Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Response to a popular pro-choice blog

I read over the blog post on losing faith in the pro-life movement (How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement” by Libby Anne).  I can see some of the points made, but ultimately found some of them based on a particular subset of the pro-life movement and others I simply did not find convincing. 

Economics.  The economics behind abortion is the author’s final point, but I will list it first because on this point we are in strong agreement.  The primary pressure turning people towards abortion is economics- if a woman must work to earn income to sustain herself or her family, then she cannot easily afford to be pregnant; if pregnancy will hamper career advancement, she cannot easily afford to be pregnant; if a woman will be kicked out of school for getting pregnant, she cannot easily afford to be pregnant.  And these pressures should be alleviated if we are to be truly pro-life.  That is why being pro-life must be bigger than just outlawing abortion.  Pro-life advocates should be saying FMLA is a great start but needs to be stronger and provide paid time off. Employers should be more flexible with parents- telecommuting, flexible hours, allowing children in (safe) workplaces, subsidizing childcare, etc.  ObamaCare™ should be applauded by pro-lifers for reducing the demand for abortion through providing contraceptives and mandating a minimal amount of health care (but unfortunately many pro-life advocates are blinded by partisanship). Finding ways to create jobs that can support a family should be a top priority of any pro-life politician.

And many pro-life ministries deal with those economic realities.  For example, Mom’s House ( provides free child care and career counseling to single parents who chose life and are furthering their education.  Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services ( provides education on adoption, local support services (medical care, financial services, etc.), parenting classes, financial counseling, etc.  YWAM’s Adoption Ministry ( provides comfortable residential housing, academic tutoring, and medical care so that women who do not wish to keep their babies but wish to give them up for adoption can have a supportive and comfortable environment.

Abortion laws do not reduce abortions.  Not able to read the study the author referenced since it is not linked to, I can only go by what she summarized and a similar WHO study summarized in the NY Times (  In both cases another correlation (and a more likely causation) is to be found and that is the link between abortion rates and economics/industrialization/age demographics. (In these studies, the term “rate” is abortions per # of women, not abortions per # of pregnancies.)  US and Western Europe have low rates while Latin America and Africa have higher rates and of all of Africa, South Africa (the most industrialized) has the lowest rate in Africa.  However, the more industrialized and economically well off a nation is, the more access to birth control there is, the more incentive to use birth control and keep families small, the better the education system is (and more likely the population is to be educated about birth control), the more likely public assistance is available to provide income for a woman who keeps her baby, and age demographics shift from a younger, more fertile population towards a older, less fertile population.

Abortion laws cause women to put their lives at risk.  This is true in the same way that banning pharmaceutical companies from selling cocaine or meth leads to people poisoning themselves with black market versions containing who knows what.  But unlike that rather crude comparison, women are subject to many forces which direct them to abortions.  The primary pressure is economics- if a woman must work to earn income to sustain herself or her family, then she cannot easily afford to be pregnant; if pregnancy will hamper career advancement, she cannot easily afford to be pregnant; if a woman will be kicked out of school for getting pregnant, she cannot easily afford to be pregnant.  And these pressures should be alleviated if we are to be truly pro-life.  That is why being pro-life must be bigger than just outlawing abortion. (See Economics.)

Contraception.  I am all for contraception.  People are going to have sex whether contraception is available or not.  It is better we educate and make contraception available than use abortion as contraception.  We should not start confusing contraception with abortion.  They are two different subjects.  I understand that Catholic pro-life arguments often blend the two because they feel strongly about both.  But as the author pointed out, most contraceptives do not cause miscarriages. 

Zygotes and the supposed lack of concern regarding them.  When my wife and I had 3 miscarriages, all within the first trimester, we did not just lose a collection of cells we had no feelings for as the author accuses.  We lost 3 children whom we mourned deeply and still do.  If you ask just about anyone who has lost a baby through miscarriage they will share similar feelings.  There has been extensive research by the medical community to help prevent miscarriages.  In our case it was a simple hormonal imbalance that prevented proper implantation.  Once this was corrected our next daughter was able to fully develop and she is a source of joy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

On the importance of mapping, GIS, and communication.

