Sunday, February 5, 2012

It’s Not About Abortion, It’s About You

By Jack Davidson 

It’s been a big year for abortion.
With numerous heinous bills proposed and blocked, and more egregious ones in the works from South Carolina to Arizona...

With the recent fiasco sparked by the Susan Komen Foundation for the Cure pulling its funding from Planned Parenthood and then realizing their monumental mistake (thanks to the mobilization of countless activists)...

With Rick Tyler’s absurd comments about Democrats using abortionto kill black babies...

It’s been a big year for abortion.

At least, according to some people, it’s been a big year for abortion.

Because some people see the issue as being about abortion instead of about women’s rights.  Because some people see “abortion activists” instead of people standing up for reproductive Justice.  Because for some people, it’s about a political platform.  But for God, it’s about you, a beloved human being.

It’s not about abortion at all.  It’s about Luke 1:26-38, when a teenage girl finds out she’s pregnant, and it’s about God’s reaction.

While the world around Mary is thinking first and foremost about whether or not its her fault, while the world around Mary is thinking about whether or not to stone her, while Joseph is thinking about whether or not to end their engagement, God is thinking about Mary.

God sends an angel to Mary, and the first thing that angel says is this: “Greetings favored one!  The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid.”  In the Bible, when this teenage girl learns about her unexpected pregnancy, the first thing God does is remind her she is loved.  It always starts with love.  It’s about reminding people that no matter who you are, and no matter what happens to you, and no matter what decisions you make, “The Lord is with do not be afraid.”

For God, it’s not about the political debate.  For God, it’s not about making a decision based on an unrealistic, over-simplified, black-and-white philosophy.  For God, it’s about making sure people in difficult situations know they are loved.

And for God it’s about choice.  Because after the angel says “Do not be afraid,” God gives Mary the choice.  And Mary answered, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  Mary gets to say, “Yes.”  She isn’t forced to agree, she gets to say “Yes.”  It’s not about the “Yes.”  It’s about the fact that the story cannot continue down this path without Mary’s permission.

 Is it that hard to imagine Mary saying “No”? Is it that hard to imagine that Mary has control over her own body? Is it that hard to imagine that when Mary says “Let it be with me according to your word,” it’s not a moment of submission, but a moment of self-empowerment and choice?

I even sometimes imagine that there was a whole host of women before Mary who received the same visit from the same angel with the same news that God had chosen them to mother God’s child. I like to imagine there’s a whole line of women who made the hardest decision possible, but the right decision for them.

I like to imagine there’s a whole host of women who got to say “No,” before Mary got the chance to say “Yes.” And every single one of their “No”s made this moment possible, this moment where Mary got to say “Yes.”

If so, I hope those women knew what a blessing eventually came out of their difficult decisions. I hope they knew that everything turned out exactly as it was supposed to turn out thanks to their heartbreaking decision.

I like to imagine there’s a whole line of women who made the hardest decision possible, but the right decision for them, which is always the right decision for the world.

In this imagined prequel, no matter how difficult the decision was, no matter how easy the decision was, no matter how sad the decision was for those women, I know all of these women, regardless of their choice, would still hear the sweetest words of all: “The Lord is with you....Do not be afraid.”

Imagination aside, the fact of the matter is that there have been thousands of years of women after Mary that have faced similar situations.  There have been thousands of years of women who had to make some hard choices.  There have been thousands of years of women who had no choice at all.  There will be thousands of years to come of teenage girls facing unplanned pregnancies, and you are going to be part of their stories.

The question you have to answer is this: Are you going to be the crowd outside more concerned with enforcing the legal and social consequences, or are you going to be the angel that says, “Greetings, favored one!  The Lord is with you...Do not be afraid”?

Jack Davidson is Associate Minister at the First Church of Christ, Congregational UCC in Redding, CT. He recently completed a MDiv from Harvard Divinity School, and also earned a teaching license through Harvard's Program in Religious Studies and Education. You can often catch him in a canoe, barefoot and bearded with a musical instrument in hand. Yep, he's totally that guy.


  1. I want to thank you for this post. As a member of the Pagan community who was raised in the UCC, I often feel compelled to defend Christianity as not just being the conservative, fundamentalist stereotype that many of my fellow Pagans chose to leave. While it is easy for me to say "Hey, there are liberal Christians!!", its really nice to have this sort of evidence of such beliefs tied to specific issues. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your comment. I can't tell you how much it means to hear that. This is exactly why I became a UCC minister.

    2. I wanted to give Jack a chance to respond to this first, but helping to show people that there is an alternative to that stereotype is a big part of what we're about here at Thanks so much for your comment!

  2. Jack, your emphasis on God's love and acceptance of unwed mothers is welcome, but the ongoing resistance to abortion-on-demand by conservative Christians (evangels or Catholics)is only and most certainly about the sanctity of life. Your labored and imagined "prequel" is not Biblical. A pregnant woman must answer not only to God but also to two other human beings: the father (who must legally support her)and the unborn child. Scientifically, the Pro-Life crowd is correct: the zygote is a being genetically distinct from Mom.

