Piper’s Preaching on the Abortion and Race Connection
The NY Times and the LA Times have both run stories recently about a controversial new billboard campaigned (pictured to the right) on how abortion is making black children endangered. For more information, see the website TooManyAborted.com. Albert Mohler has a helpful roundup here.
What are the statistics leading to this angle? In her 2006 book The Politics of Abortion sociologist Anne Hendershott writes that “the statistics on race and abortion are indeed a concern for anyone who cares about the African American community.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, more than 43 percent of all African American pregnancies end in abortion. Since 1973, the number of abortions by African American women has totaled nearly twelve million. Every day in the United States, more than 1,500 African American women choose to end their pregnancy through abortion. Although African Americans represent only 12 percent of the American population, they account for more than 35 percent of all abortions. As a result, the abortion rate (the number of abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 per year) for African American women is 2.9 times that of white women. Put another way, for every 1,000 African American women, 32 have abortion, as compared with 11 for every 1,000 white women. Comparing the number of abortions per 1,000 live births by race, we find that the abortion/birth ration for white women is 184 abortions per 1,000 live births; for African American women, it is 543 abortions per 1,000 births. (pp. 31-32)
Now some of you may know that I have a longstanding interest in John Piper’s preaching on abortion. Preachers often make two sorts of mistakes, it seems to me, in preaching on abortion: on the right (but not exclusively) there is a tendency to include preaching about abortion at the same level as supporting political positions and the call to recover a “Christian America” (or a “progressive America”); on the left (but not exclusively) there is a tendency never to mention abortion, though other social sins (racism, exploitation, injustice etc.) are spoken about freely and frequently.
In my opinion, Piper achieves a remarkable balance here: prophetic, persuasive, passionate, non-political sermons on abortion.
So I thought it might be helpful to work through some of his sermons to see the connection between abortion and racism. Since 1990 he has preached each year on abortion (on Sanctity of Life Sunday, around the time of the Roe v. Wade anniversary) and since 1998 he has preached each year on racial harmony (around the time of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday). And the two topics have converged at several points throughout the years.
For example, in his 1994 sermon Piper explained the theological link:
These two issues [abortion and racism] are about God and about the nature of man created in the image of God. What we believe about God and his majesty, and what we believe about the meaning of being human in relation to God will make all the difference in the world how we think and act about abortion and racism—if we really believe what we say we believe.
Both abortion and racism treat God’s supreme creation with contempt and most be abhorred by those who seek to magnify the Creator.
Piper knows that to link the two explosive issues is to invite misunderstanding and criticism. Nevertheless, in his 2007 sermon he makes clear that he is not associating the two in a “sly or subtle way,” but rather in an “open and intentional” way. He clarifies that his aim is not to “equate” the two, but rather to “associate them. “It’s not a biblical declaration; it’s a cultural observation.”
Piper makes his aims in linking these two manifestly clear:
For the sake of full disclosure let me tell you one of my main aims in this message: In the name of Jesus Christ and rooted in the gospel of his death and resurrection for sinners (including abortionists and pastors), my aim is to stigmatize abortion by associating it with racism. I would like you to link abortion and race the same way you link lynching and race.
My aim is that those who abhor racism will abhor abortion—“Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” (Romans 12:9). My aim is that abortion would be as culturally taboo as racism is. My aim is to hasten the day when being publicly pro-choice will be as reprehensible as being publicly racist. My aim is to hasten the day when declaring yourself pro-choice would be like declaring yourself a white supremacist.
On more than one occasion Piper has quoted the following “very balanced and sobering words” from Randy Alcorn:
I do not believe that most people who support abortion rights are racists, any more than I believe there are no racists among pro-lifers. I am simply suggesting that regardless of motives, a closer look at both the history and present strategies of the pro-choice movement suggests that “abortion for the minorities” may not serve the cause of equality as much as the cause of supremacy for the healthy, wealthy and white.
Piper explains that abortion continues the legacy of lynching by killing innocent blacks:
Racism might—and often did—result in the killing of innocent humans; in our history, it often did. But abortion always results in the killing of innocent humans. Between 1882 and 1968, 3,446 Black people were lynched in America. Today more Black babies are killed by white abortionists every three days than all who were lynched in those years.
After examining the evidence that abortion providers are targeting urban areas, Piper clarifies that he is not saying that this is necessarily the cause for why Hispanic and Black babies are killed at more than double their percentage of the population, but he does show that it is the de facto, net effect of such a practice.
Call this what you will—when the slaughter has an ethnic face and the percentages are double that of the white community and the killers are almost all white, something is going on here that ought to make the lovers of racial equality and racial harmony wake up.
The thesis of his 2005 sermon was that “Millions of abortions around the world are the outworking of racism and sexism.” Always one careful to define his terms, Piper means by “outworking” that “these abortions have roots in racism and sexism, and the fruit is what racists and sexists would want—namely, fewer blacks (as in the United States) and fewer girls (as in India and China).” By “racism” (using the definition developed by the PCA) he means “an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one race over the other, with “sexism” being the same attitude applied to gender: “an explicit or implicit belief or practice that qualitatively distinguishes or values one sex over the other.
Piper rightly sees that a key development in the cause for life and truth is for those in the minority community to take the lead and to become prophetic voices on behalf of the unborn:
My prayer and my cry is that African-American Christians across America will wake up to what his happening and lead this country toward the place where abortion becomes as unthinkable as slavery. When blacks turn away from involvement in the pro-life movement because there are so many whites in the movement who are indifferent to racial prejudice, they are doing what white conservatives Christians did in the civil-rights era who refused to join the movement for racial justice because there were so many liberals in the movement who didn’t believe in the deity of Christ.
Oh, rather let us join hands—black and white and Asian and Hispanic and American Indian—and say together with one clear voice: there is a better way to freedom than killing the babies!
In 2007 Piper offered a similar call:
May the Lord raise up from the African-American churches and the Hispanic-American churches a passion to seize the moral high ground against the slaughter of the little ones. Such leadership would sweep the field, and the white pro-choice establishment would fall before it.
May God indeed give all of us courage and passion to address—both in our churches and in our neighborhoods—the evils of abortion and racism, even as they intersect.