So, I run the West Nile virus mitigation program for the county of Lebanon in Pennsylvania.  This year we got enough funding to have a summer intern.  Andrew is a great intern- he’s quick to learn, applies what he learns, has a good knowledge base, works well with me and on his own, and is conscientious in his work.  I better watch out for my job.  Anyway, I sent him out on his first solo sampling expedition.  I gave him a list of sites and he was able to use the database to find the location of each site based on the name.  The one site however was going to prove problematic.

That aforementioned problematic site was owned by the telephone company.  They had their equipment storage on the western edge of the property, but the eastern side of the property was a wetland with some intermittent springs and all wooded.  Perfect for some really nasty floodwater mosquitoes.  The database, however, did not show property lines and bordering on the west side was a hermit who is more than a little distrustful of the government and who lives in a shack.  Andrew pulled up, saw an overgrown driveway near his given coordinates leading up to what appeared to be an abandoned building with lots of junk around it.  Junk holds water and is great for several mosquito species.  That must be the spot.  So he sets the trap next to the driveway.

Andrew called me the next day when he was out collecting his traps.  One was missing. You can guess which one.  As soon as he told me where he lost it we tried calling the police.  But the borough and the state police could not agree where the borough line fell and both thought it was out of their jurisdiction.  (They didn’t want to deal with this guy either.)  So I told Andrew to just get the rest of the samples and process them, I would check on the missing trap. 

I pulled up to the property and called my secretary.  I told her where I was and who I was visiting and to call the police for me if I didn’t call back in 15 minutes.  I whistled loudly as I walked in and out popped the hermit.  I smiled and introduced myself and began by apologizing for the trap being set on his property.  I told him I didn’t give adequate instructions to my summer intern and it was my fault.  He accepted my apology and said he was glad to find people to took responsibility for their actions and if we ever needed access to his property again, just ask and he would be glad to grant it.  After a little more chit chat, since we were now friendly, I decided to ask about getting my trap back before I left.


“Why not?”

“Well, I’m awfully sorry about it now that I’ve met you and all, but when I found it I didn’t know what it was.  I just saw the wires and heard the buzzing, so I hit it.”

“That’s ok.  I’m pretty good at fixing things. Can I get the parts back?”

“Well, you can have what’s left. It’s over here in my shed.”

We walked over to the shed and he unlocked it and brought out the pieces.  Then I saw by “hit it” he meant “I shot with my 12 gauge using number 6 shot.”  There was nothing left of the trap except a battery and a plastic tub that held the attractant.  And even those had several holes.

So, what could I do?  It was my fault and he had done nothing really wrong as far as I understood it.  I laughed, thanked him for his time, walked back to my truck, and called my secretary.  And then I took the next two days to personally show every single site, along with their preferred trap locations, to Andrew.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

God and Science

There is a common belief that science and religion are in conflict. This is usually the result of a “God of the Gaps,” theology which holds that anything unexplained is done by God and anything with a physical explanation is not done by God but is independent. If one follows this vein of thought, then the more phenomena science explains, or purports to explain, the smaller God becomes. One then might see science as a threat to one's faith or lose one's faith because of science. If one instead first accepts the tenant that God is the Creator and sustainer then this assertion falls apart. If God created the universe and life, then the mechanisms by which they work are also His creation and are the work of God. Whether someone is a proponent of theistic big bang/evolution or a literal creationist, he or she declares that God created and directed the process.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


At the start, I want to stress that this happened to me, Loyal Philip Hall. It did not occur to a friend or a friend of a friend. It has been a rough 2 years. My wife and I lost 3 unborn children during that time. Each was a traumatic experience. After a battery of tests, we found out it was an easily corrected hormonal imbalance to blame. We are now 5 months pregnant but it doesn't end there.

