Ryan thought that "it would make everyone miserable" if his girlfriend kept the baby. When Tammy had the abortion, they both felt relieved, but broke up right away.
Ryan was devastated. "I can't get Tammy and the baby out of my mind," he lamented. "I see babies everywhere, and they all seem to look at me like they know what I did wrong. I see little boys with their parents, and it hurts so much. I just want to crawl in a hole and die." He admits that he encouraged Tammy to get the abortion because he cared about "what other people thought." For Ryan, the other people included his Christian parents, the kids at the Christian school where he coached basketball, and the people at his church.
In a similar situation, Richard was in high school, growing up in a Christian home, and serious about wanting to follow the Lord. He knew it was wrong to have sex with his girlfriend and, in fact, the couple said prayers of repentance together after it happened. Since they only had sex once, neither of them thought she would get pregnant. But she did. He found out from his girlfriend's mother that she was planning to have an abortion, and the couple soon broke up. But for Richard, it took 15 years and becoming the father of three more children to comprehend the reality of that event. "It wasn't a problem that was aborted, it was my child. I wanted to be a good father, but even before I had begun, I had failed my first son."
As someone in his late twenties, Chris was hopeful about his relationship with Elise. They were going to church together and involved with a career group Bible study. "We even studied The Celebration of Discipline together, and I was trying to take the lead spiritually." They never planned it, but sex just seemed to happen. They had come back to Chris's apartment after an invigorating bike ride, and one thing led to another. Since they were never intending to commit the unchristian act of having sex as an unmarried couple, neither used birth control. They were sitting in the waiting room at the abortion clinic when Chris made a last attempt at talking her out of it. "Let's just go! You don't have to do this. I want to get serious." But Elise didn't want a pregnancy to be the reason for getting married. They broke up, and Chris spent years hating himself for what happened.
While their names have been changed to protect confidentiality, their stories are real. But are these unusual instances? Recent statistics say no. In one year, almost a quarter of a million women getting abortions identified themselves as evangelical or born-again Christians. With simple logic, it is easy to see the probability of a similar number of Christian men who gave assent to, or encouraged, the abortion of the children they fathered. What's more, the number keeps increasing. So what does this mean for the next generation of male Christian leaders?
It is having a profoundly negative impact on believers, according to Warren Williams, who has counseled 65 postabortive fathers. He describes it as a form of "spiritual emasculation." Williams finds that a Christian guy knows in his heart "that he's cashed out the life of one of his children. He knows that—without the grace of God—killing a child requires the death penalty, a life for a life." The man has trouble repenting, because he doesn't know who to talk to. Therefore, he is always looking over his shoulder, afraid of God's wrath. "When things happen to him after the abortion, he tends to see God as getting even by condemning him to fail forever." One postabortive father acknowledged that "more than a child is aborted; a man's maleness is aborted."
Young men in a condom culture
Initially, arguments against abortion focused on the injustice and violence done to unborn children. A growing body of evidence then showed that abortion put women at risk of serious physical, emotional, and spiritual harm, and so the abortion protest was expanded to include the need to protect women. Yet so far, little attention has gone to the men, who invisibly share the responsibility of problem pregnancies. But looking more closely at the male factor may well provide some clues for resolving one of the most pressing moral crises of our time.
A discussion of how abortion affects men necessarily begins with male sexuality. Young men are growing up in a condom culture that has separated the sex act from procreation and responsibility. For many, sex has become a kind of sport or rite of passage, something that must be accomplished to prove their masculinity.
Sixteen-year-old boys nowadays often fear that others will think they are gay if they haven't had sex. There is pressure to perform sexually that is reinforced by the examples of promiscuous sports and rock stars, the media, and their peers.
Whether it's NBA basketball star "Magic" Johnson, who is HIV-positive resulting from heterosexual promiscuity, or the cozy, nonconsequential sex depicted on the TV series Friends, the underlying message is the same: "Everyone who's cool is doing it." The horrendous threat of sexually transmitted diseases seems less consequential than the threat of being perceived as a nerd.
Compounding the confusion over masculine identity, an astonishing number of young men are growing up without the benefit of a loving father. According to recent projections, 40 percent of children today will live in homes that lack fathers altogether at some point during their childhood. Meanwhile, an array of dysfunctions further reduce the possibilities for boys to grow up with the blessings of love and discipline from fathers.
