Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Pro-Choice Christianity

A talk I gave at the closing rally for 40 days for Life in Charleston, SC, in early November 2009.

Good Afternoon. I wish to thank Cheryle Freiberger who was kind enough to invite me to speak with you all today. I would like to share some extremely heart-felt words with you today—words which I have pondered for some time, ideas I have prayed through for years, but words and ideas, thoughts and suggestions, of whose living out I am quite a poor example. So, perhaps, if the words are inspired, we can somehow work together to put them into practice.

I wish also to extend thanks and to ask God’s richest blessings on each of you, Priests, pastors, friends, and neighbors, who have labored in prayer and vigil, in words and deeds, in an effort to shine the bright light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ into the darkened lots of Abortion clinics, into the hardened hearts of those who perform abortions, and into the confused lives of those who seek such a quote-unquote remedy for their unexpected or undesired pregnancies.

I’d like also to share a few words with you from the Burial Office for a Child of the Orthodox Church. It is common in our Divine Services to sing poetic conversations. And in the Burial of the Child, the child says to us,

“Lament not for me, for I have in no way begun to be meet for weeping. But rather weep always for yourselves who have sinned, O kinsmen and friends,” the dead infant cries out, “that tested you not receive torment.” (Funeral for an Infant, Book of Needs Vol III, p. 166)

Ode 8 (Song of the Three Holy Youths)
“Why do you mourn me, the infant that has been translated hence?” the child cries out invisibly, as he lies dead. “For there is no cause for grief. For the joy of the righteous is appointed unto infants who have committed no deeds worthy of tears. For they sing unto Christ: You Priests sing; you people, highly exalt Him unto the Ages!” (Funeral for an Infant, Book of Needs Vol III, p. 170)

As we begin this afternoon, I will turn my words away from the holy innocents, and direct them towards us who are still in the course of our earthly life. Let us pray to the Lord, that we will know his Gospel, not only in our minds, but in our actions:

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord have mercy!

Illumine our hearts, O Master who lovest mankind, with the pure light of Thy divine knowledge. Open the eyes of our minds to the understanding of thy Gospel teachings. Implant also in us the fear of Thy blessed commandments, that trampling down all carnal desires, we may enter upon a spiritual manner of living, both thinking and doing such things as are well pleasing unto Thee. For Thou are the illumination of our souls and bodies, O Christ our God, and to Thee do we ascribe glory, together with Thine unoriginate Father, and Thy Most-holy, life-creating Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

I would like to entitle my talk, provocatively, Pro-Choice Christianity. Please listen carefully.

There was once a class in a college in Arizona, when videography was just beginning, which was assigned to do a final project and the Navajo students decided to team up and do one on "Navajo blanket weaving." But the video showed only momentary flashes of a rug being woven on a loom. The production began with a sunrise, some traditional Dene arising and saddling their horses, and then more scenery shots, wildflowers, cacti, sheep, mesas, mountains, sheep, cloudburst, rain, sheep, more flowers, a sunset, and finally again that half-finished rug. The professor and the anglos in the class were mystified. They had expected a film detailing the sequential linear process by which a rug might be woven: shearing the wool from the sheep, spinning it into yarn, dying the yarn, setting up the loom and weaving the rug. But nothing of that was in the film.

What were the Indians trying to communicate? Their frame of reference was much wider. Instead of focusing on the wool, yarn, design, loom and weaver, their message was, to make a rug you need the sun to rise, the wind to blow, the rain to fall, the grass to grow, the sheep to graze, the flowers to bloom, and if the cosmos is balanced and operating in harmony, you can produce...rugs!

Like the presumptions of the Anglos in this simple story, I believe we generally have a closed-system approach to dealing with abortion. There are several facets to dealing with the problem: The law and lawmakers, the doctors and clinics, and the pregnant women and those in their sphere of influence, and then “us”, folks who would like, with a variety of energy levels and approaches, to influence the lawmakers, change the law, close the clinics, perhaps punish the doctors, educate the women, and celebrate a total victory.

