Rev. Rob Schenck, an evangelical pastor known for his extreme anti-abortion activism, has recently had a change of heart on the topic of gun ownership. He is speaking out about the rise of gun ownership among his white male evangelical peers in the United States. His piece "Should Christians Own Guns?" is the cover story in the May issue of Sojourners magazine. He writes:
I'm deeply concerned about American evangelicals. I believe the increased presence of firearms among American evangelicals, including pastors that are now armed in the pulpit and ready to shoot into the congregation if necessary, signals a serious moral crisis in the church. Those who should be all about the good news of God's saving love for humanity are instead being led astray by a popular gun culture that contradicts the teaching and model of Jesus and the apostles. - See more at: https://sojo.net/magazine/may-2016/white-evangelicals-have-one-highest-rates-gun-ownership-us#sthash.nJqrjmuw.dpuf
I appreciate Schenck's admonition of our fear-based culture that causes us to suspect those we encounter. When our knee-jerk reaction is to perceive the stranger in our midst as a potential threat rather than as a child of God, we have lost our focus on Jesus who modeled radical love and hospitality. This is, indeed, a moral crisis.
He and I share a faithful commitment to upholding the dignity and life of every person. I'm grateful for the way that he and others are exploring broader questions of what it means to be "pro-life" beyond merely being staunchly opposed to abortion. As a Christian who supports comprehensive reproductive health services, including access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion care, I also cherish life, and I empathize with Rev. Schenck's struggle with those who fail to acknowledge the value of fetal life. But I am deeply troubled by abortion opponents who do not speak to the value of women and the quality of their lives.
Rev. Schenck's piece is a testament to the complexities of our current reality. While he expresses deep concerns about the prevalence of guns among Christians in the U.S., he accepts the conditions in which we currently live and acknowledges with stated regret the necessity of guns in certain situations. I wonder though, when it comes to abortion, does Rev. Schenck also acknowledge the complexity of women's lives in today's world?
As an advocate for global reproductive health I often speak with faith communities about the world we hope to co-create with God as we seek to follow the teachings of Jesus and to live into our call to be the body of Christ here on earth. One of my prayers is that every pregnancy would be a cause for celebration, not fear or despair. And I have work tirelessly to move us toward that vision by advocating for every woman, no matter where she lives, to have access to services like voluntary family planning, respectful prenatal care, and birthing facilities where she can deliver her baby safely. But we live in world in which a woman dies every two minutes during pregnancy or childbirth. We live in a country in which maternal mortality has been on the rise for the last twenty years, especially among poor women of color, and these women are dying from the same preventable causes that kill women in the Global South.
What does being pro-life mean in a world in which giving birth to new life causes so many women to lose their own?
My husband and I have a seventeen-month-old daughter. As I reflect on my very planned, very healthy, and relatively complication-free pregnancy, I am still in awe of the tremendous toll it took on my body and spirit. From debilitating fatigue to crippling anxiety, pregnancy was a daily struggle even with the support of midwives, friends, family, and a very patient therapist. Parenting has been even tougher. Like most workers in the United States I had no paid time off when I had my daughter, and I was back to work within days after her birth. For over a year I battled postpartum anxiety until I finally confided in my midwife that I felt like I was falling apart from stress.
We simultaneously idealize and devalue the hard work of motherhood, even in the church. We don't talk about the biblical women like Rachel who died in childbirth. We put Mary the Mother of Jesus on a pedestal without an acknowledgement of the tremendous risk and messiness involved for a young girl to give birth to God. And when we do this, we isolate the women in our midst who need our understanding, not our judgment.
Becoming a mother has made me an infinitely more compassionate person. When my body tore open as I pushed my daughter out into our world, my heart tore open with it, and it has never fully healed. It continues to bleed for the women who are suffering, many of them silently--from infertility, from miscarriage, from sexual violence, from pregnancies they cannot sustain, from postpartum depression, from judgment for their reproductive decisions.
While Rev. Schenck and I may disagree vehemently on abortion, I am grateful for the common ground we do share. I pray for God's guidance as we seek to work together to create a more just, compassionate world for all of God's people.