A Sermon on Abortion

by

Note: Since I’m on a Hauerwas kick, I thought I’d reopen the abortion topic with this sermon delivered by one of his former students. Hauerwas used this to open a lecture at a conference and followed it with some very interesting remarks, some of which I may post in subsequent Sundays (depending on how this goes). With our eclectic group here, I thought reaction to this sermon might prove interesting all by itself.

TEXT AND SERMON

The text for the sermon is Matthew 25:31-46. I will be reading from the Revised Standard Version. “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or n stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'”

“As a Christian and a woman, I find abortion a most difficult subject to address. Even so, I believe that it is essential that the church face the issue of abortion in a distinctly Christian manner. Because of that, I am hereby addressing not society in general, but those of us who call ourselves Christians. I also want to be clear that I am not addressing abortion as a legal issue. I believe the issue, for the church, must be framed not around the banners of ‘pro-choice’ or ‘pro-life,’ but around God’s call to care for the least among us whom Jesus calls his sisters and brothers.

“So, in this sermon, I will make three points. The first point is that the Gospel favors women and children. The second point is that the customary framing of the abortion issue by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible for both herself and for any child she might carry. The third point is that a Christian response must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights.”

Gospel, Women, and Children

“Point number one: the Gospel favors women and children. The Gospel is feminist. In Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, Jesus treats women as thinking people who are worthy of respect. This was not, of course, the usual attitude of that time. In addition, it is to the women among Jesus’ followers, not to the men, that he entrusts the initial proclamation of his resurrection. It isn’t only Jesus himself who sees the Gospel making all people equal, for Saint Paul wrote, ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28).”

“And yet, women have been oppressed through recorded history and continue to be oppressed today. So when Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40), I have to believe that Jesus includes women among ‘the least of these.’ Anything that helps women, therefore, helps Jesus. When Jesus says, ‘as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me,’ he is also talking about children, because children are literally ‘the least of these.’ Children lack the three things the world values most– power, wealth, and influence. If we concern ourselves with people who are powerless, then children should obviously be at the top of our list. The irony of the abortion debate, as it now stands in our church and society, is that it frames these two groups, women and children, as enemies of one another.”

The Woman Alone

“This brings me to my second point: the issue as it is generally framed by both pro-choice and pro-life groups is unbiblical because it assumes that the woman is ultimately responsible both for herself and for any child she might carry. Why is it that women have abortions? Women I know, and those I know about, have had abortions for two basic reasons: the fear that they cannot handle the financial and physical demands of the child, and the fear that having the child will destroy relationships that are important to them.”

“An example of the first fear, the inability to handle the child financially or physically, is the divorced mother of two children, the younger of whom has Down’s syndrome. This woman recently discovered that she was pregnant. She believed abortion was wrong. However, the father of the child would not commit himself to help raise this child, and she was afraid she could not handle raising another child on her own.”

“An example of the second fear, the fear of destroying relationships, is the woman who became pregnant and was told by her husband that he would leave her if she did not have an abortion. She did not want to lose her husband, so she had the abortion. Later, her husband left her anyway.”

“In both of these cases, and in others I have known, the woman has had an abortion not because she was exercising her free choice but because she felt she had no choice. In each case the responsibility for caring for the child, had she had the child, would have rested squarely and solely on the woman.”

Reframing With Responsibility

“Which brings me to my third point the Christian response to abortion must reframe the issue to focus on responsibility rather than rights. The pro-choice/pro-life debate presently pits the right of the mother to choose against the right of the fetus to live. The Christian response, on the other hand, centers on the responsibility of the whole Christian community to care for ‘the least of these.'”

“According to the Presbyterian Church’s Book of Order, when a person is baptized, the congregation answers this question: ‘Do you, the members of this congregation, in the name of the whole Church of Christ, undertake the responsibility for the continued Christian nurture of this person, promising to be an example of the new life in Christ and to pray for him or her in this new life?’ We make this promise because we know that no adult belongs to himself or herself, and that no child belongs to his or her parents, but that every person is a child of God. Because of that, every young one is our child, the church’s child to care for. This is not an option. It is a responsibility.”

“Let me tell you two stories about what it is like when the church takes this responsibility seriously. The first is a story that Will Willimon, the Dean of Duke University Chapel, tells about a black church. In this church, when a teen-ager has a baby that she cannot care for, the church baptizes the baby and gives him/her to an older couple in the church that has the time and wisdom to raise the child. That way, says the pastor, the couple can raise the teen-age mother along with the baby. ‘That,’ the pastor says, ‘is how we do it.'”

