The following appeared in slightly different form in Human Life Review, vol 31, no. 2 (Spring 2005). Copyright © 2005 by Mary Meehan
Saving Lives through the Churches, Part I
"Can you imagine what our country would be like today if our churches did everything they could do?" Karen Cross, executive director of West Virginians for Life, asked that question at a recent National Right to Life Convention. She was speaking in a workshop on how to increase pro-life activism in the churches.(1)
Many Christian churches are already doing a great deal to save lives from abortion and euthanasia. They find shelter for pregnant women who need it, and they send volunteers and donations to pregnancy aid centers. They help desperate people who might otherwise turn to suicide or euthanasia. Their ministers and priests address life issues from the pulpit. They lead their people to vigils at abortion clinics, lobbying trips to state legislatures, or the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. Some run voter-registration campaigns in their churches and urge congregants to vote for pro-life candidates only.
But Cross and her colleagues know that many pastors are uninvolved, that some are hostile to the pro-life cause, and that some are active on the other side. One of the convention workshops was called "We Are the Sheep...Where Are the Shepherds?"
Dennis Di Mauro of Lutherans for Life had many ideas for reaching the shepherds. Take your pastor to lunch, he advised; tell him why you are "passionate about pro-life"; and "suggest ways for him to get involved." DiMauro stressed the importance of giving talks at regional church conventions and placing articles in denominational magazines. Involving church leaders in pro-life events, he remarked, is sometimes "as simple as asking them--and they're not asked."(2)
Rev. Frank Pavone--"Father Frank" to those who know him as leader of the Catholic group called Priests for Life--stressed the need to avoid busy-work and to ask, "What needs to be done here to get us to the goal"--that is, "bringing down this abortion empire that we have in the United States?" Activists, he said, should target the abortions done in their own community. A church's first question should be: "Is there a killing center in the boundaries of this parish? And if not, where's the nearest one?" The surrounding parishes, he said, should work together against it.(3)
The pages that follow will describe Christian teaching against abortion and then show how, despite that tradition, abortion gained a stronghold in mainline Protestant churches. While officially "pro-choice," though, they include dedicated members who work to change their positions and are having some success. We will explore their work at length. In Part II, we will consider denominations officially on the pro-life side (Catholic, Orthodox, Southern Baptist Convention), whose local churches vary greatly in the attention they give to life issues. We will also take a look at historically African American churches and the Quaker community, whose members often feel pulled toward a pro-life stance by much in their tradition, yet pushed away from it by profound disagreement with conservative pro-lifers on other issues. And we will consider some things the pro-life movement might do to make more progress among the churches without being, in fact or perception, a wholly religious movement.
Faith of Our Fathers
The Christian tradition is strongly pro-child and anti-abortion. This is the ancient heritage of Catholics, the Orthodox, and Protestants alike. The ancient Psalmist prayed, "Truly you have formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I give you thanks that I am fearfully, wonderfully made..." (Psalm 139: 13-14).(4) The Scriptures say that the prophet Jeremiah, while still in his mother's womb, was chosen by God for special work: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you" (Jeremiah 1:5). There are similar passages about the prophet Isaiah and St. Paul (Isaiah 49:1 and Galatians 1:15). Both in the Old Testament and the New, people welcome children as gifts from God and signs of hope. The welcome is especially joyous, of course, in the Christmas story, where choirs of angels, lowly shepherds, and three wise men welcome the newborn child.
Those who wish to put a religious seal of approval on abortion like to say that the Bible does not forbid it, or even mention it. But while it may not use the word "abortion," the Old Testament includes descriptions of it as a wartime atrocity. In one case, the condemnation is clear: "For three crimes of the Ammonites, and for four, I will not revoke my word; because they ripped open expectant mothers in Gilead, while extending their territory... Their king shall go into captivity, he and his princes with him, says the Lord" (Amos 1:13-15). The Ammonites killed both mothers and their unborn children. While abortion today can greatly injure a woman, maternal deaths from it are rare, at least in Western countries. But abortion still kills children, thus violating the commandments "You shall not kill" and "The innocent and the just you shall not put to death..." (Exodus 20:13 and 23:7). Some scholars also argue that the condemnation of pharmakeia (the use of drugs, especially by magicians or sorcerers) by St. Paul and the Book of Revelation includes condemnation of abortifacients.(5) Then there is the command of the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), written during or soon after the apostolic era: "Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction." Other early Christian writers, including Church Fathers, condemned abortion in clear terms. Tertullian declared: "In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb... nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed." St. Clement of Alexandria called abortion "a perverse art" and declared that women who used drugs to abort their offspring "abort at the same time their human feelings." St. John Chrysostom, a giant of the Eastern church, called abortion "something even worse than murder." Although Chrysostom's attitude toward women was hardly ideal, as we will see later, he at least recognized that male pressure led to many abortions. "Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws," he asked, "and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?" He added: "For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine." Yet while they viewed abortion as always gravely sinful, some Church Fathers thought it was not homicide if done before the fetus was "formed." This view was based partly on a mistranslation of Exodus 21:22-25. The great medieval philosopher and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, by accepting the Aristotelian theory of delayed-ensoulment, compounded what was already a major error. But ancient and medieval theologians who accepted delayed-ensoulment knew little about embryology and nothing about genetics. With the benefit of modern science, the Catholic Church has discouraged the theory of delayed-ensoulment since the late 1800s. And in 1965 its Second Vatican Council declared: "...from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes."(6) Although the Protestant Reformation represented a radical split with the Catholic tradition in many ways, it did not include a break in the teaching against abortion. Martin Luther remarked that God "is not hostile to children, as we are....How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God!"(7) John Calvin declared: "If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light." Modern Protestant theologians, such as Karl Barth, generally held to the old tradition but allowed an exception when the mother's life was at stake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though, questioned that exception, saying that "whether the life of the mother or the life of the child is of greater value can hardly be a matter for a human decision."(8) American anti-abortion laws of the 1800s were passed when the country was still overwhelmingly Protestant in numbers and in culture. Protestant doctors and some ministers were prominent among anti-abortion leaders (although then, as now, there were complaints that many ministers avoided the issue). Protestants supported compassionate alternatives to abortion such as the Florence Crittenton and Salvation Army maternity homes. Evangelicals offered shelter and other aid to women entrapped by prostitution, trying to save their souls and lives--and also to save their children from abortion.(9) Binding Up Heavy Loads, Hard to Carry When the Christian churches of America faced pressures to condone abortion in the 1960s and early 1970s, they were asked to abandon a strong pro-life tradition. Yet that tradition had problems in both theology and practice. One was the tendency to speak of abortion and contraception in the same breath, as both Martin Luther and many Catholic theologians did. This was due partly to the belief that any interference with procreation is wrong. At times it may have been due also to mistaken embryology--a problem that was not limited to ancient and medieval times. As Marvin Olasky notes, many scientists of the 1600s and 1700s "essentially believed human life to begin not after quickening but before conception." It seems that "Anton von Leeuwenhoek's discovery of microscopic 'animalcules' in 1674 gave a boost to old theories that humans were actually 'preformed' and existed as little people within the sperm." Whatever one's view on either contraception or abortion, it's easy to see that longstanding scientific confusion complicated discussion of both issues. But we now know that barrier methods of birth control are simply not the same as abortion; they do not involve the taking of lives already begun. On the other hand, though, population controllers often deny or obscure the fact that birth-control drugs and the intrauterine device (IUD) are abortifacient at least part of the time because, when fertilization has already occurred, they prevent implantation.(10) Another problem was that so many Christians viewed unwed mothers mainly as "fallen women" in need of repentance. No doubt many were; but many had been heavily pressured for sex by men who abandoned them when pregnancy resulted. Sometimes the heavy pressure had bordered on rape, or actually crossed over the line into it. In any case, there was little discussion of "fallen men." There is a delicate balance between discouraging sexual activity outside of marriage, yet welcoming children and helping single mothers without condescension or embarrassment. Many pastors would have been more effective in the first task had they presented Christian teaching on sex as God's plan for family happiness, instead of offering a morbid view of sex and an intimidating list of negative commands. They might have been more effective in the second had they distinguished in their own minds between Christian teaching (which does, indeed, require repentance for sex outside of marriage) and the social attitudes of the middle and upper classes, who often see the major problem as one of being "caught" and who always worry about what the neighbors will think.