About a month ago, on Valentine's Day we had an ultrasound. Everything was going wonderfully- we found we were having a little girl, she was moving around a lot, her growth was exactly at the 50 percentile. But then the technician zoomed in on our little girl's heart to take some measurements. She stepped out of the room and the room began to fill with doctors. We new something was wrong. Eventually one of the doctors started talking to us. "Your baby's heart is malformed. The wall separating the atriums is missing, as well as the wall separating the ventricles. This is a serious heart defect that occurs in 0.5% of pregnancies. She will be fine for now because she is receiving all her oxygen from her mother and the heart doesn't need to direct blood to and from the lungs. But at birth she will need immediate heart surgery." Then we were whisked to a genetics counselor who informed us that this defect is often associated with trisomy of a chromosome (it could be Downs Syndrome, but it could also be different extra chromosome). We should get an amniocentesis that day to find out; there is only a small risk. We decided not to- we did not want to pose a further risk to the baby with an invasive procedure when we knew that it would not change how the doctors would monitor her development or treat her and we knew we would love and cherish our daughter with or without a disability.

We went home and spent Valentine's Day crying and praying for our daughter. We knew God is good, whether our daughter was born healthy or not. We asked God for faith and comfort. But that didn't mean we were not going to ask for a miracle. We prayed for her every day. Friends and family were also praying for her. Two weeks later we had a follow-up ultrasound. The upper chambers of the heart were now divided. This past Friday, 3/16, we had an ultrasound with the pediatric cardiologist. He was looking at the ultra-sound and began by saying, "Everything looks good. The chambers are all divided, the valves are in place and working properly, and the vessels attached to the heart are all in place. There is a little brightness here that might be some sort of scar tissue on the dividing septum between these chambers, but otherwise everything is healthy." He was genuinely surprised when we told him why we were there. "No, she won't need any surgery. I'd like an EKG done at birth just because of that possible scar tissue, but otherwise everything is fine and you can deliver wherever you like." God healed our little girl's heart.

I am praising God right now. We live in a world warped by sin and that warpedness includes fetal development going awry. There are lots of people who are praying to God whose children are not healed. I don't believe God healed our little Ester because we prayed right or he loves us more than other people or that we were "due." God could have said "no." He did so for 3 of our other children and I believe He has His reasons. God healed Ester because he chose to for some reason. In a broken world, broken by our own sin, supernaturally intervening to make anything better is mercy. God is good. Praise him and don't loose faith.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Loving the poor

Caring for the poor is a concept that carries many questions. Why should we? Who should do it? What does it look like? I put money in the Salvation Army kettles every Christmas; does that count?

Let’s look at the first question I always ask: “why?”

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:27

It is for this reason we love our neighbors as ourselves. To love ourselves and to love our neighbor is to love and honor God whose image we bear. True, that image is marred by sin. But to love our neighbor, whatever their behavior, status, demeanor, or appearance is to recognize God’s image that pervades the entire person. When a teacher of the law asked Jesus what he should do to inherit eternal life, Jesus turned the question back to the lawyer and asked what he thought the answer was. The lawyer said to love God and to love his neighbor. Jesus said that this was correct. But the man wanted to know who qualified as his “neighbor,” in other words, “Who do I have to love?” Jesus responded with a now well known parable about a Samaritan (despised by the Jews) who stopped to help an injured Jewish man after the priest and Levite (who should have known better) did not. Your neighbor whom you are to love, indicates Jesus’ parable, is the one who needs it. If your neighbor needs friendship, be a friend. If your neighbor needs a meal, provide food. If your neighbor needs rent money, share rent money. If your neighbor needs help shoveling their sidewalk, help shovel the sidewalk. If your neighbor needs Jesus, share Jesus.

But loving the poor is not that simple.

Because we are made in the image of God, we are more than physical bodies. We are spiritual beings. And we cannot meet people’s needs through exclusively focusing on helping people obtain material wealth. If we want to address poverty we must also address spiritual transformation and realities or we will fail.

God cares so much for people and his creation. He became a human and died for the sins of the whole world and invites every person to respond in freedom to the gift of salvation. He has promised to redeem his creation that is groaning under the destructive effects of sin (Romans 8:19-23). God also demands that our economic and political systems acknowledge and protect the dignity of each individual. To deny economic freedom or reduce people to interchangeable pieces of a machine is to violate their individual dignity. On the other hand, choices have consequences. Obedient, diligent use of our gifts normally produces enough material wealth (unless powerful people oppress) and disobedient, lazy neglect of responsibilities increases the danger of poverty. So, completely equal distribution of wealth is not compatible with human freedom. Work and opportunity are.