“The second story involves something that happened to Deborah Campbell. A member of her church, a divorced woman, became pregnant, and the father dropped out of the picture. The woman decided to keep the child. But as the pregnancy progressed and began to show, she became upset because she felt she could not go to church anymore. After all, here she was, a Sunday School teacher, unmarried and pregnant. So she called Deborah. Deborah told her to come to church and sit in the pew with the Campbell family, and, no matter how the church reacted, the family would support her. Well, the church rallied around when the woman’s doctor told her at her six-month checkup that she owed him the remaining balance of fifteen hundred dollars by the next month; otherwise, he would not deliver the baby. The church held a baby shower and raised the money. When the time came for her to deliver, Deborah was her labor coach. When the woman’s mother refused to come and help after the baby was born, the church brought food and helped clean her house while she recovered from the birth. Now the woman’s little girl is the child of the parish.”

“This is what the church looks like when it takes seriously its call to care for ‘the least of these.’ These two churches differ in certain ways: one is Methodist, the other Roman Catholic; one has a carefully planned strategy for supporting women and babies, the other simply reacted spontaneously to a particular woman and her baby. But in each case the church acted with creativity and compassion to live out the Gospel.”

“In our scripture lesson today, Jesus gives a preview of the Last Judgment. ‘Then the King will say to those at his right hand, “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to men (Matthew 25:34-40).”

“We cannot simply throw the issue of abortion in the faces of women and say, ‘You decide and you bear the consequences of your decision.’ As the church, our response to the abortion issue must be to shoulder the responsibility to care for women and children. We cannot do otherwise and still be the church. If we close our doors in the faces of women and children, then we close our doors in the face of Christ.”

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13 Responses to “A Sermon on Abortion”

  1. DeJon Redd Says:

    Al, I take great issue with the points made in this sermon. Here’s why.

    The speaker demands that I, as a Christian, take the issue of abortion out of the theoretical, political framework of “pro-life” vs. “pro-choice. I don’t appreciate how this forces me to face my personal responsibility in the world. I find this uncomfortable and quite inconvenient. I prefer to sit in a climate-controlled, academic environment and burn the proverbial effigy of those with which I disagree.

    I prefer to discuss the issue ad nauseum and refuse to actually have an influence on the issue … much less a real person’s life

    Thanks a lot.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    You’re welcome.
    🙂

  3. Sandi Says:

    After reading this, I’ve got that sucking-on-a-lemon look on my face. A couple of off-the-cuff reactions: the reading of “abortion pits women against children” is oversimplified. Second, the two reasons offered for abortions are by no means the only reasons there are. Did a man write this essay? I appreciate the fact that this person wants people of faith to actually do something material rather than just do what DeJon said (LOL, by the way). But the idea that it is the best solution for a pregnant teenager to give her baby to an older couple in the church and live with them just strikes me as untenable. What about when she finishes high school? She will not be able to financially support the baby at that point, plus the couple will have become attached and won’t want to give it up. Who has legal custody at this point? This type of situation will create a host of problems regarding who is the parent and what people’s roles are, not to mention potential custody battles (believe me, I practiced family law for two years, I have seen this kind of stuff happen) or at least jealousies and role confusions that ultimately will not be good for the child.

    The bottom line remains that teenagers should not get pregnant, period. If the church wants to play a role, it should play a role in prevention of these tragedies (because once a teenager is pregnant, it is a tragedy no matter what the outcome is) by providing education, a nonjudgmental person to talk to, and contraception (if not directly then by referral). That might actually make a difference and allow these young girls to have a chance at a good life. Because neither having a child at a young age and giving it up nor raising it in poverty is a good thing. I know others will disagree, but an early abortion seems far preferable to either of those alternatives. If abortion is so awful, then as the old saying goes an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

  4. Al Sturgeon Says:

    Thanks, Sandi. I think I will continue Hauerwas’ thoughts that followed this sermon next week. I was interested in what you would think of the initial sermon.

    I agree with you on prevention.

    When conception has happened anyway, then I think there is a possibility for “real” Christianity to enter into these sorts of relationships w/o getting bogged down into legal custody battles (emphasis on “possibility”). That is, if people are there to simply care and not to “get attached” (with the accompanying jealousies).

    (Note: I can relate to this somewhat from the time in my life when my wife & I were houseparents at a residential childcare facility – where the very goal was to end up reuniting kids with their families. A lot of people said they couldn’t do it because they would get attached and – here’s the fun phrase – just love the kids too much. So they didn’t care for them, you see, because they would love them too much. Which means we just didn’t love very much, right? No, you can love someone so much to not place your feelings of attachment or jealousy or whatever above that other person. Dismount soapbox.)

    Anyway, your concerns are more than valid, but I do think it is interesting to consider what it would be like if there were an institution that actually cared for women and their unborn children w/o being in it for themselves (or primarily concerned with telling everyone else what they should or shouldn’t do).

    Which is DeJon’s point.

