When we first found ourselves navigating the world of Down syndrome, I had no idea what I was doing. I came to the table with very little factual knowledge on Down syndrome and quite a lot of preconceived notions and outdated cultural stereotypes. Through the course of time and the process of educating ourselves, my family has been able to put to rest many misguided beliefs that drove our fears and provoked our insecurities. I have come to realize that a diagnosis of Down syndrome does not mean life will be horrible; it is not the ultimate dream-crusher that I originally assumed it would be.
Still, the last few months of my pregnancy and the first few months of Alisa’s life outside the womb were a mixture of deeply-abiding joy and fiercely-assaulting grief. I was faced with the task of communicating (to myself and others) my unending love for Alisa, along with my painful heartache over her diagnosis. It was a bittersweet dance, one in which I learned that joy and sadness can coexist.
But as I tried to put my feelings to words, I found myself in a very frustrating place in my new role as a special-needs mother. I felt as if I had to do a sort of verbal gymnastics in expressing myself, so as not to offend anyone or to be misunderstood by others. Here I was, a legitimate mother of a child with special-needs, yet I felt constrained by the fear of accidentally offending another person while processing my grief and expressing it through writing. In fact, it was my first real lesson in the world of “political-correctness,” an elusive world in which I discovered that anything you say might be used against you as evidence of the grave social transgression of offending another person.
Time has passed since those early days, but I find that things have only gotten worse with regards to political-correctness. While I do not think that the intentions of the PC-campaign are intrinsically wrong (after all, being sensitive to the feelings of others is never wrong), I find that we are slipping further and further into an undefined and oppressive world, one in which taking a clear stance on anything might mean facing serious social repercussions. In an age of “anything goes,” we find ourselves having to qualify any extreme statements or beliefs with such phrases as “to each his own” or “it’s not my place to judge others.”
This is where it gets especially difficult for people like me. Recently, in an effort to stand for the right to life for those who receive life-altering diagnoses in the womb or shortly after birth, I wrote a blog post detailing some of my thoughts on Down syndrome. The fact is, society-at-large is on a crusade to eradicate Down syndrome from our midst. Tragically, as my husband pointed out to me recently, such a crusade is not accomplished through curing a disease like AIDS or polio; instead, it is accomplished through annihilating a people group before they are ever born, or shortly thereafter.
I was surprised when a couple of strangers commented on my post that I should not judge others. My intention with that post was to speak of the beauty and dignity of those with Down syndrome. I wanted to highlight the fact that life is not ever going to be easy, and we should not always run from hard situations. Facing a diagnosis of Down syndrome will bring difficult and painful seasons in life (I would argue the same is true for having any child, disability or not), but my point was that choosing life is always worth it. A diagnosis of Down syndrome should not be the prenatal death sentence that it has become.
In my saying that abortion is morally wrong, though, I was being accused of judging others. And this is the point in our culture in which I find myself between a rock and a hard place. I am a Christian. I know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is, by nature, offensive. His message flies in the face of our sinfulness, and we don’t like it when we are told we are wrong. But His message is also the most loving and the most grace-filled message you will ever find, and this is why I must speak out.
Abortion is an explosive subject today, and it is multifaceted and complex. I am aware that there can be different nuances with each situation, and I realize that a great number of women have had abortions. Reading my words might cause someone to feel judged or condemned, and I am sensitive to that reality. In fact, I addressed this topic when I was pregnant with Alisa. But before you click the link to read that post, please stay with me here a little bit longer.
There is a very popular verse from the Bible that is often quoted, by Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, it is not usually spoken calmly but is spouted off angrily in situations where a person feels cornered or attacked. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus says, “Judge not, that you might not be judged.” Often, we use this verse today to silence another who is taking a different stance than our own on a moral issue.
Yet the problem with using this one verse alone is that we lose the greater context of its meaning. This allows us to misuse or misunderstand the original intent of Jesus’ message. As John Nolland points out regarding our postmodern, cultural use of this verse, “Unfortunately the applications people often make (giving personal space to others; modesty about one’s own capacity to discern what is right…) probably have little to do with the intention of either Jesus or the Gospel writers.” In other words, intentionally or not, we are misusing Matthew 7:1.
Do Jesus’ words “Judge not” mean that we should not take clear and even controversial stances on issues? Did Jesus mean that we should not hold convictions that delineate a clear “right and wrong” in any given situation? When we look at the greater message of Jesus Christ and understand His gospel, the answer to these questions can only be a resounding “No.”
