Você está na página 1de 121

Prayerfully Pro-Choice:

Resources for Worship

Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship R eligious Coalition for Reproductive Choice 1


The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, founded in 1973, is a non-partisan, non-profit education and advocacy organization comprising more than 40 national groups representing major denominations, movements, and faith groups.

As the only national interfaith organization dedicated to preserving reproductive choice, the Religious Coalition has the unique mission of ensuring reproductive choice through the moral power of religious communities. Our nationwide network encompasses clergy of all faiths, activists in state affiliates throughout the country, and individuals committed to reproductive and religious freedom.

All Religious Coalition programs seek to give clear voice to the reproductive issues of people of color, those living in poverty, and other underserved populations.

Dear Friends:

Clergy and laity who would like to organize and present worship services and faith- oriented events dealing with reproductive choice have long wanted a resource for sermons, prayers, rituals and other materials.

In Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice offers a compilation of resources that affirm reproductive choice.

This project began several years ago with a call to members of the Clergy for Choice Network and Religious Coalition state affiliates for contributions that could be shared with others. We received many more than we expected and, unfortunately, more than we could include at this time. To all who contributed, we are grateful for your generosity.

This resource provides representative pieces to stimulate ideas and serve as a foundation for creating your own sermons and services. The contents include prayers, speeches, sermons, interfaith services, healing rituals, presentations for special events, individual statements and biblical passages. We have credited all known authors. We would appreciate being notified of any changes that are necessary so we may adjust credits in future editions.

On the recommendation of clergy and others, we have published Prayerfully Pro-Choice in loose-leaf notebook format so materials can be easily added and rearranged. We also will make this resource available in electronic form, on a floppy disk as well as the Religious Coalition website—www.rcrc.org.

We will continue collecting materials such as these and making them available to affiliates, clergy, and others. We are looking for a broad range of topics related to reproductive choice—for example, violence, health care, and family issues. We welcome contributions of materials that you think your colleagues will be interested in.

We hope that this collection of resources will assist you in preparing sermons, delivering speeches, writing articles and creating worship services that bring a heightened understanding of what it means to be prayerfully pro-choice. We hope that these spiritually powerful writings will inspire you in the important work you do.

Faithfully yours,

in spire you in the important work you do. Faithfully yours, Reverend Carlton W. Veazey President

Reverend Carlton W. Veazey President and CEO

March 2004





Woman’s Prayer Nebraska Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice


We Come to You in Gratitude, Humility, Pain and Supplication Heather Jo McVoy, Ph.D.


Prayer for Times of Decision New York Metro Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice



Community Prayer for Choice Rosemary Radford Ruether




The Unfinished Revolution of Pro-Choice Reverend Howard Moody


Seeing the World Through Women’s Eyes Reverend Bernice Powell Jackson


Experiences in Faith Reverend Ann Hayman





Faithful Witness for Choice The Reverend Katherine Hancock Ragsdale


Pro-Prayer, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice Reverend Julia Mayo Quinlan


Explaining Abortion to Children Reverend Colleen M. McDonald


Words of Hope Dr. James Armstrong


Choice: A Declaration of Faith Bishop Melvin G. Talbert


The “Truth” About Abortion Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro


Hospital Mergers Restrict Services (Jewish Tradition) Rabbi Bonnie Margulis


Creating a “Zone of Respect” in Hospital Mergers (Christian Tradition) Reverend Kenneth Applegate


Interfaith Services


Faithful Witness for Choice!


Sample Liturgical Materials for Interfaith Worship Services



Service of Memory and Dedication


Services of Healing


You Are Not Alone: Seeking Wisdom to Decide Diann L. Neu


Affirming a Choice Diann L. Neu


Ceremony for Closure after an Abortion Reverend Dr. Kendyl Gibbons


Funeral Service for Miscarriage Rabbi Dana Magat


Special Events


Family Life Education: Remarks to the State Legislature Reverend Julie Denny-Hughes


Breaking the Silence about Sexuality in The Black Church Reverend Carlton W. Veazey


Six Billion People—A Matter of Consequence Marjorie Signer and Cynthia Cooper


Dedication of Planned Parenthood Headquarters Reverend Cynthia S. Bumb and the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice


Blessing for Providers of Women’s Health Care Reverend David Selzer


Theology, Human Sexuality and Reproductive Choice: Individual Statements


Unitarian Universalism Reverend Dr. Rebecca Edmiston-Lange


The Lutheran Church Reverend Dr. Charles V. Bergstrom


The Episcopal Church Reverend David Selzer


Conservative Judaism Rabbi Neil Sandler


The Presbyterian Church Reverend Kenneth Applegate


Reform Judaism Rabbi Rosalind A. Gold


Catholics for a Free Choice Frances Kissling


Society for Humanistic Judaism Rabbi Sherwin T. Wine



A Woman’s Prayer

Nebraska Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

Creator God, You are the source of our life. You are the energy inside our spirit. We grow and stretch and strive and hope. You reach for us and hold out your hand. You wait for us!

We are made in your image. You promised that we will grow up to be in you. Seeds of divinity are planted in us. You are the destination of our dream. You wait for us!

In time your care will bring us to perfection. We are on a voyage. Our life opens before us like an uncharted sea. We have no compass but the stars. You wait for us!

Our life brings hard choices; we long for the light. Often we have a choice between two goods, Or we have a choice between the lesser of two evils. Sometimes it is a good choice not to choose at all. You wait for us!

Always we are guided by your sovereign power. Always we are comforted by your close compassion. Always we are embraced by your tender mercy. Always we are accepted by your unconditional love. You wait for us!

Our hearts ache for justice; our eyes have been opened. We see the faces of suffering and despair. Our voices cry out for the whole human family. Our blinding tears wash away our hurt and frustration. You wait for us!

We renew our strength. We are one with you. The world is not yet finished. We are co-creators with you.

We Come to You in Gratitude, Humility, Pain and Supplication

Heather Jo McVoy, Ph.D.

Heather Jo McVoy is a writer and consultant in Tallahassee, Florida.

Yahweh God, ground of all being, we come to you in gratitude, humility, pain and supplication. We are grateful for your bounty, past and present, and for your sustaining care at all times. We are humbled before your justice and steadfast love in the face of our failures of love, our self-centered view of priorities, and our uncertainties about what constitutes justice in your sight. We are in pain because people of faith are deeply split over the issues presented by the problem of abortion and have resorted to invective, hatred and physical and verbal violence in your name.

We ask that you fill us with your love. Make us instruments of your peace. Teach us to do your will, not our own. Help us to walk the way of reconciliation and love, and sustain us in the struggle to stand for what is right, without hatred for those who, in good faith, believe other than we do. Strengthen us to run the race to the end, not for our own gratification but that your will be done and your justice reign in the world today. Keep us mindful that, while we are called to be faithful witnesses, the outcome is in your hands.

We ask that your wisdom, love and justice fill the legislators, the governor, all women who have struggled with this choice in their own lives or will in the future, and all those gathered over this issue in this city, around the state and around the nation. Teach us all to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you all our days.


Prayer for Times of Decision

“Affirming Women’s Moral Agency” On the Anniversary of Roe v. Wade New York Metro Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice ©

Blessed are you, creator of the universe, who sustains us in times of decision. You have made it possible for us to consider with wisdom our lives and the lives of our loved ones, and you have granted us courage and intelligence to make decisions about our childbearing.

As you have been with us in times of decision, so may you continue to be with us as we experience the complexity of life’s demands and responsibilities. Help us to remember that because we are created in your image, we are required to attend with care to our health and well-being. Help us to accept that as some of life’s possibilities are lost, some expectations disappointed, we thereby go on to nurture other commitments, to realize other fulfillments.

May the support and strength of those close to us continue to sustain us, even as we are sustained by your gifts of wisdom and strength. Blessed are you, who is with us in times of decision.

A Community Prayer for Choice

Rosemary Radford Ruether

Rosemary Radford Ruether is Professor of Applied Theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois.

God of our mothers and fathers, source of all life and new life, we are saddened by the conflicts we often experience; conflicts between life and life, between the affirmation of potential new life and the ongoing life that we have committed to nurture and strengthen, our own life and the lives of those we uphold and sustain.

We are more than sad, we are also angry that we are faced with such choices, for these are choices in which there is no wholly good way; these are choices against a potential life or against existing life.

We do not like to have to make these choices. We would like to neatly arrange our lives so we do not have to make these choices, but that is not always possible.

We are surrounded by many children who came into the world without the most minimal opportunities for love and development. We do not want to create life in that way. We want to create life that is chosen, life that is cherished and can be sustained and nourished.

We want to be able to choose the best choices under the circumstances, the choices that are neither easy nor simple, without pain or hurt.

We stand together as a community today to bear witness to the ability and right of women and their families to make the best choice, based on their religious convictions, with faith and with trust.

This prayer has been adapted by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.


The Unfinished Revolution of Pro-Choice:

Beyond Sound Bites and Slogans

Reverend Howard Moody

Reverend Moody is ordained in the American Baptist Church and the United Church of Christ. He was Senior Minister of Judson Memorial Church in New York City from 1956-1992, where he is now Minister Emeritus. While at the Judson Church in 1967, Reverend Moody organized the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a network of ministers and rabbis willing to help women find safe abortions at a time when abortion was still illegal. The following speech was delivered at the annual meeting of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice on September 17, 1997.

My words tonight are addressed to the religious communities that many of you represent, and I dare say in many instances you may be one of a few who dare to make his or her voice heard. Since Roe v. Wade, for a number of reasons, many of our religious institutions have been back-pedaling on resolutions, buying “ecumenical peace” at the price of abdicating our advocacy and failing to challenge the obstacles that threatened to turn the freedom of Roe v. Wade into a sham. The churches and synagogues in this nation were cowed by the religious right. They condemned abortion with such “theological certainty,” judged its practitioners with such moral conviction that we became speechless and the issue of women’s reproductive freedom took a back seat on the social agenda of most every major Protestant denomination.

The first battleground that developed after Roe v. Wade was one of religious warfare. The anti-choice people were determined to make this battle a challenge to the moral conscience of this nation. I want to spend a few minutes on the ethical and theological aspects of their struggle, trying to look at their place in the present struggle.

In recent times, only the Vietnam War has succeeded in creating such a climate of deep divisions and intolerance as the abortion issue. There is a certain parallel in the ethical dilemma of both issues. Is it ever regretful to go to war against your enemy? Some people say “yes,” under certain conditions. Some people say “no,” never.

The similarity in the ethical dilemma of fighting a war and terminating a pregnancy (I know you don’t like the analogy, but it makes an important point) is the use of force. Some people draw the line at force against a civilian population, others draw the line at the use of nuclear weapons. Some people who favor some wars with limited use of force become at some point anti-war. In the issue of a problem pregnancy this is also true in some measure because pregnancy is a process—a continuing line; the beginning is not the same as the end. Time makes a difference. At some time on the continuum line of pregnancy, most all of us become anti-abortion.

Each stage of fetal development injects new moral and ethical questions into the issue of the freedom to terminate. That was one of the geniuses of Roe v. Wade: the recognition of the continuum line in which time tempered the freedom of the individual to terminate a

pregnancy. Some say that recognition in time may come back to haunt the decision with the continued advance of medical technology’s ability to push back the time of viability.

My understanding of free choice is that the right to choose is a God-given right with which persons are endowed. Without choice, life becomes a meaningless routine and humans become robots. Freedom of choice is what makes us human and responsible. And for women, the preeminent freedom is the choice to control her reproductive process. Any theological or moral arguments that subordinate a woman’s freedom to the imaginary screams of a fetus in early pregnancy or the value of a unique and irreplaceable genetic code in an embryo will be less than human, no matter how much talk there is about the “preciousness of life.”

The anti-choice minority, early on in this struggle, captured the clever slogan “right to life” and they have rallied a number of unthinking and confused advocates to their side. Slogans (on both sides), though they many be expedient for 30-second sound bites or even arousing emotions, are seldom useful guides to ethical decision-making.

