The Sanctity of Life and Pastoral Ministry: An Interview with Garrett Kell

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Recently, our Executive Director, Andrew King, had the opportunity to sit down with Garrett Kell, Pastor at Del Ray Baptist Church, to talk about sanctity of life issues.

Andrew King: First, will you tell us a little about your testimony and how it intersects with sanctity of life issues?

Garrett Kell: I grew up in a family where we were church-going, but we weren’t a spiritual family in the sense that the aroma of our home wasn’t Christ. My conscience was kind of in tune with general morality. But, I always assumed I was a pretty good person. Over time, in high school and college, the party lifestyle became what I was all about. I very much lived for the moment. I found myself in a lot

of different relationships that were not honoring to the Lord. The way I viewed women was not right. I oftentimes saw them more as objects and a means to an end.

Between my sophomore and junior year of college, I met a girl and we ended up getting pregnant. When she first told me, I told her we would figure it out and I would do what I could to help her. She suggested marriage, but we both agreed we were not ready for that. I had hopes. I had dreams. I had goals. I had things I wanted to do. So, we decided to get an abortion. After a friend gave her $400, we got a pill and went to stay at a friend’s house. After she took it, she cramped and bled and we basically flushed our child down the toilet.

AK: What are some of the emotions you went through after this?

GK: Afterwards, we both cried. We weren’t sure why we were crying. We just knew this wasn’t something normal. You can’t avoid those realities and lingering affects. We are made in God’s image and life is supposed to work a certain way. When that’s torn apart because of sin, it wrecks you in different ways. Later on, that really started to haunt me. I knew that it was wrong even though I wasn’t really sure why.

In my junior year, I got heavier into drinking and drugs. I feel like I was trying to mask everything. I became a Christian in the middle of my junior year. It was through that when I started understanding the Word and began to realize that I loved my life so much that I was willing to take my own child’s life in order to keep my life how I wanted it. I saw that my child was an inconvenience. I saw it as an obstacle. The Lord used that to grieve me and bring me to repentance. It changed the way I think about these issues.

AK: Walk us through the pathway of healing. What did it look like when you found healing in Jesus?

GK: For me, I resonated with 1 Timothy 1 where Paul talks about how God shows his mercy to the worst of sinners. God help me to see that all of the certificate of my debt was nailed to the cross. That was liberating. I knew that in Christ God had forgiven me for everything, including the abortion. There are certainly times where I have thought about it and wept and gone to the Lord. But, what I hear from him is, ‘This is covered. The blood you shed is covered with the blood of my Son and you are forgiven.’ Walking through that over time has been liberating. When Christ forgives us, we are no longer under condemnation, but that doesn’t mean we are free from consequences. So, there still are wounds and regrets and wishing we hadn’t done things.

Part of the healing process is recognizing that there is a God who works all things together for good, including all the things that aren’t good. In way only he can, God plays both the black and white keys at the same time. And he uses good things and evil things to further his purposes. Even now, it opens doors for me to help other people who are in the same sort of situation. It’s messy, but the Lord works in the midst of the mess.

AK: Looking back, what are some opportunities the church could have had to serve you?

GK: I really can’t blame the church for not doing something differently. It was my own that sin led me away from churches and believers. With that being said, I wonder what life would have been like had the church I grew up in been a healthy church that really preached the gospel and had the sorts of relationships that cultivated trust and people loving me. I wonder if I would have sought advice from other believers. In my unique story, though, I don’t know exactly what the church could’ve done differently on the front end.

I think the church needs to recognize that wherever we meet someone in the journey we should be willing to engage them. We should be very mindful of the people around us who don’t know Jesus. We should be the sort of people they will think to come talk to when they are in trouble because they know that we are going to care for them and pray for them.

We also must realize that this is something that happens in the church. If there is ever a shameful place to get pregnant, it’s in the church. Are our church communities a gospel community that meets people where they are in their sin and helps them walk through it? Are we open and honest and able to deal with sins as they come up? Or have we created a culture of shame and guilt where people feel like that have to hide and pretend?

AK: Abortion is certainly one sanctify of life issue. As a pastor, what are some other sanctity of life issues right now that you think the church has a unique opportunity to speak into?

GK: Really, everything is a sanctity of life issue. If everyone is made in the image of God, any sort of sin against another human being could be tied to the sanctity of life. We are all image bearers, so anytime I lie to you, I am dishonoring the image bearer. We can go super broad like that, which may not always be helpful.

More specifically, there are major refugee issues right now. In our country, we have numerous opportunities to help the weak and the destitute. There is also ongoing racial tension in our country. Both of these issues are tied to the sanctity of life. Looking at people and recognizing that regardless of skin color or ethnicity or cultural background they are created in God’s image and there is no one group who is better than another. There is also the sex trafficking industry, with pornography fueling it. We could go on and on, but those are some of the key ones that are in the air right now.

One of the challenges the church faces is sometimes we want to lump them all together in our conversations. I’m not sure that helps us to address each of the unique ways that those issues need. There are unique elements in the conversation about abortion that maybe aren’t present in the unique elements of the race conversation and the unique elements of the refugee conversation. I would encourage the church to be cautious when feeling the pressure of the world to lump everything together in such a way where we end up not talking about anything. I do think one of the things that has been helpful in recent days is the awakening of the church that there is more than one issue and having the freedom to talk about other issues. We should be talking about abortion. But, there are also other issues that need to be addressed.

AK: What would say would be a helpful starting point for a pastor to begin the steps of creating a real, thriving culture of life in their local church?

GK: I don’t think you can do it apart from the foundational thing of continuing to preach the gospel every single week in every sermon, in every counseling session, in every discipleship meeting, in every small group. The gospel is what gives life. If the gospel is not in the air, we aren’t going to understand what life really is. The more we are indebted to God’s grace and realizing that Jesus came in and rescued us when we were destitute, the more we are moved to risk our lives for things. This is what moves us to step into uncomfortable areas and try to love.

We need grace to fuel hearts to propel us into action. What that does is prime the heart so when the match of instruction and education and wisdom of these other issues hits it, it all makes sense. A pastor needs to be preaching the gospel and praying about these things and asking God how the church should be involved. The important thing is to pick one thing and do it well. We can’t do everything at once.

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