Why Some Christians are Pro-Abortion

While Christians in the United States have a reputation for being pro-life, Christians are, like many groups, divided on the question of abortion. Following the leaked Supreme Court draft decision on Roe v. Wade, my social networks exploded with Christian memes in favor of abortion, like the excerpt of the 2018 Presbyterian USA statement “Religious Freedom without Discrimination.”

"Personally choosing not to have an abortion or use birth control... is religious freedom. Making that choice for someone else, on the basis of one's own religious principles, is religious oppression." From "Religious Freedom without Discrimination," approved by the 223rd General Assembly of Presbyterian Church USA.
Excerpt from the Presbyterian USA “Religious Freedom Without Discrimination” statement.

Christianity has been so thoroughly linked to the pro-life movement that it can be confusing how Christians got from here to there. Christians who support abortion on the grounds of about bodily autonomy, feminism, forgiveness, social safety nets, or science can sound more like liberal talking points than claims about who God is and what God hopes for humanity. However, these beliefs are rooted in a coherent and deeply Christian theology. It’s called incarnational, or embodied, theology.

Christians who defend abortion hold a fundamental assumption about who God is: flesh incarnate. God chose to come to earth in a human body because human bodies are inherently good, and holy, and at times a little bit silly. With the birth of Jesus, God made the stunning claim that the world directly in front of us is as holy as the place where God dwells. To have a body is to be loved by God, even if your body is awkward or doesn’t work very well or comes with a uterus or has chronic illness or is a child. In short: Jesus’ arrival on earth was an affirmation that every body is a beach body.

For pro-abortion Christians, this view of Jesus leads to two other beliefs: (1) sex is not sinful and, in fact, is an inherently holy reminder of human dignity and (2) life and death are blurry categories that are both holy. These views come directly from the Gospels. The first is about Jesus’ birth, and the second is about Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Quote from Benedictive Nun Sister Joan Chittister: "I do not believe that just because you're opposedc to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don't? Because you don't want any tax money to go there. That's not pro-life. That's pro birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is."
This quote from Sister Joan Chittister, first shared by supermodel Gigi Hadid, is one of the popular images shared by Christians in recent weeks.

Through the birth of Jesus, God chose the human body as the means for salvation. God reiterated the Genesis claim that humans were created good, bodies and all. Bodies are good not because some intangible divinity (the soul) temporarily resides there, but because the body is where intangible divinity meets concrete matter. Where stuff meets not-stuff. This means that everything bodies do—get fat, get old, get pregnant, snore, poop, make silly noises, have sex—is good and is sacred. Sex does not need to be controlled or punished, but should be approached as a holy gift from God. Because this theology has low anxiety about sex, these Christians also have minimal desire to control the outcome of sex. Sex can result in a multitude of outcomes, from no pregnancy to miscarriage to full-term birth to termination of pregnancy, and all of these are natural and honor the diversity of what it means to have a holy body. In spite of, or perhaps because, Jesus’ conception did not involve sex in our traditional sense, incarnational theology calls for a more expansive and embodied theology of sex. It is the fact of God-made-flesh that makes the body and all it does holy, not the details of Jesus’ conception. Likewise, this claim about the divinity of the body, created and nurtured inside a woman, counters the reading of Genesis that because woman was made from man’s rib she is inferior to man (and therefore should be controlled by men). Body is a body is a body, and all of it is what God called good.

A quote from Raphael Warnock: "For me, reproductive justice is consistent with my commitment to [ensuring health care as a human right]. I believe unequivocally in a woman's right to choose."
Rev. Raphael Warnock does not share his theology in this brief pro-choice endorsement, but we can read Jesus’ healing ministry as a statement that health and care is a human right, Luke 1:38 as an affirmation of a woman’s right to choose.

At the other end of Jesus’ life, an incarnational reading views the death and resurrection as a redemption that blurs our traditional concept of “death = bad, life = good.” God empowered us not to fear death. Just as Jesus became flesh to walk alongside humanity, God stays near to humanity in death. This counters the “life-at-all-costs” ethic that runs deep in both Christian and American society. Jesus’ death teaches us that it is possible to die well, to die as a result of living in impossible and unjust systems, and to still be connected to God. Jesus’ resurrection, alongside the raising of Lazarus and others, also tells us that the line between life and death is blurry. There is a certain humility required of us in the liminal spaces, whether at the end of the lifespan or the beginning. This is why Christians are hesitant to assume that the fusion of sperm and egg equates to a baby—having a body is anything but clear-cut.  

