This November, Tennessee will face a series of critical ballot initiatives to amend the Tennessee State Constitution. Amendment 1, if passed, would take away individual privacy rights and allow politicians to enact egregious restrictions on access to safe and compassionate abortion care, regulations with no exemptions to save the life of the mother or when the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest. As an elder in The United Methodist Church, I am inviting my clergy colleagues into a ministry of justice and compassion that confronts the powers of the state and its legislators.
Our tradition acknowledges the difficult tension in drawing light to human sexuality: ‘our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.’ (UMC Book of Discipline 2012, ¶161.J)
Regardless of how you may feel about abortion, our deep theological commitment to God’s grace encountering the pain and joy of the human experience should call us to question the wisdom of this amendment – an amendment distracting our state from the real issues facing Tennessee; issues such as growing numbers of individuals and families without health insurance, skyrocketing childhood poverty rates, educational systems that aren’t meeting the needs of our youth and underemployment leaving families struggling to make ends meet.
In communities across this state, it is our God given calling to publicly announce and demonstrate where divine grace is and wants to go in the lives of our people.
The vows I share in this sacred calling, ‘to exercise pastoral supervision of the people committed to our care, to order the life of the congregation, counsel the troubled in spirit, to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people, and to lead persons to faith in Jesus Christ’ call clergy to the intersection of faith and human sexuality (UMC Book of Worship, ‘Service of Ordination’). To be silent for the sake of ease is to renounce the vows to care for God’s people in whatever they face and to limit the scope of public justice.
In the ministry I lead, I remember the pastoral conversation over coffee when a mother in our congregation, already grieving the death of her nine month old daughter, explained to me the wrenching decision to have an abortion because of life threatening pregnancy complications. Her decision allows her to live faithfully into her marriage vows with her husband and to be a mother to her seven year old son. I can only begin to imagine how this story would be different if legal access to abortion services were not protected in the state of Tennessee by the state constitution.
I am grateful that the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that our state constitution’s strong privacy protections applied to reproductive healthcare. This protection is now in jeopardy by Amendment 1’s intrusion into decisions best left to a family, the family doctor, and pastoral counselors. I want our state’s elected officials to spend their energy working on what Tennesseans do need: quality education, affordable housing, employment, and universal healthcare access. This is why I’m voting NO on Amendment 1 and I’m inviting you to do the same as you bring light to this intersection of faith and human sexuality.
Rev. Adam Kelchner is pastor for Mission & Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN and Director of Golden Triangle Ministries.