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In preparation to preach on the passage, I have spent the past couple of weeks studying the story of Luke 10 – a parable that has proven insightful as I’ve observed the social media reactions to Malawi’s proposed abortion bill. Religious leaders and their flock have expectedly expressed their outrage with familiar protests like, “killing is wrong”, “thou shall not murder” and indignant assertions about fighting for the “unborn”.
In the aforementioned parable, a lawyer asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life to which Jesus asks what is written in the law. The lawyer responds by citing Deuteronomy 6:4–5 and Leviticus 19:18 which, in summary, state that one shall love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and with all their strength and mind; and that one shall not take vengeance or bear any grudge but love their neighbour as themselves.
Then, to go around the command to love one’s neighbour, the lawyer asks, “Who is my neighbour?” Theologian Bailey Brawner has since perfectly summarized Jesus’ answer as “Them too? Yes, them too” but in the passage, Jesus answered the lawyer’s question by telling the story now famously known as that of The Good Samaritan.
A priest and, later, a Levite come by a wounded traveller in need of help but both avoid showing him compassion because they don’t want to be made unclean. They chose self-preservation over loving their neighbour. The most unlikely person, a Samaritan (a man whose people despised Jews, and vice versa) is the one who steps in and cares for the wounded man and even goes above and beyond.
I find this story extremely challenging. Like many of us religious people, the Priest and the Levite had strong convictions and beliefs. There are things we hold on to so strongly, hills formed from what we believe are right or wrong; and on those hills, we are willing to die. We are so willing to stay “clean” that we don’t care if anyone is left shunned in the process. We don’t stop to show compassion – we look away and pretend we aren’t existing in a broken world.
The contentious proposed bill – which, for the record, is not as liberal and progressive as you might think – sets conditions one has to meet to get an abortion: 1) where the pregnancy will endanger the physical and mental health of the woman, 2) malformation of the foetus and 3) in case of incest and rape. The bill seeks to provide safe healthcare for such women by making public hospitals a safe place to carry out abortions instead of women turning to dangerous alternative options. I’m not about to argue whether abortion is right or wrong. The point of my post is to invite us to stop, listen and show compassion at the brokenness that exists in the world we live in. We are not having the conversation around abortion and women having autonomy over their bodies just so that we can kill innocent lives, but rather because everyone has a right to make whatever decisions they want to with their body.
If your biggest takeaway in the conversation around the abortion bill is that women want the right to kill innocent children, then you are not listening. You are just responding because of your own presuppositions and not at the issues at hand. Like the priest and Levite in the parable of the Good Samaritan, you are not only walking away but you are doing so without even glancing at the problem.
When we simplify the bill to just the “murder of the innocent”, we are ignoring some of the biggest problems faced by women in this world – problems that the bill would help solve or, at least, minimise. We are looking away at the wounded. We are closing our eyes to the reality that carrying a pregnancy to term is not as simple as we want it to be. We get to close our eyes because we have not yet or will never know the complexities of keeping a child or the weight of deciding what is right or wrong.
Even if you have a uterus (i.e. potential to carry a child), it does not mean it is your position to make the choice for others to not be able to have the option to make a choice. What others do with their bodies should be their choice! We will not be there to help take care of the child. In most cases, that will be the responsibility and burden of the woman and the people screaming “abortion is murder” will not be there for the woman raising this child. Most of the men who have been very outspoken against abortion do not speak as loudly against rape and GBV even when the rapists are sitting in their pews and tithing. We are the first to look down on teen moms, single mothers and those with children outside of wedlock. We are the first to spend a lot of money on church buildings and cathedrals but not homes for kids who currently live in the streets or teen moms who have been kicked out of their homes.
Church, what alternatives are we offering to counter the injustices that abortion bill seeks to remedy? I am hearing a lot of critiques but not many solutions. I am not hearing many acknowledgements of the problem of patriarchy. Perhaps, this is unsurprising (how can you critique a system you benefit from and part of?) but as a church community, we can be better at being quick to listen and slow to speak. We can be better at centering women’s voices on issues that directly affect them and are about them. We can be better at loving thy neighbour by being compassionate.
Jesus ends the parable of the good Samaritan by commanding the lawyer to “go and do likewise”. Is that not our command as well? To love our neighbour is to get down and dirty and carry their pain as if it was our own. It is to show sympathy for the injustice they face and not oversimplify choices that are too complex to have black and white answers.
