Sunday, January 21, 2007

Thoughts on the 34th Anniversary of Roe v Wade

The All-Holy God is the fountain of life. Life belongs to him. His love provides life to all living organisms and especially to man, whom He created in His own image and likeness. We live and exist because of the overflowing love of God. As in this sacred overflowing love of God which is life, every person has a right which cannot be taken away. The Son and Word of God became human, was crucified and was resurrected so that all "may have life and abundantly they may have" (John 10:10). God's gift of life is inviolable and murder is forbidden by the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Tradition of the Church (Holy Fathers, Synods and Canons). He who takes away life opposes the work of the Life-giving Lord and joins with the devil, who "was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44).

Bishop Joseph of Arianzos
(These words are written on the back of the Icon on the left)

This week marks the 34th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe vs. Wade, that had the practical effect of legalizing abortion in the United States. In the past several weeks, Christians on both sides of the issue have gathered in prayer either to celebrate or to condemn current U.S. policy on abortion. Whatever one may think about the morality, consequences or politics of abortion, it is clearly an issue that has divided Christians.

From my point of view, the key issue concerning abortion is not whether the unborn child is in fact a human being; to the best of my knowledge, no one denies the humanity of the child. The real question is why do women choose abortion? What makes abortion a regrettable, but nevertheless tenable, option for so many women?

Psychological studies that have examined the motivation of women seeking abortions report that often women have abortion because they are afraid of losing an important relationship (usually the baby's father or her own family) if she carries the baby to term. The concern is more than simply a matter of censure; if the woman carries the baby to term she fears (rightly or wrongly) that a significant relationship will be destroyed. In effect, one primary factor in abortion is how strong the bond is between the woman and family and friends. In situations where the woman's relationship to the community is fragile, abortion is relatively common; if that relationship is strong and thus not easily ruptured, abortion is relatively rare.

Because American religious leaders are divided about the politics and morality of abortion, we often fail to address the more basic issue of the fragile relationship between people that seems to be increasingly the norm in our culture. Our acrimonious debates about abortion prevent us from speaking with one voice to a culture that is increasingly willing to see human relationships, even important relationships that we would assume to be lifelong, as disposable.

There are very few voices, religious or secular, that speak to the schism that exists between person and community in our culture. In leaving unexamined and unchallenged this schism, we pass over in silence one of the chief factors that makes abortion a tenable option for so many women. As long as we view our commitments to the people and communities that make up our lives as simply one more form of consumer goods to take off the shelf, to be used and discarded, abortion will continue to be a social problem in American culture.

Roe vs. Wade did nothing to address the underlying social, psychological, and yes, spiritual pathologies that make abortion a realistic (if regrettable) option for too many women. Is a woman really better off when abortion is seen as the only way for her to preserve a relationship with the child's father, or her family or her (legitimate) economic and career hopes? Can we, as men and women of faith in a just and loving God, really say that abortion is a legitimate, not to mention, God-pleasing, solution to the fear of isolation and poverty that comes with so many unplanned pregnancies? How can God be pleased when we sacrifice one life, one relation-ship, in order to preserve another?

And yet, on the other hand, how exactly does a picture of an aborted fetus, or cries of “Murderer!” or “Don't kill your baby!” help allay the twin fears of isolation and rejection that so often motivate a woman's decision to have an abortion? Can we as men and women of faith in a gentle and compassionate God really say that our rhetoric and behavior are compatible with the God we profess? Do we really believe that God is pleased when, whatever our intention and however noble the goal, we intimidate those who are already afraid?

The Apostle Paul says that Christians are co-workers with Christ for the salvation of the world (see 2 Corinthians 6:1). Within the tradition of the Orthodox Church, this idea of being co-workers or co-laborers with Christ is a touchstone of our personal and communal spiritual life. And it is also a basic principle in our witness to the world around us. If God, so our thinking goes, graciously allows us to work together with Him for both our own salvation and for the salvation of the world, how can we do less in our relationships with one another? From an Orthodox point of view, one of the most effective witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is our willingness to work together with others, to share in their lives and struggles, even as Christ shares in our lives and struggles.

Sadly, it seems that as men and women of faith, we are all too ready, whatever our views of abortion, to take our cues from partisan politics. When we do this, we lose the notion of co-laboring with God and neighbor and unintentionally foster the very social, psychological and spiritual factors that make abortion such a common event in our society. Possibly, what is even more tragic is that we often seem all too willing to sacrifice our obligation to co-labor with God and neighbor to maintain the correct views on abortion. And when having the right views on abortion becomes more important then co-laboring with others, haven't we betrayed ourselves and our own vocation to bear witness to the God in whom we believe?

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory