A Youth Pastor’s Appeal to Christians Working to Overturn Roe v. Wade
Note: With the release of the Supreme Court draft on overturning Roe v. Wade, this is a traumatizing moment in our history for many people — and this is true not only for people who have uteruses. A lot is at stake. I’ve spent time working on this piece and it may fall short. There are many appeals to reason out there, but this one is an appeal to the heart. It’s a small contribution to the conversation.
God’s desire is for that which cannot be forced.
During a reunion of sorts, a beloved teacher of mine from many years ago, a nun, told me during an intimate conversation that she chose to quit teaching to protest abortion clinics full time. She wanted to focus all her efforts on this one primary issue. Knowing loved ones who have walked that Via Dolorosa, receiving condemnation and shame from the protestors, I felt within me a sense of horror. I also remembered that she had greatly inspired me as a girl by her love for God. I felt a sense of sorrow because forcing holiness codes upon others rarely inspires within them feelings of love.
I remembered researcher Brené Brown’s advice for difficult conversations. When talking to people who seem to be on the opposing side of a divisive issue, keep going, keep digging, keep asking questions until you find a shared value. So, I kept going. I kept digging. I kept asking questions. Her sincerity, concern, and pain about this issue were very apparent. Finally she said, “Ultimately, I care about the women who are suffering in this way. I want them to know God’s peace, joy, and love. I want them to find God and to know God’s great love.”
Well, we had found a shared value. I told her that we differed in our approach to this issue, but that I also care deeply about women. I told her I earned a degree in Women’s and Gender Studies because I care about these issues, and that I, too, love God deeply. (She later gave me a great compliment in saying that she could see that I love God, just by my expressions in our conversation.) I found myself wanting to prove to her that one can love God and also advocate for abortion rights as an extension of that love. Instead, we simply listened to each other’s stories and parted ways.
When I think about our conversation now, I am reminded of the Scottish-Israeli Torah scholar, Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, who writes about the virtues of being open to seduction. Forgive me. I know we’re talking about one issue — abortion — not another issue — seduction. Certainly, we are not talking about the virtues of being open to seduction! But, something my teacher said made me think of this passage:
Midrashic sources extol the virtues of being open to seduction — provided, of course, that the seducer is God, or the human being persuading God to compassion, or human beings moving one another to a larger desire. To move someone ‘out of his mind’ means, on one level, to drive him mad. But on another level, it means to open the other to different forms of existence, to affect the current of his desire. In biblical and midrashic texts, God must seduce because God desires…[And] so God, in many midrashic sources, must wait in longing. For His desire, like human desire, is for that which cannot be forced.
(Zornberg, The Murmuring Deep. pg. 28–29)
Being a nun, perhaps my teacher had been “seduced” to a life of celibacy and devotion to Jesus as a young woman. And here she was telling me that she desired young pregnant women to be deeply moved (seduced?) by God’s love (albeit, making some sweeping assumptions about God’s presence in other people’s lives!) Today, I find myself wanting to move her and other conservative Christians working to overturn Roe v. Wade to a larger desire, to a greater compassion. Not by forcing their holiness codes upon the nation, but rather by loving others as God loves us. God’s desire is for that which cannot be forced.
During that that intimate conversation, my teacher and I both proclaimed our love of God and neighbor, and yet we have very different approaches to abortion. I find that I can’t help but want to keep going, keep digging, keep asking questions until I find some shared value with my Christian fellows who seem so different from me…
What is the real concern?
For some Christian folks that I’ve known, abortion is not a concern related to healthcare, pregnancy, or fetal viability. Rather, for some people, abortion is a polarizing political issue directly related to concerns about the behaviors of others. Namely: the sexual practices of “those people,” and the potential to take an innocent life by “those people.” Their solution: forceful control of a subgroup of people through governmental law.
