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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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[29] Third Sunday of Lent

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Readings: Exodus 20:1-17 / Psalm 19 / 1 Corinthians 1:22-25 / John 2:13-25

Our first reading from Exodus has the presentation of the Decalogue, and so I would like to present some of my reflections on the Ten Commandments that I usually share with those taking formal religious instructions.  I will also speak to the catechetical over the Scriptural listing, as the incarnation of Christ has abrogated the prohibition against graven images.  Christ is the human face of God.  He is the revelation of our heavenly Father.

The first commandment reminds us that ours is a jealous God; there is no other before him. He is the one and only! He does not want us wasting our lives on false gods or empty superstitions. Even though there may not be many traditional worshipers of idols cast in stone or bronze, or of figures from nature like the sun or animals, this prohibition is still violated. We see this in dangerous occult toys, like tarot cards and Ouija boards. These things are hazardous to our souls because they sidestep God’s dominion over us and his will for us. They might even invite spiritual evil to penetrate our lives. This commandment also condemns sacrilege whereby persons, places, or things sacred to God are defiled. Even interest in the popular horoscopes can sometimes escalate beyond simple curiosity and become habitual false guides. God wants us to follow him alone.

The second commandment urges us to treat God’s name respectfully. This necessarily prohibits blasphemy, making false oaths in God’s name, and cursing.

The third commandment tells us to make the Sabbath day holy. For Christians, this obligation is transferred to Sunday. (It is interesting that most Protestant religions accept at least this one precept or legislation of the Roman Catholic Church. Otherwise, along with our Jewish brethren, they would respect it on Saturday.)  We sanctify this day by prayer, worship, avoiding unnecessary work, rest, and joy. Therefore, something like failing to participate at Mass on Sunday is not merely a violation of the laws of the Church, but in a very direct manner, an infringement upon this commandment to give God his due.

The fourth commandment exhorts us to respect our parents by loving and helping them, especially when they are in need. While young and under their immediate authority, children must obey their parents. Reciprocally, parents must give a Catholic education to the children entrusted to them. Their spiritual and material welfare is essentially in their hands. The parents may extend or endow school teachers and others with something of their own authority. This commandment speaks to us in a less direct way about authority in general. All just authority comes from God. We are called to obey spiritual and civil authorities when they make legitimate demands. However, if there is a conflict between the laws of human beings and those of God, God comes first.

The fifth commandment prohibits us from either harming our own bodies or those of others. This commandment expands beyond murder or suicide to the various partial degradations: including such things as mutilation, striking another, harmful drugs, drunkenness, and carelessly taking risks with our lives. Abortion is a direct violation of this commandment. Our right to choose should never be deemed a higher priority than another person’s right to life.

The sixth commandment, taken alone, forbids all external sins against chastity. Once sexual activity is condoned outside marriage, as in fornication, it is logically difficult to confine afterwards, as in adultery. The premise is already adopted. Some fifty percent of the couples who live together prior to marriage eventually get divorced. The seed for failure is already planted. Sin is a mighty poor preparation for the nuptial sacrament. Considered with the ninth commandment, all interior sins against chastity are likewise condemned. The human sexual powers are given for the propagation of children and for the fidelity of a man and woman in marriage. Outside of marriage, it is a great evil to exercise these powers, which are not simply expressions of our flesh, but of our very persons— who we are! Inside marriage, these powers must not be distorted in their purpose or in the motivation of two people in love drawn to union. Lust, even in marriage, is a sin and degradation to what it means to be truly human. It re-categorizes the beloved from a personal subject to an impersonal object. Instead of self-sacrifice and surrender— thinking of the other’s needs and happiness— we selfishly treat the other as a disposable thing with which we can seek our own gratification. If the beloved is no more than an object, then the stage is set for adultery because objects are interchangeable. This is the antithesis of the Gospel. Marriage is called to be a permanent union. Adultery is a gross violation of that permanent union which is to reflect the fidelity between Christ and his bride, the Church. The adulterer plays the role of Satan who would lure us away from our divine groom and from the wedding banquet of heaven.

