Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Abortion and mystery of consistency

I’m interested in feedback on the subject alluded to in today’s teaching on abortion. Why is that the left appeals to the autonomy of the individual and freedom of choice when it comes to matters of pregnancy, but as soon as a child is born appeals to communitarian ideals, invoking a commitment to common good as the basis for public health care, environmental sensitivity, and economic accountability? Meanwhile the political right argues for autonomy in all matters, reasoning that free market forces will result in the greatest common good. And yet, in the same breath the political right will declare that it’s the responsibility of the state of to protect the unborn, who have no voice of their own.

Both parties, it seems to me, need to come to grips with their own fundamental inconsistencies. Of course, the issue of abortion is less a question of precept and doctrine than it is of our communitarian commitment to helping those who are in need. And this issue, especially, highlights the needs of the marginalized, both inside and out of the womb. We need, rather than looking for a simple precept, to cultivate a culture that is committed to compassion and life, and then seek to apply this culture consistently to lives both within and outside of the womb. When we do this, all political systems are weighed and found wanting, and the beauty, redemption, and power of God’s reign shines forth as the real hope for our collective future.


At 20/6/05 11:56, Anonymous Ben said...

I think it's worth noting that Scripture itself seems to avoid "rules" on the topic and instead the passages on this topic (with the exception of the Exodus "rule" about causing a miscarraige) focus on setting up a culture/community where life is valued and welcomed in general including in the womb. Following Scripture would mean our emphasis would be in the same place. (Not ruling out the rule, but definitely not focusing on it to the exclusion of the community attitude.)

At 20/6/05 18:41, Anonymous Tiffany said...

Thank you for your courage to tackle this topic – or at least to open the discussion. I have been preaching the “inconsistencies” in the platform of both left and right to my friends for a long time now – it’s nice to hear that I am not the only one that sees this.

I’d like to take the discussion a bit deeper, though, and focus on the issue of abortion within the Christian community. I have no scientific research on which to base my beliefs, just personal experience growing up in a private Christian school with nearly 100% of my friends growing up in “Christian” homes. I don’t have one friend who had a baby out-of-wedlock but I have four friends (that I know of) who’ve had abortions. I have often wondered if our well-intentioned attitudes and teachings about sexual purity actually result in a higher rate of abortions among Christians than among the non-religious community.

I have heard that abstinence-only programs or pledges statistically result in the postponement of sexual intercourse by 18 months, which is good news. The bad news is that once they do decide to have intercourse they are much less likely to use birth control – leading to increased risk of STDs and pregnancy. If you have taken this pledge before God, family and community the last thing you want people to know is that you’ve broken this promise and may have increased incentive to make the “problem” go away. Pre-marital pregnancy is one of the few visible sins that the only way you can hide is by abortion.

Growing up I can remember hearing about girls who found themselves pregnant (deciding to go through with the pregnancy) becoming pariahs among the Christian community. The church’s commitment to seeing them through this problem wasn’t discussed (at least not in front of me); instead their sinfulness was whispered about and gossiped behind their backs. I have heard that some churches require girls who find themselves pregnant announce their sin in front of the entire congregation and ask the church’s forgiveness. If that is not an incentive to make the problem go away, I don’t know what is.

In your sermon you mentioned several reasons why someone would choose abortion, but I don’t remember you mentioning the one reason that I think may be most common among Christian youth: the unbearable thought of the conversation they’ll have to have with their Christian parents. The disappointment, embarrassment and shame they’ll see in their parent’s eyes who then have to face their church and friends as “failed” parents. Though I’m sure there were many reasons factored into the decision, the number one reason my friends decided to have abortions was that they felt they could not tell their parents. Whether or not that feeling was justified is not the point, only that this was their impression and resulted in abortion rather than carrying the baby to term.

I am not suggesting that we not teach sexual purity. I’m only wondering if there is a way to teach “safe sex” without condoning pre-marital sex. Should we not even go there with our kids? I just pray that along with teaching my children sexual purity we also have an open dialogue about all sexual issues, including unexpected pregnancy. Most importantly, I hope I am able to instill confidence in God’s love and forgiveness.

At 20/6/05 21:25, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great question. I don't know... but think it has to do with the foundation of our political parties which at its core is based on politicians who each represent a certain district and thus the views of people in a particular region. And it's those *people* ultimately who are inconsistent. How can you have a party that's pro-life, pro-gun and pro-death penalty? It doesn't make sense! But if you start with a congressional representative from an area that is strongly fundamentalist Christian and where hunting is a popular pasttime and ...well... I'm not sure where the death penalty thing comes from. But I do know that politicians usually fault to representing the views of folks in their region, and the political parties are an amalgam of those politicians... and you throw them all into a political convention every 4 years to come up with a manifesto of what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat, and you get a politically-negotiated document that is inconsistent but can be 'sold' and an election that can be won. The bigger question to me is at the individual level - how can PEOPLE be so inconsistent? How can passionately pro-lifers blow up abortion clinics and kill doctors? I just don't get that.