Now, Jesus taught about these two issues very clearly. Not only does he agree with the prohibitions in Torah against harmful sex and taking a life. Jesus takes them much further. He says, “If you even look at a person with lust in your heart, you have already committed adultery.” He says, “You have heard it said ‘Do not murder or you will be liable to judgment,’ but I say to you if you are angry with another person or say “you fool” then you are liable to judgment and to the hell of fire (Matthew 21 and 27). The Apostle Paul sums this up with his own exclamation point:
Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. (Romans 2:1)
In these teachings, I believe Jesus is speaking directly to our own hearts — to each of us who have ears to hear. He was speaking to those of us who have ever looked at someone with an illicit desire or who have ever cursed another as a fool, in anger, under our breath. I might be wrong, but I think he’s talking to most (all?) of us, because this is an experience of being human. Jesus is not teaching us to use political force or government control against “those other people” to ease our anxieties about our own judgments and accusations. Rather, he is saying: Repent for your own hard heart to receive God’s mercy — then go, and love others.
In ways similar to the experience of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and LGBTQ+ folks (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer, +), people who seek abortions have become another one of Christianity’s scapegoats. They have become the political lightning rod for Christians to project their own judgments and shortcomings upon. But rather than sending the scapegoat out into the wilderness as an innocent bearer of our own sins (vis-à-vis the biblical scapegoat ritual on the Day of Atonement), Christians seem to believe their scapegoats are guilty of judgment and condemnation.
When asked what is the greatest commandment, Jesus did not speak to the prohibitions on illicit sex or on murder. Rather, he quoted the teaching at the very heart of the holiness code in the Hebrew Bible, in the book of Leviticus: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18. See also: Mark 12:31, Matthew 19:19, Matthew 23:29, Romans 13:9, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8).
For many people who support abortion care and reproductive rights, this is their primary concern: to love your fellow as yourself. For many activists, abortion is not a lightning rod political issue about the perceived sins of others — it is the lived experience of some people who, like all of us, must make difficult choices from time to time, and who are also deeply and compassionately loved.
So, I wonder, what is the greater concern? Is abortion primarily about the biblical prohibitions against sex and murder — and, by extension, the lust and anger in our very own hearts? Or is the greater concern to love one another with mercy just as each one of us has been loved and given mercy? Is the concern to force an indiscriminate Christian holiness code upon the nation through political maneuvering and government control? Or is it greater to love our neighbors as ourselves? Certainly, God has given each of us the freedom to choose — for God desires that which cannot be forced.
A few practical points:
- The number of overall abortions have been in steady decline. Numbers in the U.S. are currently lower than at the time of Roe v. Wade. Abortion rates are lower where it is legal, and higher in countries where it is illegal.
- Abortion is a very personal issue that may have various health related and/or moral implications for different people. *If* an individual wants guidance on this issue, they should consult with trusted people — perhaps their partner, family, religious leaders, and/or with trusted healthcare providers — definitely not politicians.
- The separation of church and state is very important to our democracy. Imposing particular religious expectations on a specific group of citizens is akin to forced conversions to Christianity — something I find antithetical to our democracy, to my understanding of religion, and to my experience of God’s love.
- Some considerations: 99% of Christians have used some form of contraception, and the majority of people who have abortions in the U.S. are Christian. There is a racist history of abortion and midwifery bans. Abortion restrictions in the U.S. primarily affect people who are poor and disenfranchised, while their more affluent counterparts will be able to travel to other states or even other countries to receive safe reproductive care.
- Quotes by Benedictine Sr. Joan Chittester: “I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. … I frankly cannot understand why women’s health issues or abortion is absolutely the only life issue that the church has not nuanced. We nuance that men can kill for all sorts of reasons. Men can kill to defend themselves. They can kill to defend the state. They can punish by killing in the name of the state … But women, never — not even to save their own pregnant life. It seems to me to be morally confused. Certainly, it’s morally inconsistent.”
- Quote by Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her well-being and dignity…When government controls that decision for her, she is being treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”
- Lastly, I’m a trained facilitator for Our Whole Lives (OWL), a comprehensive sex education curriculum developed by the UCC and UU churches for all ages, particularly middle schoolers. We don’t teach “Do’s and Don’ts.” OWL affirms shared values including respect, relationships, and responsibility. We give young people choices and tools they can use to evaluate to make their own decisions with regards to gender, sexuality, and reproduction. For example, in teaching young people about abortion, we do not advocate for it nor do we frame it as wrong vs. right. Rather, we explain what it is. We encourage young people from the very beginning to make decisions based on shared values, relationships, respect, safety, health and well-being, not moral absolutes.