Why Graphic Images Aren’t Enough

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“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Ephesians 5:11

“By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.” Romans 3:4

Why do we show graphic images? To most abolitionists and those who have been active in the fight against abortion, this may seem like an easy question, and I’m sure several have written at length defending it’s use. A more difficult question, however, is exactly why the use of graphic imagery is not enough. Although I do defend their use, their use in a vacuum is not enough.

We use this tactic in the tradition of past Christians, Abolitionists, historic wartime media, the modern media, and social activists. We use this tactic because of the shown sociological effectiveness. We use this tactic because it has helped save babies. But showing graphic images in order to save a baby is not enough. Saving babies is not enough. We utilize abortion images in order to Biblically expose abortion as what it is; brutal, horrifying sin against a Holy and Perfect God. We do not rely on particular sorts of signs and images. Graphic images have their weaknesses and prejudices. With or without signs, quadfolds, memes, or booklets, we rely on the Providence of God. The images can help expose sin, but the answer to abortion, the answer to any sin, is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We know that throughout history that the use of bloody and sometimes disturbing images have been useful in fighting injustice. The abolitionists of human slavery employed images of lynchings, men women and children packed into ships, whippings and beatings, and most notoriously, an image of a slave kneeling down in shackles. They sought to bring repentance to the slave holding South, and to wake up the apathetic North. In much of the same way, the German Church during WWII was largely silent against the injustices happening to the Jews and others deemed undesirable. The locals knew it was happening. They saw the Jews carted in like cattle. In some towns, they could even see the smoke and smell the burning flesh from their Church buildings. Most never saw the awful condition of the Jews, though. They did not witness the murders and atrocities. Those happened behind walls. It wasn’t until Allied soldiers forced them to walk through the death camps that they shuddered at the true barbarism of the Nazis. Pictures of Nazi crimes serve as a good and needed reminder of what happens when men who call them self good do nothing to oppose evil. Anti-war journalists and activists know that by showing the gruesome realities of war, men and women might come to understand the human cost of violent conflict. Pictures of burned villages, murdered children and woman, and soldiers killed in combat are all graphic, and lead people to think long and hard about the consequences of war. It’s important to note that this is no war of mutual aggression. Those we are fighting for, those that we are advocating for, are all innocent. How much more should we seek to expose the evil done to the innocent? Modern journalists are graphically exposing the world to the horrors of Islamic Terrorism. We are moved towards compassion as we watch a brutal beheading or watch a man being burned alive. Our hearts cry out for justice.

There are the basic sociological and psychological reasons. The public must know about the injustice in order to stand against it, evil men like to keep their depravity hidden, and the most obvious reason why we hold signs and distribute material with graphic imagery is to directly restrain the shedding of innocent blood. We know that even a few abolitionists outside of a clinic will save a few lives. We know that even one look at a graphic image can discourage abortion and perhaps save a baby. This obviously doesn’t always happen. The responses we get from graphic images vary, but we know that they are at least partially effective. Even by the mere restraining of deaths, there is a limited measure of justice achieved, and that should be applauded. Every life saved is a small yet significant victory. For the secularist or the syncretist this is largely the most a graphic image can do. And they are happy with that, because saving a child here and there is all they are attempting to do.

BUT WE are NOT only seeking an emotional and cognitive awakening, but a spiritual awakening. A REVIVAL! When we utilize graphic images we are doing more than making an appeal to men and women’s base emotions. Because we are heralds and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, and we do this work prayerfully, we are not alone in our endeavors. The Holy Spirit is our advocate and ally. When we come in the name of the Lord, more is going on than persuasion or philosophizing.

There is no such thing as a secular abolitionist,  and the use of an abolitionists sign should never be secular. You will not find a secular section on any of our websites for any of our ideology or resources, for,

“by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things have been created through Him and for Him.” Col 1:16

and…

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Romans 1:18-19

FOR what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Do we believe that? Do the tactics of the Pro-Life Movement reflect that truth? Do our tactics always reflect this truth? The apathetic and the pro-abort know the truth. We are desiring them to acknowledge that truth, and react to that truth. We are seeking to spread knowledge, but the beginning of knowledge is the fear of the Lord. When people are disgusted at these images, even when they direct that disgust at abolitionists, they are exhibiting a reasonable emotion. They SHOULD be repulsed. They SHOULD be disgusted. They SHOULD be angry. More than all of those, the should be filled with sorrow. Of course, they should direct their emotions rightly at the injustice itself, but by getting upset in the first place it oftentimes reveal that they know the truth, but they are suppressing it. Just like the little child in the womb, the mocker of God is also created in The Image of God. And just as there is no neutrality with child sacrifice, their is no neutrality with God. When we are speaking to the lost and blind, we do not argue from a place of ignorance. We do not start with the fallible knowledge of man to reason to the gracious gift of the knowledge of God. No. We do not put God and His Word on trial, putting our own intellects above God as judge and jury. No. We come heralding the Kingdom of God. We boldly proclaim the truth to the lost.