“Right to life” is such a simple slogan. It seems so indisputable, such an unarguable verity, but only in an oversimplified world of one-dimensional morality where “biological determination” is an ultimate value, supreme over all other considerations, including human intentions. In the view of the absolute anti-abortionist, the biological process is ordained as the Ultimate Good so that an ovum, an embryo, or a fetus is endowed with divine rights that supersede all human reasons for its termination — even the mother’s life! For those who know their religious history, the deification of the conceptus is as heretical an idolatry as any pagan practice whereby a human was sacrificed for the sake of some idolized animal, stone, or tree. The most popular idolatry we modern humans engage in is to take a partial, finite and limited truth and by the alchemy of a kind of moral insolence convert it into an absolute value or idol. But that is precisely what these religious anti-choice people do. On the basis of this spurious heresy of the deification of the fetus, they consign a woman to bear and care for the result of conception so that body, mind and spirit are bound by a biological determination and prevent her from ever knowing true liberty.

Furthermore, if “right to life” is simply a crusade’s slogan and what is really meant is the right to be born, then our religious traditions speak to that issue. In my own religious understanding, birth (being born) is never seen as anything but a gift—a miraculous, marvelous, surprise present—a gift of God and a woman stranger. To speak of being born as a right is to jar the sensibilities; to speak of “birth on demand” strains the moral syntax of existence.

We are born (hopefully) of a woman’s free will and human intention, at the cost of real physical pain and nourishing care. Birth ought never to be forced, compelled or mandated by another person or the state itself. Rights begin with birth—they are a birthday present—birthright. Now we are born and now we have rights, but even then the rights are not absolute or indisputable. Even after birth our rights are fought for, deemed and

balanced against those who are already here and whose own rights limit and confine our own.

All of you know Sisela Bok’s incredible analogy of the drowning man’s right to be rescued at the risk of another person’s life. Only in a world of make-believe does everybody have a right to everything. But in the real and imperfect world we live in, even life is not an absolute right but a gift of God’s grace and other people’s courage, sacrifice and love.

Another battleground in the struggle for women’s reproductive freedom was established shortly after Roe v. Wade and seriously impaired this landmark decision. This battleground was political and legal. The politicization of the abortion issue started with Richard Nixon’s 1972 campaign but came to real fruition in the 1980 campaign of Ronald Reagan, when he brought together the Catholic Bishops Conference and the fundamentalist and evangelical Protestants known as the “moral majority.” This became the Religious Right Coalition, which captured the Republican Party.

But perhaps nothing did more damage to the effectiveness of Roe v. Wade than the Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976 and restricted payments for abortions with Federal funds. It was and still is a heartless and unconscionable effort at the abrogation of the Supreme Court decision. This law made it a lot clearer and more painful that in this society, only our principles and some of our laws are equal and just, but our practices are those of a two-class nation—Black and White, poor and prosperous—and to most poor women nothing much changed with that “landmark decision.” Once again, in real life, it is clearly evident that freedom of speech never meant much if hunger made you too weak to talk and freedom of choice doesn’t mean much if you haven’t the money to travel and pay for an abortion, and my friends, we are talking about the most fundamental freedom a woman possesses.

I would submit that there is no human right so precious to a woman as the right to choose the time of her childbearing and conversely, there is no law so oppressive and no economic policy so dehumanizing as that which consigns a woman, because she is poor, to involuntary servitude on behalf of an unwanted burden for unnumbered years of her life. And all of this in the name of a highly speculative and ersatz “theology” that declares an embryo has the God-given and constitutional rights of an adult human being!

Beyond the economic barriers to the Court’s decision, there are all of those other obstacles of parental consent, waiting periods, forced propaganda counseling, etc., which were further impediments to block the effect of Roe v. Wade.

These challenges grew in number after the Supreme Court decision of Webster v. Missouri (which some have called the “balkanization of the abortion issue”) returning to the state legislatures the right to pass laws contravening the “freedom of choice” decision. So here we are in our present predicament. After financial restrictions limiting hospital facilities where there are no clinics and denying the spread of facilities where women

could obtain abortions (we can call that geographical nullification of the laws), then comes the “final solution” of the fanatics of the so-called “right to life” movement. It’s probably wrong to call them “fanatics” or “extremists.” They were simply people who believed enough in the rhetoric to carry it to its logical conclusion.

But now we have premeditated violence (arson, bombings, murder and mayhem against facilities and the helping professions in the clinics). This is the desperate and ultimate step, for religious terrorists to frighten medical personnel, nurses and workers from helping women exercise their free choice.

Where we are today in the struggle for women’s reproductive freedom is the same place African-American women were after Brown v. Board of Education, which declared the separation of races discriminatory. Some of you remember! You couldn’t comply with the law without the National Guard and the federal marshals. When African-Americans achieved the right to vote, that was a great milestone (so it was believed) until African- Americans tried to register to vote—then there were threats, intimidation and murder of those who tried to help them implement their freedom.

Brown v. Board and Roe v. Wade are landmark decisions, symbols of liberties, but that’s only what they are—symbols—as long as the forces of nullification continue to make those few freedoms impractical or impossible. How much progress do you think we have made in the integration of schools in some 40 years? Not much. How much progress in over two decades have we made in enabling all women to exercise their reproductive rights? Not enough!

For all those who care about women’s reproductive freedom, the unfinished liberation calls all of us to a vision far beyond what we now have. We’re not in danger of losing Roe v. Wade; our peril is that we will not continue the fight to make that decision real for all women! A vision of a time and place where the unfulfilled promises of that law will come to fruition:

A time and place where every woman, rich or poor, rural or urban, single or married, teenager or middle-aged, will have access to the knowledge and means of controlling her reproductive capacity.

A time and place where if that knowledge and means fail (and they will), every woman, regardless of race, poverty, or geography will find a medical facility to terminate her unwanted and unplanned pregnancy.

A time and place where clinics of choice will be communities of compassion, open and inviting, without fear, and utterly private—quiet spaces where the noises of ranting intolerance and inhuman protests will be silent.

A time and place where people who care about this issue will stop yelling across barricades, will lower the decibels of our sloganeering defenses and sit down together to face the complex new moral issues that medical technology in the field of neonatology has raised for us.

This leads me to raise a much more difficult question for those of us who take an uncompromising stand on “free choice.” Ought we or can we engage in dialogue about this troublesome issue? Are we certain enough in our convictions, confident enough in the power of our arguments to sit down at the table and talk? Originally I thought the dialogue ought to happen between us and the “anti-abortion” people (not the right to life fanatics, but the far more numerous conservatives who just don’t believe it’s right). But I’m not sure that could be fruitful or even possible. Rather, it should be an internal debate among those of us who understand the preciousness of a woman’s freedom and the complexity of the issue.

The dialogue must begin with the admission that having an abortion is not a political question (even though anti-abortion supporters were the ones to politicize the question). Rather, the act of having an abortion is the most deeply personal act dealing with a woman’s feelings about life, the power of creation and the survival of the species. And if we are to enter a dialogue, the conversation cannot be seen as a “threat to the rights of women but rather as the enhancement of the responsible exercise of those rights” (Frances Kissling).

If we believe abortion as an issue has its complexities, then it makes dialogue a necessity. The polls point out the complexity. In 1990, 73 percent of Americans were in favor of abortion rights, while 77 percent regarded abortion as some kind of destruction of life. Therefore most Americans are both for free choice as a principle and against abortion for themselves. “One has to know nothing else to realize how complicated a problem we have both before and within us” (Roger Rosenblatt).

Rosenblatt calls this bifurcated way of thinking “very American as it embraces both contradiction and ambiguity.” It seems that what most of us want to do about abortion is permit it but discourage it. Only ideologists or extremists fail to see those are grounds on which conservatives and liberals might agree.

The reason for this ambiguity is the nature of the fetus. While we are certain that it is not a human being, equal in any way to the life of the mother, it is a form of “potential life.” What this might mean is: even though abortion is not tantamount to murder, it is more than having a tooth pulled or an appendix removed. It becomes, perhaps, always an act less desirable and at times irresponsible. Frances Kissling makes this point concisely:

Acknowledging fetal life as valuable and as an important factor in decision-making about abortion need not be linked to a specific religious doctrine. The Christian respect for life has never required the absolute protection of life. It does not require conferring personhood or rights on the fetus, nor does it suggest limiting the legal rights of women to decide whether to bring new life into the world or to have an abortion (Kissling, ibid).

An agreement on the value of the fetus as “potential life” could enhance the dialogue and move us beyond the absolutist interpretation of the fundamental rights articulated in Roe v. Wade. (Does anyone here want to defend the right of a woman to terminate her pregnancy in the third trimester because she discovers that the one to be born is the wrong sex?)

In an issue as ambiguous and complex as abortion, absolutist positions on either side are both unhelpful and out-of-place. In order to illustrate that claim, we need to look at some of the moral questions that the advances of medical technology in the field of neonatology have raised for us — questions about the rights and responsibilities of a woman pregnant with “potential life.”

For example, in different parts of the country, hospitals have obtained court orders to force women to undergo cesarean sections because doctors felt that their “fetal patients” required them. The most publicized was one where the woman refused a cesarean because God meant for her to have her baby the normal way (even if it might die or be severely retarded in normal childbirth). Didn’t you find yourself a little conflicted about who should win that court case?

Remember, Roe v. Wade says that the state has a right to protect the fetus after viability. In cases where there is an arbitrary threat to the termination or endangerment of fetal life by the woman’s behavior, such as drug abuse, women are being threatened with incarceration. What are the rights of pregnant women who are substance abusers? Should they be restrained or punished for child abuse? What if the drug is nicotine or alcohol? What happens to the rights of a woman to control her own body? What about having unsafe sex during pregnancy? Is there any liability for having a baby born with HIV?

Because of neonatal advances, there is a further question of removing unwanted fetuses and keeping them alive in “mechanical wombs.” The question is whether pro-choice means the right not to bear a child or whether it means also the right not to “beget” a child, i.e., the right to choose not to bring into the world life embodying one’s genetic heritage.

Or take the issue seen from the other side of the problem involving little Portia Davis, who resides in Children’s Hospital, Washington, DC. She is two years old now. She sits strapped in a wheelchair. Her tiny pointed head jerks mildly as she passes from seizure to seizure. She has virtually no brain, and although her eyes are open, she is completely unresponsive and unaware of her surroundings. But the real tragedy of little Portia Davis, according to her parents, is that she never should have been born at all. They say their child is a victim of a medical system gone berserk!

Can we find justification for not withholding treatment in the ICU nursery once the full truth is known? Are there some things worse than “death” for some premature infants? If so, how do we make those decisions and what do we call it? Would we not find that the

answer to the foregoing questions would cut across pro and con positions on the abortion


The same difficulty arises in the late trimester and the day after birth when we are making

a moral decision about withdrawing life support—whether it’s in the mother’s womb or the high-tech incubator.

One of the arguments that has divided us is whether or when the fetus is or becomes a human being, and we may never reach agreement on this. I remember Joshua Lederberg, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist, responding to this question, saying that philosophers and theologians would first have to tell him what they meant by “human” before he could tell them at what point in the development of life a human being could be said to exist.

But whether we can ever agree on this issue, one thing on which we all can agree—both pro-choice and anti-choice—is that the longer the pregnancy progresses, the harder the justification for termination ought to be. Most of us do not have much trouble at any point in the pregnancy if the life of the mother is threatened, even if the baby to be born promises to be a full-term, healthy child. It seems to me at that point we have already made the case for “justifiable infanticide,” i.e., to save the life of the mother—known in criminal law as a plea of “self-defense.”

But many of us who agree with the rationale object vigorously to any thought of terminating the pregnancy of an organically disabled and grossly retarded fetus (in the third trimester) whose birth and continued life will bring immeasurable pain and suffering to the child and its parents (over its lifetime). It seems to me we may be engaging here in

a kind of moral gymnastics that defies the gravity of principle.

Another question we need to be wrestling with—those of us on both sides of the issue of choice—is where we stand on compulsory abortion. I’m proud of Hillary Clinton for attacking China’s treatment of women’s rights, but it’s a little too easy to attack compulsory abortion in a nation where the living population was threatened with starvation if the population was not curbed. What can be attacked is a solution that results in orphanages full of baby girls abandoned and sometimes killed.

Some communities have not been far from compulsory abortion. In places where mothers are heavily addicted and severely harming children before birth, is it reasonable for the state to decide that a mandated abortion is called for? Is that so far from charging a pregnant woman with child abuse and incarcerating her as a criminal?

How about women who bear several children who are addicted to crack or HIV positive? Haven’t you heard yourself say silently, “She ought to be stopped from bearing children, maybe sterilized?”

