How should Christians respond to graphic, gory pro-life displays?

On November 2 of 2022, chaos broke out on ETSU’s campus. An organization called the “Center for Bioethical Reform” (CBR) came to the free speech zone of campus in front of Sherrod Library, presenting graphic signs that displayed images of aborted babies, as well as pictures of the Nazi holocaust and slavery in America. These historical events were depicted to draw a corollary line between abortion today and these horrific events of the past. 

The campus responded in pandemonium. The scene quickly developed into confused turmoil as a counter-protest formed in front of the gated signs. I sat and watched the scene for a couple of hours. As I watched, I saw a counter-protestor dressed up as Jesus holding a sign condoning women’s right to choose; I witnessed eggs being hurled at the sign display; I even saw the minister of UKirk, a PCUSA, pro-LGBTQ campus ministry, get ticketed by campus police for having aggressively seized a pro-life pamphlet from a CBR volunteer’s hands, proceeding to rip it into pieces.

Sitting there on the balcony of the library, looking out into the ensuing dispute, I was approached by different friends of mine. I had my opinions, but I decided to listen instead. It was not a time for hasty words and opinions. I always began by asking them, “What do you think about the protest?”  I was mostly met with a response along these lines: “I don’t like abortion, but this is not the right way to go about this. Look at the chaos and division it’s causing.” I was even told people were getting sick in class because of the graphic images. I heard people talking about how much trauma was being caused to women who have had abortions. All of it, however, came back to this repeated statement: “It’s just not loving.” 

After listening, the question I always came back to was hypothetical: I asked about if the same thing were to happen in the 1940s during the Second World War. What if, amidst rumors of a Nazi holocaust of the Jews, someone were to capture stomach-churning footage of the atrocities, and displayed them publicly in America… would that be unloving? Would it be unloving to expose the nation to the cruelty occurring across the ocean, simply because it was “too graphic” for us to want to look at? Oftentimes, the friends I was dialoguing with would reconsider their position to a degree, realizing that times of great human injustice call for human protest. We become obligated to cry out in the public square for the defenseless and oppressed, doing whatever it takes so that all the world will see any present evil. Yes, seeing graphic injustices may cause some people to be sick to their stomach, but shouldn’t that be the reaction from all of us?

Despite the handful of positive conversations I had, the majority of professing Christians I listened to were staunchly against the use of the signs. They appealed to the unloving nature of it, the division and chaos it caused, and the trauma of women who have previously had abortions. 

This article attempts to shortly answer the question, “How should Christians have responded to the pro-life display?” I hope for this to give insight into a larger question of how Christians should respond to abortion in general.

Unity or Division?

Many were concerned with the chaos and division that came from these signs being displayed. The turmoil caused by this display, however, is little in comparison to the turmoil put upon the bodies of helpless infants in the womb!

Secondly, we as Christians should prefer division over truth rather than unity over lies and evil. We are not called to have unity with this sinful world! We are called to love the world, and we love her the most when we are most separate from her and most different from her. By trying to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves, we sometimes go too far and lose our saltiness, thinking that love means being silent about the truth. We make an idol of not speaking to certain sins “for the sake of the gospel,” so that more might be saved due to the fact that we are offending less. This isn’t evangelism; this is a wicked denial of the gospel message, which is inherently offensive, and shows us the depth of our wretchedness by showing us what it cost for us to be forgiven. We end up diminishing the cost paid at Calvary when we downplay and ignore the wickedness of sin.

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Many who disagreed argued that the signs and displays were unloving. However, we Christians are called to share many things that are called “unloving.” Saying it’s wrong for a man to sleep with another man or that it’s wrong to “change” your gender is said to be unloving! Yet Scripture binds us to hold to the truth that these things are wrong and will receive a terrible punishment, so love constrains us to speak the truth to our neighbor. The one who loves those people the most will earnestly warn them of the consequences for their actions. Did Jesus say things that would be considered unloving today? Absolutely! For that reason, He was considered to be very divisive. “Do not think that I [Jesus] have come to bring peace to the world. I have not come to bring peace, but the sword” (Matthew 10:34).

We cannot let the world define “love.” Love is not a concept that the unbeliever’s worldview is able to comport with. Love is the life-goal of the believer: loving God (Deut 6:4-5) and loving our neighbors as ourselves (Matt 22:37-39). How do we love our neighbors? To love according to Christ and His word is in part to be truthful. We are not to be like the world, who, knowing “God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things [sin] deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them” (Rom 1:32). We are instead to be people who, “having put away falsehood, … speak the truth with his neighbor” (Eph 4:25). True love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:6). Unlike the world, which flatters and encourages sin that leads to destruction, we who are driven by Christ-like love are willing to say the hard things that may lead to us being less “liked” by others. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov 27:6). True friendship means seeking the best interest of another, and that sometimes means “hurting” him or her with the truth. No unbeliever who supports abortion (or has committed one) will want to hear that it is murder and a sin. Yet is it not in their best interest to know that these things lead to death, and that God despises such wicked practices? While it may offend them, it is in their best interest to be told the truth.