Another problem was that much ancient and medieval writing against abortion came from men who had a highly negative view of women. Taking Scriptural passages quite literally, they viewed women as inferior and subservient to men and mainly intended for obedience and childbearing. Following Genesis 3:1-16, they thought that because Eve was the first to eat forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and because she gave some of it to Adam, all mothers were condemned to added pain in childbirth and perpetual subjection to their husbands. John Chrysostom, so eloquent in his condemnation of abortion, was also, unfortunately, callous in his general attitude toward women. The "rule of the man is natural," he said complacently, and added that a woman was supposed to cover her hair when praying so that "her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection." While he opposed wife-beating, he advised the woman who suffered it: "take it not ill, O woman, considering the reward which is laid up for such things..."(11) Thus, instead of telling the woman--and neighbors and society in general--to prevent such abuse, he told the woman that she was piling up rewards in heaven by enduring the beating. After, say, thirty years of beating, one can imagine that her reward was very great indeed. Martin Luther was a loving husband and a good father, but a patriarchal one. He accepted without question the idea that women must be subject to men and must suffer the "pain and tribulation" of childbearing because of Eve's sin. "Those penalties will continue until judgment," he said. But he called it "a very great comfort that a woman can be saved by bearing children, etc. That is, she has an honorable and salutary status in life if she keeps busy having children."(12) Chrysostom and Luther, to be sure, relied on Scriptural verses in their teaching. But in this, as in much other biblical literalism, one wonders if they ever asked themselves how a good and loving God could be so unjust and cruel? If we also consider the traditional exclusion of women from politics, the professions, and much else in life, should anyone be surprised that women finally rose up against centuries of subjection? The great tragedy is that unborn children suffered so much in the backlash.
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen The feminist backlash was strong in the mainline Protestant churches--including the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian--in the late-twentieth century. But many other factors were at work there, including a heavy modernist influence in theology. This often led--in individuals, although not in official church teaching--to rejection of basic Christian dogmas. Mainliners who traveled all the way down that path often found there was not much left of their religion except the idea of service to humanity. Many continued to pursue that within their churches; others decided they could do just as well in politics. Meanwhile, mainliners who held to the old-time religion were appalled by others' constant tinkering with Scriptural translations, liturgy, and beloved old hymns; by the political causes of some church leaders; and (in some churches) by long, bruising battles over the ordination of women and homosexuals. Many voted with their feet, moving to more conservative churches. Those they left behind often found that their own children quit the mainline churches.
Then there is the command of the Didache (or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), written during or soon after the apostolic era: "Thou shalt not murder a child by abortion/destruction." Other early Christian writers, including Church Fathers, condemned abortion in clear terms. Tertullian declared: "In our case, murder being once for all forbidden, we may not destroy even the foetus in the womb... nor does it matter whether you take away a life that is born, or destroy one that is coming to the birth. That is a man which is going to be one; you have the fruit already in the seed." St. Clement of Alexandria called abortion "a perverse art" and declared that women who used drugs to abort their offspring "abort at the same time their human feelings." St. John Chrysostom, a giant of the Eastern church, called abortion "something even worse than murder." Although Chrysostom's attitude toward women was hardly ideal, as we will see later, he at least recognized that male pressure led to many abortions. "Why then dost thou abuse the gift of God, and fight with His laws," he asked, "and follow after what is a curse as if a blessing, and make the chamber of procreation a chamber for murder, and arm the woman that was given for childbearing unto slaughter?" He added: "For even if the daring deed be hers, yet the causing of it is thine."
Yet while they viewed abortion as always gravely sinful, some Church Fathers thought it was not homicide if done before the fetus was "formed." This view was based partly on a mistranslation of Exodus 21:22-25. The great medieval philosopher and theologian, St. Thomas Aquinas, by accepting the Aristotelian theory of delayed-ensoulment, compounded what was already a major error. But ancient and medieval theologians who accepted delayed-ensoulment knew little about embryology and nothing about genetics. With the benefit of modern science, the Catholic Church has discouraged the theory of delayed-ensoulment since the late 1800s. And in 1965 its Second Vatican Council declared: "...from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care, while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes."(6)
Although the Protestant Reformation represented a radical split with the Catholic tradition in many ways, it did not include a break in the teaching against abortion. Martin Luther remarked that God "is not hostile to children, as we are....How great, therefore, the wickedness of human nature is! How many girls there are who prevent conception and kill and expel tender fetuses, although procreation is the work of God!"(7) John Calvin declared: "If it seems more horrible to kill a man in his own house than in a field, because a man's house is his place of most secure refuge, it ought surely to be deemed more atrocious to destroy a foetus in the womb before it has come to light." Modern Protestant theologians, such as Karl Barth, generally held to the old tradition but allowed an exception when the mother's life was at stake. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, though, questioned that exception, saying that "whether the life of the mother or the life of the child is of greater value can hardly be a matter for a human decision."(8)
American anti-abortion laws of the 1800s were passed when the country was still overwhelmingly Protestant in numbers and in culture. Protestant doctors and some ministers were prominent among anti-abortion leaders (although then, as now, there were complaints that many ministers avoided the issue). Protestants supported compassionate alternatives to abortion such as the Florence Crittenton and Salvation Army maternity homes. Evangelicals offered shelter and other aid to women entrapped by prostitution, trying to save their souls and lives--and also to save their children from abortion.(9)
Binding Up Heavy Loads, Hard to Carry
When the Christian churches of America faced pressures to condone abortion in the 1960s and early 1970s, they were asked to abandon a strong pro-life tradition. Yet that tradition had problems in both theology and practice. One was the tendency to speak of abortion and contraception in the same breath, as both Martin Luther and many Catholic theologians did. This was due partly to the belief that any interference with procreation is wrong. At times it may have been due also to mistaken embryology--a problem that was not limited to ancient and medieval times. As Marvin Olasky notes, many scientists of the 1600s and 1700s "essentially believed human life to begin not after quickening but before conception." It seems that "Anton von Leeuwenhoek's discovery of microscopic 'animalcules' in 1674 gave a boost to old theories that humans were actually 'preformed' and existed as little people within the sperm." Whatever one's view on either contraception or abortion, it's easy to see that longstanding scientific confusion complicated discussion of both issues. But we now know that barrier methods of birth control are simply not the same as abortion; they do not involve the taking of lives already begun. On the other hand, though, population controllers often deny or obscure the fact that birth-control drugs and the intrauterine device (IUD) are abortifacient at least part of the time because, when fertilization has already occurred, they prevent implantation.(10)
Another problem was that so many Christians viewed unwed mothers mainly as "fallen women" in need of repentance. No doubt many were; but many had been heavily pressured for sex by men who abandoned them when pregnancy resulted. Sometimes the heavy pressure had bordered on rape, or actually crossed over the line into it. In any case, there was little discussion of "fallen men."
There is a delicate balance between discouraging sexual activity outside of marriage, yet welcoming children and helping single mothers without condescension or embarrassment. Many pastors would have been more effective in the first task had they presented Christian teaching on sex as God's plan for family happiness, instead of offering a morbid view of sex and an intimidating list of negative commands. They might have been more effective in the second had they distinguished in their own minds between Christian teaching (which does, indeed, require repentance for sex outside of marriage) and the social attitudes of the middle and upper classes, who often see the major problem as one of being "caught" and who always worry about what the neighbors will think.
Another problem was that much ancient and medieval writing against abortion came from men who had a highly negative view of women. Taking Scriptural passages quite literally, they viewed women as inferior and subservient to men and mainly intended for obedience and childbearing. Following Genesis 3:1-16, they thought that because Eve was the first to eat forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, and because she gave some of it to Adam, all mothers were condemned to added pain in childbirth and perpetual subjection to their husbands.
John Chrysostom, so eloquent in his condemnation of abortion, was also, unfortunately, callous in his general attitude toward women. The "rule of the man is natural," he said complacently, and added that a woman was supposed to cover her hair when praying so that "her own will may have part in her acknowledgment of subjection." While he opposed wife-beating, he advised the woman who suffered it: "take it not ill, O woman, considering the reward which is laid up for such things..."(11) Thus, instead of telling the woman--and neighbors and society in general--to prevent such abuse, he told the woman that she was piling up rewards in heaven by enduring the beating. After, say, thirty years of beating, one can imagine that her reward was very great indeed.
Martin Luther was a loving husband and a good father, but a patriarchal one. He accepted without question the idea that women must be subject to men and must suffer the "pain and tribulation" of childbearing because of Eve's sin. "Those penalties will continue until judgment," he said. But he called it "a very great comfort that a woman can be saved by bearing children, etc. That is, she has an honorable and salutary status in life if she keeps busy having children."(12)
Chrysostom and Luther, to be sure, relied on Scriptural verses in their teaching. But in this, as in much other biblical literalism, one wonders if they ever asked themselves how a good and loving God could be so unjust and cruel? If we also consider the traditional exclusion of women from politics, the professions, and much else in life, should anyone be surprised that women finally rose up against centuries of subjection? The great tragedy is that unborn children suffered so much in the backlash.
Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
The feminist backlash was strong in the mainline Protestant churches--including the Episcopal, Methodist and Presbyterian--in the late-twentieth century. But many other factors were at work there, including a heavy modernist influence in theology. This often led--in individuals, although not in official church teaching--to rejection of basic Christian dogmas. Mainliners who traveled all the way down that path often found there was not much left of their religion except the idea of service to humanity. Many continued to pursue that within their churches; others decided they could do just as well in politics. Meanwhile, mainliners who held to the old-time religion were appalled by others' constant tinkering with Scriptural translations, liturgy, and beloved old hymns; by the political causes of some church leaders; and (in some churches) by long, bruising battles over the ordination of women and homosexuals. Many voted with their feet, moving to more conservative churches. Those they left behind often found that their own children quit the mainline churches.
As a result of all these problems, plus a sinking birthrate, the mainline churches suffered a declining membership for decades. Some are still losing members, while a few have stabilized or even grown recently.(13) Their weakness for the trendy--the tendency to be "more radical than thou" or "the church of what's happening now"--certainly has hurt them over the years. And the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s battered the already-weakened defenses of their moral theology. As the late Presbyterian minister and Scriptural scholar Elizabeth Achtemeier once said, "The courage that we found during the Civil Rights movement--which led us to triumph through sit-ins and legislative battles and in spite of murders--has crumbled before the onslaught of the sexual revolution." The Rev. Dr. Achtemeier added, "Of late and far too often, the American church has joined in the hedonism of a society far from God."(14)
Dr. Joseph Fletcher, a former Episcopal priest who eventually became an atheist, did much to promote the sexual revolution through his 1966 book, Situation Ethics. A leading writer on medical ethics, Fletcher pursued a strong eugenics agenda, including support of sterilization and abortion as well as genetic engineering, high-tech reproduction, and euthanasia.(15) Many lay people who were influenced by his writing probably had no idea of his early eugenics connection or his later atheism.
Fletcher was not alone in his enthusiasm for eugenics, the effort to "improve" humanity through selective breeding. As Christine Rosen has shown in Preaching Eugenics, many mainline Protestant clergy were involved in the eugenics movement in the early twentieth century.(16) That movement had such influence on universities and the entire culture that many clergy who had no formal links with eugenics were influenced by its attitudes, including its deep prejudice against people with disabilities and its commitment to population control.
The mainline Protestant churches are important in themselves, of course, but also in the great influence they have on the cultural and political leadership of the United States. To the extent that the movers and shakers of our society attend church at all--and many still do, though some only on ceremonial occasions--they generally belong either to mainline Protestant Churches or to the Catholic Church. The Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist and other mainline churches may still have substantial influence on many business leaders and university presidents, and even on some foundation executives and media powers-that-be. The same churches include among their members many governors, members of Congress, Supreme Court justices, and Presidents (current and former). If those churches can be turned around--or at least persuaded to stop lending their names to pro-abortion efforts--the positive results will extend far beyond their own congregations.
I Didn't Hear Nobody Pray
In 1967 American Baptist minister Howard Moody started a group that would have a major impact on mainline Protestant churches--the Clergymen's Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS) in New York City. This abortion referral service operated when abortion was generally illegal in the United States, although some states had started to loosen their restrictions. Moody, who was pastor of the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village--a prime example of a "church of what's happening now"--was deeply concerned about the dangers of illegal abortions done by incompetent practitioners. Indeed, he felt that anti-abortion laws represented male vengeance against women.
But other factors were involved as well. Lawrence Lader, a population-controller and abortion advocate who was already making his own abortion referrals, had suggested clergy involvement to Moody. Moody and his assistant, Arlene Carmen, apparently were influenced by population-control ideology. As they later wrote: "We had to keep reminding ourselves that abortion is one small part of a much larger picture of family planning, population control, and ecological disaster." And eugenics prejudice was evident in the CCS statement of purpose, which complained that anti-abortion laws "compel the birth of unwanted, unloved, and often deformed children." The clergy were distressed that suggestions to change the New York law to allow abortion for rape, incest "and deformity of the child" had met strong resistance.(17) Had it not been for population-control and eugenic concerns--who knows?--Moody and his colleagues might have pioneered in pregnancy aid centers, instead of abortion referral.
Rev. Moody was an ex-Marine and World War II combat veteran who had political experience and brilliant tactical instincts. Dr. Bernard Nathanson, who in his pro-abortion days worked with Moody and admired him, described him as "a ruddy-faced, bluff Texan with a crew cut and a self-effacing country-boy style. He wore an ill-fitting black suit as if borrowed from the wardrobe trunk on the set of Elmer Gantry and had a good-old-boy's appreciation of all manner of sour-mash Bourbon." Moody was, Nathanson said, "undoubtedly the most deft and elusive puppet-master on the New York social-reform scene."(18)
An attorney advised Moody and his colleagues to operate openly, but very carefully, and never to admit that they were doing anything illegal. Thus CCS had no separate office, staff, or bank account. The pastors whom Moody recruited (or their churches) donated their labor. So CCS was able to operate on a shoestring and without charging any counseling fees. An answering machine at Moody's church directed women to call one of the pastors on duty and make an appointment for counseling. The in-person counseling sessions were often brief, because many women just wanted referrals. "I don't need the Sermon on the Mount, Reverend," one woman said. "I need an abortion." (Some women, though, wanted genuine counseling, and a few decided against abortion and were referred for help with alternatives.) The pastors made abortion referrals only to licensed physicians and only outside New York because, Moody and Carmen later explained, "having diverse jurisdictions involved would make it much more difficult to prosecute the clergy." CCS checked abortionists in a rudimentary way before referring women to them. The counselors also asked women to report on their experiences so problem doctors could be excluded from future referrals. Many women undoubtedly avoided severe injuries by relying on CCS rather the back alley. But one, referred by a CCS counselor to England for an abortion, died as a result.
Moody wanted initial publicity for CCS, but didn't want to risk hostile questions at a press conference. So he gave an exclusive story to the religion editor of the New York Times, who obliged him with a "superb" front-page article that read like an unpaid advertisement. It even listed the CCS telephone number and the names and addresses of the 18 ministers and two rabbis Moody had recruited to help with counseling.(19)
There was a huge response to the story; Moody and his colleagues were soon overwhelmed with counseling and referral. But although each risked a $1000 fine and up to one year in prison, none was arrested or charged. Police and politicians aided them by benign neglect--partly because the clergy made referrals for policemen's wives and daughters and, as Moody revealed decades later, for some "wives of well-known elected officials."(20)
The New York CCS closed in mid-1970, when New York legalized abortion up to 24 weeks. By then, however, Moody had a national operation with CCS chapters in twenty states. He and Carmen estimated that all the affiliates "had referred perhaps 100,000 women" for abortions by that time. Chapters outside New York kept operating until abortion was legalized nationally in early 1973, so their clergy counselors were responsible for many more abortions before they closed down. Arlene Carmen, apparently referring to the national operation, said that 3,000 clergy were involved in it by the time it ended. They had been seeing, she said, around 100,000 women per year. It seems reasonable to estimate that all of the CCS chapters together were responsible for 330,000 or more abortions.(21)
When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder...They'll Have
What led 3,000 clergy to be involved in the deaths of huge numbers of unborn children? Rev. Robert Hare of Cleveland probably spoke for most when he said he "was horrified" that women fell into "the hands of back alley abortionists" or resorted to self-induced abortions that resulted in great injury or even in their deaths. His "concern as a pastoral counselor was that, if this was to be done, it be done with good, competent medical care." Lawrence Lader wrote that two New York clergy were motivated by hard cases. The niece of one, after having German measles during pregnancy, had a handicapped child who was "institutionalized for life." Another minister "had struggled with the pregnancy of a fifteen-year-old girl raped by her father." And many clergy counselors were university chaplains who were dealing with the results of the sexual revolution on campus.(22) They thought they were saving the reputations, education, and careers of many young women.
Although some clergy risked their pastoral careers by their involvement, others thought the experience could improve their job skills. Sociologist Nanette Davis, studying Michigan clergy who did abortion referrals in 1971-72, reported that some "emphasized that they moved into this new counseling area to enhance their professional counseling skills, develop new community resources, get needed experience with a range of problem clients..." And one undoubtedly represented many in saying that "I want to help girls who have no one else to turn to. Also, I feel the present laws favor the rich and discriminate against those without money and contacts." Then came the clincher: "I think unwanted children are not desirable--to the girl, to society, and probably not even to themselves."
It's interesting to contrast this statement with that of the late Hispanic activist Grace Olivarez: "Many of us have experienced the sting of being 'unwanted' by certain segments of our society....Human beings are not returnable items....Those with power in our society cannot be allowed to 'want' and 'unwant' people at will."(23) The Olivarez statement applies to those population controllers--and there have been many-- who have decided to "unwant" Hispanics, African Americans, and other minorities. But it also applies to parents. Even parents who are young and poor have great power over their children, whether born or unborn. Pastors should tell them never to use that power to harm their children--and not to think of their children in terms of "wantedness," but only with welcome and love. The clergy who referred for abortion were turning their backs on the Scriptural tradition of welcome, as well as specific Scriptural commandments against killing the innocent. Those who singled out unborn children with disabilities for "unwantedness" were also turning their backs on Christ's concern for the sick and the disabled. He never suggested that they should not have been born; rather, he helped and healed them.