At 20/6/05 23:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciated the clarity in which you presented the issues here. The call to action for the church at large is set before us. I pray that each of us will seek guidance from the Lord in how He wants us to respond in being an active participant in that community that loves as Christ loves.

At 21/6/05 22:45, Blogger Janice said...

Richard, thanks for your courage to tackle the issue of abortion so sensitively and the discernment with which you clearly approached the issue. Your courage has compelled me to be bold and share my own story, I hope as a way of affirming you and your message.

Its been almost 20 years since I had an abortion as a freshman in college and in that time, the Lord has provided much healing and of course absolution (thank you for the cross my friend!). I was raised in an emotionally-abusive environment with parents who'd taught abstinence, and when I learned I was pregnant I struggled with the seemingly-impossible task of telling them and weathering their certain criticism and shaming. I considered myself "pro-life" then and knew abortion was the "wrong" choice, and so after much consternation and denial, I visited a Christian-based Crisis Pregnancy Center for help. I hoped that by turning to a pro-life group, I'd find much-need support and advice to successfully march through the decision to carry this baby to term. My question was not *should* I do this, just simply *how*. So I went to this place.

As I walked through the door behind which I hoped to find support and help and yes even love - instead I immediately was bombarded with shame and hate. There were pictures of smiling babies juxtaposed with aborted fetuses on the walls, pamphlets showing the same. Bible verses telling me about the sin of murder and the raging fires of the hell where I was surely about to go. The woman who came to the receptionists desk looked me up and down... she knew why I was there of course and I felt her judgment. I quickly realized that these folks were there to simply make sure I made the "right" decision ... their focus was all on this baby I was carrying rather than me. When I walked in the door, there were two people that needed to be saved, me and the baby, but in their blindness it was clear that they only saw one. I walked out.

In the following days my desperation increased and I concluded I had no choice but to abort the baby. My experience at the clinic had sealed my fate - a different fate than the one I'd hoped to pursue. I figured that if the Christians in the phonebook offering to help those in crisis couldn't greet me with love and compassion, then my family would never come close. So a week later I entered a Planned Parenthood clinic seeking information on obtaining an abortion. There, unbelievably, I found the support and love I'd been hoping for. The pictures on the walls were of... flowers and mountains. The nurses and assistants projected caring, non-judgmental faces and wanted to give me hugs, only I wouldn't let them. The staff counselor wanted to talk about "options" including adoption and the support they would offer me to carry the baby to term... only I held up my hand and told her I didn't need to talk, that I'd already made up my mind. The ironic thing of course is that if I had gone to the secular, pro-choice place - instead of the Christian, pro-life place - my decision would have very likely been drastically different, as would my life.

After my abortion, I turned completely from the Lord and the church. I'd been raised Catholic and concluded that if I couldn't turn to the church in a time like this, there was really no point to it all. If the women at the Crisis Pregnancy Center and the people behind the photos and pamplets were symbols of the Christian life, then I wanted and needed no part of it. Phillip Yancey in his book "What's So Amazing About Grace" tells a story about a prostitute doing ugly things and is desperate for help. When asked "why didn't you turn to the church for help," she says, "Church!? Why would I go there? They'd only make me feel worse about myself than I already do now."

It took me over 10 years to soften my heart to God again, and I became Born Again only after realizing that Jesus would have indeed done something very different. And that there is sometimes a very big gap between Christians and Christianity, between religion and God, between spiritual leaders acting on their interpretation of the Word and the Holy Spirit himself.

Today I'm pro-choice. The reason is simply because I know the law of the land would have done nothing to stop me at that time and I could have been in a more dangerous spot and more likely to be victimized if I'd pursued a back-alley solution. And I want to protect our sisters and daughters from that. Experiencing the true love and compassion of Jesus Christ would have transformed me though. And I believe that many women in the same situation are searching desperately for that love. The question is whether we, as Christians, are willing to be bold and give it to them unconditionally. Without worrying about the message it might send to our neighbors, our family, and our young people to whom we are advising abstinence. I wonder sometimes whether the church is really willing to walk the walk and lift up girls who are "choosing life" as heroes, without worrying about the mixed message it sends to other teens. But Christ says not to worry about tomorrow. And to love. I think that's pretty simple to understand. But pretty heroic to actually do.

At 22/6/05 09:41, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm going to tag onto the last paragraph of Tiffany's post about how as a Christian community we can teach "safe sex" without condoning premarital sex. Is that possible? I think we have to find a way to make it possible.

