Author Archives: Eileen

Can Misuse of Free Speech Be Considered Use of a Deadly Weapon?

A past blog post that seems appropriate for our own present political climate.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

In the 1950s our home in Houston, Texas was bombed, because my newspaper editor father had endorsed the first African American candidate running for a position on the local school board. Though no one was injured, as a teenager it was terrifying to feel so vulnerable to a hatred I couldn’t understand. So, I am certainly not an advocate for terrorism.  And as both the daughter of one newspaper editor and the mother of another, I am a strong supporter of freedom of the press, but not of a press without a conscience.

Words can be as inflammatory as bombs, as most revolutions have proven. Certainly sarcasm and ridicule are generally recognized as deadly for peaceful relationships, whether personal or political.

The violence involving the newspaper Charlie Hebdo in France seems almost a chicken and egg situation with both sides shooting from the hip at anything they don’t like.  We…

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Religious Idols

One of my grandchildren asked me with horror, “Are you religious?!” She said the word “religious” like someone might say the word “pervert.” It broke my heart, but I understand it. Jesus was crucified by the “religious” leaders and their blind followers in his inherited religion.
Christians, we are doing it again. We have made Idols of our religions and in the process are crucifying again the one Albert Einstein described this way: “As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene….Jesus is too colossal for the pen of the phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot….No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates with every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance is the impression which we receive from a account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus….No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some of them have been said before, no one has expressed them as divinely as he.” *1
In another quote Einstein says, “What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.” *2
If our “religion” is focused on form, on the power of a hierarchy, on a claim that any one narrow denominational tradition is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, we are idol worshipers.
Christianity is about the Love of God for humanity fleshed out in Jesus. God is Love and God fleshed out that Love for humanity in a human, who as a human grew in truth and holiness……to show us that we also can grow and change through experiencing the Love of God. Jesus, in his humanity, first thought God belonged only to his own faith tradition and that his life of ministry was just for them. As a human he was heartbroken, even weeping, when he realized that their religious idols were closing their hearts to him and the Love of God , the God that loves us at our worst and helps us still grow at our best, because we are unfinished even then. Jesus, as a man, finally recognized, that a God worth calling a God, loves all His creatures and creation. This is the “Way” of Jesus.
Christians, we are missing the point of Christianity. It’s a personal relationship first, not congregational or dogmatic. It’s not a spiritual country club or an insurance policy. And it’s not about being finished in just one moment of choice, but about an ongoing transformation empowered by the Love of God and being shown the way to a lifetime of growth in truth and holiness by the life and death of Jesus. Look closer at the actual growth process of Jesus. Recognize the huge leaps he took from tribal religion to a God of Love for all when he was challenged by the human suffering of a hated Roman conqueror, an unclean bleeding woman, and even Samaritan heretics, all of whom had no religious credentials.
Christians, we are being called to let go of our need for religious idols and to trust in a God of Love, who can both nurture and prune us into people who can grow in Love for all humanity as Jesus did.

*1 (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein- A Life /John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996,/ pp277-278)
*2 (“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)

