Monday night’s failed cloture vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act (or, more fittingly, the “Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act”) provided an important glimpse into the worldviews of America’s two major political parties. It also elicited some revealing comments from Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), an original co-sponsor of the bill. Although his staff told me they did not have an official reason for why Warnock missed the vote, the senator himself wanted to ensure everyone knew where he stood. Hours before the vote, Warnock tweeted, “I’ve always been a pro-choice pastor, and I believe a doctor’s office is too small for a patient, their doctors, and the U.S. government. I’m a proud co-sponsor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, and the Senate should pass it as soon as possible.”
Senator Warnock’s Twitter feed routinely provides insight into how Georgia’s junior senator is thinking about various issues. Last April, Warnock (who also serves as the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta) tweeted an Easter greeting that claimed, “The meaning of Easter is more transcendent than the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He has tweeted support for the Equality Act (legislation that would severely erode religious freedom) and previously tweeted about his support for abortion.
Although Warnock’s position is not new, his repeated claim of being a “pro-choice pastor” merits a closer look. What does it mean to be a “pro-choice pastor”? The Bible clearly teaches the personhood of the unborn, that preborn babies are made in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect. How does Warnock square the Bible’s teaching with his support for abortion? In short, he doesn’t even seem to try. In fact, since joining the Senate, he hasn’t tried to tone down his support for abortion at all. The prospect of facing voters in a very competitive state in less than a year has likewise done nothing to moderate his views. Why is that?
Well, even before joining the U.S. Senate, Senator Reverend Raphael Warnock (as he likes to be referred to) was staunchly pro-choice. His campaign website proudly notes, “Reverend Warnock has been an advocate for women’s health and reproductive justice his entire life and is proud to have been endorsed by NARAL and Planned Parenthood Action Fund.” Moreover, Warnock is a three-time graduate of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. As I’ve noted before, Union Seminary is theologically very liberal (for the 2021-22 academic term, students have the option to join the “Queer Caucus;” the “Seminarians for Reproductive Justice” and “Transgender Nonconforming” caucuses are inactive this semester).
Given Warnock’s liberal seminary training and membership in a political party beholden to the abortion lobby, it is no surprise that he is committed to abortion. But if it is no surprise, why is it important to draw attention to his view and public statements? Does it really matter what one liberal senator thinks about abortion? In my view, it matters a great deal because of Warnock’s role as a pastor and frequent use of the term “pro-choice pastor.”
Let me be clear. I don’t believe there is such a thing as a biblically faithful “pro-choice pastor.” Over 2,500 years ago, the prophet Isaiah addressed the people of Israel as they faced the prospect of exile because of their sin. Speaking to those who were committing intentional sin, Isaiah says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (Isa. 5:20). In Isaiah, “woe” connotes grief and consternation and is often directed at someone in grievous error. Calling something evil “good” is to invert the moral order and invite divine judgment.
This verse is relevant considering the heightened responsibility of pastors to provide sound teaching to their congregations. When giving instructions to Titus about the qualifications for pastoral ministry, Paul explained, “[A pastor] must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.” For Paul, one of the chief responsibilities of a pastor is teaching the Bible and rebuking those who are in error. Again, on the issue of abortion, the Bible is crystal clear (see Ex. 21:22; Ps. 139:13-16, 22:10, 51:5-6; Job 3:3; Jer. 1:4-5; Isa. 49:1; Luke 1:39-45; Gal. 1:15). Thus, a “pro-choice pastor” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Of course, there are many pro-abortion advocates who hold ministerial positions in churches around the country, but I believe the Bible’s requirement of adherence to sound doctrine disqualifies anyone from true gospel work who is fervently “pro-choice.” One simply cannot condone, support, and champion the killing of preborn children in the pulpit and satisfy the requirements for pastoral ministry laid out in the New Testament.
If this is true, what does this mean for how we should think about Reverend Warnock’s ministry? To use biblical imagery, he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Consider Jesus’ warning in Matthew 7:15-16a, where He says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits.” According to Jesus, false teachers will be recognized by their fruit. An obviously bad fruit is teaching that does not accord with sound doctrine. Moreover, using one’s title and position of leadership in the church to provide cover for wickedness is surely a sign of rotten fruit.
Abortion remains a significant feature in our political discourse, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization will not be the final word. And although Christians must continue to pray that the Court will make the right decision and overturn Roe v. Wade, pastors and Christian leaders must remember their sacred duty to lead God’s people to think faithfully on these issues. In the Great Commission, Jesus famously commissioned His disciples to “make disciples of all nations.” He also instructed them to teach people “all that I have commanded you” (Mat. 28:19-20). Included within the “all that I have commanded you” is everything Jesus taught concerning the value and dignity of human life. Thus, rather than follow Senator Reverend Warnock’s lead, faithful undershepherds must recommit themselves to the task at hand, which is not abortion advocacy but contending for the “faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3).