Pastor’s Bookshelf: A Dicey Social Issue

Abortion has obviously been a major news item for the past week or two with various new laws in other states. I wrestled with writing on the matter this week, simply because with “hot button” social issues, there is just a lot of noise out there. Additionally, our culture exhibits little to no understanding or compassion on morally complex issues (we sure do love to judge other people, don’t we?). But here are a few thoughts on this emotional issue from the standpoint of United Methodism…

I would say our denomination has a rather moderate approach to abortion. We affirm both the sanctity of unborn life and uphold the sanctity and wellbeing of a pregnant mother. We strongly advocate for options such as adoption. But regardless the “outcome” of a pregnancy, however, pastors are explicitly encouraged to counsel and spread the healing and forgiveness of Christ. You can read more on the UMC’s official stance by clicking here. There are quite a few insightful articles to explore.

Unfortunately, many Christian denominations go to one extreme or another when it comes to abortion. Some see it as no issue whatsoever. Others even speak of abortion as an unforgivable sin, casting judgment upon women. I truly appreciate Methodism’s view just because I think it focuses on Jesus’ healing rather than human condemnation. Jesus rarely fits into neat political categories!

What always saddens me about the pro-life/choice debate is that broadly speaking, our culture doesn’t consider what the church can do. We tend to obsess over laws and legislatures. We pull the lever at the ballot box, and simply feel like we’ve done our duty. What about countless other ways to uphold the sanctity of all life–for instance, funding adoptions, supporting the foster care system, expanding healthcare, and advocating for policies like family leave and a livable wage? If you ask me, terms like “pro-life” can be incredibly misleading.

In his book Myth of a Christian Nation, pastor Greg Boyd offers a revolutionary way to think about abortion. While not a Methodist, Boyd outlines a wonderful alternative to bitter partisan politics. He tells the story of Becky, a young unwed pregnant woman, and how she was rejected by her strict Christian parents. Because of social isolation, Becky resolved to have an abortion. The story continues as follows:

Becky confided in a friend of the family, whom I’ll call Dorothy, a middle-aged, divorced woman who over the years developed a special relationship with Becky. When Becky told Dorothy of her plan, Dorothy didn’t give her a moralistic speech or perform a moral interrogation. She offered to help. If Becky chose to have an abortion, Dorothy offered to help her in the postabortion recovery. But, believing that it was in everyone’s best interest to refrain from a violent solution and to rather go full term with this child, Dorothy lovingly encouraged Becky to think seriously about her planned course of action. Even more importantly, she offered to do whatever it took to make going full term feasible.

If Becky’s parents kicked her out of the house (which they actually did), Dorothy offered her basement as a place to stay. It wasn’t much, but it was something. Whatever financial and emotional support Becky needed throughout her pregnancy, Dorothy would provide as best as she was able. She ended up taking out a second mortgage on her house. If Becky wanted to give up the baby for adoption, Dorothy would help her with this. If Becky wanted to keep the child (which she ended up doing), Dorothy would help her with this as well. She became the godmother. And on top of this, Dorothy promised to work with Becky to help make it financially possible to pursue her dream of becoming a veterinarian. As a result, Becky went through with the pregnancy, moved in with Dorothy, and pursued her dream part-time, while both she and Dorothy raised their adorable daughter…

The price Dorothy paid is much greater than a price of a vote, carrying a picket sign, or signing a petition. But this is why Dorothy’s way of being pro-life is a distinctly kingdom way of being pro-life. It has nothing to do with her opinions about which limited, ambiguous, kingdom-of-the-world option is right, and had everything to do with replicating Jesus’ Calvary-quality love for others. It may be worth noting that, for a variety of complex reasons, Dorothy tended to vote pro-choice. Yet I would suggest that Dorothy was way more pro-life than many who profess to be pro-life on the grounds that they vote a certain way.

I believe Becky opted to have her child because she encountered someone who loved as Jesus loved. Too often people facing abortion are made to feel like they are committing an unforgivable sin. They often feel unwelcomed in church. And we somehow expect them to be “pro-life” while socially rejecting and judging them at the time when they need aid the most! We worship voting as an idol, neglecting alternative courses of action.

I think the church is fully equipped to “solve” the issue of abortion, with a lot more creative options instead of just voting for (or against) a state law. That might sound controversial, but I truly believe it. All we have to do is offer the unconditional love of Christ. That comes by welcoming people in and preaching God’s good news through our actions. It comes by offering financial assistance to women in crisis. It comes through welcoming all children into Christian fellowship in a congregation. It can even come through offering grace and healing to a woman who has terminated a pregnancy. It might even mean making a significant sacrifice to adopt a child or pay the medical bills of an expectant mother.

Our task as the church is to spread God’s love, not delegate out our work to a politician or state legislature. The “Dorothy’s” in our world are tragically rare. But Jesus calls us to follow that example of radical, unconditional love. Laws rarely change human hearts. Only the love of Christ can.

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