And yet remarkably, since the legalization of abortion, during these nearly 37 years, while celebrating certain quote-unquote successes—(there are, I believe, many fewer abortion facilities in SC, for example)—the situation remains more or less the same. We still legally allow the killing of several thousand children *per day* in our country. Every day is a 9-11. Every Day.

So, it seems that it might be helpful to look at this terrible situation, this daily terrorism with a new lens, a new perpective. I tire very easily of the same ol’ same ol’ when it comes to political discussions and debates on moral issues—topics which have their fundamental root in divine revelation. My conviction is not based on a desire for the removal of religion from the public sphere—which is the confused action of our prevailing culture—where freedom of religion has been replaced by freedom FROM religion.

Rather, I find that the moral categories are not up for debate or discussion, though they are debated and discussed, and I find that the labels and terminologies employed in these debates on the one hand are inadequate while on the other hand they back us into unnecessary corners. This is certainly true with the grave sin, the mortal evil of abortion.

Allow me to give two examples of what I mean. For starters, the labels are inadequate. Pro-life means what, basically? It means full-court press against abortion. But we who are Pro-life, must, as Christians, be pro-ALL life. This includes prenatal infants, our own children, our neighbors, the elderly man at the retirement home—cradle to grave.

BUT ALSO being pro-life means defending the life of the most hardened killer, murderer, rapist. And then also it would include defending the right to life of our mortal enemy. This, my brothers and sisters, is the Gospel.

Labels and terminology also back us unnecessarily into corners. My main example would be the terms Pro Life and Pro Choice. Every woman who has an abortion and/or every man who insists it be so, is Pro Life. They just either don’t understand what life really is, or they are thinking selfishly about their own life only. And likewise, it seems to me, that every Pro-lifer is also Pro-choice—it is just that we believe in a different set of choices, or at least a different timeline of when the choices are made. For the balance of my talk, I’d like to deal primarily with the question of the 93% of abortions which occur for quote-unquote social reasons—unwanted pregnancies which are *unrelated* to incest, rape, or the potential life-threat to the mother. Perhaps we can, when Christians live, breathe, and behave as Christians, reduce the number of daily abortions from 3700 to 260. (

It is the taking the label Pro Choice and turning it on ourselves on which I would like to focus my words this afternoon. I think it might be worth considering. Some supporters of abortion—who believe that they themselves are Pro-life, believe that we should be called “Anti-choice.” But this isn’t the case at all. Christians, at least Christians who believe in solidarity what has been believed by all Christians at all times, are Pro-Choice. Please listen to why I believe this is so.

I don’t believe we need to reiterate to one another the horrors of abortion; the sick, sad and/or unfortunate circumstances which bring a woman to the point of aborting a pregnancy. Abortion is murder. Abortion is the killing of a child.

Rather, I believe we need to step back and take some responsibility ourselves for the madness.

Did you know that nearly 70% of all abortions in the USA are performed by those professing Christianity? 20% of us profess to be Evangelical/Born again Christians 31% are Roman Catholic. And the leading late-term Partial Birth abortion doctor professes Christianity and claims to pray with his patients.

Statistically speaking, we Christians are responsible for 2590 abortions every day. TODAY—All saints day on the Western Calendar, 2590 self-professing Christian women are killing their children, and again, statistically speaking, 2744 of those abortions are by Christian woman for convenience sake. *WE* are killing our children.

In no case ever, ought we to be self-righteous finger pointers to any woman on the edge of insanity or towards any doctor who suffers from sclero-cardia (hardness of heart).

Rather, we need to label ourselves as we are: each of us the first of sinners, for whom Jesus Christ died. Beggars who have found bread and want to show other beggars where to do the same. Insane humans who have found sanity and life in Jesus Christ.

And we need to ask ourselves: do we recognize how we, in small and large ways, contribute to an abortion culture, to the culture of death?

