Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Keith Drury on Abortion

Do Evangelicals really believe a fetus is life?

Just about every evangelical I’ve ever met tells me they are absolutely opposed to abortion. Almost every one of them believes that life begins at conception (a few say in 2-3 days at that cell division). My evangelical friends seem absolutely sure that abortion is murdering a person. And I agree with them on these points.

The trouble with the evangelical church however we teach our people the opposite. We teach by our actions and rituals that the fetus may be “sacred” but is not a “real” life. This contradiction between what we say and what we do will eventually erode our commitment to being anti-abortion. When a church pronounces one thing with their mouths but practices something else in ritual and actions the kids see it and know they aren’t serious about their stated beliefs—“What we do speaks louder than what we say.”

So, how does the church communicate in ritual and actions that the fetus is less-than-full-life? I could list a dozen but I’ll only give three and let you finish the list.

1. When a baby is born we place a rose up front and announce the birth from the pulpit. We do not put the rose there when the baby is conceived or when the mother knows she is pregnant. What does this ritual say every time we do it? The message is clear—it is at birth that something happens. Whatever the woman had inside her before birth was sacred—but it is not worth the rose celebration. Our roses-at-birth/breath quietly says “they were pregnant with a fetus but now they have a child.”

2. When a one-week old child dies we do not have a funeral, people take off work and few send sympathy cards. A miscarriage in the church is seldom treated like the death of a ‘real” child. Often even the cells are disposed of just about like the cells of an aborted fetus. Since as many as 1/3 of all pregnancies end in a miscarriage, the church teaches regularly and systematically that these “miscarriages” (often not called “unborn children” in this case) aren’t as important as “real” children. (Please don’t argue it is too expensive for fetuses but we can afford it for [real?] children.)

3. We dedicate a child only when they are breathing and out of the womb. The child does not need to be a witness to the ritual of dedication but we wait until they are breathing to do it. Why? What does this say to our people? It announces that a breathing life is worth dedicating to God, “potential life” in the womb must wait. Why don’t we dedicate the life to God which we believe begins before the life breathes.

Evangelicals (and Catholics) are right on the issue of abortion. We’ve been busy fighting for the cause in the world and I applaud that. However while we’ve been out fighting the anti-abortion battle we’ve forgotten that we practice pro-choice behaviors in the church. We’ve been acting like a breathing life is more valuable in some way than fetus life—and this is exactly the position of the pro-choice folk. We talk pro-life and behave pro-choice. Which will our children adopt—our talk or our walk?

So what should a church do? I have an answer but I already know hardly any evangelical church will do it. Here it is: A church who believes a fetus is really the equivalent life as a breathing child should:

1. Have a meeting. It will only take an hour. But most of the regular church folk need to be there.

2. Make a list. Simply present the issue then brainstorm a list what we’d do differently if we acted like a fetus was of equivalent value to a breathing child. What would we stop doing? Start doing? What rituals would we relocate to another time slot? Ignore my list and make your own.

3. Vote on the ideas one by one. Decide what ones we’ll do as a church

4. Pick a starting date. Once you’ve decided on the actions that will communicate what we really believe then pick a date when we’ll implement the new actions and rituals “from that day forward.”

I already know few (if any) evangelicals will do this.

How do I know this? Because I wrote most all of the above ten years ago—in 1994—and that column has been read by more then 5000 people since—and, to my knowledge I do not know of any church that seriously changed these practices (and others too numerous to mention). I say this: our practice is the only true indicator of what we really believe. The truth is we do not believe “life begins at conception” and we do not believe “a fetus is an unborn child of equivalent worth as a born child.” If we believed it we‘d behave it. So once again I play the prophet’s role. And once again I’ll be ignored and dismissed. For the most part few or no evangelical church will change its practices to reflect its stated beliefs.

This is the real issue for us evangelicals to discuss. Why we are so unwilling to act in line with our stated beliefs. Why is this? Where will it eventually lead? You tell me. (Again, ten years later.)

Keith Drury 1994, (and now again in 2004)

(I’ll keep nagging the church even though ignored.)