Clergy involved in abortion referral went through the usual dehumanizing of victims and distancing of self from the deadly deed. In their statement of purpose, the New York CCS clergy claimed that "there is a period during gestation when, although there may be embryo life in the fetus, there is no living child upon whom the crime of murder can be committed." Besides being medically and logically incoherent, this statement failed to note which period of gestation they meant and where--if anywhere--they would draw a line. In fact, they wound up referring women for late abortions. Howard Moody and Arlene Carmen later wrote about "quality abortions" and "humane abortions." In describing a D and C abortion, they referred to removal of the "products of conception."(24)
The euphemisms and the distancing apparently enabled many clergy to participate without undergoing the theological worry, fear and trembling, and spiritual agony that one might have expected. While some developed real qualms about the ethics of abortion, most soldiered on. In Michigan, according to Nanette Davis, instead of devoting more time to women considering second-trimester abortions, they often rushed "the woman to appropriate medical care, leaving the counseling to others." After legalization of abortion in New York, they rushed some women to New York City, where saline abortions--killing the child by saline solution in the womb, followed by delivery of the dead child--were done "without the aid of any counseling." Many women were "horrified" by the little bodies they delivered; for "no one had told them to expect this." Moody and Carmen started getting reports from around the country about "bad psychological and emotional reactions" to saline abortions. Their response was not to question the ethics of such abortions but, rather, to call for realistic counseling and for an abortion method "more humane and satisfactory for the patient." What they had in mind was the use of laminaria, general anesthesia, and dismemberment of the child within the womb.(25)
After the national legalization of abortion in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, Rev. Moody moved on to urge decriminalization of another social pathology: prostitution. He retired in 1992 and, in a 2003 interview at age 82, described himself as a "Christian agnostic."(26)
Lawrence Lader, who co-founded the National Association for Repeal of Abortion Laws (NARAL) while the CCS venture was underway, was delighted with the clergy referral system he had suggested. He saw the New York CCS group as "a turning point in the campaign" for abortion, since it "brought the moral weight of prominent and outspoken clergymen behind the principle of referral." Lader, like Moody, was a brilliant tactician who understood that: "The cloth had dignity, authority, and sanctity that might dissuade a district attorney from investigation." (Only two CCS clergy, both outside New York, were charged with aiding and abetting abortion. The resultant publicity probably helped the abortion cause rather than hurt it--and the two clergymen were never tried.) Lader also appreciated CCS as "a religious counterforce" to the Catholic Church, and he was delighted with the direct political impact some CCS clergy had. The Colorado group, he said, "like many others, quickly assumed a second function--an aggressive campaign for new laws that would guarantee abortion as an inalienable right."(27)
No one should underestimate the impact the 3,000 clergy had on their churches, both during and after the CCS operation. Moody and a CCS colleague, for example, attended the 1968 convention of the American Baptist Convention (formerly called the Northern Baptist Convention). There they pushed through a resolution supporting legalization of abortion in the first trimester. According to Lader, an Episcopal priest who helped plan the New York CCS later became Bishop of Southern Ohio. And Rev. William Holmes, a Methodist minister who did abortion referrals in Texas, eventually became the pastor of Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun in Washington, D.C. An ardent supporter of Blackmun's opinion in Roe v. Wade, Holmes encouraged the justice to stay the course. When Blackmun sent his pastor a letter from Catholic Bishop Justin A. Driscoll of Fargo, N.D., protesting Roe v. Wade, Holmes responded that Bishop Driscoll "wants to guard what he thinks is a form of human life, and in the process, his dogmatism and rigidity have the odor of death." Driscoll, he declared, "doesn't even know he has blood in his eye, and that his is the spirit that kills."(28)
This is what Howard Moody and his colleagues produced in the mainline Protestant churches. Did it ever occur to them that they might have been wrong in abandoning 2,000 years of Christian teaching and becoming accomplices in the deaths of so many unborn children? Or that, instead of what they did, they should have started pregnancy aid centers to offer nonviolent alternatives? Apparently not. Their later reflections suggested, not guilt or remorse, but satisfaction with what they had done and a willingness to accept congratulations for their courage. Bernard Nathanson, years after his conversion to the anti-abortion side, conceded their courage but said that "I'm appalled that clergymen, of all people, would offer violence as the answer. In those days I thought they were wonderful. Today I think they were courageous and dedicated people who were deeply and terribly misled, and had not really thought it out."(29)
Moody and many of his CCS colleagues had been activists for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. But by their pro-abortion activism, they contributed to the corruption of the political left--a subversion of its idealism and a shift from activists' concern about the downtrodden to obsessive concern about themselves and their "reproductive rights." Moody and his friends also contributed to the great decline in the left's political power by helping to drive millions of their fellow Christians into the arms of Ronald Reagan and his successors. Thus they helped bring about domestic, foreign and military policies whose results they abhor.
Were You There When the Sun Refused to Shine?
The clergy referral operations started by Howard Moody and others were such frugal ventures that they required relatively little financial aid. Abortion-supporting philanthropists such as Beatrice McClintock, Stewart Mott and Joseph Sunnen were happy to supply it.(30)
A far more powerful philanthropist and population controller, John D. Rockefeller 3rd, supported another key effort to promote abortion within the mainline Protestant churches. Like his fellow population controller, Hugh Moore, Rockefeller understood the great opportunity offered by the population-control program of the United Methodist Church. Rodney Shaw, the energetic head of that department, was using it to promote abortion as well as population control in general. In 1972 Rockefeller gave the Methodists $10,000 to support an effort to legalize abortion in Michigan through a November referendum. While that effort failed, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide a few months later in its Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton decisions. When anti-abortion forces in general--and the Catholic Church in particular--campaigned to overturn Roe and Doe, Rodney Shaw and others responded by forming the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR). Started in 1973, RCAR included as members many Protestant and Jewish groups and had its own board. Legally speaking, however, it was part of a Methodist agency until 1981, when it became a separate corporation. Based in Washington, D.C., for many years it operated from the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill--a location quite convenient for lobbying. Rockefeller gave $115,000 to RCAR in its crucial early years of 1973-77.(31) While it may not seem that large today, $115,000 was real money at the time.
Veterans of the clergy referral services started many RCAR state chapters.(32) All was not smooth sailing at the national level, though. "It has been unexpectedly difficult to get this religious coalition on the road," Rodney Shaw told a Rockefeller associate in the fall of 1973. He added: "It seems that the 'right-to-life' idea has made some inroads in the constituency of the Protestant groups." Abortion sympathizers on churches' national staffs had to "spend a frustratingly large amount of time in working out statements and agreements that give them a solid working base and that will protect their flanks."(33) Shaw was able to get his new ship out of port, but he felt that the formidable fleet of the Catholic Church was blocking abortion forces in general. In 1977 he wrote Rockefeller that "there is no way the struggle for abortion rights can be won until the Catholic Bishops are induced to pull back..." Shaw was ready to play hardball: "Such a pullback will probably take place only if the bishops are made to feel that the price of continuing will be a serious wrenching of the ecumenical relations they have so carefully built up with the Protestants, plus a revival of the anti-catholicism [sic] that lies just below the surface of this country."(34)
Ah, well, why not stir up some old-fashioned bigotry to help the cause along? It's too bad that Shaw's letter to Rockefeller didn't become public at the time. That certainly would have wrenched ecumenical relations, though not in quite the way Shaw wanted.
