By Charles Kiker
Before the 2012 presidential election I was asked by a fellow minister, “How can a Christian vote for someone who is pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage?” I sought to answer his question, which was asked on Facebook, in private correspondence. With the current ado over the abortion issue in Texas and other red states, I think it is time to make my private answer public. I have edited my previous answer, but here is the gist of it.
An easy answer would have been to to say that some Christians take into consideration more than one or two issues in making their political choice(s). That would be true, but it would be too easy and it would be sidestepping the specificity of the question.
So I’m going to tackle it head on, from my own perspective. I will not claim it is the Christian perspective, but the perspective of one who who seeks to follow in the Way of Jesus.
I’m going to deal with the gay marriage issue first, because for me it is a much easier issue. I think marriage is a spiritual issue. The government has a right to endorse civil unions. When I officiate at a wedding I do not say, “By the power vested in me by the state of . . .” I simply pronounce the couple husband and wife. By the way, I do not have a particularly impressive record of husbands and wives remaining husbands and wives.
So I simply do not think that it should be in the purview of the state to dictate to a minister, priest, rabbi or imam who can be joined in wedlock. States claim that power. It has not been so very long ago that states claimed the power to prohibit people of different ethnicity from being so joined.
Gay marriage cannot really be discussed apart from the issue of homosexuality. I believe, and I think with a consensus of scholarly opinion on my side, that most people who are homosexual did not choose that orientation, any more than I chose my heterosexual orientation. We often hear and read of people objecting to the “homosexual lifestyle.” My response is that there is no such thing as THE homosexual lifestyle, any more than there is a heterosexual lifestyle. Some people of homosexual orientation are celibate, some are promiscuous and some live in committed relationships. Ditto heterosexual.
I do not think society should deny people of homosexual orientation who live in a committed relationship the legal rights and privileges which are granted by the state(s) to heterosexual couples. I would prefer that this be called “civil union,” or some such term. Restrict the terminology of “marriage” to religious groups or to local congregations where there is no religious hierarchy (a la Churches of Christ, Baptists and some others).
Now to abortion. I am troubled by abortion. I think the intentional ending of a pregnancy is troubling in any case, even in the case of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. I do not say I want to make it illegal in any case, but that I am troubled by it. I think most people are.
Some want to hang this question on, “When does life begin?”, and insist that it begins at conception. Life begins before conception. Those thousands of sperm ejaculated during hetero-sexual intercourse swimming around in a woman’s body, searching for an egg—are they not alive? The overwhelming majority of them never reach their goal. Some politicians and religious leaders affirm the personhood of an egg at the moment of conception, wishing to grant such fertilized eggs all the rights of personhood. There was a ballot referendum in Mississippi recently promoting a personhood amendment, which failed by a large margin. But under hypothetical personhood law, any abortion could be considered murder at worst or perhaps homicide under some conditions.
At this point I want to relate a very personal experience. My wife and I have experienced the grief of several failed pregnancies. One of them was an ectopic, tubal pregnancy in which the fertilized egg lodged in the fallopian tube rather than in the uterus. By the eleventh or twelfth week of pregnancy that fertilized egg had become a fetus. It was growing and stretching that fallopian tube and causing severe pain. This was in 1957 in the days prior to MRIs and such. (Those were also in the days when such issues were approached with common sense unhindered by political and theological ideology). The only alternative was exploratory surgery. The doctors found the ectopic pregnancy, removed the fallopian tube with the growing fetus, and saved my wife’s life. Were all of us involved in that medical emergency guilty of some degree of homicide? Even justifiable homicide to save the life of the mother? I do not believe so.
I do not believe that a fertilized egg is a person at the moment of conception, any more than I believe I’m having chicken for breakfast if I’m eating a fertilized chicken egg.
I do believe that a fetus becomes a person at some undefined point prior to birth. I do not know what that point is. I think some legal opinion is that it is at the point when the fetus could be viable outside the mother’s womb. Some say when the fetus becomes sentient. I do not know.
I am troubled by the politicization of the issue. It has long been a wedge issue for the political right. It seems now it may be becoming a wedge issue for the left. I think it is too serious an issue to be left in the hands of politicians of the right or the left.
Given the state of humanity as it is, not as we wish it might be, I will stand with the Clintons (and others) in the position that abortion should be legal, safe, and rare.
And I respect people who disagree with me, and ask that that respect be returned.