Zachary Garris

Restoring 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as a Parallel to 1 Timothy 2:12

Most egalitarians and complementarians limit the debate over the involvement of women in public worship to 1 Timothy 2:12. However, Reformed theologians historically held that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a parallel passage to 1 Timothy 2:12. The reason can be seen when the language of the two passages is compared.

Most of the debate today over the role of women in the church centers around 1 Timothy 2:12, where Paul prohibits women from “teaching” or “exercising authority” over men and instead commands them to “remain quiet.” Based on a variety of arguments, egalitarians conclude that 1 Timothy 2:12 does not prohibit women today from serving as pastors or elders or preaching to men. However, among those that hold 1 Timothy 2:12 does place restrictions on women in the church today (often called “complementarians”), there are differing conclusions.
Complementarian Disagreements
The narrowest complementarian position holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from holding the office of pastor or elder, which would open the door to some women preaching. However, since Paul prohibits teaching and exercising authority and not just being a pastor, most complementarians understand Paul to prohibit women from performing tasks and not just holding office. Yet interpretations vary regarding which tasks are prohibited. The narrowest complementarian position here holds that 1 Timothy 2:12 only prohibits women from engaging in an “authoritative teaching” to men, and thus women may teach theology to men as long as it is under the authority of the (male) elders (the position of Tim and Kathy Keller, following the grammatical argument of egalitarian Phillip Payne).
But assuming these are separate tasks of “teaching” and “exercising authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12 (as Andreas Köstenberger has argued in Women in the Church), then it becomes a question of when and where the prohibition applies. It at least refers to women teaching or preaching in the public worship assembly. However, many complementarians argue that because the principle is rooted in creation— “For Adam was formed first, then Eve” (1 Timothy 2:13)—this means women should not teach Scripture or theology to groups of men in any public forum, whether Sunday school or the seminary classroom.
Yet even among complementarians who make this broader application of 1 Timothy 2:12, there is still debate over whether women may read Scripture and lead prayer in public worship. This is because 1 Timothy 2:12 targets women “teaching” men, not reading or praying. In response, one may argue that reading Scripture is an extension of “teaching” Scripture and that both reading Scripture and leading prayer are forms of “exercising authority” prohibited by women in 1 Timothy 2:12. However, these arguments could be strengthened significantly by bringing in a similar passage of Scripture to the debate.
Bringing Back 1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Do not get me wrong—debates over the meaning and application of 1 Timothy 2:12 are worth having. But they are hindered by the dismissal of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. This latter passage is often still mentioned, but not in relation to 1 Timothy 2:12. While egalitarians tend to argue either 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is an interpolation and not part of Scripture (Gordon Fee, Philip Payne) or Paul is quoting the Corinthians (Lucy Peppiatt), most complementarians have adopted the interpretation that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 only prohibits women from evaluating prophesy (promoted by D. A. Carson in Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood). Thus, most egalitarians and complementarians limit the debate over the involvement of women in public worship to 1 Timothy 2:12.
However, Reformed theologians historically held that 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is a parallel passage to 1 Timothy 2:12. The reason can be seen when the language of the two passages is compared:
…the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.(1 Corinthians 14:34-35)
Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.(1 Timothy 2:11-14)
The similarities between these passages can be summarized as follows:

Both use the word “permit” (ἐπιτρέπω) with a negation—women are not permitted to “speak” in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are not permitted to “teach” or “exercise authority” in 1 Timothy 2:12.
Both require women to refrain from speaking—women are to be “silent” (σιγάω) in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are to remain “quiet/silent” (ἐν ἡσυχία) in 1 Timothy 2:11, 12.
Both require women’s submission—women “should be in submission” (ὑποτασσέσθωσαν) in 1 Corinthians 14:34, while women are to “learn quietly with all submissiveness” (ἐν πάσῃ ὑποταγῇ) in 1 Timothy 2:11.
