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The upcoming Irish abortion debate

On December 13, 2017 Ireland took a step closer to liberalizing her abortion laws, with a vote of an Oireachtas Éireann Committee of 14-6 to repeal the Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution. Oireachtas Éireann is the Irish legislature, the Irish version of Congress (USA) or parliament (UK), with its lower and upper houses, Dáil Éireann and Seanad Éireann.

The Eighth Amendment of the Irish Constitution reads as follows:

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right (emphasis added).

In recent years, the Eighth Amendment has become the focus of an attack by those who desire to give women in Ireland the right to abortion, for it makes abortion virtually impossible from a legal and constitutional point of view. If the unborn child has the same right to life as the mother, how could abortion be justifiable unless, in the extremely rare situation, where termination of pregnancy might be necessary to save the mother’s life? If it is unlawful and unconstitutional to murder the mother, it is equally unlawful and equally unconstitutional in Ireland to murder the unborn child. Therefore, the Eighth Amendment, which has protected the unborn in Ireland since 1983, must be sacrificed to give women “reproductive rights.” When you see the words “reproductive rights” or even “women’s healthcare choices,” think abortion. When you hear of the “termination of pregnancy,” think of ending a pregnancy by killing the unborn child.

The decision of the Oireachtas Éireann Committee will now galvanize both sides of the debate. The next step is for the committee to submit its report to the government, which report will then be debated in Dáil Éireann. Following that, a question will be formulated and put to the Irish people in a referendum. Irish Taoiseach (prime minister), Leo Varadkar, desires a referendum sometime in May or June 2018. Then the Irish people will decide: should the unborn child continue to enjoy the inalienable right to life in her mother’s womb or should the door be opened to abortion, thus sentencing such a child to death?

A liberalizing trend in Irish society was revealed on May 22, 2015, when the Irish people voted to change the constitutional definition of marriage to include same-sex unions. Will that liberalizing trend stretch also to legalizing abortion? And if so, to what degree—abortion on demand? Abortion only in the so-called “exceptional cases” of (so-called) fatal foetal abnormality, rape, and incest; or abortion for all cases up to a certain time-period in the pregnancy? The Oireachtas Éireann Committee recommended unrestricted abortion up to twelve weeks. Ireland’s closest neighbor, the UK (except Northern Ireland), to which many Irish women travel to obtain abortions, allows unrestricted abortion up to twenty-four weeks.

While abortion activists have launched their “Repeal the Eighth” campaign, Ireland’s pro-life groups have a different slogan: “Love Both.”

One further concern that pro-abortion campaigners have is that Pope Francis plans to visit Ireland in 2018 (Pope John Paul II visited in 1979). Will the moral authority of the pope have any influence upon the vote? If recent trends in Ireland are any indication, the answer to that question is no.

Pope Francis and the sixth petition

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” are part of Christ’s model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer. For almost two millennia, Christians have used the sixth petition to express their requests to their heavenly Father. For centuries, Reformed pastors have preached on this petition using the words of Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 52.

But the Roman pontiff believes that the petition should be changed. Apparently, the words are too confusing, and even misleading, for a modern Christian to use in prayer. The pope has two issues with the current wording—first, he says, it is a bad translation; second, it teaches poor doctrine. In a recent TV interview, the pope suggested “Do not let or allow us to fall into temptation” as an acceptable alternative translation:

The French have changed the text and their translation says, “Don’t let me fall into temptation”…. It’s me who falls. It’s not Him who pushes me into temptation, as if I fell. A father doesn’t do that. A father helps you to get up right away. The one who leads into temptation is Satan.

The original Greek of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4 is the same, literally, “And do not carry us or bring us into temptation.” The same verb appears several times in the New Testament: “And they sought means to bring him [the paralytic] in, and to lay him before him [Jesus]” (Luke 5:18); “for we brought nothing into this world” (I Tim. 6:7); “the bodies of those beasts whose blood is brought into the sanctuary” (Heb. 13:11). Christ’s words are not expressed in the passive voice, “Do not let us be tempted,” but in the more direct, active voice, “Do not lead us into temptation” or “Lead us not into temptation.”

But we must be careful, for Christ does not say, “Do not tempt us.” There is a difference between tempting someone and leading him (or bringing him) into temptation. The pope is partly right, for it is indeed the devil who tempts us. Indeed, James goes further: he does not mention the devil, for the lusts of our own flesh tempt us (James 1:13-15). In addition, the Greek word rendered “temptation” can equally be translated “trial” in the New Testament. When God brings us into temptation, He tries us. When God afflicts us, He tries us. But Satan often uses the same affliction (a trial from God’s hand) to tempt us, so that he entices us to sin.

