Glen Guyton is the executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
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The ruling that the Supreme Court of the United States made in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case overturned Roe v. Wade, a 49-year precedent that protected the freedom to have an abortion. How should we as Mennonite Church USA respond?
I must first acknowledge that, as a male, I am fully inadequate to address this topic in a way that honors women who will have to make life choices under this ruling. I also acknowledge that Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) is a diverse body of believers that may have nuanced and differing views on this subject. While I can’t speak in a way that will encompass all of these differing perspectives, I will speak to what I believe our faith in God and Anabaptist Christian values call us to do.
Our allegiance is to God, not the government.
As Anabaptists, we have always embraced a third way. We look past the natural ways, looking to God for guidance. Scripture tells us that “our struggle is not against blood and flesh but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesian 6:12 NRSVUE). While we acknowledge and honor the role of our national government, we must never forget that “the church is the spiritual, social, and political body that gives its allegiance to God alone” (Article 23, A Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective).
Rather than simply celebrate or decry the decisions of our government, we need to ask ourselves how God wants us to respond.
God calls us to be the light of the world.
As MC USA, we must act according to our Anabaptist values and our vision. Our vision statement says, “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.” Whatever our individual views on this ruling, we must position our congregations as beacons of light and hope amid the darkness. “We witness to the nations by being that ‘city on a hill’ which demonstrates the way of Christ” (Article 23, A Confession of Faith in A Mennonite Perspective).
But there are times when deeply held values come in conflict with each other.
In 2003, MC USA delegates adopted the “Statement on Abortion,” which stresses “the importance of respect for the life of the fetus,” while condoning abortion “only under the most exceptional of circumstances.” That statement also affirms, among other things, that “human life is a gift from God to be valued and protected. We oppose abortion because it runs counter to biblical principles.”
It also acknowledges that “there are times when deeply held values, such as saving the life of the mother and saving the life of the fetus, come in conflict with each other.”
Discernment in these situations is not easy. Christian groups debate about the beginning of life, ensoulment (when a human being gains a soul), the status or personhood of the fetus, and the morality of abortion. Even the other major religions of the world widely disagree on these matters. The Roman Catholic Church holds that life begins at the moment of conception. Among Muslims, there are varying views, but life is generally defined as the moment of ensoulment, which they believe happens 40 to 120 days after conception. Jews believe that life begins with the baby’s first breath.
Martin Shupack, a retired pastor, attorney and public policy advocate, explores these ambiguous areas in his recent Anabaptist World article, “Abortion and the law: beyond polarized views.” He acknowledges that, “Everyone recognizes there are realms of personal choice where the government shouldn’t intrude, where what is right or wrong may be of high importance but must be left to personal decision.”
The 2003 MC USA statement also speaks out against government interference, saying, “it places sanctions on those women who choose abortion, without regard for the fathers involved … It also disproportionately affects the poor …”
Patriarchy and poverty are just two systemic injustices that contribute to abortions. Other factors include houselessness; racism; domestic and sexual violence; child abuse; and unequal access to healthcare, addiction treatment and mental health services.
There is an abundance of recent news articles that highlight the intersection of pregnancy and these injustices, perhaps none quite as painful as that of a 10-year-old pregnant rape victim.
One thing that seems clear so far is that eliminating the need for abortions will not be the result of a government decision. It also will not be possible until we address the systemic injustices that marginalize and oppress God’s people.
Let us do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8)
As we journey forward, let us dedicate ourselves to the following commitments, so that we can be the light on the hill to our families, our congregations and our communities.
1. As individuals, let us commit our hearts to compassion and understanding, centering ourselves in thoughtful prayer, dialogue and study. Let us acknowledge and gain understanding about the complex issues and social injustices that exist and may even be exacerbated by changing precedents and legislation. May we seek God in the Word and through prayer, asking for wisdom, which is “pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere” (James 3:17 ESV). Let us extend God’s love and kindness to those around us who need support — single parents, young parents, parents who are struggling, parents facing the medical necessity of abortion, victims of domestic and sexual violence, women who have had abortions, and parents and children in our foster care system. God’s grace is sufficient for all.
2. As the Body of Christ, let us seek and serve God together, creating a culture of care in our conferences and congregations. “As Anabaptist Christians, we believe that we make our best decisions when we gather in the name of Jesus around the Word of God, prayerfully seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit for our shared life in the world” (Guidelines for Biblical/Communal Discernment). It is important that we cultivate a culture of care and acceptance that enables communal discernment. Let us center the voices of women, who have been and continue to be significantly impacted by these decisions. Let us hold gently our mothers, sisters, daughters, neighbors and friends who have suffered, sometimes in silence and alone, with the difficulties of pregnancy and even abortion. While abortion is a personal decision, it doesn’t need to be a private one. We need to create a climate of openness and compassion in our congregations, making ourselves available for counsel and ready to share one another’s burdens.
Let us also be committed to teaching, preaching and discussing healthy sexuality in a Christian context for people of all ages. May we do so in a way that celebrates the gifts of love and intimacy that God has given us and honors the dignity of all.
3. As ambassadors of Christ, let us demonstrate God’s love in our communities, spreading healing and hope in tangible ways. Let us identify where our congregations can have the most impact and where we are called by God to serve.
Maybe your church can — on its own or through partnerships:
- Provide shelter or support for victims of sexual abuse.
- Facilitate access to healthcare for women and children in need.
- Rally around single parents, new parents, families in need and foster parents.
- Provide meals, donate clothes, babysit or help with chores.
- Volunteer and provide resources for local child protective services.
- Provide care and counseling services for those struggling with life issues.
- Engage your political representatives, advocating for equity in healthcare and economic justice.
- Share with other MC USA leaders and congregations how you are tangibly spreading healing and hope to the marginalized in your community.
Standing on the sidelines is no longer an option for the church. We must put our faith into action. We must get involved now.
As the MC USA Executive Board and staff continue to serve our conferences and congregations, please be on the lookout for more resources related to this topic.
In the meantime, I offer this prayer on behalf of all of us:
We center ourselves within you.
As ambassadors of Christ, help us respond with love and compassion, with wisdom and grace, as we encounter those most affected by this ruling.
We pray for the healing of our nation. May it be reconciled to you through the blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We put our trust in Jesus, our rock and our refuge.
Resources for further reading:
Mennonite Church USA “Statement on Abortion”
“Laboring Toward Wholeness, a Training on Dismantling Patriarchy”
“Abortion Policy: Six Commitments for Our Time” by Dr. Rebecca J. Stoltzfus, president, Goshen College, Goshen, Indiana.