mention in that book. I was thrilled when I saw that you were in there along with people I admire, like Greg Cunningham and others.
Uh, fantastic work you’re doing, John, and thank you for helping us understand how. Biblical theology and Christian ministry links with pro-life advocacy. Very important. Alright everybody, I look forward to seeing you next time when we will come back with John and talk about. What do, what does the pro-life movement need to be doing?
What are some pitfalls we see? What are some things we need to improve on and just get his wisdom and perspective over the years. Again, be sure to like our page, the Case for Life website and scott korff.com, or visit email@example.com for Life Training Institute. We’d love to connect with you at one of those places.
Lord bless. Till next time.