Opinion

Where are mainline Protestants on abortion?

The March for Life crowd smiles as a man holds up a child at the rally on Jan. 27, 2017, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

(RNS) — On Friday (Jan. 19), nearly 45 years after the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, hundreds of thousands will rally in the streets of Washington.

The annual March for Life is overwhelmingly composed of religious Americans.

Initially conceived as a mostly Catholic event, the march has included significantly more Protestants in recent decades.

Yet at the March for Life, the historic denominations of mainline Protestantism are hardly represented at all.

The simplest explanation is that the largest Methodist, Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Congregationalist denominations support abortion rights.

In fact, these and other progressive faith groups include advocacy for a woman’s right to choose as part of their robust commitments to gender equity, family well-being and social justice.

While abortion is often portrayed as a binary issue, with religious people against it and secular people for it, the truth is much more complicated. America’s faith communities feature significant differences of opinion about the legality and morality of abortion.

Many are surprised to learn that there are groups as diverse as Secular Pro-Life, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Democrats for Life and Catholics for Choice.

At the March for Life, Catholics and white evangelicals will march alongside their clergy. Yet half of Catholics and a quarter of white evangelicals believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

Those evangelicals are mostly invisible in the political and religious debates over abortion rights. The media, the politicians and even their pastors act as though every evangelical Christian thinks abortion should be criminalized in this country. That is simply not true.

Likewise, mainline Protestants who oppose abortion rights also get lost in the debate. They dissent from their liberal clergy and co-religionists, but may hesitate to feel at home politically or theologically with their Catholic and evangelical friends at the March for Life.

Much of Americans’ division over abortion rights is a function of partisanship. But just as in the religious sphere, there is much more ideological diversity on abortion than we suppose. More than a third of Republicans think abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while about a quarter of Democrats do not.

So what can we say about the Christian divide over abortion politics in America?

One trend line we can observe is that religious traditions that strongly affirm abortion rights are declining faster than conservative traditions that oppose abortion.

As the mainline Episcopal Church and Presbyterian Church (USA) decline, conservative denominations such as the Anglican Church in North America and the Presbyterian Church in America are gaining ground. Both are strongly opposed to abortion rights and are increasingly visible at the March for Life.

While opponents of legal abortion have always held a hard-line position, abortion-rights supporters’ increasingly extreme pronouncements may strain alliances with faith groups.

The United Methodist Church, to take one example, affirmed abortion rights in 1972. But at almost every quadrennial General Conference since, Methodists have watered down their abortion position to the point where it is pro-life and pro-choice. It says everything and nothing.

Liberal Protestants could once support legal abortion with the caveat that it was a tragic necessity, or that it should be “safe, legal and rare.”

But today, progressive rhetoric has completely shed the idea that abortion is tragic or should be rare. Instead, abortion is celebrated as the fundamental right on which all female liberation relies. For Christians squeamish about abortion, today’s radical messaging may be a pill they cannot swallow.

And yet the United Methodists’ ambivalence reflects what Americans actually believe about abortion rights: It’s complicated.

At the March for Life, mainline Protestants will not have their pastors and bishops alongside them, as evangelicals and Catholics will.

But maybe mainline Protestants, so often castigated as a muddled middle, can help improve our broken debate about abortion — both in political and religious life.

(Jacob Lupfer is a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University. His website is www.jacoblupfer.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jlupf. The views expressed in this opinion piece do not necessarily represent those of Religion News Service.)

About the author

Jacob Lupfer

22 Comments

Click here to post a comment

  • What they all fail to realize:

    from Guttmacher:

    “• Fifty-four percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive
    method (usually the condom or the pill) during the month they became pregnant.
    Among those women, 76% of pill users and 49% of condom users report having used
    their method inconsistently, while 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users
    report correct use.[”

    And the result of this inconsistency?

    One million abortions/yr. and 19 million STD
    cases/yr.!!!!

  • I suspect the vast majority of Americans would say that, while they may be personally opposed to abortion they still want it to remain legal. They’ll accept some reasonable restrictions on it, but not onerous ones or a whole bunch of laws making it difficult or impossible for a woman to get one. In short, most people would say “legal with some restrictions”. But then, most Americans are middle of the road on stuff, not extreme to one side or another.

  • You mention this supposed extreme progressive rhetoric twice, yet you cited it zero times. I’m sure there’s extreme language out there on the reproductive rights side, but you give no reason why liberal Protestants can’t ignore that and say: Abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

  • Tis the ” rare “part of the equation that is missing because too many men do not practice safe sex.

  • Check out PPL.org. We’ve been equipping Presbyterians to champion life for 35 years. Understaffed and underfunded, we could use your help and if you are any stripe of Presbyterian we’d like to get to know you better so we can serve you and equip you to champion human life at every stage!

  • How does one “champion human life”, and how does one “equip” someone to champion human life?

  • First, Christianity is based of false theology and history so its claim to moral guidance is null and void. However if you assume said Christian is following the dictates of his Lord and Savior and does no harm to others, he or she would practice non-procreation, safe sex in marriage. Said Christian would of course have to avoid adultery and fornication which is a great idea Christian or not considering the cheating involved and the potential issues of pregnancy and STDs .

  • You sound like the teenage boy who can’t learn his times tables, but insists that he knows the secrets of the universe.