A consistent incarnational theology results in not just greater openness to abortion but also to end-of-life care, such as being removed from a ventilator when the brain has stopped functioning. These liminal states are not binaries, not “life vs. death” or “good vs. bad”—they simply are part of the incarnational experience. God-made-flesh is a repudiation of binaries.  

Although Christians today are known as pro-life zealots, that is a relatively recent phenomenon (with a fraught history). The Christian theology of abortion is deeply nuanced. Pro-abortion Christians exist because of Christ, not politics.

A black and white photo of two young men and two young women standing on a beach in 1938, looking toward the ocean.
I didn’t fact check, but I’m pretty sure The Message translates Galatians 3:28 as “Every body is a beach body.”

A New Magnificat

And why should I not be smiling,
knowing what I know now
about what comes after all this
when all the evil falls down,
when justice bursts like a sweet flood through the streets
and all the pennies thrown into all wishing wells
rise up like miracles?

Let me tell you the Good News:
There is Good News.
That’s it:
goodness, somewhere, rushing toward us Continue reading

Anabaptists, Abortions, and Moral Ambivalence

Even before Brett Kavanaugh was officially nominated as the new Supreme Court justice nominee, the media buzzed with questions about what might happen to Roe v. Wade. Most legal experts and activists anticipate that the decision that legalized abortion nationwide will be overturned—and the legality of abortion will revert to a state-by-state decision—within a handful of years.

Abortion is an emotional issue, no matter what one believes. The word immediately puts us on the defensive. It’s easy to jump to go-to arguments about why the other side is wrong.

There are two questions Anabaptists need to ask: Who are we in the abortion debate? Who do we want to be in the abortion debate?

However, Anabaptists cannot ask the second question because they are afraid to ask the first question. For years, Anabaptist traditions have quietly avoided public conversation about abortion, sidestepping the pacifist stance that suggests a pro-life ethic and the low church polity and strong tradition of empowering impoverished neighbors that suggests a respect for pro-choice views. Continue reading

When I Say Christian, It Sounds Like B*&^%

This is one thing to be grateful for in the Trump presidency: Donald Trump identifies so crassly and insincerely as Christian that when he speaks no one can pretend it has anything to do with an actual faith in a living God who could assert any sort of authority (moral or otherwise). Even the right-wing evangelicals who support Trump make no pretense of endorsing his lifestyle or faith. Instead, they speak of him as an example of “God using flawed means to accomplish noble ends.”

It’s a small blessing for the progressive Christians who read Jesus as a revolutionary peasant who condemned the extreme wealth disparity of his time and gave away free healthcare and food. Continue reading

Why I Don’t Call God “Father”

God the Father is such a popular term for God that it’s almost redundant—by the time I say “God” from the pulpit, many people are already imagining a sullen, ripped, bearded fellow who may or may not be a father, but whose identity is reinforced when followed by the word father. That’s why, from the beginning of my ministry, I chose not to call God “Father.”

I believe the word is theologically accurate. I believe Jesus identified with God as a father (although he had an unfair advantage at his conception). I’m also cognizant of what the term means to me and that church attendance in North America is at record lows and that something in Christianity is “off” for many people.

Is it a mistake to throw out God the Father? Does nixing Father tempt us to throw out the whole notion of the Trinity’s Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Continue reading

Shawn Mendes, Mercy, and Emotional Labor

I keep a shortlist of words that are used only in church: grace, atonement, sanctification, mercy. My conviction is that they won’t make any sense, theologically, to the average Christian until these words find a place in the day-to-day of our secular lives.

Shawn Mendes’ “Mercy” caught my hopeful attention, his soulful repetition of the word becoming almost prayerful. Which would be great, if Mendes was actually having a conversation with God about the girl in question, a la Beyonce on “Sorry“: “I pray to the Lord you reveal what his truth is.” Beyonce (along with Warsan Shire’s poetry) uses the divine, like a close friend, as a dialogue partner to orient her to her next move in her relationship.