God and the Whiners

An imaginary story of God’s conversations with his best bud, Adam, and then more of God hanging out with various generations of Adam’s descendants through the ages. Adam is sitting around with God admiring God’s handiwork. Adam: Wow, God, this is a nice job you’ve done. Particularly this sex thing. That’s great. Thanks for thinking of it! God: Well, there’s another side to it. Sex creates new life, so you can fill the earth with people who will be my partners in creation Adam: Gosh, that will take a lot of women to do that. I better find me some more wives. God: And you better collect a lot more goats and sheep to feed all those wives and children. Generations later: Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem, we can’t keep dragging all these wives and children around with droughts everywhere. God: From now on just choose one wife, find water, and till the land. A later Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem. We’re getting a lot of cast off older wives who are starving. God: In this day, men must take responsibility for women and children. You must no longer cast off wives for new wives. Choose carefully, because you are stuck with the first one. Another Generation whiners : God, we are running out of good arable land and it’s causing constant wars. God: Okay, you can slow down on the procreating. Whiner: But, God, we men must work hard all day and come home to whining wives and children. Surely, you aren’t telling us to give up our one delight? God: I gave you a brain. Figure it out. And start taking one day in seven just for being thankful. I’m also tired of all the whining. New Descendant: God, women are getting pushy. When we go to war, they have to take over at home. When we come home they complain about the way we run things. Some even think they could run things better. Like maybe sitting around crying would solve the world’s problems! God: Well, it might cut down on wars. New Descendant: But, it won’t put food on the table or send the kids to college. God: I’ve given women the luxury of developing the gift of relationships. Technology has freed humanity from the heavy lifting. Women are now needed in the workplace to bring their gifts of nurturing into the larger world. It’s time for nurture to be valued as much as achieving. It is time for power over to become power for others, for ALL others. I am doing a new thing. Modern Man: God, these days it’s hard to tell women and men apart. And men are loving men and women are loving women. What’s with that? God: I know you are not going to like this, but life just isn’t about differences. In My world there is no male or female, no slave or master, no favored people, no favored religion, no favored nation. Life is about learning to love. The most advanced school for that is marriage, a monogamous intimate committed relationship. Haven’t you caught on why I still make sex so enjoyable, even when I don’t need you to keep procreating to fill the earth? Sex has the power to draw people into a stable relationship that can free them to risk being vulnerable in loving. It’s the appetizer, not the main course. Modern Man: God, this Women working thing is really a bummer. Now they expect us to take care of the kids ad do chores at home. God: Shared responsibility for both survival and nurture can bring balance to relationships and society. Dependency and need are not love. Neither is control. I created human beings with the capacity to love one another as I love you. My love is the healing, nurturing, challenging, life changing, sacrificial love that does not have limits or borders. I fleshed it out for you in Jesus. Modern Man: Well, Jesus wasn’t married. God: It is time for humanity to grow up. You keep missing the point. The greed that is destroying the world will lose its power when humanity recognizes that my love is for all. No exceptions. And that you are called to be the channels of my love for the world. God: Hear my plea! I am asking you to accept my love and let it fill you until the joy of being loved overflows to all those you encounter without being blocked by judgement or fear.

The Whiners

An imaginary story of God’s conversations with his best bud, Adam, and then more of God hanging out with various generations of Adam’s descendants through the ages.
Adam is sitting around with God admiring God’s handiwork.
Adam: Wow, God, this is a nice job you’ve done. Particularly this sex thing. That’s great. Thanks for thinking of it!                                                                                                                                      God: Well, there’s another side to it. Sex creates new life, so you can fill the earth with people who will be my partners in creation                                                                                                          Adam: Gosh, that will take a lot of women to do that. I better find me some more wives.                                                                                                                                                                            God: And you better collect a lot more goats and sheep to feed all those wives and children.
Generations later:
Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem, we can’t keep dragging all these wives and children around with droughts everywhere.                                                                                                              God: From now on just choose one wife, find water, and till the land.
A later Descendant: God, we’ve got a problem. We’re getting a lot of cast off older wives who are starving.                                                                                                                                              God: In this day, men must take responsibility for women and children. You must no longer cast off wives for new wives. Choose carefully, because you are stuck with the first one
Another Generation whines : God, we are running out of good arable land .and it’s causing constant wars.                                                                                                                                              God: Okay, you can slow down on the procreating.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      Whiner: But, God, we men must work hard all day and come home to whining wives and children. Surely, you aren’t telling us to give up our one delight?                                                                    God: I gave you a brain. Figure it out. And start taking one day in seven just for being thankful. I’m also tired of all the whining.
New Descendant: God, women are getting pushy. When we go to war, they have to take over at home. When we come home they complain about the way we run things. Some even think they could run things better. Like maybe sitting around crying would solve the world’s problems!                                                                                                                                                                        God: Well, it might cut down on wars.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        New Descendant: But, it won’t put food on the table or send the kids to college                                                                                                                                                                                      God: I’ve given women the luxury of developing the gift of relationships. Technology has freed humanity from the heavy lifting. Women are now needed in the workplace to bring their gifts of nurturing into the larger world. It’s time for nurture to be valued as much as achieving. It is time for power over to become power for others, for ALL others. I am doing a new thing.
Modern Man: God, these days it’s hard to tell women and men apart. And men are loving men and women are loving women. What’s with that?                                                                                  God: I know you are not going to like this, but life just isn’t about differences. In My world there is no male or female, no slave or master, no favored people, no favored religion, no favored nation. Life is about learning to love. The most advanced school for that is marriage, a monogamous intimate committed relationship. Haven’t you caught on why I still make sex so enjoyable, even when I don’t need you to keep procreating to fill the earth? Sex has the power to draw people into a stable relationship that can free them to risk being vulnerable in loving. It’s the appetizer, not the main course.
Modern Man: God, this Women working thing is really a bummer. Now they expect us to take care of the kids and even do chores at home.                                                                                          God: Shared responsibility for both survival and nurture can bring balance to relationships and society. Dependency and need are not love. Neither is control. I created human beings with the capacity to love one another as I love you. My love is the healing, nurturing, challenging, life changing, sacrificial love that does not have limits or borders. I fleshed it out for you in Jesus.                Modern Man: Well, Jesus wasn’t married.
God: It is time for humanity to grow up. You keep missing the point. The greed that is destroying the world will lose its power when humanity recognizes that my love is for all. No exceptions. And that you are called to be the channels of my love for the world.
God: Hear my plea! I am asking you to accept my love and let it fill you until the joy of being loved overflows to all those you encounter without being blocked by judgement or fear.

