Here is why abortion is the most important justice issue of our time. 1. It is wrong to discriminate, and worse to persecute, still worse to imprison, even worse to torture, and worst of all to kill. Abortion kills. 2. It is wrong to kill violent adults, if they can be stopped any other way. It is worse to kill non-violent adults. It is even worse to kill children. Abortion kills children. 3. In 2011, there were 908 child fatalities from car accidents. There weere 1620 child fatalities from abuse and neglect. And there were 1,058,490 child fatalities from abortion. Abortion kills children in overwhelming numbers.
In the Roe v Wade decision, Justice Harry Blackmun wrote that, if the fetus is a person, the right to abortion collapses. (Roe v. Wade 410 U.S. 113  Section IX.) How can we tell whether it is a person or not? Here’s what science shows. From the beginning, the unborn is:1. Alive. It is living and growing, always increasing in size and complexity.2. Human. Its body is composed entirely of human cells.3. Individual. It has unique DNA. If a cell from the mother, the father, and the unborn child were examined side by side, it would reveal that they came from three different people.
In this session we’ll be hearing a lot about persecution, and I was asked to lead off by talking about repentance—which might sound irrelevant. Don’t we have enough to worry about already? But the connection is this. If our faith is going to be increasingly mocked and rejected, it will negatively affect our ability to speak in the public square. What we say will be distorted or ridiculed. Communication will be difficult. So we’ll need to put more emphasis on connecting one to one, person to person. Not just learning how to talk cleverly about our faith, but actually living it in ways that other people can see. The early Christians did this during the Roman persecution; they lived in ways different from their neighbors, and the church grew. Like them, we’re going to need to let the light of Christ within us shine out.
Here is an immensely helpful essay by Met. Kallistos Ware, in which he traces the careful path between assuming that all will be saved (universal salvation) and praying that all will be saved—praying with yearning and tears, for “God desires that all may be saved and come to knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim 2:4). He does this by examining the thought of St. Silouan the Athonite (1866-1938), a Russian monk with little education who became a very wise elder. St. Sophrony (1896-1993), also mentioned in this essay, was a spiritual child of St. Silouan and wrote his story. There’s a distinction that is often missed between praying that all will be saved and assuming that all will be saved. That’s especially the case in our time, when the more challenging aspects of faith are routinely played down, and God’s mercy is emphasized to the near exclusion of any other characteristic. Of course he is great in mercy, and what we say of that is true; yet in emphasizing it we can lose our balance, tipping too far toward one side. In a comfortable age such as ours, we assume God wants us to be comfortable, and we skip over the Scriptures that tell the tougher things Jesus said.
Yesterday I received an email from a priest in Australia, who said he is reading my new book, Welcome to the Orthodox Church. He likes it, but notes that it is aimed at people already familiar with Christianity. In his case, he said, he dealing with two generations of nonbelievers. He said something next that I’m not sure I agree with. He said that he thinks in the future we will need to be like John Wesley, who went out directly to the people, preaching in towns and fields to preach. But, he said, we’ll need to reach them in different ways, through the internet or mass media.
Wes Smith’s column this week for First Things is about the flowers at his church that continued to be fresh, after a parishioner poured out the last of his holy water into one of the vases. The comment of a skeptic at that site clarified for me a point of miscommunication. The skeptic seems to think we are claiming that holy water is magic, and if we tested this in a controlled environment it would have this effect on flowers every time. There would be a pattern, one that kept appearing in any place and time.
Oliver Burkeman, a blogger for The Guardian, says that proponents of the atheist side of the God debate (where, he says, his sympathies lie) are being intellectually lazy. They attack a concept of God which imagines him as a sort of superhero, rather than grappling with the classic monotheistic view of God as the source and ground of reality. This is like anti-evolutionists refuting a distorted and absurd concept of evolution. Burkeman recommends David Bentley Hart’s “The Experience of God” so that they might grasp and then grapple with a more theologically-accurate concept of God.
Surprisingly, the Bible treats the heart as the place where we do our thinking—we think in our hearts, not our heads. And, as Matthew 15:19 shows, those thoughts are not always noble. In our culture we regard our ability to reason as one of the highest aspects of human personhood, but forget how often we employ that faculty in less-than-noble pursuits. The biblical Greek word for thinking actively, like when you’re thinking something through, is dianoia, and it includes selfish fantasies, plotting, and scheming: “The imagination [dianoia] of man’s heart is evil from his youth” (Gen 8:21) “He has scattered the proud in the imagination [dianoia] of their hearts” (Lk 1:51)
Yesterday I wrote on “What is Worship For?”, but I forgot to answer the question. I said that it is not the time for evangelism, and shouldn’t be designed with non-believers in mind. But what is it for? Worship is for God; we could expand that and say worship is for believers to offer to God. But even once we’re clear that worship is the work of the believing community, there’s a possible confusion. We might think the purpose of worship is to give believers a good worship experience.
A pastor in the UK wrote me asking, “What is worship for?” He said that his denomination was encouraging pastors to make worship more “user-friendly” in order to attract new members, and that this initially seemed to him a reasonable evangelistic strategy. A scripture cited in support of this approach was Acts 15:19, “We should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.” But as he read this scripture in context, it looked to him like it was written of people who were already Christian believers, and would not be required to accept Jewish practices. It didn’t address the case of people entirely outside the faith. He wrote to ask, “Who are church services for? Believers or unbelievers?”