Not long ago I preached a sermon that dealt with a Christian view of what it means to be human. Two of my main points of application were related to racism and abortion, issues that are incompatible with a biblical understanding of intrinsic human worth. After the service I was asked to speak to a young couple who were visibly upset at my sermon. What I heard surprised me.

I have reflected on this exchange quite a bit and have changed the way I talk about these issues as a result. The young couple was concerned that, while many men in the audience loudly said amen to my comments against abortion, there was no broader concern for caring for women who do the right thing and carry the baby through birth. Birth mothers are often shamed, under-resourced, and neglected in the church.

This couple was right. I was too narrowly applying the doctrine of being created in the image of God. Life begins at conception and babies have intrinsic worth as image bearers of the Creator. I believe this because I believe the Bible.

But the young teenage girl who bravely carries this child, often facing unbearable guilt and shame, is created in the image of God as well, endowed with honor and crowned with glory (Psalm 8:5). I could, should, will, do better when I talk about these topics. So, now if I mention abortion I also mention the need for the church to support single moms, foster care, orphan care, and adoption. Standing for life is a bigger, longer-haul, issue than just preaching against abortion. It is more, certainly not less.

This was illustrated in a recent Washington Post article written by a teenage girl. You can read the full story here. In short, this young woman became pregnant, did the right thing and preserved the life of the baby, and then faced what seems to be a cold and shame-filled response from her Christian school. I don’t know enough details to speak authoritatively about how this was handled, but what I know from the article is saddening. Sadder still, I don’t think this is at all uncommon.

As the body of Christ we have to do a far better job of creating cultures where failing, falling, repenting, stumbling, struggling, confessing believers can find help and hope. Christians above all people should ooze with sincere empathy. Because after all, there’s not a single one of us worthy enough, good enough, sinless enough, to stand in condemnation over anyone else’s sin.

That doesn’t mean we don’t speak truth. We do speak truth, but we do so in love recognizing that we aren’t speaking from a detached place of perfection but as redeemed, flawed, prone to wander, wounded, limping, stuttering, beggars who are thankful we’ve found bread and are eager to share with anyone and everyone including the Christian who can’t “get it all together.” None of us have it all together.

That’s why we shouldn’t wield truth like a machete, hacking away at hurting Christians. It should be delicately used like a surgeon’s scalpel to carefully remove a tumor. If we can learn this, if I can learn this, how to better model grace and truth, maybe, just maybe, in time, people will applaud and amen our concern to support birth mothers, to care for orphans, to champion adoption. You know, the kind of stuff the Bible calls true religion (James 1:27).