  • Not many secrets left . And definitely there are no secrets in the religions of the world since all fail rigorous historic testing.

  • There was no Easter which right away puts the kibosh on said religion. Added testing concludes that less than 30% of the NT is authentic.

  • You will have to read the studies of contemporary historians
    and NT scholars to see how they decide the authenticity of NT historical events
    and passages. Rigorous conclusions rely on the number
    of independent attestations, the time of the publications, the content as it
    relates to the subject and time period, and any related archeological evidence.
    Professors JD Crossan and G. Ludemann’s studies are top notch in this regard.

    Regarding Easter:

    The physical resurrection of Jesus as per currernt
    theology teachings at many large Catholic universities-

    “Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly — earth bound distractions.

    Christ ‘s and Mary’s bodies are therefore not in Heaven. For one thing, Paul in 1 Cor 15 speaks of the body of the dead as transformed into a “spiritual body.” No one knows exactly what he meant by this term.

    Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

    The physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus’ crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary’s
    corpse) into heaven did not take place.

    The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

    Only Luke’s Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus’ mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus’ followers The Assumption has
    multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary’s special role as “Christ bearer” (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus’
    Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would
    be derived by worms upon her death. Mary’s
    assumption also shows God’s positive regard, not only for Christ’s male body,
    but also for female bodies.”

    Addressing the historic inauthenticity of the
    post-resurrection sightings of Jesus of Nazareth.

    -The empty tomb myth

    Mark 16:1-8
    = Matt 28:1-10 = Luke 24:1-11

    (1b) John
    20:1,(2-10),11-18

    Originated by Mark and copied by M, L and J and
    historically nil after rigorous analyses for number of attestations, time of
    publication and content. For added details:

    see Professor Gerd Ludemann’s analysis in his book
    Jesus After 2000 Years, pp. 111-114 and
    http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb275.html.

    –The disciples on the Emmaus road

    Luke 23: 13-35 Historically nil. See Ludemann’s book, pp 409-412. Note: Emmaus can no longer be located.

    — Revealed to Disciples

    1Cor 15:5b,7b

    (2) Matt
    28:16-20

    (3) Easter
    Night 2.3.1 (3a) Luke 24:36-40

    (3b) John
    20:19-21

    2.4 (4) IgnSmyr 3.2b-3

    See http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb018.html
    and the following from Professor Luedamann:

    “Matt 28:16-20 The description of Jesus’s appearance is minimal, as attention is focused on the content of Jesus’ message to the Eleven. Luedemann notes:

    “the historical yield is extremely meager.” He accepts the early
    tradition that various disciples had visionary experiences, most probably
    located in Galilee, and that these experiences led to the founding of “a
    community which preached the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus as the
    Messiah and/or the Son of Man among their Jewish contemporaries.” [Jesus,
    255f.]

    Luke 24:36-53 The emphatic realism in the recognition scene that begins this appearance story mans “one can hardly avoid seeing this as a thrust against docetism. Evidently in this verse Luke is combating the same challenges to the bodily reality of Jesus as Ignatius, To the Smyrneans 3.2, does at the beginning of the second century.” Luedemann concludes, “The historical yield is nil, both in respect of the real historical event and in connection with the visions which were the catalyst for the rise of Christianity.” [Jesus, 413-415]”

    –Rev 1: 12-20 (a reboot of Daniel 7:13)

    And then there is this:

    “Nineteenth-century agnostic Robert G. Ingersoll
    branded Revelation “the insanest of all books”.[30] Thomas Jefferson
    omitted it along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and
    wrote that at one time, he “considered it as merely the ravings of a
    maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.” [31]

    Martin Luther once “found it an offensive piece of work” and John Calvin “had grave doubts about its
    value.”[32]

    –Appearance to James et al

    1 Cor 15: 7a

    /4/ and that he was buried, and that he was raised
    on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, /5/ and that he appeared to
    Cephas, then to the twelve. /6/ Then he appeared to more than five hundred
    brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some
    have died. /7/ Then he appeared to

    James, then to all the apostles. /8/ Last of all,
    as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

    See http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb030.html-
    i.e. historically nil.

    For more on the infamous Resurrection con, see
    Professor Gerd Ludemann’s review in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, (Mark 16)
    and also http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb275.html.

    For
    more on the infamous Ascension con, see the same book, Luke 24:50-53 and
    http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb480.html

    An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue,
    Faith panelists).

    “Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God’s hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus’ failure and
    death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to
    maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing.”

    So where are the bones???

    According to Professor JD Crossan’s many exhaustive studies, they still are a-moulderingin the ground outside of Jerusalem or were eaten by wild dogs and are now cycling through nature’s recycling system.

  • I suspect you spend your days skimming the internet. You offered a mishmash of things that are so unrelated that no serious person would even attempt to set you straight. There is nothing wrong being self-taught, but please understand that you are on the peripheral and appear to be unaware of a vast amount of pertinent information.

  • Waiting for any pertinent information you might have to refute what is being taught in Catholic universities graduate theology courses and the results of rigorous historic testing of the NT.

  • Until the 20th century, all Christians and therefore most Americans were opposed to birth control. This wasn’t some kind of freedom gained, it’s instead part of the destruction of the family.

ADVERTISEMENTs