My first exposure to talks about abortion came from the conservative Chinese church I attended growing up. The youth minister, the head pastor, almost all of the adults, and almost all of the children espoused the same approach: no tolerance—abortion is wrong; it's murder; it should be illegal; and the only possible excuse for it is rape. The propaganda they fed me was the following:
- Pictures of how disgusting and brutal abortions were
- Stories of mothers who had regretted their abortions
- Psalm 139:13
- Statistics of how many babies were left unadopted each year versus how many abortions occurred
There may have been more, but that was the gist of it. There were several things that troubled me about the pro-life propaganda at our church (and, I do not believe it was at just our church—but, for now, I will concern myself with the model, not the scope).
In light of the popular evangelical campaign of the 1990s, WWJD, harping on how abortion is murder and should be illegal did not seem like something Jesus would have done. In fact, I'm sure abortions or infanticide occurred during Jesus' time. He may not have approved of it, but he spent most of his time preaching, performing miracles, and loving people. The emphasis seems out of place, in other words. We, as loving Christians, should be spending most of our energy somewhere else.
The strong association my church made between being Christian and being pro-life was also disturbing. There were, of course, pro-choice members of the congregation, but they were constantly subjected to pro-life rhetoric from the pulpit, in the Sunday School classrooms, and even in everyday conversation. What seemed odd to me about it was the idea implicit in equating Christianity with the pro-life movement that Christians somehow valued life more than non-Christians, that telling a Christian that abortion was taking a life would somehow mean more to that person than telling a "heathen" the same thing. Do not even "heathens" hold life sacred?
The quoting of Psalm 139 I found simply amusing. To our detriment as Christians, historically the church has misquoted scripture to support anything from torture and animal cruelty to slavery and misogyny. Psalm 139 speaks of God making David: "For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb" (NIV). God's "knitting" supposedly means that David was "alive" or "human" even as a fetus and that killing him then must have been just the same as killing him at the time he wrote the psalm. But how could seminary-trained religious scholars even imagine David was singing anti-abortion rhetoric or even establishing a theological basis for a scientific view on when babies are "alive" or "human"? Didn't the church learn that what Biblical figures viewed as science is not meant to be theological truth? Isn't that why Galileo got in trouble with the church? Now, of course, all Christians believe the earth revolves around the sun. The context of the psalm (which, interestingly enough, most of the preachers I've heard quoting the psalm leave out) is speaking about how well God knows David: "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely" (139:4, NIV), "When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be" (139:15-16, NIV).
I'm not a Biblical scholar, but it seems to me that David is saying God knew him even before he existed, knew him so well that David did not even have to be in order for God to know him. You could even use the passage as a pro-choice argument—that David's emphasis on being in his mother's womb shows just how non-existent he was at the time. He does speak about God's knowledge of him before he experienced life; he does speak about God knowing the words he speaks before he speaks them. The point of the psalm is really that God knows people even before their lives begin.
The tragedy for me about the misinterpretation of scripture is not so much that Christians do so to suit their own politics and agendas so much as that it makes Christianity meaningless to non-Christians. Many jaded non-Christians think you can use the Bible to support anything. Even the devil uses it for his own purposes (Matthew 4). But there is truth in the Bible. The Bible does say something
(or a number of things), and twisting is twisting, distorting is distorting, and taking passages out of context is ignoring context. What amazes me is that jaded non-Christian English teachers can actually believe the Bible is more meaningless and subject to interpretation than any other text. Shouldn't English teachers know that context is important to understanding content? I could very well say that anyone could use a Hemingway book to support anything. But there are standard interpretations of Hemingway and there is plenty of context to consider when writing about Hemingway—his life, his worldview, the actual surrounding text, the word choices, etc.
My mom was a social worker. She would indoctrinate me against the church she brought me to. She would, in fact, de-program me from youth group activity and propaganda. As a devoted Christian and Chinese immigrant, she recognized the value of going to church and worshiping with other Chinese people. However, as a social worker, she also believed that many of the things I was learning at church were wrong. I was already aware that the pictures of disgusting abortions were merely a shock tactic. My mom made me recognize, though, herself having worked around adoption, that adoption is not so easy. It's a complicated and expensive process, and the babies who are being aborted are not always the babies couples want (there is a racial angle to adoption). Also, some babies don't get adopted right away, and most couples wanting to adopt do not want a toddler or young child—they want a newborn baby.
