Last week, faith leaders from across various faiths and Christian denominations, including myself, met at the Whitehouse at the invitation of White House Office of Public Engagement and the White House Gender Policy Council to have a roundtable discussion of reproductive rights. Other invited guests included General Minister of the United Church of Christ, John Dorhauer, and the heads of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Methodist Church , Presbyterian Church USA, Reconstructing Judaism, The Rabbinical Assembly, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, and Central Conference of American Rabbis. I represented The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries (TFAM). The conversation was enlightening as we spoke on matters of reproductive rights within our faith organizations.
In our nation, the ongoing conversations on reproductive rights and justice has only deepened in the past few weeks as we consider Roe V. Wade, bodily autonomy, and privacy and the impact on the lives of Americans and the international community. Justice Alito’s leaked Supreme Court draft opinion has set our nation in a tailspin. The dominant narrative around abortion and faith has had a predominantly conservative bent and many people of faith have found their voices quieted or ignored. However, this conversation about bodily autonomy and privacy, as it relates to abortion, does not belong to any one community or any one faith understanding in these United States. The topic of abortion has been divisive and have been kicked back and forth by opposing groups. However, an abortion is a very personal matter. Although we live and practice our faith in community, the circumstances surrounding each pregnancy is different for each person involved in a pregnancy. Whether that pregnancy comes about through a choice between partners, a choice of only one person, sexual violence, incest or a mistake, pregnancies are personal. Similarly, faith decisions about one’s body are also personal and within each person’s faith context, belief within that faith and one’s life circumstances. Having one faith voice on the topic of bodily autonomy or abortion dominate the conversation and then enacted as law leave many voices out of the conversation and thus, violate their religious freedom. The first amendment provides each American the right to religious freedom and removing the safeguards of Roe could lead to the violation of the rights of some religious groups.
This was made clear in the varying understandings of pregnancy, when life begins, and who makes decisions about that life. Among some religious minority communities, one faith understanding is that life begins with the first breath and the mother who carries the pregnancy is the one who is considered “alive.” The mother’s body supports a growing potential until that first breath is taken outside the uterus and only then does that being becomes a “life” or fully human with the breath of God within it. The support for this was cited from the creation narrative found in Genesis 2:7 “then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” With this understanding of God’s gift of life at first breath (that has been held for thousands of years), the private decision to terminate a pregnancy for reasons deemed right by the woman, her doctor and her faith leader could be a violation of local state law without the protection of the privacy statures afforded her under Roe. Practicing her faith as it relates to her pregnancy may result in her being charged with murder.
This was eye-opening for me! Religious oppression and Christian supremacy were never made more clear to me than in that moment. I felt deep compassion for those who did not believe as I do nor practice their faith in a dominant religious context, and that loving my neighbor must include protecting my neighbor and their understanding of faith even if it differs from my own. The United Church of Christ has had a history of over 4 decades of supporting the reproductive rights, justice and dignity of women to include the right to choose to terminate a pregnancy. Albeit while this decision is not to be made lightly, the decision is hers.
The discussion gave me pause with much to think about as I left through the gates of The People’s House on June 1st. What is our responsibility as people of faith in this moment? How is the Gospel message of loving God, loving our neighbors, and loving ourselves lived out in this conversation? How will history remember us and what we did or did not do to protect the life of women both those who believe like us and those who do not? This is indeed a tipping point in history. We must think and act! I offer that whatever each of us does, may it be guided by the message of Christ, and the love of God, our neighbors and ourselves.
Here is the Whitehouse readout on the Faith Leaders Roundtable on reproductive rights https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2022/06/02/readout-of-meeting-with-religious-denominational-leaders-on-reproductive-rights/
Here are UCC resolutions on reproductive rights https://www.uccfiles.com/pdf/GS-Resolutions-Freedom-of-Choice.pdf