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The night before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, he spoke to a crowd of striking sanitation workers gathered at a local church. His message, remembered today as the “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, was delivered with a sense of urgency, as King seemed to have come to terms with the prospect of his own impending death. Speaking to a weary but energized crowd, he appealed to a “dangerous unselfishness” that he felt was key to the struggle for justice and equality in Memphis and throughout a racially divided nation. To make his point, King drew upon the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan. Here’s the parable as recorded in Luke 10:25-37:

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

As a way of helping his audience perceive the contemporary import of this parable, Dr. King asked why the priest and Levite, both devoutly religious individuals, elected to not stop to assist the injured traveler. After surveying several possibilities that might explain their thoughtlessness, he suggested that, more than anything else, the priest and Levite were wary about their own safety and well-being as they were traveling on a road that was notorious as a haven for robbers. King imagined the priest and Levite pausing momentarily to ask themselves, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me,?” before quickly scurrying to the safety of the other side of the road.

But, to King, that was the wrong question and no doubt the wrong response. He astutely observes that the Good Samaritan’s compassion was a response to having reversed the question to the benefit of the injured traveler: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?” The Good Samaritan’s actions demonstrated a “dangerous unselfishness” that King wanted his hearers to emulate by supporting their striking brothers in Memphis and that he himself would model in his own tragic death in just a few hours.

I’d like to think that Dr. King would heartily approve of me using his insights from this parable to make the case for protecting the lives of unborn babies, especially black babies who are being targeted for abortion. Yes, it’s true that King was the first recipient of the Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood) Award and that Planned Parenthood claims him as a supporter of abortion rights. However, as I observe in my book, Breaking the Silence: A Biblical Response to the Abortion Crisis in Black America,

Although Dr. King spoke approvingly of Planned Parenthood, it is important to note that the organization was not in the abortion business during his lifetime. At that time, Planned Parenthood did not endorse abortion, at least publicly. Abortion advocates were making headway, but abortion on demand would not become legal until 1973. Therefore, Dr. King’s unwise endorsement of Planned Parenthood’s birth control measures should not be construed as support for abortion. As his niece Dr. Alveda King clarifies, her uncle was included among a group of prominent African-American leaders who were misled by the family planning rhetoric of Planned Parenthood. But, according to Alveda King, Dr. King was clearly pro-life in his ideology and would never have given his blessing to a procedure that would eventually result in the slaughter of millions of black babies. As Charles Marsh observes similarly, Dr. King’s “comprehensive devotion to the sacredness of life would have surely included the unborn, or risked grave inconsistency.”

I think efforts today to protect unborn babies, especially black babies, are consistent with the spirit of Dr. King’s treatment of this parable. As Dr. King observed, the Good Samaritan’s compassionate response turned on the question “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?" I can't think of a better way to frame the abortion debate than by focusing attention on the precarious plight of the victims of abortion, the risks of advocating on their behalf, and what will happen if we don't.

It's probably safe to assume, however, that both sides of the abortion debate identify their actions with the Good Samaritan. Abortion rights advocates believe that a Good Samaritan-like response to abortion is to protect a woman’s legal right to the procedure, which is to safeguard her privacy, health, and decision- making powers over the trajectory of her pregnancy. Abortion advocates see these women as victims of the moral judgments of people who want to deny them these basic rights. However, pro-life supporters are certainly right in pointing out that the direct victims of an abortion culture are the unborn, defenseless children, who are being denied the most basic human right: life. As I make the case in my book referenced above, evidence today overwhelmingly supports the personhood of the unborn from conception on, which means that aborting a fetus is taking the life of an innocent child. Advocating for the unborn, therefore, is demonstrating the kind of "dangerous unselfishness" Dr. King spoke of that comes to the defense of people who are helpless and vulnerable.

Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not saying that women who get abortions are never victims and that they should be treated any way other than compassionately. As Pope Francis observed in a letter published by the Vatican in September 2015, often women who have aborted a child "bear in their heart the scar of this agonizing and painful decision." For many women, choosing abortion is a desperate act of survival prompted by fear, pressure from others, confusion, shame, etc. Indeed, these women are often victims of racial disparities (that limit their options), greedy abortion providers, misinformation, unsupportive family systems, changing cultural norms, ignorance, and, sadly, incest and rape. As we demonstrate selfless compassion for unwanted, unborn babies, let's not pass by dispassionately "on the other side" and dismiss the concerns of mothers of unwanted pregnancies.

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Do you have the Road Map that leads to Heaven?

Imagine the excitement of heading out on a long awaited vacation. You've planned your itinerary, packed your clothes, called the post office to hold your mail, and set the automatic timer to turn your lights on and off while you're away (so nobody who's not supposed to know has any idea you're gone!). The car has been serviced and deemed roadworthy for the long drive ahead. You've filled the tank with gas and and the windshield is squeaky clean. All seems to be in order.

Suitcases in tow, you head out the front door, barely able to contain your excitement and the anticipation of reaching your travel destination. Beautiful, sandy beaches with crystal blue waters surrounded by palm trees swaying in the gentle breeze await you! "This is going to be great!" you think to yourself. Throw the suitcases in the trunk, start the car, say a quick prayer...and you're off!

You make your way through town, stopping briefly at the 7-Eleven for a cup of coffee (don't want to fall asleep on the road!). Then you hit the highway heading east (just because east sounds like a good direction to take and you really like the way it sounds - E-a-s-t). Your plan is to arrive at your destination in 8 hours because that's how long you think it should take (probably - give or take a few hours). You drive for a couple of hours before coming to a divide in the highway - there are two roads that you can take. You decide to take the road to the right because most of the traffic seems to be going that way. And that many people can't be wrong - right?

News flash! You probably will not be reaching your destination any time soon (if at all!). You see you can't be assured of being on the right path, heading in the right direction to get where you're trying to go unless you have a map that gives shows you the way. You see, a road map not only gives you directions, it also points out the hazards that you may face along the way. It tells you the way to go - as well as the way not to go! You can't go on a journey to a specific destination unless you truly know the way. You can't go by feelings or just follow everyone else who happens to be on the same road.

Likewise, as Christians, we need a map to show us the way to Heaven. Whether or not we reach our final destination depends on it. The Bible, which is the Word of God, gives us the directions we need. Psalm 119:105 says "Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path." It tells us the way that we should go, and the way that we should not go! Psalm 16:11 says " You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore." Without it, you may find yourself heading in the wrong direction - with consequences that will last forever. (Matthew 7:13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.") Don't follow the crowd. Don't take a chance that you think you know the way. Pick up the road map. Read it. Obey it. And you will make it safely to your eternal destination!

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We are rapidly approaching the year ending holidays: Thanksgiving and Christmas. These days should bring about expressions of reverence for grace given to us by our loving Father and Lord. Thanksgiving is the time when we honor God for his gifts of provision and family. Of course, there is a greater ultimate provision and a greater family: the Lord Jesus as provider of our soul's salvation, and the family of the world-wide Church. For this reason, we should give greater honor for the glorious event of our Savior's birth. Many in our nation have lost the sense of holy awe that ought to accompany our celebration of Christmas, now referred to as the 'holiday season.' The idolatry of our hearts have ushered us into an exchange of holy awe for our Jesus to savoring the "awesomeness" of man's commercial enticements. Our spiritual reflections have given way to carnal obsessions; our confessed love for the eternal Christ, is replaced by an intense infactuation with the seduction of impersonal things that will soon fade away; our Christmas buying has become an addictive right of passage of the winter season that throws all wisdom out the window. It is no longer honor we give to the babe born in Bethlehem, but to materialistic, pleasure-mad culture. Lord help us if the trend continues!

Gerald Cornelius

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