When it comes to all the political combat in the past 40+ years over abortion, Parker Palmer’s wisdom helps us: “Rage is simply one of the masks that heartbreak wears.” The greatest heartbreak must be in God’s own heart. Down here, good-hearted people struggle to select among society’s options: we celebrate the gift of life; we also want women to be able to flourish in their working and personal lives; we want to save a woman if a pregnancy endangers her life; we loathe any kind of forced relationship that results in pregnancy.
My denomination has a hybrid sort of position: the sanctity of unborn life is affirmed, but also respect for the life of the mother, naming “tragic conflicts that may justify abortion,” hence supporting the legal option, while striving to reduce unintended, unwanted pregnancies.
One way we who are Christian can help ourselves, and maybe even society, in the battle over abortion is in the way we talk and think about things. One side speaks of “the right to life,” and the other speaks of “the right to choose,” and also “a woman’s right to have control over her own body.” On September 22, my Politics & Religion blog explained how in Christian theology, we don’t think of “rights” of any kind. There is no “right to life.” Life is a gift from God, which is the best conceivable reason not to take life. There is no “right to choose,” or a “right to control my own body.” My body belongs to God, so I am responsible to use it in holy ways, pleasing to God.
So before we pick a political posture, as Christians thinking theologically, we have a default mode on questions of abortion. First, inevitably, we always affirm life as God’s good gift. Of all God’s bountiful, marvelous gifts, the coming to be of human life is the most fabulous, the most vulnerable, and thus the most worthy of treasuring. God grieves the loss of any life, however nascent. God most certainly is for life. You have to admire Mother Teresa's opposition to abortion. Not condemning anyone, she and her sisters valued life so highly they said "Give us your child; we will raise your child."
And second, as Christians, we still lift up a gold standard most have tossed aside – that the consummation of intimate relations is to be reserved for marriage. People will scoff, and we in the church fully understand the realities of physical activity, and even the need to be sure protections are in place. And yet, the most private, beautiful, vulnerable and frankly powerful part of each one of us is the body; careful, holy stewardship of that body is still God’s will for us. How odd is it that email filters are so terribly sensitive about the word that begins with an s and ends with an x that if I type that word my email won't get through – and yet our culture everywhere trivializes, degrades, and commercializes that which begins with s and ends with x? Have we lifted up the sheer goodness of abstinence and the delights of holy intimacy? Or have we let televisions dump moral sewage into our dens and winked or gawked at provocative clothing – then turned around and condemned abortion?
Earlier in this series I’ve cited John Danforth’s wisdom, that sometimes when we want change in society, we think it’s about electing the right President or changing Congress or getting more Supreme Court seats. But real change must come from within the people; change in mores of what we do in private will only come if we as the people are converted to a more splendid perspective and holier habits regarding our bodies. Such a change, as laughably far off as it may seem, begins in Church.
And we never forget the heartbreak, the numbing news, the way your life story turns on its axis in a moment, the guilt, career struggle, hidden grief, untold wounds. “There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). God is all mercy. We who are the Church are the mercy people.