God works (Gen 2:1-2). Jesus was a carpenter. Paul made tents. Even before the fall, God told Adam to cultivate the earth and name the animals. Work not only serves to provide material needs, but is also a way to express our basic nature as God’s co-workers and is a way to love our neighbors. Meaningful work is essential for human dignity. Any person who fails to work disgraces and corrodes his or her being. Any system that could but does not offer every person meaningful work violates and crushes the human dignity bestowed by the Creator.

After all this”work” talk you might think that I think that poor people should just pull themselves up by their bootstraps and get to work. It is not that simple. Some are poor because of self-destructive use of over-drinking or drug-use. Some are poor because of short-sighted choices to misuse their wealth for luxuries like cable tv, electronics, smartphones, etc. or gambling/lottery. Some people are poor because of unfair economic structures- astronomical medical bills should one have the misfortune to become ill without insurance, welfare policies that discourage savings, unlivable wages, etc. Some are poor because they were born into poverty and lack the life-skills to escape. Many are poor because of all these things mixed together.

Sin corrupts and mars individual persons and the ideas/institutions we create. Our economic systems often oppress our neighbors. As individuals, sinful selfishness, pride, and apathy keep back generosity and overlooks oppression. As individuals, sinful selfishness, apathy and impatience keep the poor mired in poverty. So it comes back to a need for redemption and redressing sin in the systems, in the rich, and in the poor.

We should talk about using the term “the poor.” It can (but not necessarily) be a dehumanizing term to use. It is easy for affluent people to view the poor as “the poor”- unwashed masses, people who through some lack of character and/or skill fail to earn wealth. They exist in our view as nameless persons asking for money (presumably for drugs) or pushing a wheeled cart down the street. They may have some sort of housing paid for with government funding and receiving welfare. But we don’t see them as individuals, as true people- just characters, stereotypes devoid of the complexity and imago Dei that defines people. This is one of the challenges for Christians with simply giving to a charity and then going about our business. The charity acts as a broker so that one never has to personally interact with poor people and possibly get to know someone as a person. And it has a similar effect on the receiver.

Jesus told another story about sheep and goats. He told the sheep they were blessed because he was hungry and they fed him, naked and they clothed him, a stranger and they invited him in, in prison and they visited him. He told the goats they were cursed because they refused to feed him, clothe him, welcome him, or visit him. Jesus said that whatever we have done for others, we have done for him. So, in a sacramental way, Jesus is present in each person we interact with. And when we treat our neighbors in need kindly and recognize their humanity, we are in fact interacting with and loving Jesus. Perhaps instead of just giving a homeless person $5.00, you could buy lunch for the both of you and sit down together. A, it will assure that you are not enabling substance abuse (it is sadly true that most who approach you on the street for money really do want it for some sort of drug) and B, it will allow you to be a conduit for the love of Jesus while getting to know another person as a person and be ministered to through them. If you give to charities, that is wonderful, but it is also good to volunteer your time, so that you interact with the people on a personal level.

The challenge of helping people is that sometimes one can do more harm than good. Obviously people in a pinch need help and sometimes a straight up gift of material wealth is warranted. However regular handouts can create dependency and ruin the dignity that comes with work and responsibility. For that reason, it is a good idea to work through churches and other charities when giving of your time and resources. They can help you avoid having your act of love come to a bad end and to maximize its impact. Take the time to choose your avenues of showing love wisely. Be shrewd as snakes while being innocent as doves (Matt 10:16). Make sure that you are truly loving your neighbor for his or her good.

Fair warnings: 1) You will occasionally get burned. It is a tragic fact that some people are users. People are image-bearers, but they are still people and warped by sin. But blessed are you when people despitefully use you (Matt 5:44). And do not let your love grow cold (Matthew 24:12). 2) I stole liberally from “Just Generosity” by Ron Sider when writing this. It is a great book and it would be a blessing to you read in its entirety and without my editorializing.