The seventh commandment rejects stealing and dealing unjustly with another. Even if we accept stolen goods, we have broken this commandment. All sorts of things fall under this heading: idling, charging unfair interest, not paying debts, not giving a just salary, and stealing someone’s good name. Restitution is demanded in cases where we have stolen or damaged the goods of others. This last matter draws this commandment to the eighth.

The eighth commandment would have us be a people of truth and good will. We are not to lie or to slander others. If we stumble into this sin, then we need to repair the damage caused by our falsehoods.

The ninth commandment, as mentioned under the sixth, requires us to be mindful of our thoughts. To occupy ourselves with sexual fantasies regarding others, not only breaks down our will in reference to actions, but degrades the one whom we are imagining. This is destructive to the dignity of the person who is reduced to an impersonal object in obscene films and other pornography.

The tenth commandment, like the ninth, reminds us that God wants our conversion, both in external action and in our internal disposition. To be open to the grace of his presence, we must free ourselves from within, of those persons or things which we might covet before God. In actuality, we might not commit a sin against justice, but we might “want” to do it. Even this needs to be weaned away. We need to reach a point in our spiritual life where we do not WANT to steal from or to hurt another.

God establishes his law with his people.  Fidelity to the commandments realizes the covenant with God.  Disobedience is more than breaking rules; it severs a saving relationship with the Lord.  The full revelation of God and the expansion of his covenant relationship, as the apostle Paul says in the second reading, are in Christ Crucified.  The Gospel gives us the shocking scene where Jesus whips the money-changers out of the temple and upsets their tables.  He complains that the temple which is a place for worship and sacrifice has been made into a marketplace or even worse, a den of thieves.  When asked by what authority he casts them out, he in return challenges them, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.”  They mistakenly think he is referencing the building around them when he really means his body.  Long before, the actual tablets of the law and the ark had been lost.  Jesus is the new covenant but he is not made at home in the Jewish temple.  Within seventy years the temple will be demolished by the Romans.  Two thousand years later it is still gone, all but the retaining or wailing wall.  Jesus was crucified but the temple of his body rose from the tomb.  As mentioned last week, Jesus is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.  We are all called as believers to be obedient to Jesus and to enter into his temple, the Mystical Body.

  • Are there certain commandments that we routinely violate?
  • Do we give God his due in daily prayer, Mass participation and witness?
  • Do we follow the commandments mechanically or within Christ’s command to love?
  • While expressed negatively, how might you make the commandments into positive statements?
  • Do we respect the new temples of the Lord: Christ present in us by grace, in our homes by holiness, in our tabernacles as sacrament, in the Scriptures as the living Word, and in the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ?
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Welcome to the Brace New World!

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We just fell off the proverbial “slippery slope.”

Stuck Between the Rock & a Hard Place

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Who are we going to punish? I worry about this as a priest in reference to the distribution of Holy Communion, absolution in the sacrament of Penance and in terms of preaching a faith message from the Scriptures that might immediately be interpreted as “hate speech.” Passivity and toleration is not enough to appease certain people… it is being demanded that conventional Christians become advocates for sinful behavior. If a priest gives the sacraments to anyone, no matter what their views and lifestyle, then does he not become an accomplice in their sin? Would he forfeit his own immortal soul for causing scandal and violating conscience, the commandments and his sacred duty? For the sake of accompaniment, can a bishop or even pope force a priest to say or do something that he views as sinful and wrong?

Interfaith Pollution of the True Faith?

I thought it was a joke or exaggeration, but when I visited the website for the Catholic diocese of Hallam in the UK under Bishop Ralph Hesket I was shocked to see that charges of religious relativism or indifferentism might have merit.  As part of a national interfaith outreach, Christian believers were encouraged to visit and honor pagan shrines.  I fail to fathom how this is either genuine dialogue or true ecumenism.  Despite the directions given, Catholics should not bow to pagan images or eat the food that has been offered to idols.  Christians were persecuted and even martyred in the early days of the faith for refusing such acts that compromised the true faith and pampered superstition.

