I have discovered a secure way for being hated by everyone during a debate between liberals and conservatives.
It merely consists of saying that one should forbid a woman to carry out an abortion and give the undesired child to a committed gay couple.
While I, as a progressive Christian, actively support efforts for promoting tolerance and acceptance of homosexuals, I cannot regard abortion as a good thing.
And I am not alone in that respect.
Popular writer Rachel Held Evans wrote a great post entitled “Why Progressive Christians Should Care About Abortion” which I reproduced here.
I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from.
Growing up in the evangelical subculture of the 80s and 90s, I was well versed in the language of the pro-life cause, as familiar with Roe vs. Wade and the silhouette of a tiny fetus as I was with Disney princesses and contemporary Christian music. My young mind grasped the essence of the pro-life argument—that all of life is valuable, no matter how small or vulnerable—but mistakenly reduced the solution to abortion to a single step—vote for a pro-life president, and abortion will go away. A Republican president meant no more dead babies. It was as simple as that.
…Until it wasn’t.
The first president I voted for was George W. Bush. My dad dropped me off at the polling station and I marched into the Rhea County Courthouse to cast my vote for life. While President Bush endorsed the 2005 Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, which I supported, he also championed a pre-emptive war in Iraq that costs hundreds of thousands of lives. His presidency did not make much of a dent in the abortion rate, and even though he appointed conservative judges, Roe vs. Wade remained intact. By the time W finished his second term, I had graduated from college, come to terms with the fact that the criminalization of abortion is highly unlikely no matter the party in power, expanded my definition of “pro-life” to include Iraqi children and prisoners of war, and experienced first-hand some of the major problems with America’s healthcare system, which along with poverty and education issues, contributes to the troubling abortion rate in the U.S. I remained pro-life idealistically, but for the first time, voted for a pro-choice president, hoping that the reforms I wanted to see in the healthcare, the economy, immigration, education, and for the socioeconomically disadvantaged would function pragmatically to reduce abortions. A couple of my conservative friends called me a baby killer. Several questioned my salvation.
As I advocated for the election (and re-election) of President Obama, I confess I grew somewhat embarrassed by the pro-life cause. I hated those cars that boasted a “Choose Life” sticker on one bumper and a “You’ll Have to Pry My Gun From My Cold, Dead Hands” on the other. The stubborn commitment to abstinence-only education among many evangelicals struck me as counterproductive to the cause, and those awful statements about how a raped woman has a “way of shutting that whole thing down” to prevent pregnancy were shameful and ignorant. Plus, sometimes it seemed like abortion was the only social justice issue my evangelical friends cared about, so they turned a blind eye to the ways in which Republican politics might hurt other disadvantaged groups, or turned my advocacy on behalf of other causes (like gender equality, trafficking, peace, healthcare reform, gun control, etc.) as an opportunity to make a statement about the horrors of abortion in comparison. It was all picket signs and prayer walks. But I wanted more conversations, and action, around poverty, adoption, and healthcare.
For a lot of pro-lifers, it seemed, abortion was all about the baby.
The woman, and the factors that might contribute to her decision to terminate her pregnancy, didn’t seem to matter much.
But how can we end abortion if we don’t examine why women seek out abortions in the first place? Making it illegal won’t stop it from happening, and yet so many of our efforts are directed toward that end. Aren’t we wasting our time and money by simply throwing it at politicians who wave the pro-life banner, but then do little, practically, to address the underlying issues related to abortion? And why on earth oppose access to birth control and reforms in the health care system when those will likely make the biggest difference in actually curbing abortions in this country?
(For an interesting look at the problem of categorizing the pill as an abortifacient, check out Libby Anne’s piece on the topic, where she notes that “if your goal is to save ‘unborn babies,’ and if you truly believe that a zygote – a fertilized egg – has the same value and worth as you or I – the only responsible thing to do is to put every sexually active woman on the pill,” because the pill actually reduces the number of zygotes naturally rejected by a woman’s body. Also, this month’s Christianity Today includes a short article on how the morning-after pill does not inhibit implantation, but rather blocks fertilization.)
Furthermore, as I became more involved in the feminist conversation (some feminists are pro-life, of course, but many are pro-choice), I began to understand some of the arguments against the criminalization of abortion, like that banning abortion does not necessarily reduce the abortion rate, that enforcing a ban on all abortions would be impossible, and that women would likely seek out abortions through unsafe, illegal procedures anyway.