Both place restrictions on women’s learning—women are to “ask their husbands at home” if they desire to “learn” (μαθεῖν) anything in 1 Corinthians 14:35, while women are to “learn” (μανθανέτω) quietly with all submissiveness in 1 Timothy 2:11.

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From Slavery to Sabbath—the Story of Exodus

When people think of the Book of Exodus, they often think of the 10 plagues upon Egypt or Moses receiving the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Yet as important as these events were, they do not dominate the Book of Exodus like the themes of slavery and Sabbath.
Deliverance from Slavery unto Sabbath Rest
After Israel had settled in Egypt under Joseph’s leadership, a new Pharaoh arose who enslaved them (Exodus 1:8-10). Pharaoh “set taskmasters over them to afflict them with heavy burdens,” and the Egyptians “ruthlessly made the people of Israel work as slaves,” which made “their lives bitter” (Exodus 1:11, 13-14). This slavery included Egyptians beating Israelites, which led to Moses killing an Egyptian (2:11). But God saw the “oppression” and “afflictions” of His people and “heard their cry.” As the Lord said, “I know their sufferings.” And He promised to deliver them from slavery and into a good land of milk and honey (3:7-9).
God “heard the groaning” of the Israelites who had been made “slaves,” and thus He would “remember” His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is, He would act upon that covenant by delivering Israel unto the land of Canaan (Exodus 6:3-5). God declared:

I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians. I will bring you into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. I will give it to you for a possession. I am the LORD. (Exodus 6:6-7; cf. 16:12; 29:46)

So God’s promise to Israel was to take them to be His “people” and deliver them to the land of Canaan, as He “swore” to the patriarchs—“your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years… To your offspring I give this land” (Genesis 15:13, 18; cf. 17:8). But the fulfillment of this promise first required that God deliver Israel from slavery, from under the “burdens” of Egypt. God would not only deliver Israel unto the Promised Land, but He would also deliver them unto Sabbath rest. However, entrance into the Promised Land would take some time, and although Moses and that generation would not even experience it, they would all still experience God’s Sabbath.
The Sabbath stands in stark contrast to the “burdens” of Egyptian slavery (Exodus 2:23; 6:6-7; 21:2-11). Instead of oppressive work, Israel would now have a weekly day of rest, along with seasons of rest (16:23, 30; 20:8-11; 23:10-19). This theme of slavery to Sabbath is seen even in the Ten Commandments, which begin with God proclaiming, “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (20:2). This point should not be missed. The foundation of the law of God—the Ten Commandments—begins with God’s proclamation of deliverance from slavery.
Notice God specifically says He delivered Israel from the “house of slavery.” Instead of dwelling in the “house of slavery,” Israel was to build a “house of Yahweh” (Exodus 23:19; 34:26, LSB). Thus, God not only delivered Israel from “slavery” to Sabbath rest (seen in the Fourth Commandment), but He also gave them a new “house” (tabernacle) in which He would dwell with them—“And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (25:8). The deliverance from the “house of slavery” to the “house of Yahweh” is seen in a clear division in the Book of Exodus, as the Ten Commandments are given in the very middle (Exodus 20). Israel had been in Egyptian slavery from the beginning of the book until the Passover and exodus in chapter 12, followed by the crossing the Red Sea and time in the wilderness. But after this deliverance from the “house of slavery,” God gave extensive instructions for His “house.” The second half of the Book of Exodus is dominated by the law (Exodus 19–24) and the tabernacle, as instructions for the tabernacle were given in Exodus 25–31 and then the tabernacle was built in Exodus 35–40.