Indeed, the early apologists argued that despite the generosity of the pagans toward the poor, Christians should not eat the food of pagan sacrifices because the pagan deities were actually demons.

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Moses was commanded to remove his sandals when he encountered God in the burning bush. But what we have here is an image of Buddha and a pagan shrine.  While these locations may hold anthropological interest for learned Christians, most would best avoid such places. As Christians we may honor persons and give deference to religious liberty that also protects our rights in a multicultural society, but we should not underestimate the general ignorance and tottering faith of many Christians.  Already many are adopting Eastern ideas about the yin and yang of the Tao, the transmigration of the souls, the spirituality associated with yoga, and a pantheistic view of creation.

The removal of shoes may be a small concession but the added flower presentation and material sacrifice of money, mimics or parallels the offertory at Mass.  Christ and the Church he instituted is the one way that God has established for our salvation.  No one comes to the Father apart from Jesus Christ.  A confession of faith can be made both in words and with gestures.  We must be wary of making a wholesale compromise of the truth. Buddhism is incompatible with the Christian kerygma.  Pope John Paul II was criticized for his assessment in CROSSING THE THRESHOLD OF HOPE.

Do we draw near to God in this way? This is not mentioned in the “enlightenment” conveyed by Buddha. Buddhism is in large measure an “atheistic” system. We do not free ourselves from evil through the good which comes from God; we liberate ourselves only through detachment from the world, which is bad. The fullness of such a detachment is not union with God, but what is called nirvana, a state of perfect indifference with regard to the world. To save oneself means, above all, to free oneself from evil by becoming indifferent to the world, which is the source of evil. This is the culmination of the spiritual process.

While some might note Buddhism as more a philosophy of negation than a deistic religion, the diocesan guidelines also threaten to taint the faith of believers under an effort to show respect to the adherents of Hinduism.

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The early Christians were put to death for refusing to throw the smallest fleck of incense into the fire for an idol of Rome and its emperor. Just as we would not expect Hindus to bend the knee and cross themselves in our churches; neither should Hindu shrines be honored by Christians with bowing before the idols of false deities. This act impugns the heroic sacrifices of the early martyrs. Such concession signifies a cowardice to accusations of intolerance where there should be a brave act of witness that promotes the missionary spirit within the scope  of both understanding and charity.

Christians need to respect the Eastern effort to discern truth while not abandoning our own rich inheritance.  The missionary effort, going back to the days of St. Francis Xavier, had many successes.  But we must admit that the faith also suffered from the stigma of being Western and foreign.  Right or wrong, the saint regarded all the Hindus as devil worshipers.  This is part of our historical faith inheritance.  Doors were closed where the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes might have opened them.  There is said to be an evolution in Hinduism toward monotheism; but this truth is already realized in Christianity.  We must be careful that weak Christians do not embrace Eastern religion due to an attraction to the strange or exotic.

Pope Paul VI stated in NOSTRA AETATE the following:

Thus in Hinduism, men contemplate the divine mystery and express it through an inexhaustible abundance of myths and through searching philosophical inquiry. They seek freedom from the anguish of our human condition either through ascetical practices or profound meditation or a flight to God with love and trust.

We would not deny any elements that are true in such religions, but there are also wrong turns and false understandings (error).  All salvation truth subsists in the Catholic Church.  We do not have to look elsewhere. People who are largely ignorant of their own rich Christian faith inheritance might be lost if we are passive to their involvement in other religions.

Catholics should bow or genuflect before the Christian altar, or the Crucifix or the Blessed Sacrament in the tabernacle but NOT before the image of alien gods.  Definitely they should not eat the food given to them, demons or not.

