I am not preaching this Sunday. So I have not written a them and will not be offering a sermon here. But I forgot this, and did the normal reading I might do if I was preaching. So here are some thoughts that come out of this weeks readings - Deut 30:15-20, 1 Cor 3:1-9, Matt 5:21-37.
This week one of our readings is Deuteronomy 30 where we are told to choose life. It sounds like a “pro-life” slogan. Chose life – oppose abortion.
For a long time I would have described myself as “prolife”. I long to live in a world where adoption is a well-resourced and viable option for those who are pregnant and for a whole raft of reasons do not want to or cannot look after that child. But for too many that is not offered as an option. It is either have the child or abort. I do believe that abortion is offered too easily, without the resources offered for the grief and other long term affects that come with it. My personal preference would be that people would not choose to abort. But I also know that people will choose to abort whether we want them to or not, and ironically, I think a prolife stance offers safe abortions for those who do choose it after the other options have been examined. I can’t stop people having abortions. They always have and always will. The difference is that when they are illegal backstreet operators kick in and the abortions still happen, but with much higher risks to the women, both in terms of surviving the procedure or being physically damaged so that they cannot have children later on.
So clearly not a hard line pro-birth/anti-abortion standpoint. But pro-life. But something really interesting happened to me a couple of weeks ago. I stopped describing myself as “pro-life”. I can’t do it anymore.
A couple fo things pushed me over this edge. The first was seeing all those men gathered around President Trump (how are those two words even together?) decreeing once again, as all Republican presidents do, that federal funding cannot be used for providing abortions. It can’t anyway. But I digress. There they were, all those men, telling women what they can and can’t do. And I came to realise that too often that this is all this pro-life stuff is. Men telling women what they can and can’t do.
Sadly we live in a world where men can tell women what they can and can’t do way too often. Abortions happen because men dictate when women will have sex and who with. Where too many women have no control over their bodies, over their reproductive systems. Where women become objects by which men can satisfy their need for sex and their need for offspring. We men have objectified women, made them objects of our desires. We have functionalised women, making them serve functions we give them. WE have failed to see them as our fellow human beings. We have failed to see them as God sees them, and bearers of God’s love, compassion, justice and generosity. And those men gathered around that table made me realise that too often the antiabortion campaign, which is falsely called prolife, is too often one more example of men dictating to women what they can and can’t do. And I will not be part of that. Anyone who seeks to live the gospel of Jesus Christ cannot be part of that.
The second was a post on Facebook. It was a meme of Pope Francis’ statement on what prolife really means. Yes it includes pro-birth, but it also involves being pro-life for the rest of live, caring for what happens to immigrants, refuges, health care provisions for all people, ensuring all have adequate housing, food, access to affordable (free) health care) for all their lives, not living in fear because they do not have or could lose access to all these things.
The comments on that post were really interesting. There were a lot in support. But so many people were abusive. They said it watered down the prolife stance. Some thought some of those things might be included but asked why they should pay for any of that for their taxes. I came to realise that too many people who call themselves pro-life are in fact just pro-birth/anti-abortion. They don’t care one jot for the women involved. They really don’t care for the life of the child once born. They just don’t want abortion to be an option. Those same people are happy for refugees to be denied access to a better life, demonise those who are different from them, would like social welfare/security slashed. They are happy for children to die of treatable diseases, malnutrition, and violence. They just want to make sure that they are born. And that is not pro-life. But somehow they seem to have cornered the term, and I find I have no place at that table anymore. My first statement still stands, so I am not pro-abortion. So what am I? Do I need to be anything?
Last week at our church I used NT Wrights understanding of righteousness as living as the bearers of the image of God in this world, reflecting the character of God to creation, and the praise and worship of all creation back to the creator God. Our sin is that we forget that this is what the righteous life is all about, and instead either live lives solely trying to live the letter of a legal code, or hedonistic lives which are all about my needs and prosperity. There is a lot of this going on in the Christian church. The writer of Deuteronomy would call this choosing death. Choosing to live as an image bearer is to choose life.
This week we will hear Jesus continue on in the Sermon on the Mount where he pushes people beyond living the letter of the law and instead states they need to live the intention of the law. And the intention is about living well in community honouring each other, including our wives and husbands, and the wives and husbands of others. His statements about divorce acted to safeguard women who were so easily discarded from their marriages and whose resulting life expectancy (and that of their children if also discarded) plummeted. They were not be objectified, not treated simply as objects of desire and producers of children to be let go off when they no longer performed this task.
Jesus treated all people with generosity and compassion. He treated them as people made in the image of God. So as I grapple with what I am, I too am invited to treat all people, including the pro-birth extremist, including the women who choose to have abortions, including those who offer safe places for that to happen, and all those who will disagree with me; with the same generosity and compassion. To be an image bearer is to see God’s image in all others. When I do that I choose life and live righteously.