The Rev. Dr. Rollin Russell wrote a piece, “The Bible, religion and reproductive freedom” confronting the views of the conservative religious pro-life community. He attempted to debunk the biblical arguments against abortion. Russell’s liberal interpretation of Scripture led him to conclude that the Bible could just as easily support abortion since life begins with the first breath.
A retired minister from the progressive United Church of Christ (UCC), Pastor Russell graduated from Vanderbilt Divinity School. He is also a member of the Orange County chapter of American United for Separation between Church and State and penned a pamphlet entitled the “Evolution of the Religious Right.”
Pastor Russell begins his post with the question, “Why are religious conservatives so adamantly opposed to abortion and to freedom of choice of women?”
He answered this question by stating, “In regard to abortion they cite the Mosaic commandment: ‘Thou shalt not kill.’” Naturally, religious pro-lifers believe that abortion is murder because the unborn is a human being. Russell cites the passage Exodus 21:22 as a verse that conservatives use to defend this position. Russell says the verse advocates “devaluing of women’s lives that our society has, thankfully, moved beyond, with much resistance from these religious groups.” His insinuations do not end there.
Russell also alleges that Numbers 5:11-31 describes “an induced abortion with the purpose of determining both guilt and paternity.” What Numbers 5:11-31 discusses is the test for a potentially unfaithful woman under Mosaic Law. In verse 28, the text says:
“If she has made herself impure and been unfaithful to her husband, this will be the result: When she is made to drink the water that brings a curse and causes bitter suffering, it will enter her, her abdomen will swell and her womb will miscarry, and she will become a curse.”
The context of this passage is a woman who may have committed adultery. The Lord wanted Moses to keep the Israelite camp pure, thus if there was impure actions there had to be consequences. The consequence of breaking the covenant of marriage was miscarriage. This passage in no way implies that modern day woman should be aborting their children. Pastor Russell failed to properly interpret a passage that must be understood in the context of God’s relationship with Israel in ancient times.
The next question Pastor Russell’s tackles is: when does human life begin? He refers to two passages religious that he says conservatives often cite.
“For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew[a] you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
Pastor Russell says pro-lifers “never cite” Genesis 2:7, which he said supports the conclusion that life begins at first breath. This verse describes God breathes life into Adam. Of course, the obvious problem with drawing the conclusion from this verse mentioned by Pastor Russell is that Adam was uniquely created by God and never existed as child in a womb. After the creation of Adam and Eve, God made women to bear children.
One verse that Russell conveniently does not discuss was Luke 1:41, which pro-life Christians often reference:
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. The unborn baby John the Baptist knew the baby in Mary’s womb was the Son of God. The Bible clearly teaches that John was sentient human being at the time.
Pastor Russell concludes, “They [religious conservatives] base their objection on a selective use of scriptures and then ignore any passages that do not support their view. Clearly, the Bible is not a very reliable guide in this matter.”
He added that Roman Catholics not only to Scripture for guidance on this issue, but said they also refer to Natural Law as developed by Thomas Aquinas. He noted that encouraging women to abort babies meant interfering with the “natural order of things” according to this framework. Pastor Russell, however, failed to offer any refutation of this Catholic tradition.
Pastor Russell simply said he does not believe “13th Century theology and highly selective biblical interpretation control social policy in a free society.” But is it really pro-lifers who are the ones being theologically selective?