Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #1: “Rescue Those Who Are Being Taken Away to Death”


In the late 1980s, I was an active footsoldier in Operation Rescue, the anti-abortion organization. Not a leader. Not an organizer. But one of the grunts who did the protests and paid for doing so. I have the battle scars. You may disagree with me if you will, but you can’t challenge my experiences.

I met some of the most concerned and dedicated people in Operation Rescue. Better people than I am. I was committed to the cause. For those others, though, the cause was their life.

I think there’s a powerful spiritual delusion that accompanies the pro-“choice” side. Planned Parenthood used to hide behind the mask of “helping women,” but their rabid opposition to General Electric’s 4D sonogram technology tore away that mask several years ago. Though the 4D technology would help women immensely, especially healthwise, it has the side effect (a negative one from Planned Parenthood’s perspective) of showing the developing fetus in crystal clarity. Makes it much harder to abort one’s child when that child flashes you a winning smile from the womb.

In short, Planned Parenthood doesn’t give a damn about women’s health. They love the money that comes from killing babies.

As for Operation Rescue, while it had a large Roman Catholic contingent, the most conservative of conservative Evangelicals made up the rest. A Rescue meeting had a lot of Bible in it, at least the ones I attended. Rescue’s name and rallying cry come from this passage in the Bible:

Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, “Behold, we did not know this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will he not repay man according to his work?
—Proverbs 24:11-12

The first sentence was the major theme, but what followed was often used for garnering new recruits for Rescue.

Today, I’m not active in Operation Rescue or the prolife movement. I haven’t been in 20 years. That said, I didn’t leave because of grudges or snits. I left because I felt there had to be a better way.

It’s not that babies weren’t saved. They were. But it seemed a lot of effort went into Rescue that could have been more effective if channeled into the mission Jesus gave us:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
—Matthew 28:19-20

Jesus adds this insight:

For the one who is not against us is for us.
—Mark 9:40

We tend to interpret the Bible willy-nilly. Whatever suits our position winds up quoted.

But how can we as the Church interpret anything from the Bible without a reference back to the mission Jesus gave us? I would contend that everything we do as Christians must be viewed through the lens of Matthew 28:19-20 or else we are off our mission, the mission the Lord gave us straight from his lips.

In light of this, how then should we interpret Proverbs 24:11-12?

Are we to rescue babies alone? No, we are to rescue anyone being led away to death. And since anyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life will taste the eternal agony of the second death, working to rescue those stumbling toward it becomes our primary job. The only way to interpret Proverbs 24:11-12 is that we are tasked to ensure that no one, no matter how deserving, ends up being led off to that hellish slaughter.

Physical death is horrible. In the case of the death of the unborn, babies being ripped apart in the womb should shock and horrify anyone whose soul hasn’t been seared. But the second death is an order of magnitude more horrifying than any of that. We just choose not to think it is.

Leonard Ravenhill, a favorite of this blogger, wrote this:

Charlie Peace was a criminal. Laws of God or man curbed him not. Finally the law caught up with him, and he was condemned to death. On the fatal morning in Armley Jail, Leeds, England, he was taken on the death-walk. Before him went the prison chaplain, routinely and sleepily reading some Bible verses. The criminal touched the preacher and asked what he was reading. “The Consolations of Religion,” was the reply. Charlie Peace was shocked at the way he professionally read about hell. Could a man be so unmoved under the very shadow of the scaffold as to lead a fellow-human there and yet, dry-eyed, read of a pit that has no bottom into which this fellow must fall? Could this preacher believe the words that there is an eternal fire that never consumes its victims, and yet slide over the phrase without a tremor? Is a man human at all who can say with no tears, “You will be eternally dying and yet never know the relief that death brings”? All this was too much for Charlie Peace. So he preached. Listen to his on-the-eve-of-hell sermon:

“Sir,” addressing the preacher, “if I believed what you and the church of God say that you believe, even if England were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, I would walk over it, if need be, on hands and knees and think it worthwhile living, just to save one soul from an eternal hell like that!

For all the time and energy the prolife movement has invested in fighting for the unborn, I keep wondering how many more gains we could have made if we focused on ensuring not one soul ended up in hell forever. Converts to our faith don’t tend to abort their unborn children. And in making those converts a priority, aren’t we in fact rescuing two people?

Sometimes, the good is the enemy of the best.

10 thoughts on “Rethinking Evangelicalism’s Tropes #1: “Rescue Those Who Are Being Taken Away to Death”

    • Arthur,

      Yes. You hit on a major issue in Evangelicalism that I have commented upon many times over the years: We have become known more for what we are against than what we are for. The Bible tells us to think on that which is excellent, noble, and pure, but our way of looking at is that we should NOT think on those things that are rotten, ignoble, and corrupted. That’s a completely skewed understanding, though.