When you try to apply our old pro-choice cliché, “A woman’s body is her own, keep your hands off,” it rings kind of hollow before circumstances like these. But on the other hand,

imprisoning pregnant women for bad behavior sounds like the ultimate in slippery slopes. But for those of us whose only criterion is the woman’s rights, it does make us feel a little more concern for the unborn’s life.

Well, I could go on with these hard questions, full of complexity and ambiguity, that will put all our moral and theological absolutes to rest.

Now, my friends, raising these difficult questions does not mean that I believe that the dialogue is more important than assuring the freedom of all women to have a choice in their reproductive alternatives. But without considering these hard questions that confront us along with the advances of medical technology, we may lose our moral integrity.

I think it ought to be clear to all of us that we will not find peace and stability around this issue without the leadership of our religious communities—preachers, pontiffs, rabbis and teachers—speaking out of the best of their traditions. The churches and their theologians are responsible for much of the present climate. Fundamentalists in all religions are doing the damage, but the great silent majority of Protestants, Jews and Catholics created the vacuum. Don’t you think it strange that not a single Jesuit moral theologian belonging to an order trained in the mastery of casuistry (the process of relating the demand of love to the service of the neighbor, also known as “theological rationalization”) has come up with an ethical defense of abortion performed because of rape or incest?

It is not even a matter of whether you believe in abortion or not, but whether one’s faith enables us to speak out loud and clear against public displays of intolerance, bigotry, hatred and violence and plead for the acceptance of our differences, if not in love at least with understanding and civility. It’s the least we can do, we clergy and lay persons of faith, to break the silence of fear and speak and act out of faith, with toleration and compassion for those people who believe differently and act in obedience to their consciences. Only then can we hope for an end to the religious warfare, without which our democratic ideal is impossible. Those of us with strong religious conviction about reproductive freedom have a significant role to play.

Seeing the World Through Women’s Eyes

Reverend Bernice Powell Jackson

On July 29, 1994, Dr. John Bayard Britton and his escort James H. Barrett were shot and killed in front of an abortion clinic in Pensacola, Florida. The next year, the Religious Coalition decided to hold its annual conference in Pensacola to show support for a community beleaguered by violence and distrust. Returning from the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, Reverend Jackson delivered the following keynote address to the Coalition conference on September 18, 1995. Reverend Jackson is the executive director of the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ.

The theme for the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) Forum in China was “Seeing the World Through Women’s Eyes.” I was struck by that theme and I was even more struck by the idea of what the world would be like if it did see through women’s eyes. Think about it. What would the government be like if it saw the world through women’s eyes? What would corporations be like if they saw the world through women’s eyes? What would the United Nations be like if it saw the world through women’s eyes? What would our churches and synagogues and mosques be like if they saw the world through women’s eyes? I must admit, I can’t even imagine it. All I can say is that I am sure it would be different, very different.

For me, it all boils down to the question: what if we truly believed that man and woman were created in the image of God? For three years I had the blessing of working with Archbishop Desmond Tutu. One of the most powerful moments I spent with that man of God was at a women’s prison in upstate New York. I had asked him if he would visit the women on one of his visits and he replied immediately, “Why not on this one?” And he asked that we visit them on a particular day, which I later found out was the 25th anniversary of his ordination. The sermon he preached to these women was that each of them was created in the image of God. As they listened to that message and it crept into their very being, something powerful and almost incredible happened. I can only say to you that the Holy Spirit was among us as these women, branded and debased by society, realized that they were created in the image of God. That, for me, was seeing God through the eyes of women.

And that’s the perspective I’d like to take for the next few minutes—to see the world and especially the issues we are facing in this country through women’s eyes and, if I can be even more personal, through this woman’s eyes, through this African-American, God-fearing and God-loving woman’s eyes.

Viewed through a woman’s eyes, through this woman’s eyes, I must say that as we enter a new century and a new millennium, I believe that the United States is facing unprecedented challenges and probably unprecedented dangers. I believe that women, particularly poor women and people of color, are facing unprecedented challenges and unprecedented dangers. But with those challenges and dangers come opportunities and possibilities of rebirth, healing, renewal and justice.

There’s a feeling alive out there, you can almost physically feel it in the air. It’s a feeling that the world is out of control and that those people in charge of the government, business, the church—all need to be thrown out so that the control can be regained. As Middle America feels more and more at risk, they become increasingly conservative, frantically holding on to so-called family values, mindless patriotism, religious fundamentalism, racism, homophobia and visions of keeping women barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen. As the poor become poorer, they are tidily labeled the permanent underclass and find themselves living in ungovernable, broken down, insolvent walled- off cities where they are increasingly forced to turn to drugs and against themselves. These surroundings foster an anger which ferments and churns beneath the surface of calm.

Meanwhile, we have the quiet but steady growth of right-wing extremism. Now if this meeting had been held a year ago, before the Oklahoma City bombing, even some of us here in this room might have stopped listening once I got to this part. Oh, we know about clinic bombings and shootings, but thinking about more than that is almost too frightening to deal with. Oklahoma City changed all of that. We must understand the linkages between those good ol’ boys who run around in the woods in Idaho and Wyoming with guns, Terry McVeigh and his kind, and those who shoot clinic doctors.

We must also attempt to understand that the political conversation now has so radically right a center that a man like Dr. Henry Foster, a good doctor, a good human being, a man who has spent all his life working for the health and the rights of women, especially poor women, could be defeated without the Senate even taking a vote. We’ve got to understand right-wing extremism and the politically right center in which we live right now.

If we’re going to see the world through women’s eyes, then we must see it also through poor women’s eyes. Let’s not kid ourselves, the lot of poor women has never been easy. But over the past few months the rhetoric seems to be increasing and we now find poor women demonized by politicians looking for easy answers to difficult questions such as balancing our national budget, eliminating an incredible deficit caused by tax cuts for the wealthy and unneeded defense spending and dealing with an economy that has real, systemic and sustained problems. As more and more white men are forced out of jobs permanently, as more and more Americans see the so-called American dream being challenged, as they recognize that their children will not live even as well as they do now, as we experience an economic revolution rivaling the Industrial Revolution of a century ago, poor women, who are not there to speak for themselves, are increasingly being designated the scapegoats.

The rhetoric seems to be increasing and now we find poor women being demonized and we envision those age-old images of lazy, cheating, morally lax women. We hear only the stories of those women whose families have been caught up in generations of poverty and welfare, not the stories of those poor women working at minimum-wage jobs while attending school and raising their families alone. Not the stories of those women who

struggle along with little or no help from their children’s father. Not the stories of the grandmothers whose daughters have been lost to violence or crack cocaine or HIV/AIDS, who are now raising their grandchildren or even great-grandchildren with little or no help. Not the stories of those women struggling to learn how to read, write and raise their children while moving from shelter to shelter, because the reality is there are hundreds of thousands of women who have no bed to tuck their children into at night.

One out of every four American children is poor today. And while we rank near the bottom of western, industrialized nations when it comes to income of poor families with children, we are also at the top of the list of wealthiest children. The poorest of the poor amidst the richest of the rich. It is a spiritually impoverished and ethically confused nation that allows its children to be the poorest of the poor.

What does all of this have to do with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice? In the midst of the demonization is the attempt to take away the choices of poor women— the few choices they may have in life—the choices about how they live their own lives. Take away choices about whether or not to have children. Take away choices about how many children to have. Take away choices about how old they can be when they have children. Take away choices about whether they leave their children home alone or with substandard or even dangerous child care if they do get a job. Take away choices about whether they can afford to take their sick child to a doctor. Take away choices about whether they will have job training available to them—their only possible hope of escape from lives of poverty and neglect.

Now, if you can look at the world through the eyes of a poor woman, try looking at it through the lens of a poor African-American woman. Add racism to the mix. Imagine what it is like for a poor, Black mother raising her children in our nation’s cities. Knowing her children are twice as likely to die as infants as white children. Knowing they are twice as likely to die from gunshots. Imagine what it is like to raise male children wondering every morning whether your child will return home. Imagine having to teach your children urban survival skills—what to do if shots ring out and what to do if stopped by police. There are mothers in South Central Los Angeles who put their babies to bed in their bathtubs to protect them from stray bullets. Every four hours a Black child dies from gun violence in this country. Every four hours.

Then there are the schools. Imagine knowing the odds are against your child ever finishing high school because the majority of our children will never finish high school in a society that requires more and more skills such as computer literacy.

Imagine what it is like for those thousands of African-American and Latina women living with HIV and AIDS, knowing they will probably not live to see their child grow up. That’s what life looks like through the eyes of a poor Black woman right now. Not many choices and those few are being challenged. That’s what it means to see the world through women’s eyes.

What am I, as the Executive Director of the Commission for Racial Justice, doing addressing this meeting? What does all of this mean for and to people of faith who believe that each woman is created in the image of God and therefore has the power, the intelligence and the faith to make good choices about her own body and her own life?

It means that we must do exactly what we are doing here in Pensacola. We are saying we

must work in new coalitions and build some new bridges between communities. It means we must build anti-racist coalitions of people of good will. It means we must say we see

what is going on around us—we see the violence, we hear the violent language, we see the attempts to cut dollars for reproductive services for women, we see the attempts to go back to the good ol’ days, and we say no. We say no to violence—all violence—clinic violence, domestic violence, drive-by violence. We say no one who wishes to receive information about her choices should experience violence or coercion. We say no one who performs abortions or counsels women should experience violence or threats. We say a woman’s right to make all the choices about her own life and those of her family is

a fundamental human right that most Americans believe in. We say poor women should

not die from self-induced abortions any more than rich women should. We say women who have been victims of rape and incest have a right to choose, and our loving, creating God does not require them to have those children. To say otherwise is not religious or right.

We must do what we are doing here in Pensacola and admit, so proudly, that we are women and men of good faith who commit ourselves to redefining, to enlarging our very definition of who we are so that we truly become a multiracial, multicultural, multiclass, anti-racist movement dedicated to providing all women reproductive health and reproductive choice. Multiclass. Anti-racist. My friends, we have got to break down the barriers and the walls of race and class if we are to really exist in the hearts and minds of our nation. We’ve got to get rid of the things that divide us. We must get rid of the racism found not only in us as human beings, but in our institutions, our churches.

I heard the women on the panel yesterday afternoon calling on this organization, and any

organization that wants to work in communities of color in our nation, to commit itself to broadening the table and broadening the related issues, to commit itself not just verbally and superficially, but to really share power in leadership, power in decision-making and power in allocating resources. I heard the women say we must respect each others’ differences and know that what works for your community might not work in mine. I heard them say we’ve got some work to do in our own communities—some basic educational work, some dialogical work, some theological work to do in our own communities. Let us do it. Help us do it.

Let me be specific and personal. Look around you. What is missing in this group? There are some people of color groups missing. But there are really men of color missing. We’ve got work to do in our communities. It’s not just Catholic women giving up personal power to the Pope. The Black preacher is the pope to some women.

I heard the women yesterday saying that we have to work hard at communication and language. We assume that because we are all speaking English, we’re all saying the same thing. Do you know how the word pro-choice is often translated in the African-American community? Pro-genocide. You can dismiss it. You can ridicule it. You can deny it. You’ve got to get beyond the intent to the impact.

Last week I was talking with a psychology professor at a meeting. During a break he told me the story of teaching his students about communication and conversation. One of their assignments was to have five conversations and then put them in writing.

He told me how one student chose to have a conversation with her grandmother about abortion because she was sure they didn’t agree on it. But she found her grandmother did approve of a woman’s right to have an abortion. In fact, she had had one as a young teen. It had been performed by her father, who was a medical doctor and was also the one who had impregnated her. Seeing the world through women’s eyes.

These, then, my friends, are the issues which I believe are critical for us to deal with as we seek to discern God’s will for us in the new century. Do I believe that we can do it? Absolutely, yes. Do I believe that we will do it? I live in hope. I live in the same hope as the psalmist who wrote Psalm 15, whose words we sang last night.

I live in the same hope as the poet Maya Angelou when she wrote “On the Pulse of the Morning” for President Clinton’s inauguration, a poem celebrating all of our glorious past and calling us to a new day. Hear the final verse of that wonderful poem:

Here, on the pulse of this new day, You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister’s eyes, And into your brother’s face, Your country, And say simply With hope— Good morning.

