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The Overturn of the Century: A Pastoral Reflection at the Risk of Oversimplifying

Dear Church Family,

This week, the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, rejecting the idea that abortion is a constitutional right. This ruling leaves it to the states to decide how best to proceed. Here, I want to provide an overview of how our church has explored this in past conversations and provide clarity on where we land.

The practice of abortion, in various forms, has been around almost as far back as we can tell in recorded history across cultures and societies. The church has historically and uniquely upheld the belief that an unborn child is worthy of life, dignity, and love. More locally, in the U.S, abortion was not a top priority (even among evangelicals) up until the 1970s, even though it was practiced in the surrounding society. To be sure, there were Christians from both parties at the time who viewed it negatively, but it was not the focal issue it is now. In 1973, Roe v Wade changed things. Since then, there have been sixty-three-million abortions recorded, and numerous efforts have emerged to overturn it and draw attention to the cause. At times, both the Left and Right have resorted to violence, coercion, and dishonesty to further their particular agenda. Further, there have been endless debates about how abortion relates to situations of rape, incest, and the endangerment of the mother's life. Some states aim to leave room for the various nuances, while others hold a tight line with little nuance. Likely, we have not heard the last of the issue, and we will continue to try and represent Christ and his Kingdom well in our tumultuous cultural climate.

For clarity, our church believes it is in line with Christian theology and fundamental human rights to advocate for the life of the unborn. Any opportunity to save a life demonstrates that we worship the God of creation and life. It is also in line with Christian theology to advocate for the well-being of the mothers (and fathers) who face or have gone through such situations. To be genuinely pro-life is to hold a whole-life ethic for the mother and the unborn child.

I do think we need to be aware that, in many cases, mere convenience is not the only reason for abortion. Boyfriends, spouses, or parents often force abortion upon the expecting mother; in many cases, it is, in fact, not their choice. In other instances, the decision to abort can happen because of rape, abandonment, endangerment of the mother's life, lack of resources, etc. In the depths of darkness, horrific events, and fear of the unknown, it can be nearly impossible to imagine the promise and beauty of life. We see this sort of despair in other physically and emotionally traumatic situations, so it should not be a leap to ask for understanding, empathy, and awareness of how people arrive at such positions in the face of overwhelming hardship.

I have been in pastoral ministry for roughly twelve years in various roles, and much of my education has focused on the intersection of theology and culture. In both domains, this issue has been front-and-center most of the time. During this time, I have sat with those (Christians or otherwise) who faced the decision to abort; some followed through, and others did not. I have sat with rape victims who chose to carry the child while others (usually family) encouraged abortion (I can think of two who kept the child and one who gave their child to an adoptive family). I have sat with those who had to have emergency procedures due to an ectopic pregnancy in which a child was lost (which shouldn't be classified the same as abortion); it wasn't their choice, it was a unexpected and unwanted tragedy. I have sat with rape victims who chose not to carry the child. I have sat with those who, in their isolation, trauma, heartbreak, poverty, and saw no other choice. Sadly, two related common threads surface: 1) there is a lack of a true and safe community for processing the decision and 2) lingering emotional hardship and regret if the decision to abort was made, regardless of the reason for the abortion (fifty to sixty percent experience emotional distress, and in thirty percent the distress is severe).

Unfortunately, research indicates that very few women (about seven percent) believe that the church is a safe place to process such decisions and circumstances. Additionally, only thirty percent believe that the church gives reliable information about abortion. Forty percent of women who get abortions identify as churchgoers. Often, people in the church shame women for having sex before marriage, so in the face of an unexpected pregnancy, some silently abort the child. Then, when it comes out, the same people shame them for the abortion (while guys are often left off the hook). I've seen this play out repeatedly, even as many deny it happens. Young ladies are often put in no-win situations by the very people God calls to live by the grace that saved them in Christ. In this way, I think we can do better. A question the church must face is how we ought to care for those who contemplate or have experienced the traumatic event.

I am convinced that one’s lack of compassion is often rooted in a lack of proximity to those who have either gone through or faced such situations. On this issue, I used to be passionate without knowing a single person who went through such an event, and I still struggle with the non-compassionate mindset in other ways as well. Since then, I have come to know several impacted by abortion. My position hasn't changed, but my approach has undergone some necessary shifts. As I have met with friends and church family about this topic it remains true - relational distance doesn't help. A Christian thinker has said, "You say you care about the poor…what are their names?" The same is valid here. We say we care about the mothers and the unborn but are we interested and active in knowing their names, their stories and being a helpful presence? Christian responsibility goes beyond the voting booth and court system, as helpful and necessary as they may be. Knowing people in these challenging moments requires our presence, compassion, help, forgiveness, and love.

For loving our neighbors as a church family, here are a few essential things to know and practice.

First, we should celebrate life, from womb to tomb. In my estimation, saving life reflects God’s creative and redemptive love. Life is worthy of being saved, as demonstrated by the Cross and Resurrection. The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus indicate that God can do some of his most bright and brilliant work in some of the darkest places. We demonstrate a whole-life ethic by caring for the unborn, the parents, and babies after birth in whatever way is needed. This relational work should be "business as usual" for the church, regardless of where the issue goes in the U.S.

Second, we should be compassionate and aware. There are women and men in our church who this issue has touched in deeply personal ways. It is good to be mindful of this as we talk with one another, being slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to get angry. Though there is a time for activism, there is also a time to put down the picket sign, pull up a chair, and listen close. Additionally, we have people in our church who are unsure where they land on topics like this. The best we can do is create space for conversations and questions while being graciously clear about our church's perspective. Being kind and lending an ear is an excellent place to start.

Third, we should be active and attentive to this issue in our community. Debates rage about legislation and healthcare access. Personally, I think both are necessary and have their place in addressing the issue. Several states have found that addressing healthcare correlates to decreasing abortion. To be clear, I am no expert and I have my own opinions, but I would encourage you to examine Montana's healthcare access, maternity leave policies in the workplaces, child support requirements for the absentee father, etc. and write to our representatives. While we are at it, let’s find ways to improve the foster care system and adoption agencies, which struggle in Montana. Additionally, give time and resources to pregnancy resources centers. They are at the front of this issue, and many women have been cared for in these places.

Lastly, grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus. This might seem random, but it is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately, we will see anger and unhelpful rhetoric continue around this issue. My encouragement is to not join in the hysteria but rather find practical ways to be a helpful presence. I pray that we can cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in a withering cultural moment.

Again, this letter is not about arguments favoring a pro-life position. Instead, it is a perspective piece for our church family. We celebrate and support life and demonstrate it by caring well for our neighbors in practical and relational ways --in the likeness of Jesus, the True Neighbor who gave his life for ours. If you are interested in exploring the issue's history, knowing the sources/stats, looking at case studies, various court cases, theological-philosophical approaches, etc., let me know, and I will send you some resources.

Much love to you all, and may we grow in embodying the grace and truth of Jesus towards our neighbors.


Cody Whittington

Pastor | The Table


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