The crux of Christ’s message in Matthew 7 rests on the heart’s condition — that even as we hold firm convictions that align with scripture, we are not to consider ourselves better than others. As Christians, we are not to be characterized by critical or condemning attitudes of those we encounter. Instead, we should be characterized by a gentleness, humility, and love that is grounded in the grace of God, even as we still hold to scriptural convictions and proclaim the truth of the gospel.
We live in a loud and angry culture. I know that some who claim to be Christians are often the loudest and the angriest. I also know that the heart and the intent of a person can easily be lost in black-and-white words on a screen. So please, let me be clear today on the heart and soul behind the words I write:
I do not point fingers. Though I do hold firm convictions on morality, it is not so that I can lift myself up as a beacon of righteousness. In fact, if you read that post I mentioned earlier, you will see that I am no better than others. Abortion is not part of my story, but sinful and shameful choices are very much a part of my story. I am no better than anyone here. By the grace of God, though, I have found in the gospel of Jesus Christ a freedom and a joy that I cannot keep to myself. This is why I write.
The world offers a lifestyle characterized by plurality, tolerance, and an “anything goes” mantra. We anchor our souls to nothing in hopes of finding something. Our culture is pushing the envelope on what is permissible, yet we blindly move forward without considering where it will end. Pleasure and personal gain drive this worldview, but it is shallow. In the end, following this lifestyle will leave a person anchored to nothing and lost at sea.
In comparison, Scripture teaches clearly on the opposing sides of right and wrong, righteousness and unrighteousness, holiness and sin. The world today sees these convictions as limiting, judgmental, and oppressive. Yet Jesus helps us understand that this is not the case: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
And this is our hope! Jesus came in order that we might find life, freedom, because sin will only ever lead to death. Contrary to what the world says, godliness does not represent an oppressive or boring life. The truth is that God loved us enough to tell us what is right and what is wrong and to offer us a way out of the darkness that enslaves us. God’s holiness is not a killjoy, but it is His perfect standard that represents His best for all of us (I’ve written more on this subject here). God’s call in scripture toward holiness is not so that we are bound by an endless list of “dos and don’ts”, but so that we are guided by the enriching and freeing power of Jesus Christ.
But I know this message isn’t popular, because the freedom He offers is not freedom our society demands — in Jesus, we are not free to do whatever we want. Instead, in Jesus we find freedom from the enslaving hopelessness of a life without God. We find freedom to be who He created us to be. In Jesus, we find freedom from the shame, the guilt, and the death grip sin has on our lives.
Without Jesus, where is our hope? To what do we anchor our souls?
Romance? It will fizzle.
Wealth? It will never be enough.
Fame? It is fleeting.
Comfort? It is never secure.
Pleasure? It will not last.
But when we anchor our souls in Jesus, we discover that we are no longer anchored to nothing and searching without finding. When we anchor our souls in Jesus, we will never be moved. When we anchor our souls in Jesus, we will find meaning and purpose that transcend selfish gain, painful circumstances, and empty pursuits.
I know that the gospel of Jesus feels offensive when it meets us in our sins. I’ve felt it before, too. But don’t believe the lie that He came to condemn us. He didn’t have to, because we already stood condemned by our own sinful choices. No, Jesus came to offer salvation that leads to life!
Do I judge the woman who aborted her child because he was diagnosed with Down syndrome? Absolutely not. Do I plead with the woman now who is considering abortion because her child has been diagnosed with Down syndrome? Absolutely! I will write until I can no longer write, and I will speak until I can no longer speak. I will seek to influence our culture and to fight against the great injustices I see against those who cannot speak for themselves, be it the unborn, the widow, the orphan, or any other person the Lord brings into my path.
But even more than that, I will continue to proclaim the power of Jesus Christ. I will continue to hold high the salvation that He offers to all of us — to the one who did not choose life, to the one who is enslaved by addiction, and to the one cannot see his own sins because of his pride. Christ died for all of us, and He is the One I hold high.
I don’t write to condemn others, but to proclaim the freeing power of Jesus. This is why I write, that we might all be able “to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ….” (Eph. 3:18).
“See what kind of love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are….” 1 John 3:1
“We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul…” Hebrews 6:19