Treadmill Journal, Part 2: Speaking for the Voiceless

“This doctrine is not of me, but is that of the living God and of his divine Son.”

Treadmill Journal2-title

I woke up to the baby calling early in the morning, about half an hour before my alarm was to go off. The house was completely dark, and would have been quiet if not for my baby calling out. He’s not really a baby anymore, but he is the youngest so he gets to be the baby still even though he is really a toddler.


She was still asleep, and gave no sign of changing that. So I slid out of bed softly, trying not to disturb her, and stumbled through the house. I found our little early bird standing up in his crib, looking much more ready for the day than I felt. Sometimes it’s hard to tell whether I am the early bird getting the worm, or the early worm getting eaten alive.

“Hi, Dad!” he said.

“Good morning, Baby.” I gave him a new diaper, a drink of water, and a banana. By that time I had given up on going back to bed.

“Do you want to go running?”

“Yeah! A running!”

On a summer morning I might have put him in the jogging stroller and taken him along for my morning run, but I don’t like to do that when the temperature is below freezing outside. So instead we went downstairs to the treadmill, where he sat on a nearby couch watching a trail running video while I ran a few miles and listened to President Nelson’s third Conference talk.

But First, an Aside

President Nelson opened his talk by acknowledging the previous speaker in the session, who was none other than Bruce R. McConkie, giving his final testimony. I decided to go back and listen to that talk, too. Just a couple of minutes before President Nelson took to the pulpit, Elder McConkie offered this unforgettable testimony of Jesus Christ:

“He is our Lord, our God, and our King. This I know of myself independent of any other person.

“I am one of his witnesses, and in a coming day I shall feel the nail marks in his hands and in his feet and shall wet his feet with my tears.

“But I shall not know any better then than I know now that he is God’s Almighty Son, that he is our Savior and Redeemer, and that salvation comes in and through his atoning blood and in no other way.”

That “coming day” for Elder McConkie came about two weeks later when he died of colon cancer, sending a shockwave through the church and securing the lasting fame of his final Conference address. But as memorable as that passage is, I have always been drawn to and intrigued by a less-remembered passage earlier in the talk:

“In speaking of these wondrous things I shall use my own words, though you may think they are the words of scripture, words spoken by other Apostles and prophets.

“True it is they were first proclaimed by others, but they are now mine, for the Holy Spirit of God has borne witness to me that they are true, and it is now as though the Lord had revealed them to me in the first instance. I have thereby heard his voice and know his word.”

This is a powerful concept, the idea that knowing the truth of a scripture through the Holy Spirit is equivalent to receiving the original revelation. If the Spirit has witnessed to your soul that the words of a scripture are true, then you own that scripture in a deep and personal way.

Reverence for Life – April 1985

Elder McConkie’s final testimony is a hard act to follow, and it seems that President Nelson’s talk that day has been largely forgotten. But I think it is every bit as important, and deserves our close attention and honest consideration. It is a heavy topic, and before introducing it he apologized “for the use of words repugnant to me and ill-suited to this hallowed pulpit.” We will review his treatment of the subject in some detail.

After this introduction he cited a few statistics about the human cost of war, a topic I wrote about recently. In its first 200 years of history, the United States lost over 1 million soldiers in war. About 400,000 of these were in World War II.

“Regrettable as is the loss of loved ones from war, these figures are dwarfed by the toll of a new war that annually claims more casualties than the total number of fatalities from all the wars of this nation.

“It is a war on the defenseless—and the voiceless. It is a war on the unborn.”

President Nelson proceeds to quote statistics on the number of abortions performed, which exceeds by orders of magnitude the number of deaths caused by war. In 1974 alone there were over 55 million abortions reported worldwide. According to 2018 estimates, there have been over 1.5 billion abortions performed worldwide since 1980. The annual rate in the United States has reduced since 1985, so it is no longer true that each year claims more lives by abortion than the nation’s first 200 years of war; we are down to a mere 600,000-700,000 in recent years.

“Yet society professes reverence for human life. We weep for those who die, pray and work for those whose lives are in jeopardy. For years I have labored with other doctors here and abroad, struggling to prolong life. It is impossible to describe the grief a physician feels when the life of a patient is lost. Can anyone imagine how we feel when life is destroyed at its roots, as though it were a thing of naught?

“What sense of inconsistency can allow people to grieve for their dead, yet be calloused to this baleful war being waged on life at the time of its silent development? What logic would encourage efforts to preserve the life of a critically ill twelve-week-old infant, but countenance the termination of another life twelve weeks after inception?”

