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Holy Abortion? by Gorman and Brooks

Can abortion ever be considered holy? New Testament scholar Michael J. Gorman and educator Ann Loar Brooks say, “No!” In Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Gorman and Brooks evaluate the position of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) by analyzing their published material and resources. The authors then proceed to critically compare the position of RCRC with official statements of its member Christian groups, among which two United Methodist agencies are numbered – the General Board of Church and Society and the General Board of Global Ministries: Women’s Division. The authors aim to demonstrate that principles and values of RCRC are in fundamental contradiction with the principles and values of their Christian member groups.

RCRC is self-described as “the interfaith movement for choice” whose primary work is in education and advocacy for the pro-choice position on abortion. The authors’ critique of RCRC takes into account a number of their published resources but focuses primarily on a worship resource entitled Prayerfully Pro-Choice: Resources for Worship. The thorough critique of RCRC focuses on six themes prevalent in RCRC literature:

Absolute God-given Sexual and Reproductive Freedom, including Abortion Rights (12)

The Isolation of the Woman or Teen as Sovereign Moral Agent (16)

The Trivialization of the Moral Status of Unborn Human Life (19)

The Legitimacy of Abortion as Birth Control (22)

The Holiness of Abortion (26)

A Pro-Choice God, Attested in Scripture, Who Blesses All Decisions (28).

Gorman and Brooks conclude their critique by evaluating RCRC through the lens of the historic Christian debate on how to approach war. Three positions have been held: the non-violence tradition, the just-war tradition, and the holy-war tradition. The authors argue that these traditions developed chronologically and that Christianity has generally but not entirely been purged of the holy-war tradition. The authors use this lens to demonstrate that RCRC shares in principle the values of the holy-war tradition which include:

the absence of external moral or legal restraints

the isolation and sovereignty of the moral agent

the lack of concern for the moral status of the targets

the absence of criteria to justify the action

the holiness of the act

the blessing of God (31).

The authors charge that the presence of anything like a holy-war attitude or ethic in any organization ought to raise very serious and grave concerns among its members (31).

Having demonstrated the position of RCRC, Gorman and Brooks turn to the statements on abortion of its Christian member groups (The Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church (USA), United Church of Christ, and United Methodist Church). In its social principles, the United Methodist Church, “in contrast to RCRC, affirms its reluctance to approve abortion, its belief in the ‘sanctity of unborn human life,’ and the necessity of assistance in decision making. It explicitly rejects abortion as birth control and places restrictions on its being considered at all (‘tragic conflicts of life with life’). Partial-birth abortion is permitted only in extreme cases” (36).

The authors argue that member bodies, like the two United Methodist agencies listed above, approach abortion through the lens of the just-war tradition, in which abortion is considered a lamentable last resort to be considered only in the case of tragic conflicts of life with life precisely because the unborn human life is held in sanctity. This, of course, is in contrast to the holy-war approach of RCRC where abortion is seen as an always available sacred and free choice sanctioned and blessed by god.

The authors, therefore, call for Christian groups to disassociate themselves from RCRC. Gorman and Brooks also seek to advance the conversation by considering abortion theologically and calling for abortion to be seen as, “a war of the powerful against the weak” (49, italics original). The authors also call for the conversation to be advanced through the articulation of a Christian and biblical theology of freedom, in which freedom is not the freedom to choose whatever one wishes but the freedom to sacrifice oneself in Christ likeness for the sake of the other (48-49).

This is a much needed volume that is an invaluable resources for pastors and laypersons. The authors provide a strong and thorough critique of RCRC and unmask its attempts to appear consistent with the historic and biblical Christian faith. I join the authors in calling for Christian groups to cut all ties with RCRC and to think more biblically and Christianly about the truly horrifying problem of abortion and the culture of death it perpetuates.

For further reading: Abortion and the Early Church: Christian, Pagan, and Jewish Attitudes in the Greco-Roman World (Wipf & Stock, 1998) by Michael J. Gorman

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