$3 Worth of God, Please.

A rerun that seems appropriate for our times.

Laughter: Carbonated Grace

I’m reminded of those great lines from Wilbur Rees:
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk
or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of God to make me love a black man
or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth.
I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack.
I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
through John Hayes Howard in post on his Face Book Page

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The Homeless and The Immigrants

People are homeless for diverse reasons. One major one is that the pay for unskilled work will not support even one person. In our rural county we have 200 children in our school system who are homeless. Some are actually living in cars, others in homeless camps in the woods, and whole families are living in one room in cheap motels. Some are going from friend to friend for shelter. A cheap hotel may only charge $35 a night, but for a month that comes to $1,050. For many that’s disability or social security pay for a month with little or nothing left over for food, clothes, transportation, or medical expenses. Federal and Tennessee minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. A forty hour week for four weeks earns $1,160. Once you no longer have good credit, the motel is your best option because you don’t need a month’s rent and utilities’ deposits. However, you have no refrigerator or stove and cannot legally use a burner because of fire codes. You can’t afford to use a laundromat, so you are hand washing clothes in the tub and drying them on the shower rail. If you do not have a car or it breaks down, you walk to your $7.25 an hour job in all kinds of weather. In our town, the industrial park is nowhere near the cheap motels. Since personnel directors can now go to jail for hiring illegals, most of our industries struggle to keep their shifts fully employed. Only large cities have public transportation.
We are now serving meals in the summer in the schools, the public library, and the projects, and I believe they are working on using school buses to bring children to the schools to eat. But budgets are strained. Public housing in some cities have waiting lists up to a year.
Other reasons for a large percentage of people being homeless are alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, mental and physical disability, old age, and veterans with PTSD. Most of these people are unemployable with very little possibility of ever becoming self sufficient.
Almost all of our churches, the YMCA, government agencies, and other charities are involved in some way with feeding, housing, clothing, and transporting the homeless. The problems are almost insurmountable. One charity has been working for six years to acquire a building to house families, do drug testing, provide child care, and job training with the goal of helping them become self sufficient. Over and over the codes and the local government have blocked their acquiring suitable buildings because citizens in the area protested. My husband had volunteered free architectural services for remodeling. This was not meant to be just a vagrant shelter. One large building, that they had tried to acquire, which had first been a hospital and then a drug rehab center, has now become uninhabitable from roof leaks, mold, and lack of care.
A large church here does have a house for men and a house for women with drug testing and job training and strict standards and oversight. But, when they wanted to use their much larger church facility for Room at the Inn during winter months, codes and citizen protest defeated this effort.
Churches offering meals have small response even when offering van transportation, because the homeless have acquired survival items too bulky to transport and unsafe to leave unprotected. Also, in the camps, personal spaces can be lost if not occupied. The local YMCA offering a warming station on below freezing nights had a very small response for the same reason. Food trucks are a workable solution to feeding, but are very expensive, requiring committed personnel along with liability insurance and maintenance costs.
I know first hand from friends who are personnel directors doing the hiring for industries, that in the past, many, if not most, legal and illegal immigrants were employable, hard working, often working two jobs, willing to go through all sorts of discomfort to get to a job site to be dependable. They also formed communities that helped one another. I assume some of those seeking asylum may not be like that, but in the past many have been. They are not homeless for the same reasons as many of our home grown homeless. They are seeking a better life.  A very large percentage of our homeless are either unable to work or have succumbed to escapes from pain.

Post Script:

After listening to what passes for discussion on political issues,  I have realized that there really isn’t any point in even discussing things like immigration, homelessness, war to protect oil sources, or Health Care, across party lines, because they all come back to money. The poor on welfare, we call lazy. But we won’t tax the billionaires, who don’t pay their workers enough to live on. Capitalism and Democracy have long been bed partners. But they are not Siamese Twins. They can be separated. And Christianity has persevered under all types of governments, even hostile ones. It’s time to admit that unfettered Capitalism is simply licensed greed.

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One Un-Civil War Was Enough

Today we celebrate the birth of our nation with the signing of the Declaration of Independence. When a group of people decided that only the people should have control over the government. That we were born with certain inalienable rights that no ruling body could revoke.

The men who wrote and signed this document were not perfect by any means. Some were slave owners and believed in slavery. Some were known philanderers. Some proved themselves to be untrustworthy. Many felt that women had no right to participate in the running of our country.

The men who wrote and signed this document did not get along. Later many of them would become the bitterest of political rivals striving to undermine the progress and beliefs of the other at every turn.

But they had a shared vision of a country where the people would rule themselves without fear of being persecuted for differing beliefs and ideas.

Today as we become what seems ever more divided in our beliefs, it gets hard to agree on much. That’s perfectly fine. Our system is built so that people can express their views equally and choose for themselves whom they want to represent them and their values. Democracy is messy. Two party systems are messy. But it’s that very friction of disparate views that allows for us to build a country that embraces freedom for everyone at its very core.

So today, let’s try to embrace that idea. Let’s take a break from the mean spirited memes. Let’s take a break from the bait click headlines. Let’s remember that all those people we may think of as “libtards” or “right wing nut jobs” are Americans. Our neighbors. Our friends. Our family.

Instead of unfriending or unfollowing that Facebook friend with the different political view as you, wish them a “Happy 4th of July” and tell them that you love them. Remember that they are a person just like you just trying to make it through the day as best they can. They are not evil. They are not “ruining the country”. They just want to be happy and healthy and live a good life. Just like you.

Look at that person. A person you love. A person you want to see succeed even though they have diametrically opposing views as yours. Think about how you would never get in their face and curse them. You would not ever physically assault them. You would not disparage them in front of their friends and family.

Then remember that most people in the opposing political party from you are just like that. They are a person. They have friends and family who love them. They are just trying to do what they think is right. Everyone is the hero in their own story.

And then maybe. Just maybe. The next time you want to post that mean spirited political meme. Or when you want to post some disparaging comment. Or “like” someone else’s meme of comment. Think about the person on the other side of that. Not the political party. The person.

For my friends with different political and religious views, think about how when you post something against the LBGTQ community you are posting it about MY son. He is a person whom I love dearly. How do you think it makes me feel when I scroll through Facebook in the morning and see that?

How about instead of posting something mean spirited that will most likely hurt someone you love, you reach out and ask for some understanding. Have a conversation. Seek to understand before you try to be understood.

You don’t have to believe what I believe.  We don’t have to convince each other that one way is right and one way is wrong.  We just need to get at least a little shred of empathy for the opposing person and their idea.  Give a little to get a little.

If a bunch of slave owning, misogynist, rebellious white dudes could do it in 1776, why can’t we do that today?

by  my youngest son.  Share if this speaks to your heart.

Albert Einstein on Jesus, Science, and Religion

As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus. . . . No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some them have been said before, no one has expressed them so divinely as he. (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein — A Life [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996], pp. 277-278)
What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.(“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. . . . (“Science and Religion,” cited in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp. 41-49; from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, 19 May 1939. It was also published in Out of My Later Years [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950] )
GUEST: I have a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to my father in 1943. In 1940, my father read a “Time Magazine” article that stated that Einstein was quoted as saying that the only social institution that stood up to Nazism was the Christian Church. My father is a Presbyterian minister in a little northern Michigan town called Harbor Springs. And he quoted Einstein in a sermon, and a member of the congregation wrote my father a letter saying, “Where did you get your information?” So my father wrote “Time Magazine” and “Time Magazine” wrote him back, and I have that letter, too, but they didn’t give the source, so my father wrote Einstein and he wrote back, saying, yes, he did say that the Christian Church was standing up to Hitler and Nazism. [ . . . ]
Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. (From a written statement [September 1937] as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side [Princeton University Press: 1981] )
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force. In “Moral Decay” [1937], also published in Out of My Later Years [1950] )