I think at least part of this inconsistency is due to semantics. In medical terminology, “abortion” refers to the premature ending of a pregnancy, whether it occurs naturally or artificially. A miscarriage is a spontaneous abortion, and an induced abortion is also known as a termination of pregnancy. I suppose that “abortion” sounds like a gentler thing than “termination,” hence the desire to commandeer the more general term by pro-abortion advocates. No one these days refers to a miscarriage as an abortion, although that would be a technically correct usage of the term. This was perhaps the first step in the euphemization of abortion, which is currently obscured behind a heavy fortress of Orwellian deflections such as “choice,” “reproductive rights,” and “women’s health care.” None of these terms acknowledges the core issue, which is that abortion ends the life of a human being. “To pretend that there is no child and no life there is to deny reality,” President Nelson observes. And yet that seems to be exactly the point and purpose of these euphemisms — to move the cultural debate away from the central issue of the controversy, because no one wants to defend the indefensible. And President Nelson clearly declares that pro-abortion advocacy is the moral low ground. It is “forbidden by the laws of God,” it is “odious carnage,” it “sheds … innocent blood,” and it is “consummately wrong.”

The science of embryology teaches that conception triggers a continuum of growth and development which continues past birth into infancy, through childhood and adolescence to adulthood. Most women do not yet know that they are pregnant when the fetal heart starts beating at about day 22, the beginning of week 4. There is no place on this continuum of growth where a fetus “becomes” human or “becomes” alive. It is alive the whole time, and contains a unique set of human DNA from the time of fertilization. It is never just “tissue,” any more than you and I are just “tissue.”

Treadmill Journal2-embryology

President Nelson proceeds to answer the common arguments put forward by abortion apologists, including the health and safety of the mother, the burden of malformed fetuses, deference to the mother’s choice, and population control. One argument at a time, he teaches and illustrates that however legitimate the concern may be, it does not justify the termination of a human life when the procedure is done for “reasons of convenience.” I will not repeat all of his arguments here; the reader is encouraged to evaluate them independently.

To affirm the truth of his teachings on this subject, President Nelson appeals to the authority of scripture, both ancient and modern. He then places his talk in historical context. “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has consistently opposed the practice of abortion,” he says, and proceeds to quote a statement to that effect by the First Presidency of the Church dating back 100 years, and another by Spencer W. Kimball, who was President of the Church when this talk was given. Indeed, the Church position on abortion has not changed in the thirty years since then either. In 2008 a revised and updated version of his 1985 talk appeared in the Ensign magazine. And just two months ago President Dallin H. Oaks declared in the October 2018 General Conference that “mortal life is sacred to us. Our commitment to God’s plan requires us to oppose abortion and euthanasia.”

Finally, President Nelson refers to his calling “as a servant of the Lord,” and declares, “This doctrine is not of me, but is that of the living God and of his divine Son,” ultimately appealing to God himself to affirm the truth of his words.

Final Thoughts

My own opposition to abortion is primarily based on religious principles, but there are also compelling scientific, philosophical, and political arguments against it. Abortion is essentially discrimination based on age. That may be appropriate in the context of driving, voting, and other privileges, but when we are talking about the inalienable right to life then age discrimination doesn’t make sense at all. Do we tolerate such drastic and consequential discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, physical disability, or any other personal characteristic?

Such a sublime and enduring testimony of Jesus Christ offered by Elder McConkie, immediately followed by the discussion of such a dark subject by President Nelson, seems to highlight the contradiction of abortion: the most innocent and vulnerable members of our population, brutally and mercilessly destroyed by surgical instruments. I agree with President Nelson: abortion is “odious carnage” and “consummately wrong.” More than that, I feel the truth of his words, and therefore, as Elder McConkie explained, President Nelson’s words have become my own.

While listening to this talk I kept looking over at my little boy sitting on the couch next to the treadmill. A few months ago I told the story of his mysterious illness, and how it brought me to the Lord and to my knees in prayer for him. I love this boy, and all of my children, and the thought of losing any of them is intolerable to me. The thought of anyone inflicting intentional harm on them fills me with anger. They are so precious! Every innocent human life is precious!

Until now I have avoided discussing abortion on this website because it is politically and culturally contentious, and it is not a topic that I enjoy arguing about. But reading President Nelson’s impassioned treatise really moved me, and I felt the need to put an exclamation point behind his teachings. I want to go on record as being opposed to abortion, and I want to declare my solidarity with the consistent teachings of the prophets of God throughout time.

Alan B. Sanderson, MD is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is a practicing neurologist.

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