One Faith-Based Perspective on Choice

I’ve been quiet for a while due to the demands of my vocational and personal lives. I thought I would take a moment and re-emerge.
So what have I been thinking about?
Many things: one of which is the recent surge in the attempt to ban all forms of safe and legal abortions. I have been a life-time supporter of women’s right to affordable and accessible comprehensive health care. That includes access to abortion services.
Some might be surprised to hear a pastor say that. If you listen to many in the media, you would think all Christians are opposed to abortion rights. Let me say this: they are not.
So how does a faithful Christian get to such a position?
Let me share a few thoughts and then invite you into the conversation.
First, the language we use in discussing the issue is incredibly important. I do not know of anyone in my inner circle who is pro-abortion. I know many, however, who are pro-choice.
What’s the difference between the two?
In my mind, a pro-abortion individual is someone who encourages women to get abortions since abortion represents the preferred option. Pro-choice means something very different. While a pro-choice individual might believe very strongly in the sanctity of life – and that she could never make such a decision herself, the pro-choice individual respects a woman and her loved ones’ right to choose the option that best fits their circumstance.
Second, I believe we begin the whole conversation about reproductive rights much later than we should. We wouldn’t have to talk as much about abortion, for instance, if we were willing to provide our youth with comprehensive information about sex and sexuality and give them age-appropriate access to various forms of contraception.
One of the greatest ironies in this matter is that those who are most opposed to abortion are often the same ones who are most opposed to comprehensive sex/sexuality education and access to contraception. As a result, they find themselves desperately trying to stop a problem they helped create!
Third, folks don’t often step back and think about the complexities of what Scripture has to say about the matter. I’ve heard many biblical literalists use passages from places like Jeremiah 1:5 (“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you”) or Psalm 139:13 (“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb”) to make their case. They act as if that’s all Scripture says on the matter.
Such people forget another important aspect of Scripture: the part that talks about the punishment for adultery. It was common for folks in what many today call Old Testament times to stone those who committed adultery.
Now let’s stop and think for a moment. If life begins at conception (as pro-lifers frequently argue), and a child was conceived in the act of adultery – then the stoning sanctioned in Scripture was in effect terminating a pregnancy.
I say this simply to remind folks that the matter of “what the Bible says” in regard to terminating a pregnancy is far more complicated than some would have us believe.
Fourth, I believe efforts to outlaw abortions under all circumstance are attempts to ignore the undeniable complexities of life. While there are some who would have us believe there are only two crayons by which our lives are colored (black and white), the reality is that my Christian faith tells me there are many more colors involved.
Jesus knew that. That’s why his earthly ministry was FULL of examples when he reached inside his box of crayons and pulled out a wide range of colors. Let me give you just a few examples.
The people of Jesus’ day told him that it was wrong to heal on the sabbath. What did Jesus do? He healed on the sabbath. The people of Jesus’ day told him it was always wrong to extend effort to secure a meal on the sabbath. What did Jesus do? When the Pharisees attacked Jesus’ disciples for grabbing wheat on the sabbath to nourish their bodies, Jesus took the side of his disciples. The people of Jesus’ day told him it was wrong to talk to interact randomly with women and people of other ethnic traditions. What did Jesus do? He engaged the Samaritan woman at the well and the Syrophoenician woman and treated them as people worthy of his time and attention. Time after time, Jesus used the context of situations to push beyond accepted norms of his day.
The new stream of bills attempting to eradicate access to safe and legal abortions are no longer considering context at all. They are outlawing abortions in all circumstance: even those that are the result of rape and incest. And the saddest part is that many of the proponents of those bills are using Jesus’ name to justify their acts.
I hope that in these difficult times people of faith will summon the courage to speak their truth. For only when we provide a faith-based witness will people realize that Christians are NOT of one voice on this matter. And as we move forward, I hope we will do so with love and respect for all persons – especially those women and their loved ones who wrestle with some of the most challenging decisions of their lives.
So how about you? What do these matters raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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2 Responses to One Faith-Based Perspective on Choice

  1. Andrea Frazer says:

    As always I am really blown away by your articulate way of unraveling complicated issues. I like the analogy of colored crayons versus black and white only. For me it’s so tough because I have always been taught that life begins at conception. And yet as a substitute teacher in a wide variety of low income classrooms I see every day children who are this “conception” and yet they are not being raised or supported by people who pushed thus agenda in the first place. Do I think we should just “murder” babies at whim to save the population and keep chaos from happening? That’s what the right would ask me. The answer is “of course not” but it does raise the concern that one can’t have ideals without the follow-through. It’s very very complicated stuff for me. All I can do right now is what Jesus would have me do which is to show up every day and do the best I can with the children that are here and pray that these parents think about birth control and better ways to be available for their children…To support and nurture them. Otherwise we do not have a culture pro life we only have a culture of pro birth.

  2. Beverly Marshall Saling says:

    I look at this in the context of other times when people make moral choices about whether to save a life. The most apt comparison, as others have noted, is organ donation, where a person is asked to surrender part of their body to save a life. We don’t consider it ethical to try to make that choice for anyone, but grant everyone the bodily autonomy to choose for themselves—even after they have died—and put rules in place to prevent anyone from being pressured or offered financial incentives to donate. Same goes for the choice of whether to risk your life and limb to save someone else from a burning building or an active shooter or whatever; we don’t demand that anyone risk death or injury for another.

    But this same principle also applies when abortion is necessary to save the life of the parent, as with an ectopic pregnancy or a pregnancy that is preventing treatment of an imminently life-threatening condition. There have already been cases where attempts to prioritize the life of the unborn—say, by performing a premature C-section instead of an abortion, or delaying treatment for the parent to give the fetus a chance to reach viability—that have predictably resulted in the deaths of both parent and child. Whether to take that risk is morally the same as whether to take the risk of trying to save someone from a burning building; it’s a choice for the pregnant person with the advice of their doctor, not politicians unfamiliar with the specifics of the situation.

    The final comparison I want to bring up is the Trump administration’s push for new rules that would allow doctors and other medical personnel to deny treatment if it goes against their moral beliefs. This argument has already been used not just to deny abortions but also to deny ANY medical treatment to LGBTQIA people, and sometimes even to their children. And it’s been proposed as an argument for denying treatment to criminals, poor/homeless people, undocumented immigrants, profoundly disabled people, addicts, and others whom some perceive as less than fully deserving or less than fully human. We can’t consistently say that a pregnant person’s moral choice to abort must be curtailed in the compelling interest of saving a life and then turn around and say a doctor’s moral choice to deny treatment must be respected regardless of whether it costs a life.

    In the end, it’s not so much about life as it is about control: who gets to decide what risks and sacrifices must be made when a life is on the line? Any answer other than “the person making those risks and sacrifices” opens up a whole mess of implications that I don’t think a lot of people have thought through.

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