My Journey: Conviction Without Compassion
By Catharine Phillips
Jan. 20, 2013
I glanced at my Facebook page before heading out the door for my weekly Bible study, and the visual jolt shook me deeply. A pro-life advocate had posted a horrifically graphic photo of an aborted baby. One of my Facebook friends from church commented on the immensely disturbing photo: “I can’t imagine who could do such an awful thing.”
Who could abort a baby? Me.
Today I am a dedicated Christ-follower. I am committed to a daily quiet time, and am active in women’s ministry. I serve at my church, I love the Lord, and I strive to live out the gospel.
Twenty-five years ago, while a high school senior, I sat in a doctor’s office, shivering in a paper gown. The physician completed my examination and quietly said, “Honey, you’re pregnant.”
The words reverberated in my head. I was numb. Terrified. This couldn’t be happening. I’d been raised in church by religious parents. Our relationship was tenuous at best. They would kill me if I dropped this bombshell. I almost wanted to kill myself. I left that doctor’s office with a pamphlet for a clinic I was told could take care of everything.
On June 10, 1987, I ended the life of my unborn child.
A quarter-century later a wave of nausea and excruciating pain hit me as I viewed that horrific image online. I’ve accepted that the blood of my Savior has covered my horrible sin, and I am pardoned (Romans 8:1). I even managed to forgive myself, although I hung on to self-loathing for many years because I remained unconvinced Jesus’ work on the cross could cover this special sin.
Still, the grace of forgiveness does not erase the pain of consequence and regret. I will carry that pain for the rest of my life.
As believers, we have to be wary of the phrase, “I can’t imagine how anyone could ever _____.” A danger in such a statement is to think of ourselves as being above certain sins. In a perfect storm of circumstances, some carry out what many of us consider unthinkable.
It’s easy for me to say confidently I would not rob a liquor store for the contents of the cash register. But what if I’d grown up in a different environment? What if I didn’t have solid, supportive people in my life? What if I didn’t have the prayer of friends and family? What if I hadn’t discovered the relentless pursuit of Jesus? What if my mother was a drug-addicted prostitute and my dad was a complete mystery to me?
We tend to insert ourselves into the crisis point of another’s circumstance while maintaining our current emotional, psychological, relational and spiritual condition. We don’t pause to consider that maybe we aren’t there because we aren’t them.
That isn’t to say people have no choice but to bow to pressure and difficulties. And I’m not suggesting circumstances excuse sinful behavior. But, in considering Romans 3:23, don’t be so sure it isn’t but for the grace of God that you’ve been spared the storm of circumstances that leads to particular failures and fallen behaviors.
The “I can’t imagine how” phrase also stifles the opportunity to minister to those who may need ministry most.
When I really struggled with my faith, and waffled between embracing or abandoning it, such phrases from Christians resulted in my avoiding church and the people who went there. My past, rebellious life left me feeling I had no place in a pew. Not that I wanted churchgoers to welcome my sin. I just knew by their reactions they probably would never welcome me.
Many of us perfectly respectable “churchy” types have some pretty ugly stuff in our pasts. It is a testament to the glory, grace and redemption of my Savior that my past sin isn’t readily apparent to those who know me now.
For those of us with sexual sin in our pasts — abortion, premarital sex, promiscuity, adultery — it isn’t something we necessarily share widely. Because there is such shame attached to those sins, many Christians try to pretend as if they never happened. While repentance is important — and necessary — equally essential is truly receiving Christ’s forgiveness for those sins.
When we continue to self-flagellate and feel condemnation over something we’ve done in our past for which we’ve repented, we likely haven’t truly accepted Christ’s forgiveness. It is critical we nail the sin to the Cross once and for all, and sometimes we need our fellow believers to walk us through that in prayer.
As Christians, our convictions must always be held with compassion.
People don’t turn from sin because of a browbeating by someone clutching a Bible and spouting Scripture to support their superiority complex. Are we sometimes fearful of showing compassion to people in the clutches of a certain sin because we think it might be misconstrued as condoning that sin? Speaking the truth — especially an unpleasant or unpopular truth — in love is difficult. To combine conviction and compassion as Christ intended can only be done when we allow Christ to speak through us.
A pastor once told me that in order to minister to non-Christians, he had to learn to never express shock at anything confided to him. The moment he appeared outraged or appalled by the lifestyle of an unbeliever, he had forfeited his opportunity to be influential for Christ.
I believe we need to expand that philosophy to include Christian friends as well.
May I always wear my convictions with compassion. And may I always be humbled by the unfathomable love and unparalleled grace of a Savior who could redeem even me.
CATHARINE PHILLIPS lives in Phoenix, and is a wife and mother of one son, born on the 21st anniversary of her abortion.
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