An Evangelical’s Thanksgiving for Mother Teresa
Evangelicals revere this Catholic saint for showing us that protecting children is central to working for peace and justice.
This week my Catholic friends are throwing parties to celebrate Mother Teresa, the Albanian nun who gained world renown (which she didn’t care about) for serving the poorest of the poor in Calcutta’s slums. She’s being canonized — recognized as a saint — on September 4th. And while we differ in our beliefs about sainthood, I’m rejoicing with them and remembering a tiny woman whose great spiritual power was rooted in her deep love for and radical trust in God.
Like many evangelicals, I remember that Mother Teresa’s service to the poor was of one piece with her prophetic witness against injustice, oppression, and especially abortion.
If you want to understand why evangelicals (rightly) give thanks to God for this saint, it’s because she shows us that being for children, for the unborn and the orphan, is at the very root of working for peace and justice in our world.
Mother Teresa at the National Prayer Breakfast
Nowhere is this better captured than in Mother Teresa’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994. I don’t know who in the Clinton administration thought that a kindly Albanian nun would do nothing newsworthy, but they had to have been surprised by what she said. Given the eyes of the world, the tiny woman changed nothing about her message or her approach to the problems of the poor. Instead, she prayed a prayer from St. Francis, told everyone there that they must “put on Christ” and love their neighbors in order to love God, and explained how neglecting to care for our children is what “breaks peace.”
Her speech is worth watching in its entirety:
The point she kept coming back to was abortion, and she explained in a few quick sentences the problems that plague Western civilization and how they center on our inability to sacrifice for our children:
I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child, murder by the mother herself.
And if we accept that a mother can kill even her own child, how can we tell other people not to kill one another? How do we persuade a woman not to have an abortion? As always, we must persuade her with love and we remind ourselves that love means to be willing to give until it hurts. Jesus gave even His life to love us. So, the mother who is thinking of abortion, should be helped to love, that is, to give until it hurts her plans, or her free time, to respect the life of her child. The father of that child, whoever he is, must also give until it hurts.
By abortion, the mother does not learn to love, but kills even her own child to solve her problems.
And, by abortion, the father is told that he does not have to take any responsibility at all for the child he has brought into the world. That father is likely to put other women into the same trouble. So abortion just leads to more abortion.
Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.
Mother Teresa goes on to describe the hypocrisy of standing against violence while destroying children in the womb. “Many people are very, very concerned with the children of India, with the children of Africa where quite a few die of hunger, and so on. Many people are also concerned about all the violence in this great country of the United States. These concerns are very good. But often these same people are not concerned with the millions who are being killed by the deliberate decision of their own mothers. And this is what is the greatest destroyer of peace today — abortion which brings people to such blindness.”
The truths Mother Teresa spoke were so simple as to sound almost naïve or painfully obvious: that we need children in order to replace us and continue our civilization, that the future literally depends on whether or not we value having children and taking care of them, that the child is not a burden but “God’s gift to the family.”
We evangelicals are latecomers to the prolife movement, and we have not always seen children as God’s gift. I remember my parents telling me about how they only became aware of abortion as a human rights issue in the mid-1970s after learning from Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? video series. Before then, I’m sorry to say, many evangelicals dismissed abortion as a Catholic issue, and some, including the Southern Baptist Convention, actively embraced liberal abortion laws. We owe such a great debt to our Catholic brothers and sisters who never wavered on the issue of life and protection for vulnerable women and children.
The late twentieth century was a time where evangelicals had to work to catch up and reclaim a strong theology of the family. As we look to witnesses — dare we say saints? — like Mother Teresa, we can go further still.
In that same address in 1994, Mother Teresa made a bold promise to the abortion supporters of both political parties who filled that room. “Please don’t kill the child. I want the child. Please give me the child,” she pleaded. “I am willing to accept any child who would be aborted and to give that child to a married couple who will love the child and be loved by the child.”
Her children’s home in Calcutta had saved 3,000 children from abortion by 1994. She promised the world that Jesus wanted those children who had been rejected by their parents, not just in the womb but outside as well. And we see by her example that the Church — Christ’s body here on earth — has a calling to do more than decry abortion as evil.
I will tell you something beautiful. We are fighting abortion by adoption — by care of the mother and adoption for her baby. We have saved thousands of lives. We have sent word to the clinics, to the hospitals and police stations: “Please don’t destroy the child; we will take the child.” So we always have someone tell the mothers in trouble: “Come, we will take care of you, we will get a home for your child.” … Jesus said. “Anyone who receives a child in my name, receives me.” By adopting a child, these couples receive Jesus, but by aborting a child, a couple refuses to receive Jesus.
God Abhors No Child
The last decade has seen a burgeoning adoption movement among evangelicals. Groups like The Christian Alliance for Orphans, Together for Adoption, and Foster the City promote ways for church communities to receive Jesus by receiving abandoned children.
This is the work of the Church, and has been since its first days, when Roman society killed its unwanted children by leaving them to die alone on hillsides. The early Christians who rescued these orphans must have been reminded of the image of God taking Israel (and by extension, us) into His house presented in Ezekiel 16: “You were thrown out in the open field, for you were abhorred on the day you were born.”
Knowing that God abhors no child, but loves and cherishes each one, Christians throughout history have been countercultural by valuing every human life. And always, the world around us marvels. Occasionally, they may even invite one of us to speak and explain, as the Clinton administration did with Mother Teresa. If that happens, we should pray that our witness is as bold and clear as hers was.
Mother Teresa’s life, her work and her message were so clearly of one piece that these words from twenty-two years ago retain their prophetic power. God loves every child from the moment of conception: Do we really believe with Mother Teresa that every child matters to Him? And will we be able to defend and protect them with the same courage and strength that a tiny woman from Albania had?