Slavery in Exodus and Beyond
Exodus shows that Yahweh is the God who redeems slaves who cry out to Him. Yet God also protects slaves, seen in His provision of laws regulating slavery and freeing slaves. Modern men and women are often appalled at the practice of slavery, which makes the Bible’s teaching on it difficult to address today. Yet slavery was a common practice in ancient world, often serving as a last resort when a man had to sell himself into slavery because of debt or when a man sold his daughter in hope of a better life for her. The modern West has abolished such slavery but ironically still practices a form of slavery by locking criminals in prison for extended time or even life, a practice foreign to the Mosaic law. Contrary to modern imprisonment, God’s law implemented the death penalty for severe crimes and restitution for lesser crimes. While God did not abolish slavery but permitted it as part of this fallen world, He also placed important restrictions on its practice.
After the Ten Commandments, God gave mishpatim that Moses was to set before Israel, a term that can be translated “rules,” “ordinances” or “judgments” (Exodus 21:1). These “rules” were circumstantial case laws deriving from the foundational Ten Commandments. They are found in Exodus 21:1–23:19 and as a whole are called the “Book of the Covenant” (24:7).
The rules of the Book of the Covenant include 10 laws on slavery—five laws for male slaves (Exodus 21:2-6) and five laws for female slaves (21:7-11). Of the subsequent laws concerning violence (21:12-36), many also concern slaves (21:16, 20, 26, 32). While man-stealing was a capital crime, the purchasing of slaves was lawful (Exodus 12:44; 21:2; Leviticus 22:11; Deuteronomy 15:12). Hebrew slaves could be purchased because a man voluntarily sold himself into slavery for debt or he was involuntarily sold because he was a thief who was unable to pay restitution (Exodus 22:3). Non-Hebrew slaves could be purchased from traders or taken from war (Leviticus 25:44-45; Numbers 31:26-47; Deuteronomy 21:10-14).
As for redemption from slavery, Hebrew slaves were required to be freed after six years, on the seventh Sabbath year (Exodus 21:2; Deuteronomy 15:12), unless the slave wanted to remain with his master and the wife that his master acquired for him (Exodus 21:4-6). However, this was not the case for a non-Hebrew (foreign) slave (Leviticus 25:46), though he was still to be circumcised (Exodus 12:44; Genesis 17:12-13). The non-Hebrew slave had the right to purchase his freedom (Leviticus 25:49). Otherwise, he with his children were to be freed every 50 years in the Year of Jubilee, which was a Sabbath of Sabbath years (7 x 7 = 49) (Leviticus 25:54). Severe injury to a slave required freeing him (Exodus 21:26-27), while the murder of a slave required punishment (21:20). (Exodus 21:21 teaches the delayed death of the slave assumes the master did not intend to kill him, and thus the loss of the slave was its own penalty.) If an ox gored a person to death, the ox was to be stoned to death itself, and the death of a slave was to be compensated financially (21:28-32). The stealing of a man and selling him as a slave, and even possessing the stolen man, warranted the death penalty (21:16).
If a man sold his own daughter as a “female servant,” there were additional protections upon her that were not placed on male “slaves” (Exodus 21:7). This “female servant” (amah) is different from the word for a male “slave” (avad), as the woman was purchased to become a wife or concubine (unlike the “Hebrew woman” sold only for labor in Deuteronomy 15:12). If she displeased her master, she was not to be sold to foreigners but given the right to redemption (Exodus 21:8). If she were married to the master’s son, then she was to be treated like the master’s daughter (21:9). And if the master (or his son) married her and took other wives along with her, he was still to provide for the wife, including meat (“flesh” in Hebrew, not “food”), meaning she was sold to a wealthy family and to eat meat like they ate (21:10). The woman purchased as a wife was not to be demoted in marriage and doing so required her freedom (21:11).
When we come to the New Testament, we see that there were Christians who were slaves—“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free” (1 Corinthians 12:13). Paul did not tell them to flee, but rather they were to obey their masters (Ephesians 6:5; Colossians 3:22; 1 Timothy 6:1). Christians could also be slave masters, but they were to treat their slaves with fairness—“Masters, show to your slaves what is right and fair, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven” (Colossians 4:1, LSB). Thus, there will be slave masters in Christ’s kingdom, and we cannot condemn them as doing evil when God did not do so. The Bible does not condemn slave masters so long as they treated their slaves “justly and fairly” (Colossians 4:1, ESV). Yet the Bible also provided the framework for the regulation of slavery and its eventual demise. Earthly slavery points to the spiritual slavery that humans are born into (John 8:34). But like God’s deliverance of Israel from Egyptian slavery, He redeems those who are enslaved to sin and makes them instead “slaves of righteousness” and “slaves of God” (Romans 6:16-22).