· I drive a carpool of 10-12 year olds to school—many of whom can sing many Green Day songs—completely vulgar lyrics by a band whose lead-singer pretends to masturbate on the crowd at his concert. Lamentably, I was there long ago. Do we know what our children listen to? Do we know the lyrics? Do we volunteer them for this?

· How about TV and movies? Do we allow the young eyes and tender hearts of our smallest children to see the graphic ultraviolence on television? How about completely open sexual affairs, disordered relationships, one night stands, and overt lust on prime time television which is all openly practiced and celebrated not only with humor (often crude) but also in the conspicuous absence of any consequence whatsoever. Or the same in PG-13 movies?

· How about un-monitored internet access? Have you checked the history tab on your internet browser? Statistically speaking, your teenage son has been exposed to or visits pornographic sites.

· Mothers, what do you teach your daughters about chastity and purity? What do your daughters wear to school? To the beach? How do you model chastity and purity for them? What do you say to them by your dress and care for cosmetics?

· Fathers, what do we teach our sons about how to treat girls? Do we take a “boys will be boys” attitude? How are we modeling respect for women, sobriety, chivalry, and also chastity and purity? How do we model love and tenderness for our wives, that our sons might have a model worthy of imitation?

· How about divorce? Forgive me for speaking frankly: statistically speaking, 50% or more of us here gathered are divorced. What example is this setting for our children with respect to endurance, forgiveness, love, commitment? Of all the abortions in America, the majority are performed on unmarried women in their young 20s—many of whom are the very ones who want to “try out” marriage in living together arrangements or “friends with benefits” (what a horrible euphemism for recreational sex) precisely because they’d rather do this than fail at marriage like mom and dad. It is sick and twisted, but it is reality.

· How about your church? If it promotes or allows for abortion or the possibility of it, you must question its very core. If your church leaves this door open, walk out. Christianity is about Life. True Life in Jesus Christ.

We might not have scraped our children from our wombs, but leaving our children to the wolves our selfish passions and desires or to the vultures of pop-culture and and then writing it off as “they’ll be okay”, we slowly scrape their souls out of their tender bodies. We prepare the next generation of those sons who will impregnate girls, those daughters who will find themselves with quote-unquote unwanted pregnancies, those lawmakers who will perpetuate abortion, and those doctors who will perform them.

Again remember: nearly 70% of all abortions in the USA are performed by those professing Christianity. 20% of them profess themselves to be Evangelical/Born again Christians. 31% Roman Catholic.

How many of us say in our hearts, “It cannot happen to me?” But it can—it does!

We have a choice. But we Christians must train ourselves and our children to see that the choice stops at sexual intercourse. Once that choice is made, there are no more choices (apart from adoption)—only consequences and responsibilities.

If we look at our lives from this perspective, if we can see ourselves as sinners in need of redeeming, sinners on the road to holiness, therefore and thereby we can have a great deal of compassion for those who are on the verge of madness—pregnant and contemplating abortion.

And we can have a great deal of vigilance to teach our children the True Gospel in its fullness.

As Christians, we are indeed Pro Choice because God created us to choose. Choice is what makes Love Love.

Will we choose blessings or curses?
Chastity or promiscuity? Purity or corruption?
Love or Lust? Marriage or experimentation?
Sanctity or Sin? Life or death?

We have other choices too.

Will we choose to forgive 70x7 or do we say, rather “three strikes (or one!) and you’re out”?
Do we choose mercy or condemnation?
Open arms or hard hearts?

We are indeed Pro-choice. We must answer the challenge offered through God’s servant Moses—and we must choose life and live!

In an ironically providential way, though, the choice to live involves murder. Did you know that the Gospel compels us to kill—to be more accurate: to put to death?

I am not referring to the Old Covenant—we are more than familiar with the Levitical commands:

· Whoever strikes a man so that he dies shall be put to death.
· Whoever curses his father or mother shall be put to death.
· If a man lies with a male as with a woman, they shall both be put to death.
· If anyone kills a person, the murderer shall be put to death.