Experiences in Faith:

Remarks for California Republican League

Reverend Ann Hayman

For nearly 20 years Reverend Hayman has served as the program director of the Mary Magdalene Project, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church that provides alternatives to women involved in street prostitution. Reverend Hayman also is the chair of the Leadership Team of the Southern California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The following speech was delivered to the California Republican League on September 26, 1998.

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister; and said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” (Genesis 30:1,2)

My Experience

I live in a very different world than do most of you. Now, I was raised in your world. My parents are both card-carrying Republicans and my paternal grandfather was a Presbyterian minister. Rest assured, those values still define on a daily basis my experience.

I would like to take a quick survey—a show of hands. I’d like to know how many of you

have a problem-free or a trouble-free life? No one has a problem-free life. And yet, somewhere out there lurks the myth that we should not have problems. There is the ideal of a perfect world without suffering, without hard choices, without tension. We call it “family values.” You all know what I’m talking about. It is a white, middle-class world where men make the decisions, women stay home and raise children and pets and we are all well-educated and go to church. The reality is that this is not normative for more than half the world. Families come in a multitude of sizes, shapes and descriptions, almost half

of our households have no adult male in them, we are not white and we do not live in the suburbs. We all have problems, and we approach our problems, we solve our problems, by bringing resources, information and technology to bear on them. As people of faith we also engage in prayer, meditation and fellowship.

Unfortunately, some pregnancies are not perfect either. How many of you know a woman who has had an unplanned or a problem pregnancy? It is a no-win situation. There is no “happy ever after” to a problem pregnancy. Only hard choices, suffering and stress.

Terry was an 18-year-old mentally ill prostitute when I first met her. She had been incested by her mother’s boyfriend since age 5. She had her first child, a daughter, at 14 and the State of California promptly stepped in and took her and placed her for adoption. Terry has never recovered from that loss. Twenty years later she is pregnant for the ninth time. She has had two live births, three abortions and four miscarriages. Her first abortion

was at age 12. She was pregnant by her mother’s boyfriend. Her daughter was fathered by a sailor on shore leave whom she met while hanging around the docks in San Diego where she lived. Her son was fathered by a bus driver in Atlanta. Her current boyfriend is an unemployed mechanic.

Terry’s life will never be problem-free. She makes her moves based on her need to survive given rather minimal options and often inadequate resources. She is a trained cosmetologist and, like her mother, a welfare recipient. Her emotional state is unstable. Eventually the State of California will step in and take from her these children and her grief will be compounded and her mental health shattered.

My Experience Expanded

Now, most of us sitting in this room know exactly how we feel about abortion, and we each carry with us our own personal experiences or the experiences of our friends and loved ones. I have never met a woman who got pregnant just so that she could have an abortion. I have never met a women with an unplanned or problem pregnancy that I could not trust to make the best decision regarding that pregnancy, often with little support and great distress frequently compounded tenfold by the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. Yes, even Terry makes decisions that I trust. I don’t always like the decisions she makes, but I trust her to make them.

Terry is a child of Godde. Godde watches over her. I believe that Godde alone is the sovereign arbiter of Terry’s or any woman’s conscience. She truly believes that Godde is with her through the many “valleys of the shadow of death” that she walks and the despair that she so often feels. She attends church, she prays to be forgiven, she struggles to survive.

Our Traditions

Scripture makes no explicit mention of induced abortion, whether in approval or prohibition, but we know from studying pre-Judaic Hittite documents that abortion was practiced in biblical times. It was the sole domain of women—midwifery was the reproductive health option of the day—it was women with herbal remedies helping other women. We must remember that childbearing as a medical event is a fairly recent development. I was the first generation in my family to have been born in a hospital. That was in 1949. Both of my parents were born at home. (Male) doctor-assisted delivery has only been normative during this century.

According to The Covenant of Life and the Caring Community (a Presbyterian document)

Scripture abounds with references to childbearing; in fact in Hebrew Scripture, images of salvation and immortality are intimately connected to the procreation of children. Even though there must have been frequent problems associated with pregnancy and childbirth in biblical times, the Scriptures are largely silent about

the details, for their focus is a theological one…Hebrew Scriptural references to childbearing, however, must be read in terms of the context of the nation Israel— a struggling tribal people, eking out an existence under adverse conditions. Children were needed for labor and for security in old age and were desired as a sign of God’s blessing. Not to be able to bear children was perceived as a sign of God’s disfavor and the cause of great anguish. (pg. 10)

So why, if there is no direct reference to abortion in Scripture, is Scripture so often quoted in relationship to reproductive health issues? It is because as people of faith we turn to the Book of Life as one of our resources when we have problems. We bring to our reading of Scripture experiences that are very diverse and often complex. Sometimes we are looking for easy answers, sometimes we just want to proof text, sometimes we have a deep spiritual need and are seeking direction, sometimes we want to prove a point. Whatever our tradition(s), we read and use Scripture based on our own agendas. As people of faith we seek the truth, as Christians we have been taught that the truth will set us free.

And the truth can be hard to hear. It can also make us very angry and upset. What if I were to tell you that for a young girl who has been incested most of her childhood, to choose prostitution is a very liberating experience? It’s the truth. In prostitution she can take control over her life in ways she could never do at home. What if I were to tell you that battering and incest are greater in churched families than in non-churched families. Its the truth. It’s also very hard to hear.

Much of the abortion debate in the United States is about the appropriate social roles of white women. Our reproductive choices are shaped by our cultural, political and economic contexts. The Jewish-Christian tradition is centered around a longing for Life. Yet, it has never made biological human existence an absolute value. Varying levels of crucifixion, martyrdom, human sacrifice (as in the story of Abraham and Isaac), honoring those who give up their lives for others, display the deeper belief that the life we long for, the life Godde promises and gives, is not mere biological existence. This, combined with the “way of life” discussed in Deuteronomy 30:15, which sets before us a sort of “spiritual life,” allows us to stand in a honest relationship with Godde in the context of human community where justice and mercy prevail.

What is the truth of being “pro-life?” If we really are “pro-life,” then why are we 4,000 foster homes short in LA County? If we really are “pro-life,” then why are there 40,000 children in LA living in foster care? If we really are “pro-life,” then why do we keep spending more money building prisons than we spend on education in this state? If we really are “pro-life,” then why do we expect a welfare mother to support a family of five on an eight-dollar-an-hour job? “Pro-life?” I assure you that life does not begin at conception and end at birth.

There is nothing romantic about growing up abused, unloved and unwanted. There is nothing romantic about growing up in poverty. Suffering does not for the most part build character—it only detracts from the quality of one’s life. These are the very human

concerns to which Scripture speaks and, indeed, very hard truths to hear.

Re-mything Our Traditions

Perhaps no other issue melds together politics and religion like abortion and issues of reproductive freedom do. This is reflected in our gubernatorial race and in the results of a field poll taken this month which found that about two-thirds of all California voters, including 57 percent of Republicans, continue to believe women should have the right to choose. We have been lied to by the anti-abortion folk; their secrets are dark and deep and they delight in what they perceive to be silence from the “other side”—that’s us.

They attempt to speak for other people’s experience and that is wrong. They profess to speak for all Christians and they don’t. They purport to speak for Godde and they don’t! They identify specific biblical passages which they apply to the abortion question without regard to context, literary form, or the history of the passage. They worship a male God who is always in control:

“…intercourse results in this fertilization of this sperm and this ovum. They quote the psalmist (Psalm 139) as “proof” that (their) God directly controls each biological process in which the natural process of cell division begins. The only response a woman can make when faced with this kind of theology is fatalist. She must play out a role which (their male) God scripts, there is no freedom in (their) God and no consideration taken for the many secondary causes of unintended or problem pregnancies: biology and the lack of reliable contraceptives, biology and male violence, biology and youthful error, biology and poverty, biology and lack of information about sexuality and so on. Women must not be defined solely or primarily by biological capacity.” (Abortion in Good Faith, page 42)

As people of faith we are sources of living spiritual wisdom. As people of faith we must recognize that people are dying for the truth. If we truly believe in Godde’s providence, Godde’s ordering of the future, then we as humans face a future of infinite possibilities.

(Abortion in Good Faith, pg. 26)

What are our deepest values? How do we feel about an ideological shift that makes a fetus a patient and a person? Nowhere in Scripture either Hebrew or Christian are any such claims made. If we value human life—even find it sacred—then we must acknowledge the fact that frequent pregnancies are not good for women’s health. What are we willing to say to a medical technology that keeps miscarriages alive and how will we address the presence of more frequent fetal monitoring during the third trimester, which will undoubtedly discover even greater numbers of fetal abnormalities and health risks to the mother?

And what are we willing to do regarding teen pregnancy? Even though the numbers are in decline, there are still too many children having children. This epidemic reflects a number of factors, the first being meaninglessness in young girls’ lives, the second is a

lack of reliable information about sexuality, the third is isolation—they have no one with whom to talk—and the fourth is that all the rhetoric about abortion from the anti-abortion crowd has made abortion not an option for many of them.

Do we really trust women to make the “hard” choices? Are we willing to empower every woman to make responsible choices regarding her use of the abilities and opportunities she has contributed to the fullness of life? Abortion issues raise most profoundly the challenge to see each woman as a unique and capable human person and moral agent who may (or may not) choose to contribute biological life as her gift to the life we all share. The question of reproductive options asks us if we are ready to accept what God may be doing through the intellectual and spiritual contributions women are eager to bring; to reform ourselves as new occasions, as God’s providence, may demand.

(Abortion in Good Faith, pg. 41-42)

I close my remarks with the voices of women:

From the Episcopal Women’s Caucus (1978):

We are deeply disturbed over the increasingly bitter and divisive battle being waged in legislative bodies to force continuance of unwanted pregnancies and to limit an American woman’s right to abortion.

We believe that all should be free to exercise their own consciences on this matter and that where widely differing views are held by substantial sections of the American religious community, the particular belief of one religious body should not be forced on those who believe otherwise.

To prohibit or severely limit the use of public funds to pay for abortions abridges and denies the right to an abortion and discriminates especially against low income, young and minority women. (We Affirm, page 13)

From a woman delivering her first child:

It was all so different than I had imagined. Bright lights, machines clicking, people coming in and poking and probing but never telling me what was happening. What did women do before all this stuff existed? We’ve been having babies for centuries; when did it get so complicated?

A pastor talking to a woman who just suffered a miscarriage:

It must have been God’s will. Don’t worry—you can always have another baby.

From the mother of a premature baby:


wanted to love Joshua, but I felt the need to protect myself from having

him, too. I worried that every day we spent together would make it harder

to lose him. In spite of ourselves we grew to love him, even as his life became more and more fragile and we saw him slipping away from us. We wanted him to come home, to live with us, to be normal—but we knew that wasn’t possible. As the days went on I found that I got used to the idea that he was going to die. He was a very special part of our lives, even if for a short time…

And from a 16-year-old girl:

I knew I was pregnant from the very moment—and I knew from the core

of my being that it was wrong. Even though I love children, I had no doubt that an abortion would be the right thing in this particular situation. That was five years ago, and every time I think about it I always have the same feeling—relief, almost a sense of deliverance. It would have been unbearable to have had to live with that mistake for a lifetime. My life was changed in this experience, transformed. I like to think I’m stronger now, more able to be my own person. I can’t help think that making that decision was probably the beginning of a new life for me. It was probably when I became an adult…


Faithful Witness for Choice

The Reverend Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

Chair of the Board of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice from 1992-1999, the Reverend Dr. Ragsdale delivered this sermon at the National Abortion Federation’s 1997 annual meeting in Boston, Massachusetts. Reverend Ragsdale is vicar of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and a former staff officer at the Episcopal Church’s national offices.

It is indeed an honor to be invited to support in any small way the work of the National Abortion Federation and of each of you. And it is a particular pleasure to be invited to lead you in worship. I have some idea how hard you work. All of you. Doctors. Administrators. Counselors. Activists. You work hard every day to meet the needs and to protect the rights of others. It is demanding work. It is, unfortunately, dangerous work. And it is work that never ends. So it is essential that you find space for rest and refreshment and this, we hope, is that opportunity. It’s not a workshop, or a rally, or a day at the office. It’s worship. It’s intended to be a time when you can stop and breathe and center and remember who you are and why you do this work. This is our gift to you and it is given in grateful appreciation for all you do.

