Whole Women, Whole Families, Whole Truths: Saying What You Mean and Meaning What You Say

The number of abortions in the United States may have declined by more than one-third over the past two decades—reaching its lowest rate since record keeping started in 1976—but the issue is far from settled. Today the Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case in almost 10 years, and, barring a 4-4 split due to the death of Justice Scalia, will likely hand down a decision by the summer.

This case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, questions the constitutionality of restrictions the state of Texas is imposing on abortion providers—restrictions like requiring abortion providers to hold admitting privileges at a local hospital and for centers to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgical centers. Opponents argue that these standards are unnecessary and will cause clinics to close, resulting in significant limitations on women’s access to abortion.

This case has far-reaching implications as the Court is set to consider what regulations constitute an undue burden on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. As it is in all Supreme Court cases of this significance, media coverage is intense, and the protestors are many.

Significantly, this whole discussion is taking place during an election year, which is sure to force presidential hopefuls to address abortion head on. A study by the Barna Group has found that while only 30 percent of the general population places abortion as a priority in determining which candidate will get their vote, 64 percent of evangelicals say the same. And that means, because abortion will again be in the spotlight, this 64 percent will have their views heard by a larger audience than normal.

Of course, neither a Supreme Court case nor a presidential election is a top motivator for pro-lifers* to make their voices heard. Still, if history is any indicator, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole will provide a unique opportunity for influence that may not come around again for quite some time.

So the big question is how best to assert that influence.

Public perceptions of the pro-life movement are often significantly and negatively shaped by high profile cases like that of Robert Lewis Dear, the man who last November shot and killed a police officer and two civilians at a Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. At his first court appearance, Dear proudly professed guilt and claimed to be “a warrior for the babies.” Not much earlier, a pro-life group released highly controversial, sting-style videos of Planned Parenthood executives that resulted in a wide, public debate about federal funding for the organization. And, of course, we’ve all seen the heart wrenching and anger-inducing footage of protestors blocking young women from entering into clinics, making clear their opinion that the young, scared woman will burn in hell.

There is also the perennial issue of conservative politicians taking a hardline pro-life stance, yet seemingly disregarding the hardships that can come from an unplanned or unsafe pregnancy, and eliminating funding for programs that could either help minimize these hardships or stop the unplanned or unsafe pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

It’s a hostile context, with various “camps” pitted against one another. Surely there has to be a better way, a way far removed from pickets, judgment, hate, and hypocrisy.

To this end, it’s important to remember that when hoping to sway public opinion and/or policy to align with one’s belief system, moral credibility is key. That means the pro-life movement must become one associated with believing all life is sacrosanct—whether in the womb or already born. Perhaps it should go without saying, but the most basic tenant of eliminating abortion must be rooted in compassion and love, and not just for the unborn, but also for the expectant mothers. Certainly, pregnant woman who feel trapped by their pregnancy and are considering abortion should think of the church as the first place to turn for help, not as the last.

Thankfully, there are faith leaders who are opening their doors wide to those both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Last year Pope Francis declared that women who have had abortions could seek forgiveness from any priest, without authorization of a bishop. President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, Russell Moore, wrote of those who have had or participated in abortions, “God has already pronounced what he thinks of this person: ‘You are my beloved child and in you I am well pleased.’ … Offer [] mercy not only at the Judgment Seat of Christ, but in the small groups and hallways of your church.” There are those who will take umbrage at the notion that a woman needs either forgiveness from a priest or mercy from church members, but for many women, both avenues of grace are desired and significant to their lives.

By decreasing social stigma within the church environment, providing non-judgmental counseling and assistance to women suffering at the hands of a partner or family member, and putting in place the go-to tried and true church supports of meals, rides to the doctor, deacon’s fund assistance, and the like, local churches can provide tangible support to women both considering abortion and those who have already had abortions. Shaming, shunning and judging will only drive women from the church.

Of equal importance is the significant contribution of churches and faith-based organizations to social services (the Catholic Church is the largest provider of social services in the world). One of main reasons women give for seeking abortions is financial. In fact, studies show that women with family incomes below the federal poverty level account for more than 40 percent of all abortions, and this particular demographic has one of the highest abortion rates in the nation (52 per 1,000 women). Given that six in ten women who receive abortions already have at least one child, it seems clear that greater systemic support for families below the poverty line is a prime way to reduce abortions.

These numbers indicate that being pro-life is about speaking up and acting on socioeconomic matters just as much as it is on abortion itself. Recognizing this, faith-based non-profits can and do provide subsidized childcare, job training, financial and material support, housing, and counseling for women in the “at risk” category. These efforts should be seen not just as economic in nature, but as essential ways to demonstrate  one’s commitment to ending abortion.

