Lacking Basis, Christians Fight Abortion

This originally appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 20, 2006.

Those who seek to outlaw abortion often use the rhetoric of “protecting the most vulnerable and helpless” in our communities. Many of them are Christians who see their opposition to abortion rights as inextricably linked with their faith and their understanding of Christian ethics. After all, wouldn’t a God of love and life want us to protect life wherever we found it?

If only it were that simple. In practice, there are other questions we must ask. Does a God of love and life ever support war? Does such a God understand that some innocent civilians will die when we fight to protect our freedoms? In other words, does God approve when we make the decision to kill other people to protect our quality of life? What about when we kill to prevent genocide? Does God have a holy balancing scale that weighs intangibles like “intent” and “the greater good,” or one that compares the number of innocent lives lost against the number of innocent lives saved?

We do not know. For every Christian with a “God Bless Our Troops” sticker on their bumper there is another with “Who Would Jesus Bomb?” on their rear windshield.

If my experience as a pastor is any indication, it is unlikely that the driver of either car would be making their point from the kind of complex theological arguments I learned in seminary. In practice, our upbringings and our biases and our circumstances have much more to do with what we believe God thinks; and we are often inconsistent. How else could we re-interpret Jesus’ teachings, which were widely regarded as purely pacifistic in the Early Church, as an argument for violence in some cases and an argument against it in others? How else could we spend millions of dollars to oppose abortion – despite no clear biblical argument for or against it – and ignore the overwhelming number of biblical texts that explicitly command us to care for the poor.

For the vast majority of Christians, it is not about consistency – it is about convenience. Even those of us who speak passionately about protecting the weak often forget that our willingness to purchase cheap goods produced by exploited workers sentences children to poverty, disease, violence and death. The cars that we drive, the food that we allow to be marketed to children, the tax breaks we support or oppose, they all have a life-or-death impact on the most vulnerable among us. It is not only in war that we make decisions to value one life over another. Consciously or not, we do it every time we go to the supermarket.

The issue of abortion is not about whether life starts at conception. There are convincing arguments either way. The issue is which carries more weight: the life that may be in the embryo or the life and needs of the woman in whose body that embryo was conceived?

After spending time in women’s health clinics, I have come to realize that the “most vulnerable and helpless” who need our active protection are the women and couples who are faced with the agonizingly difficult decision to terminate a pregnancy. As a Christian pastor, I strongly support protecting the right of women to make this decision. Other Christian pastors have chosen otherwise, and our division on this issue is proof that there is no Christian consensus here.

The far-right, however, has been able to set the issue of abortion apart from all of the other controversial, life-or-death decisions we make every day. Abortion is not a special case; and I pray that the guardians of our Constitution will continue to protect our freedom to choose our own priorities in all of these weighty matters. The beliefs or prejudices of some, regardless of who has a majority, should not be used to take the choice out of the hands of the woman who will be the main bearer, perhaps the only bearer, of the consequences of her decision.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

Regarding Mercer and the GBC

This originally appeared in the Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2005.

As a Mercer alumnus and a pastor, I am tremendously relieved by the decision of the Georgia Baptist Convention to sever ties with Mercer University. As the GBC has continued its descent into the far-right margins of evangelical Christianity, Mercer has continued to move forward in building a well-respected regional university. The two directions are obviously inimical, and neither institution was well-served by association with the other.

My primary concern has been with the credibility of the seminary. As an inaugural graduate of Mercer’s McAfee School of Theology, I have winced every time the GBC has made another reactionary or ill-informed statement on society, on the roles of women or on homosexuality. The anti-intellectual, misogynistic and homophobic rhetoric that regularly pours out of the GBC and its member churches has the potential to greatly impair the credibility of a McAfee education in the larger Christian world. It is hard enough to teach people that not all Baptists oppose gay marriage, the ordination of women, or the teaching of evolution. Having to explain that a Mercer education is not the same thing as a Georgia Baptist or Southern Baptist indoctrination is even more tedious.

