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.”

Disrupt Your Election Day Fear

So you and everyone else who lives in the United States is experiencing some kind of terrible paralyzing fear-infused parallel universe version of Christmas Eve. There’s an irony that the presidential election—the most divisive one of our lifetimes—is the one experience capable of unifying the country, if only in the feeling of anticipatory outrage. But it’s an irrelevant irony, because our primal brains are already ensconced in their anxiety responses. Here we are with a whole Election Day to get through when our anxious brains skittering us toward dread and fear in a cycle of escalating tension.

This afternoon, I walked my dog with lunging distance of one of those giant purple floppy balloon things used to advertise car dealerships (apparently they’re called air dancers, but we all know they’re actually floppy balloon things), Only as she prepared for a straight vertical jump did I notice her hackles up, and realize I’d mistaken her anger for curiosity. I turned her quickly around, throwing treats to bring down her stress.

Election Day has driven most of us into the human equivalent fear level of encountering a giant floppy balloon thing for the first time. Our bodies’ hackles are up, our monkey brain/lizard brain/what-you-will in a mode of existential threat response.

But the lizard brain is tucked in the cozy gray mass of so much evolving brain. We can’t change the fact that a giant purple (orange?) flapping creature on the street will send us into an fearful anxiety. But we can hold that soft primal fear of our brains, tuck it in, turn it gently away and feed it treats so that we can hold fear alongside our hopes, our love, our kindness.

Be clear with yourself what tomorrow is about. It is not about productivity or powering through the day—it is a kind of national anniversary of some great grief we have been carrying. Whatever else you do, your body will most likely be carrying a layer of grief.

I will spend Election Day working the polls. Back in August, when political divisions only ran as deep as kiddie pools, I’d volunteered to work the polls and it seemed like a satisfying, even noble, decision. But each day since I committed, my enthusiasm has ebbed a little more into dread. I know my temptation will be to sit behind my sneezeguard and worry, worry, worry.

I wish to go to the polls as faithfully as I can. And my faith—rooted in Anabaptist understanding of the nonviolent life and salvation of Jesus Christ—is one that disrupts anger and hate and violence through surprising, playful, invitation. What would invite, surprise, play? A few last-minute stops in Halloween stores and I was prepared to work the polls as a spandex-and-glitter tutued, winged Voting Fairy.

What, never seen a voting fairy before?

My goal as a poll worker is to provide a positive Voting Day experience to everyone who walks into the room. My goal as a Christian is to witness to God’s love everywhere I go. And my goal as a human is to hush the lizard brain with the gentle and persistent witness to the humanity of each human. All of these goals lead to the same answer: Voting Fairy.

Whatever your self-care strategies on Election Day—yoga, meditation, spending time with family, spending time alone, stress baking (eating), disconnecting from social media—all those care strategies are designed to disrupt your overactivated fear drive.

Tomorrow, be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs to see in the world.

Maybe that means taking cookies to a friend’s house, wearing your favorite outfit, wearing your Halloween outfit, cooking something elaborate, ordering in, bringing flowers to the polls, making extra time for your Trump-supporting neighbor, avoiding your Trump-supporting neighbor. It may even mean recognizing that you are too anxious to work the polls and need to stay home under the covers all day. Be the voting fairy your lizard brain needs.

Like the old instructions for airplanes, disrupt your own fear first, then disrupt the fear of the person next to you.

A Prayer during Hearings for Supreme Court Nominees Accused of Sexual Assault

The Sunday after Christine Blasey Ford’s Senate testimony and the public re-traumatizing of all survivors of sexual assault in the U.S., my congregation, like many others, was hurting, confused, struggling, trying, wondering, searching for words. We spent some time in prayer, and this is the prayer I offered (as best I remember it):

 

Please join me in a time of silence for victims and survivors of sexual assault.

 

 

 

 

God we give thanks for the silence-breakers.
God we give thanks for the women who are survivors of sexual assault.
God we give thanks for the men who are survivors of sexual assault.
God we give thanks for the trans and gender-nonconforming people who are survivors, in so many ways.

Make our churches instruments of healing and recovery.
Teach us to lament. To listen to the laments of survivors.

We pray that we will have softer ears,
that we will become better listeners to survivors,
that we will learn to center the stories of survivors
and in doing so to create a more just world.

May we enter the public dialogue
practicing support and advocating for survivors.
May we speak healing and, when we make mistakes,
as we inevitably will in our attempts to learn justice, give us
the courage to learn from them and become better allies and better disciples.