Similarly, better educational and vocational opportunities, workplace protections for pregnant women, and low cost, high quality childcare would help reduce the stressors on women who seek abortion for financial reasons. Many of the socioeconomic changes needed must be systemically implemented at a policy level, but others are within the grasp of individuals, places of worship, and organizations.

For those interested in having a direct, personal impact, there are many options other than marches and protests, all of which are considerably more effective. The influence of making ones position known to state and federal legislators through letter writing and phone calls, petition signing, ballot measures that increase socioeconomic support of women and families, and an individual’s voting power cannot be overstated.

For those less politically inclined, there are ways to advance one’s beliefs that may not change laws, but will fulfill the primary goal of both reducing abortion and creating more sustainable futures for those lives once they enter into the world.

Pregnancy centers, most of which are religious in nature, make it their goal to support women through their pregnancies as well as achieve long-term self-sufficiency. Women who might otherwise feel there are no options other than abortion can turn to these centers for help not only throughout pregnancy, but also into the future by learning the life skills necessary to successfully parent a child and run a household.

Despite the high number of women served by pregnancy centers, they aren’t without controversy, and some are more reputable than others. Volunteering at or donating to centers with a track record of providing sustainable assistance with long-term implications is a great way to make a local, direct impact. Before partnering with a pregnancy center, affirm that the center has appropriate medical oversight and licensing, as well as non-deceptive advertising, literature, and practices. Some pregnancy centers have come under criticism for these things, and to truly help women and the unborn, maintaining credibility and compassion, not merely pushing an agenda, is key.

Of course, pregnancy centers aren’t for all women, such as those who feel unprepared to parent. For those in this situation, adoption agencies are often presented as an alternative to abortion. Like pregnancy centers, these agencies provide pregnant women with services to help them throughout their pregnancies, but also help match birth mothers with adoptive families. Many provide prenatal care, help with housing and other expenses, and even maternity clothes and rides to the doctor.

Some of these centers are religious- or state run non-profits, others are privately owned and for profit. As with pregnancy centers, some are more reputable than others and must be thoroughly researched before a referral can be made. Each state has its own regulations, but as a general rule, adoption agencies should be licensed, been in business for many years with a well-maintained reputation, have a high number of successful placements per year, and should not pressure clients into making certain choices. Individuals and faith communities should take the time to research near-by agencies and be prepared to make a knowledgeable recommendation to a woman in need.

In so doing, it must be remembered that for adoption to be a truly viable option, women must feel emotionally and physically able to make it through nine months of pregnancy. This means pro-life advocates must recognize that the reasons women seek abortions can take all kinds of forms, including social stigmas, lack of health care, abusive relationships, family pressures, and financial and work or educational limitations, among other things. Those committed to ending abortion should consider putting time and energy toward finding a workable solution for as many of these problems as possible—although certainly no perfect or easy solution exists, nor does this list address the myriad of needs that present when women become pregnant through rape, or when a pregnancy compromises the mother’s health. Those are complicated, emotion-laden, and highly individual cases that I cannot begin to address here.

Promoting and achieving pro-life goals will come from establishing credibility by honoring the sanctity of life, both born and unborn, and taking compassionate, non-judgmental, prayerful and loving action to reduce the reasons women seek abortion in the first place, primarily their belief there are “no other options.” Simply put, we must give them options.

What if rather than creating picket signs and coordinating protests, efforts turned instead toward creating options by caring for women and families in need, and working towards systemic change that does the same? This is not only a third-way of being pro-life—it is the best way. It’s a way that respects and honors all life, at all stages, without judgment, but with honesty, compassion, and a nuanced understanding of the very real hardships faced by women dealing with an unexpected pregnancy.

State laws and Supreme Court decisions don’t change the fact that the real work of making pro-life mean all life often takes place behind the scenes, through small acts of love and kindness that have a big impact on the lives of many, both those born and those yet to be.

 

* I use the term “pro-life” because it is the term most commonly used and understood in public discussion. I find it to be a misnomer, however, as those who are pro-choice are not, in fact, anti-life. Similarly, many who may deem themselves “pro-life” for lack of a better term, are not “anti-choice,” although they would limit situations where that choice might be employed.

 

 

 

Disconnected Generations?

My vote this election season will go to Bernie Sanders, not Hillary Clinton.

According to comments made earlier this month by feminist trailblazers Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright, this makes me either a boy-crazy political infidel (Steinem) or someone worthy of a special place in hell (Albright). Judging from the reaction these comments received, I apparently am not the only one who felt angry, bemused, belittled, and befuddled by these statements.

