taking the words of Jesus seriously

Editor’s note: Five powerful and diverse evangelical voices came together in a first-ever “National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics” (Aug. 6, Facebook Live), moderated by Lisa Sharon Harper, to bravely start the conversation Evangelicals need to have in this consequential year for our nation: Charles Robinson from the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma works with The Red Road, a non-profit that shares the love of Jesus with native people in a culturally relevant and biblically sound way. Rev. Dr. Alexia Salvatierra, is Fuller Seminary’s assistant professor of Integral Mission and Transformational Development in the school of Intercultural Studies and Centro Latino. Rev. Justin Adour is lead pastor of Redeemer East Harlem Church in New York City. Kyle J. Howard is a theologian and trauma-informed soul care provider. Andrea Lucado is a journalist and an author based in Texas. Everyone except Andrea is an Evangelical of color. What follows is Part 4 of our 8-part series based on the National Town Hall.

I promised no question would be off limits so here we go. I started by asking Andrea about an article she wrote for the Washington Post that created a firestorm, almost exactly one year ago. It was called, “How the Female Body Became the Scapegoat for White Evangelicals”. I asked Andrea to share her story of her process of transformation and how she was thinking about this issue of abortion and reproductive justice, reproductive rights.

Andrea: I am pro-life. But I really had no problem voting for Obama in 2008. That was an exciting thing for me. I was living overseas. I had kind of had a new global perspective and continued to be able to vote not based on that one issue. I was always looking at who is equipped to care about the social issues that I cared about. I knew that some friends were guided by that one issue but I never was. That was kind of okay until four years ago, when I had friends and family vote for Trump in 2016 based on that one issue, and I started to really question, “Okay, is it this or is there something deeper at play?” 

I started thinking about and deconstructing my experience with the purity culture movement in the late 90s or early 2000s in the Evangelical church, and noticing how much fault and blame and responsibility was put on girls in that movement, on our bodies and covering them up. If my boyfriend and I stumbled, it was my fault. I should have done something, not worn a certain thing, etc. And then when I looked at a pro-life movement, you know, they were not talking about reproductive justice. They were not talking about how what leads to unwanted pregnancies is not having access to healthcare and contraception, men habitually not wearing condoms; things that very simply would prevent unwanted pregnancies are not a part of that conversation. 

Instead, it is all about making abortion illegal. And at the core of that, is what the woman is doing with her body. The female body is some sort of scapegoat, period. I quote philosopher, Rene Girard, when talking about scapegoat theory and the strength that it has had in ancient societies and today. We rally around this one thing to hold ourselves together. The interesting thing that Gerard said is that Christ kind of ended the need for that. He was the ultimate scapegoat, whose innocence was known, who was able to speak from the cross. He ended the cycle of violence. We do not have to do that anymore to operate as a society. But I have seen the white Evangelical church continue to operate that way. I theorized maybe this is not so much about being pro-life. If this is the only thing that is guiding your vote, maybe there is something deeper, a kind of a scapegoat mechanism happening.

Lisa: I have often thought about this issue of abortion and how it rose through the religious right at the exact moment that the religious right lost the fight against the U.S. in Bob Jones University vs. the USA. Bob Jones University was trying to keep pure white space. That purity culture, it actually connects there. The same exact people who lost that segregation fight in the Supreme Court in 1983, that same year turned around and said, “Hmm, abortion is now going be our issue, and our main number one tactic will be overturning the Supreme Court, and make it a conservative court.”  

I want to ask everybody a quick question. What kind of church were you in when you heard that abortion is a political issue we need to fight against?

READ: Repentance and Redemption Inside the White Church

Kyle: For me, when I entered Southern Baptist space. Within the Black church, it was seen as something of social care, an issue dealing with caring for communities, caring for our society, advocating for the poor, those kinds of things. It did not get politicized until I entered Evangelical Southern Baptist space.

Alexia: I do not like to speak for all Hispanics, but in our community, we really see God as coming through children in a very special way. So the way that my community saw abortion was always as a terrible, terrible tragedy. Have that child and any of us will treasure that child as God present with us! I don’t think I heard about it in a policy way, because it wasn’t really seen like when Andrea talked about women being bad. I don’t remember what year it was that I began hearing about it as policy, it was more like, “This is a terrible tragedy and how can we stop it? By helping the women involved not to have abortion.”

Justin: Similarly, always viewing it as just a real tragedy. It seems like in the 90s in particular, it got fiercely political. I remember the general culture shift around getting it politicized. This would have been moving from my Pentecostal world into the Evangelical world when I experienced it to be much more of a political thing. In my Pentecostal world it was viewed largely as tragedy. So, it was definitely within explicitly Evangelical spaces.

Charles: With our Native people, the issue of abortion was never an issue until the [U.S.] government began to sterilize our Native women. You might want to call it pre-pregnancy abortion, because we knew they’d never had the chance to have children after that. When they begin to take away our children, even before they were born, that became an issue. I remember back in the early 80s, when they were bombing and protesting abortion clinics during election time, everybody started stating their public stance on abortion. 

Lisa: That also happened in the African American community and that’s where we get the terminology “reproductive justice”, because from a Black perspective, it’s really about our right to actually bear life and steward that life, and be the stewards of our own bodies, not have white men determine what we do with our bodies. Because that’s the way it was for 256 years in the context of enslavement.

On reproductive health and reproductive justice, where do you go to in Scripture?

Charles: I look at Isaiah where he talks about God forming us in our mother’s wombs. And then the idea that God made us, we have a certain value.

Kyle: It’s more of a theme, and the theme is how Jesus relates to women in the New Testament. He never puts their circumstances or actions over the preciousness of their hearts, and the preciousness of who they are. No matter what circumstance a woman is in, no matter what dynamics or sin or anything else, Jesus always sees them as precious image-bearers. And he always relates to them as precious sisters. So when it comes to something like abortion, it’s that theme that propels me to say what we should primarily be focused on is how do we care for women? How do we love? How do we uplift? How do we exalt the dignity and the humanity of women made in the image of God? So, it’s more that theme than a specific biblical text.

Alexia: Because when you asked that question, the scripture that came up from me was Psalm 139, which talks about how we are all fearfully and wonderfully made. When I think about that scripture it is not just the question of abortion, but how do we treat people throughout their lives as if they are fearfully and wonderfully made? 

The National Town Hall on Evangelical Faith and Politics was convened by Freedom Road LLC in partnership with Evangelicals for Justice, The Voices Project, Global Immersion Project and Evangelicals for Social Action. You can watch the inaugural Town Hall on Facebook. Follow Freedom Road on Facebook and Instagram @FreedomRoadUs.

About The Author

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Lisa Sharon Harper is the founder and president of Freedom Road, LLC, and the author of several books, including the critically acclaimed, "The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right." Asked why she does what she does, Lisa's answer is clear: “So that the church might be worthy of the moniker ‘Bride of Christ.'" Through preaching, writing, training, network development, and public witness, Lisa—an Auburn Senior Fellow—engages the church in the work of justice and peacemaking. She was named “#5 of the Top 13 Women to Watch in 2012” by the Center for American Progress and was awarded the 2013 Faith and Justice Leadership Award by the National Black Women’s Round Table. She formerly served as the Chief Church Engagement Officer at Sojourners.

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