“There is no neutral ground in the universe: every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan.” CS Lewis

If you claim no truth in order to attempt to reason towards truth, what ground are you standing on? The ground claimed by God, or the ground claimed by Satan? The lost have no firm foundation. They can not make sense of their world, much less their claims that abortion is a “right”. They are existing in the realm of opinion. They are operating under mere preferences. They can not justify calling rape wicked anymore than they can justify abortion as a right. But we stand on the firm foundation of God and his Word. Yes, we can answer their questions, and yes, we can reason with the lost, but the Gospel is not something to be tacked on at the end. Every single time a pro-abort makes a truth claim, you needn’t answer with “how do you know that?”, though depending on the situation, sometimes that is best. Whether you are giving evidences, making philosophical arguments, or appealing to the graphic nature of your sign, speak knowing that they are suppressing the true, and understand that it is God that saves bodies and souls. Not your signs. Not your arguments.

At the abortion mill in Norman, I was able to talk to a mother of a woman who was there to kill her child. When I confronted her, and asked her about the humanity of the child, she angrily replied with “yes, I know it’s a baby!”.  When I replied that killing that baby was murder and sin, she told me that “yes, I know it’s murder”. She told me that she was a believer, and that she went to LifeChurch every Sunday. What was the issue with her? She did not believe that Jesus could free her from her sins. She did not believe the Gospel. For even this professor of Christ, no graphic image, no argument would work. She didn’t have FAITH. She was suppressing the Truth in unrighteousness.

I’ve talked to several people at the mill who after a bit of debate admit that the unborn child is a human being, and admit that it is ontologically no different from a newborn. But tragically, many of these women continue in their bloodshed. No matter how clever you are in presenting SLED arguments, when it comes down to actual decisions these young women make, it is a heart issue. It is a sin issue. I do not know how many times a woman has admitted to me that her child is a human, but she aborts it anyway because she is selfish, greedy, idolatrous, or scared. Her heart is cold. It is not humanity that she hates. It is not humanity that she is denying. She hates God. She is denying God.

Although the justification of abortion is widespread and accepted, we are now living in a time where the murder of infants is becoming increasingly more accepted. To many that reject Christ and suppress the truth, the image of God, at nearly ANY level of development is expendable. The only value a fellow Human Being has is the value given to it by those in more powerful positions. Philosopher Michael Tooley says that a human being “possesses a serious right to life only if it possesses the concept of a self”. Professor Jeffrey Reiman of American University in Washington DC  is on record for declaring that infants do not  “possess in their own right a property that makes it wrong to kill them.” Peter Singer of Princeton University says that we should acknowledge the right of “intentionally ending the lives of severely disabled infants.” These ideas rely on putting value in the functional capacity of a person, rather than in humanity itself. Clearly, this is a rejection of the Image of God and of the truth of God’s word. This causes me wonder how a secular Pro-Life apologist such as Scott Klusendorf would respond to these worldly philosophers. Worldly wisdom in the service of a good cause falls short in the face of the worldly wisdom of these pro-infanticide philosophers. Again, abortion is defended because men like Singer hate God. Not because they don’t understand philosophy.

All of this is why abortion is not primarily a political issue. It is not a biological issue. It is not a philosophical issue. It is a sin issue. And because it is a sin issue, the answer is the Gospel.

By showing the bloody truth of abortion, many, by the work of the Holy Spirit, may not only choose to keep their child, they may also be awakened to their sins. Seeing the fruit of their position, the pro-abort may come to understand not only that abortion ends the life of a human, but that it is murder and a sin in the eyes of a perfectly Holy God. The woman who is guilty of killing her own child, along with anyone else complicit in that act, may be brought to understand that she has murdered her own child. A professing believer that has neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness, may come to understand the sinful apathy he has been living in. The image of the murdered child shines a light on their sin. It plainly puts on display the fruit of their sin.  Like asking a man at a public square if he has ever sinned in order to show him that he is a sinner in need of Christ’s grace, a graphic image can reveal in the heart of man his own complacency and/or his own neglecting of mercy and justice. Sinners must be brought to understand their sin as what it is. This is showing love to the sinner.