Of course we know the real answer to Keith Drury's question is no. I asked these questions earlier to make the same point.
  1. Should women who miscarry be charged with involuntary manslaughter? What if they did something like trip because they weren't be careful, negligent homicide?
  2. If life starts at fertilization then what should we do about all these couples carelessly having sex 9 or days after ovulation. According to NHS these are the implementation failure rates for the average women in days after ovulation:
    • 3% by day 9
    • 26% on day 10
    • 52% on day 11
    • 86% on day 12 or more
    Death rates this high certainly mean that late sex constitutes negligence in the extreme


Nik said...

Hey CD... am just doing a little dissertation avoidance for a couple of minutes! :)

Okay, my two cents worth:
There are a couple of issues here -
1/ I would refute the suggestion that waiting until birth to publicly recognise the living breathing baby necessarily implies that this is done as a result of subconsciously not treating the foetus as human/ of worth. My sense has always been that there's an underlying recognition of the potential for miscarriage and keeping things low-key to avoid any extra hurt/ pain... and, even a deep-seated primal thing about not wanting to 'tempt fate' by making assumptions that everything will all work out alright. A friend and I were talking about the practice of baby showers, saying that to have this pre-birth is a bad idea: too many reminders of what didn't happen/ a life not lived - all around one's house. Too, too hard.

2/In the case of miscarriage and lack of a ritual: this is actually changing. In the UK it is now pretty common for hospital chaplains to offer to mark the life of the unborn child. The Church of Scotland 'Book of Common Order' - our liturgy standard, if you like, has an 'order for the funeral of a still-born child' on p319. This 3rd edition of CO was published in 2005. There are other books of funeral liturgies that also make similar provision. So, this just to say things are changing. Admittedly, this may just be from my perspective as a main-line broad church person.

3/And a broad sweeping generalisation which I apologise in advance for!! I think there's a gender-difference viewpoint that also happens: I don't know many women - especially women carrying a child -who would think that the child they're carrying is anything less than human. Although sometimes it can feel a little like 'who is this person who's hijacked my body!?' Or ironic jokes about invasion of the body snatchers occasionally...!
In the case of 'accidental' pregnancy, too often young women are pressured by their chap to 'get rid of it' - the term 'it' being particularly telling, no? And of course, there are a very small handful of women who use abortion as last resort birth control. I find it sad that these women are perceived as the norm when it comes to what women choose or not choose to do when faced with what is always the hardest decision a woman could ever make. And of course, it is still men who make the laws that control what women may or may not do with their bodies and their lives. Was it Gloria Steinem or Betty Frieden who once stated that 'if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament'?

Hmmm, okay maybe three cents worth there... and some of it not focusing as much on the evangelical/ abortion discussion perhaps.

CD-Host said...

Hi Nik --

Good points all around.

Very interesting about the BCO, how far does this go? For example would it be used for a 4 mo miscarriage?

underlying recognition of the potential for miscarriage and keeping things low-key to avoid any extra hurt/ pain...

Exactly. But for example there is a fairly high probability for SIDS, you don't see parents of new borns unwilling to discuss pre-schools. After birth they are "all in". The fact that they are holding something back was exactly my point.

BTW my personal opinion is that what happens is that the mother and father identifies more and more as the pregnancy progresses.
At 6 weeks: I'm pregnant, now what?
At 9 weeks: I have morning sickness from the pregnancy
At 20 weeks: We're having a baby
At 35 weeks: I'm expecting Jessica on the 23rd

Nik said...

Hi again - oh dear, serious dissertation avoidance now, isn't it!!

re. BCO - there's no stipulation regarding length of term, so can be used at whatever stage. It's a lovely liturgy, and I think they've really got the tone just right. So, as a person who does funerals, I'd certainly feel if a parent/ parents came to me to ask if they could do something to remember their wee unborn child, that I could certainly offer something, irrespective of stage at death. [And I also would have no problem doing something if asked even years later, if parents hadn't been able to do something at the time - this certainly happens] Not being particularly articulate here, but you get my sense, I think.