1 Corinthians 10:18-22 – Look at Israel according to the flesh; are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? So what am I saying? That meat sacrificed to idols is anything? Or that an idol is anything? No, I mean that what they sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to become participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and also the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and of the table of demons. Or are we provoking the Lord to jealous anger? Are we stronger than he?

At a time when exorcisms are on the rise, this is the height of idiocy.   We can respect persons and work together for a more civil and caring society; however, we should not do so at the cost of our immortal souls.  Ignorance of the truth may save some from the full weight of judgment.  However, our Catholic and Christian community will be judged according to our understanding and fidelity to the revelation of Christ that is passed down to us in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.

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Catholics and other Christians might visit such sites for educational purposes. They should do nothing that suggests worship. Pope John Paul II argued that the Allah of the Muslims is the same Father God of the Christians. This may be, but there remains much that divides us, particularly the role of Jesus as Lord and Redeemer. The Pope states:

Some of the most beautiful names in the human language are given to the God of the Koran, but He is ultimately a God outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us. Islam is not a religion of redemption. There is no room for the Cross and the Resurrection. Jesus is mentioned, but only as a prophet who prepares for the last prophet, Muhammad. There is also mention of Mary, His Virgin Mother, but the tragedy of redemption is completely absent. For this reason not only the theology but also the anthropology of Islam is very distant from Christianity.

A gesture for peace is also fine, as long as we do nothing to undermine or apologize for our identity as Christians. We should also insist that the Islamic community become more pro-active against discrimination and violence against Christians throughout the world.  Otherwise, gestures of human respect (not divine worship) become empty.

While we can respect others, we should not be giving directions to Christian believers on how to commit idolatry.

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The Sikh religion is inherently pantheistic.  We believe that God maintains creation but he cannot be identified with it.  While its tenets include reincarnation and various Hindu teachings; it is monotheistic, rejects the caste system and the use of idols.  It also espouses a syncretism where it tries to unite various beliefs from disjointed sources.  Christianity might adopt elements of culture and even the symbols of others (as it did in the Roman and Greek world) but the content is always that of the Gospel.  The blunt matter is that, no matter how interesting, this still constitutes a false religion for Catholics.  Ours is a jealous God.  He will not share us with others.

While certain traditionalists would attack overtures toward the Jews, we must always acknowledge that Judaism is a true, albeit natural religion.  While they have yet to embrace the revelation of the Trinity, the Jewish faith was called into existence by Almighty God.  Pope John Paul II insisted:

The New Covenant serves to fulfill all that is rooted in the vocation of Abraham, in God’s covenant with Israel at Sinai, and in the whole rich heritage of the inspired Prophets who, hundreds of years before that fulfillment, pointed in the Sacred Scriptures to the One whom God would send in the “fullness of time” (cf. Gal 4:4).

We have a genuine historical and faith relationship with the Jews that we do not share with other religions. Interfaith efforts should not be so diffusive that we lose sight of this fact.  The Jews are our elder brothers and sisters in faith.  Their story is part of our story.  The truths of the faith preserved and passed down by the Hebrews made possible the coming of Christ and his kingdom.  While we believe that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the fulfillment of the covenant, God has not forsaken his first people.  God keeps his promises.  There are NOT two covenants.  Both Pope Benedict XVI and the late Cardinal-priest Dulles clarified that there is ONLY one covenant. The covenant of old now embraces (in Jesus Christ) both the first and the new People of God. We pray and hope that those first called will one day come to a full awareness of the fulfillment in Christ.

Cardinal Müller Gives Needed Clarification

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This was probably the most important interview that Arroyo ever presented on World Over. CARDINAL MÜLLER says that the “moral” is the “pastoral”… there can be no conflict… no polygamy… no sacramental spouse and another civil law spouse… the Holy Father’s document must be interpreted within the Catholic tradition. Anything else is heresy! He spells out that any accommodation that would permit the restoration of the sacramental life (without an annulment) would be a “brother” to “sister” relationship. He also said that women deacons are impossible. The biblical title was not a reference to Holy Orders. The ongoing commission is being misinterpreted. Nevertheless, he did say that we may find new non-sacramental charges for women.

