No longer content to merely minimize the importance for Christians of opposing abortion, a prominent progressive Christian social justice organization now argues that Roe v Wade itself should be upheld.
“As a Christian, I believe we must protect the rights of women and pregnant people to make their own reproductive health decisions, a right that has been protected since 1973 by the Supreme Court as a fundamental liberty under the 14th Amendment,” wrote Sojourners President Adam Russell Taylor in a column appearing in the organization’s eponymous Religious Left journal this month. “As a Christian, I also want to ensure there are fewer unwanted pregnancies by ensuring everyone has access to holistic health care and the economic support to care for their children.”
News that Sojourners officials would support a position that the American political Left considers the hill to die upon won’t come as a surprise. This is the same organization that has endorsed a steady stream of socially liberal innovations. But it fits into a long running pattern in which the group is insistent in presenting a position firmly on the Left as some sort of compromise.
Taylor, and ordained American Baptist Churches USA clergyman, tries to present himself as partway between pro-life and pro-choice positions, when he’s fully pro-choice in the legislative and judicial realms. He doesn’t explain what could be wrong with abortion itself, or why it should be made rarer.
“We must oppose extreme measures that would eliminate the right of women and pregnant people to choose whether they bear children while we also advocate vigorously for policies and programs that would dramatically reduce the need for unwanted pregnancies that lead people to seek abortions in the first place,” Taylor writes. He concludes his article with his hope that most Americans can work “to ensure that abortion is kept legal.”
The idea that we shouldn’t, as a matter of constitutional rights, allow states to regulate abortion is a position firmly on the political Left, not a compromise position. Argument for a more expansive social welfare state is one that faithful Christians can espouse, although it is also comfortably situated on the political Left.
Taylor writes that “Christians are called to be countercultural” but I don’t see clearly where he is being countercultural within his own political subculture. Abortion isn’t the only recent example.
In April, Taylor authored a column in which he condemned state laws opposed by transgender activists, including those that seek to preserve women’s and girls’ sports for biological females. The same publication ran a book review authored by a self-proclaimed “polyamorist Christian” with three partners. She declared that non-monogamy, kink, same-sex couplings, or casual sex are healthy expressions of sexuality when engaged in a consensual manner.
Sojourners had already departed from historic Christian social witness on marriage, sexuality, and gender. Sadly, we can now add an embrace of the 1973 Roe v Wade Supreme Court ruling to the list of items.
In February, the organization ran a glowing review of Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice CEO Katey Zeh’s A Complicated Choice. Earlier this past autumn, the journal published an opinion piece arguing that when life begins – and abortion in particular – is a “gray space, the boundaries of which cannot be fixed by law.”
Sojourners has historically published pieces either minimizing the importance of abortion for Christians, or it has argued that the best way to reduce demand for abortions is through an expansive social welfare state. Typically left unmentioned in those articles was why abortion is problematic.
IRD historically provides coverage of mainline Protestant churches and the ecumenical groups to which they belong. Sojourners was once thought to be on the Evangelical Left, but I’ve argued that this designation probably hasn’t remained accurate in recent years: the magazine’s tagline, “Faith in Action for Social Justice” makes clear that the latter is the focus of the publication and its broader advocacy organization. In the late 2000s I recall viewing an ad sheet for the publication showing that 11 percent of subscribers identified as evangelical (I regret that I didn’t keep that sheet on file).
Christians shouldn’t abandon the political space – we can organize ourselves to make a social and political witness in the public square. But there also will be points at which the Gospel will sit in tension with any political tribe or ideology. Just as faithful believers must be on guard against pagan syncretism, we also need to be on guard against syncretism that baptizes our political preferences as the “Christian way” of doing things.
The Gospel must be paramount, and if the church has historically spoken up for the sanctity of human life, we won’t be able to square that with a false idol of personal autonomy.