RCAR, which is now called the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice or RCRC, has never been a major player in abortion politics on the scale of NARAL or Planned Parenthood or, for that matter, the Catholic Church. But especially when Shaw was involved, the Coalition encouraged resentment of the Catholic bishops and their church. And for 30 years--through press conferences, congressional testimony, literature, and demonstrations--the Coalition has placed a religious seal of approval on abortion. Its supporters and activists have pacified consciences that should be troubled--not least the consciences of many politicians. Rev. J. Philip Wogaman, for example, wrote an early pamphlet for the Coalition when he was dean and ethics professor at a Methodist seminary in Washington, D.C. Years later, he was pastor of Washington's Foundry United Methodist Church, whose powerful attendees included President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. A Southern Baptist, the President undoubtedly found Wogaman's abortion views more to his liking than the views of most Southern Baptist pastors. Mrs. Clinton, now Senator Clinton of New York, is a committed and lifelong Methodist.(35)
If the Clintons' consciences were at all bothered by the horrific practice of D & X or "partial birth" abortion, the President still managed to veto two federal bills to ban it. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice sponsored a letter to the President from "mainstream religious leaders," including Rev. Wogaman, supporting the Clinton veto of the 1996 bill. They thanked him "for your leadership, courage, and compassion."(36)
Foundations noted for their support of population control have long funded the Coalition. In fact, most of its money comes from foundations--not from people in the pews. A recent annual report listed donors including the Ford Foundation, General Services Foundation, George Gund Foundation, Huber Foundation, David and Lucile Packard Foundation, and about twenty other foundations. What do they get for their money? A Clergy for Choice Network. A Black Church Initiative and a Latino initiative. Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom. Seminarians for Choice. A web site offering a prayer for women's health care providers--specifically including those "who support women through abortion services"--that ends with this: "Help us, Gracious God, to stand together with these courageous and caring people who continue to do your holy work. Amen."(37)
Pro-Life Methodists: Climbing Jacob's Ladder
Many pastors and lay people, dismayed by support for abortion in their mainline-Protestant churches, have worked for decades to return those churches to the pro-life tradition. Some, but not all, are evangelicals; that is, they stress the importance of a conversion experience, a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and a sharing of their faith with others. Operating with small budgets, small staffs and dedicated volunteers, the pro-lifers have stayed with the effort despite much discouragement. They run educational and alternatives programs, observe a "Sanctity of Human Life Sunday" in January, and try to change their churches' policy statements on abortion. On Jacob's ladder to heaven, as the old spiritual says, "every rung goes higher, higher"; but at times the space between rungs has seemed impossible for pro-lifers on the mainline. Yet they see real progress, and hope for more.
Within the eight million-member United Methodist Church, the church of Senator Clinton and the late Justice Blackmun, the struggle has been especially difficult. Strong support for abortion "choice" within the church bureaucracy, and among many bishops, still makes this an uphill battle. Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth, a North Carolina pastor, heads the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality, the Methodist pro-life group. The group is also known as Lifewatch, the name that will be used here. It operates on a shoestring, with an annual budget of about $30,000 contributed by individuals, congregations, and "a couple of gifts from foundations," Stallsworth said. Its mission, he remarked, includes giving a pro-life message to "those who need to hear it but don't especially want to." He has had a sharp debate, for example, with a Methodist agency about its sponsorship of the 2004 March for Women's Lives--a pro-abortion march--in Washington, D.C.
A General Conference of the United Methodist Church, composed of both clerical and lay delegates, meets every four years to revise the church's policy statements. Lifewatch is always there to push the conference toward a pro-life position. And every four years, Stallsworth said, "we end up with a marginally more pro-life statement than before." Yet they still have a long way to go. In 1970 a General Conference special session passed a resolution on the "population crisis" that supported legalization of abortion. The 1972 and subsequent General Conferences used a term that seems odd for Christians: "unacceptable pregnancy." Things went from bad to worse until 1988, when a General Conference finally set two limits: "We cannot affirm abortion as an acceptable means of birth control, and we unconditionally reject it as a means of gender selection." The 2000 General Conference opposed partial-birth abortion except in rare circumstances. But in another statement, it called "all Christians to a searching and prayerful inquiry into the sorts of conditions that may warrant abortion."(38)
Lifewatch administrator Cindy Evans attended the 2004 General Conference, where she submitted a resolution calling for "Ministry to Those Who Regret a Past Abortion." Because she was not a delegate, someone had to ask for suspension of the rules so she could speak to the committee that considered the resolution. The committee would not let her speak. But then another woman, who was a delegate, told the committee about the pain she and her husband still experienced every day because of her abortion many years earlier. An amended version of the Evans resolution soon sailed through the committee and passed the General Conference by an 835-26 vote. "God is so good," Evans concluded, "and His providential work is so surprising."(39)
Two United Methodist Church agencies belong to the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. A 1992 effort to end their participation failed by just 37 votes,(40) and Stallsworth believes that "in time we will dislodge" from RCRC. "I don't think there's any question about that," he added. "It's just a question of how soon." He also noted that "there are important United Methodist theologians, professors, who are pro-life...And this is throughout the United Methodist seminary system." Methodist theologian Michael J. Gorman co-authored an excellent critique of RCRC that pro-lifers in other churches, as well as his own, are using in efforts to press church agencies to leave RCRC. And Rev. Stallsworth has been quite active in ecumenical efforts, including the editing of several interfaith pro-life books. The Lifewatch newsletter that he edits also reflects an ecumenical spirit, as when it said the late Cardinal John O'Connor was dedicated to the dignity of each human life "in a glorious way." (41)
Presbyterians Pro-Life: We Will Stand the Storm
The Scriptures, John Calvin's clear position, and a history of Presbyterian opposition to abortion were not enough to prevent a sharp change of course in the United States in 1970, when many Presbyterians went with the secular culture instead of their tradition. In that year, one major U.S. Presbyterian denomination said that abortion "may on occasion be morally justifiable," and the other said it "should not be restricted by law." In 1983 the two merged to form the Presbyterian Church (USA), which currently has over three million members. Also in 1983, the new church issued what Rev. Benjamin Sheldon has called "probably the most pro-abortion policy statement of any of the major denominations." It led to public advocacy and lobbying on behalf of abortion, including church involvement in what is now called the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.
Rev. Sheldon, now retired and living in Pennsylvania, has been active in the struggle against abortion for decades. In 1965, when he was pastor of a Presbyterian congregation in Washington, D.C., he preached one day about alcohol abuse. Afterwards a woman in the congregation asked him, "When are you going to say anything about abortion?" On the following Sunday, she gave him an envelope of clippings from the New York Times about efforts to overturn anti-abortion laws. That was a real wake-up call, and he began preaching against abortion. When the Supreme Court legalized it in its 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, thus igniting a huge national battle, "we were ready."(42)
As the longtime president of Presbyterians Pro-Life (PPL), Rev. Sheldon led many efforts within the church's annual General Assembly to change the abortion policy. Those efforts continue under the current president, Rev. Dr. Donald A. Elliott. PPL does careful advance planning, has an exhibit table at the Assembly, and sponsors a major speaker near the Assembly's meeting place. Past speakers have included non-Presbyterians such as the late Cardinal O'Connor and the Orthodox writer, Frederica Mathewes-Green. In the late 1980s, PPL hosted a talk by the late Mother Teresa--and the Assembly approved a study of the church's abortion stance. That resulted in a 1992 policy that said abortion can be "morally acceptable" in hard cases, but also declared that: "The strong Christian presumption is that since all life is precious to God, we are to preserve and protect it. Abortion ought to be an option of last resort." Yet the 1992 Assembly also opposed any limit on access to abortion, and it supported public funding for abortions for poor women.(43)
There was another defeat for pro-lifers in 2004, when the General Assembly refused to adopt a committee proposal of opposition to late-term abortion. But the committee proposal lost by only four votes. And the Assembly defeated an effort to support the United Nations Population Fund, which has been involved in abortion. It also rejected a proposal to support easier access to the "morning after pill."(44) Terry Schlossberg, then executive director of Presbyterians Pro-Life, called the wins "remarkable" and was especially encouraged that so many church youth "voted with us" against late-term abortion. Assembly participants used to have a default position in favor of the church establishment; but now, she said, "I don't think people are as willing to say, 'My church, right or wrong' anymore."
She is also happy that many Presbyterians are active in crisis pregnancy center (CPC) work. "There is," she said, "a huge amount of that....There are lots of Presbyterians who have started CPCs, who are directors of CPCs, who do the medical work at CPCs, and so on."
Presbyterians Pro-Life has an annual budget of about $200,000
NOEL: Someone's Crying, Lord
[Note: About two years after this article first appeared, NOEL changed its name to Anglicans for Life.]
Trying to recall their church to its historic pro-life position, several Episcopalians launched NOEL in 1983. ("NOEL" originally meant National Organization of Episcopalians for Life, but the group has dropped the longer title.) The founders faced an Episcopal Church policy that had strayed far from the position of the Anglican Communion's 1930 Lambeth Conference, which expressed "abhorrence of the sinful practice of abortion." When NOEL began, the Episcopal Church here in the United States permitted abortion for hard cases, opposed it "for convenience," yet opposed any effort to restrict abortion by law. While obtaining some verbal concessions to the pro-life side, NOEL has not been able to change the church's adamant pro-legalization policy. Then-Presiding Bishop Edmond L. Browning signed the same letter to President Clinton, supporting his veto of a ban on partial-birth abortion, that Clinton's pastor signed.(45)
The Episcopal Church has over two million members in the United States. NOEL, operating with a budget of roughly $200,000, has two full-time staff members and about 55 chapters around the country. President Georgette Forney remarked that "one of the things we really encourage the chapters to do is to adopt a pregnancy care center." This may involve providing funding and volunteers, running baby-formula drives and diaper drives, providing Bibles for mothers and children. Usually a chapter adopts a center that's already in existence, although several chapter leaders tried to start centers, Forney said. Some were successful, while others "walked away a little wounded from the process."
