On the subject of abortion, love is the only way forward. Love for the unborn baby, love for the mother, love for the father, love for our community, love for our Creator.
Editor’s note: Below you will find the deeply humble and illuminating thoughts on the subject of abortion by an Episcopalian priest. It has always been my opinion that the role of religion is to center us in the love of both God and our fellow humans and guide us in finding the correct balance between the individual, the collective, and the Divine. This balance is not compromise where everyone gets some of what they wanted, far from it, it is the only way for everyone to live as complete human beings. The painful subject of abortion, the termination of a unique human life before it has the chance to emerge from the womb, is surely one issue where such balance is sorely lacking and finding it is the highest priority. -BP
More than a few folks have asked about my thoughts on human abortion in light of the cultural battles on the subject. The Episcopal Church has an official teaching about abortion, as do most Christian Churches and ecclesial communities, and so any thoughts that I might express publicly as a priest must strive to be in accord with that teaching. I do have some personal thoughts that perhaps expand on these teachings, which may possibly frame the question in ways only hinted at by the teaching of the Church. Please understand that I speak only as a Christian and a priest, I do not have all wisdom and understanding, I may not have it all perfectly figured out, and I also believe that my reflections may also be adapted to other belief systems. Please also understand that I do not think that governments and laws are ultimately the best or more permanent and responsive institutions or means to achieving the proposed ends. I am talking about a more radical revolution, a return to the Early Christian concept of conversion of the heart/soul/mind to the love of God in Jesus, from which we may choose to act with our personal agency in accord with the love of God, for which purpose we are created.
I think that the real question about human abortion is part of a larger question that has been part of Western cultural dialogue and development for centuries, especially dialogue about individual human dignity, the rights of the individual, and the autonomy of the individual to make choices/decisions free of external restraint. From the time Western societies began to throw off the yoke of the tyranny of monarchy and feudalism beginning in the 16th century, and began to enshrine the God given and inherent rights of the human individual in the constitutions and laws of nations, we have seen that philosophical/political/theological transformation develop in interesting ways, many of them leading to dead ends. I perceive that we are living in such a political/philosophical/theological dead end in terms of much of our culture, and the struggles to find a workable alternative are visible all around us.
This is the broader context in which I see the arguments about human abortion being fought over in the public forum. A primary political/philosophical/theological worldview that I think is needed is a consistent and internally coherent ethic/teaching/theology about (human) life. Such a consistent ethic about life must, by definition, include a robust ethic of non-violence, concern for the vulnerable, including the homeless among us, refugees, orphans, et al, along with championing the cause of women, girls, and orphans across the world, all pregnant women, and other mothers in difficult circumstances. This must include the protection of the rights of women and girls, including rights to education, gainful employment, and protection from exploitation, abuse, and unjust laws.
Such an ethic of life has to find its place in a rebalanced understanding of human personal agency and autonomy. We are living in a time in Western culture of agency and autonomy gone mad, with no restraints and no tolerance for diversity of opinion or expression. Western political/philosophical/theological thinking on agency and autonomy has lost all grounding in any coherent concept of the human person, and so Western culture has entirely succumbed to a self-worshiping consumer culture. As a priest, I believe that much of this is due to the abandoning of Christian teaching on the dignity of every human being, which developed out of our losing/rejecting an historically, ecumenical/catholic/orthodox genuine Christian identity. The Christian Church must first rediscover its own self in the Gospel of Jesus. We in Western cultures now live in cultures in which the vulnerable have little to no agency/autonomy/power and who are disposable if it serves the interests of those with agency/autonomy/power. Not only are humans considered to be disposable, but this “throwaway culture” has profound implications for how we understand our place in the larger scope of the planet, including animal life, natural resources, and the environment taken as a whole. Any pro-life movement, Christian or other, must first begin to place itself within such a larger political/philosophical/theological context and be part of a coherent and consistent ethic of life if it has any hope of producing a vibrant, strong, and resilient culture that is able to resist political balkanization and inspire the selfless manner of living together that would make a spiritual revolution in our several cultures both possible and enduring.
We must address how our culture is entirely, and suicidally, consumed with its own radical autonomy and consumerism, which is only concerned with the fulfillment of personal desires, and begin to develop a consistent ethic about the inherent value of life that creates in each of us a sense of mutual autonomy and a culture of restraint, creativity, and generosity. Failing to do so will blind us to how the most vulnerable among us are being discarded in the process, and we will fail to connect the entire battle concerning human abortion to the wider implications of our radical, repercussion free autonomy for all life on God’s earth. I believe that reframing the human abortion conflict (meaning both sides of this battle, a battle that has become hijacked by political language and affiliation) within the intentional development of a consistent, internally coherent political/philosophical/theological ethic of life is absolutely essential for the contemporary pro-life movement and Western culture as a whole. Christians must withdraw from the toxicity and idolatry of our several nation’s bitterly secular, partisan politics, and re-center our lives, our politics, and our consumption of resources on the primacy to the Gospel of Jesus. It is long past time for Christians to be recaptured by the love of God, a love that transcends nationality, partisan political identities…all identities, really…and regroup ourselves, being centered on the Gospel. We must take the time to push off the overwhelming cultural forces and voices that dominate our souls, and which replace, subvert, or push out the Gospel of Jesus. This is no Luddite retreat, but a respite in which we can remember that we are one Body, with one God, who calls us to live lives marked by sacrificial love for each other. We must rediscover that love so that we can care for each other, wash each other’s wounds, anointing each other with salve to heal our political wounds. We must relearn to prioritize time together resting in the presence of God, worshipping God, and engaging in holy, loving contemplation and conversation about how to live as disciples of Jesus in our cultures. We must relearn how to model a different way of living, a way that includes a consistent, coherent ethic of life, that is restorative rather than punitive, focused always on mercy, compassion, and the forgives offered us by God in Jesus. We must learn how to genuinely listen to others to seek understanding rather than how to formulate a response, especially those who we perceive to be our opponents, including those who have wounded us and who we have wounded. We must return to the Gospel of Jesus, which is centered on the sacrificial love we have for each other, and renew ourselves in Christian life, and in the fundamental values of the Gospel as they exist apart from the toxic and often idolatrous fight over national secular politics. It will only be after we have so re-centered ourselves on the Gospel of Jesus that we can return to the national, and international, secular political struggle, ready to advocate with a consistent and coherent ethic of life — across the full range of life — on behalf of the Gospel.