On August 4, D. A. and Pat joined a panel hosted by Rev. Dr. Chris Davies for the United Church of Christ’s “Thursdays for the Soul” series. The discussion also included the testimony of Rev. Donna Schaper about her work with the Clergy Consultation Service and since; Faith Choice Ohio’s executive director, Elaina Ramsey; and Dr. Sherry Warren, the United Church of Christ’s minister for gender justice, speaking about ways people of faith can show up now that we look towards mounting state-led barriers to abortion access. If you missed the livestream, the entire program is available on YouTube.
The fall of Roe . . . and the new life of the Clergy Consultation Service
As much as we were expecting–and dreading–the moment when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, when it actually happened, we felt much worse than we could have imagined. A partisan court has taken away a basic right to health care that a great majority of Americans support–as of last month only 13% of Americans thought abortion should be illegal in all cases.
Since the decision came down, we’ve been protesting and donating–the National Network of Abortion Funds donation site has barely been able to keep up. In states where abortion became illegal almost immediately, providers scrambled to contact patients who had appointments booked, trying to help them find alternatives.
Nearly all of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion members whom we interviewed–regardless of their age at the time–said they were ready to jump back in to abortion counseling if it became necessary. And, sure enough, though we’ve since lost many of those original clergy, their legacy lives on. Faith Choice Ohio, Pat’s local faith-based organization, has been holding trainings for the past year in preparation for this moment and has established a Jubilee Fund to help abortion seekers. Other faith communities around the country are springing into direct action. An immediate link to the CCS is the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, whose clergy and congregation have been assisting people seeking abortions to fly to New Mexico to a clinic run by Dr. Curtis Boyd. Boyd received abortion referrals from the CCS before Roe. Listen to Grace Oldham, of Reveal, The Center for Investigative Reporting, talk about her home congregation’s work on the June 28, 2022, episode of Democracy Now! (starting at about 53:40 in the show) or listen to her full report on Reveal’s June 25 podcast (starting at about 38:48)–it includes the voices of Dr. Boyd and Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, senior minister at First Unitarian, as well as excerpts from an archival interview with Rev. Howard Moody.
For practical advice on how to find an abortion or support others in doing so right now, read Robin Marty’s piece in the New York Times of June 24, 2022 or, even better, consult the new edition of her book, The New Handbook for a Post-Roe America: The Complete Guide to Abortion Legality, Access and Practical Support. The Clergy Consultation Service showed us that there’s always something we can do, even in the darkest times. Let’s do it.
Photo: © Can Stock Photo / zimmytws
U.S. Catholic bishops vs. compassion
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ political push to deny communion to politicians who support abortion rights is nothing new. In the 1960s, that body was just about the only organized voice against abortion. But were the bishops less political in those days? No. In 1967, as the New York State Legislature was poised to pass a bill reforming abortion laws, the bishops wrote a pastoral letter calling for Catholics in the state to oppose such reform and directed that the letter be read from every pulpit in the state. The bill was killed in committee–which led pretty directly to the formation of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).
Were the bishops more in tune with average Catholics (or vice versa) back then? Again, no. In 1965, as now, a majority of American Catholics believed that legal abortions should be available, at least under some circumstances. Compassionate Catholic clergy–both priests and nuns–worked with the CCS, referring desperate parishioners to the group, or serving as post-abortion counselors for Catholic clients. The New York CCS found that about a third of their clients were Catholic. Though he was against abortion, Father Robert F. Drinan, a Jesuit, argued in The Dublin Review in 1967 for repealing laws prohibiting it, saying, “repeal would not mean that the state approves of abortion but only that it declines to regulate it.” Drinan served for a decade as a member of Congress from Massachusetts, but left office to comply with Pope John Paul II’s call for priests to stay out of politics.
The bishops, however, then and now, have never been shy about politics. As Mollie Wilson O’Reilly wrote recently in the Atlantic, “It has become an article of faith among some Catholics that to be a member of the Church in good standing means voting Republican; that this is not literally an article of our faith is something many bishops are content to obfuscate.” O’Reilly points out that Donald Trump’s attorney general Bill Barr, a Catholic, oversaw the reinstatement and increased application of the death penalty. The bishops said nothing about withholding communion from Barr, though the Church condemns capital punishment just as it does abortion.