Mendes uses distorted-divine language to deify his love and assign her total power over his body, relinquishing his claim to autonomy and responsibility for his own moral compass. We’ve never seen that one before, have we, Hozier?

In about three listens, I moved from hopeful about “Mercy” to skin-crawlingly creeped out. Of course this song comes from the same imagination who sings, “I know I can treat you better than he can/and any girl like you deserves a gentleman.” I think what I deserve is a little less patronizing tone and a little more trust in my own decision-making capacity. The theological importance of mercy comes from its relationship to power. Mercy can only be bestowed by the powerful. Mercy means receiving a moment of breathing room from someone who has the power to crush you entirely. Mercy means benevolence. Continue reading

Your Body is Mural: A Christian Case for Body Modification

For a single moment, in the waiting room of the tattoo parlor, I thought: “you can un-do this. There’s still time to take it all back.” And then it passed. I lay down. A whooping crane began to emerge somewhere on the back of my calf, still invisible to me at the angle I lay, and I thought: “Paul was wrong. The body isn’t a temple after all. It’s a mural.”

When Christians say bodies are temples, usually it’s a warning. It’s shorthand for all the negatives that will lead to destruction. We’re told it until it becomes a shock collar, and any time we treat our bodies as anything less than a static empty building, we’re filled with fear of our own destruction. When grown ups told us “your body is a temple,” usually what they meant was “your body is a house that’s been on the market for three months.” They mean: Don’t leave crumbs in the kitchen; keep the floors swept; erase the fingerprints and furniture marks; make it look like no one lives here so that when Jesus returns he can have his run of the place because he needs a vacation home.

We mean, “return your body to God the way it arrived to you. Don’t mess it up; don’t spend too much time in the sun; don’t run so fast you fall and get scarred.” When they say, “your body is a temple,” they mean “your body is a library book, don’t get fined when you return it.” But the body is not a temple, not literally; the body is mobile, it’s a vehicle, it puts on the miles. It’s built to carry a load, set it down, pick up another one.It’s not Paul who was wrong, it’s us who misinterpreted him. Continue reading

New Testament Anti-Racism: Bitches and Hood Rats in the Kingdom of God

Everybody’s a little bit racist, or so the song goes. But what about Jesus? The more time I spend with Matthew 15 (and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it), the more clearly it becomes a racially-motivated exchange. It’s one of the problem passages of the New Testament where Jesus comes out looking racist. It’s the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman who needs a miracle. To call her Syro-Phonecian is putting it nicely; Mark puts it nicely in his parallel version (7:24-30).  But Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, a derogatory, outdated term that recalls a long history of racial tension between Jews and Canaanites. Where Mark tries to de-escalate the situation, Matthew reports that sparks were flying and tensions were high.

Jesus was only in Tyre and Sidon–a non-Jewish territory–because he’d gotten into a kerfuffle with the Pharisees and was laying low. Jesus left his rural Jewish homeland to spend a couple weeks hiding out with the Gentiles (read: pagans and hedonists). It’s not that Jesus and the disciples want to be around the Gentiles, it’s more that they don’t want to put their lives at risk by standing too close to an angry Pharisee. Continue reading

Meat and the Maintenance of Masculinity

If you were fussy about my first vegetarian post, steel yourself. We’re getting meatier and feminist-er in this criticism of meat. As I’ve spent more and more time with intersectionality, I’ve learned how meat intersects with concepts of masculinity.  Every other time I say my diet, someone says, “Oh, I could never give up meat. It tastes so good.” It’s almost always man. And he doesn’t mean “it tastes so good.”

“It tastes good” is not a reason. Doughnuts taste good; do you eat those 2-3 times a day? There are so many foods and tastes in the world that are delicious. If I said “I’m vegetarian because vegetables just taste good,”it’s true. I believe there are few thing in the world better than a garden fresh heirloom tomato. But that’s not why I’m vegetarian; it’s just a lifestyle perk.

Meat is about much more than taste– that’s clearer when you realize 59% of vegetarians are women. When you look at vegans, the number jumps to 79%. Our culture uses this split as a double-edged sword. On the one hand, vegetarian/vegan diet is a diet, and diets are for women; on the other, real men eat meat. Continue reading