And when I was honest with myself, I had to admit that I don’t know exactly when life begins (at fertilization? at the first heartbeat? at the existence of brain waves?). Does the Bible, or Christian tradition, really make this abundantly clear? There is even disagreement among Christians about this, (and historically, even among evangelicals), so was it really my place to deny a woman who has been raped, for example, access to a morning-after pill?
And so I remained pro-life in my personal conviction, but I began to question my position that all abortions should be criminalized. I could be against abortion personally, but ambivalent about its legality, right? I could have my own convictions about this issue without making a scene. It was as simple as that.
….Until it wasn’t.
Under President Obama’s presidency, the overall abortion rate has indeed seen a decline, but he overturned some of Bush’s restrictions on late-term abortions, and there are these drones in the sky that don’t seem very pro-life to me. I squirmed on the couch when, during the 2012 Democratic National Convention, cheers erupted upon every mention of a woman’s “right to choose.” A lot of pro-choice folks like to say that “no one is pro-abortion,” but when celebratory concert series and festivals are organized around the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, I can’t help but question the degree to which we have desensitized ourselves to the reality that abortion means the termination of, at the very least, a potential life, something that should never be celebrated with balloons and rock concerts.
What frustrates me about the pro-choice movement is the lengths to which advocates go to de-humanize unborn children and sanitize the abortion procedure, reducing life to nothing more than a cluster of cells and the implications of pregnancy to little more than a choice. The word “fetus” is used instead of “child.” Efforts to encourage women to receive counseling prior to an abortion are stubbornly opposed. The argument is framed around the woman’s body exclusively, as if the fetus is inconsequential, and pro-life advocates are characterized as being “against” women’s rights. (Frankly, as a woman, and a feminist, I don’t like people invoking my “rights” to unilaterally support abortion.)
For a lot of pro-choicers, it seems, abortion is all about the woman.
The unborn child, and all the complicated, terrifying, and beautiful things its life represents, don’t seem to matter much.
So just as I grew irritated with the pro-life movement for its inconsistency and simplistic solutions, I grew irritated with the pro-choice movement for its callousness and disinterest in discussing the very real ethical concerns surrounding the termination of a pregnancy.
And then the Kermit Gosnell story blew up.
“This case is about a doctor who killed babies and endangered women,” the Grand Jury reported, “What we mean is that he regularly and illegally delivered live, viable babies in the third trimester of pregnancy – and then murdered these newborns by severing their spinal cords with scissors. The medical practice by which he carried out this business was a filthy fraud in which he overdosed his patients with dangerous drugs, spread venereal disease among them with infected instruments, perforated their wombs and bowels – and, on at least two occasions, caused their deaths… Bureaucratic inertia is not exactly news. We understand that. But we think this was something more. We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”
In response, pro-life made the (accurate) observation that it is a mere technicality that separates the legal termination of late-term pregnancies from the illegal termination of late-term pregnancies so gruesomely exposed by the photos from Gosnell’s clinic. Pro-choice advocates made the (accurate) observation that Gosnell is being prosecuted precisely because what he did was illegal and warned that, should abortion be criminalized, practices like his would likely flourish. I was pleased to see many pro-life advocates acknowledge that the story highlights the role poverty plays in abortion, admitting that the women in this case were marginalized and vulnerable, and that their needs ought to be talked about more often. I was pleased to see many pro-choice advocates acknowledging that the stark reminder of what happens to a fetus in a late term abortion was rightfully unsettling. (It should be noted that late tern abortions make up a very small percentage of abortions, as do cases of rape and incest…so both sides tend to appeal to rare cases in debates.) Kristen Howerton, among others, had the good sense push past all the pointless rhetoric about a supposed media conspiracy to ask why on earth the state of Pennsylvania didn’t shut this place down sooner.
Here was abortion—in all of its heartbreaking complexity, with all of its ties to life, death, poverty, exploitation, fear, loneliness, politics, and propaganda—sprawled out on the front pages of our newspapers, and no single side “won.” It was an indictment on our shared apathy, on our shared callousness, on our shared simplistic political solutions.
“…Because the women in question were poor and of color, because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.”
Not surprisingly, I couldn’t think of anything worthwhile to say. I was, truly, speechless.
My conservative friends took the opportunity to chastise and pester me, convinced my delay in writing a post on the topic revealed my participation in some vast media conspiracy and my unwarranted preoccupation with “minor” issues like gender equality in the church. When I explained on Twitter that a post about abortion isn’t simple enough to fit into 600 words, a guy tweeted back, “Sure it is. I can fit it in three: It’s always wrong.”
When the life or health of the mother is at stake?
In the case of rape or incest?
When a woman’s body naturally disposes of a zygote?