Jamie Manson, president of Catholics for Choice, is quoted in Salon as saying, “To use what is most sacred about our church and sacred to Biden, to punish him or try to bully him into changing his views on abortion rights, is very troubling,” she said. “The bishops taking part in this are part of a right-wing political agenda in this country. It’s very scary.”
Where is the love in all of this? The most compassionate response we’ve read has come from Father John D. Whitney, a Jesuit, who wrote on his Facebook page: “I want to write a longer piece about those bishops who seek to keep some from the table of Christ, but for now I will say this: it is not you[r] table (nor mine). Bishops, priests, etc. are neither the hosts nor the bouncers nor the ones who wrote the guest list. The Eucharist is the resurrected body of Christ given for the life of the world. Jesus Christ is the one who invites the guests (‘all you who labor’); he is the host of those who come; he is the setter of the table; and he is the feast which is shared (‘Take this, all of you. . .this is my body, this is my blood’). We are guests at the meal, and sometimes (by his calling) servers. So stay in your lane, please. The wait staff doesn’t get to exclude those who want to come. If you don’t like the company Christ calls (and, admittedly, it is a rag tag bunch of sinners, one and all), it’s you who need to leave the table, not them.”
Former peer sex educator elected to U.S. Senate
Much has happened this eventful week. But let’s not forget the good news of the morning of January 6, 2021. The Black voters, Black organizers, and specifically the amazing Stacey Abrams have worked a wonder: transforming Georgia through education, voter registration, and sheer hard work. Georgia has elected its first Black senator, a Democratic, pro-choice minister, Rev. Raphael Warnock.
Warnock’s reproductive justice credentials go way back. As Anoa Changa wrote in an article for Harper’s Bazaar last month, Warnock worked as a peer sex educator when he was a high school student in Savannah. He was employed by the family health division of Georgia’s Department of Human Resources to write their first sex ed handout for teens. As a Morehouse College student, he organized a team of peer counselors around the state. And when he became a pastor in Baltimore, he brought the faith community together to address HIV/AIDS.
Changa wrote that Warnock’s dedication to sexual health work has its basis in Black liberation theology, a topic Warnock spoke about in a 2013 address at Yale Divinity School.
Of course, we know that, as legal scholar Mary Ziegler wrote in the Atlantic, “There have always been pro-choice pastors such as Reverend Warnock.” But not many have been U.S. senators. We should be jubilant that his faithful support for health care for the vulnerable and abortion rights has been long, consistent, and outspoken, and we can expect Reverend Senator Warnock to continue that fight in the U.S. Senate.
Thoughts on single-issue voting
Yes, it’s election season in the U.S. And, as they have since the 1980s, anti-abortion activists are busy trying to convince many religious Americans that only one issue should determine their vote: ending access to abortion.
Like the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion before it, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice supports reproductive freedom and has long fought the notion that all people of faith condemn abortion. In fact, most people of faith do not.
And the horrors of the past four years–mistreatment of immigrants and separation of small children from their families, police killings of black people, administration support for white supremacists, withholding of universal health care during a pandemic–have brought out dramatic reminders to “moral-grounds” voters that there are many other issues to consider in an election.
David E. DeCosse, director of religious and Catholic ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, reminds Catholics that “No Catholic is bound to vote on the basis of abortion alone.” In “Catholics, Voting, and Abortion: Time to Correct the Record,” in the National Catholic Reporter, he writes, “. . . Catholics should take abortion seriously but also consider the full range of serious issues at stake. (In other words, for the sake of the common good, it’s generally better not to vote on the basis of a single issue.) In this election, these issues certainly include the character of the candidates, the management of the pandemic, racism, the economy, climate change, immigration, domestic and international peace and more.”
Rev. Carl Kline reflects on his experience as a member of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion in an article for the Brookings (South Dakota) Register, “Christians Should Not Focus on a Single Moral Issue.” He wonders why so many Christians focus on abortion–about which Jesus said nothing–and overlook his actual teachings. “It pains me to think Christians can be so focused on a single moral issue that they ignore all the others. Take the issue of killing. Does the command of Jesus include not killing killers, as our president has resumed the death penalty in federal cases in this country; six dead so far? What does Jesus say about 35 bullets sprayed around and into Breonna Taylor; or a knee on a neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds until all breath is gone? Or what about southern neighbors, dying in detention centers or sent back to sure death in their own country? Are these the ones Jesus would have us love, as ourself?”