What Does the Bible Say About Abortion? ( Long, but Enlightening for those of Us in the Middle)

 

OCTOBER 23, 2016 BY NEIL CARTER

When evangelical Christians first began debating the issue of abortion, they were nowhere near as unified about the topic as they appear to be today. Shortly after the Supreme Court made their landmark decision on the issue in Roe v. Wade (1973), influential Baptist minister W.A. Criswell, pastor of First Baptist in Dallas, TX, and predecessor to FOX News darling Robert Jeffress, said: “I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person, and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed.”
As late as five years after the legalization of abortion, Southern Baptists were still listed among the denominations officially affirming the decision. Richard Land, who formerly headed up the SBC’s political action division, points out that in those days there was a clear divide between what Baptists and Catholics believed about the matter. They pretty much bought into the idea that life begins when breath begins, and they just thought of [abortion] as a Catholic issue.
In November of 1968, Christianity Today devoted an entire issue to debating the subject, including an article written by conservative biblical scholar Bruce Waltke (Dallas Seminary) who argues that the Bible gives no clear answer on the matter. In that article, Waltke explains that “in the absence of any biblical text forbidding abortion,” we are forced to look at the literature of nearby cultures at the time of the Old Testament to compare their laws with those of the people of Israel. He notes that while neighboring Assyria exacted punishment for performing abortions, no such prohibition existed among the ancient Hebrews. The fact that God did not set forth a similar law becomes even more significant when one realizes that in sexual matters the Mosaic Code is normally more extensive and more severe than other codes.
In Assyrian law, when a fight between two people resulted in a miscarriage, a life was demanded in return for a life. But no such reckoning was present in the Old Testament. If the mother’s life was lost, that would be a much more serious offense. But the termination of the pregnancy itself would only incur a fine, since an unborn child wasn’t yet considered a separate person from the mother (see Exodus 21:22-25, also see note about translation at the end of this article). The closest thing to a biblical definition of “when life begins” would most likely be found in Genesis 2, where it says that God breathed into the nostrils of the first man, at which point “he became a living being.” This kind of language is repeated in multiple places throughout the Bible, equating “breath” with “life” in a fairly unambiguous way (e.g. Ezekiel 37:4-10).
Evangelical Christians today (who seem to have settled on a much more uniform opinion on the issue) often quote Psalm 139 as if it answers a question it wasn’t even being asked: For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.I will give thanks to You, For I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
As Waltke points out, the writer here isn’t really spelling out at what time or place “life begins” (which is a misleading way to frame the personhood question in the first place). Taken in context, the writer of the psalm was marveling at the omniscience of Yahweh, who he believed could see everyone and everything before they even come into being. Reading the verses around it makes clear what he means to say. It is a poetic expression, as are the lines which follow: “My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written , The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.”
No Christian interpreter today would be so literal as to argue this passage teaches that babies are built “in the depths of the earth,” since the language is clearly poetic. The purpose of the imagery is to express wonder at the omniscience of God, who sees what happens everywhere and to everyone before it even happens. Time would mean nothing for such a being. For Waltke, and for most Protestant thinkers at the time, the literary genre at play here made this passage the wrong place to look in order to answer the question of “when life begins.”
One more passage about abortion in the Bible must be noted before we can move on. In Numbers 5 we are told there are circumstances under which Yahweh actually instructed his people to perform an abortion. If a man suspected his wife of having slept with another man, he could take her to a priest, who would give her “bitter water” to drink and then perform a curse over her in order to induce a miscarriage. Whether or not this ritual ever accomplished its purpose is difficult to say, since the only ingredients spelled out in the text are water, dirt, and ink (and of course “a curse”). But the intent of the punishment is clear: For her alleged infidelity, the pregnancy should be terminated.
As it turns out, this is all the Bible has to say about abortion. I must say, it’s not at all what I expected to find when I first set out to discover what it says. It’s not at all what people around me think the Bible says about abortion.
The Origins of the Pro-Life Movement