As an abortion survivor, one who suffered greatly from an abortion done when she was only 16, Forney has been outspoken about her own experience and has encouraged other women to speak out. She and Janet Morana of the Catholic group, Priests for Life, co-founded the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, which is best known for its "I Regret My Abortion" demonstrations, signs, bumper stickers, and billboards. According to the campaign's web site, the founders "wanted to show that NOW and NARAL do not represent all women on this issue." They also wanted to tell women who suffer from post-abortion grief and guilt that many programs and resources can help them. One woman who admired their work remarked that abortion "truly stops a beating heart," then added, "and breaks many others."(46)
NOEL, Forney said, has "not tried to change" the Episcopal Church's "stance on abortion that we kind of hammered out with them in 1994." That was at the triennial meeting of the church's policy-making body, the General Convention. Although acknowledging that women have a legal right to abortion, the General Convention said the right "should be used only in extreme situations." But while including other language attractive to pro-lifers, the resolution's bottom line was similar to previous General Convention statements: it expressed "unequivocal opposition" to any governmental interference with women's access to abortion. NOEL would be doing quite well if some day it could persuade the General Convention to be neutral on the legalization question--to say nothing about it and simply focus on the ethical and pastoral issues.
Pro-lifers have been successful in passing several General Convention resolutions on the margins: commending pregnancy care centers; acknowledging "post-abortion stress" and calling for "pastoral care directed at the healing process"; affirming adoption; and calling for liturgies "that respond to the pastoral needs of women and men who have experienced" abortion and other trauma related to childbearing. But abortion supporters within the General Convention usually are able to water down even such pastoral statements. And the 2003 General Convention passed a resolution supporting embryonic stem-cell research.(47)
Forney noted that when pro-lifers focus on "making abortion illegal, we inevitably raise hackles and cause people to have to get into a political discussion. But if we talk about the needs of women, and what drives a woman to feel abortion is her only option, it puts a face on the problem." She added that when people are given "the opportunity to help protect a life, they'll stand up for it. Who cares what label they wear? ...my goal isn't to get people to change their label as much as it is to change their heart."
She tries to influence church policy through her service with an official Episcopal group that meets between General Conventions to consider national concerns. Recently she raised there the issue of the church's involvement in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Two church agencies and two affiliated caucuses belong to RCRC--and NOEL wants all of them to leave. Forney remarked that if the national-concerns group recommends withdrawal, that will "hold more weight than if it were just NOEL asking for it."
NOEL also has a longstanding concern about euthanasia and other end-of-life issues. In the national-concerns group, Forney has brought up "the whole topic of the futile care theory...in which you have hospitals' deciding what level of care they're going to provide, regardless of a family's wishes or a patient's wishes." A doctor and nurse in the group were "appalled" to hear about this and decided to do research on it.
With enormous patience and persistence, Forney and her colleagues keep pressing their church to resist the death wishes of today's culture. Like other pro-lifers in the mainline churches, they are in the struggle for the long haul.
UCC Friends for Life: Amazing Grace
Rev. John Brown, the veteran leader of United Church of Christ Friends for Life, has no illusions about the uphill nature of his work. His church, which is the result of several mergers and claims over one million members, traces its heritage in large part to New England's old Congregational churches and ultimately to the Puritans. Straying far from that tradition, it has long supported legalized abortion. Brown, associate pastor of a Pennsylvania church, once told a pro-life audience, "I won't ask whether there's anyone here from the United Church of Christ; because usually the only way I can assure that there is one is to bring my wife or one of my children."(48)
Speaking at the 2004 National Right to Life Convention, he acknowledged that his work has become even harder. UCC local churches have so much autonomy, he said, that a congregation can decide to leave the denomination through a simple vote. "And hundreds of them have done so, increasingly in the last 20 years," and the abortion issue is one that has "driven many people out." The many departures mean that "we have nowhere near the number of people involved in pro-life ministries and so forth that we had 15 years ago." Over half the board of directors of Friends for Life "have left the denomination themselves."(49)
In an interview, Rev. Brown said his group does "largely educational work" and does not have chapters. It has a literature display table at the UCC General Synod, which meets every two years, and has done workshops there. It has pursued resolutions dealing with abortion and euthanasia at levels up to and including the General Synod, but has never won. In fact, it has lost by greater margins in recent years.
The situation is not as bleak, though, as it may seem at first glance. Because UCC local congregations have so much autonomy, the pro-life ones can have full programs with no interference from above. At his own church, Rev. Brown has an outstanding program--one that might shame many pastors of churches that are officially pro-life but rarely do anything about it. His church raises money for local pregnancy care centers, invites pro-life leaders in for talks, and sends people to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. They joined people from other churches in protests at an area hospital, prompting it to quit doing abortions. Just after September 11, 2001, Brown told the National Right to Life workshop, the church had a special evening class "tying together abortion, euthanasia, the Holocaust, and terrorism." The students took field trips to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and to Ground Zero in New York City. The program, said Brown, "helped them to see that there have been many assaults on human life and dignity in the last century" and that "we need to be alert to them all."
Near its cemetery, in an area surrounded by dogwood trees and flowers, the church placed a memorial to stillborn and aborted children. Calling it "a place for reflection and prayer," Brown said it received "a tremendous response from people in our congregation." Brown has counseled people, from his own and other churches, who are trying to deal with guilt from past abortions. One was an elderly man who had done abortions in the 1940s and had even "aborted one of his own children." Brown's church also sponsors (at times on Good Friday) special days of prayer "for pro-life issues, for those hurt by abortion, for those who oppose us."(50)
Lutherans for Life: Here We Stand
Martin Luther, it is safe to say, would be surprised and displeased by the abortion policy of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). He might even be moved to protest by nailing, say, 95 theses to an ELCA church door.
With about five million members, ELCA is the largest of several Lutheran denominations in the United States. While its abortion statement is by no means the worst on the Protestant mainline, much of it reads as though written by a committee of social workers or by politicians seeking a compromise. It says abortion should be only a last-resort option, and it encourages alternatives including adoption. But it approves abortion in several hard cases, without offering much in the way of theological reasoning, and says there should be public funding for poor women's abortions in such cases. It opposes laws "primarily intended to harass those contemplating or deciding for an abortion." Does this mean parental consent laws? Spousal-consultation laws? Well, not necessarily; "further deliberation" is needed on such issues. Toward the end of the lengthy statement, we find that the church supports "those who bear children, as well as those who choose not to do so."(51) It's hard to believe that such a wishy-washy statement could come from a church claiming to follow the formidable Martin Luther.
Many Lutherans, including ones within ELCA itself, are not happy with the church's position. Another Lutheran denomination--the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, with two and one-half million members--is strongly on the pro-life side. So is the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod, with about 400,000 members. Both churches are national in scope; their names just indicate where they started.
Lutherans for Life (LFL), founded in the late 1970s,(52) serves all pro-life Lutherans but receives most of its support from Missouri Synod members. But Rev. Dr. James Lamb, a Missouri Synod pastor who is LFL's executive director, emphasized in an interview that "many ELCA pastors and congregations" use LFL materials. Lutherans for Life has assisted some past, unsuccessful efforts to change the official ELCA policy on abortion. The Wisconsin Synod has its own pro-life group, but Lamb said he knows its executive director well and that "we cooperate often on projects."
Lamb heads a staff of seven and oversees an annual budget in the range of $500,000. In addition to its 150 chapters, LFL has 745 Life Ministry Coordinators who serve as LFL contacts in congregations that have no chapters. While LFL is definitely a national group, Lamb noted that it is "strongest, probably, in the Midwest simply because of the concentration of Lutherans in the Midwest." He and his staff have developed an impressive list of resources including newsletters, brochures, videos, manuals, and church-bulletin inserts. A bulletin insert for Christmas tells the story of a little Down Syndrome boy who played the innkeeper when his kindergarten class performed a Christmas play. When Joseph and Mary knocked on his door, he was supposed to say, "No room. No room." Instead, he threw the door wide-open and said, "Come on in. I've been waiting for you."(53)
Lutherans for Life programs include a "Healing Hearts" post-abortion ministry. There is also a one-day leadership training seminar to prepare LFL activists "for something that most people don't like to do: speak in public."(54) And there's a Campus Life Project, an educational program that focuses mainly on Lutheran colleges. It sends a small team, usually led by Lamb, onto a campus to preach in the chapel, give evening seminars, perhaps speak to an ethics class. "We'll do as much as we can in a couple of days on a campus," Lamb remarked. It sounds like something more pro-life groups should do. Lamb also speaks to graduating classes of Lutheran seminaries and presents to each member a resource manual on life issues. If the graduates "want a Bible study on euthanasia," he said, "they can find one in there. If they want some information on stem-cell research, it's there at their fingertips." In his talks to seminarians, he urges them to deal with life issues "in their congregations and in their Bible studies and from the pulpit." Martin Luther, one suspects, would heartily approve.
