Recently, the Religious Institute released their report, A Time to Embrace: Why the Sexual and Reproductive Justice Movement Needs Religion. As a person of faith who feels called vocationally into the reproductive health, choice, and justice movement, I immediately started digesting its contents. Beyond interning at the Methodist Federation for Social Action, I also convene the Creative Liberation team at my faith community, Valley & Mountain. I decided to lead a creative liberation encounter group (small group breakout during our weekly service) on reproductive justice based on some of the report’s findings and actions.
Recent studies have found that only 39% Americans agree with the statement that having an abortion is morally acceptable while 51% disagree with that statement. The same study found that 55% agree with the statement that abortion should be legal while 41% disagree. There is a significant divide in morality and legality. The issue becomes one of how we vote: people vote their morals and values.
The question then becomes, what do we, as progressive people of faith, do about this divide within our own context? The report stressed the importance of understanding the history of religion in our nation and how religion has been engaged and then having a firm theological understanding of our beliefs. I highly suggest reading the report for the history and engagement, as I want to focus on our how Christians can be supportive of the reproductive health, choice, and justice movement.
Almost weekly, I get asked how I can be a Christian and be pro-choice. It wasn’t until I had two years of seminary education under my belt that I started to flush out my personal theological grounding on this complex and important issue. Not everyone has the privilege to study theology at a graduate level; most people do not. It is still vital that progressive people of faith be able to articulate why they believe in the social justice issues about which they are passionate. This is something stressed as well in the Religious Institute report and something we address within my faith community and seminary. It is time to start thinking how faith informs your support of reproductive health, choice, and justice.
Another way to support is to trust the moral agency of women, or as many buttons say, Trust Women. The report states: “Women are moral agents with the right and responsibility to make their own decisions about procreation, whether or not to have children, the size of their family, spacing of children, and whether or not an abortion is justified in their specific circumstances.” We can trust women, not hypothetically, but by empowering the women around us to make their own decisions.
How do we move forward from this report? For organizations like the Methodist Federation for Social Action we must continue our commitment to reproductive health, choice, and justice, whether it be at the national, state, conference, city, or denominational level. It all matters. To be engaged is to bring attention to something we do not see in the media: people of faith pushing back against the image of Christianity portrayed in the media. The report says, “No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on abortion, contraception, sexuality education, or other topics related to sexual and reproductive justice.” MFSA and other like-minded faith-based movements must continually amplify our voice on these issues, while educating why our theological lens leads us to them. It is no longer enough just to robe or collar up at protests – we need to hear faith voices speak loudly and concisely.
In our small group at Valley & Mountain, our dialogue led to extremely fruitful conversation where people added historical context, we started flushing out differences between morality and legality, and the biggest outcome was the need to have these larger conversations about sexuality as a faith community. The conversation spilled out during our shared meal, the Love Feast, where people who didn’t attend asked me questions. Stories about this issue from unique perspectives and questions about the legality of abortion came up – and they keep coming. Perhaps this sharing of the report will lead to some very real, authentic conversation about reproductive justice, sexuality, and education. I have high hopes that it will for other faith communities beyond my own.
As a leader in my faith community and my seminary, I have the opportunity to talk about sexual and reproductive justice. People want to engage this topic. It is also something I hope faith leaders everywhere start thinking and creating a dialogue within their own faith communities or justice movements. A good start is to read the report and sit with it in prayer preparing to move forward and take action.
The reproductive health, choice, and justice movements need us, and I believe people of faith are up to the challenge!
Irene DeMaris is a current Master of Divinity student at Seattle University and an intern with MFSA. Before seminary, she worked as the Program Assistant for Youth & Young Adult Ministries at the Pacific Northwest Conference and is also certified candidate for ministry as a deacon. She lives in Seattle where she is involved in her faith community, Valley & Mountain.