Posted in reflections

When sin grows wings and claws

This leopard stopped long enough for me to take his picture at the Nairobi (Kenya) safari walk.
This leopard stopped long enough for me to take his picture at the Nairobi (Kenya) safari walk.

It’s a moving scene from the film, “Amazing Grace.” William Wilberforce is desperate to make the horror of the slave trade concrete for those who have the power to abolish it but remain unconvinced. So he hosts an outing for selected members of the aristocracy, a short boat tour up the river Thames. What they don’t know is his real motive. As violins play, the boat steers alongside the Madagascar, a filthy slave ship just returned from the West Indies. Dramatically, Wilberforce calls out from the deck of the putrid vessel, inviting the aristocrats to breathe in deeply, to take in the stench that is slavery. Instinctively, women cover their noses with their handkerchief, shielding themselves. “Take away that handkerchief!” Wilberforce commands. “Breathe in the foul smell of slavery.”

In recent days, there have been two moments when we – like those aristocratic women – were tempted to shield ourselves from the foul smell of twin evils. The first was the hidden-camera videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the sale of body parts harvested from abortions. Instinctively, media put up the “handkerchief” of diversion, focusing on other health services the group provides for the poor. “Don’t look at that, look over here instead!” was their plea. But it was too late. The public knows a putrid smell when it accosts our collective olfactory sense, and the damage was already done and will continue as more videos are released in coming weeks. Estimates are that 55 million unborn have been aborted since 1973, the year that Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in all 50 states. Some stenches are not easily covered up.

The second story that smelled foul was the baiting and slaying of Cecil, a majestic 13-year-old lion in Zimbabwe. Reports are that he was lured outside of the wildlife reserve where he lived by the use of a dead animal. Subsequently, he was skinned and his head severed. Whether laws were broken is still being determined, but the public is seething. Uproar continues as the media focuses on the story, and the American dentist who has admitted his involvement in the trophy hunt has gone into hiding.

As I look at the two stories, I’m reminded of a quote from Walter Rauschenbush in his 1917 A Theology for the Social Gospel:

When fed with money, sin grows wings and claws.

In both cases – the Planned Parenthood trading in body parts of aborted babies and the slaying of Cecil the lion – money has played a role. In a video featured at, Dr. Mary Gatter, President of Planned Parenthood’s Medical Director’s Council, discusses the price of fetal parts. She later jokes about “wanting a Lamborghini” in exchange for body parts. Some have argued that the videos have been cleverly edited for effect, but this has not stopped promises by members of Congress to investigate. Likewise, reports are that the American dentist who shot Cecil with his bow and arrow paid $ 55,000.00 to local hunters to assist him in the hunt, this despite the fact that there are now only 34,000 lions left in the wild in Africa.

The Apostle Paul appears to be on the same page with Walter Rauschenbusch. Writing to his young protégé, Timothy, he observed:

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs (1 Timothy 6:19, NIV).

Admittedly, it’s hard to get past hand-wringing to workable solutions. As long as there is a financial incentive for selling parts of aborted babies, trafficking of this sort will continue. If convicted of having broken existing laws, Planned Parenthood should be fined massively so that any past profit will be mitigated. Closer regulation and monitoring should be put in place. Likewise, trophy hunting – to be curtailed – must take away the bragging rights of such hunters. The simplest way would be to deprive them of their trophy, and already Emirates Airlines has announced it will no longer transport trophy carcasses, with pressure mounting on other airlines to do the same.

The Psalmist affirms:

The LORD is good to all. He has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:9, NIV).

The love of money always has the tendency to undercut our compassion, whether toward human beings in utero or the rest of God’s good creation. We don’t need Lamborghinis and we don’t need animal trophies. Like Paul, let us be content if we have food and clothing (1 Timothy 6:8). In the end, the only answer to greed and the vices it spawns is not more laws but a willingness to celebrate what God has already given us, the daily bread for which Jesus taught us to pray (Matthew 6:11). Only contentment – as individuals and as peoples – can prevent our sin from growing wings and claws.


UPDATE: This article from does a decent job of answering some of Planned Parenthood’s critics. It seems to me that any money given in exchange for fetal parts is too much. And – of course – it begs the question of what other abortion providers make profit from the trade, even if whether Planned Parenthood profits from this is still to be determined.


Greg is interested in many topics, including theology, philosophy, and science.

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