by the Reverend Nancy Emmel Gunn
Pastor Nancy preached this sermon on July 3, 2022.
I missed you all last week. But I had a wonderful break. The sun and sky and water are very restorative. Of course, I heard about the Supreme Court’s decision last Friday overturning Roe v. Wade. But I waited until I got home to read the opinion. And as expected, it was troubling.
In this first year as your new priest, I have avoided preaching about political matters. That is, in my view as it should be. Unless and until something comes up that causes us to question our government, our society, our way of life in view of Christ’s teaching. Jesus called out political leaders and institutions, but often did so in parables, perhaps to avoid charges of sedition. Of course, I am not gifted in this type of rhetoric, so I will make plain my concerns.
-I encourage you smart people to read the actual decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. It is remarkably readable, unlike most Supreme Court decisions that are so packed full of precedent and analysis, that a lawyer of many years, like I was, must read it several times to understand it. Notwithstanding its readability, this decision is in full of holes: its reliance on history as the basis to reject a constitutional right to abortion is misplaced, especially given the position of women today versus 1776, and it tosses out long held principles of privacy and substantive due process like they were yesterday’s used Kleenex.
Our Episcopal Church holds through Canon and the opinions of both our Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of Missouri, that a woman’s right to choose is fundamental and that the government’s control over women’s bodies is an infringement of this right. Our Bishop said “I stand with my sisters and siblings in Christ, in declaring that the ability to make decisions about their bodies and their futures are theirs to make and should not be legislated. To deny the right of self-determination is to deny the very essence of dignity.” That is my personal opinion as well.
I know that there will be those among us who do not agree with me or our church’s position. And you, they are welcome here, no matter your position. It is important that we remain accepting of one another on these difficult subjects. We remain all part of the body of Christ.
My now personal opinion was informed in part by an experience with my daughter’s friend at age 15. This girl was struggling. Her girls’ Catholic high school suspended her for making threats of suicide online. Instead of getting her help during spring break, her parents left her at home, alone, while they attended baseball spring training in Florida. I insisted she stay at our house, where she remained for the week. I hovered over her like she was one of mine, cooking and fussing over her.
She got pregnant later that summer. Her parents for what I understand were religious reasons, decided she should have the baby. She took no part in this decision as far as I could tell. She was oddly passive about their decision. At the family’s request, I arranged with a lawyer colleague to find potential adoptive parents. He located a lovely couple of medical professionals from out of state. When the girl went into labor, the prospective parents flew to St. Louis. The hospital insisted that the baby stay in the hospital with the teen mother for several days.
And it was then, with the baby in her arms., this 15 year old child decided to keep her baby girl. Or maybe it was her parents.
My bias was set firmly then. If my 15 year old were to become pregnant, I would not choose this path.
I would like to say that there was a silver lining here, that there was a happy ending. I am not sure that that is the case. While I know the baby, now a little girl is loved, she has had a very rocky start. Her mother, now age 27, works at a fast-food restaurant. She is unable to support herself and her child through her minimum wage employment and moves in with one boyfriend to another, then back home again to live with her parents, her child in tow. The child appears to lack stability and structure that children need.
But aside from the decision on abortion, I am troubled by where I believe this opinion will lead. The Court’s majority says its opinion is limited to the issue of abortion and it no way intends for the opinion to have further implications. But read the concurrence by Justice Thomas. He says that in light of this opinion, the Court should look at (read overturn) other prior decisions that rest on notions of substantive due process and privacy.
The crowd that pushed and schemed and worked tirelessly to find and support right oriented justices to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe are overjoyed, yes. But I expect that they will not stop at abortion. My fear is that they will aim to attack any type of human expression that does not conform to their binary standard. The bible will be used, much like former President Trump, standing before an Episcopal Church in Washington D.C. to condemn others and congratulate their critical views.
If principles of privacy and constitutional protection of personal choice are abrogated, all sorts of guarantees will fall. Think same sex marriage, think recriminalizing same sex sexual activity. Think contraception. Think transgendered children and their parents.
And once the “unborn’ are born, where will the protections for them be? Those families with ample resources will travel from Missouri, to Illinois, or Maryland, or New York for this medical procedure. But those of limited means - you know, the ones that visit the Planned Parenthood office on Grand near the library here in Tower Grove South - where will they go?
And the children born to these stressed mothers, what will happen to them? Will they be born healthy with well- funded medical services for both prenatal and postnatal care, or will they suffer low birth weights and have other complications? And those mothers who cannot keep their babies - think homeless women, women in abusive relationships - where will those babies go? To an already overburdened foster care system, struggling to care for the children already in their care?
Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister suggests the importance of being more broadly pro-life. She says:
I do not believe that just because you are opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, a child educated, a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.
"As our Gospel says today, "the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few." There is much to do. To insure that the children, the no longer “unborn,” are cared for and protected. To seek a viable path for the poor and oppressed.
Tomorrow is the fourth of July, the day of the signing of our Declaration of Independence from England. The founding fathers were tireless in their efforts, and later in 1788 ratified what would be known as our Constitution that created a nation for all, equal under God. Well not all: not women, not Native Americans and not African Americans, but it was the start of an amazing set of governing principles. They did not all agree but somehow, they banged out something they could all live with, something our current Congress cannot seem to manage. Our Constitution became a living, breathing document declaring our rights and freedoms. People come here from places where they do not have our freedoms.
I attended a July 4th party a few years ago where the American born were far outnumbered by the immigrants. As we sat eating Russian potato salad and watermelon from Arkansas, they told us why they came. A woman from Iran came to the U.S because she wanted to become a dentist and could not in her home country. And a Jew from Russia sought to practice his faith free from Soviet oppression This country was their dream, and then became their reality. Their pride in our country was powerful. I was reminded that even with its dents and bruises, our country is a wonderful place.
We can be grateful for own abundance, grateful for the founding fathers and for those who gave their lives for our freedoms. And we stand in tension with our gratitude in one hand, and our commitment to equality in the other. Recall in our baptismal covenant, we promise to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” In our Epistle today, Paul said, “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we all will reap in harvest time, if we do not give up.” Let us agree, that we do what is right and we don’t give up; that we strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every person. AMEN
The Reverend Nancy Emmel Gunn serves as Priest-in-Charge at St. John's.
Various members of the St. John's congregation contribute to this blog. For editorial suggestions, contact Jeff McIntire-Strasburg at firstname.lastname@example.org
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