  5. Capt MidKnight Says:

    I really wanted to contribute something here, since this issue touches me personally. I even sat down and started to write a couple of times, but it always came out sounding contrived or stiff or “preachey.” Such offerings tend to irritate me, so I won’t inflict another one on the group. I won’t even try and frame it as a moral issue, since that will certainly get me lumped in with my fundamentalist unschooled, unwashed brethren and, being categorized, dismissed as quickly. I’ll just say this. In my own life, three women who found themselves inconveniently pregnant, for different reasons, chose what they thought was best for their unborn child instead what would have been easiest for them. One was a teenager, two were not. Because of them, I have a daughter, a grand son and a granddaughter.
    I am not an unbiased observer.

    Whether abortion should be available as a legal option is a legal question, and the decision of a community of men to make it legal – or not – has no impact on whether the practice is “right or wrong.” To have any real meaning, those terms have to have reference to some standard above man’s power. If there is no power above man to set standards, then “right” or “wrong” can mean anything, and arguing over them is pointless.

    It seemed to me that the theme of the sermon in the post was not so much whether the practice was right or wrong as it was “Isn’t the “Church” obligated to provide a better alternative, based on the passage from Matthew?” The answer that the sermon argued for was “Of course, that should be “The Church’s”mission.” I though it was interesting that the sermon took pains to point out that the two examples came from a Methodist church and a Catholic church, suggesting that, if you can get past traditional doctrine, in each case, it might still be possible to get down to “What would Jesus do?” even in today’s world. Unfortunately, a lot of folks have tried that and come away like the Rich Young Ruler – finding that some of the “What would Jesus do’s” don’t appeal to them.

    P. S. I’m aware that there is a school of thought along the lines of “If you don’t have a uterus, you’re not entitled to an opinion.” I’m happy to say that I haven’t heard that expressed here.

    Sorry.
    Reading back over this post, I’ve found that I’ve probably done exactly what I said I wanted to avoid – another boring offering. What the heck. Here it is anyway. You guys are tough. After all, I wade through some of your stuff too.
    Nobody bats 1,000

  6. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I didn’t find your offering boring, El Capitan! In fact, I very much appreciated in particular your paragraph summarizing the theme of the sermon.

    I will definitely continue with Hauerwas’ thoughts along the way on this issue. I think they’ll prove interesting.

    BTW, several people on this blog have some diverse and emotional experiences with this issue. Including me, though mine hasn’t been discussed as much. My wife became pregnant at age 16, was encouraged to abort by certain influences, but chose to give birth to Erica. I met Erica when she was 6, and became her dad when she was 7. She’s now 19 (and I’m 35!).

    Anyway, there’s several emotions in play here, and I continue to hope that we can discuss the issue from our various vantage points with love for each other and a willingness to try to get to this issue from a different angle, since it remains such a polarizing one. Maybe if we can “come together” somehow there could be some hope after all.

  7. Sandi Says:

    I agree with Al, Cap’n, that your post was not boring or preachy. And I have certainly heard the “men don’t have the right to an opinion on this” line before (many times), and often from men, even, but I’ve never found it very persuasive or enlightening. It would be like saying that men could not be good OB/GYNs or, more expansively, that any kind of difference between people renders those who “haven’t been through it” incapable of empathy. I definitely hope that isn’t the case! We would all be in a sorry state if it was.

    Al, I wish that more people were capable of the kind of selflessness that you were talking about. I’m glad you understand my concerns and know that for whatever reason people tend to see children as property and don’t always do what’s best for them. Interestingly, a lot of people are categorically against abortion precisely because they disagree on paper with that view. Which just goes to show, when it comes to reproducing the species, it’s all very complicated and emotional.

  8. Capt MidKnight Says:

    Thanks for the kind words.
    I know we all have had the experience of writing something we think is very profound and insightful and then seeing it in print – or on the blog – and wishing we hadn’t signed our name to it.

    Waxing eloquent on a regular basis isn’t as easy as it looks – is it Al? Not suggesting, of course, that any of your sermons have ever fallen short of magnificent. Of course, I’ve only heard one.

  9. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Waxing eloquent on a regular basis isn’t as easy as it looks – is it Al? Not suggesting, of course, that any of your sermons have ever fallen short of magnificent.

    But they’re always waxy.

  10. Al Sturgeon Says:

    That’s right, smooth and lustrous.

  11. juvenal_urbino Says:

    Actually, I was thinking of the ear kind.

  12. Al Sturgeon Says:

    That’s right, gross and slimy.

  13. Mystique Free Says:

    As a feminist atheist with a fundie background (there’s an ominous intro) I struggle with abortion. I can torment myself with “rights” and “wrongs” all day long.

    I definitely agree with Sandi that prevention is key. If all the energy that goes into debating rights and wrongs – which, ultimately, we can never know – went into preventing unwanted pregnancies in the first place, we could simply avoid the issue. Or, at least, avoid it more often.

    I was moved by the account of the two churches, though. That’s putting your money where your mouth is; that, to my mind, is true religion. Not punishing people for their mistakes but loving and helping as much as you can. Again, I’m an atheist and I’m fuzzy on the whole choice thing.

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