As Disciples of Jesus Christ, we are all called to be light in this dark world. This is not only a commandment given to Christ’s followers, but a description of what it means to be in Christ himself . This isn’t the totality of what it means to be in Christ, but it is an integral part of it. If you follow Jesus, then you have the light of life. Jesus said

“I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” John 8:12

Jesus makes it clear that we are to be the light in this world and that this light cannot be hidden. If we have this light, then it will shine forth. It cannot be hidden. One cannot think that they have Christ, but their light IN Christ is just dim, or hiding. Jesus says that “a city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden”. Jesus also says that no one lights a lamp, to just put it under a basket.  So what does a light do? A light is not static. A light is not idle. Light does not take part in darkness, but light also exposes darkness (Ephesians 5:11). A light exposes SIN as SIN. Here graphic images can be seen as a harsh and stern schoolmaster, driving sinners to not only see their sin as sin, but to drive them to Christ. Darkness cannot coexist with light, so we are seeking to shine the light of the Gospel on abortion by exposing the deep wickedness of it.

Essentially, the graphic images are serving to point to the Holy Law of God. This all serves together to bring sinners to Jesus Christ. It is by His Blood that we are made clean, that we are able to walk in faith, that we are freed from the bondages of sin, free to love God and love our neighbors, and ultimately, to make disciples of ALL the nations, baptizing them, and teaching the world all that Christ has commanded. For God so loved the WORLD that He gave His only begotten Son. This is why abolitionism should not be focused on the clinics. Although horrible, disgusting, brutal things are done their, abortion clinics are not the Gates of Hell. The faithless, sinful hearts of every man and every woman are the gates of hell. They hate God. And with hatred in their heart, instead of love, there’s murder in their hearts, and blood on their hands. We go wherever the people are, because Jesus did come to just shut down a few clinics, but he came for the world.

In our regular work at the clinics, the highways, and the byways, we must understand some of the shortfalls of relying too much on graphic images. When I see pictures of babies butchered in the womb, my heart breaks for them. It touches me. It is graphic, bloody, and obviously violent. It twists my stomach in knots. I want to look away. Now… I hope that we all acknowledge that a special, unique, and valuable human being is created at fertilization. We affirm that those tiny human beings are created in the Image of God. However, the destruction and murder of an innocent IMAGE BEARER of God pre-implantation because of the use of abortifacient birth control is not very gory. Those lost lives do not tug on my heartstrings nearly as much. The untold millions of frozen human beings created, dehumanized, experimented upon, and oftentimes destroyed because of IVF do not tug on my heartstrings as it should. Because they are tiny, and because they do not look anything like me, I do NOT love them as I ought. I am ageist. God forgive me and change me. Our graphic images are good and useful, but they do nothing in defense of our smallest neighbors. No matter how horrific a college campus GAP display is, it does not even BEGIN to address the dehumanization and abortions that are more likely than not happening in your Churches, through abortifacient birth control methods, and destructive in-vitro-fertilization treatment. God forgive us, most conservative and evangelical churches don’t need to repent of abortion apathy alone, they need to repent of abortion. Because we are an ageist people, like racists, we only see value in those that look more like us. We need forgiveness. We need the Gospel to transform our hearts and minds in order for us to think rightly about this. Abortion is not murder because it’s bloody and gruesome. It’s murder because it’s the sinful destruction of the Image of God.

Though the use of graphic images can be useful, it is not enough; used by itself, graphic images miss the point. Though turning a few woman away at the clinics is a good thing, though winning a debate with a pro-abort is a good thing, and though convincing college students that life is valuable is a good thing, all of those things aren’t the point. As Christians, as Abolitionists, what is our primary purpose? Is it winning FaceBook arguments? Is it changing a few minds with clever philosophical strategies? Is it even saving lives? Are we JUST TRYING TO SAVE BABIES? NO!

Our primary goal, the chief purpose of every man woman and child MUST be to glorify God in all things.

To strive diligently for justice, to change minds, and to even save babies, but to do all of these things while relying solely on emotional pleas and worldly wisdom, is to make much of man, and to make little of the Creator of the Universe. That is idolatry and sin. At that point you have placed your cause above your King. It is a denial of the powerful and efficacious Gospel of Jesus Christ that saves lives and transforms souls.  Yes, even to pursue a goal that is commendable and laudable in a vacuum – such as saving babies – is worthless if it is not carried out to glorify God.

But we do not seek to obey and honor God, IN SPITE of justice and mercy. It is because we love God, that we, in obedience, love justice and mercy. It is because he first loved us, that we now love Him, that we now love the least of these, and that we now seek justice for our littlest neighbor.


This post was adapted from a talk I gave at Project Nineveh Tulsa. This talk and the great Q&A that followed can be found below.

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