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Why the PCA Needs Overture 15

The language of O29 and O31 are welcome additions to the BCO. However, they are insufficient. They do not address the issue before us, which is whether a church officer may describe himself as “homosexual.” The proposal put forward by O15 clearly says no. Officers who struggle with same-sex attraction are not “gay” or “homosexual,” but they are Christians redeemed by Christ who refrain from homosexual sex and put such sinful desires to death. Those in the PCA who oppose O15 will give a variety of reasons against it. But the question for them is, “should church officers describe themselves as homosexual?” If not, then why not say so?

It is no secret that Overture 15 (O15) barely passed the 49th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). The Overtures Committee recommended rejecting it, but RE Matt Fender delivered a minority report that convinced the Assembly to make a substitute motion in favor of the proposed amendment to the Book of Church Order (BCO). After a timely speech by TE O. Palmer Robertson, O15 passed with 54% of the Assembly voting in favor of it. It will now go on to the eighty-eight presbyteries of the Church, where it needs 2/3 support to proceed to the 50th General Assembly in Memphis for ratification.
In what follows are some of the reasons that the changes proposed in O15 should achieve the 2/3 threshold of the presbyteries, pass the 50th GA, and make it into the BCO.
The Clarity and Brevity of Overture 15
The strength of the BCO language addition proposed by O15 is its clarity and brevity. Here it is in full:
7-4. Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.The end goal of this addition is clearly to prohibit men who “describe themselves as homosexual” from holding church office in the PCA. The language proposed in this year’s O15 is an improvement over the language of last year’s Overture (O23), which used the language of “profess an identity.” Whereas the terms “identity” and “identify” are subject to differing interpretations, the verb “describe” has a narrow meaning. According to Merriam-Webster, “describe” means “to represent or give an account of in words.” This is an objective standard based on one’s own language for himself.
Upon the successful implementation of O15, a man pursuing (or holding) ordination credentials in the PCA may not “describe” himself as “homosexual.” He is not permitted to use the word “homosexual” or its synonyms to represent himself. If he does so, then he is disqualified from holding the office of elder or deacon in the PCA. The word “homosexual” is not unclear. It is commonly used to describe men who engage in sexual acts with other men, which is prohibited by Scripture and the Westminster Standards. This behavior is not befitting of a church officer. Everyone in the PCA should firmly agree with this.
Christians Who Struggle with Same-Sex Attraction Are Not “Homosexuals”
Yet disagreement may arise because “homosexual” can also be used to refer to those who are “characterized by sexual or romantic attraction to people of one’s same sex” (Merriam-Webster). In this case, a man who experiences sexual attraction to other men but “practice[s] celibacy” is still disqualified by church office if he describes himself as a “homosexual.” Notice that the ratification of O15 would not disqualify a man from office simply because he experiences same-sex attraction. The key is that he would not be permitted to “describe” himself as a “homosexual.” The man who experiences same-sex attraction is disqualified from office if — and only if — he describes himself as a “homosexual.”
