Politics

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.”

Politics

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.

Links, Politics

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.

Links

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.

2017-06-22 Dirks Seminary Coop Chicago
D.A. Dirks and Sandra Sullivan-Dunbar at Seminary Co-op, Chicago, June 22, 2017

Links

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!

Links

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.

Links

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

Abortion Access Today, Links

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.

Abortion Access Today, Legacies of the CCS

Clergy advocate for women’s health–again–in New York State

A new generation of clergy–and at least one minister who was part of the original Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion in the 1960s, Rev. Tom Davis–showed support for women’s health care and reproductive rights in Albany, New York, last week. They “condemned the recent actions of the federal government to eliminate protections and funding for health care,” according to Legislative Gazette reporter Sarah Eames.

As state senator Liz Krueger said, “‘The true fight for the rights of women to make their own decisions with their doctors about reproductive health has been led by clergy in the state for decades,’ Krueger said. ‘Long before we actually passed the law in 1970, it was clergy helping through a then-illegal network to assure that women could find safe kinds of healthcare for themselves.’”.

Davis was honored for his work with the CCS by Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.

Read the full article by Sarah Eames for The Legislative Gazette here.

Photo of New York State legislature:
(c) Can Stock Photo / demerzel21

Uncategorized

Clergy Voices Again Raised for Justice

On May 22, 1967, at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States, an article on the front page of the New York Times announced that twenty-one New York City clergy would counsel and refer women to licensed doctors for safe abortions. The group called itself the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion (CCS).

Not many people know the story of the CCS. Some of the loudest speakers in the debate about abortion access since Roe v Wade have been conservative religious voices, leading the general public to believe that people of faith, especially the clergy, were opposed to abortion. There has been a relentless attack on women’s access to abortion since the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision in 1973. According to research published in 2016 by the Guttmacher Institute, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions just since 2010, constituting 30% of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since Roe v Wade. On March 6, 2017, the White House proposed preserving federal payments to Planned Parenthood only if it discontinues providing abortions. Congressional Republicans have said that they will move quickly to strip all federal funds from Planned Parenthood.

As the 50th anniversary of the CCS approaches in May, we think about the network of some 3,000 clergy who referred as many as 450,000 women for safe abortions between 1967 and 1973, and if that kind of service will be needed again. The clergy we interviewed for our book came of age during the 1950s and 1960s and were at the forefront of the civil rights, anti-war, and women’s rights movements.

When we first starting researching the CCS in 2002, we wondered where the voices of progressive clergy were in the social justice movements of the 21st century. Now we are starting to hear those voices being raised once more. In recent weeks, clergy and religious organizations have spoken out on transgender civil rights. More than 1,800 religious leaders signed on to an amicus brief on behalf of Gavin Grimm, a trans student who has fought for the right to use a high school restroom that aligns with his gender identity. And a broad network of 37 Protestant and Orthodox Christian denominations announced a campaign to mobilize congregants to lobby Congress and the president on behalf of immigrant, refugee, and undocumented people.

We are experiencing divisive and turbulent times. But we are heartened to see clergy and religious organizations standing with those individuals or groups who are targets of attack by right wing individuals and organizations. The CCS provides a historical example of how clergy acted to help women get safe abortions when they were illegal. The CCS also can provide an example for how to resist and organize against oppressive governments and legislation today.