Albright appears to have gotten somewhat of a pass for her oft-repeated statement that there is a “special place in hell for women who don’t support other women.

But Steinem was taken to task on Twitter for her comment, made while speaking to HBO’s Bill Maher earlier this month, “When you’re young, you’re thinking, ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Young feminist voters created the hashtag #notherefortheboys to let Steinem know just how far off base her comment was.

#Notherefortheboys clearly demonstrated the disconnect between those who gave birth to the second wave of feminism and those who are riding on it today. Slate magazine writer Christina Cauterucci had this to say about the schism:

These unfortunate statements about young women and the backlashes they triggered reveal a common thread between ageism and sexism, which intersect in ways specific to progressive movements. Some older women are convinced that younger women take for granted the struggles that preceded them and aren’t yet wise enough to lead the movement; some younger women believe that their forbearers are out of touch and old-fashioned, hampered by the racism, heterocentrism, and class divides of feminisms past.

Cauterucci is on to something here.

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What Steinem and Albright Get Wrong About Today’s Feminists

Longtime proponents of women’s rights Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright have experienced some resurgence in the media as of late, but not for defending women’s rights.

Instead, they’ve made headlines for what many are calling anti-feminist views.

Discussing the presidential election in an interview with Bill Maher, Steinem suggested that younger women are voting for Bernie Sanders in an effort to meet boys: “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie.’”

Albright, however, has made no such apology for her statement at a Hillary Clinton rally, that “there is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

Young feminist voters, who in the Democratic party largely support Sanders’ presidential bid, took umbrage at these statements, and an obligatory new hashtag, #notherefortheboys, was born. No one can blame this new generation of feminists for their anger. Steinem’s statement insultingly dismissed young women as too boy-crazy, naïve, and incompetent to have any real understanding of the political process, while Albright’s statement, while one she’s been making for years, used here seemed an explicit attempt to guilt women into voting for Clinton.

You can read the rest of this article at Sojourners, by clicking here.

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Evolving Faith: An Interview With Sarah Bessey

Today we hear from award-winner blogger and author of Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey. Sarah’s latest book, Out of Sorts, recounts her journey through an evolving faith, ending not with the finality of a concise resolution and tidy list of how-tos, but rather the firmly held belief that while Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, she—and we—should be continuously questioning, changing, and growing in relationship with Christ. Sarah’s raw and honest retelling of her evolving relationship with the Church, with religion, and with Christ serves not as memoir, but rather as Sarah’s encouragement to others to embrace their own meandering paths without fear as they work their way through a hopefully-unending evolution of faith.

1) You write that when you were in your twenties, you stopped being a Christian because you didn’t want to be associated with the Church. It seemed to you that in the Church, one could be a Christian without being a disciple of Christ. How do we put Jesus back into Christianity? Into the Church?

For me, everything was reoriented on Jesus and that changed everything. I think for too long we’ve made Jesus just one character or episode in the Bible. If we want to see God, we look to Jesus. In Hebrews 1:3, the writer says that Jesus is the exact representation of the Father. So I think that if we could recapture that centrality of Christ in our churches through our teaching, our worship, our way of life, well then, what would change? For me, a lot of things changed. My opinions, my preferences, my work, my purpose, my reading of Scripture, my place in community, and so on. We aren’t bringing Jesus into our lives: he’s welcoming us into his life. Years later, I still feel like the only place that makes sense is in his presence, the only place I want to be is in the dust of his feet.

2) You once again consider yourself a Christian, and presumably a disciple of Christ. To that end, how do Jesus’ teachings impact your day-to-day life? Is there a particular area of discipleship you struggle with more than others?

You can read the rest of my interview with Sarah at Red Letter Christians.

Book Review: Women, Leadership, and the Bible. By Dr. Natalie Eastman

Dr. Natalie Eastman is one of the smartest women I know. If you’re looking for proof of that, check out her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible. It’s a smart read, but not so much so that it’ll bog you down. In fact, I was enthralled from page one. If you’re the theologically- and academically-inclined type with a passion for women’s issues, I know you’ll feel the same.

Women, Leadership, and the Bible: How Do I Know What to Believe? A Practical Guide to Biblical Interpretation.

By Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman. Cascade Books, 280 pp., $31.50.

In her book, Women, Leadership, and the Bible, Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does not, as one might imagine based on the title, try to convince readers of her position on the role of women in the church. In fact, she argues that women have for too long relied on the theological positions of others rather then undertake their own study, a practice that has only worked toward women’s detriment. Twelve long years in the making, the intent of Women, Leadership, and the Bible is to right that wrong.