I chose two texts for today’s service. It’s an unusual privilege for an episcopal priest to choose the text on which she’ll preach. You usually get whatever comes up in the lectionary and you have to find something to say about it. But this morning I got to choose, and I chose Psalm 139 and the Beatitudes. So let me discuss each in order.

I chose Psalm 139 partially because I’ve always loved it. How can you not love it?

Whither shall I go from your spirit? Or wither shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there:

If I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.

I chose it because I love it. But I also chose it because it is so often used against us by the anti-choice folks. And I think it’s important to be certain of what the Bible really says about abortion. So, let me first tell you what the Bible says, then I’ll tell you why you should care. Here’s what the Bible says about abortion…nothing. Nothing. Not one word.

Now folks will quote you this psalm to prove what the Bible says about abortion. “Look at verse 13,” they’ll say: “For you created my inmost parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” “See?” they say, “That proves it. We are fully formed, protected persons from the moment of conception.”

And then they go on to quote verse 15. “My body was not hidden from you, while I was made in secret, and woven in the depths of the earth.” But note how another can say, “See? The Bible proves it. We’re formed, fully human in the bowels of the earth and then transplanted into our mother’s wombs. Beam me in, Scottie!” No, you don’t hear them say that. Of course not. Because, as we've said this is not about abortion or human gestation. It’s a psalm of love and praise that reflects the amazing omnipresence of God.

This psalm is not about abortion. The Bible does not speak of abortion. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the opinions of the religious anti-choice people are not formed and shaped by their interpretation of the Bible. I’m sure they are. But I am saying that a more honest discourse would require them to stop pretending the Bible says anything about abortion, that the Bible speaks clearly and unequivocally on the subject. And instead say something like “I know the Bible doesn’t say anything on abortion, but our understanding of its emphasis on protecting the weak leads us to believe that abortion is always and necessarily wrong.” Then we could say, “That’s interesting. Our reading of those same passages leads us to believe that abortion must be a safe, legal option for all women.”

We’d still disagree, but we’d have an honest basis for talking that shows respect for one another’s consciences, even in the midst of disagreement. Similarly, when they refer to an embryo or a fetus as a baby, as if that were a fact and not a value judgment, they deliberately render honest and respectable discourse impossible. It would be less deceptive and manipulative if they were to say, “We see no moral distinction—no difference in value—between an embryo and a baby and so must oppose abortion.” Then we could say, “Really? We see a great deal of difference.” And we could then talk with each other and to the world in a way that honestly reflects our very real differences but does not distort the beliefs of our opponents.

The same thing applies when they show off those huge plastic fetuses big enough to cuddle and say this is what you’re aborting. Now you know just as well as I do that 91 percent of abortions occur before the end of the first trimester. The big plastic dolls are a lie. And the lies are dangerous, which is where we come to that question about why you should care about what the Bible actually says about abortion. We need to be able to unmask the whole realm of lies for the sake of the women and the families we serve and care for, and in the interest of honest civil discourse and ethical discernment, and in order to stop the violence.

Let me start with the violence. You’ve heard it said, and it’s undeniably true, that violent rhetoric has led to violent action. But I will contend that violent rhetoric is the second step down that dreadful path. The first step is the disregard for the consciences and values of others. When anti-choice folk insist that they act on deeply faith-based convictions, and fail to acknowledge that we do too, they begin the process of dehumanization and demonization that marks us as fair game for violence. And it must stop.

We have to claim the faith commitments that undergird our work. The lying must stop. And again, I hope you understand that I am not asking the pro-life folks not to speak their minds and their consciences. I am not opposed to disagreement, even passionate disagreement, as members of my family will attest. But I do believe that even the most profound disagreements and debates should be characterized by truthfulness and respect for the consciences of others. Civil discourse and ethical discernment depend on our ability and willingness to disagree passionately yet still honestly and honorably. And so, Sisters and Brothers, I ask you to honor the consciences of those who disagree with you, and insist that they honor yours as well, and be clear that it is your conscience about which they’re talking. Expect and embrace passionate debate, but demand that the debate be characterized by mutual respect and peace. Debate fairly, but do not let courtesy keep you from speaking the hard truths. This has been a common failing of the religious community. We have to start speaking and demanding the truth.

I don’t know how many of you would identify yourselves as religious, but I doubt that

you’re in this work for money or glory. I would bet that you do it because your conscience demands it of you. I would bet that your work is a reflection of your values and faith commitments, and I hope that you will start saying so. Declare yourselves prayerfully pro-choice everywhere you can, every chance you get. Do it to help change the climate that nurtures violence. Do it also for the sake of a more honest public debate and for the sake of a deeper, more comprehensible discourse.

I recently had the privilege of sitting on a panel at a medical school for a class on

abortion. It was a delightful experience—wonderful students, wonderful faculty, great opportunity. But I have to tell you that I was appalled by the discourse between the ethicist on the panel and some of the students. They kept talking about the ethics of conscience and the importance of a conscience that allows caregivers who have qualms about abortion the freedom not to be involved in any abortion procedures. But no one mentioned—until I had had enough and jumped in—the disturbing implications of such acts of conscience. No one asked whether it was ethical for someone who was not prepared to provide the full range of reproductive services to become a gynecologist in the first place. No one suggested that failure to provide care might be morally suspect or that providing abortions might be an act of faith and conscience.

We have to remind people that we are prayerfully pro-choice so that our ethical deliberations have balance and substance.

Finally, we have to say that we are prayerfully pro-choice because the women who we care for need to hear it.

Let me say to you that as a parish priest, with a congregation of people who wrestle every day with what it means to lead a faithful life in a complex modern world, I do not ever

again want to meet a woman—I have met way too many of them—who thought she had to choose between her conscience and her faith community. Women who—when faced with a problem pregnancy—read their Bibles, talked with their families, their doctors, their counselors, prayed and prayed and prayed some more, and finally decided that abortion was the most responsible option available to them; and then despaired because that choice meant alienation from their faith community when they most needed its support. And years later they are still haunted by the accusations, condemnations, and disrespect heaped upon them by those who purport to speak in the name of God. You know how important it is for many of those sisters to hear a different voice speaking in the name of God, a voice which acknowledges the complexity of the decisions they face, which respects their moral agency, and which celebrates their courage and faithfulness in making hard decisions.

The fact of the matter is that they need to know that the vast majority of religious Americans are pro-choice. And the vast majority of religious institutions are pro-choice. And we are all pro-choice, not in spite of our faith, but because of it.

I think that it’s safe to say that all of us recognize and affirm that all life, indeed all

creation is sacred. And that part of being human is being able to hold all life and creation in sacred trust. We also affirm that part and parcel of that responsibility is to be responsible, moral, decision makers. And we know—only too well—that moral decision- making involves more than making a bad choice or a good choice. My four-year-old niece can do that. Moral decision-making is more complicated than that. It isn’t a matter of plugging all variables into a pre-determined formula to find the ethically appropriate answer. Ethical decision-making always involves weighing competing needs and costs and making the complex, moral decisions that are unique to complex, moral circumstances. Ethical decision-making involves living in a difficult and uncertain realm of ambiguity. Our faiths do not teach us that God will deliver us from the realms of ambiguity. Rather, they promise that God will be with us in it.

We are pro-choice because we are for women, and men, and children, and families who struggle to be faithful to God’s will for them in the face of the very real complexities of their lives. We are pro-choice not because we know that the decisions they make will always be the right ones, but that we understand that that is something that we never can know. So we leave the outcome in God’s hands, and in the meantime, we provide the women who turn to us with every resource at our disposal to help them make and act on the difficult choices they face. Women making these decisions need to know that they have our respect, that we honor and celebrate them for making and acting on and living with complicated ethical decisions. They need to know that we are prayerfully pro- choice. That’s why I chose Psalm 139.

I also chose the Beatitudes.

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Blessed are you when wicked people revile you and persecute you; and rest assured, they will.

Florence Nightingale was attacked by the public, the medical establishment, the army, and her family. So was Clara Barton. Margaret Sanger was reviled, not only for providing birth control, but also for her work with the labor movement at the Lawrence textile mills, not very far from where we sit right now. And most of us remember the attacks— verbal and physical—on anyone of any color who worked in the civil rights movement. The list could go on and on. Those who serve the vulnerable and the oppressed often become vulnerable and oppressed themselves. Those whose work threatens the power structures of the world can count on being attacked.

But blessed are you, when wicked folk persecute and revile you. Blessed are you, for you are not alone. You stand in a long line of prophets and heroes, sung and unsung, who have changed the world simply by doing what was right, one day at a time. You stand in a crowd of all the best people. Look around. Where would you rather be?

Maybe in the eyes of your neighbor or in the spaces between us, or a touch, or a tingle in your spine or a warmth in your heart, somewhere—somewhere—if you are attentive, you will notice that the Holy One, the One who has promised to be with us whenever we do difficult or dangerous work, on behalf of those who are in need, the Holy One is with you, too.

May She bless us all and grant each of us a full measure of faith and courage as we commit ourselves to this sacred work.

God bless you.

Pro-Prayer, Pro-Family, Pro-Choice

Reverend Julia Mayo Quinlan

Pastor of the Chinese United Methodist Church in New York, Reverend Quinlan addressed a service commemorating the 23 rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, held by the New York Metro Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice on January 22, 1996. Reverend Quinlan is a full Elder of the United Methodist Church and is ordained as a minister in the American Baptist Church.

I stand here tonight saying unashamedly and unequivocally I am pro-prayer, pro-family and pro-choice. I have wrestled in the past few weeks with how to communicate this, as I was invited to, considering that the most vocal, violent group of people opposed to reproductive choice say they are Christian, too!

While attending a national conference of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and the Women of Color Partnership in Pensacola, Florida, I experienced for the first time police escorts with dogs. They were for our protection from the anti-choicers picketing the conference. I wondered aloud, how do people from the same faith community have such different understandings of how our faith calls us to live and act on behalf of justice and mercy?

I went to the hairdresser still wondering. I have had some of the most intimate and challenging encounters with my Creator under the hairdryer. It seems that when all the other noise around me is drowned out, I can hear! While praying about what to say tonight, I heard these questions: Why are you passionately involved in the pro-choice movement, Julia? What has fueled your passion?

Tonight I hope to encourage the pro-choice activists present and challenge anyone undecided about where they stand. I would also like to dazzle you with a brilliant political and social analysis undergirded with theological reflection on the issue of a woman’s right to choose. However, I have learned to trust my hairdryer encounters. So, instead of being intellectual, I will be personal and answer the questions I heard by simply telling my story of how and why I became passionately pro-prayer, pro-family, pro-choice.

First, let me state what I mean when I say I am passionate. It is my belief that passion without integrity produces blindness, passion without intimacy with God and each other produces hardheartedness, and passion without discernment leaves one closed to change, discovery and active involvement in uncovering the myths that devalue life. Integrity, intimacy and discernment are integral in my stance as pro-prayer, pro-family and pro-choice.

My understanding of being pro-prayer evolved in my experience as a hospice chaplain. I found myself serving a group predominantly other than my own faith and people of an ethnicity other than my own. Walking with, being with and entering into the struggle that comes when someone can no longer avoid the reality of their imminent death increased the frequency of my prayer life and the depth of my prayer encounters.

In this ministry came a discovery: the idea that there is any superior method or pattern of prayer is a myth. I learned intimacy is of the heart. Prayer is from the depths of one’s own heart.

In prayer with others, I discovered many truths about the commonness of human experience. Integrity is found in solidarity with others and in acknowledgement and celebration of our sojourns by faith. Through my hospice experience, my vision of community was enlarged. I was able to recover a vision of Shalom often strangulated or truncated by elevating our own ethnicity, our own particular belief system or our own culture over another.

Discernment revealed again and again our connectedness as daughters and sons of God, and the need to remember we witness as we pray. Witnessing through prayer strengthens us and helps us overcome our fears, our fear of each other—and even our fear of death.

In our sound bite society I stand here with this sound bite that I’d like to hear and see in the media: Being pro-prayer and pro-choice is not a contradiction!

In the late summer of 1994, my only son was married after a seven-year courtship. About the fourth year of that courtship my son and his bride-to-be had worked out their differences and were committed to their relationship. Being loving children, both of them wanted parental approval. Their parents and their grandparents had taught them to be non-judgmental, to meet people where they are, not to devalue anyone because of difference and that God is love. And their parents and their grandparents struggled to embrace and celebrate their love. Why? Because their families would be racially and religiously diverse.