But is “homosexual” ever used in English to refer to a man who experiences same-sex attraction? The answer is yes. But this definition from dictionaries like Merriam-Webster is not our standard as Christians. The Bible is “the only rule of faith and obedience” (WLC 3). And the Bible teaches us that a Christian is not to describe himself as a “homosexual.” A Christian man may experience same-sex attraction and fight against it by God’s Spirit, but he should never use the word “homosexual” to describe this struggle. A key text here is 1 Corinthians 6:9-11:
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.The Apostle Paul teaches here that the practice of grievous sin prevents people from inheriting God’s kingdom. Notice, however, that he does not list the sins themselves, but the terms or descriptions of people who make a practice of such sins. Paul does not say a Christian who gets drunk once will go to hell. Rather, he says that a drunkard will not inherit the kingdom. Thus, no Christian should ever describe himself as a “drunkard,” as that is a description only for his pre-conversion days. “Such were some of you,” Paul says. But now you have been washed and sanctified by Christ. You may have been a drunkard before you met Christ, but now you are a Christian. And if you are still a drunkard, then it does not matter that you call yourself a Christian. A drunkard will not inherit God’s kingdom, and you need to repent.
With reference to our current discussion, Paul also says that “homosexuals” will not inherit God’s kingdom. We need not get into all the nuances of the Greek words malakoi (“effeminate”) and arsenokoitai (“homosexuals”). They are used together here to refer to those who engage in any form of homosexual sex, as seen in the English Standard Version’s translation (“men who practice homosexuality”). So we see that Scripture uses the word “homosexual” to refer to men who engage in homosexual acts, and such a description is not fitting for Christians. Those who are “homosexuals” or “immoral men” are not Christians, but “ungodly and sinners” (1 Tim. 1:9-10).
Therefore, at minimum, a Christian who calls himself “homosexual” (or a synonym) sends a confusing message to those inside the church and out. He may mean only that he experiences same-sex attraction and is celibate. However, many English speakers will justifiably understand him to mean he is engaging in homosexual sex. This is why the Scriptures never describe a Christian who struggles with same-sex attraction as a “homosexual,” just as the Scriptures never describe someone who struggles with the desire to abuse alcohol as a “drunkard.” This descriptor is simply not a word fitting for a Christian. How much more is the word “homosexual” not fitting for a church officer? The elder is to be “above reproach,” and he is not to be known as a “drunkard” (1 Tim. 3:2-3). Certainly he is also not to be known or described as a “homosexual.”
Rather, the Christian should put “evil desire” to death (Col. 3:5), and “put off” the old man that is “corrupt through deceitful desires” (Eph. 4:22). He is not to identify with the old self but instead to “put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge” (Col. 3:10). Such renewal in Christ means not using sinful descriptions for oneself. Thus, even if a Christian struggles with homosexual desire, it is not fitting for him to characterize himself with his sin. He is not a homosexual but a Christian seeking to put sinful sexual desire to death. “Sexual immorality and all impurity… must not even be named among” Christians, “as is proper among saints” (Eph. 5:3). How much more is this the case for church officers?
Overture 15 Reflects the PCA’s Report on Human Sexuality
Overture 15 reflects the conclusions of the PCA’s Ad Interim Committee (AIC) on Human Sexuality Report, which received broad support. The Report advises that “Christians ought to understand themselves, define themselves, and describe themselves in light of their union with Christ and their identity as regenerate, justified, holy children of God… To juxtapose identities rooted in sinful desires alongside the term ‘Christian’ is inconsistent with Biblical language and undermines the spiritual reality that we are new creations in Christ… we name our sins, but are not named by them” (p. 11).
As applied to the term “gay Christian,” the Report counsels that it is wise to avoid this phrase. It explains: “For many people in our culture, to self-identify as ‘gay’ suggests that one is engaged in homosexual practice. At the very least, the term normally communicates the presence and approval of same-sex sexual attraction as morally neutral or morally praiseworthy. Even if ‘gay,’ for some Christians, simply means ‘same-sex attraction,’ it is still inappropriate to juxtapose this sinful desire, or any other sinful desire, as an identity marker alongside our identity as new creations in Christ” (p. 12).Read More
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Should A Mother be Legally Punished for Aborting Her Baby?

