By Dave Andrusko
I know Pastor Carl Lentz by reputation only. Having watched the initial furious backlash to his evasive answer to whether his church considered abortion a sin, I waited a day to see what I assumed would be a further comment.
Indeed, he did post a tweet and we offered some thoughts. The title was long and clumsy–“Some thoughts on a megachurch pastor’s evasive comments about abortion and his further clarification”–but that was because I wanted to tell the reader what this was about and to be fair.
I think my comments about what Pastor Lentz said on The View put his remarks in context and gave him the benefit of the doubt where he deserved it.
In his tweet, he said
I do believe abortion is sinful. Our prayer is that we can continue to help and love those that deal with the pain of regret from personal choices, rather than cast further shame and guilt on those already carrying so much and create a church that can teach people how to form convictions based on God’s word, that will be the driving force in all their decisions. I will continue to point people to Jesus, above all else, every opportunity I get. The story of God’s redemptive grace, available to all, is the best news available.
But I suspected this was not the last we’d hear from the pastor of the Manhattan branch of Hillsong church.
And sure enough Pastor Lentz gave an interview to RELEVANT magazine. There is not a lot that was not in the lengthy tweet but not everyone saw the tweet and there was give and take with Cameron Strang, the interviewer.
By quoting generously from the interview, I hope to make it possible for every reader to make their own judgment.
As you may remember from our post, The View had cut right to the chase. Noting the church’s massive appeal to Millennials, Sara Haines asked, “how do you address these sorts of things” (“social issues” such as abortion).
He tried to put the “social issues” in a larger context which prompted Joy Behar to ask/state, “So it’s not a sin in your church to have an abortion?” A moment later when he does not respond directly, Behar asks again, “So it’s not an open-and-shut case with you?”
“Some people would say it is,” Pastor Lentz responded. “I think, to me, I’m trying to teach people who Jesus is first, find out their story before I start picking and choosing what I think is sin in your life, I’d like to know your name. … I mean, God’s the judge. People have to live to their own convictions. That’s such a broad question, to me, I’m going higher. I want to sit with somebody and say, ‘What do you believe?’”
What’s interesting about the RELEVANT responses (as I understand his comments which, as transcribed, can be a bit confusing) is that Pastor Lentz says he knew he’d be asked these sorts of hot button questions; that he “went in there prepared”; and that he intended to “keep the conversation moving, in particularly about abortion.”
So what happened? The “fast-paced environment” is part of the answer. I think it’s accurate to say that Pastor Lentz went on to tell Strang that the “specific” question on abortion from the unnamed co-host [Behar] came before he had been able to put his first answer in the context of Psalm139.
This, of course, is one of David’s most memorable psalms which includes verses pro-lifers always cite: “13 For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. 14 I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Moreover, Pastor Lentz went on, “the host who asked me the question is not a Christian, doesn’t believe in God, doesn’t believe what we believe and she asked me about sin. So I felt like a higher question would be ‘Let’s talk about who Jesus is before we go there.’”
“My answer was, ‘Before I tell you about what I think sin is, I would like to know your name.’ I still stand by that. I’m still gonna do that,” he said. “It doesn’t mean I’m not going to get to the truth; it doesn’t mean that I don’t have anything to say. My point is, ‘You want go there, before we do, [I want to exercise] my right as a human to say: ‘What’s your name? Where are you from? Why did you get an abortion? Who is the other factor in this? Where were you raised?’ Just so it will be more effective.”
Pastor Lentz also responded to critics who hammered him, beginning by asserting that a lot of those who did “don’t know who we are.”
As I noted at the beginning, a lot of pro-lifers were unhappy with Pastor Lentz, whose prominence in evangelical circles grows by the year. He did try to separate the sin (abortion) from the sinner (the woman), and to encourage churches not to “cast further shame and guilt on those already carrying so much.”
I’m sure he knows now, if he didn’t before, that most network hosts are not going to give him time to contextualize his answer on abortion.
He could say–and should say–abortion is sinful. He should also say our task as Christians is to love a woman in a crisis pregnancy in hopes that she doesn’t make that tragically wrong decision, but if she does to continue to love and minister to her knowing that we serve a loving and forgiving God.