It was in 2010 that I first met with 75 pastors in Beijing for two days to help them think through something none of them had addressed before: a Christian response to abortion according to the Bible. My first post in this series addressed how China’s house church pastors took off with a “hear it, obey it, share it” approach to answering God’s call to “rescue the innocent” (Proverbs 24:11). But at this point in 2010, it had not been discussed among these leaders, let alone examined or taught.
This meeting changed the direction of my life. It changed the direction of their lives as well. For me, at age 55, it led to a recalibration of where I wanted to spend the next 10–15 years of my life—most likely my most productive— should God provide them. For them, it led to many openly tearful confessions and a dramatic resolution: Let us be like the midwives of Egypt!
I was stunned. Until then I had always pointed to the Good Samaritan as our template. Confronted with an unjust death, the Samaritan’s personal, direct, daring, and practical life-saving intervention has long served as the model for pregnancy crisis intervention around the world.
But China’s believers saw it differently. Two women returned to the second day of training with their neighbor in tow. They told me, “She is pregnant with her second child.” At that time, the one-child policy was in full force. They explained, “Her husband is forcing her into abortion. He will lose his job otherwise. He is threatening to abandon her if she does not submit.”
I greeted this woman with a sympathetic smile. The two sisters then added their own enthusiastic smiles. “We spent all night with her. We showed her everything from the Bible that you showed us yesterday. We brought her with us today to hear for herself what God has to say to her. And don’t worry! We are going to be like the midwives of Egypt! We will help her save her baby!”
I had never mentioned the account of the midwives in Egypt, nor did I have plans to do so. As the day unfolded, the woman’s story spread and the call was repeated, “Let us be like the midwives of Egypt.” Of course, they are referring to the account of Israel in Egypt in Exodus chapter one.
Why did they identify so quickly with this story and rally around the midwives as a prolife call to action?
First, like the Jews in Egypt, the Christians in China, while not enslaved, are ruled harshly. They are under constant suspicion of being dangerously unpatriotic. Pastors told me they never questioned abortion, or the one-child policy, because of an overwhelming desire to prove to the government that Christians obey the laws and support their country. Indeed, from 2010 to 2016, there were many indications of a more relaxed attitude toward the unregistered church. All the main leaders whom I met with had been arrested in the past but were currently meeting in semi-openness, even traveling internationally. This stood in contrast to painful years of suppression. Since 2016, the unregistered church has endured another wave of suppression that has broken up networks and severely restricted attendance. The identification with the midwives in Egypt comes from a shared experience of oppressive rulers.
Second, like the Jews under Pharoah, China’s people are living under a government order to kill innocent babies and mobilizing their neighbors to enforce it. “Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile river,” (Exodus 1:22). In China, the two-child policy requires those who conceive a third child to flush it away.1 No single women, even if pregnant for the first time, are to give birth. They are told to kill their unborn babies. Reporting on violators of the policy is expected.
Third, like the midwives in Egypt, it is the “fear of God” that brings moral clarity and moral courage together and forms life-saving action. “The midwives feared God and did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but let the male children live” Exodus 1:17). Once the believers in China see what the Bible has to say about the value of human life and the evil of shedding innocent blood, my observation is they turn from abortion and turn themselves into “the midwives of Egypt.”
Their calculation is simple, “God tells us not to intentionally kill innocent human beings. The law of man tells us to kill our babies. We will follow God.” Here the tradition and theology of the cross kicks in. In China, following Jesus and suffering have always gone hand in hand. When Christians in China cry out to one another, “Let us be like the midwives in Egypt,” they are saying, “Let us be cross-bearers for child-bearers, come what may.”
Editor’s Note: This post was updated on July 13, 2021 to indicate the change in policy regarding the number of children allowed to parents in China.
- In May of this year, the two-child policy was revised and now allows for parents to have three children. “China allows three children in major policy shift,” BBC News, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-57303592.
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