My son asked about family values:

What good are family values if they do not embrace with integrity the ability of love to overcome barriers such as race and religion?

What good are family values if my own backyard is cluttered with the debris of intolerance and hypocrisy?

What good are family values if they ignore, manipulate, attempt to qualify and lie about the truth which the psalmists declare: The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof, the world and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24.1)? Family values: What good are they if our political and societal landscape is devoid of mercy and justice is aborted?

These haunting questions moved me to seek forgiveness. I know what it means to be forgiven and to be grace-filled. I know what it means to be more inclusive than I ever thought could be. I am thankful for God’s mercy and thankful for the opportunity to be a loving mother and mother-in-law.

In a novel entitled A Case of Need, Michael Crichton tells a story about a botched abortion which resulted in a homicide. The book’s dialogue is crisp. We hear the accused doctor talking to his colleague and friend, who tries to clear him of the charges brought against him. He answers his friend’s questions: Why was he involved in doing abortion procedures?

“Listen, morality must keep up with technology, because if a person is faced with the choice of being moral and dead, or immoral and alive, they’ll choose life every time.”

Pro-choice is about choosing life. And it is moral.

As a Black woman who was a young adult in the turbulent 60s, could it be that I am passionately pro-choice because of my awareness of history?

Black women had no choice. Black women had no choice when sold into slavery. Black women had no choice about whom to mate with. Black women had no choice about who would father their children. Black women had no choice about the future of those children.

My people’s history calls me to declare: Never again will Black women’s lives be sacrificed because of a denial of choice!

The word genocide is often lifted up within the Black community when abortion is discussed. Is a woman’s choosing to have a safe, legal procedure the root cause of perceived systematic annihilation of the Black race in America? I think not.

Genocide happens when there is an absence of pre-natal and post-natal care for poor women.

Genocide happens when economic justice is aborted.

Genocide happens when social systems undermine family rather than supporting families in crisis.

Genocide happens when foster care systems in urban environments are overcrowded.

Genocide happens when prisons are the fastest growth industry in the nation.

Genocide happens when indifference and classism separate community.

Genocide happens when the myth “you ain’t got no choice” is perpetrated as


Perhaps I became passionately pro-choice when I made a decision to have an abortion:

crying, angry, prayerful, thankful for a safe place to go. A colleague of mine sums up my feelings in a sermon title—”Been There, Done That, Moved On.” I have moved on, but the experience stays with me and I cannot trivialize the importance of having a safe medical procedure.

Perhaps I am passionately pro-choice because I held an 11-year-old’s hand as she went through her third abortion. Her tiny body could not have survived childbirth.

Lastly, perhaps my passion is for “Pat.” Pat came into my family’s life as we tried to love her into loving herself. She had heard all of her life that she was not wanted, that she was unlovable. Her mother made sure she knew these “truths” because Pat was the child who looked like the man who raped her. Pat is gone now. After nineteen years of hearing her mother, she could not believe otherwise in the three months she lived with us. Never wanted, never accepted, never understanding her rejection, Pat made her choice—the drug world she knew. We do not know where she is buried. Neither does her mother.

I would like to end with a reference to Whoopi Goldberg, who spoke about abortion in a book entitled The Choices We Made. Reading these words, I felt a kinship. She said:

My commitment to choice comes from my belief that you have the right to decide whether you want to have children or not. The bottom line is that if someone does not want to have a child they should not be forced into it. That’s between the woman, her man, if she chooses to make him aware, and God, whoever God is.

I talk about God because God and I are very close. God gives you choice. God gives you freedom of choice. That’s in the Bible.

I have this deep belief that God understands whatever dilemma you’re in

and will forgive it. You make a choice that He or She doesn’t think is right—that’s God’s prerogative.

Unashamedly, unequivocally, I witness that I am pro-prayer, pro-family and pro-choice. I encourage you all to keep your integrity, move into intimacy with God and each other and discern the movement of God’s Spirit in freedom and choice.

Explaining Abortion to Children

Reverend Colleen M. McDonald

Minister of Religious Education of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Rockford, Illinois, Reverend McDonald delivered the following sermon to a group of children on January 18, 1994.

In our church, we can talk about anything at all—even things that are sad or embarrassing or hard to talk about. For many people, abortion is one of those things that isn’t easy to talk about, and I’ve had to think very carefully about how I wanted to talk about it with you today.

Our Unitarian Universalist religion teaches that it is important for us to think for ourselves. In order to decide what we believe, it is helpful to listen to many different opinions. Today I’m going to share with you one way of thinking about abortion.

I want to begin by talking about seeds. Living things grow from seeds, right? If you

wanted to grow flowers, what would you need to do? You’d need to plant the seed in a spot where it could get enough sun and make sure it got enough water; after a time, it would grow into a plant that made flowers. If you pulled the seed out of the ground while

the plant was still growing, though, you wouldn’t get your flowers. That’s a rather sad thought.

People, also, grow from seeds, one from a man and one from a woman. The seeds grow

in the mother’s body, inside her womb or uterus; that’s called being pregnant. Sometimes

a baby starts growing in a woman’s body when she doesn’t want to be a mother. Maybe

she is alone and doesn’t have enough friends and family to help her be a good parent. Maybe she doesn’t have enough money to give a child a nice place to live, plenty of food and decent clothes and medicine when the child is sick. What can she do?

First of all, whenever we have a problem or an important decision to make, it is a good idea to talk to people we trust. This woman might talk to the man who would be the baby’s father, her family, her minister, folks in her church, or people whose job it is to help people with problems. Perhaps there is someone who could take care of the baby when the mother has to go to work. Perhaps people have baby clothes, bottles and baby furniture to give to the mother so she can save her money for food.

After talking and thinking things out, the woman might change her mind and decide she is able to give a baby what it needs; or maybe she will choose to finish growing the baby in her body and then let another family adopt her or him. But maybe the woman won’t decide either of these things.

In our country, we have a law that says a pregnant woman who doesn’t want to be a mother can go to a doctor and have that doctor take the growing seed out of her body.

That’s called an abortion. Life is very precious, and abortion is a decision that shouldn’t be made without thinking about it very carefully. For many people, it is a very sad decision. But it’s also very sad when babies are born to parents who can’t give them the things and the love that will help them grow up healthy and happy. Being a parent is an important job, and all babies who come into our world deserve families who will welcome them and take very good care of them.

That is what I have to say about abortion. You may be wondering what your mom or dad believes, or you may have other questions. Your families and I hope you will share these questions with us, as well as any thoughts or feelings you may have about what I have told you; that sharing will help you decide what you believe.

Words of Hope

Dr. James Armstrong

Dr. James Armstrong is Senior Minister of First Congregational Church, Winter Park, Florida. This sermon was delivered on March 24, 1993, two weeks after the murder of Dr. David Gunn, the first in a series of abortion-related murders.

I am against violence. I am pro-life.

I am against harassment, intimidation, threats, stalking, bombs and arson. I am pro-life.

I am against murder. I am pro-life.

I am pro-choice. I am pro-life.

The killer of Dr. David Gunn had a bumper sticker propped up in his car’s rear window. It read: “God is pro-life.” Of course God is pro-life. God is the source of life. I am pro-life. You are pro-life. Life is sacred. The phrase “pro-life” doesn’t belong to “them,” it belongs to all of us.

I am pro-choice. I am pro-life. But when does life, personal life, begin? The early church

debated the question. When is the fetus “ensouled?” it asked. One of the most noted church fathers (and it always seemed to be the church “fathers” or the lawmaking “fathers,” not the “mothers,” who were called upon to resolve these issues) insisted that the male fetus was ensouled after thirty days; the female fetus was ensouled after ninety days. (Sexism isn’t all that new.) Anthropologists, physicians, philosophers and moral theologians are not agreed on when personal life begins. It is a matter of metaphysical speculation.

Meanwhile, the rights of women to control their own bodies are at risk. A woman’s body does not belong to the government. A woman’s body does not belong to the church. A woman’s body does not belong to somebody else’s conscience. A woman’s body belongs to that woman. We live in an imperfect world and abortion is always a sad choice. But a woman has the right to make that choice within the sacred precincts of her own soul.

There are those, and they form an angry, irrational, violent chorus, who do not agree. On Wednesday, March 10th, Dr. David Gunn, a 47-year-old physician who performed abortions, was shot in the back, outside a Pensacola abortion clinic. Michael Griffin, a religious fanatic given over to “fits of violence,” was left with a smoking, snub-nosed 38-caliber revolver in his hand. Griffin was the killer.

On Christmas Day in 1984, a clinic and two doctors’ offices were bombed in Pensacola. It was then, according to newspaper accounts, that Pensacola became “the darling of the anti-abortion movement.” Nine years later that climate of violence spawned murder.

Following his father’s death, David Gunn, Jr., a student at the University of Alabama, said, “He died for what he believed in.” He said, “People came to (my father) for a legal service, and he provided it as clean and safe and considerately as he possibly could. He loved to help people. He sacrificed everything for that.”

We are here today to pay tribute to the memory of Dr. David Gunn, a man of great good humor and tremendous courage, who was shot down by a cowardly assassin. We are here

to condemn an atmosphere of violent lawlessness that has spread across the land, from

clinic to clinic, from doctor’s office to doctor’s office. We are here to say, “Enough is enough!”

Last month, the fire-bombing of a clinic in Corpus Christi, Texas, razed the building and caused $1,000,000 in damages. Enough is enough!

A couple of weeks ago, acid was sprayed into eight clinics in Riverside and San Diego

counties in southern California. Four health care workers were hospitalized. Enough is


South Dakota has one doctor who performs abortions. He has carried a gun for years. Now his wife has given him a bullet-proof vest. Enough is enough!

Security officers have had to be employed by clinics in Indiana, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa. Bullet-proof windows have been installed in Boulder, Colorado. Enough is enough!

In 1990, there were 58 acts of violence recorded against abortion providers; in 1991, there were 93; in 1992, there were 186. Acts of violence are escalating. Enough is enough!

Intimidation of doctors’ children, around-the-clock phone threats, arson, acid throwing, bombing, shotgun blasts, pushing, shoving, obstructing passage ways. Enough is enough!

But the violence has grown out of the rhetoric. Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue, has called the slain Dr. David Gunn “a mass murderer.” Speaking of doctors who provide abortions he has said, “Humiliate, embarrass, shame and expose them. They are like human rats.” And Joseph Foreman, a Presbyterian minister who is co-founder of Missionaries to the Pre-Born, referring to the death of David Gunn, wrote in USA Today, “What we have in Pensacola is five to ten lives in the womb who were spared by Michael Griffin’s act.” Michael Griffin’s “act” was cold-blooded murder. Operation Rescue, Missionaries to the Pre-Born, Rescue America—enough is enough!

But there is more than indignation wrapped up in this moment. This is a service of tribute and of hope.

What is there to hope for?

We are here, aren’t we? For too long we have been standing on the sidelines—at least some of us have—while forces of right-wing bigotry have held sway. There are people gathered together in this room who have never been together before. We are joining hands to say, “We are committed to the rights of women. We are committed to doctors and clinics that are meeting the needs of women. We are committed to a rule of law. We are committed to a non-violent response to acts and voices of madness…and we are together.” There is hope.

The President of the United States, unlike his two predecessors, has said he will defend the rights of women to choose. There is hope.

The new Attorney General of the United States, deploring the assassination of Dr. Gunn, has said the same. There is hope.

Congress is considering two proposals at the present time, a Freedom of Choice Act and a Freedom of Access to Clinics Act. There is hope.

The Florida House has approved a bill protecting the rights of people to enter and leave medical facilities without disruptive intimidation. There is hope.

Religious groups and organizations, condemning the arrogance of particular voices that presume to speak for God, have pled for sanity, nonviolence and dialogue. There is hope.

But more, much more—our spirits are joining together, as one, in settings like this across our land. We are coming together in the name of justice, in the name of human rights, in the name of common decency to face down the forces of hatred, bigotry and oppression. It was Martin Luther King, Jr., who said:

We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you…Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your perpetrators of violence into our community…and we shall still love you…Love is the most durable power in the world.

Non-violent love, yes. But we will not cower in the shadows. Enough is enough!

