By Dave Andrusko
Editor’s note. Written for the May 2003, edition of National Right to Life News, this editorial is part of our “Roe at 40” series that reprints some of the best work from NRL News going back to 1973. I hope you share this using your social networks.
That pro-abortionists fly under false colors is hardly news. That they have corrupted many institutions is not a state secret. But the extent to which they misuse and misrepresent the prestige afforded by their various associations is a much under-reported story.
A small book, “Holy Abortion?: A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice” does an exquisite job of explicating the “yawning gap” (as one reviewer put it) that exists between the abortion position espoused by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) and various mainstream religious denominations who list themselves as supporters of RCRC.
Like NARAL, RCRC has gone through a name change. Founded in 1973, it was then known as the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights.
But whatever the name, what gives RCRC its influence (as authors Professor Michael J. Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks write) is that “Nearly 40 national organizations from Christian and Jewish denominations, movements, and faith-based groups, as well as Unitarian, humanist and ethical associations, now make up its membership.”
Among that group the real muscle is provided by four mainline Protestant denominations – – the Episcopal Church (USA), the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.
For those of us who belong to one of these denominations, it is a constant source of irritation and spiritual exasperation that they are yoked to an organization for which there is no such thing as an unacceptable abortion. At the least a trial separation is in order, in anticipation of a final parting of the ways.
“Holy Abortion?” is a project of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, an organization of pro-life leaders from a number of religious denominations determined to strengthen the pro-life witness with these denominations. That can mean anything from shoring up an already firm foundation to essentially building one from scratch.
It is the goal of this brief and readable book to show that none of these mainline denominations, theologically speaking, has any business being in the same room as RCRC. Prof. Gorman and Ms. Brooks are to be congratulated for doing the kind of patient research that allowed them to produce a scathing indictment both of RCRC and of those denominations which have lent their name to the work of an organization for whom “Choice” (capital C) is god.
This careful analysis allows Gorman and Brooks to spell out the assumptions that undergird RCRC’s wide-open advocacy of abortion and contrast them with the official abortion positions of a number of its member churches. They capture the essence of the RCRC position – – “Abortion is holy because God is pro-choice” – – and contrast it with the basic mainline position – – “Abortion is tragic because God is the giver of life.”
They document this conclusion by examining six themes in RCRC’s literature and holding them up against official statements on abortion of denominations that have official ties with RCRC – – which describes itself as “the interfaith movement for choice.” The reader quickly sees that whereas the religious denominations’ wording is the model of nuanced, carefully limited support for abortion, RCRC celebrates abortion as literally “holy.”
(Neither the authors, myself, nor the readers of this editorial would settle for “limited” support for abortion. Nor are they so naive as to believe that the carefully limited acceptance of abortion found in official documents is how their individual pastors or national bodies always act in real life. But the point is that these denominations, at a minimum, ought to sever ties with RCRC as part of the ongoing process of reexamining their positions on abortion.)
RCRC’s basic thrust is that the decision whether to abort is “between a woman and her God.” As the wording suggests, this is an open invitation to find the “god within,” a deity who offers “unquestioned sustenance and support in a woman’s pursuit of the best choice for her, according to her.”
Women and young girls are viewed as absolutely autonomous moral agents whose abortion decisions are (and ought to be) unilaterally made and utterly unreviewable by others. There is also no room for the input of friends, community, church, professionals, or anyone else. But, then again, there is no need, for each of us has within us a “Greater Truth, Higher Power, Inner Light,” etc., etc. whom we can tap into for advice/ratification.
One pamphlet puts it this way: “You are to claim your godlike, God-given role in creation by saying yes or no, secure in the knowledge that whatever you decide, after having honestly sought what is right, God will bless.” As is obvious, this deity is remarkably undemanding.
This unabashed, unrestrained, and unlimited promotion of abortion finds many distasteful expressions. One is to hold “religious convocations” outside abortion clinics to express “gratitude” for the “work” done inside. What kind of work? “Holy work, service provided by God’s people on behalf of God’s people.”
Vigorously spreading and promoting abortion (a kind of evangelism of death) becomes, as the authors observe, RCRC’s equivalent of the Great Commission.
After first comparing this spiritually maimed view of abortion to official church statements of affiliated denominations such as the United Methodist Church, Gorman and Brooks then offer what is described by the publisher as “a more thoroughly Christian perspective on abortion that encourages the churches to incorporate historic and contemporary ecumenical voices that RCRC disregards or dismisses.” The differences are striking.
To take just two examples, no mainline denomination would tolerate such blasphemies as a description of abortion as “a holy activity” or “a work of God” in its official documents. And whereas RCRC can’t wait to spread abortion to “underserved populations” (especially youth), mainline churches are “profoundly disturbed at the way abortion has become a form of birth control and symptomatic of a widespread casual attitude” about human life.
In this last section Gorman and Brooks examine abortion in the context of what we might call the megathemes of the Christian faith. Some analogies and comparisons work better than others, but the thrust is to show that a theology and an ethic that has no room for the powerless is dramatically at odds with what the Christian Church has historically espoused.
In this context it’s worth recalling that Prof. Gorman’s book, “Abortion and the Early Church,” demonstrated that the Jewish faith out of which Christianity grew was staunchly anti-abortion. The early Christian Church was even more pro-life. Quoting Gerald Bonner, Gorman and Brooks note that the prohibition of abortion was “the universal teaching of the early Church.”
Going further, how does the idea that a woman “owns” her body square with the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Corinthians in which he wrote, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price, therefore glorify God in your body.” Not very well.
Another huge incompatibility is the militant insistence that freedom is individual. As Gorman and Brooks explain, for the biblical writers, “[F]reedom is not a private experience but a communal reality. It is known, not in the pursuit of self-interest, but in a life of self-giving for the good of others” (emphasis in the original).
The “supreme value for Christians is not choice,” Gorman and Brooks conclude, “but covenantal faithfulness to God.” In short, “We are not our own.”
“Holy Abortion?” is an excellent resource, one that can and should be shared, with Christians who take their faith seriously in particular. The book will remind them that the Christian Church must be “a community that does not allow itself to choose between women and children.”
And because there is such a radical disjuncture between RCRC and the entire ethos of the historic Christian Church, it follows that “it is time for this relationship to end, and for Christian lay people, clergy, churches, and denominations to pursue a more appropriate and truly Christian response to the problem of abortion.”