In the case of an abortion, the mother’s actions are a cause of the baby’s death, without which the baby would still live. The woman and the abortion doctor partnered to murder her baby. Thus, if the woman voluntarily sought out the abortion—meaning she was not coerced by someone else (who would then be charged himself in the matter)—then she was guilty for the murder. She actively sought out the “doctor” to kill the baby in her womb. The woman is comparable to the man who hires a hit man to kill his wife. He is a murderer, even if indirectly. This is how state laws work for conspiracy in such murder. It is also how the Bible understands the guilt for murder.

Something happened that many of us never thought would happen—the Supreme Court just overturned its infamous 1973 decision Roe v. Wade, which for the most part prohibited the states from regulating abortion in the first and second trimester. The 1992 decision Casey v. Planned Parenthood modified this to prohibit states from abortion regulations that place an “undue burden” on mothers prior to the baby’s “viability.” In other words, Roe and Casey legalized early-term abortions in all of the 50 states.
But that has all changed now with the decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health that was issued on June 24, 2022. By overturning Roe and Casey, the Supreme Court has returned abortion laws to the domain of the states—which is the rightful constitutional place for such criminal laws (made especially clear by the Tenth Amendment). Most criminal laws, part of state “police powers,” should be set by the states, not the federal government. With Roe rightfully overturned, this means a state like California can continue to permit abortion, while a state like Alabama can outlaw it completely.
We should celebrate the overturning of Roe v. Wade, both because it is the correct decision per the U.S. Constitution, but also because it ends the legal protection of the “right” for a mother to kill her baby inside her womb. However, while we celebrate Roe being overturned, we must also recognize this is a new stage in the so-called “pro-life” movement. If the goal is to outlaw abortion, then we must now seek to outlaw abortion in as many states as possible. Overturning Roe was just the beginning.
Yet even here there seems to be disagreement, as some who call themselves “pro-life” speak as if the goal is only to reduce abortions (a goal many “pro-choicers” also speak of). Others, like myself, say we certainly want there to be no abortions, but there is also the goal to simply outlaw abortion in all of the United States. Abortion is murder, and therefore all people who voluntarily participate in abortion should be charged with murder. (This is why “anti-abortion” is often a better term than “pro-life.”)
Thus, with the anticipation of Roe being overturned thanks to a leaked first draft of the opinion, a new debate arose among those in the so-called “pro-life” camp over two questions: (1) whether the mother who aborts her child should be punished by law, and (2) what the penalty for abortion should be for the doctor and the mother.
Should the Mother Who Aborts Her Baby Be Punished?
This question has generated some serious debate, as many in the “pro-life” camp probably never expected us to be in this situation. Let’s start with where there is agreement. Everyone on the pro-life side believes abortion is murder and is thus morally impermissible. Everyone agrees an abortion doctor/provider should be charged with murder, as he is the one who performs the act of killing the child. Therefore, states should pass laws criminalizing abortion as a form of murder, and states should shut down abortion clinics and prosecute abortion doctors. So far, so good.
Yet it logically follows that a woman who procures an abortion resulting in the death of her child should also be prosecuted for the crime of murder. Though the woman who hires an abortion doctor did not do the killing herself, she is an accomplice to the murder or a conspirator. Accomplice liability (sometimes called aiding and abetting) involves intentionally assisting another in committing a crime, while conspiracy involves an intentional agreement, even implied, to commit an illegal act.
In the case of an abortion, the mother’s actions are a cause of the baby’s death, without which the baby would still live. The woman and the abortion doctor partnered to murder her baby. Thus, if the woman voluntarily sought out the abortion—meaning she was not coerced by someone else (who would then be charged himself in the matter)—then she was guilty for the murder. She actively sought out the “doctor” to kill the baby in her womb. The woman is comparable to the man who hires a hit man to kill his wife. He is a murderer, even if indirectly. This is how state laws work for conspiracy in such murder.
