Many people are unaware that a minister’s scope of responsibility is not just the congregation she or he serves. We also are called to work outside of the four walls of our buildings and be a presence in the community. When I came to Emerson Unitarian Universalist Chapel (www.emersonuuchapel.org) as its minister five years ago, I gave myself about 1½ years to scope out the St. Louis justice scene, to see where I would spend the outward focused part of my ministry to this congregation.
When the Unitarian Universalist seat opened up on the Board of Trustees for the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Justice, I knew I had received my answer. MO RCRC had been a presence in Missouri for almost 30 years when I joined. It’s focus was three-fold – advocating for reproductive justice in Missouri, providing training for clergy and other helping professions in the delivery of spiritual care to those facing unplanned pregnancies, and offering that spiritual care free of charge to women and their families.
Within two years I was asked to accept the role of President of the board, and I happily accepted. Since that time, much has changed. MO RCRC disaffiliated from its parent organization, the Missouri Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and went independent as Faith Aloud (www.faithaloud.org). Our goal was to become a national organization. Since that time, we have reorganized again, and now are two organizations: Faith Aloud Missouri Project, which continues the advocacy work at Jefferson City; and, Faith Aloud, a national organization offering direct outreach to abortion clinics in the United States and Canada, and focusing primarily on direct spiritual care to women and their families. I am now the President of the Board of this national organization.
One aspect of this work has become most meaningful to me. I completed the training offered by Faith Aloud to be a clergy counselor. Approximately twice a month I am referred to women who have called Faith Aloud asking for help. Sometimes these women are facing an unplanned pregnancy and are struggling with the spiritual issues of the choice they are being asked to make. Sometimes the woman has either had an abortion or given a child up for adoption and is struggling spiritually with the choice she made. We offer non-judgmental compassionate spiritual care to these women, regardless of religion and belief. Our prime concern is that they make the choice that is right for them. We are not pro-abortion, we are pro-choice.
I am continuously moved, and often angered, by how much damage has been done to women by orthodox Christianity. At least 25% of women who have abortions are evangelical Christian. When they make the choice to end a pregnancy, many believe they are condemning themselves to God’s judgment and that they deserve to be separated from the love of God forever. They feel that the moral response to their abortion is to judge themselves and to feel shame for what they have done. They keep their abortion a secret from friends and family, which increases the shame. When they call Faith Aloud they are desperate for some kind of absolution and have a hard time believing that we will not judge them. I have spent hours listening to and praying with women who don’t believe they deserve forgiveness, who can scarcely comprehend that they don’t even need forgiving because there is nothing wrong with the choice they made. When they looked at the reality of their lives, when they listened to the truth in their hearts and made their decision, THAT was the voice of God speaking, not some selfish evil desire.
While I find these calls spiritually exhausting, they also tell me that I’m exactly where I need to be, and my commitment to continue this work grows stronger. Even when my term as president of Faith Aloud comes to an end, I will continue to be a Faith Aloud Clergy Counselor and do everything I can to change the national discourse about abortion. I have become convinced that secular arguments will never do that. In fact, they are failing because they do not speak to the heart, the soul, and the spirit. Abortion rights are being successfully chipped away in every state, usually on religious grounds. The only way to change what is happening is to change the way people think about abortion and reproductive justice in spiritual and religious terms.
This is why liberal religion is so important. This is why liberal churches, regardless of denomination or faith, are so important and why religious liberals and progressives are compelled to evangelize. We don’t save souls; they’re already saved. We save lives. We believe that the holy speaks through the ordinary and the mundane. We trust in humanity. When our liberal churches become inwardly focused we are denying a this-worldly liberation and salvation to those who desperately need our message that the promise of wholeness and unending grace is offered to everyone.
We save lives by taking back the religious language, by taking back the Scriptures, by taking back and reframing what it means to be religious and moral. Too many women and men are paying the price for religions that cycle through shame and punishment. I offer time and talent and treasure to Faith Aloud because I believe it is the voice we need, the voice that will reclaim the religious landscape for women and their families and this country.
Faith Aloud begins its national launch this weekend and we want as many people as possible to know about its ministry. I would encourage you to forward this message to as many people as you know. Go to www.faithaloud.org and have a look for yourself at its mission. Watch the many videos we have produced that are watched by thousands of women who come to us in crisis. If you know of a woman who struggles with a reproductive choice, tell her we are there for her and she can call our 1-800 line. And if you are so moved, become a supporter of Faith Aloud and know that you are doing your part to save lives and spirits.
May the spirit move us and may we allow ourselves to be moved.