      In the case of being anti-abortion, you’re right; the American Church has not done as good a job with being pro-life, in that many kids go unadopted, we don’t fight for human justice issues (especially in developing nations and among the poor), and we waffle on capital punishment.

  1. Paul Walton

    First and foremost we called to rescue souls. I believe we should do all we can to protect the innocent, I have voted pro-life for over thirty years, but our nation still pays for abortions. It’s the heart of people that needs rescuing, we are souls that have a body, not a body that has a soul.

  2. Dave S.

    Dan, Thank you for a very thoughtful post. I was thinking that perhaps it’s not so much an either/ or issue. Maybe we can actively work against abortion and also try to win converts. The other thing I wondered about was whether it’s true that converts to our religion tend not to have abortions. I can’t vouch for this data below but, sadly, it would seem that they may, albeit at a lower rate.

    In the end, I think we have to vocally and strongly oppose abortion because the victims cannot defend themselves. If we don’t try to defend them, no one will.

    Who’s having abortions (religion)?
    Women identifying themselves as Protestants obtain 37.4% of all abortions in the U.S.; Catholic women account for 31.3%, Jewish women account for 1.3%, and women with no religious affiliation obtain 23.7% of all abortions. 18% of all abortions are performed on women who identify themselves as “Born-again/Evangelical”.

    • suzanne

      Which is why I’ve long said that abortion will never be illegal because there are too many good Christian people who, deep down, despite what they say, want it legal in case one of their good Christian children shows up pregnant or having gotten someone pregnant.

  3. alan

    Dan, a very good take on the extremely emotional issue that divides even evangelicals. Parents who embrace the gospel know innately that abortion is wrong. If all the efforts spent in protesting abortion instead were used to proclaim the gospel – there probably would be fewer abortions. Perhaps not perfect, but fewer overall. Certainly no more than we see now !

    Is it better to proclaim the entire gospel, or is it better to defend those dying who our own theology says will spend eternity with God ? A tough question with no easy answer.

    Thanks as always for your thought provoking commentary.

  4. A lady at my church, who had an abortion when she was in her teens, now works with, which tries to help the other victims of the abortion industry — the mothers and fathers — find salvation and healing as the deal with what they have been through.

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy

    During my time in the movement, I noticed that each group had gotten locked into their own way of doing things as The ONLY Way To Truly Be Pro-Life.

    National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) was fixated on “Elect a Republican President Who’ll Appoint Godly Supreme Court Justices Who’ll Overturn Roe v Wade”.

    American Life League (ALL) was just like NRLC except ALL BOLDFACE CAPS!!!!! AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!!! (I especially remember a shakedown call during the Bork Nomination that literally threatened me with “God Will Hold You Accountable” (i.e. Hellfire and Damnation) if I didn’t give them money to use to get Bork confirmed.)

    Operation Rescue was fixated on its “Rescue” demonstrations, to the point that they actually said “If You’re Not Going To Jail With Us For Saving Babies, You’re Not Really Pro-Life.”

    Each group fixated on its own way of doing things and ONLY its own way of doing things, casting Anathemas at all the others — “APOSTATE! HERETIC! BABY-KILLER!”

  6. Hans

    The problem as I see it is that Christians are trying to fight this battle in the political/legal arena which just isn’t scriptural.
    It is just as much an abomination to have a law against abortion as it is to have a law allowing it. Let me explain… is an issue of jurisdiction, I remember reading somewhere in Deut. (I think) the phrase “and do not move the boundary stones” , the interesting thing was that it was totally out of context or so it seamed to me at the time because it was in the middle of a discourse not about land but one of jurisdiction.

    Abortion as terrible as it is, is strictly a family issue and does not involve the state.

    One way to test this premise is to take it to the extreme, let say we actually had capital punishment IN THE PRESCRIBED BIBLICAL WAY, in other words where as the state can and must in certain circumstances hand down the sentence of death, it can not itself carry out the execution, the only one who can carry out the execution is the ‘blood avenger’ who is the closest blood relative to the murdered victim. You can see where I’m going with this, If you go all out and say a woman having an abortion ( and person performing it)are guilty of murder and punishable with death then the blood avenger becomes none other than the woman herself. So one can see that having a law on the books making it illegal just doesn’t work, as wrong as as abortion is.

    WE are moving into the Kingdom age and understanding jurisdiction ( family,church, state ) and where our authority lays within those is of vital importance

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