Eye for an Eye or Love & Forgiveness?

QUESTION

Father,

We read in Leviticus 24:17-22:

“Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.”

However, in contrast we read in Matthew 5:38-42:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

These passages directly contradict each other.  How can the Bible be God’s inspired Word if it be inconsistent?  How are we supposed to know which to follow?  What do we believe?

Thank you.

RESPONSE

Remember that for the Christian it is a question not only of what we believe but WHO we believe.  Jesus is God’s Incarnate Son.  As such, he has the authority to abrogate or change elements of both Levitical and Mosaic Law.  He does this clearly in regard to the Writ of Divorce.  He says that from Genesis (natural law) this was not the way things were supposed to be.  Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts.  Jesus disallows it.  The weight is with Jesus because as divine, he is the formal lawgiver.  Note the scene of the Transfiguration.  He is viewed conversing with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus is the fulfillment or consummation of the Law and the Prophets.

One must not read the Bible as if it were a Morality Manual.  It is a collection of different types of literature over many centuries.  God’s revelation comes through the prism of changing cultures and situations.  While there are certain teachings that will always apply because of our fixed human nature; there are other disciplines and laws that change with the seasons of history, particularly because of spiritual and material advancement.  I was going to say “maturity” but given terrorism, war and oppression, I am not convinced that men and women are any better (morally) today than in the past.  Just as our capacity for good has expanded, so has our ability to commit the most repellant evils.

While the commandments retain their force (it is wrong to steal, murder, etc.), the disciplinary laws of Leviticus do not apply to Christianity. We must distinguish between the divine law and man’s interpretation of the law. St. Paul makes it very clear that we are no longer under the yoke of the old Jewish law. Rather, we are given by Christ the two-fold commandments of love. Again, just as Jesus could rescind the Mosaic Law about a writ of divorce, his teachings and practice mitigated any response of vengeance. Indeed, following the precepts of Christ, the Church nullifies the law for ritual circumcision.  Faith and baptism is the manner we enter this new People of God.  Justice is still real but ultimate punishment belongs to God. Jesus urges us to practice mercy. We would no more seek to enforce Levitical laws than we would want Muslims to enforce Sharia laws.

Is Methodism Pro-Abortion Today?

LIFE NEWS had a peculiar story from Sarah Terzo about a Methodist minister who termed concern for aborted children as “idolatry.” It eludes me how Methodism can possibly excuse the sin of abortion, especially since its founder condemned such practices among the Native Americans he encountered. The late Reverend John M Swomley (former president of Americans for Religious Liberty and VP of the pro-abortion ACLU) wrote in his 1999 book, Compulsory Pregnancy: the War against American Women:

“Opponents of abortion in America have attributed to fetal life a sacredness that is actually idolatry… Fetal idolatry denies a woman’s right to control her body, her life, her destiny, all of which must be sacrificed to an embryo or fetus once she is pregnant… Fetal idolatry shows no mercy. … One of the major critiques of idolatry about unborn life is its lack of concern for the abundant or purposeful life to which all of us should be called. No one of us should be an unwanted child or have to experience emotional abandonment or lack of compassion and love in childhood.”