Choice: A Declaration of Faith

Bishop Melvin G. Talbert

Bishop Talbert, bishop of the United Methodist Church in the San Francisco area, delivered this sermon at the Religious Coalition interfaith convocation during the Democratic convention of 1996. Bishop Talbert spoke at St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego, California on August 12, 1996.


As you are aware, abortion is one of the most controversial issues facing people in this nation and around the world. It touches people at the core of their existence. It causes

them to react, even if their reaction is illogical or irrational. So, to be here with you today,

I am placing myself squarely in the middle of this national debate. But you know, I have

been here before. I was here when I made my commitment to non-violence in 1960. I was here when I went to jail to protest “Jim Crow” laws which violated the human and civil rights of people of color. I was here when I made the commitment to appoint pastors to churches on the basis of their gifts and graces for ministry, rather than on the basis of their color or gender. So, if I had backed out of this opportunity to be here with you, I could not have lived with myself. For you see, I believe God calls the people of faith to be witness in the face of such a volatile, controversial and emotional issue as abortion.

I am here today as a United Methodist bishop who supports the moral stance taken by his

church. But more than that, I am here because I believe people of faith cannot remain silent when some would make it appear that people of faith are of one mind on this issue. Therefore, I am here this morning to join with you from many religious and political persuasions to declare our unequivocal stand for choice. We are here to dispose of the myth that all people of faith in this nation are against choice. In reality, there are many of us who believe that choice is the most logical and the most responsible position any religious institution can take on this issue. I feel obliged to make this assertion because choice acknowledges that in the final analysis, each individual must decide and act.

Why am I willing to risk this assertion? I am willing to do so because I believe we are dealing with a matter that is fundamental to our faith. Thus, it is the individual who must search his/her own soul and act on his/her own conscience. My sisters and brothers, we are dealing with something that is deeply spiritual and cannot be left to those who would choose to politicize this issue and further victimize those who must ultimately decide for themselves.

A Look at Scripture

Who are we as people of faith to concern ourselves with this highly controversial issue of abortion? The psalmist attempted to answer that question when he said:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! (Psalm 8:3-9 NRSV).

According to the psalmist, we are the ones made a little lower than God. We are the ones God has given dominion over all the works of creation. Dominion implies power, control, influence, oversight or stewardship; it implies responsibility. Since this vast creation is not ours—it is God’s—I believe stewardship or responsibility are more appropriate words to describe our relationship to God and to all God’s creation. Stewardship means oversight of something that is not ours, but is ours to use and to preserve as a gift from God. Responsibility suggests being accountable or answerable to someone for something.

In the whole realm of God’s creation, human beings are to use, preserve and conserve. Thus, we are responsible and accountable to God for all creation, including ourselves; our acts and deeds; our actions and decisions. God did not create us as robots. Rather, God has set us free to be responsible or irresponsible, to be accountable or unaccountable. We are free to be or not to be in covenant with God. To be faithful is to be in covenant with God. That is, we commit ourselves to acting, deciding and choosing based on our understanding of our relationship to God and to all creation. Our commitment is not based on some politically motivated and conspired emotional appeal that will enact or codify legislation that could have the effect of limiting or taking away our freedom of conscience, without recrimination.

As people of faith, we are God’s moral agents for good in this world; we are ambassadors for justice, freedom and dignity for all creation, especially for the human family and those within it who have been marginalized and disenfranchised. We are challenged and inspired to be disciples of such prophets and spiritual leaders as Micah, Jeremiah, Mary McCloud Bethune, Martin Luther King, Jr. and countless others who have gone before us, whose moral and spiritual influence inspire us to proclaim, “Let justice roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty river.” We are called to follow Jesus who said, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because God has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed” (Luke 4: 18-19).

Implications for Contemporary People of Faith

So, we gather here this morning as people of faith. And as people of faith, we boldly take our stand for choice. We do so because of our faith, and not in spite of it. We gather here because we believe God calls us to this hour.

On the matter of abortion, the Social Principles of the United Methodist Church states the following: “The beginning of life and the ending of life are the God-given boundaries of human existence. While individuals have always had some degree of control over when they would die, they now have the awesome power to determine when and even whether new individuals will be born. Our belief in the sanctity of the unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother, for whom devastating damage may result from an unacceptable pregnancy. In continuity with past Christian teaching, we recognize the tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures. We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection. We call all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion. We call for the Church to provide nurturing ministries to those who give birth. Governmental laws and regulations do not provide all the guidance required by the informed Christian conscience. Therefore, a decision concerning abortion should be made only after thoughtful and prayerful consideration by the parties involved, with medical, pastoral and other appropriate counsel.”

My sisters and brothers, to be for choice is to be willing to enter into the pain and the struggle of life in the real world, and in the face of that reality, to choose. It is in this context that we are challenged to face the ambiguity and the complexity of conflicting values and judgments. To choose abortion is not a rush to judgment. To choose or not to choose abortion can be the greatest and most difficult decision one can make.

Some pro-life advocates would have the politicians and the media believe that those who stand for choice will always opt for abortion. My sisters and brothers, my experience tells me otherwise. To be pro-choice, to stand for choice, is to support those who come down on either side. Pro-choice advocates refuse to close the door to the expression of free will. It was William Matthews who said: “God has so framed us to make freedom of choice and action the very basis of all moral improvement, and all our faculties, mental and moral, resent and revolt against the idea of coercion.”

In the United Methodist resolution on the “Status of Women,” we find these words:

“Coercion is still common, sometimes aimed at increasing births, sometimes at limiting them. Evidence now clearly shows that many poor, particularly ethnic, women have been sterilized without their understanding of what was being done to them without their informed consent. In many places, safe and legal abortion is denied, in some cases even to save the life of the pregnant woman.” In our UMC resolution on “Health and Wholeness,” we find these words: “Religious…counseling should be available to all

parents and families when they are called upon to make difficult medical choices, so that responsible decisions, within the context of the Christian faith, may be made concerning organ transplants, use of extreme measures to prolong life, abortion, sterilization, genetic counseling, institutionalization and death with dignity.” In our UMC resolution on “Responsible Parenthood,” we say: “We reject the simplistic answers to the problem of abortion which, on the one hand, regard all abortions as murders, or, on the other hand, regard abortions as medical procedures without moral significance.” In our resolution on “Opposition To A Call For A Constitutional Convention,” we declare:

‘Right to Life’ advocates, frustrated by their inability to succeed in their goals of eliminating all abortions through the normal legislative process, are now trying the constitutional convention route. Yet, such an amendment, declaring the fetus a person from the moment of conception, would be, in effect, to write one theological position into the Constitution. Various faith groups, including The United Methodist Church, do not share that theology. Such a position would be tantamount to declaring that an abortion for any reason is murder. It could also inhibit the use of contraceptives such as the intrauterine device (IUD). This would be contrary to the doctrine of separation of church and state embodied in the Constitution and would impinge on freedom of religion, guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Need I say more? My sisters and brothers, I am here to join with you in giving a resounding “yes” to “Pro-Choice,” and a resounding “no” to those who would dare to prevent the option of choice to all.


My sisters and brothers, the public stance of the Christian Coalition in both national political conventions is a mockery of justice and a defamation of the character and integrity of the religious community as a whole in the nation. For too long, politicians, mostly men, have denied the civil and human rights of women. For too long, the Church has either condoned, or remained silent, while women and oppressed minorities have sought justice and freedom from oppression. Now is the time for people of faith in this nation to stand up and be counted in a way that can make a difference.

Sisters and brothers of faith, the time is at hand when we are called to make our declaration of faith. Now is the time for us to stand for the option of choice for women, no matter what. Now is the time for us to remember who women are—God’s sacred persons who are capable of deciding for themselves what is best. Now is the time for us as the faith community to declare to women, “We will be there with you in the morning,” no matter what choice you make in the context of your faith.

It is my humble opinion that “Pro-Choice” is the only viable option the faith community can support. Our faith compels us to respect others’ values, life circumstances and decisions. May we let our voices be heard, this week in San Diego and later this month in Chicago, as we respond to those who would dare to use coercion to codify their theological positions in the laws of this nation. Say “No!” to coercion and “Yes!” to “Pro- Choice!” I believe that is the only choice before us. Amen!

The “Truth” About Abortion

Rabbi Mark Dov Shapiro

Rabbi Shapiro delivered this sermon at a vigil held by the Western Massachusetts Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice on the 25th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade on January 22, 1998. Rabbi Shapiro is rabbi of Temple Sinai in Springfield, Massachusetts.

I want to begin this evening by sharing the opening lines of an autobiographical piece written by a 90-year-old Jewish woman. The story comes from a presentation made by my colleague, Rabbi Lynne Landsberg. The story opens in Antwerp at the end of the last century.

I remember very little about my mother. I wish I could remember sitting on my mother’s lap. Did she ever put her arms around my sister and me? No matter how hard I try, all I remember is somebody jumping off the table. She wore a long, black skirt and a blouse with a high collar. I remember watching my mother jump off the table and I was fascinated.

Later on in life I wondered: Why did she jump off the table so vigorously? When I told this story to a friend who had lived in Europe, she said, “Oh, my mother jumped off the table too. She jumped and jumped. They did not want to be pregnant again.”

One day, there was a commotion. People were coming and going, and then my mother was sent to the hospital. I never saw her again. She had a baby and died. We never saw the baby.

That is the kind of story that rings true for those of us here tonight. If this were January 1973 or 1972, odds are we would know someone just like the mother in this story. Perhaps some of the women here would have experienced her experience on a personal basis.

Thank God, however, it is not 1972, and for 25 years those of us who are women or love women have had an alternative to jumping off the table. Abortion is legal in this country and that is a blessing we celebrate this evening.

For 25 years Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land, and it must remain the fundamental principle by which we Americans confront the challenge of abortion—or as The New Republic magazine once called it, “The Abortion Perplex.”

For as committed as I am to maintaining the legality and availability of abortion in America, I also know that abortion is not so simple.

I like the way Rosemary Ruether put the matter in a prayer for choice later published by the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice:

God of our mothers and fathers, source of all life and new life, we are saddened by the conflicts we often experience; conflicts between life and life, between the affirmation of potential new life and the ongoing life that we have committed to nurture and strengthen, our own life and the lives of those we uphold and sustain.

We are more than sad, we are also angry that we are faced with such choices, for these are choices in which there is no wholly good way; these are choices against a potential life or against existing life.

We do not like to have to make these choices. We would like to neatly arrange our lives so we do not have to make these choices, but that is not always possible.

That is “the abortion perplex.”

It is the realization and the admission that no one is happy about abortion.

As the prayer boldly says, sometimes there are no good choices. Though we would like to arrange our lives neatly, though we wish that difficult choices did not come our way, that is not always possible.

And that is why we know that no one—least of all the individual women who make the choice to discontinue a pregnancy—gladly or glibly or easily advocates for the legal right to abortion. Those who act within the parameters of American law and seek an abortion do so because they must. But they always act with a heavy heart for the choices they make are the toughest choices any human being can make. Not choices between one vacation spot and another. Not choices between one color car and another. But rather saddening, maddening choices between a potential life and an existing life.

Within my own tradition, Judaism, the decision for choice is also nuanced and difficult. That is not to say that the major liberal organizations of American Jewry are not for choice. All of them are. At the same time, just listen to some of the statements from the rabbinic organizations, for example.

From the Reform rabbinate (taken from a 1975 statement): “We affirm the legal right of a family or a woman to determine…whether or not to terminate a particular pregnancy…We believe that in any decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy, the individual family or woman must weigh the tradition as they struggle to formulate their own religious and moral criteria to reach their own personal decision.”

From the Conservative rabbinate (taken from a 1983 statement): “Jewish tradition is sensitive to the sanctity of life, and does not permit abortion on demand. However, it sanctions abortion under some circumstances because it does not regard the fetus as an autonomous person…The fetus is a life in the process of development, and the decision to abort it should never be taken lightly…There are many grave legal and moral issues involved.”

“We affirm the legal right…Judaism sanctions abortion.” There you have the position for choice enunciated.

On the other hand, listen to the larger context. “The individual family or women must weigh the tradition as they struggle…to reach a…decision…There are many grave legal and moral issues involved.”

Honest people, serious people, men and women who support Roe v. Wade, never do so lightly. They struggle. They tread softly because there are lives at stake here and because they know that all life is ultimately sacred.

All of which isn’t to suggest in any way that I propose backing away from the hard-earned right to make such decisions freely and legally.