Legalized abortion aggravates this generational crisis in masculinity. When a young man agrees with or forces an abortion, he is facilitating the killing of his child. While he may feel initial relief, because the abortion spares him the obligations of marriage and fatherhood, he does unspeakable damage to himself.
The abortion, not to mention fornication, short-circuits the God-given progression of his developing identity as a man, as a husband, and as a father. Apart from redemption through Jesus Christ, he will bear the consequences of the broken image of his masculine being thereafter.
The essential meaning God gives to chastity, the commitment of marriage, and the commitment of fatherhood are obvious from God's commands to the people of Israel. For example, he commanded that his chosen people be identified by circumcision. That is, God set Israelite men apart from the Gentiles with a physical mark on the most personal and uniquely masculine parts of their bodies. This represented their covenant with God. A Hebrew "youth who lacked judgment" and went to have sex with a foreign woman could not hide from her his identification as a man who belonged to God and the shame that would come with violating God's command.
Along the same lines, if an Israelite community became aware that a man had committed adultery, it was commanded he be put to death, along with his partner. So the circumcision would also warn the foreign woman against the potential consequences of having sex with this man.
Then, finally, when an Israelite sacrificed any of his children to a foreign idol, he was cut off from the people of God, and God's people were commanded again to put him to death.
While promiscuity and abortion are not punishable by death under civil law today, they still violate God's law—and still provoke severe consequences for those involved.
The church's "unspoken rule"
But how did abortion become commonplace in the Christian community? As with the Titanic, the cause of the tragedy lies somewhere below the surface.
Williams points out that "there's no permission granted in the church for pregnancy outside of marriage." If the pregnancy continues, everyone at church finds out the unmarried couple has had sex. The pregnant 18-year-old sets a bad example for the younger girls in the church. Parents would rather not have Ryan, as an unwed father, coach basketball for their boys, who will continue to look up to him as a role model. "The unspoken rule," Williams says, "is that an abortion would be preferable to carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term."
But don't evangelicals also support abstinence before marriage? Not very well, says Sam Branham, an area director with Young Life, a Christian youth outreach to teenagers. "Kids who grow up in the church really don't hear the truth about sex in a way that lets them process it" and develop convictions strong enough to withstand the social pressures they will inevitably face.
Unless a church has a full-time youth pastor, many will struggle with a scarcity of mature adults who feel qualified to teach kids about sexual sin and virtue. But the world aggressively takes over where churches leave off. According to the Center for Population Options, a typical teenager annually sees nearly 14,000 sexual encounters in the media.
Culture as a whole is defining personal worth and identity according to sexual attractiveness and performance. It is hard to resist without some straight talk from Christian adults. There is a special need for men who are willing to "invest their time in teenage guys," says Branham. "They're dying to have a relationship with caring adults" who can provide a godly role model for manhood, especially where the father is physically or emotionally absent from the home.
Branham says that "if a person is empty inside, he will use sex to try and fill that void" or to build his self-esteem. In one survey, two-thirds of the teenage respondents agreed that having sex enhances a boy's reputation.
Yet a young man's confidence in his masculine identity only deteriorates if a crisis pregnancy and abortion occurs. According to Williams, after an abortion, many men struggle with an inherent fear of women and an inability to bond emotionally. "Even if he does get married," Williams says, "there will be problems with honesty and expressing his true feelings." Especially if he attempted to prevent a previous partner from aborting their child, he wants to protect himself from the pain of this happening again. If he wanted the abortion, he feels unworthy and wants to protect his new partner from becoming emotionally involved with him.
He may experience sexual dysfunction, from impotency to a compulsive desire for illicit sexual encounters. He may struggle with unjustified fits of rage that culminate in verbal or physical violence. Reasonable discussions can escalate suddenly, especially if a subject symbolizes the circumstances surrounding the abortion. It may be outrage toward a doctor who reminds him of the abortionist or anger toward a woman who wants him to love her when he feels he can't. He may feel intense anger or jealousy toward other men who are enjoying their fatherhood. Or he may struggle with an inability to follow through on commitments in his work or even to hold a job. Some men may even feel driven to get involved in pro-life activism as a way of seeking atonement for aborting their children.
These patterns are no guarantee that a man is struggling with a past abortion. But asking about the possibility, when suspected, may lead to a release for the person who has been longing to talk about it with a mature listener.