So what changed? Absent a clear biblical prohibition of abortion, and in light of the ancient definition of life beginning at first breath, how did evangelical Christianity come to embrace the Catholic denunciation of abortion? Evangelical opposition to abortion was crafted by political operatives as a way to co-opt the Christian church into the Republican party in order to save it from extinction after its landslide loss to Lyndon Johnson in 1964 (see map above). Far too few people realize that the pro-life movement was essentially cobbled together by opportunists seizing upon a sudden voter vacuum in the Republican party following the passage of the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1964. They needed something to unify a group of people under one banner, and it took a decade and a half to make it happen, but they were eventually very successful. At first, they were stuck with appealing to the white Southern disgust toward federally mandated racial equality (“It should be decided by the states,” they argued). But shifts in U.S. population demanded a more broadly acceptable issue, something more noble and universally appealing to an increasingly diverse demographic landscape. Randall Balmer explains how Paul Weyrich, founder of both the Heritage Foundation and ALEC, initially struggled to find a unifying issue around which he could piece together a coalition of both Protestants and Catholics, who traditionally were at odds with one another on numerous issues, into a single monolithic political force. …this hypothetical “moral majority” needed a catalyst—a standard around which to rally. For nearly two decades, Weyrich, by his own account, had been trying out different issues, hoping one might pique evangelical interest: pornography, prayer in schools, the proposed Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution, even abortion. “I was trying to get these people interested in those issues and I utterly failed,” Weyrich recalled at a conference in 1990.
His big break finally came in 1975 when the IRS moved to rescind the tax-exempt status of fundamentalist Bob Jones University in Greenville, SC, for failing to maintain racially equitable admissions policies. Both Catholic and Protestant schools alike were alarmed at the threat to their financial status this move represented, and out of that panic grew a more unified coalition of political operatives ready to declare this an infringement on their religious freedoms. Weyrich at that time tapped Baptist pastor Jerry Falwell to head up his new “Moral Majority” movement. Falwell’s associate, Ed Dobson, would later corroborate Balmer’s reasoning for the formation of this new political entity: The Religious New Right did not start because of a concern about abortion,” Dobson said. “I sat in the non-smoke-filled back room with the Moral Majority, and I frankly do not remember abortion ever being mentioned as a reason why we ought to do something.” Perhaps after accepting the regional limitations of his own Southern Strategy, Weyrich proposed the abortion issue again a few years later. Given the growing Southern Baptist disdain for feminism and the sexual revolution, Weyrich sensed an opportunity to use opposition to Roe v. Wade as a rallying cry to unify Catholics and Protestants into a single powerful coalition.
Incidentally, Bob Jones University would go on to lose their “religious freedom” case in the Supreme Court in 1983 in an 8-to-1 decision against them. The court’s lone dissenter, Justice William Rehnquist, would later be elevated to Chief Justice by President Ronald Reagan, who was propelled to electoral victory in the South twice thanks to the support of Falwell’s Moral Majority, despite having passed the nation’s most liberal abortion bill in 1967 while he was still governor of California. Abortion wasn’t always what the Religious Right was about, but it certainly is today.
Pawns in a Political Game
In the 2016 presidential election, American evangelicals, who naturally detest virtually everything about Donald Trump, declared they are reluctantly willing to elect the reality TV star to the greatest position of civic responsibility in the country despite his never having held public office of any kind. Why? Because he has promised them he will appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade .
Evangelical Christians today are willing to overlook Trump’s “foibles, peccadilloes, and metaphorical warts” because they have become deeply convinced that “life begins at conception,” and that abortion is murder. It has become a black-and-white issue for them, a clear case of right versus wrong. Anyone who would appoint SCOTUS justices who uphold Roe v. Wade must be “worse than Hitler” since he or she would then be responsible for the taking of millions of lives. It’s an issue so central to the way they view their mission in the world today that some of their most outspoken representatives (e.g. James Dobson, Jerry Falwell, Jr., Robert Jeffress, and Eric Metaxas, who has taken to calling Secretary Clinton “Hitlery”) have been unwavering in their support for the “thrice married owner of casinos with strip joints” who has lately come under fire for allegations of sexually assaulting more than a dozen women in precisely the manner in which he himself boasted on a hot mic before the filming of an Access Hollywood segment.
Leaving aside the biblical and historical problems of this argument, there are at least three significant semantic problems inherent in this contention that abortion is murder, and that life begins at conception.