Meanwhile, my more liberal friends begged me not to write anything at all. It’s too complicated, they said, too controversial, too complex.
When the life of the weaker is taken by the stronger?
When one out of five pregnancies in this country end in abortion?
When places like these fail to get shut down in part because we’ve turned abortion into such a political issue?
I think a lot of progressive Christians like myself, eager to distance ourselves from some of the rhetoric and policies of the Republican brand of the pro-life movement, shy away from talking about abortion, when our call to do justice and love mercy demand that we speak and act to address this issue, even though it may be more complicated than we originally thought.
In fact, I wonder if an appreciation of the nuances in the debate, and of abortion’s connection to traditionally “progressive” issues like poverty and healthcare, may actually make those of us who are “stuck in the middle” especially effective agents of change. Let’s face it: We are unlikely to find a single party that truly represents a “culture of life,” and abortion will probably never be made illegal, so we’ll have to go about it the old fashioned way, working through the diverse channels of the Kingdom to adopt and support responsible adoption, welcome single moms into our homes and churches, reach out to the lonely and disenfranchised, address the socioeconomic issues involved, and engage in some difficult conversations about the many factors that contribute to the abortion rate in this country, (especially birth control). It seems to me that Christians who are more conservative and Christians who are more liberal, Christians who are politically pro-life and Christians who are politically pro-choice, should be able to come together on this and advocate for life in a way that takes seriously the complexities involved and that honors both women and their unborn children.
In other words, instead of focusing all of our efforts on making “supply” illegal, perhaps we should work on decreasing demand. And instead of pretending like this is just an issue of women’s rights, perhaps we should acknowledge the very real and very troubling moral questions surrounding a voluntarily terminated pregnancy.
I am still unsure of exactly how to do this. I don’t even know where to start, really. The more I learn, the more complex this issue becomes. But the Gosnell case does in fact point to something simple: that we are failing to care for the most marginalized and helpless among us, be they unborn children or women whose desperation sent them to Gosnell’s clinic. And we won’t be able to promote a “culture of life” until we are willing to advocate on behalf of both.
Perhaps God has called those of us who feel “stuck in the middle” to do exactly that.
I truly like the balanced perspectives she brought up.
I really think that Westerners should feel far less certain of the alleged superiority of their culture while contemplating the millions of abortions occurring every year.
To be clear, I accept abortion for protecting the health or life of a woman.
But I find this act profoundly selfish when carried out for refusing to take responsibility for one’s actions and upholding a selfish lifestyle.
The often used argument that embryos can be killed because they feel nothing could be used as well for justifying infanticides since we certainly dispose of medical means for making the newborn child utterly insensitive.
Philosopher Peter Singer was entirely consistent as he advocated the moral permissibility of killing babies deemed “unworthy of living”. And I think we have good grounds for fearing this might very well happen in the future.
As the great reformed apologist Francis Schaeffer pointed out, what was unthinkable in the past can become thinkable in today’s society at a breathtaking pace.
As I pointed out previously, Christian fundamentalists and former fundamentalists having turned into militant atheists have the very same view of the Bible for what concerns morality and theology. Every command attributed to God is completely consistent with the others and the truth of Christianity (or the moral character of God) stands and falls with the validity of the smallest divine order.
But is it how Jesus viewed things?
36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Jesus did not tell to the asking person:
„You should stone your disobedient children.“ or
„Fool! How dare you ask such a silly question to me! Every command is equally important!“
But he said that the entire Jewish Law can be traced back to love for God and love for one’s neighbor as for oneself. And the Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that our enemies also belong to our neighbors.
The phrase „And the second is like it“ is particularly intriguing.
It is very likely that Jesus meant that the purest way of loving God is by loving the people he created to his image. This aspect is particularly visible in one of Jesus descriptions of the final judgment:
„But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 25:32 Before him all the nations will be gathered, and he will separate them
one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 25:33 He will set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. 25:34 Then the King will tell those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 25:35 for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me
drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. 25:36 I was naked, and you clothed me.
I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.’ 25:37 “Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, and feed you; or thirsty, and give you a drink? 25:38 When did we see you as a stranger, and take you in; or naked, and clothe you? 25:39 When did we see you sick, or in prison, and come to you?’ 25:40 “The King will answer them, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothersr ,
you did it to me.’ 25:41 Then he will say also to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from
me, you cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels;
25:42 for I was hungry, and you didn’t give me food to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave
me no drink; 25:43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me in; naked, and you didn’t
clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’ 25:44 “Then they will also answer, saying,
‘Lord, when did we see you hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and didn’t help you?’ 25:45 “Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Most certainly I tell you, inasmuch as you didn’t do it to one of the least of these, you didn’t do it to me.’ 25:46 These will go away
into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Mattew’s 25:31 – 25:46
This passage sounds certainly hard, but it shows it is all about love: non-believers having loved the poor people are called into the presence of the Lord whereas believers having ignored their needs are driven out of His presence.
