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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reframing Hot Topics: Abortion

The Romans of antiquity aborted pregnancies and exposed infants to the elements with a shocking casualness. Fathers had the authority to terminate pregnancies or have an unwanted baby (more often a girl) tossed in a garbage dump. The early Christians witnessed against such practices and, more important, lived out their faith in contrast to the dominant Roman culture. They did this not only in how they handled their own infants, but in their willingness to take in babies subjected to exposure.

Many Christians who oppose abortion see themselves as the moral descendants of those early Christians, and they see a culture that permits abortion today as a reemergence of the pagan culture of Roman antiquity, albeit in a secular guise. Personally I feel strong affinity with Christians who believe nascent human life, born or unborn, should not be disposable.

As a Christian, I am also part of a tradition that has distinguished between born and unborn. Pastorally, theologically and legally, Christians recognize that birth is a significant moment. Christians have not understood abortion to be equivalent to the murder of an infant. In opposing abortion, Christians stand firmly within a rich spiritual heritage. By failing to nuance that opposition, Christians step outside of that heritage. As such, I believe abortion should be legal but regulated. I also believe society should take appropriate measures using the availability of contraception and support for young families to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. I want a conversation within the church, and in our engagement with society, around the meaning of that regulation and how we might use these and other means to reduce incidents of abortion.

Unfortunately, the political conversation in the church and in society is a contest between two principles. One, a pregnant woman’s control over her own body is sacrosanct, and taking that away is an act of violence. Two, the life of the fetus is sacrosanct, and taking that life away is murder and always wrong, and therefore should be illegal.

I am weary of this contest and others like them. I reject the way the conversation is framed. Such frames have hoodwinked Christians into buying polarized political packages, and compromised our ability to both nuance, and to appreciate the depths of our own tradition.

This is the first in a series of blog posts attempting to reframe hot topics. If you like the conversation, grab some coffee and have a seat.