As if the American church isn’t divided enough, it appears we’re about to roll back the clock 50 years on abortion rights and throw more jet fuel on the culture war bonfires consuming our congregations.
For some churches and pastors, the forthcoming majority opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court that appears to eviscerate Roe v. Wade will be magnificent news indeed — and just in time for Mother’s Day. I can hear the Mother’s Day sermons already. Especially from Catholic priests and conservative evangelical pastors who will see the leaked court opinion written by Samuel Alito as manna from heaven.
Remember that last year the Southern Baptist Convention adopted a resolution calling for the “immediate abolition of abortion without exception or compromise.” Southern Baptists and the Roman Catholic Church — the nation’s two largest Christian denominations — have been among the stalwarts in advocating for an end to abortion. Among official Catholic dogma, opposition to abortion appears to fall only behind veneration of the Virgin Mary.
“We cannot forget that these faith-based declarations that all abortions in every case amount to premeditated murder do not represent the majority opinion of Americans.”
But we cannot forget that these faith-based declarations that all abortions in every case amount to premeditated murder do not represent the majority opinion of Americans. Pew Research reports that a 59% majority of U.S. adults believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 39% believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
White evangelical Protestants — even more than Catholic laity — populate this anti-abortion crowd. Pew reports that 77% of white evangelicals believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases. But don’t overlook the fact that 21% of white evangelicals believe abortion should be legal in most cases.
Those minority white evangelicals join a majority of white Protestants who are not evangelicals (63%) in wanting to allow abortion in all or most cases.
And despite the explicit teaching of the Catholic Church, only 43% of America’s Catholics believe abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.
The essence of all this data was reconfirmed just yesterday in a new report by Public Religion Research Institute.
Here are two other data points worth pondering:
From Pew Research: “Religious ‘nones’ — those who are religiously unaffiliated — overwhelmingly support legal abortion. Around eight-in-ten (82%) say it should be legal in all or most cases, while just 16% say it should be illegal.”
And from Springtide Research Institute: 75% of Gen Zers say they “care” or “care deeply” about upholding reproductive rights. That includes 73% of Protestant young people and 72% of Catholic young people. Moreover, 54% of Gen Zers believe churches or faith communities care about upholding reproductive rights.
All-out opposition to abortion has been an effective rallying cry to get Republican voters to primaries, but it has not been — and will not be — an effective message to keep a church together or bring people into relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now, I understand that to some doctrinal purists this reality doesn’t matter. Being right about doctrine and holding to a perceived moral standard are more important than getting people to attend church. Likewise, there are congregations and pastors on the far left who have made support for abortion their own article of faith.
“Most of them were hoping the nation’s highest court would avoid the political setup it has been given and exercise some kind of nuanced wisdom.”
But the majority of congregations — and the majority of Christians — fall somewhere in the middle. Most see a need for nuance on this most difficult of subjects. And most of them were hoping the nation’s highest court would avoid the political setup it has been given and exercise some kind of nuanced wisdom. Alas, that does not seem to be the case.
The political victory of the court’s coming decision — assuming it happens as we now see it shaping up — will do nothing to help churches. It will not stem the tide of people walking away from the church. It will not cause more people to come to church. It will not make the pastor’s already difficult job any easier. It will not unite. Instead, it will further divide.
One of the peculiar ironies of the coming storm is that for generations, America’s Christian churches have stood at the forefront of advancing compassionate health care. Nearly every nonprofit hospital system in America was founded by a church group. Health care and ministry go hand in hand, following the model of Jesus as the Great Physician.
Now, it seems likely churches especially in Republican-controlled states are going to have to make choices themselves:
- Will they support and finance the additional resources needed for child care when the poor and vulnerable are forced to bear children they cannot afford to raise?
- Will they be willing for more tax dollars to go toward foster care and adoption, supplemental food programs, child and mother health clinics and early childhood education?
- Will they provide care for teenagers who get pregnant without shunning them into isolation as was the church’s practice in the past?
- Will they finally own up to the reality that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work?
- Will they take a stand against domestic violence and rape?
- Will they provide support for women and girls who become the victims of unscrupulous back-alley abortion practitioners who will prey on those who are desperate?
There’s yet another choice some congregations are likely to make: to become a new underground railroad between abortion-denying states and abortion-providing states. I fully expect this to become a ministry trend among more progressive congregations located across the South.
It would be nice if every politician and every Supreme Court justice had to sit in the role of a pastor for a while and counsel individuals and families facing unwanted pregnancies. If they did so, these lawmakers would see the world in shades other than black and white. They might understand that they are the ones now who are throwing the baby out with the bathwater. And that is immoral too.
Mark Wingfield serves as executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global.
Alito and public opinion reveal the link between Roe and a broader white Christian nationalist agenda | Opinion by Robert P. Jones
A leak: The truth of a sick nation | Opinion by Jamar A. Boyd II
To reduce abortion humanely and justly, people of faith should back the ERA | Opinion by Allyson Mckinney Timm and Meghan Tschanz