    Whether unrestricted abortion is good SOCIAL policy is a different issue. Extending rights to the unborn is fraught with legal difficulty. Yet Christianity does have a good answer in the NT to unwanted pregnancies: adoption, which you failed to mention. regards, Bruce Michener

    1. Hey Bruce!

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

      Yes, my imagined "prequel" is not "Biblical," it is a creative re-imagining, which is an important distinction to make, so thank you for making it. What is real about this imagined situation is that there are plenty of women, both before and after Mary, who faced very similar situations (minus the "your son's the Messiah" piece maybe).

      I think all of these real women do answer to their God, and their child's father, and the unborn child. I can't imagine a woman who could go through an abortion without feeling some sort of physical or emotional toll. Whether a woman gives up a child for adoption or through abortion, I am sure they experience a greater pain than any of us men will ever comprehend. It's not our job to add more anguish to the situation. Whether pro-life or pro-choice or something else completely, our job is first and foremost to remind women in these difficult situations that they are loved and that God is with them no matter what, just as the angel did. Romans 8:38-39 "For I am convinced that neither life nor death nor angels....could ever separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

      You're right, I failed to mention adoption. But my article was not intended to be all-encompassing. Much of the conversation around abortion focuses on what the woman should do. I wrote this article to talk more about the first thing WE should do, but again, not an all-encompassing article.

      On another note....I tend to avoid using the phrase "unwanted pregnancy." It can imply a certain level of selfishness or shallowness that is not always true. Many women want to keep their baby but cannot. It's a minor distinction, but I think it's important. I try to use phrases like "unplanned" or "unexpected."

      Again, thanks for starting a very interesting and meaningful discussion.

  3. The conversation between Gabriel and Mary reported in Luke 1:26-38 occurs before conception. Gabriel says, "You will conceive and give birth..." Mary asks, "How will this be..." Gabriel replies, "The Holy Spirit will come on you..." Thus, the story reported in this passage is not strictly analogous to the situation faced by pregnant women.

  4. Alicia Thibeault EngelFebruary 6, 2012 at 11:23 PM

    Thank you for the interesting, thoughtful article, Jack. Like Paul though, I think it is important to recognize that Mary's choice was whether or not to conceive a child. This distinction is significant because I believe that even the majority of pro-life advocates agree that women have the right to choose to become pregnant or not.

    That said, I am also frustrated with how political the issue is. Although I consider myself pro-life, I am appalled by much of the legislation attempted by politicians. It seems that they always take the approach of shaming or punishing women who are already in a difficult situation instead of helping them. I will also cede that adoption is not always the easy cure-all many pro-life advocates seem to hope it is. Often, it seems like a way to dismiss the problem without considering the emotional or other factors that could make that option almost as challenging as just keeping the child.

    I think that your article gets at the heart of the matter with the message of compassion and understanding toward all women. Women have been getting abortions long before it's been legal. Recognizing that these women were willing to face the most severe consequences in order to have an abortion shouldn't make us judge them, but instead make us question a society that puts women in such a difficult situation. I think that the best way to end abortion is to fight the factors that make abortion desirable despite its negative consequences. We need to work to eliminate rape, to educate people on contraceptives, to decrease poverty, to provide healthcare to all. I think adopting a compassionate attitude toward all women would help make the issue less political and more agreeable to both pro-life and pro-choice supporters.

    1. Couldn't agree more with Alicia. And as far as Paul's comment goes, it's safe to say that Mary's conception of Jesus Christ is not going to be 'strictly analogous' to many other people's experience, but I don't think that takes away from Jack's message that God always already loves each and every one of us before, during, and after we make some of the hardest decisions in our lives.

    2. Hey Alicia!

      Beautiful post. Thank you for your comments. One of my over-arching goals is to overturn people's stereotypes about Christians, and your post helped overturn one of my own stereotypes on what it means to be pro-life. Especially since the news focuses on the Cahtolic Church leaders' stance against contraception, it's refreshing to hear a more nuanced view point.

      This whole comment thread,from Thalassa, Bruce, Paul, you, and Christy has been really encouraging for me. It's nice to see these conversations taking place without people resorting to personal attacks or reinforcing negative stereotypes. Thank you all for giving me some interesting things to think about.

      I concede the point about Mary not having conceived yet. I only studied Biblical Hebrew, so maybe this doesn't apply, but in Biblical Hebrew, the present and future tense are very ambiguously interchangeable. I wonder if the same is true for Biblical Greek. Anyone know the answer? Either, I think my main points remain the same:

      1. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, we need to treat women with love and understanding and affirmation.

      and 2. Mary has more control over the situation than traditional interpretations have suggested, and thus we need to make sure women feel empowered enough to have control over their reproductive system, as Alicia says, that means starting with the decision about whether or not to get pregnant in the first place.