Your point about parents who have had their babies and are talking about pre-schools... good point, and yet might I suggest that it's also part of a whole process of imagining the future, as it were. There's the 'ooh, we're pregnant' - okay we need to get past that scary 3 month danger stage...done that, now we need to get to the scanning point - 'oooh is it a boy or a girl or don't we want to know'? Gosh, this small little person who has a whole life ahead of them: will they end up as a doctor?' and then and looking to the impending birth hoping that everything will be okay ... and then child is born and we're thinking about pre-schools... and then child is in pre-school and we've been wondering what career they may end up in and which university, etc, etc. And then the worse-case scenario happens and the child is not carried full-term. And the grief of losing a child and the life unlived: there's a whole life been thought about even before the baby has been born.

As to your point about mother and father identifying along the pregnancy journey... sure... and I'd suggest this is what human beings do in the establishing of any relationship. Initial encounter, further engagement [tho' hopefully acquaintance not making you sick!], recognition that aquintance is becoming someone we're seeing on a more regular basis, and then onwards to deepening of relationship and being on a more personal/ intimate footing. Sometimes it's quicker than 9 months tho...!! :)

Just some musings. It's a good topic to chew on CD, thanks for raising it.

Icy Mt. said...

The biology professors in college taught me that when counting populations at any given point, all the fertilized, pollinated, etc. are to be included.

Let's cut the church a little slack here. Up until very recently (less than 100 years) the rate of children living from conception through 1 year post-birth was staggeringly low. Emotionally and economically (sorry Kieth, "real" funerals are very expensive), for society as a whole to deal with the funerals of these children the same way as we would a 10 year old is just not feasible. If the statistic of 1/3 of pregnancies ending in miscarriage is even close to correct, I can imagine most couples (not just women) not wanting to get too geared up until a child is carried to full term. That makes for a 33% mortality rate vs. a 0.626% of live birth infant mortality rate (CIA World Fact Book 2008). Just a couple of anecdotes: My brother and his family do not even announce pregnancies in the first trimester because of the high number of miscarriages they have experienced. They have had funerals for each and every child although I was not necessarily informed or invited; my church has held multiple funeral services for unborn children. I expect that there are many, many small, quiet funeral ceremonies that Kieth doesn't know about that do not involve caskets, burial plots, funeral homes and all the other death merchants.

And CD, for you to even wonder out loud about charging a mother who has miscarried with manslaughter is despicable.

CD-Host said...

Icy --

Me thinks you missed the point of the manslaughter comment given your reaction. And you are also underestimating the miscarriage rate if you count the first 6 weeks. It could be more like 15% survive to birth. The fact that you started your count at at 6 weeks + is exactly when Keith is talking about, another example.

CD-Host said...

It appears at the same time I was posting this Tim Challis was posting on the related topic of salvation for the never born / dead as infants.

Icy Mt. said...

Sometimes hard to tell when things are tongue in cheek in a text.

I mentioned nothing about starting at 6 week limit. My point was: my sister-in-law has miscarried so many times in the first 12 weeks that they don't even announce to the outside world until past that mark. So, how in the hell would Keith Drury know how many women have mourned wholeheartedly (and they do) for their children than did not survive 9 months gestation?

It's not something that gets wide attention unless you are in a very close-knit church.

CD-Host said...

Hi Icy --
I mentioned nothing about starting at 6 week limit.

That was coming from the 1/3rd comment. If you choose fertilization the number would have been much higher.

My point was: my sister-in-law has miscarried so many times in the first 12 weeks that they don't even announce to the outside world until past that mark. So, how in the hell would Keith Drury know how many women have mourned wholeheartedly (and they do) for their children than did not survive 9 months gestation?

Children that die after a say two years or six years often destroy marriages... it is noticeable. Which is not to say people aren't upset but they aren't going through the: divorce, drug abuse, ignoring living children.... that level of mourning. In other words if you don't see it then it isn't happening at the same level. That was Nik's point.

I'm old enough that I'm sure I've had implementation failures with my wife, the odds are close to 100%. I've never known specifically and I've never mourned. I think that is the most common case.

It's not something that gets wide attention unless you are in a very close-knit church.

Agreed. Women can be very secretive about this, and maybe part of it is there are different protocols. But again that's part of Drury's position. If there are different protocols then why are they different? What is the underlying ideology that the behavior is exhibiting?