We Gather Together to Ask the Lord's Blessing
Most pro-life groups within the Protestant mainline--and several outside it--work together through an ecumenical group called the National Pro-Life Religious Council. This was started in the 1980s, after Candace Mueller, then a lobbyist for the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod, noticed that the pro-life religious groups were "not talking to each other." She mentioned this to Ernest Ohlhoff, who then headed one of the Catholic pro-life groups, and he responded, "Well, let's do something about it." So, he recalled in an interview, they had a meeting where "we brought 'em all together." Originally, the thought was to open the Council to non-Christian members; but some participants insisted on "a Christian coalition which acknowledges Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior," and the group adopted that description.(55) The differences among Christian churches alone made the venture uphill at first. But each participant eventually realized that "nobody else has horns," Ohlhoff remarked, and "they work as a team now." Ohlhoff, currently outreach director of the National Right to Life Committee, said that National Right to Life helps the Council put out its newsletter. But he noted that the Council is separately incorporated and "functions as an independent organization." He said it raises its own money, mainly in dues from member groups.(56)
The Council has sponsored several books, including one of pro-life sermons that encourages pastors to address life issues from the pulpit. Edited by Rev. Stallsworth, the Methodist pro-life leader, and called The Right Choice, the book offers many insights and helpful approaches. Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Achtemeier, the late Presbyterian scholar, noted in an introductory chapter that preachers, after all, still must preach about sin. She cited the case of a woman, troubled by an abortion, who spoke with a counselor and with friends about it, "but they only made excuses for her act and left her burdened with guilt." Finally she spoke with a pastor. "'You have done wrong,' he said to her, to which she replied in relief and tears, 'That's what I wanted to hear!' At that point, repentance took place, and she could receive the forgiveness of the gospel."
In the same book, Lutheran Pastor Paul M. Clark gives an excellent description of abortion: "death deceitfully parading around as an answer to a human problem." Rev. Edward Fehskens, another Lutheran, emphasizes men's role, suggesting that most women "who choose abortion would choose otherwise--if men would stand by them and give them a viable alternative, if men would stand steady and take responsibility for their behavior, if men would stand true and shoulder the obligations of fatherhood."(57) To which many women might shout a resounding "Amen!" The Fehskens approach can solve a problem common to all churches: that pastors avoid preaching on abortion because they don't want women to feel they are being singled out for condemnation. If preachers speak about male responsibility, and if they address the couple rather than the woman, they are more likely to be heard.
Ernest Ohlhoff often recommends setting up a meeting with a reluctant pastor and including "one or two women who've had abortions." The women, he said, are likely to express regret that "I never heard in church that I shouldn't have an abortion." The group can explain to the pastor that "there's a way of talking about abortion that is not condemnatory" of the persons involved and that emphasizes "healing and reconciliation." (Ohlhoff has other advice for those who want to prod their church's pastor into activism. He suggests finding people "who make that church work"--such as those who do music or youth ministry, fund-raising, or food drives for poor people--and having them take part in a meeting with the pastor. It is difficult for a pastor to say "No" to people he relies on so much.)(58)
In mainline Protestant churches, where there are many women clergy, recruiting more of them to be active in pro-life work is another way to reach people in the pews. Terry Schlossberg of Presbyterians Pro-Life remarked that Rev. Dr. Achtemeier "had a huge impact on this denomination by being willing to state her convictions on abortion." And Schlossberg said there are some "strong, very capable, orthodox women coming out of our seminaries," including ones who are actively pro-life.
Finally, there is room for preaching that is solidly pro-life without even mentioning the A-word. When speaking about the Christmas story and "no room at the inn," pastors can talk about the wonder and joy of children and the need to welcome all of them. ("Unwanted" children? Well, didn't King Herod "unwant" the Christ Child?) In prayers of petition, they can mention "unborn children and their parents." They can speak about the special welcome of adoption. They can preach eloquently through example: volunteering at a pregnancy care center; doing sidewalk counseling at an abortion clinic; making their churches fully accessible and welcoming to people with disabilities; doing respite care to help families with members who are elderly and frail or severely disabled. When all is said and done, good example is still the most powerful kind of preaching.
With My Face to the Rising Sun
Conrad Richter's novel, A Simple Honorable Man, describes the life of a Lutheran pastor who works among the poor. Praying with and for one family, the pastor uses a familiar petition for a holy end of life: "When the fever of life is over and our labor done, then in thy great mercy grant us safe lodgings and a holy rest, and peace at the last..." Then he adds something else: "but if our toil remains and our life abides, call us up at the rising of the sun with morning faces and morning hearts."(59)
Those who defend life within the churches do so with morning hearts.
Where quotations are not cited to notes, they are from one of the following telephone interviews by the author: 28 Feb. 2005
28 Feb. 2005
1. Karen Cross, remarks in workshop on "Religious Outreach," National Right to Life Convention, Crystal City, Va., 3 July 2004, tape recording.
2. Dennis Di Mauro, remarks in workshops on "We Are the Sheep...Where Are the Shepherds?" and "Increasing Local Pro-Life Effectiveness in Pro-Life Religious Denominations," National Right to Life Convention, Crystal City, Va., 1 July 2004, tape recordings.
3. Frank Pavone, remarks in ibid.
4. Scriptural quotations in this article are from the New American Bible. For more about the Scriptures on abortion, see Mary Meehan, "Theologians and Abortion: Not Their Finest Hour," Human Life Review 12, no. 4 (Fall 1986), 53-56, with many citations in nn. 20-27, pp. 70-71.
5. John T. Noonan, Jr., "An Almost Absolute Value in History," in John T. Noonan, Jr., ed., The Morality of Abortion: Legal and Historical Perspectives (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1970), 8-10; Michael J. Gorman, Abortion & the Early Church (New York: Paulist Press, 1982), 48, citing Galatians 5:20 and Revelation 9:21, 18:23, 21:8 & 22:15. Noonan, p. 8, n. 17, says the word pharmakeia "is regularly mistranslated as 'sorcery' or 'witchcraft' in English Bibles."
6. Gorman (n. 5), 49, 55, 52-53, 72 & 34-37; Meehan (n. 4), 58-63; and Vatican Council II, "Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World," pt. 2, ch. 1, no. 51, in Walter M. Abbott, S.J., ed., The Documents of Vatican II (New York: Guild Press/America Press, 1966), 256.
7. Martin Luther, "Lectures on Genesis," ch. 25, Luther's Works, ed. by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House and Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press/Fortress Press, 1958-86), vol. 4, 304.
8. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Four Last Books of Moses (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1950), vol. 3, 42; Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), vol. 3, 415-423; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 131, n. 1.
9. Marvin Olasky, Abortion Rites: A Social History of Abortion in America (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway/Good News, 1992), 161-165, 199-217, 131-148 & 298-299.
10. Ibid., 35. See Germain Grisez, Abortion: the Myths, the Realities, and the Arguments (New York: Corpus Books, 1970), 111-116, on the successful strategy of claiming (falsely) that pregnancy begins at implantation rather than fertilization in order to make the IUD acceptable to the public.
11. St. John Chrysostom, "Homily 26 on First Corinthians," in Philip Schaff, ed., A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1956), vol. 12, 153-155.
12. Martin Luther, "Lectures on 1 Timothy," ch. 2, in Luther (n. 7), vol. 28, 279. See Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon Press, 1950), 286-304, for an account of Luther's home life. He and his wife Katherine brought up their own six children as well as four orphans of relatives.
13. Kenneth L. Woodward, "Dead End for the Mainline?" Newsweek, 9 Aug. 1993, 46-48; Peter W. Williams, America's Religions (Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 355-375; Thomas C. Reeves, The Empty Church (New York: Free Press, 1996); and Eileen W. Lindner, ed., Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 2004 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), 11. The mainline Protestant churches are sometimes called the "Seven Sisters." Taking account of several church mergers in recent decades, I use the term "mainline" to include: American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A.; Disciples of Christ; Episcopal Church; Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; Presbyterian Church (USA); United Church of Christ; and United Methodist Church.
14. Elizabeth Achtemeier, "Speaking the Unspeakable: A Demonstration," in Paul T. Stallsworth, ed., The Right Choice (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997), 24.
15. Joseph Fletcher, Situation Ethics: The New Morality (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966); and Peter Steinfels, "Dr. Joseph F. Fletcher, 86, Dies; Pioneer in Field of Medical Ethics," New York Times, 30 Oct. 1991, D-25. Fletcher was once a member of the American Eugenics Society; see Eugenics Quarterly 3, no. 4 (Dec. 1956), 243-244.
16. Christine Rosen, Preaching Eugenics (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).
17. Lawrence Lader, Abortion II: Making the Revolution (Boston: Beacon Press, 1974), 24-26, 42-50 & 217-221; and Arlene Carmen and Howard Moody, Abortion Counseling and Social Change (Valley Forge, Pa.: Judson Press, 1973), 21, 100 & 30. "Clergymen's" in the group's title was later changed to "Clergy; according to Carmen and Moody, p. 24, at least one woman minister was involved in the New York City group.