I remember there being a debate at my high school once. It was part of the 10th grade English curriculum—a speech class. Part of the speech class was the presentation to the class of a debate on a controversial subject, and someone brought up a pro-choice stance on abortion. Some of the arguments I heard from my classmates were not too intelligent (I'll write it off as 15-year-old parental brainwashing—I was lucky enough to be brainwashed by both my mom and my youth group, so I had a unique perspective). Many of them actually thought "life" did not begin until the fifth month. What does that mean—that someone injects life into a bunch of cells all of a sudden? Could you then take the fetus out of the mother at the fourth month and then put it back in before the fifth month and have it still turn out fine because life has not yet begun? Any argument that says life does not begin until such-and-such a time does not make logical sense. The baby is alive from the moment it is conceived. It is living tissue. It is not necessarily human, though. I remember one particularly volatile Sunday School teacher I had who proclaimed that he did not have two children—he had four. He counted the miscarriages. I almost laughed when I heard him say that. First of all, I knew that's not what he really thought. If someone at a dinner party asked him, "Oh, how many kids do you have?" He wouldn't have answered he had four and that two were dead. He didn't name those unborn babies. Life does not equal humanity. I stand by it. My biology is a little shaky (I was an English major, okay?) but as I understand it, a baby's life begins when a sperm and egg come together and form a one-cell organism that then splits into a two-celled organism and a four-celled organism, etc. That four-celled organism is alive, as much as bacteria or mold is alive. It isn't human, though. It will become a human, though.
It's tricky. At what point does it become a human? I don't know that we can rightly say that, anymore than we can say at what point a girl becomes a teenager or a teenager becomes a woman. I'm a vegetarian. I eat eggs, though. I love eggs. What would those eggs have become, had I not eaten them? My guess is that they would have become chickens. I don't eat chicken, though. There is a difference between a chicken and an egg, whichever one "came first."
I value the sanctity of human life not because I am a Christian but because I am a human. I do not think that contraceptives (even emergency contraceptives) and male masturbation ("spilling the seed") are the same as abortion, and I think even though you are stifling a potential human life when you have an abortion, I do not know that you're committing murder. I think it's wrong, I don't approve of abortion, I take abortion very seriously, and I'm repulsed by the idea of people using abortion as birth control. I do not equate abortion with murder, though. And, I do not necessarily think that just because I think abortion is wrong that it should be illegal.
I honestly do not know where I stand when it comes to abortion. All I know is where I do not stand. I cannot rightly say, "Have an abortion if you want! It's your choice," nor can I say, "It's wrong, and it should be illegal at all times."
Then, there is always the issue of the act of making it illegal encouraging women determined to have abortions to do so dangerously. It is not the same logic as saying that if the government makes pot illegal (which it is now) that people will smoke it anyway. If people smoke pot illegally, it is just as dangerous to their health as if they smoke it legally. If women have coat-hanger or dirty-scalpel abortions, the women could die in addition to the fetus.
Finally, there is the issue of choice: women's choice. You cannot separate the personal from politics. There is not necessarily just a right or a wrong when it comes to abortion. I have my own views, but I think whatever is decided should be decided by women. Women, of course, will disagree with each other, but a woman's body is a woman's body. I do not think men should have the right to legislate women's bodies. Every time I hear men (Christian or non-Christian) make a big hoopla about how abortion is murder and blah blah blah, I wonder if they can hear themselves. I wonder if they can hear how stupid they sound. I wouldn't mind hearing an Asian-American say, "Let's get it together. Let's be more political. Let's not be invisible. Let's not be the model minority anymore," but I'd hate to hear a white person tell me, "You. You Asians. Get it together. Be more political. What's wrong with you?" It's not the same message because it's not from the same messenger. The first says, "We have to do something. Let's change together." The second says, "What's the matter with you? I've done it. Why can't you?" I would imagine it's a similar experience to any woman (pro-life or pro-choice) hearing a man spew off about abortion. He doesn't have a right to talk.
That said, if any woman reading this thinks, "What right does he have to talk, then?" I will be the first to concede that I don't have a right to talk. If you're a woman reading this and you want to write me off and say, "he has no clue what he's talking about," it is your prerogative.