And all God’s people said: I believe women.

Congregation: I believe women.

And all God’s people said: I believe survivors.

Congregation: I believe survivors.

Amen.

An Anabaptist Response to Gun Violence

There is a gap in Mennonite response to mass shootings. After a  shooting, when secular headlines buzz with gory details and harrowing survivals, Mennonite news outlets often continue posting business-as-usual news. Over the past few years, as shootings occur, I’ve begun Googling the location + “Anabaptist” or “Mennonite.” When I did it three days after the Sutherland Springs shooting, the first page of search results all read “Missing: Anabaptist.”

Occasionally, a Mennonite publication will carry a call to prayer or brief opinion that restates a general commitment to pacifism, but most often, we are left with the distinct, lonely feeling that pacifism means existing above the fray, and existing above the fray means pretending the violence didn’t happen.

Google Anabaptist mass shooting

A typical Google search after a mass shooting. (The second hit is a newspaper summarizing local headlines, which included coverage of the shooting on the same page where Anabaptists were given a nod during Reformation Day celebrations.)

Congregations in the same state or region may respond by attending a vigil, but often Anabaptist response is based on proximity and the coverage is a summary of the reactive response. It is not a proactive churchwide movement but a rippling in one corner of the fabric.

Days after the shooting in Las Vegas, Chicagoland Mennonite pastors met for our monthly pastors’ meeting. For months, we’d planned to have a speaker from Mennonite Central Committee facilitate a conversation about gun violence. Most of the pastors admitted we’d never talked with our congregations about gun violence. We didn’t know how. Continue reading

What’s the Difference between a Safety Pin and a Bonnet?

The safety pins came and went quicker than the ice bucket challenge, and were laughed off the internet stage with vitriol usually reserved for, well… Donald Trump. On Sunday morning, I saw several safety pins at church. On Sunday afternoon, my newsfeed was filled with enthusiastic condemnation of the same.

Most of my queer, trans, nonwhite friends have been vocal and insultingly bitter about safety pins. They’ve also been witty and angry. I know their response was too aggressive for the mainstream moderate (at times, abrasive to me), but I can’t help but admire them. They’re my friends, after all, I feel where their pain comes from. I admire their focused anger, all their anger, how can I fault anyone for their anger at the triumph of sociopathy, racism, et. al, you know the list by now? Let us have our anger, in social networks and in the streets, in safe and democratic and uncomfortable ways. Perhaps the source of their anger, in part, is years of being told to “be less angry” by the same people who voted for Trump. Continue reading

What the Church can Learn from Bernie Sanders

This article first appeared in Mennonite World Review.

Two months ago at Sent, the Anabaptist church-planting conference, I spoke with some young church plant­ers about what brings millennials to church. “May­be we should be more like Bernie Sanders,” I joked.

“Why not?” one planter responded. “If the church offered free education, millennials would be all over that.”As the Sanders campaign meanders onward, many speculate how the 74-year-old attracted such a rabid millennial following. But the church should ask another question: Has Sanders said something to our young people that the church has failed to say?

As I scroll through my Facebook feed, as I listen to a Goshen College alum explain his tithing to Sanders’ campaign, as I talk with a recent Wheaton College graduate celebrating Sanders’ win in Indiana — the answer is a resounding yes. Continue reading

An Anabaptist Survival Guide to the 2016 Elections

(This post is an excerpt from a sermon I preached on March 13. The traditional Anabaptist view is that Christians should not vote and thereby support a fallen system, but I–and many other contemporary Anabaptists–am of the school that voting is an extension of our creative nonviolence. This post is designed to speak to both those who vote and those who are conscientious objectors to voting. All of us must survive the election season.)

The 2016 election is brutal. Not just because it started in 2015. The whole narrative of the election hinges on an existential proposition–that we’re not voting for a person, we’re voting on the very nature of our lifestyles. It’s a terrifying proposition to put to a democracy, but it’s probably not too far off base.

So how do we deal with fourteen months of news reels asking us if the world as we know it is about to end? I tried to design a few practices for my own congregation.

DO Less. Be more. Ask yourself, “Am I seeking the things that love me back? What matters? Where matters?” Seek the places and people who matter.

DO Rest. You by yourself won’t change the election; you will not with a Five Hour Energy or a longer Facebook comment sway the outcome of the state. Be kind to yourself. Rest. Do the things that strengthen you. Live outside of the news cycle. Continue reading