Far from it.

The right to decide about abortion must remain the personal decision of each family or woman.

Why then rehearse the difficulties of the decision? Because I am trying to imagine what I might say to one of those people who patrol the sidewalks outside abortion clinics around the country. You know, the ones with their placards against choice, the ones who know what is right, what is virtue and what is sin.

If I were to address such a person tonight, I think I might say this.

I might say: Friend, just for a minute put down your placard and think twice. Think about your slogans and your insistence that you are right while I am wrong, you are saving children while I am killing them.

Look me in the eye and tell me that you stand for virtue while I stand for sin. One-on-one that is not so easy to do. For if you stop chanting your slogans, take me seriously, and listen to me, you’ll hear me speak as one human being to another. You’ll hear me admit that I do not claim to know the truth about life. More than that, I do not presume to tell you what truth is.

What I do, instead, is admit that this is an imperfect, finite world where many people may have access to many sides of the many-sided truth about life.

You see, I believe that truth is too important for any one person to have it all. And that means that, although I am convinced life does not begin at conception and I learn that from my reading of the Bible, I won’t make you read the Bible as I do and I won’t make you believe what I do. You can read it your way with all the passion you have as long as you respect my interpretation and my passion.

What is called for really is some humility, the honest recognition that as certain as you are of God’s will, you can never know for sure if you’ve got it right or if I’ve got it right. Do you want to hear a fascinating teaching out of the Jewish past? It comes from the rabbis who lived in the second century or so. These great scholars who knew their Bible virtually by memory were thinking about what happened at Mount Sinai when the commandments were given. Now if ever there was a time when God’s “truth” should have been crystal clear, Sinai has to have been that time. The Bible says, “God spoke these words,” and then records the words in the Book of Exodus.

So what did the rabbis teach? They said that when the Voice of God came forth at Mount Sinai, it was like a hammer hitting a rock. When the hammer hits, sparks fly. Every one of them is the result of the hammer’s impact upon the rock. That is something that makes them alike. But every one of the sparks is still different.

So it is, the rabbis taught, that every verse of Scripture throws off its own sparks. Not one spark but many sparks, which is to say, not one meaning but many meanings. No one interpretation of any text is automatically the correct interpretation—not mine alone (which favors choice) and not yours either (which forbids choice). But if I understand the rabbis’ teaching—both (even if they are contrary) have a claim to being God’s intent.

And lest you think you can still claim to know exactly what God wants us to do with an unborn fetus, remember God’s response to Moses at the Burning Bush. When Moses, the great biblical teacher, wanted to know God’s name, God simply replied, “I am what I am.” Which was God’s way of saying, “Moses, you cannot have my name. You cannot pin me down. You cannot ever totally grasp my being. There will always be uncertainty, always be a mystery.”

So, my friend with the placard condemning Roe v. Wade, let me ask you again to stop and listen to me. I don’t claim to know what is good for you. I don’t claim to know God’s will when it comes to your life.

But this much I do know. God is subtle. God is far more difficult to pin down than you wish. The truth about life and abortion and love is also subtler than you imagine.


know you mean well.

Think the same of me.

I know you believe in your cause.

Think the same of me.

I know you want the truth to be as unequivocal as the light of day. I know you want God to render an absolute judgment.

But that may simply not be possible.

As I said before, truth is just too important for any one person to have it all.

In this imperfect world, then, be humble.

As the sparks fly by, take my word for it.

All of us are doing our best to live honestly. When we stand for reproductive freedom, we are therefore not trying to trick you or do what we know is wrong.

No, we are always doing our best. We are doing our best to honor life amidst a world of sometimes joyous, sometimes difficult choices.

Hospital Mergers Restrict Services (Jewish Tradition)

Rabbi Bonnie Margulis

Rabbi Margulis is director of clergy programs for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and has managed the Religious Coalition’s hospital mergers project.

Imagine you are a woman whose medical condition would make pregnancy potentially life-threatening. Yet your health care provider will not even discuss contraception or sterilization with you, much less provide these services.

Imagine that you have just been raped. Among your many fears is the fear of pregnancy.

Yet the hospital emergency room won’t provide you with emergency contraception. Imagine you are facing a crisis pregnancy, yet the only hospital in your area won’t perform any abortions, at any point in pregnancy, for any reason.

Imagine that you wake up tomorrow to find all reproductive health care has ceased to exist in your community.

Sound improbable? It is happening today, in community after community across the country, as secular hospitals merge with religious hospitals and are forced to take on particular religious restrictions to health care.

We in the Jewish community need to be involved in this issue. One of the most important reciprocal responsibilities we have in Judaism is to provide proper medical care for each other. We Jews have a long tradition of involvement in the healing arts. From Talmudic times onward, medicine and religion were closely interwoven. Our ancestors believed that healing rested ultimately with God, but that physicians were God’s instruments on earth, God’s partners, if you will, in the ongoing work of maintaining life. Because of this, Jews from antiquity onward were noted for their medical knowledge and skills as healers. Many rabbis were also doctors, seeing it as a spiritual profession on a par with the rabbinate. Throughout the Middle Ages, Jewish doctors attained positions of prominence even in the Gentile world, even becoming court physicians.

Jewish communities were responsible for the care of their own sick, and so Jewish communal hospitals were the norm wherever there were Jews. In the United States in modern times, Jewish hospitals were created because Jews felt a need for hospitals with a Jewish atmosphere, that understood the needs of the Jewish patients. As this need diminished, there still was a need for Jewish hospitals because of discrimination against Jewish doctors in attaining positions at other hospitals.

Yet Jewish doctors and hospitals did not discriminate against others, treating all, Jew and Gentile, alike. And while Jewish hospitals were set up to provide a Jewish atmosphere,

never was Jewish law regarding health care imposed upon doctors in their practice or patients in their receipt of health care.

In fact, every religion has placed a great value on healing, and each tradition has perpetuated a heritage of service to the sick and ill in society. And in today’s world, the tradition of healing has blossomed into a network of sectarian and non-sectarian hospitals that provide care to those that need it.

It is sadly evident that this tradition of healing has suffered in the past decade due to the economics of medical care. Costs have escalated, the quality of care has diminished and many of us are not as confident as we may have been in the past that our society can provide suitable medical care to those who need it.

One recent phenomenon of this downward trend in medical care has been the merger of hospitals in small and medium size communities. By itself, the merger of medical facilities may make a lot of economic sense. But when one of the institutions merging is religiously sponsored, and narrow religious doctrines and dogma govern its medical policies concerning beginning-of-life issues and also end-of-life issues, it is time to pay attention. Community-based hospitals are merging with or are being taken over by religiously based organizations that dictate care regimens based upon what sometimes are narrow religious philosophies. When this happens, there is a loss of service to people who need those services. People lose control over their own health care.

According to Family Planning Advocates of New York State, Baptist and Adventist hospitals restrict certain health services. But with these groups, there seems to be significant local autonomy when it comes to making decisions of this kind.

The most significant religious influence on American health care delivery comes from the Roman Catholic health care systems. Catholic hospitals provide 15 percent of all hospital care, about 600 hospitals nationwide. According to Modern Healthcare magazine, this represents the nation’s largest not-for-profit provider of health care. And all of these hospitals have care policies governed by a single overriding philosophy, laid out in what is known as “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services,” which severely limits health care. Under these directives, hospitals are forbidden to provide fertility treatments, contraception of any kind, sterilizations and abortions. In addition, the directives instruct Catholic hospitals not to honor advance medical directives, or living wills, if what is requested in them is “contrary to Catholic teaching.” The directives state that, in cases where medicine cannot alleviate a patient’s suffering, the patient “should be helped to appreciate the Christian understanding of redemptive suffering.”

As long as there are both religiously affiliated hospitals and secular hospitals in a community, patients of all faiths, and those who are non-religious, can continue to have a choice about the health care services they want. But when a provider with restrictive

religious rules dominates most or all health care services in one market, patients are in danger of losing their access to a full range of health services. And this is regardless of the religious affiliations of the people in the community. Today, there are 76 Catholic sole provider hospitals (a hospital in a community with no other hospitals within a reasonable distance) in 26 states. In many of these communities, Catholics make up less than one percent of the population, yet the “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” deny access to reproductive health care to everyone. And the sad part is that this loss occurs without people even realizing it has happened.

Hospital mergers tend to take place behind closed doors, out of the public view. But when they do become public knowledge and the potential results of a proposed merger become known, public outcry against the loss of services can have a profound impact. From Poughkeepsie, New York, to Battle Creek, Michigan, community involvement has either put a halt to a proposed merger or has forced the merging hospitals to come up with creative solutions to preserve the health care services the community relies upon. For instance, in Battle Creek, the secular hospital ended up setting up a completely separate entity on its top floor, a sort of hospital within a hospital, with one operating room and four beds. This “condominium hospital” had its own board, its own staff, its own budget, and so it could continue to offer reproductive health care. In Poughkeepsie, public outcry to a proposed merger led the two hospitals to give up the merger idea. Instead, they agreed to collaborate, and so, since they no longer compete and waste resources offering duplicative services, they are both in a sound financial position.

The lesson to be drawn from these two cases is clear: If a merger is going to occur, we must find out what the results of that merger would be, and if they are unacceptable, we must make our protests heard. Community activism is key to protecting our rights not to have someone else’s religious values imposed on our health care.

The great rabbi-physician Maimonides wrote in his Mishneh Torah that it is permissible for people to seek out doctors, rather than simply trusting to God’s healing powers, because God is the one who gave us the sekhel—the understanding—to figure out how to treat disease. And so it would be a waste of God’s gift not to use it as best we can. So too must we use our sekhel to preserve our access to health care. We must take the responsibility to learn about what services our hospitals currently provide and what they don’t. We must take the responsibility to learn about the financial health of our medical facilities, to be aware of the potential for a merger. We should cultivate relationships with hospital board members, some of whom may be members of our own community, who would be our allies in the event of a proposed merger.

What’s wrong about sectarian hospitals and their mergers with community care facilities is that they base their care upon their distinctive religious philosophies, not the needs of the people of their communities. In his oath for physicians, Maimonides made this assertion: “May I never see in the patient anything else but a fellow creature in pain.”

Above all else, it is the responsibility of the health care profession to relieve the patient’s pain and suffering. This should be the overriding concern, and this concern should lead the health care providers to do whatever is medically necessary, regardless of the religious beliefs of the sponsoring institution.

May we ever remain loyal to our core Jewish values of healing. And may we be able to provide this healing for all.

Shabbat Shalom.

Creating a “Zone of Respect” in Hospital Mergers (Christian Tradition)

Reverend Kenneth Applegate Texts: Leviticus 19:33-34; Galatians 3:23-29; John 4:7-30

Reverend Applegate, a Presbyterian minister, is a former director of Concerned Clergy for Choice of Family Planning Advocates of New York State.

When I was younger, my family moved several times. I got to be the “new kid” in school more than once, which meant I had to endure a certain amount of testing at the hands of the kids who were already there. Because I was different, I had to be tested. If I could handle the testing, I was “in.” I was officially a part of the class. If I couldn’t handle it, it would be a very long school year.

I can laugh about it now, but it all seemed very serious when I was eight years old. I am grateful to have grown out of that awkward stage of having to “fit in” and having to endure all kinds of strange behaviors to prove myself before being accepted by others.

As I look around at our world today, however, I realize that awkward stage is, in fact, not over. “New kids” on the block still face hazing and testing before they are accepted into the neighborhood. It may be subtler and less overt, but it’s still there. Every time a new family moves to the block, we watch them carefully for signs that they will “fit in” here. We watch their comings and goings, we note if they go to church or not—and if so, which one—we see where they do their marketing, we track where their clothes are from. We watch how they care for the lawn and whether or not they use the recycling bin properly.

It happens every time a new person takes over the desk next to yours at work. What kind of pictures does she put on the shelf? Does she respect how we do things around here, or is she always talking about how they did it where she worked before? Does he follow our routine, or does he insist on following his own? It’s OK, we’ll send some subtle signals to let him know how to get along here, how to fit in, how to do things our way.

We discover, in fact, we haven’t grown out of that stage at all; we’ve simply taken it to a different level and are more sophisticated about it. For the most part, of course, this behavior is harmless. It is how we create a social contract that enables us to live together in some kind of harmony. It can be a fairly efficient way of sharing the “house rules”