First Pro-Life Sermon: at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary Chapel Service, January 4, 1984: Leviticus 20:1-5: Molech and Abortion

John C. Rankin

I began full-time pro-life ministry in December, 1983. Having resigned my church position the prior Labor Day, I had enough money in the bank to go to seminary full-time that fall, with the need to start earning a full-time income by New Year’s Day. And still, with three courses remaining before graduation in the spring.

The prior summer, I did an independent study (5,000 pages of reading) on Charles Darwin, beginning with his writings, those of his advocates, and finally, those of his critics. Having grown up in a scientific household where Darwinian evolution was assumed, I wanted to do the research.

At the same time, I knew I was ready, in some capacity, to seek to minister the Gospel in the culture. So, when taking breaks from my readings and writings that July and August, I prayed about what was next. I suggested a range of possibilities to the Lord accordingly, and finally I said, “What about Christian pro-life work?” And whereas my prior suggestions were met with his patience for me to think and pray further, here he answered clearly: “Good idea. Check it out.” So I did, first talking with Dr. John (Jack) Jefferson Davis, professor of theology and ethics at Gordon-Conwell, and we reviewed the possibilities.

This led to consideration of the Christian Action Council (CAC), founded by evangelist Billy Graham, C. Everett Koop, M.D. (then U.S. Surgeon General), and Harold O.J. Brown, Ph.D., professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. I flew down to D.C. for a leadership conference in November, and signed up to start a chapter in Massachusetts, which come mid-winter, quickly had me ministering in a number of neighboring states as well.

In early December, someone at the seminary recommended that I should apply to preach at the weekly chapel service. Now these chapel spots were usually filled well in advance, and I was a mere student. But I inquired, and somehow, one spot was open — the first one for the year — Wednesday, January 4, 1984.

In the old Kerr Building chapel (before the new chapel was built), it was full that morning, as the best attendance was always at the beginning of the semester. So as a novice in public policy ministry, and with an audience far larger that I ever addressed (I think the chapel held 400-500 people), and with the pulpit set so that I was surrounded on three sides, where I had to consciously keep looking in all directions making eye contact, I spoke on Leviticus 20:1-5. And that was a bold choice (quoting the NIV):

“The LORD said to Moses,  ‘Say to the Israelites: “Any Israelite or any alien living in Israel who gives any of his children to Molech must be put to death. The people of the community are to stone him. I will set my face against that man and I will cut him off from his people; for by giving his children to Molech, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. If the people of the community close their eyes when that man gives one of his children to Molech and they fail to put him to death, I will set my face against that man and his family and will cut off from their people both him and all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molech.” ‘ “

The Phoenician god Molech demanded child sacrifice, and Israel as a holy nation, “set apart” from pagan practices, was told not to engage in such evil. I made analogy to the present practice of human abortion. Now, my exegetical knowledge of ancient child sacrifice in its pagan religious setting, and a deeper grasp of many biblical realities surrounding it, and how to address modern U.S. culture accordingly, which was distinct in political order from the Mosaic theocracy, was most modest in January, 1984. But that is where I began. And in truth, I was not nervous before such a large number, including many professors. The grace of God was evident to me, as I spoke clearly, kept to the time limit and was well received. Thus, a “Christian pro-life work” was launched. And somehow, beginning at scratch, enough finances began to come in and we kept afloat and built from there.