18. Bernard N. Nathanson with Richard N. Ostling, Aborting America (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1979), 42-43.
19. Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 25-26, 28, 40-43, 64-65 & 34; Lader (n. 17), 43; and Edward B. Fiske, "Clergymen Offer Abortion Advice," New York Times, 22 May 1967, 1 & 36.
20. Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 40 & 36; and Ed Gold, "Rev. Howard Moody Reflects on 50 Years of Activism," The Villager, 24-30 Dec. 2003, www.thevillager.com, accessed 29 Sept. 2004.
21. Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 83, 66 & 75; and Arlene Carmen, Interview by Ellen Chesler for Schlesinger-Rockefeller Oral History Project, Jan. 1976, Transcript, 13 & 21, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass. (The author referred to a copy of the transcript at the Oral History Research Office, Butler Library, Columbia University, New York, N.Y.) Some CCS chapters used variations of the CCS name. The estimate of 330,000 abortions is conservative, assuming that numbers outside New York remained the same and subtracting--for the last two and one-half years--the 10,000 women per year the New York group was seeing before it closed (according to Carmen's estimate). In fact, the numbers outside New York probably increased as the drive to legalize abortion won more media and judicial support.
22. Robert Hare, interview in Ellen Messer and Kathryn E. May, Back Rooms: Voices from the Illegal Abortion Era (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988; reprint, Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1994), 213-224, 213-215; and Lader (n. 17), 74-76 & 44. Rev. Hare, a Presbyterian minister in Cleveland, was indicted for aiding and abetting an abortion in Massachusetts, but was never tried. For examples of college chaplains who made abortion referrals, see Cynthia Gorney, Articles of Faith: A Frontline History of the Abortion Wars (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1998), 29-31 & 68-69.
23. Nanette J. Davis, From Crime to Choice: The Transformation of Abortion in America (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1985), 135, 133 & 132; and Grace Olivarez, "Separate Statement of Grace Olivarez," in U.S. Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, Population and the American Future (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1972), 161.
24. Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 30, 74, 75 & 24-25.
25. Davis (n. 23), 137-138; and Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 93-96.
26. Nathanson (n. 18), 42; and Gold (n. 20).
27. Lader (n. 17), 43, 74-78, 43 & 49; and Carmen and Moody (n. 17), 55-56.
28. Gorney (n. 22), 72; Lader (n. 17), 44; Mary Meehan, "Justice Blackmun and the Little People," Human Life Review 30, no. 3 (Summer 2004), 97-98, 111 & 117; Harry A. Blackmun to [William A. Holmes], 16 May 1983, with copy of letter from Justin A. Driscoll to Harry Blackmun, 11 May 1983, Harry A. Blackmun Papers, box 1530, folder 6, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.; and William A. Holmes to [Harry A. Blackmun], 1 June 1983, ibid., box 1460, folder 13, ibid.
29. Quoted in Cynthia Gorney, "An Abortionist Reconsiders," Washington Post, 27 April 1989, B-2.
30. Carmen Interview (n. 21), 50-53; and Gorney (n. 22), 221-223.
31. David K. Lelewer to John D. Rockefeller 3rd, 26 Oct. 1972, and Lelewer to Rodney Shaw, 15 Nov. 1972, Joan Dunlop Collection, box 2, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; Suzanne Staggenborg, The Pro-Choice Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 59-61, 160-162 & 195-196, n. 7; "John D. Rockefeller 3rd Contributions in the Area of Abortion, 1966-1978," 24 April 1978, 3-4, JDR 3rd Series, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, N.Y.; and Joan Dunlop to Rodney Shaw, 7 Oct. 1977, Joan Dunlop Collection, above. On Hugh Moore's use of the Methodists, see Meehan (n. 28), 97.
32. John H. Evans, "Multi-Organizational Fields and Social Movement Organization Frame Content: The Religious Pro-Choice Movement," Sociological Inquiry 67, no. 4 (Fall, 1997), 467, n. 3; and Staggenborg (n. 31), 61.
33. Rodney Shaw to Joan Dunlop, 28 Sept. 1973, Joan Dunlop Collection (n. 31), box 2.
34. Rodney Shaw to John D. Rockefeller 3rd, 30 Jan. 1977, ibid.
35. J. Philip Wogaman, "Abortion: Shall We Return to Absolutism?" Washington, D.C.: Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, 1974 and 1979; and Kenneth L. Woodward, "Soulful Matters," Newsweek, 31 Oct. 1994, 23-25.
36. Edmond L. Browning and others to William Jefferson Clinton, 29 April 1996, author's files.
37. Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, 2003 Annual Report, 17-18, 8-10 & 14-15; and Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, "Prayer for Providers of Women's Health Care," www.rcrc.org/resources, accessed 16 Jan. 2005.
38. United Methodist News Service, "Abortion," 1 June 2001, www.umns.umc.org/resourcesforeditors/backgrounders/abortion. Membership figures for the United Methodist Church (and for other churches, below) are from Lindner (n. 13).
39. Cindy Evans, "Providence at General Conference," Lifewatch, Sept. 2004, www.lifewatch.org.
40. United Methodist News Service (n. 38).
41. Michael J. Gorman and Ann Loar Brooks, Holy Abortion? A Theological Critique of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf and Stock, 2003); and "John Cardinal O'Connor (1920-2000)," Lifewatch, 1 June 2000, 3. Holy Abortion? was a project of the National Pro-Life Religious Council, which is discussed below.
42. George Dugan, "Presbyterian Unity is Foreseen; Compromise War Stand Taken," New York Times, 19 June 1971, 28; "Presbyterian 101...Abortion," www.pcusa.org," accessed 31 Dec. 2004; and Ben Sheldon, remarks in workshop on "Overcoming Pro-Abortion Opposition within a Congregation or Denomination," National Right to Life Convention, Crystal City, Va., 1 July 2004, tape recording.
43. Donald A. Elliott, "Another Historic Moment for PPL," Presbyterians Pro-Life News, Winter 2003, 10; Presbyterians Pro-Life, "Resources for Life, 2004" (Burke, Va.: PPL, July 2004); and "Presbyterian 101...Abortion" (n. 42).
44. "Nearly Full-term Babies Left Unprotected by General Assembly," Presbyterians Pro-Life News, Fall 2004, 1 & 3.
45. NOEL, "About Us," www.noelforlife.org,accessed 12 Jan. 2005; Charles A. Selden, "Lambeth Bishops Back Arbitration for all Peoples," New York Times, 15 Aug. 1930, 1 & 10; John W. Howe, "A Critique of the Episcopal Church's Stance on the Sanctity of Human Life" (Fairfax, Va.: NOEL Research & Education Foundation, n.d.); and Edmond L. Browning and others (n. 36).
46. Silent No More Awareness Campaign, "About Us" and "Words of Encouragement," www.silentnomoreawareness.org, accessed 12 Jan. 2005. "NOW" refers to the National Organization for Women, and "NARAL" means NARAL Pro-Choice America.
47. Resolution nos. 1994-A054, 1994-D105, 2000-D083, and 2000-D104, www.episcopalarchives.org; and "Abortion: Post-Abortion Healing Service" and "Genetics: Approve Research on Human Stem Cells," www.episcopalchurch.org., accessed 12 Jan. 2005.
48. George Dugan, "Abortion Backed by United Church," New York Times, 30 June 1971, 42; and John Brown, remarks in workshop at National Right to Life Convention, Arlington, Va., 12 June 1992, tape recording.
49. John Brown, remarks in workshop on "Overcoming Pro-Abortion Opposition..." (n. 42).
51. "Abortion," a statement adopted by the 1991 Churchwide Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, www.elca.org, accessed 31 Dec. 2004.
52. "Brief History of Lutherans for Life," www.lutheransforlife.org, accessed 27 Nov. 2004.
53. Lutherans for Life, "We Are Called to Be Great Lovers," (Nevada, Iowa: LFL, n.d.). The story is attributed to an unnamed Member of Congress.
54. "Training Seminar/Benefits," www.lutheransforlife.org, accessed 27 Nov. 2004.
55. National Pro-Life Religious Council, Uniting for Life newsletter, Spring 2004, 1. For more information on the Council, see www.nprcouncil.org.
56. The Council lists "Religious Outreach, National Right to Life Committee" and the Catholic group, Priests for Life, as members. Most of the other members are Protestant groups.
57. Stallsworth (n. 14), 25, 47 & 51.
58. Ernest Ohlhoff, remarks in workshop on "Religious Outreach" (n. 1).
59. Conrad Richter, A Simple Honorable Man (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 181. The first part of the pastor's prayer apparently is based on an 1834 prayer written by John Henry Newman, who was then a young Anglican curate. Later he was a (Roman) Catholic priest and cardinal. See John Bartlett, Familiar Quotations, 15th ed. (1980), 490.