Now we have to deal with a troubling passage:
18“For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19“Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
It is very easy to find commands in the Torah not only failing to foster love but also going in quite the opposite direction.
Jesus seemed to be well aware of this as he said
38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[a] 39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
So if he really literally meant we ought to literally obey the Law he was literally inconsistent.
Such a cognitive dissonance could perhaps be understandable for a Jew of his time unwilling to deny the validity of what was considered as a divine tradition.
But I doubt that Jesus was inconsistent in that respect, I believe He really meant that love is the ground of everything AND that the law was fulfilled in Him, perhaps in a metaphoric way.
I’m still struggling to understand Jesus attitude towards the Law.
But we can be quite sure that Love was the foundation of his entire ethic even if he might have been culturally unwilling to let go of the inspiration of the Law, the logical implications of his central teachings notwithstanding.
On the Inspiration of the Bible and other Books
Fundamentalists and more generally Evangelicals believe that if God exists and is interested in human affairs, He will give us an inerrant Bible where His nature is revealed in a consistent and trustworthy manner.
We are living in a very uncertain time and I am well aware that such a faith can bring a great comfort to quite a few people who have the feeling to have found an unshakable anchor.
But when clever and intellectually honest persons are confronted with undeniable Biblical contradictions, and above else with places where God is portrayed as being an ugly monster, they will most often throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater and become resentful opponents of Christianity.
Such deconversion experiences often stem from the binary way their brain has been programmed to consider the Biblical Canon: as a young pastor told me recently, if one begins to doubt the truth of details in the Old Testament, everything is called into question and it becomes impossible to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
They fail to consider the possibility there are many other ways to read, understand and consider the Bible.
I personally read the books accepted within the Biblical Canon in the same way I read books from all Christian authors between 300 A.C. and our the 21cst century, that is as the description of human experiences with and thoughts about God.
When I read the testimonies of other Christians, I will certainly consider what they write as faillible humans words about God, but I am quite open they might have received profound insights about God and how to lead one’s life. I would be also quite open to the possibility that God acted in miraculous ways and that they encountered hostile spiritual entities.
And as I explain with the example of the life of Martin Luther even if people do egregious things and teach mistaken (and even blasphemous) things about God, I have no problem believing they had genuine experiences with Him.
To take a concrete example, I read the books of the apostle Paul in the same way I read books from C.S. Lewis: I believe that both were examplary Christians, great defenders of the faith and extraordinary men, and the presence of logical, empirical and theological errors in their writings does not prevent me at all to appreciate all the right things they figured out.
But if we don’t believe that the books within the Biblical Canon are more inspired than books outside it, how can we make the difference between right and wrong beliefs about God?
While I cannot speak for all progressive Christians, I believe that we should base our theology on the fact that God has to be perfect in order for Him to be God. Even tough human beings are faillible creatures they are quite able to recognize perfection and to find out what is morally right and wrong as Saint Paul explains in the first chapters of the letter to the Romans.
Actually, as I am going to argue in a future post, Paul (or at the very least the author of the Acts of the Apostles) believed and taught that Pagan authors thinking about Zeus can get quite a few things about God right.
Deutsche Version: die Definition des Christentums .
The Definition of Christianity
The definition of what it means to be a Christian can be quite tricky for many persons. Certain conservative definitions such as :
„A Christian is someone believing in the entire Bible“ or
„A Christian is someone going to the holy Mass every Sunday and taking all sacraments“
are extremely reductive and exclude many people who have profound experiences with Jesus while not fulfilling the above definitions.
I will modestly propose a definition allowing us to encompass the whole Christendom:
„A Christian is someone who follows and worships a perfectly good God who revealed his true face through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.“
This is certainly compatible with the two definitions mentioned above but it is not limited to them.
What to think now of the numerous German Protestant pastors who like Jesus a historical person but don’t believe in a personal God and go sometimes as far as denying the existence of any afterlife?
I would consider them as „atheists for Jesus“, they might be extraordinarily good persons and I see no reason why they won’t spend the whole eternity with God and have a very good surprise after having passed away.
But I cannot call them Christians.
Now, I’d love to hear the criticism and comments from people having various perspectives on those topics.