(Parenthesis: The common North American self-professing Christian interpretations of the OT are almost completely vacant and Unchristian, but that is a topic for another day.)

It is the New Testament that I am speaking about. The GOSPEL compels us to kill.

Maybe it even comes as a surprise to you. Searching the memory banks we can think of the Sermon on the Mount—and Jesus’ own words, “ “You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.”

But, we say, Jesus reiterated the law to the Young Man—you remember the encounter: And behold, one came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do, to have eternal life?”  And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? One there is who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”  He said to him, “Which?” And Jesus said, “You shall not kill, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

It is not a command which comes from the lips of our Lord, but rather one that is found in the writings of St Paul. To the Romans he wrote in a passive way: So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—  for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live (Romans 8:12).

To the Colossians, he wrote it in the form of a command:

 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you once walked, when you lived in them. 8 But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and foul talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices 10 and have put on the new nature, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all.

PUT TO DEATH therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness. Anger, wrath, malice, slander, foul talk.

The violence to which we are called in the Christian Scriptures is a violence against our own sin. Me against my sin. You against yours. Our violent act is not directed against our neighbor or our child; nor is it directed against our neighbor’s sin(s).

After all, we ought not be “plank-eyes”. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but you do not see the log that is in your own?” Or as Saint Ephraim the Syrian prayed, “Grant me to see my own sins and not to judge my brother.”

I am to take my own sin by the throat and strangle it. I am to take my own sin to the cross and crucify it.

What does all this have to do with abortion and our task to reduce and/or eradicate the practice? Well, everything. Because if we Christians live our Christianity, there will be 2590 fewer abortions today, tomorrow, the next day.

945,350 fewer this year. IF CHRISTIANS WILL STOP ABORTING.

We must take responsibility for our sins. How many are the numbers of us who would say “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” And yet we are the leading aborters! Therefore, we don’t need to point fingers: “you shouldn’t do this or that” or “the government should change this or that.” Should we change the law? Of course we should. But the law is permissive. As Christians, can we not make the choice of NOT choosing abortion?

If we are going to point fingers, let them be at ourselves. The blame-game is sufficiently well-played, and even we Christians, who theoretically know better, perpetuate this preferred method of dealing with everything and everyone.

It began in the Garden of Paradise: Adam said, “It was the woman you gave me.” Eve (I love her name in Greek: Zoe—LIFE!) said, “it was the serpent who beguiled me”. Even still, although this is our fallen human nature from the beginning, we are empowered to break the cycle, find life through Christ, who conquered sin and death, and who was born through the New EVE, the New ZOE, the most-pure and ever-virgin God-bearer Mary.

And so, (fathers), brothers and sisters, let us indeed celebrate today that God have granted us even the salvation of one baby, one mother’s soul, in these 40 days.

But moreso, let us remember that every day, we have a choice. A choice to live the way of the Cross of Christ: Denying ourselves and following Him. A choice to demonstrate this true-life to our children and to our neighbors. A choice to live!

And Let us also remember that this choice requires crucifying our sinful passions. Putting to death that which draws us away from God.

Then, we shall also be able, by God’s great grace, also to complete what St Paul was teaching, putting on then,

as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, 13 forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teach and admonish one another in all wisdom, and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

Closing prayer: P. 178 (at bottom) “O Lord, Who guardest infants in this present life…”

Who has a need for Christmas?

He had been extremely wealthy, but something went terribly wrong. By the end, circumstances had become so dire, that not only had his whole business been lost, but there remained not even enough to feed his family of three daughters. In his desperation—who can imagine such desperation?—he figured that his only recourse to feed the girls was to sell them into prostitution for grocery money. No where to turn. Nothing to eat. No option.

Most of us could hardly imagine selling our children into prostitution or slavery in order to have food to eat. Most of us, indeed, cannot begin to conceive of what it must be like to be that desperate, that in need. Most reading this humble article have never involuntarily gone without a meal, much less a week’s worth. Many of us have never ‘needed’ anything. What would drive someone to such an immoral act?