It is also how the Bible understands the guilt for murder. King David instructed his men in a letter to have Uriah murdered—“Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die” (2 Samuel 11:15). Though David did not directly kill Uriah, the prophet Nathan told David that he did “what is evil” in God’s sight and “struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword” (2 Samuel 12:9). In other words, David was guilty of killing Uriah, an innocent man. And God punished him accordingly (2 Samuel 12:10). Hiring someone else to murder for you is still murder.
Let us also ask this question—if a woman who voluntarily had an abortion performed is not guilty for the crime of abortion, then what is she guilty of? Did she do nothing wrong? Was she a passive agent in the murder? The problem with saying the woman is not guilty of murder is this makes her to be a victim rather than a perpetrator of the crime. Sadly, this is how many “pro-life” advocates speak. Yes, there are many bad actors in the abortion industry, including those who teach abortion is morally permissible and encourage women to have an abortion (including employers that want childless women workers). However, that does not relieve women from moral and legal agency for committing an abortion. There are also lots of bad influences that lead to a person using heroin, or even selling it, but our laws do not say such a person is not legally responsible for breaking drug laws because he had bad parents and attended a drug-ridden school.
One of the greatest problems in the entire abortion industry is the fact that abortion has been legal. The law is a teacher, and the law saying abortion is permitted and a constitutional “right” teaches women and men that it is not morally wrong. But if a state outlaws abortion, then that has all changed. The law will explicitly teach that abortion is immoral and considered murder by the civil authorities, and those who carry out such murder will be punished. This teaching should be reflected in all state institutions, including public schools. Of course, women will only be charged for crimes after such a law is enacted, meaning there will be no ex post facto laws.
In many states, if a person murders both a pregnant woman and the baby in her womb, he will be charged with double homicide. It is only when the mother murders her own baby that she is not guilty of murder. This is a double standard. Consistency demands that the mother who kills her child via abortion is punished for the crime along with the abortion doctor.
A Critique of Those Who Do Not Want to Prosecute the Mother
Now some “pro-life” leaders are saying we should only pass laws that lead to the prosecution of abortion doctors, not the women who have the abortion performed on them. Let’s start with the argument by the influential Baptist Al Mohler from back in 2016:
But here’s where the pro-life movement returns back to say, who is the guilty party in an abortion? It is the person who brings about the death of the child. The woman seeking the abortion is not without moral responsibility, but she is not herself bringing about the death of the unborn human baby. That’s the crucial issue here, and that’s why the pro-life movement has consistently sought to criminalize abortion at the level of the person performing the abortion.
This argument flatly misunderstands causation in criminal law, including accomplice murder and conspiracy. Yes, the person directly performing the abortion is guilty for bringing about the death of the child. But so is the mother who voluntarily goes to see the abortion doctor to have her baby killed. Mohler says “she is not herself bringing about the death of the unborn human baby.” Following this logic, then neither did David “bring about” the death of Uriah, since he asked someone else to do the killing for him. Mohler fails to account for the role of indirect actions, wanting only to prosecute the hit man and not the guy who paid him to kill.
Next let’s turn to the argument by another Baptist, Denny Burk, who describes what I am advocating as “abolitionist” and argues the “pro-life” movement has always insisted on not prosecuting mothers who kill their children. Let’s just stop right there and say it is irrelevant what some movement said prior to Roe being overturned. Moreover, many states pre-Roe did incriminate women who had abortions (see below). I have long considered many within the Republican Party to only give lip service to being “pro-life,” and thus they would not actually know what to do if Roe were overturned. It is quite likely that many in the “pro-life” movement maintained a more palatable position so as to gain political favor. There is no reason for that now. We were previously working with the Roe boundaries. But it is a new age. As for the term “abolitionism,” this is often used for those who reject incrementalist approaches to outlawing abortion (which I do not). Thus, this is a separate issue and a straw man argument by Burk.
Burk has two arguments against prosecuting women who commit abortions. First is a moral argument that “it is not always clear what level of culpability should be assigned to the mother.” While the mother has “moral agency and culpability in seeking out an abortion… it is not always straightforward to what degree she is morally implicated.”
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