untitledNotice how the advocates for life are labeled in a negative fashion as the “opponents of abortion.” Instead, we would argue that these men and women are “proponents of birth.”  They oppose abortion out of a profound respect for the dignity of persons and the right to life. He is wrong to deny the sacredness of life and his charge of idolatry makes him one with Caiaphas who arrested and condemned Christ. Christians believe in an “incarnational” faith. We are transformed into the likeness of Christ by grace. We are given life and eternal life by the constant operation of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing of our own. Abortion, like all crimes of murder, violates a commandment and seeks to usurp from God what rightfully belongs to him as the author of life. Every child, born and unborn, reflects the Christ Child. It is for this reason that abortion attacks the incarnation. Jesus was Lord even in the womb. In “potency” every child could have been the Christ Child. I suppose the author might attack the sacredness of human life as idolatry just as certain critics attack the Eucharist as such. But Christ enters into human flesh— he is the living Word of God— he is the bread of life and the chalice of salvation— he is made manifest in the Mystical Body of the Church. Swomley’s theology is too shallow to appreciate this. Of course, he conveniently dismisses entirely the objective nature of the situation. Regardless of whether one is a believer or not, the unborn child is a human person and the rights of human persons are incommensurate. In other words, the rights of the mother do not trump the rights of a child to life outside the womb. The real choice and freedom is not over the commission of murder but in regards to marriage, chastity and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Describing the unborn child exclusively as a fetus and embryo, he seeks to distance himself from the fact that we are dealing here with two persons, not one. This is a major flaw in his argument. He has taken sides and just as blacks were once regarded as “property” by slave owners and Jews as “non-persons” by genocidal Nazis, he would wrongly strip the unborn child of his intrinsic dignity as a person and member of the human family. As a Christian, does he still believe in the infusion of a soul? Apparently, he does not. He buys into the ludicrous argument that a baby is only a baby if he or she is wanted. He would argue that it is preferred to kill a child than to allow that child to be adopted by parents who would love and nurture him or her. When we strip away the lies, his views and those of like-minded revisionists is nothing short of monstrous.

There is no “fetal idolatry.” But there is idolatry here and that is in placing human capriciousness over objective truth. It is an idolatry that worships the selfish woman and her choice over divine cooperation in the sacred act of creation. It is the idolatry to demons that want the blood offering of innocent children.

His reference to an “abundant or purposeful life to which all of us (but evidently not the child) should be called” is the rehashed argument from utility. It runs smack into opposition with the very notion of sacrificial love that defines Christian discipleship and parenthood. This argument from utility says that if the unborn child should make us sad or hurt our prospects or cause inconvenience, then the child can be terminated or destroyed. He argues that the unborn baby is only counted a baby if wanted and loved. This same impoverished thinking would threaten the elderly and the sick. If life stops being fun or there is insufficient productivity then it becomes okay to pull the plug or even to poison grandma’s IV. Similarly, if there is too great an expense to keep us around, then this thinking makes us disposable. The quality of life for some is given the higher gravity over the quantity of life for others. It is true that no one should be “unwanted” or “abandoned.” This mandates a change or movement in us to make room at the table of man for others. Instead, he focuses on termination or killing those “unborn” people so that they might not have to feel our resentment. He calls this mercy. It is not.

Ninety something years old, Swomley died a few years ago. He was known not only for his liberal views but for his distrust or even bigotry against Catholicism and its influence in the United States. He was regarded as a theologian and taught Methodist seminarians. However, his views were formed more by a secular humanism than by the Gospel and Christian tradition. Is it true that Methodist churches largely share his perspective? I hope not because it is absolutely diabolical. It is worrisome because LIFE NEWS also reported:

  • Methodist Health Care Ministries gave almost half a million to the nation’s top abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
  • The United Methodist Church opposed the bill to ban late-term abortions.

Methodist doctrine could at one time be narrowed to the creeds and its hymnal. Unfortunately, such objective clarity is hard to find today. Methodism not only tolerates abortions but as an enabler pays for them. Demonstrating how far they were willing to go, the bewildered church organized opposition to efforts that would have banned partial birth “infanticide.” This seemed to violate reason, itself. Even if confused people had doubts about the humanity of the unborn, here we were talking about the killing of nine month old babies ready to be born.

When so-called Christians espouse such things, hell must be laughing. But such hardness of hearts is really a cause for tears. Everyone has value. Everyone is loved. Every child is God’s gift and abortion (as well as infanticide) throws that gift back into the face of God. Dear God save us!