For 25 years our family held membership in a conservative branch of the Lutheran Church. My wife was raised in a family that had been longtime members of that denomination, so we continued our membership in a church of that background near our hometown.
We got married and the baptized our children at that church. The pastor was a wise, theologically astute man who once delivered a sermon titled “Jesus: The ultimate liberal, do-gooder and bleeding heart.” We loved that man for his spirited advocacy for the true heart of scripture. The congregation built around his ministry was full of compassionate people with concern for others and a truly generous worldview. We are still friends and socialize with many of those families, but we left the church more than a year ago to attend a church that better fits our mainstream evangelical Lutheran theology.
Back when the beloved pastor who married us retired to become pastor emeritus, the church went through a series of fitful adjustments to the interim leadership brought in by the synod. The result was that the ideology and theology delivered from the pulpit became increasingly conservative and rigid. Through it all my wife and I kept asking ourselves, and others, does it have to be like this? But we hung in there. For years. And years. Because we loved the people who attended the church. Served on the Board. Sang in the choir. Confirmed our two bright kids and set them off in life.
We had 6 different pastors during that period. The one who finally settled in for a series of years is a good man who ministers to everyone in the best way he can. But he is most definitely a died-in-the-wool product of the very conservative synod where he attended seminary.
- This synod does not accrue leadership rights to women in the church. Women cannot serve communion or be elders.
- The synod passes down opinions on social subjects such as evolution (they believe it’s false) homosexuality (a sin, no questions asked) and abortion.
Recently I was asked to return to our former church to help lead the Praise Service as two of the lay-leaders were out of town. I gladly accepted and rehearsed with the singers and band, and everything came off well. Someone even complimented my singing, which really surprised me. I know my limitations.
It was also Sanctity of Life Sunday, and I knew what that meant: A predictably intense lecture on the immoral consequences of abortion.
The service began with a video provided by Tony Perkins, here shown in a linked video challenging President Barack Obama on conception issues. Perkins is the same fellow who says that environmentalism can be directly linked to abortion as a conspiratorial attempt to control human population He views all these activities as signs that the Second Coming is imminent, and that worrying about the earth is frivolous compared to worrying about your soul. Perkins is a modern day zealot with a lot of axes to grind. His pre-service video was a testament to modern production values and a black-and-white position on abortion that Pro-Lifers love to embrace.
Following the video, the sermon called for church members to vote for politicians who support so-called “Pro-Life” issues and candidates. The service clearly skirted laws governing churches and politics. Basically the entire service from end to end was one long political ad.
The pastor concluded his sermon saying that he recognizes there are other issues of importance challenging America, including a $16 Trillion debt, a struggling economy and other issues. But he stood firm with his statement that abortion remains the most important of all political issues because it is a “matter of life and death.” And that, in a nutshell, is how so many conservatives become one-issue voters.
Pushing women aside to get to their wombs
The so-called Pro-Life argument seems to see no problem shoving women aside to accomplish one goal, and that is to ban abortions of all types.
The official Republican Platform is essentially unforgiving toward any form of abortion, even in pregnancies caused by rape or incest. Pro-Life advocates like Todd Akin have gone on record making absurd defenses of conceptions caused by rape and other unwanted pregnancies, insisting that women have natural defenses against pregnancies resulting from rape. No medical science has ever determined such capabilities. Yet the determined zealots of the anti-abortion lobby seem to feel no compunction in making up such miraculous tales to justify their ideology.
And as a result, the entire manner in which conservatives continue to pursue banning abortion turns out to be a miscarriage of faith, politics and common sense. Here’s why.
The reason why abortions must be and are now legal
The reason why abortions are legal is to provide safe access to medically-performed abortions to all women who may need that service. The right to determine the need for an abortion remains the province of a woman and her doctor. Anyone who believes in the limits of the power of government should agree that personal medical decisions of all kinds should be made by the individual, and the individual alone. Injecting various forms of moral codes, especially from the various religions in America, does not promise any sort of clear resolution. To choose one religion’s moral code over another is a clear case of establishment of state religion, which is clearly banned by the United States Constitution. It is remarkable therefore that the Republican party that claims to represent the rights of liberty for individual decision-making should choose to swing so far to the left on the abortion issue.
Relative to the law, however, the Pro-Life movement claims that millions of women are getting “abortions of convenience,” thereby flaunting the purpose a law designed to protect women from unsafe and medically unsupervised abortions, a practice that prior to the Roe vs. Wade case put many a woman’s health at risk.
But we certainly cannot count on the fact that banning abortion will prevent women from seeking them. That’s why the government acted to legalize abortions, to prevent harm to women.
Pro-Life proponents make the specious and notably non-conservative claim that government is actually responsible for the number of abortions now taking place in America. Conservatives love to claim on one hand that government is an ineffective method of managing culture and society, yet at the same time they blame government for its effectiveness in encouraging women to have abortions of choice.
Which is it? Is our government really responsible for the number of abortions in America, or has someone else abdicated their moral duties and turned around to blame government for their own failures?
Let us consider an idea. How are Pro-Life conservatives doing at the job of convincing women not to get abortions? Pretty miserable, it seems. An estimated 22 million women now choose to get abortions each year. If the Pro-Life message is truly compelling and favored by God, it is evident that those who claim to represent the urgency of that message have to do a better job of reaching women.
Is Planned Parenthood more Pro-Life than the Catholic Church?
As it turns out, the people who are helping women avoid unwanted pregnancies include organizations such as Planned Parenthood, who work closely with women across America to protect and manage their reproductive health. Planned Parenthood provides important services like birth control so that women are not put in a position of conceiving children they are not ready to have. That is a common sense approach to preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Yet this practical solution to cut down the number of abortions in America is notably resisted by conservative politicians and organizations such as the Catholic Church, who claim that birth control itself is immoral and against the teachings of the Bible.
It is telling that a reported 97% of Catholic women ignore the directives of their own church. So it appears the so-called moral authority of the Catholic church is a patristic anachronism to which women members really don’t pay attention.
And they shouldn’t. With the ready availability of functional, effective birth control that can easily prevent unwanted pregnancies, there is absolutely no moral justification for telling men and women they can’t use it. The even more disgusting alliance with conservative Republicans who have demonized women for wanting access to birth control is evidence of mysogyny, a literal hatred and fear of women and their bodies that is being legislated into the laws of America by people who ostensibly should know better.
What Would Jesus Do tell us to do about abortion?
The Christ of the Bible never relied on governmental authorities to do the work of his ministry and of God. He would find the prospect of blaming the government for the number of abortions in America an absurd idea.
Jesus called on his followers to use love and their own keen energies and talents to reach people in need of help and salvation. If today’s so-called conservatives came to Jesus with their complaints about law and the actions of government with relation to abortion, he would chastise them for failing to see the real source of the problem.
One can almost hear Jesus asking these modern-day Pharisees: “Is the government your God?”
“No!” the conservative politicians and religious believers would cry. “We answer only to God above!”
“Then serve your God, and go to the people in need. Reach the women of the world before they face the hard choices they are making. That is what God wants you to do.”
“But what of the law?” conservatives might answer. “If we have the law on our side, our job will be much easier!”
“What of the law, indeed?” Jesus would ask. “Are you not trying to use the law to make up for your own failures? Is that what God would have you do? Blaming government for your own failures is no path to heaven. Changing hearts rather than changing laws is your true calling.”