A good friend sat in my room, agonizing over his indecision regarding the Presidential race. "I loath what the Republicans have done in these past eight years," he said. "And I don't expect different from McCain and Palin. BUT..."
I knew what he was going to say. But what about abortion?
Since 1977, when I began writing for Cornerstone magazine (it ceased publication in 2003 after reaching an audience which peaked at well over 200,000 readers), I wrote what probably numbered in the dozens of articles supporting the pro-life cause. Some of those articles I now regard as overly simplistic, even shrill. But most of them I'd stand by today. I do believe that human life begins at conception -- a scientific fact which apart from all rhetoric really isn't debatable -- and I also believe that Roe v. Wade was the worst Supreme Court decision of my lifetime.
But I also remember being part of a writing staff rooted in intentional Christian community (Jesus People USA), and being both participant and fascinated observer as we together educated ourselves on the history (herstory) of women. Early on, we'd written shrill attacks on feminism, quoting Phyllis Schlafly and other far-right sources. But we began reading the feminists in their own words as well, rather than through the eyes of hostile interpreters. This led us to a more nuanced view, especially as we faced the reality of women's dehumanization throughout most of world history.
Yet we remained pro-life, even as we widened our view of it. Being pro-life had to include the mother, her well-being, her need of economic aid, housing, parental training, support from the church and even (more controversially) the government. Pro-lifers who ignored these factors, focusing solely on the unborn child, were to us the pro-life movement's worst nightmare. Yet even those who did include these things left me personally increasingly restless.
Why? Because I noticed there an underlying theological assumption. Assumed was that women were to be guided by men (I'm soft pedaling my own feminism here by not stating it as strongly as I felt and feel it), to be "covered" by men in marriage and in church, to not usurp alleged "roles" which only (it was said) men should fulfill. Obligatory bible passages were cited. Obligatory interpretations (which I later discovered to be highly dubious) were overlayed onto these verses, and any women suggesting that the Bible was a feminist book with a feminist message were immediately marginalized. (This is still going on -- the Southern Baptist Convention's all-out assault on women preachers, teachers, and missionaries, serves as the most draconian large-scale example.)
I found my sensibilities unable to engage anymore with the old paradigms I'd been taught. I remained fully convinced of the Bible's authority and power. But I no longer was convinced that the usual interpretations of Paul and others were correct. Ephesians 5 was just one startlingly egalitarian passage which had been pretzel-twisted into a hierarchical tract. Once I was exposed to egalitarian/mutuality theology -- some on my own, and much through my discovery of Christians for Biblical Equality [*], I found myself able to reconsider all sorts of things.
Nor was I alone. While the early Jesus movement, from which Jesus People USA (JPUSA) drew much of its beginning theology, did emphasize male authority, JPUSA differed in one respect. We did have women in leadership roles and, perhaps influenced by the charismatic movement, had no issues with women in the pulpit. One of our own pastors was female. In marriage, our journey was slower but became more and more egalitarian just as my own journey had.
This impacts my view of abortion. It can't help but do so. I compare it to a revolution in my thinking which happened since my teen years, when I became fascinated with black history in America. I read everything from Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice to Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man, and as I did so, also began reading more deeply in the surrounding history of slavery, lynchings, racist pseudo-science (such as phrenology) and the like. I even began examining my own mental furniture, discovering links between the erotic and blackness which proved one thing -- I was not untouched by racially-based symbolisms myself.
But more than anything, I realized the gulf between reading about being black -- no matter the amount of empathy -- and actually being black. This was also true of my maleness in light of the historical and contemporary realities of being female. I could, in a limited sense, come alongside an indvidual who was either black, female, or both. But I could not in the deepest existential sense know what it is like to be them.
Yet, I must do the best I know how to try, even as I confess ahead of time my almost certain failure.
This is where the pro-life issue becomes one of the most painful issues for me. And, with this part one as a lengthy prologue of sorts, or background if you will, I will next offer my much less existential reasons for backing Barack Obama (an avowed supporter of Roe v. Wade) in this upcoming election.
* Christians for Biblical Equality should not be perceived to have any opinions on the Presidential race, nor about my opinions here in the larger sense of things. They're part of my history as I thought (and continue thinking) through these issues.