People have sex. And not everyone waits to have sex until the circumstances are ideal for having a baby. That’s just the truth.
I’m not here to argue about what the Bible says about that or whether it’s right or wrong. I’m just saying it happens. Obviously.
And I believe the Church’s pearl-clutching, gasping, scandalizing response to sex outside of marriage contributes to the number of abortions.
I’ve seen first-hand how some very traditional, conservative church people treat young unwed mothers. I once watched a pastor hand out flowers to every married lady on Mother’s Day instead of to all the mothers because he wanted to make sure he didn’t reward a young, unmarried mom in the congregation.
My experience in conservative, evangelical Christianity has been that sex in general is fraught with shame — which means that any kind of sex outside of marriage is especially shrouded in shame and secrecy and stigmatization. When a woman gets pregnant outside of marriage, there’s proof of her shameful behavior — proof for everyone to see when they look at her. She has had sex. And because conservative Christianity seems obsessed with sex, they’ve determined that anything they see as a sexual sin is the very worst kind of sin.
Yeah, I know that many conservative evangelicals will say, No, all sin is the same in God’s eyes. But I’m telling you – I never heard of a pastor trying to withhold a Mother’s Day flower from the women who gossip or from the lady who had a petty argument with her family and wouldn’t speak to them for months or from the women who covet wealth and popularity. And I never heard of youth group ceremonies encouraging young people to sell their PlayStations and iPhones and give the money to the poor and receive a ring to remind them of their commitment to forego materialism and devote themselves to pure service to God and others. No, when we talk to teenagers in the Church about purity, it’s always about sexual purity.
So of course, when faced with a surprise, unexpected pregnancy, a woman is going to consider abortion. The alternative is that she’s probably going to be looked down on, talked about, maybe ostracized. So of course – OF COURSE – she’s going to consider abortion. Again – I wish that weren’t the case. I’m not advocating abortion; I’m just saying I understand why someone would choose that. Especially a young, unmarried woman in the Church!
Some people will ask – What about adoption? We should encourage unwed mothers to place their children for adoption. As if it’s a simple solution that is not also fraught with shame and guilt and stigma. Because from what I understand, there’s plenty of pearl-clutching around the subject of adoption as well. *gasp* I could never give my baby up! How can a mother do that?! And I’m not saying I dislike adoption – no, some people I love have been adopted or have adopted. I’ve seen the beauty of adoption, and I’ve also seen that it isn’t without its own challenges and trauma – compounded by the gasps and incredulous head shakes and judgment toward the women who place their babies with other families.
Ultimately, I think if we want to really reduce the number of abortions, we should stop obsessing about the Supreme Court and Roe v. Wade and start looking inside the Church. We need to completely transform the way we talk about sex. We need to move from the root of shame – because anything springing up from a place of shame is not going to be beautiful and healthy and strong and fruitful. And we need to dismantle our unhealthy obsession with sex — which is at the root of the over-sexualization of people in our secular culture and the extreme purity culture within the Church. Both of those extremes sprout from the same root.
We’re also going to have to change the way we treat unmarried women who become pregnant. We can’t be harsh and cruel to those who choose to carry a baby to term while at the same time decrying abortion. I feel it’s important to say – some Christians actually do this well. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen followers of Jesus who respond to surprise pregnancy situations with compassion and grace and overwhelming kindness. If you aren’t seeing that in your church community, look for it somewhere else and either move into that community or learn from them and create that climate in your own church.
And we’re going to have to change the way we talk about adoption. We can’t just flippantly toss out a Well, just place the baby for adoption. There are lots of people who can’t have babies. We have to educate ourselves about the complexities of adoption – because it really isn’t a simple solution. And we can’t gasp and judge the women who choose to allow someone else to raise their babies. Adoption is a complicated decision – worthy of celebration and grief.
Even if the Supreme Court votes to overturn Roe v. Wade and abortion becomes criminalized for women and doctors, the issues of unintended pregnancies and sex and abortion and adoption aren’t magically going away.
People have sex. And the Church has to learn how to talk about it in healthy, compassionate ways. Because clutching our pearls certainly isn’t saving any lives.