Rector's Blog: Learning what I Believe
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I have not always believed in someone’s right to have an abortion. In fact, my change in belief is fairly recent. I grew up in a religious tradition that taught me in no uncertain terms that abortion was murder. This was how I learned about it in my church and school (which was affiliated with the church). Any attempt to understand abortion as a sometimes necessary medical procedure was seen as anti-Christian. To seek to justify it under any circumstances was to justify murder. To call it healthcare was unthinkable.
Actually, nearly any discussion about abortion was unthinkable to me.
I was not trained to have conversations about abortion. I was not trained to ask questions about abortion. I was not trained to listen or learn anything about abortion. I was trained to know exactly what I thought, and to pray for those who saw it differently: Specifically, I was taught to pray for their souls and to pray that they changed their minds.
I remember the first time I heard someone I knew was having an abortion. She was in college and had gotten pregnant. She did not believe she was ready to be a mother. She had an abortion, stayed in school, and continued on with her life. I remember loving her and liking her and silently judging her. I remember thinking she should not have sex if she wasn’t ready to be a mother. I would not say this to her, but I thought it.
I was in college at the time as well. And I had a partner and was sexually active. I did not believe I was ready to be a father. I saw absolutely no irony in any of this. None. I silently assumed that if my girlfriend got pregnant, she’d carry the child to term, and we’d be parents and figure it out. We did not discuss this, because any discussion about abortion was unthinkable to me. What was there to discuss?
I have to admit that my friend’s abortion began a shift in me even if I did not see it or understand it at the time. The shift that occurred was simple, and it came in the form of a question I asked myself. Did I think she was a murderer? I had been taught she was. But did I believe it? No. No, I did not believe that. It did not make sense. It did not fit. I did not know what to do with this incongruity, any more than I knew what to do with my own hypocrisy – which I could not see or accept.
A few years later I was working as a waiter. One of my coworkers got pregnant, and she was contemplating an abortion. She was a faithful Christian, and she knew me as a Christian too and wanted to talk with me about it. This was the first real discussion I ever actually had about abortion. It was not about laws. It was not about rights. It was about her and what was happening to her and within her. She decided to terminate the pregnancy.
It was the first time I remember not knowing what to think.
In full disclosure to you, I told her I didn’t think she should get an abortion.
And then, before I knew what was happening, I heard the words come out of my mouth, “But if you need a ride, or you need someone to wait for you or pick you up afterward, I can do that.”
So, what did I really believe? Well, I believed that the life within her was in fact a life. And I believed that life was sacred. And at the same time, though I didn’t have the words for it yet, I believed in my friend. I believed in her. I believed in her faithfulness. I believed in her humanity. I remember wondering how I’d look at her afterward. It turns out she looked the same. She looked like the person I knew and loved and respected.
My heart and mind shifted more. I still did not believe in full reproductive rights, not officially. But I believed in my friend. I believe this is how the Holy Spirit works on us. I believe this is how transformation occurs.
In the interceding years, I have continued to shift. In my case, this has come almost entirely from listening to women speak about their bodies and their lives.
A little over a year ago, I read a book called “Pro-Choice and Christian”. This book helped me embrace a different understanding of pregnant people in relation to God, to society, to their own bodies. It helped me think twice about myself and many of my preconceived notions about God and my faith. It was written by my friend and colleague Kira Austin-Young, who is a priest.
Until I read this book, I carried within me – however subconsciously – the belief that when someone became pregnant, their body ceased to be their own. I had never put this into words or even realized I believed it, but really, I believed that a fetus had more rights than the one who carried it within them. My belief in the sanctity of life did not extend to the mother. I believed I knew what was right for a pregnant person better than they did. Even when I was compassionate and friendly, I was judgmental.
Kira, I know you’ll read this, and I want you to know that you helped change me. You helped me see others more fully. Thank you. This is how the Holy Spirit works.
After reading Kira’s book, I invited her onto a YouTube show I was doing at the time, and we discussed her work over four episodes. (Ep1, Ep2, Ep3, Ep4) I am so grateful to her for her leadership and her faithful witness to Christ. I recommend her book and our conversations to you without hesitation. They helped me to grow and to learn.
My journey continues. The Spirit keeps working on me, on all of us. I am still learning what I believe. I am still learning how to listen to and love others for who they are, and not for who I want them to be.
As of today, I can tell you this: I am a Christian, a man, and a priest. I believe in Jesus. I seek to follow him. I read and study the Bible. I am, as you might have guessed, actively involved in the Church. I believe in full reproductive rights – including the right to an abortion - for women and all people able to get pregnant. I believe in this as a Christian, not despite my Christianity. I believe in creating a culture that recognizes the full humanity and agency of people who are pregnant.
I am especially thankful today for the women whose life, leadership, and friendship have changed me. You have managed to show me love even when I’ve been a judgmental hypocrite. I hope we men and we Christians will take you seriously, listen to you, and assist you in your struggle to experience real freedom and equality.
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