I, too, grew up in the traditional Christian home--Young life, Sunday school, church camp, Christian college--all of it. And went to college very unprepared for the sexual temptations I was going to face. The message that was reinforced to me throughout my upbringing (parents and otherwise) left me feeling that if I were a "good enough Christian" then there would be no temptation. So I thought it would be as simple as that--I would just be able to avoid sex.

I got pregnant my junior year of college. I have nobody but myself to blame, but I remember feeling trapped: prior to getting pregnant, I was too scared to go to the health center and ask for birth control because to me that meant I was being intentional about pre-marital sex and I couldn't face that reality. So I would try not to let the relationship go there but somehow it always did. I didn't know how to handle my feelings or the fact that I was having sex, nor did I feel like I could confess it to anyone so I battled it internally and eventually got pregnant.

I don't know how to put into words the feelings and thoughts that one goes through when they find themselves in an unexpected pregnancy--"crisis" comes close but also falls far short. I will say that no matter who you are, what values you are raised with or what you THINK you would do if you found yourself in that situation, it's all turned upside down on you the instant you realize it IS you. It's easy for people to be anti-abortion until they stand in those shoes. I was.

I actually ended up carrying the baby to term and he was adopted. I have a hard time answering the question pro-life or pro-choice? I'm both. I chose to carry to term but I could not make that choice for someone else and I don't think anyone should. Richard nailed the issue when he read the quote that a woman wants an abortion like an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg. And people think abortion's the "easy" answer? Friends, there is no "easy" answer in a crisis pregnancy. Ask a single mom, ask someone who has had an abortion, ask someone who has given up a baby for adoption. None will say it was easy.

When my pregnancy became public it was suddenly ok for people to share with me that they too struggled with pre-marital sex, but nobody was willing to talk about it before that (including my parents). This is where I think we have to find ways to speak honestly about sex and sexual issues with each other and our children.

I do want to give my parents the credit they deserve in this situation. I knew that there was NO way I could go through this pregnancy without my parents' support and that their reaction would determine mine. They were full of compassion, concern, love, grace and forgiveness and said they would support any decision I made--all the things I knew I would need to endure those next nine months. My pregnancy was not easy on anyone in my family and I felt horrible for what looked like a failure on my parents' part. But my parents never, ever made me feel like a disappointment or a failure. I realize that my situation is unique and I was lucky to have these resources and for that I am so grateful. However, I do think their reaction illustrates how our responses to one another's sins can show God's grace and forgiveness and change lives.

Richard, thanks for having the courage to open up this topic. I hope we will all have the courage to respond with honesty and love when given the chance.

At 29/6/05 14:01, Anonymous Tiffany said...

An interesting article by Glen Stassen on the subject...

At 1/7/05 08:44, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my - I am a shy person who never comments on much... but I have to add to this. When the disciple walked on water he did it by looking only at Jesus. He couldn't look at the storm, or back at the boat and his friends - he could only look at Jesus and he was safe. He was petrified - and the only thing that worked was Jesus. Anything else would have destroyed him. I don't think God calls us to always be in that intense of a mindset - but when things are *that* *awful* - it becomes the only option that saves us.

I was pregnant in college and both the right an left responses to me were wacky. My experience with myself and them and my family isn't too different from how other folks are describing theirs here...(the left was meaner to me, than the right - but that is long past). When I realized I had no one to help me - in my heart I just sat down and looked at/waited for God. It was terrifying and felt dark and awful most of the time but I believed - in a very last ditch sort of way I admit - that he loved me and my baby and he wasn't going to let us rot. And the left and the right folks continued to be nuts so I stopped asking them for anything anymore and just was miserable by myself and with my hope that God would make things ok some day (my own way of looking at Jesus, and not at the storm, the boat, the people). And I am SO GLAD I did because not only did he come through for me and my son in spades - I learned how to stop myself from focusing on expecting salvation from anyone but Jesus. To this day (ten years later), there are times when I become mindful again that I need to "sit and rot" and wait for God to help me as opposed to running around hysterically expecting help from someone or something who doesn't have it to give. This happens when I have no answer to a problem that is terrifying to me and I am powerless to change it.

Pastor - please think about this issue from the angle I'm trying to describe. What Christ has to offer to each person individually (when they stop looking back at the boat) makes everything else petty. The different groups will do do whatever they will and it may or may not be helpful, but the people in your church need to know that when it comes to the individual - he or she is better off in the dark with only Jesus and their utter terror than with the parties. The parties are mere puffs compared to you and each person in your church, who are going to live forever. Oh man I could go on... Thank you for letting us comment!!


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