First, when opponents of war or capital punishment cite the 6th Commandment (“Thou shalt not kill”) in order to support their causes, hawkish conservatives are quick to call out the absence of nuance in the translation of the word for “kill.” Because there are many different contexts and motives for the taking of a life, better translations render the commandment as saying “You shall not murder.” Why is a different word for killing selected in this case? Quite obviously it is because in the larger context of biblical ethics there are circumstances under which the taking of a life, even a human life, is morally acceptable (e.g. war, self-defense, capital punishment). In order to distinguish this kind of “taking of a life” from other kinds, the word “murder” is chosen, as it denotes a more brutally violent and life-devaluing choice. For some reason, when war or capital punishment is being discussed, evangelical Christians demand context-sensitive interpretations for words that signify the taking of human life, but whenever the subject of abortion comes up, they drop every form of nuance and lurch directly into calling it murder. Why would they do this? They certainly aren’t deriving their positions from the biblical passages that relate to the topic, as we’ve seen above.
Second, they stack the deck in favor of their desired outcome whenever they frame the discussion by asking: “When does life begin?” Is that really the appropriate question? Exactly what kind of “life” are we talking about? Conscious life? Intelligent life? Self-aware life? Even plants and trees have life, as do bacteria. Other animals have not only organic life but also consciousness, thanks to brains that look and function in ways virtually identical to ours. Once again, nuance and clarification fly out the window whenever this exceedingly complex topic is oversimplified into a matter of “protecting the unborn.” The reality isn’t nearly so simple as that.
Third, whenever we talk about the morality of abortion, the most passionate opponents of the procedure tend to lump every form of terminating a pregnancy into the same category, again jettisoning any trace of nuance. But should we really be using the same word for terminating a pregnancy at six weeks that we use for week thirty? Is any effort being made to understand that virtually anyone who elects to terminate a pregnancy in the third trimester (which is extremely rare) would only do so because of an imminent threat either to the health of the mother or to the viability of the child? [Related: “There Are No Nine Month Abortions“] These oversimplifications are unfortunately effective tactics of emotional manipulation employed by well-funded political operatives intent on preserving the national dominance of a political party with very deep pockets, and they themselves frankly don’t care a bit about abortion, gay marriage, or fighting pornography (Do you suppose Donald Trump cares?). These are all handles on the church which they have seized upon in order to steer a large group of potential voters wherever they choose, even to the electing of the least qualified presidential candidate ever to top a major party ticket. In other words, evangelicals are being played. They have fallen for a strategy devised by desperate people with money to spare who were looking to stitch together a coalition of trusting people who would go on to serve as a reliable voting base for a half a century, right up until this election. It is the last gasp of the Southern Strategy finally playing itself out on a national stage.
In continuing to support Donald Trump simply because he says he will outlaw abortion, evangelical Christians have effectively given up their right to speak to moral issues in American life. Five decades of well-coordinated political action has programmed them to draw a line in the sand over issues about which the Bible says virtually nothing, even while turning a deaf ear to the cries of the less fortunate, the marginalized poor and the socially disadvantaged in our country (something the Bible speaks about voluminously). In so doing, as Jeff Jacoby of the Boston Globe so aptly put it, they have forfeited their right to claim moral authority over matters of public life.
A couple of months ago on her own blog, Rachel Held Evans, a Nashville resident who was once an evangelical herself but who no longer claims ownership of that label, wrote a persuasive piece arguing that consistently pro-life voters who seek to reduce the number of abortions happening around the country should vote in this election for Hillary Clinton. In the eight years since we’ve had a pro-choice president, the abortion rate in the U.S. has dropped to its lowest since 1973. I believe the best way to keep this trend going is not to simply make it harder for women to terminate unwanted pregnancies but to create a culture with fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with. Data suggests progressive social policies that make healthcare and childcare more affordable, make contraception more accessible, alleviate poverty, and support a living wage do the most to create such a culture, while countries where abortion is simply illegal see no change in the abortion rate. [emphasis hers] By focusing exclusively on the legal components of abortion while simultaneously opposing these family-friendly social policies, the Republican Party has managed to hold pro-life voters hostage with the promise of outlawing abortion, (which has yet to happen under any Republican administrations since Roe v. Wade), while actively working against the very policies that would lead to a significant reduction in unwanted pregnancies. She’s absolutely right. The best way to reduce the number of abortions nationwide is to vote for progressive healthcare policies which approach the subject of birth control from a realistic standpoint rather than an idealistic one. The states with the highest rates of teen pregnancy, STDs, and poverty (including my own) are not-coincidentally the same states which teach “abstinence only” rather than comprehensive sex education, and they are the states that generally make every form of birth control more difficult to procure. In essence, they are exacerbating the very problem they are trying to remedy.