January has concluded a significant month. On the Church’s ancient calendar, we’ve celebrated Epiphany and on the modern calendar, we’ve celebrated the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday. And in the world at large, we’ve observed the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, which the House of Representatives celebrated by passing HR 7, which will place increased restrictions on abortion, most certainly not in the spirit of Roe, should it be passed by the Senate.
But is it in the spirit of the Church? That gets difficult to answer, and it depends on which corner of the Kingdom we inhabit. The division in this country over abortion is often experienced as a division between the views of religion and the views of secularity. We think that the Christian position is prolife and anti-abortion. The non-Christian or secular position is prochoice, although there are a few secularly grounded positions calling for elimination or restrictions on a women’s right to healthcare, including the option of abortion. If a Christian supports the rights associated with Roe v. Wade, that person does so in spite of Christian teaching and practice, not because of it. In reality, though, there is a tradition of support for women’s health care as a Christian justice issue that would include reproductive issues, ranging from birth control to the legal right to a safe abortion. Unfortunately, these voices of theological support for women are less known in the public arena.
I’ve been privileged to be an ordained Baptist minister since 1987. Since 2001, I’ve had the opportunity to work as a part time pastor in United Methodist parishes under an ecumenical arrangement, and I’ve found this experience enriching, especially being reminded of the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, which “recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures by certified medical providers.” Two years ago, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, United Methodist Women and the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church passed a strong resolution of support for the values of this historic decision. Included in the resolution was support for keeping “abortion safe, legal, accessible and rare,” as well as a call to investigate those “crisis pregnancy centers that may not offer all options of counseling.” As we know, many of those women’s crisis pregnancy centers out there are really about the women and their needs.
Moderate Baptists as a whole have not had much public conversation about the theological dimensions of family planning and women’s health issues, including reproductive freedom. We need more public support of the values of Roe v. Wade in our movement. We stand in a strong tradition by taking this position. Baptist Press in 1973 praised the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe, stating “Religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.” Paul Simmons, as a professor of Christian Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, wrote several scholarly articles, as well as public essays affirming women’s healthcare. But, in this month of MLK, perhaps we need to be most aware that King wrote of his support for Planned Parenthood in 1960. In 1966, Planned Parenthood named King the recipient of the first Margaret Sanger Award. His acceptance speech delivered in his absence by his wife, Coretta Scott King, celebrated the importance of family planning and expressed appreciation for “Margaret Sanger [who] had to commit what was then called a crime in order to enrich humanity, and today we honor her courage and vision.”
I’m hopeful Moderate Baptists can speak openly and richly for women’s health issues, including the freedom of choice that Roe v. Wade affirmed legally. We can do this not in spite of our faith, but because of our faith, and we stand in good company when we do so.