God does lead us into temptation, which demonstrates His absolute sovereignty over our lives. God arranges all the circumstances of our lives, including trials and temptations. Jesus warned His disciples about this and urged them to watchful prayer: “Pray that ye enter not into temptation” (Luke 22:40). Even Jesus Himself was led into temptation: “Then was Jesus led up of the spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil” (Matt. 4:1), where the “spirit” is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into temptation—the Holy Spirit did not tempt Him, but He led Him (and even drove Him; see Mark 1:13) into a place where He would be tempted!

Why, then, do we pray, “Lead us not into temptation”? If God wills to try us, should we not seek out occasions of temptation so that we can be tested? The Heidelberg Catechism answers: “Since we are so weak in ourselves that we cannot stand a moment,…do Thou therefore preserve and strengthen us” (Q&A 127). If we know our weakness, we will not trifle with sin. If we understand our weakness, we will beseech God not to be put to the test. If we are conscious of our weakness, we will beseech God that—if it is necessary for our salvation and for His glory—we will be preserved in the temptation and come through the trial with our faith strengthened. But we would prefer, if it is possible, that the temptation or trial should pass from us.

In effect, we pray thus when we utter the accurate English translation of Matthew 6:13 and Luke 11:4, as we have it in the KJV, “Father, do not put me in a situation, where, left to myself, seduced by my own flesh, and assailed by the devil, I fall into sin, ruin myself, and bring dishonour to Thy holy name.” If you think such a situation is not possible, read Judges 16 and shudder at the presumption of Samson; read Luke 22, both Christ’s warning and Peter’s foolhardiness; and contemplate the Canons of Dordt V, Articles 4-6. Do not tempt God to lead you into temptation, to withdraw His grace, and to let you fall, so that you learn a painful lesson in humility! God has many ways to chastise His children—leading us into temptation is one of the most painful rods that He uses. But do not fear, because our faithful God will “with the temptation also make a way to escape [notice that—God makes the temptation and the way to escape from it], that ye may be able to bear it” (I Cor. 10:13). However, the way of escape might not be easy: Joseph’s way of escape from Potiphar’s wife (a temptation he actively sought to avoid) was to suffer for years in an Egyptian prison rather than to sin against God (Gen. 39).

We need the sixth petition exactly as it stands. It is a testimony to God’s sovereignty, a testimony to our weakness, and a testimony to God’s faithfulness. It is hardly surprising that the pope misunderstands it: Rome is not exactly known for a robust confession of God’s sovereignty!

A sinful royal engagement

On November 27, 2017 the media was abuzz with news of a royal engagement—Prince Harry, the youngest son of Prince Charles and (the late) Princess Diana, announced his engagement to Meghan Markle, an American actress. Sadly, this is not something Christians can celebrate, for Harry is following in his father’s adulterous footsteps by marrying a divorced woman against the law of God.

Prince Charles married Camilla Parker-Bowles, now the Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005, after Camilla’s divorce from her husband, Andrew Parker-Bowles, in 1995, and after the death of his late wife, Diana in 1997. The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, refused to officiate at the wedding of divorcees, so that couple was married in a civil ceremony followed by a Service of Prayer and Dedication in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle. The latter ceremony included an act of penitence in which Charles and Camilla supposedly “confessed their sins” before solidifying their iniquities by entering into a lifelong adulterous relationship!

We acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness, which we, from time to time, most grievously have committed, by thought, word and deed, against thy Divine Majesty, provoking most justly Thy wrath and indignation against us.

Notice that there was no specific confession of adultery, nor was there a turning from that sin, in which case the wedding would not have taken place.

Meghan Markle, Prince Harry’s fiancée, married Trevor Engelson in September 2011, but the couple divorced barely two years later in August 2013. This means that by marrying Markle Prince Harry will enter into an adulterous relationship, for in God’s eyes Markle is still married to Engelson and cannot without adultery be married to another man: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery” (Luke 16:18).

Nevertheless, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will not have to go through the hypocritical ceremony of bewailing sins in which they intend to persist, for the Church of England, which is embroiled in controversy over same-sex marriage, is happy to allow the couple to marry, as long as Markle is baptized! In fact, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, is happy to officiate, and the couple might even “tie the knot” in Westminster Abbey.

The Church of England and British society have fallen a long way since 1936, when Edward VIII scandalized church and state by abdicating the throne so that he could marry (that is, live in adultery with) the divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. Today, adultery, whether disguised as marriage or not, is so common that people barely bat an eyelid.