June 23, 2021
In my early years of ministry, I found myself in a life-changing position for all involved. A teenager and her mother came to me for direction because the single teen (I will call her Beth) was pregnant. Beth had the support of her mother for whatever decision she made, but it was clear that what both wanted was my blessing for an abortion, a life and soul-changer for me.
Throughout my upbringing, my parents and my previous denomination had ingrained in me the conviction that life begins at conception and that abortion is murder and thus a serious sin with dire consequences for the mother and her salvation. For years, I heard the minister pray for “unwed mothers” in his litany of intercessions (but never for unwed fathers who somehow got off the hook on this one). I knew enough psychology to speak about the very real after-effects of abortion on the mental health of the mother, the guilt and shame that quite possibly could haunt her the rest of her life. And I knew something of the soul and its spiritual health. But could I condone an abortion? This may have been the ultimate test of my ministry.
In my current denomination, a gracious doctrine states that “God alone is Lord of the conscience.” I am convicted by that. Only God knows the human heart, and no single person can force her or his beliefs on another. The Good News of the gospels can be shared, and is shared, but no minister has control over another’s conscience. In that moment I realized that no matter what I, personally, believed, this decision was not mine to make, condone, or to judge. All I could do—and what I did do—was reassure Beth how much she was loved, not just by her mother and by me, but by God.
Today’s headlines surrounding conservative American Catholic bishops who hope to bar President Biden from the communion table because of Biden’s pro-choice stance both stun and sadden me, and also resurrected this years-past memory of Beth. When did abortion become the ultimate sin? When did homosexuality? According to Jesus Christ, there are quite a few sins of which we are guilty, including evil thoughts, theft, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness (see Mark 7: 21-22). If I recall correctly (and I do), Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery, pardoned the thief crucified with him, commissioned the woman at the well as his first disciple (see John 4), forgave Peter for betraying him, and washed the feet of Judas, his traitor, including him in the first communion around the Seder table. As Jesus did so, he said, “Remember me.”
How well are we remembering the Christ—or whoever we follow who models love–in today’s politically charged, divisive and abusive environment? Where do we see grace and love being practiced? How do we condone our actions and our allegiances in relation to what the gospels proclaim? What I am witnessing daily is Christ’s body being broken in countless ways that have nothing to do with what he taught. Our current president doesn’t hide his religious devotion but embraces it and relies on it to lead him. And the powers that be are threatened, not unlike the religious leaders of Jesus’ time. Not only are they trying to punish a faithful believer, who like the rest of us—and like them—is not perfect, but they are also dredging up all the hurt, the shame, the loss, and the guilt that surround so many women who have had abortions. They are making the “woman’s” sin the ultimate sin.
Pray God that we do remember Christ and all other spiritual leaders that teach love, compassion, inclusion, and healing. But may we do more than remember. May we act like them. Blessings to you~ Rosemary firstname.lastname@example.org.