Wednesday, July 12, 2006

It is NOT About How Many Mommies Sally Has!

When those of us on the right complain about the problems we have with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, response from denominational leadership is often swift and loud. “You are making a mountain out of a mole-hill” would be about the mildest rebuke directed at us. “Surely the Christian faith is about more than homosexuality,” we are told.

Throughout the debates raging within ABC circles, many of us have protested that human sexuality stands as a symptom of the problem, not the problem itself. Our view of biblical authority and of Christology come closer to the nub of the matter than questions about whether Sally has “two mommies.”

Now a friend has forwarded to me an article written by the pastor of an American Baptist Church that makes my point for me. Although the congregation proudly identifies itself with the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists, one should note that this is no marginal church out on the fringes. For decades, the congregation has been favored by ABC leadership, often being the place of worship by some of our top denominational officials. For years it has had the kind of leadership that gets honored by the ABC, chosen to serve on the most prestigious boards and committees of the denomination, and invited to speak at special events.

The current pastor identifies her ministry as being “in an epic life-long battle with the ordinary church. We are a religious alternative in a world where most religious institutions have debased themselves by ignoring the erotic, the intoxicating, the profane, and the muddy . . . The battle is epic. We are both winners and losers. We play the game in a situation of constant epic rivalry with organized religion.

What caught my attention, however, was an unusual defense of abortion written by the senior pastor, a “58-year-old white woman.” She reveals that after giving birth to three children she “had an abortion nineteen years ago.” This she describes as “not bragging nor . . . apologizing . . . I am a mother of three children in their twenties and I am an ordained Christian minister.”

As she recounts her own pilgrimage and process of decision making, she says: “When I got pregnant with the child I call ‘Alma,’ which means soul, I did not feel prepared or ready for a fourth child. I chose, with some searching, to exercise my constitutional right to choose to end her birth.

"Why do I tell my story now? Because I fear that abortion rights may become even more restricted than they already are. I also find the very intimidation that I experience in telling my story to be the reason I must speak. Why would I be afraid? Because pro-life people like to punish others. Plus my editor warned me to expect a lot of heat. Should that fear replace free speech? I think not.”

One would not be surprised to find a baby boomer reporting on a past abortion. What causes the raised eyebrow, however, is her explanation of it.

“I did what was right for me, for my family, for my work, for my husband, and for my three children. I happen to agree that abortion is a form of murder. I think the quarrel about when life begins is disrespectful to the fetus. I know I murdered the life within me. I could have loved that life but chose not to. I did what I think men do all the time when they take us to war: they choose violence because, while they believe it is bad, it is still better than the alternatives. The Just War theory assumes that human beings get caught in terrible choices all the time. This freedom is not just for men; it is for women also.”

Admitting that the “decision” was not an easy one, indeed it was fraught with prayer, self-examination, and no small measure of anguish; she nonetheless concludes so matter of factly: “I made a choice. Adults make choices.”

You see, in the mind of this senior minister of one of our premiere ABC congregations (albeit a federated ABC/UCC one where the current clergyperson was originally ordained UCC), the abortion battle does not revolve around unborn babies at all. “Instead, it is about women and sex and about women and maturity. We are considered babies, sub-adults, in need of supervision over our sexuality. Otherwise we are dangerous. We are the virgin or the whore.”

Rather, regarding an act seemingly affirming her existential reality, she opines that, “When I made my choice to end Alma's life, I was behaving as an adult. I did not shrink from the responsibility of making a choice. I did not ask someone else to make it for me. And I certainly did not request the government's help in my bedroom. Instead I behaved as an adult who is also a sexual being. Things happen sexually between people that are not always controllable.”

While she admits to having named and wept for the life taken, she allows that while she “wanted her” she knew she “did not want her enough.”

The Rev. Dr. will concede that her choice to have unprotected sex was “adolescent, immature," and even “stupid.” But she hears in the debates over “killing our babies . . . the echo of people wanting to kill women's maturity and sexuality. I don't like it. That's why I am breaking my silence about who I am. I am a 58-year-old, sexual, mature woman. That's who I am. I had an abortion. I am not bragging and I am not apologizing.”

How does one respond to an argument like that? Coming from “one of the most widely published women ministers in the country, especially within the mainline church” (her bio on her web site), and the senior minister of one of our leading AWAB congregations in the ABC, it raises more than eyebrows.

Those of us who have been saying that our battle is not really about Sally’s two mommies but about biblical authority, may want to point to the theological trajectory, logic, and line of argument crafted by this “author of twenty-eight” published books.

The affirmation of homosexuality, while an important issue for most traditional Christians, does not come close to being the basic cause of our discomfort with the left. Our fussing and feuding over this one controversy has made it appear that evangelicals have no compassion for hurting gay people or that we are only too happy to talk about them rather than to them.

