Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Statistics: Need for Caution, Part 2 [Scott]

Not only must pro-lifers be careful with statistics; we must also be careful to define our terms. This is especially true if we want to convince reluctant pastors to take up our cause.

A Facebook message received yesterday is a case in point. "Speaking of statistics, do you know the number of women identifying as [born-again] evangelicals who are getting abortions?"

The question is a fair one. In response, pro-life advocates predictably hammer pastors with a Guttmacher study allegedly indicating that nearly one in five women who abort identify themselves as "born-again" protestants. If that doesn't do the trick, they pound the pastor with a Center for Reason study claiming that Christians have as many abortions per capita as non-Christians. (Go here for a summary of both studies.) The poor fellow is then told, "See, babies are dying in your church because born again Christians are getting abortions at alarming rates and they're getting them because you aren't preaching on the issue." To further close the deal, George Barna's research is often cited to show that born-again Christians in general live much like non-believers in terms of giving, the sexual practices of teens, and racial attitudes.


Well, that depends on what we mean by "evangelical" or, "Christian" or, more importantly, "born-again." A sharp pastor will eat a pro-life advocate alive who shows up quoting these alleged numbers and it has nothing to do with the numbers themselves. It has to do with how terms are used in the respective studies.

Let's assume for the sake of discussion the stats above are reasonably accurate. As John Piper points out, the Bible and Jesus run in the opposite direction of so-called carnal Christians who claim to be "born again", but who live just like the World. Indeed, Scripture is clear that those who are “born again” have an inner awakening from spiritual death to spiritual life and are radically transformed as a result. They are by no means perfect, but they don’t make peace with sin:

--John 3:20-21—whoever lives by truth comes to the light
--1 John 2:29—everyone who practices righteousness is born of Him
--1 John 3:9—No one born of God makes a practice of sinning
--1 John 4:7—whoever loves has been born of God
--1 John 5:4—everyone born of God overcomes the world
--1 John 5:18—everyone born of God does not keep on sinning
--Romans 6: 1-14--believers die to sin

In short, Barna’s carnal Christians aren’t worldly; they aren’t Christians!

So, how many "born-again Christians" have abortions? I don't know, but I doubt it's anywhere near the numbers presented above. It all comes down to what we mean by the term. If you aren't prepared precisely define what you mean, don't bother hammering your pastor. You'll only make pro-lifers look worse.


  1. I am enjoying your continued posts on the dangers of misunderstanding statistics Scott. Thank you.

    I mostly agree with you about the number of abortions by actual Christians being lower than is reported due to an inaccurate labeling, but I have also met many Christians in strong churches who support abortion in one way or another.

    Many Christians in strong Christian churches (even where the majority of their children are home schooled) still accept a dehumanized view of the unborn child. We have talked to home schooled students who learned of a friend who was considering an abortion. Being pro-life, they wouldn't drive the girl to the clinic and they would tell her why they think it's wrong to have an abortion, but they would keep the abortion secret from the girl's family and friends if asked.

    If the same girl was going to kill her baby brother, would they still keep it a secret from her family, while condemning the act privately to the girl? Hardly.

    Having met many Christians like this, I imagine the number is somewhere in the middle or closer to reported. Obviously personal experience is not a replacement for statistics; I just know that if we as pro-life activists get to speak in a church, it's a pro-life church, and they're still having these problems.

  2. Thanks for making these important comments. I think the issue of what makes a christian a Biblical Christian is very important. However, I think that these statistics are helpful for the purposes of evaluating how well evangelicals are doing in addressing the abortion in church. Most of the people involved with abortion and calling themselves christians are doing so because a pastor told them they were christians. And very often these same pastors are negligent in presenting a balanced,wise, loving but uncompromised Biblical view on abortion. I am a pastor and regularly mention abortion and preach a full message on it at least once a year. Some time ago a woman at our church came up to me after one of these sermons and told me she had grown up in the church and had never heard a sermon on the topic. That situation is not uncommon.

    The statistics should be helpful to motivate pastors, but if the words of the bible aren't enough then that church and pastor has much bigger problems.


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