Eastman received her Doctor of Ministry from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Realizing that the majority of women will not receive the same extensive seminary training that she did, her hope is to teach formal Biblical interpretation skills to the lay reader so that they can decide for themselves what God intends the role of women in the church to be.

Eastman writes specifically to a female audience, explaining that women are less likely to go to seminary, less likely to have time for theological study, and less likely to have the confidence necessary to take on as tough and divisive a topic as women in the church. While all that may be, Eastman is unequivocal that women are responsible both to themselves and to God to “think through these questions Biblically and theologically.”

That’s where Eastman’s “practical guide” comes in, as she takes on the heavy task of equipping women with the skills necessary to equalize a field traditionally dominated by men. Steering clear of four-syllable and hard-to-pronounce words, Eastman assumes her readers are unfamiliar with even basic interpretation skills. She defines “scary” words such as hermeneutic and exegesis, and includes a table of Scripture abbreviations, acronyms referring to different versions of the Bible, and detailed appendices for easy reference to outside sources of study. Despite her clear effort to write to a lay audience, by virtue of the subject matter the language used and study methods taught are best suited for those who have had at least some experience with higher education, as well as possess a great capacity for self-direction.

Staying true to Christian fundamentals, Eastman first and foremost points to the Bible as one’s primary study source. Outside resources are important, but the Bible is the ultimate authority on what the role of women in the church should be—it is in its interpretation that things get sticky. The primacy of the Bible firmly established, Eastman then provides a five-step strategy for methodically obtaining and sorting data and thinking logically about it: prepare (to engage in a concentrated study); identify (existing views and interpretations); study (the Bible as well as outside sources); filter (analyze what studying has uncovered); and choose (one’s position on the role of women in the church).

The third step—study—makes up the heart of the book, and is where the bulk of the burgeoning theologian’s work is done. Those interested in simply being told what to think or believe will not find any easy answers; instead, as Eastman openly tells readers, the study and discernment processes for even this one issue could take years, and even then may never reach full resolution.

Eastman takes seriously the individual responsibility to self and God to think through questions Biblically and theologically, keeping her own position hidden, choosing instead to draw out each step of her study plan by quoting women from varied backgrounds and positions. These women—a large number of whom are scholars—explain what they believe, why they believe it, and how they reached their conclusion. Readers hear from complimentarians and egalitarians equally, but all those quoted are women. This leaves Eastman vulnerable to criticism for excluding male voices in an otherwise balanced book. The study process taught, however, is gender-neutral, and men interested in learning more about Biblical interpretation can certainly benefit from Women, Leadership, and the Bible.

But it’s really no surprise that Eastman writes exclusively to women: the mere act of studying and learning is confidence building and empowering, traits women desperately need in the male-dominated field of theology. In fact, this is one way Eastman fails to keep her opinion on the “woman’s issue” to herself: clearly she finds women capable of the type of theological exploration they have long been kept from as unqualified. One can only assume she doesn’t think that after months or years of study that women should then keep silent about their findings.

It is, of course, true that women can attend seminary, hold ministerial positions, and teach in certain situations and in limited ways. But women have yet to reach full actualization as leaders through positions of higher authority in which they lead, teach, and minister to all church members, not just women and children.

Some think this is what God intended. Others do not. Regardless of opinion, it’s certainly worth asking how that opinion was formed. If the answer is that “someone told me so,” it is worth undertaking months or even years of study to determine if that someone was correct or not. For those without formal training but with an above-average skill set for self-teaching, Women, Leadership, and the Bible is a great place to start learning how to do just that.

You can find out more about Dr. Eastman and her book here.

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Amy Schumer’s Feminism: And Then What?

I am not one to eschew the feminist label. I am a feminist, plain and simple.

But I reject the notion that there is one standard definition of “feminist.” I remember how rejected and misunderstood I once felt in the women’s studies department of my undergraduate institution — so much so, in fact, that I dropped my women’s studies minor a mere one class short of completion. My particular Christian ethics did not jibe with the feminist norm being taught, and many thought me a traitor to the cause.

That was about 15 years ago. In the interim years I’ve learned a lot about popular conceptions of what it means to be a feminist. I’ve realized ideals I once thought immutable are actually cyclical and subject to both minor and major revisions, made by different thought leaders over time. And one current, popular semi-wave of feminism is being led by comedian and actress Amy Schumer.

You can read the rest of today’s post on the “new” (problematic) face of feminism at Sojourners(Definitely worth a visit, if for no other reason than to check out their beautiful new website!)

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