I dropped by a Bible study at the Fundamentalist church where I am still a member (while also a member of an interfaith church). Bishop Thomas opened by saying that last week he told his congregation they should not be misled to vote in the upcoming Obama/McCain election based on the single issue of abortion; the array of moral issues to be considered is much broader, he said. Then he invited up a woman who had quietly challenged him after that meeting. She was to be allowed to present the other side of the abortion argument. We'll call her Celia.
Hearing Both Sides
With good cheer and 20 minutes of PowerPoints, Celia walked us through the various techniques of abortion and several scriptures about God knowing us when we were in the womb. Then she asked, seemingly rhetorically, if abortion was always wrong, always murder. The 30 or so people dispersed in wooden pews murmured assent, though I sensed tension in the room. One man said, "Killing is not always murder--not if somebody breaks into my house."
Bishop Thomas jumped in to agree. Every killing isn't murder, he said. There is "a time to kill" in scripture. Abortion for "mere convenience" is murder, but cases of health of the mother may not be.
Celia flipped to her next slide which asked, "Suppose you had a condition which gave a 95% chance you would die in childbirth. Would you abort the child?" A tense pause was broken by a woman who said, "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't." Then several people--men and women--raised their hands to say they would not abort. They would trust God to select the outcome. But a few others began to raise their hands to speak on behalf of women who might be victims of rape or incest. They said no one could judge anyone else for a choice like that, especially when needs of a woman's other children were considered. Celia maintained her stand that abortion is always murder. That's when I raised my hand.
"I want to get back to the point about being damned if you do and damned if you don't'" I said. "If you believe you are saved, you know you aren't damned either way."A long silence was followed by more people telling what they would do. I was struck by the number of women who said they would risk their own lives rather than abort.
"That's right," Bishop Thomas interjected.
"When I had my abortion, I knew it was killing--and if you want to call it murder, that's fine, too. I told God I did what I had to do, and I needed him to work with me on it. In the same situation I would do it again today--though I would do everything in my power to prevent the situation from happening again."
A Surprise Video
"But I've got to show you one more thing," Celia exclaimed. And then she showed a video of a TV news report. It was a story about a woman who was told 20 years ago that she would die in childbirth, but she went ahead and gave birth to a healthy baby. The reporters interviewed her bright, handsome son as he ran the track at his school, 20 years later. And then Celia called up that same young man from among us in the pews. "I was that woman," she proclaimed. The young man came to stand proudly by her side, along with his father. Everyone leapt to their feet and cheered--including me.
But as the cheering subsided, a woman in the back said, "But I have a friend who took the same chance and died."
Then Bishop Thomas jumped in as if he could contain himself no longer. He said something like this.
"Celia, that's a beautiful story. Your testimony gives inspiration to us all. But as your pastor, I am here to always present you with the biblio-centric point of view. We can think anything we want, but I am here to stand for what the Bible says. And the Bible is not crystal clear that all abortion is murder. Two of us can study the Bible and come to different conclusions. That's why we always have to follow proper procedure. First, pray. Then look to the Bible. Then if it's not clear, look to the body of believers around you, the pastors and deacons who have the wisdom of experience."He spoke for another several minutes. I watched Celia's face. It looked to me like she was no longer so sure abortion is always murder. And then I noticed my own feelings. I was no longer so sure I would make the same choice that I made lo those many years ago.
"And to the Holy Spirit" I chimed in.
"And to the Holy Spirit," he said.
A woman stood and declared what a blessing it was to be able to argue about topics like this in a respectful atmosphere. Bishop Thomas quoted Peter, "Always be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in you, but do so with gentleness and respect."
Afterwards the woman who made the comment about "Damned if you do" came up to me and said,"We didn't even get to the part about how just because abortion isn't a choice we would make, that doesn't mean we would force it on other people. We can't expect them to live to our standards."
I think we all went home that night feeling bigger.