I am confident that the gospel is so powerful that it will survive the adulterations imposed on it by fundamentalism and the current leadership of the Georgia Baptist Convention; and I am confident that the gospel can also change lives despite whatever impediments mainstream Christianity presents it. Nevertheless, the GBC has moved so far into the absurd extremes of cultural conservativism that any association with it compromises the ability of mainstream Christians to do the work of the gospel with authority and authenticity.

Thank you for allowing us to go our separate ways.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn

In God We Trust

My reflections a few days after September 11, 2001

Last week was an odd time to be a clergyperson.  On September 11, as a nation, we were dealt a devastating blow to our sense of safety and security.  In response, we came together as a nation. Likewise, at our President’s call, we turned our eyes as one nation to God.

In a country as diverse as ours, turning to God meant many different things.  In different places, we called out to Adonai, Jesus, Allah, Brahma, Tao, or a faceless “Creator.” In myriad ways, when everything fell apart we collectively looked for safety in something that transcended the material world.

This poses no small problem for those of us tasked to speak for any of the aforementioned deities.  We want our respective gods to be perceived as powerful, otherwise why bother to worship them?  We also want them to be thought of as compassionate, otherwise people will think that they are wasting their time.  Finally, we want them to be represented as competent and involved, otherwise people are not going to take them very seriously.

You see the difficulty.  To paraphrase Karl Barth, we stood before our faith communities and in one hand we held the scriptures of our strong, kind, all-knowing deities.  In the other we held a newspaper describing the horrifying deaths of thousands of innocents through the cowardly acts of religious fanatics.  It was an experience not unlike juggling a growling dog and a hissing cat.  You’ve got to keep them both in the air, but you’re afraid that if they ever come together the show will be over.

A few of us chose to cry, “It’s the End of the World!”  This works especially well for Christians, since all bets are off at the Apocalypse – and pointing to the Second Coming is one way to keep us from thinking about the real issue of why God would let so many innocents suffer.  Unfortunately, the Chicken Little approach falls apart as soon as someone points out that the horror in New York is no more likely to mean the end of history than the horrors in Rwanda or Hiroshima.

Some of us took another easy way out.  Certain “religious” leaders said they believed that the shattered lives and mutilated bodies were all part of God’s plan, and were a consequence of America not following the specific political agenda that these leaders have tried to cram down our throats.

Such rhetoric, although likely to help their particular fringe causes, is patently absurd.  Any victim of a crime, particularly a violent one, knows that the crime is not the victim’s fault (and is not endorsed by a loving God).  Whether the crime is rape, setting fire to an African-American church, or the World Trade Center bombing – we must all admit that our respective gods allow bad things to happen to good people, sometimes even on a grand scale and regardless of the politics of those involved.

That leaves the rest of us: rabbis, priests, ministers, imams, monks, and many others who want to help.  We’ve driven by your stores which have “Pray” and “God Bless America” written on their marquees; but we’ve also seen the doubt in your eyes as your faith was challenged by this catastrophe.  It’s easy for us to recognize, because we see it in the mirror as well.

If we are honest, though, we do not have a really satisfying answer.  That is the real irony of an event like this.  It can cause an entire nation to turn to matters of faith; only to expose faith’s greatest weakness: there is no god you can believe in who is guaranteed to protect you from misery, grief, loss, pain, or physical death.

As your religious leaders, we know this – yet we still believe.  We believe because we know the histories of our faiths.  Every major religion in the world has faced the cowardly reprisals of lunatics and zealots.  Over time we have learned that fanatics die and are forgotten.  Faith, truth, and love, on the other hand, last forever.

If you come into our houses of worship, and we hope you will, we cannot offer you the miracle of an easy answer.  Be wary of those who claim they can.  What we can do is offer a visible reminder that when all is said and done, it is the twin miracles of love and the love of God that endure.

Share This:Print this pageEmail this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on RedditPin on PinterestShare on TumblrShare on Google+Share on LinkedIn