To say that in the religious community abortion rights is a hot button issue would be an understatement. We have seen opponents and proponents of a woman’s right to choose engage in heated debate for years. It appears that most, if not all, of those who oppose choice, do it on the grounds of their Christian faith. But many of those who support choice are also people of faith. As a Christian and an ordained minister I have wondered if it is possible to be pro-choice politically but advocate life in our communities.
To be clear: when it comes to the politics of a woman’s right to choose, I am pro-choice but when I step away from the politics of the issue I am a pro-life advocate. There are a number of reasons as to why I do not see this as a contradiction. Some religious leaders and people of faith would probably ask the question “how can you call yourself a Christian and be pro-choice?” Well, it’s quite simple.
You see, for many of us who are Christians and support choice it is because we believe that it is unfair to try and make people who are not Christians live their lives based on our beliefs. Just as we cannot force someone to become a Christian, changing laws to force women to do what we believe God requires still will not make them a Christian, it will only make them followers of the law. That person would not be changing their behavior because of their relationship with God. Pro-choice Christians understand that a relationship with God is based on accepting God’s love for us; it cannot be forced on people nor can they be manipulated into it. The Gospel is “good news,” not a scare tactic or a tool used to control people. We are also mindful of those historic examples of when Christianity has been used to perpetuate discrimination and injustice.
As a man I am pro-choice because I find it difficult for me to explain why I should have the right to tell a woman what to do with her body. To me, that sounds like misogyny at the highest level and would also suggest that women are not equal to men and therefore should do as they are told.
So what does it mean to be a pro-life advocate in our communities? The answer requires a broader definition of what it means to be pro-life. It means that we go beyond simply advocating for the right of a child to be born but once the child takes his or her first breath we continue to advocate for that child to have the right to a better life. To be a pro-life advocate is to also be an advocate for children to be able to live lives that are unencumbered by poverty, poor education, crime, gun violence and the absence of quality health care, just to name a few.
Let’s take young black males, for example. The leading cause of death for a young black male is homicide. As a pro-life advocate for children I must also advocate for gun control and laws that do not make it so easy for people to get their hands on guns and take a child’s life before they ever get the chance to truly live.
Millions of babies are born into poverty and families that cannot afford adequate health care. As a result these children can become ill and suffer from a host of issues related to their parent’s lack of access or inability to pay for doctors visits. This is why as a pro-life advocate I was among the millions of Americans who fought for and rejoiced over the passage of health care reform. Jesus said, “I have come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” This should cause those of use that are Christians to ask, “What role does God want me to play in making sure that children who are born can live an abundant life?” For me, the answer is that I must do my part to remove barriers that inhibit children from living an abundant life. As a pro-life advocate I must work to improve public schools, address childhood poverty, seek quality health care, create opportunities that enable children to choose hope and a future rather than gangs and despair. Actions like these aide in reducing the rate of abortions.
As a minister of the Gospel, I would never council a women to have an abortion. I believe that if I do my part to create communities of opportunity where children can flourish and live up to their potential once born, in some ways her choice will be much easier. If I had to council a woman that had an abortion, I would not judge her nor condemn her, just like God does not condemn me or anyone else; instead I would choose to remind her that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). I would not ostracize her like some in the church would do, rather I would choose to show her the love of Christ, the love of a God who looks beyond our faults and sees our deepest need, the love of a God who loved us while we were yet sinners and gave his life for us even when we were not deserving.
As a pro-life advocate I would do for her what God requires that we do for all people, go to God in prayer and advocate for her healing spiritually and emotionally with the hope that she will live a life not bound by guilt but would embrace the love of a God who still believes she was created with great purpose and unlimited potential.
Rev. Romal J. Tune is the Founder & Executive Director of Faith for Change, a coalition of religious institutions united by a desire to improve academic outcomes for underperforming public school students. He is the author of the forthcoming book, God’s Graffiti: God’s Word Written on Your Life due out June 1, 2013.