The crooked made straight
So how does a local church make straight what has become so crooked? Here are some specific suggestions:
1. Sponsor a youth program series specifically for young men that deals with sexual sin and virtue in a biblical context. The leader should encourage an open discussion about the temptations, fears, and pressures that teens are facing regarding their personal and sexual development. There should also be an opportunity for one-on-one interaction between the leader and teens who need to talk privately about their situation. Focus on the Family and Josh McDowell Ministries offer helpful materials for programs like this.
2. Sponsor a Bible study and life-application series for adult single and married men that encourages sexual purity in behavior and thought. This could include discussions that range from how to avoid pornography while on a business trip to how to foster virtuous interaction with women, both inside and outside marriage, according to Jesus' example. Promise Keepers is an excellent resource for programs and materials.
3. Encourage pastors to speak out clearly against fornication, adultery, and abortion, while communicating a message of compassion with specific directions for those who want to repent of these sins. Pastors should emphasize the responsibility that men bear for crisis pregnancy and abortion, while breaking the myth that these are mainly secular problems.
4. Find out about the nearest crisis-pregnancy center and the services they can offer your church, how to refer an unmarried couple faced with a crisis pregnancy, and how to do an effective abstinence presentation among your teens. Many centers will provide experienced abstinence speakers. You can also find out how the church can become involved in the ministry of the local crisis-pregnancy center. (Contact Care Net for information on the crisis- pregnancy center nearest you.)
5. Encourage a male leader to seek training and the materials necessary to lead a post-abortion Bible study and peer-support group. Once this leader is ready, your church could publicize the symptoms of post-abortion syndrome among men and invite men within the community to take part in the Bible study. The invitation could be announced among area churches and even through local newspapers. (Care Net provides an annual training conference for leaders of men's post-abortion Bible studies, as well as a Bible-study curriculum. Fathers and Brothers Ministry also provides helpful materials and training.)
The healing process for the father of an aborted child begins with the realization that he is the father of the child who is now dead, and that he is responsible for what has happened. The realization needs to occur regardless of how long ago the abortion happened, whether he was a Christian at the time, or whether he encouraged the abortion. The next step is to experience grief for the loss of the unborn child and grief over his sins that led to an unplanned pregnancy and abortion. The next stage for the post-abortive father is to study the Scriptures that focus on God's mercy through Jesus Christ, to seek the help of a mature Christian, and to pray in specific terms for God's forgiveness. Next, he needs to come to a better understanding of God's definition of manliness and the virtues of commitment, sacrifice, provision, protection, and unselfish intimacy. He should consciously begin to practice these virtues toward his wife and children, if he has them, and toward others within his sphere of influence. It is recommended that those seeking forgiveness and healing from a past abortion do so with the help of a mature lay leader or professional Christian counselor.
As long as promiscuity and abortion within the church are ignored or remain a secret, they will continue to spread like an ebola virus through the body of Christ. Nevertheless, repentance and speaking the truth about these sins will eradicate the disease and bring healing through Christ to those already exposed. Reaching out to men before and after abortion is not only an essential ministry for strengthening the body of Christ, it offers a powerful opportunity for evangelism among those who long for healing in their broken lives.
Brad was a sophomore in medical school and thought he had all the answers. To him, his wife's pregnancy at this stage was just a blob. They were not believers at the time he encouraged her to have the abortion, but the grief that followed is what caused him to seek God.
Now, 15 years later, he tells the story, clearing his throat when he gets to the part when he says how grateful he is that God has forgiven him. It was the relentless gnawing inside, "a pain of the heart," a near breakup in his marriage, and a series of nightmares that led Brad to a point of desperation. Brad and his wife found help through a local church community, and specifically through a support group and Bible study for fathers of aborted children. He and his family are now active leaders in their church, and Brad is involved in a campus ministry that promotes abstinence and includes a crisis-pregnancy outreach. Brad says, "This whole experience has taught me that there's a God who cares for me and loves me and forgave the worst thing that a man could do."
Guy Condon is president of Care Net, an affiliation of more than 400 crisis-pregnancy centers.
Where to Get Help
109 Carpenter Drive
Sterling, Virginia 20164
Fathers and Brothers Ministries
350 Broadway, Suite 40
Boulder, Colorado 80303
Focus on the Family
8605 Explorer Drive
Colorado Springs, Colorado 80920
New Dawn post-Abortion Bible Study
1600 Coulter, Suite 203
Amarillo, Texas 79106
Josh McDowell Ministries
P.O. Box 1000
Dallas, Texas 75221
P.O. Box 18376
Boulder, Colorado 80308
National Memorial for the Unborn
6232 Vance Road
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