At the root of it, however, traditionalists hold to a two thousand year Christian tradition and the embrace of a number of key doctrinal verities. We confess that the fulfillment of our humanity comes in yielding our selves up to God, in recognizing that our lives are not our own. Indeed, we have been bought with a price. We are called to honor God with our bodies, not to declare ourselves autonomous lord’s over “our” choices.

The issue dividing us in the ABC cannot be reduced to “soul liberty” or explained as a simple tolerance for diversity of interpretation. We are proclaiming fundamentally different visions of Christianity.

The sincerity of the differences between the left and the right can hardly be doubted. Some of my favorite American Baptists disagree with me on any host of issues like these. My genuine affection for them is real. My conviction remains that they are acting in accord with what they believe to be the highest standards of Christian teaching as they see it. They deserve to be treated with respect. However, these are not insignificant differences!!! Again, what is at stake has to do with an entirely different vision of the essence and meaning of the Christian faith and cannot be easily accommodated within one big tent.

[His Barking Dog isn't smart enough to comprehend the finer points of theological discourse; that's why I choose to stand with teachings held for two millennia rather than make it up as we go along. My observations, however, reflect my own opinions and do not necessarily belong to any persons, authorities, entities, or organizations. My lone barkings are simply solo.]


Dennis E. McFadden said...

Addendum: I am aware that graded absolutism or hierarchicalism would say that to do the "best" possible thing in a tragic moral choice represents that which is morally good. However, that does not seem to be the case in the account I cited. Abortion was (somewhat unusually) admitted to be a "form of murder," yet the author felt free to "choose" this option for reasons that do not appear morally exigent.

My problem with the AWAB wing of the ABC goes far beyond quibbles over the interpretation of six passages dealing with homosexual behavior in the Bible. It strikes to the root of a tendency to ask the original question ("Has God really said?") in ways more in line with the Adversary than the Advocate. That a person using the promo of being "recognized as one of the most outstanding communicators of her generation of Protestant clergy" should so matter-of-factly state "I made a choice. Adults make decisions," terrifies me.

How can we claim to be "in mission" with this kind of mindset? Indeed, let us stipulate that we are all smart, educated, sincere, and morally serious. But, so are adherents of virtually every other religion and I do not want to be "in mission" with them either.


[Not to be confused with a voice speaking officially for anybody, anywhere, at anytime.]

Dennis E. McFadden said...

My e-mail this morning included the following. I reproduce it in full for the benefit of my readers:

"You might say on your blog commentary posted yesterday (and also on beacon churches that Donna Schaper is UCC ordained and has a long history of ministry in UCC congregations and as an area minister, not ABC, called by Judson, a federated ABC-UCC church. She has to my knowledge never been invited to speak at any ABC event although some of her ABC predecessors were, and this is her first position with any ABC-related congregation.

It is misleading to leave out that information. Your fans will be agitated by the assumption that she is an ABC product and leader, instead of freely chosen pastor of a congregation exercising its right to call the leader they believe a fit for their ministry."

Dennis E. McFadden said...

My sur-rejoinder to the previous observations and corrections:

While it is true that the pastor of the ABC/UCC church is ordained by the UCC, that is immaterial to my point. Many federated ABC/UCC church pastors with UCC credentials rise in the ranks of ABC leadership (e.g., The MA pastor who by her marriage to her companion was the unwilling cause of the firestorm in the Ministers Council a couple of years back. If memory serves me she was also ordained by the UCC and pastors a federated ABC/UCC congregation).

Second, since the pastor of my piece began her pastorate in the ABC congregation recently, it would be premature to speak of what her reception among American Baptists will be. Certainly, this congregation has a tradition of leadership honored by the ABC, including positions on the MMBB board, etc. and membership by high ranking ABC officials. And, do we really think that anyone "recognized as one of the most outstanding communicators of her generation of Protestant clergy" would NOT be a prime darling of those on the left staffing a program committee and looking for speakers?

Amill-Presup said...

I read it in its entirety. What a rambling, morally ambiguous mess!

I have an answer for every attempted justification of infanticide (aka abortion), but don't feel the need to pull any of them out against these "arguments." Just let her write; she refutes herself.

I really like the insistence that such positions "deserve to be treated with respect." You killed someone. You admit it. Yeah. I that.

I agree that these issues can't be brushed aside with the magic "soul liberty" broom. Homosexuality and abortion are both second tablet commandments (which Dr. Clarke and Roger Williams didn't view as negotiable).

Yet, once we start defining what dissentions are allowed and which are not, where do we draw the line?

Maybe you can tell us exactly how big the tent can be? How diverse a group do you suppose should be allowed to remain within?

For once, I am not being sarcastic; this is an issue with which I've struggled much. I've always tried to live by Augustine's maxim "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity" (some of my charity-free posts notwithstanding).