If the Republican senate rushes to approve an anti-choice appointment to the Supreme Court, will anti-abortion voters feel satisfied and turn their election attention to other issues–issues that their religious teachings actually call them to consider? We’ll see.
D.A. Dirks and Dr. Willie Parker on “Faith in Choice” podcast
D.A. Dirks and Dr. Willie Parker meet again, at least on the Seminary Co-op Bookstore‘s new podcast, Open Stacks. This episode, “Faith in Choice,” combines their separate Co-op events from this summer. D.A. talks with Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar, associate professor of Christian ethics at Loyola University Chicago, about the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion. Dr. Parker, author of Life’s Work: A Moral Argument for Choice, talks with Dr. Melissa Gilliam, a gynecologist professor at the University of Chicago, about his journey to become an abortion provider in the Deep South. At the June 22, 2017 event, D.A. was delighted to find among the audience a good friend of the late Rev. Dr. Spencer Parsons, chair of the Chicago CCS, and you’ll hear her addition to the conversation during the podcast. Click here to listen or find the Open Stacks podcast on iTunes and elsewhere.
More to read: a selection of CCS-related books
Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago asked us for a selected list of books related to To Offer Compassion. Check the link for some of our favorites, ranging from everything-that-is-old-is-new-again (Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed, 1970) to recent publications (Jael Silliman, Marlene Gerber Fried, Loretta Ross, and Elena R. Gutiérrez, Undivided Rights: Women of Color Organize for Reproductive Justice). Chicagoans will be especially interested in Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power by David T. Beito and Linda Royster Beito, and The Story of Jane: The Legendary Underground Feminist Abortion Service by Laura Kaplan. Check the bookstore link for our full list, with our notes on each book!
The resurgence of religious liberals
A June 10 article in the New York Times—“Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game,” by Laurie Goodstein– overlooked the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion–a pivotal religious progressive movement of the 1960s that is undergoing a revival today. Actually, pro-choice clergy never really “sat out”; over the last 40 years, a small but active contingent of clergy, some of them original CCS members and others who have took up their cause of compassion, have worked with Planned Parenthood, the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and other groups to advocate for reproductive rights. Over those years, although they remained active as pro-choice policy advocates, their voices have often been drowned out by the louder voices of religious anti-abortion activists. But clergy and people of faith—such as Rev. Donna Schaper of Judson Memorial Church in New York City (a CCS member when she was a seminary student in Chicago) and Christian physician Willie Parker–are now reclaiming a religious voice for the reproductive justice movement, and there is discussion of reviving the CCS for this new era. A new, more diverse CCS is likely to emerge, emphasizing the way reproductive rights intersect with related concerns–racism, gender, poverty, immigration, and healthcare in general.
NPR observes the 50th anniversary of the CCS
In observance of the 50th anniversary of the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a story on the group. NPR reporter Sarah McCammon spoke with two former CCS counselors, Rev. Barbara Gerlach and CCS co-founder Rev. Finley Schaef, both of whom were present at Judson Memorial Church’s celebration on May 21. McCammon also interviewed Rev. Loey Powell, who was a college student when she consulted the Clergy Consultation Service. Powell told NPR, “. . . to be with someone who was non-judgmental, who was not making assumptions either about the circumstances of how I got pregnant or what the consequences are of that situation, it was very positive for me to go through that.”
Listen to the full story here.
Photo: Rev. Finley Schaef speaking at Judson on May 21
How clergy can offer compassion today
Latishia James writes for Rewire: “I’ve had the privilege of sitting across from someone who was about to or just had an abortion, and I can attest to the impact of hearing that story. Listening to someone who’s had or is considering having an abortion share their hopes and fears goes a long way in shifting perspective. But perhaps more importantly, it goes a long way in helping you separate your own personal feelings from your ability to simply be present for someone else in a time of need.”
And she goes on to describe the many practical ways clergy–and other people of faith–can show compassion for women in need of reproductive healthcare, from public advocacy and preaching to simply being present, supporting and listening to women, one to one. Read the full article at Rewire.
Follow Rev. James on Twitter @PurposefullyLJ.