The Rapidian

Ethics and Religion Talk: What Scripture Upholds Your Faith's Teaching on Abortion? part 1

Faith asks, "What is your perspective on abortion, and how do you defend that position based on your sacred scriptures?"

What is Ethics and Religion Talk?

“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at http://topics.mlive.com/tag/ethics-and-religion-talk/. More recent columns can be found on TheRapidian.org by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

In 2013, this column has address the question of abortion. We are revisiting the question for two reasons. First, the composition of the panel (other than myself) has completely changed. Other than me, there is no one on the panel from our first year. Second, the nature of the question is different this time. Last time, the question focused on when, if ever, terminating embryonic life might be permitting. This time, the questioner asks for specific scriptural passages that support the panelist’s position.

My tradition is primarily guided by Exodus 21:22-25, which lays out the damages when two men are fighting and a pregnant women is caught between them. The fact that a fine is levied for causing a miscarriage indicated that the fetus does not have the status of personhood under the law. Later Rabbinic law restricts abortion to cases where the life or health (physical or mental) of the mother is at risk.

Dear readers, I offer you a challenge: I ask you to read this week and next week’s columns with a heart open to understanding the sincere religious basis for an opinion with which you may adamantly disagree. The responses this week are from traditions that offer support in favor of a woman’s right to choose.

The Rev. Rachel J. Bahr, pastor of Plymouth UCC, responds:

"I am a Christian who believes in the radical liberation of all oppressed people. I follow in the ways of Jesus, who in Luke 4.18-19 prophetically lays out the vision of liberation and abolition that embodied Jesus’ ministry. Pregnant people’s bodies and decisions are their own. Pregnant people’s bodies should not be battlefields. Bodily autonomy is fundamental to liberation. Additionally, in Genesis, the concept of the Imago Dei, the image of God, has been read for centuries as bestowing the power of individual choice. God didn’t create us to be ruled unilaterally by the will of others, but to be in relationship with others based on consent."

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

"Unitarian Universalists believe all medical decisions are to be made between the patient and her doctor. We believe in the woman’s right to reproductive choice without judgment or exception.

"My personal belief is that the issue of abortion has more to do with shaming, punishing, and controlling women than it is about preserving and caring about life. If it were truly about preserving life, anyone who was pro-life would be 100% behind comprehensive sexual education for everyone. This is proven to greatly reduce the number of abortions."

Linda Knieriemen, Senior Pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Holland, responds:

“Abortion, the ending of a life or a prospective life is always a tragic choice. But there are circumstances in this imperfect and complicated world when abortion is the least objectionable of difficult options. In the reading of Biblical scripture I find no text which speaks expressly to the topic of abortion. I am antiabortion yet prochoice. I believe religious efforts are best spent not in making abortion illegal but in preventing unintended and unwanted pregnancies — making contraception widely available, providing quality sex education for children and youth, addressing availability of health care, and reducing generational poverty.

“I would prefer to focus on biblical material which emphasizes human decision making. Humans are imperfect moral decision makers, no more so women than men. In a 1st century society dominated by men, Jesus affirmed the full moral responsibility of women that contradicted their lower societal status:

  • In Luke 10, Jesus affirm Mary’s countercultural choice as his student.
  • In John 4, Jesus engages with and teaches a feisty woman at a well;
  • In Matthew 28 he appears in resurrected form to women whose word others considered unreliable

“In other words, Jesus recognized that women were fully responsible persons capable of making decisions.  As such, women should be granted the freedom to choose and be trusted to make the best and faithful decision possible when an abortion is contemplated.”

The Rev. Steven Manskar, pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Grand Rapids, responds:

"Abortion is tragic and traumatic. It is a painful difficult decision that only a woman can make in consultation with her husband/partner, family, physician, and spiritual leader. The decision must always be with the woman. Neither government nor religious institution should make the decision for her.

"One of the sacred texts that guide my approach to this difficult issue is Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan. Loving God with all your heart, soul, and mind and loving your neighbor as yourself requires mercy. God is merciful. Therefore we must be merciful.

"Women who find themselves wrestling with the painful decision of abortion are like the man beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. People who could help go out of their way to avoid them. But the most unlikely person, the one who sees the woman as a human being in pain and stops to help can make all the difference in the world by walking alongside her and treating her as a child of God."

This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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