Scarily, to not speak out loudly against abortion may be giving just as much support and approval to the world’s fatal actions as the unbelievers in Romans 1:32 do. Our silence is no better than vocal support of abortion. Silence is not our calling—we are to walk as children of the light (Eph 5:8), who “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Eph 5:11). How would we expose the dark work of abortion? By displaying to the world the millions of victims of abortion! Love requires us to speak truth for the sake of our neighbors. “Our neighbors” includes our fellow humans being slaughtered in infanticide in the womb and standing up for them. It also includes our fellow humans who have participated in the crime of abortion by supporting it or committing it. 

Not only does abortion lead to the death of millions of children, but those who practice and commit abortion engage in a sin that leads to death. Does not sinful rebellion lead to destruction and separation from God for all eternity? Then love compels us to cry out, “Turn back! Repent, and live!” 

The Gift of Guilt

A few people I spoke with said that it was particularly unloving to those who have committed abortions. We are guilting, humiliating, and condemning them. 

The problem with this is that we imagine it is a bad thing to feel guilt. This is not the case—guilt is a gift of God’s common grace. It keeps us from sinning without restraint. There is also no conviction of sin and contrition without a sense of guilt. Guilt is necessary for repentance and faith. It is not until we see our guilt that we are compelled to come to Christ for His cleansing mercy. We ourselves are in no place to judge, being sinners like them. Yet we know the Judge and His Law, and we are His ambassadors. To share the gospel faithfully as ambassadors requires us to talk about sin. The gospel is fundamentally a message about sin. It’s not that we delight to point a finger at someone’s faults in order to build ourselves up; rather, we seek to humbly and lovingly show the world that they are sinners, condemned under God’s wrath. Knowledge of sin and guilt is the key that opens the door of the gospel allowing us to find the grace within. Therefore, for the sake of their souls—for love of our lost, broken neighbors—we must speak against sin. 

What about the trauma of these women? Aren’t we just causing deep wounds and making them feel horrible? Not at all… the deep wounds that these women truly have (and often suppress) comes from the trauma of aborting your own child. This affects a person! I can’t imagine how hard it truly would be to come to terms with having done that. 

We must care deeply about the trauma that these women have experienced. It is far from our intention to leave them in guilt and despair; we want them to be free from guilt.  We have an answer to that trauma, and it is not denying and suppressing the guilt. The answer is acknowledging that guilt and receiving forgiveness. They can experience forgiveness in the perfect, saving work of Jesus. They can see every crime washed away forever in the blood of the Lamb who was slain for sinners. They can see their guilt cast into the depths of the ocean and have the covenantal assurance from God Himself that He “will remember their sins no more.” Far from wanting to cause them trauma, we acknowledge it, giving them the only remedy that can heal their hearts—a remedy that can only be received by those who first feel their guilt.

There is no “choice” between loving those women who are scarred from doing an abortion and loving the innocent victims of abortion. We can love them both by speaking the truth about abortion and offering the only hope for the guilty. 

The Problem in Us: What Needs to Change?

Here is the glaring question: why were we Christians more offended that graphic images of aborted children were being displayed than that babies are being slaughtered? And why were we more concerned about protecting the emotional vulnerability of our peers than the life and survival of defenseless babies? If a student is offended, they can walk away. But there is no “safe space” for the aborted child.

Our response to this pro-life display, beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, exposes a problem in us. We have grown comfortable with culture by believing a lie that we are only called to share the gospel, and that changing culture isn’t our focus. Indeed, we think that sometimes calling out and firmly addressing different sins our society practices (such as abortion, homosexuality, etc.) will hurt our gospel message, but this is a lie! We have forgotten that the gospel only makes sense in the context of sin, including these ones, and to be silent on sin is to deny the Savior who died for the sins of His people to save them. Most importantly, however, we have forgotten the important reality that at the center of the gospel message is the declaration, “Jesus is Lord.” It is this message that the apostles preached, and it is the sovereign authority bestowed to the Lord Christ that the Great Commission is based upon (“All authority in heaven and upon earth has been given to Me; go therefore, and make disciples…” Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis mine). The Lordship of Christ at the center of the gospel is the basis by which we call men, women, children, rulers, and nations to repentance. Seeing their sin against this Lord, they may by God’s grace be brought to a place where they are ready to hear the good news of the gospel: “All who call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” So, the gospel cannot be separated from cultural change and bold advocacy. The gospel demands us to declare the Lordship of Jesus and to call every facet of society to submit to it. The gospel also displays itself in the lives of those it has changed, causing them to reflect their Lord’s character, especially in what He loves and hates. Let us be fierce as lions, bold as warriors, and loving as true friends in declaring the gospel and the name of the world’s only Lord, Jesus Christ. Let us cling to the gospel: Jesus Christ, God the Son, became man, lived a perfect life that we never could, achieving in our place a good, sinless standing before God, and taking the punishment we deserved for sins that we committed. Only by repenting of sin and trusting in Him for a restored peace with God will we be saved from sin and its eternal consequences and become children of God. May we always declare this powerful gospel.

God, forgive our lack of boldness. Forgive our lack of love.

Written by Luke Anglin

To read an article on a similar topic, check out A Morality of Sensitivity published by