Autonomy or Security?

And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. (John 17:3)

I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. (Luke 12:4)

There’s been a lot of talk over the last 50 years about “bodily autonomy.” The idea is that a person should control whatever happens to their own body. We’ve seen this most prominently, of course, in the abortion debate. At the same time, it has also appeared in large segments of the conservative church, particularly in the debate of vaccine mandates due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

What’s interesting about this phrase is that one group will claim it for their issue yet deny it for the other issues. Supporters of abortion rights (with some exceptions, of course) are more likley to be in favor of vaccine mandates, thus denying the idea of “bodily autonomy” applies in that situation. Those who oppose vaccine mandates (on the principle of “my body, my choice,” and again with some exceptions) deny this principle applies to abortion.

Now, before I go any further, let me say that abortion (and by that I mean the intentional termination of pregnancy that results in the death of the unborn baby) is different from vaccine mandates, because it involves the life of another. Likewise, vaccine mandates are different in that they introduce a substance into the body that someone may or may not want in their body. But, I digress.

The common thread here is this idea of “my body, my choice.” What is the church to do with this? I have long said that it’s inappropriate and contrary to the gospel for followers of Jesus to place their idea of “rights” over the gospel. We live in a culture (at least those of us in most of the western world) that elevates individual autonomy far above the community. It’s this thinking that is behind the “my body, my choice” idea, and that idea has long been making inroads into the church. 

What the church must realize is that underneath the “my body, my choice” idea lies the deeper needs for security and significance. The deepest human need is to feel a sense of personal wholeness, and that sense comes through what we might call significance (or impact or purpose) and security (relationship, acceptance, unconditional love). Now, these needs are not the problem. They are part of how we are created. 

In fact, before the fall they were not needs but attributes of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve enjoyed a sense of personal wholeness as they knew God and walked with him. They found their security in their relationship with the Triune God, the Eternal Community. They found their significance in the fact that God created them and had given them a purpose–to take care of the garden and display his glory. When they fell into sin, however, they were cut off from God. Their sense of personal wholeness (expressed in significance and security) was gone. Those attributes now became needs.

All fallen humanity has these needs. The problem is that, being fallen, we seek to fulfill those needs outside God. When people can’t find security and significance in the world, the only thing left for them is control of their own body. Now, don’t get me wrong. As image-bearers of God, we have inherent dignity, and no one should be able to violate our body. I’m not suggesting otherwise.

What I’m suggesting, however, is that underneath the “bodily autonomy” talk is a deep, almost desparte, need to control our bodies so that we can have at least some shred (and it is a tiny shred) of personal wholeness. These needs are often so strong that even the human conscience will give way under the weight, causing us to do whatever we think we have to in order to have those needs met and avoid the soul-crushing pain of emptiness. And, these ideas have become so deeply ingrained in us, that most are unaware of them.

We’ve seen countless people kill others to preserve their own sense of importance (“if people find out what really happened, I’ll lose my security and significance”). Why would it be surprising that talk of abortion and vaccine mandates be any different? 

It’s not enough, then, to say, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price” (though that’s true). It’s not enough to just say, “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (though that’s true). It’s also not enough to say, “Abortion is murder” (even though that’s true). It’s not enough to say, “Love your neighbor” (to the opponents of vaccine mandates). As always, it comes down to the Gospel of Jesus. We need to be teaching, preaching, and living the truth that we are fully secure and significant because of what God did for us in sending Jesus to die for us on the cross. We are secure because nothing that happens to us in this life can take that away. We are significant because he has given us a great purpose–to exalt him and spread his glory among the nations. 

We need to be helping those in the church identify and repent of those sinful patterns of thinking (of which many are consciously unaware). Only then, when we experience the truth that Jesus really is enough, and that our deepest needs really are met in him, will we see major change in the church–and our society.


What Do We Do Now?

For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (Matthew 23:23)

The church in America recently entered a new reality. The era of Roe is over, many say. Supporters and opponents blasted away at each other on social media (including many Christians, sadly). Many other believers tried to step back, sort out their mixed feelings, and asked, “What now?” To put it another way, “What do we do now?”

Many (rightly, I believe) fear that in winning what essentially amounted to a political battle, the war for hearts, minds, and souls has been or is in danger of being lost. As usual, this is not a post about political strategies, debates, or outcomes. This is a post, rather, about the church’s role in a post-Roe era. 

For the past 40 years or so, the “pro-life” momvent in America has been largely about abortion. Increasingly over the last 20 years, abortion was seen by evangelical Christians as the only issue that mattered when deciding who to vote for or what bills to support or oppose. What’s been the result of this thinking? In large part, the church has been seen as only caring about abortion, regardless of the circumstances, while leaving other issues behind–the needy, poor, justice for other vulnerable people, etc. 

As some have opined over the years, pro-life does not stop with “anti-abortion.” Pro-life means that we are pro- ALL life. And indeed we should be. Jesus came to give us life. He had compassion on the vulnerable people of his day, and rebuked those who would hinder “the least of these” from coming to him. In fact, in Jesus’ picture of the final judgment (Matthew 25:31-46), the sheep and the goats were separated based on how they treated the most vulnerable people of the day–but that wasn’t defined by just one group. 

Those vulnerable people are still among us, church. They are the poor, homeless, needy, disabled–the list could go on. 

And those with unplanned pregnancies are often just as vulnerable.

Now that the shock has worn off, read the statement again: Those with unplanned pregnancies are often just as vulnerable as other groups of vulnerable people. They are often faced with pressures few of us know. They are often scared, intimidated, manipulated, even coerced. Now, before you rise up and check out, read the rest of what I have to say. Many have and will continue to simply say something like, “Well, they just need to do what’s right,” consider this question:

Is that what Jesus did in your case?

He could have, you know. The law was out there. Even the Gentiles, without the written law of Moses, have the revelation of nature and conscience to tell them the difference between right and wrong. God could have simply said, “Hey, just do what’s right! You know what to do, so do it.” But, thankfully (for all of us, including the self-righteous among us), he didn’t do that.

Instead, Jesus came down and entered our world. He became a servant to teach us how to take care of each other–and then he died and rose again to give us new life and the power to love others, especially those trapped in sin, as we were.

For too long, the church has forgotten the lesson of Matthew 23:23. The church has focused on the outward “big” sins, giving time, treasure, resources to the causes, while neglecting the other parts. Now, am I saying that the church should have stayed away from the issue of abortion? Of course not. I’m saying that how the church dealt with abortion was short-sighted, and now we are reaping the fruit of that short-sightedness. 
Perhaps now, with God’s grace, the church will wake up and begin to take care of all of “the least of these.” How should that look? Where should it start? I suggest it starts with repentance. Repentance for “fighting the battle” man’s way instead of God’s way. What is God’s way? The Gospel. And the Gospel is “two-handed.” Not only do we declare the grace of God, but we live it. We help. We listen. We pray. We love. We take care of “the least of these,” the vulnerable people.