It is probable that most of us have never met someone in these circumstances; perhaps it is fair to say that we don’t even know someone who knows someone who was. We tend to go about our business; we tend to keep to ourselves. We know what we know, we know whom we know, and that is our life.

But Nicholas knew of them. He knew that it was immoral for him to allow such a thing to happen. He had the means to help, and did. Under the cover of darkness, having assembled small bags of money (in large amounts), he made his way into their neighborhood, and seeing a window of their house opened, he tossed the bags in, praying that it would be sufficient to prevent such a sin. Thank God, it was. Overjoyed by such grace, Nicholas repeated his secret efforts twice more for the same family; each time another one of the man’s daughters married.

Nicholas had never known such need himself. He had plenty—more than plenty, as the son of wealthy parents. But he knew the needy, and he helped them. He knew the struggling children, and he helped them. He even helped a city plagued by famine. Saint Nicholas was Archbishop of Myra in Lycia (Asia Minor) in the 4th century. His feast day is December 6, and his life is the basis for the modern day Santa Claus, that plumb, kind man whose task has morphed from bringing profound joy to delivering merely fleeting happiness.

For most of us in the Lowcountry—even still today—needs were long, long ago replaced with wants. During the ‘Christmas Season’ which has come to be known as the ‘season for giving’, we still emphasize the question, “what do you want for Christmas?” Even among the lists of the needy, soliciting the charity of others, are included Wii’s, Playstations, and mp3 players! Is it not finally the time to ask, “What do you need for Christmas?” Shopping and getting “more stuff” will never satisfy our empty souls.

Many of us continue to spend a frantic month searching for the ‘perfect gift’ for that ‘special someone’ who ‘has everything’. Why on earth do we need to buy ‘something’ (which usually winds up begin just ‘some’ thing) for someone who has everything? Someone who has NO need?

It isn’t that we shouldn’t give one another gifts. In fact, this is one way we show love for one another. But couldn’t the gift for that ‘someone who has everything’ be an offering to someone who has nothing? Even in our day of down-sizing and cutting back, we still rent storage units to hold all the stuff we can’t fit in our houses. Some spend up to hundreds of dollars a month for a roof over furniture stacked on top of itself in a metal building (and some climate controlled!). But what about the poor who have no roof and are stacked on top of themselves? Which needs the roof?

Does little Johnny really need another video game? The latest mp3 player? Does Susie really need an 18th Barbie? Does Grandma really need another collector’s plate from the Franklin Mint? Do I really need another tie?

For many, charity is the check we write on occasion during the year to assuage the guilt we have for having too much stuff and continuing to buy more anyway. Such charity does help the needy, and thank God for that much. But moreso, we are called to change our whole view, our whole mind, our whole existence—to reflect the life of Christ like St. Nicholas did. So many of us have so much to give—which is not ours anyway. It is given to us by God to be used by good stewards who in turn show the love of God to those who truly need it. Citing the King and Judge of all, Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it [clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited the sick and imprisoned, etc.] to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40ff). Jesus didn’t give new chariots to people or even grant them new clothing. Rather, he fed them (actually and spiritually), he gave them health, healing, hope, and salvation—and in the end, he gave his life for them, for us. This is our calling.

St. Nicholas was an ardent follower of Jesus Christ. He lived the Gospel, and did so quietly, humbly, and without desire for or requirement of recognition. He didn’t give asking for the new building to be named after him, or to be announced in the news. He gave because God had given to him, and he knew his responsibility as a human being, as a Christian, to help the helpless and to give hope the hopeless. Our call is no different. So, this Christmas, let’s ask a new question. Instead of “what do you want for Christmas?” let’s ask, “Who has needs this Christmas whom we can help?” And having asked the question, let our giving be, like St. Nicholas’, quiet, anonymous, given to the glory of God, that all may see these good works, and give glory to God in heaven.

Fr. John Parker is Priest-in-Charge of Holy Ascension Orthodox Church in I’On. He can be reached at or at 881-5010.