Whether or not the abortion bill passes does not stop abortion, neither does your “abortion is murder” post. Women are risking and losing their lives every day because they do not have access to the healthcare they need to make better choices about their lives. Does the sanctity of life not matter for these lives too? Or are we only pro the lives of the unborn? My challenge to us Christians is to stop only looking at things in the form of binaries. The world is way too colourful and sometimes depressingly grey for us to only view it in a black and white way.
We, for far too long, have operated under the illusion of Malawi being a Christian nation and/or God-fearing nation. One wonders why these God-fearing people only pop up in the discussion of what women should do with their bodies and not when it is time to hold abusers, rapists, murderers, thieves, sexually immoral religious leaders accountable. We use these phrases to point out the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the log in our own.
Christians are, in theory, the religious majority. I say in theory because if we truly were the Christian or God-fearing country we claim then our society would look very different from what it does now.
While many affiliate themselves with Christianity, we are not the only ones who inhabit this land – we cannot control people’s choices. We cannot take away the God-given freedom of choice from people. It is a human right to have choices and express agency upon that which impacts your life. Being a Christian myself, I understand our innate need to proselytize non-believers. If your theology puts all of the nation’s moral responsibility on those who believe in God, then that’s your theology. Why should your theology get to dictate everyone else’s? Shouldn’t everyone have the freedom to believe what they do and make choices in line with their own belief system? Christian nationalism and Christianity are not the same thing – let us not confuse politics and kingdom business.
Our greatest responsibility as Christians is to love God and love our neighbour. Offering a practical example of loving our neighbour in Matthew 25:40-45, Jesus talks about us feeding the hungry, clothing those in need, welcoming in strangers, visiting those in prison and whatever else fits as the “least of these”. The least in society are the powerless and marginalized; those who have suffered injustice. It is the righteous that Jesus condemns for failing to do this, as he says in another part of scripture “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practised the latter, without neglecting the former. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Matthew 23:23-24.
I have been a Christian long enough to know that many amongst us convince themselves that harming others can sometimes be a loving thing. We often justify this with the “truth always has to be spoken in love” but if our love justifies harming people with our actions and positions, then is it really love? I don’t know about you but caring only for my agenda even if it is harmful to others doesn’t feel loving to me. It seems like the actions of the priest and Levite. The truth is the law could have justified them walking away from a hurting man; Christ, however, doesn’t do the same. Because looking away when others are being harmed is not loving.
I know you think you are loving an unborn child by fighting for it even though it doesn’t exist. But is it worth doing so at the expense of actual women who exist and are harming themselves because they cannot access proper healthcare that helps them safely carry out their choices? I am pro the abortion bill because I am pro-life – I care and value the sanctity of life. I care about the lives of the thousands of lives that we lose yearly due to unsafe abortions just as much as I care about a child in the womb. Dualistic thinking assumes that these two things cannot coexist, but they can because life is not as binary and simple as we make it seem. My theology and politics make room for the woman who wants to keep the child and who doesn’t. That is their choice and I believe it should always be their choice. It makes me angry and grieves me deeply to see many of my brothers and sisters of faith see statistics like “over 100,000 women die due to unsafe abortions yearly” and not even show any sympathy for these women. What is it about the belief that you are holding on to that cannot even make you compassionate?
A closing thought, if you are reading this and are convinced that I do not care for the sanctity of life and just want hospitals to offer murder services then once again, you aren’t listening. My hope in writing this is to bring nuance to a complex conversation that we Christians often walk away from without hearing out the voices of others. My challenge to my fellow Christians is this; how different would this conversation look if we were quick to listen, show compassion and grace? Would it affect the bills passed in parliament? Would it affect how we participate in the work on justice and the generosity that our faith calls us to do? Perhaps we would be more effective by being people who love and care for the women around us regardless of whatever choices they make with their bodies. Perhaps churches would be a place where shame, abuse and violence in all forms do not exist. A place for people to find hope, healing and connection to the almighty while loving those around them.
My childlike faith dreams of churches that consistently care and value the sanctity of life enough to build homes and shelters for those in need, adopt children who need loving homes, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and love the pregnant woman regardless what choices she makes with her body. I hope we can be a church that seeks justice for the oppressed, abused, violated; a church that radically holds oppressive systems accountable. One that is not afraid to speak out against all forms of toxic masculinity or misogyny while centering and including those who this conversation concerns the most. My hope is that we will not be too consumed with preserving power, control and political reign that we forget or confuse our mandate. My hope is that we will be a true reflection of the kingdom we all belong to. Where everyone is loved and belongs, whatever choices they have made in the past or present or future. The kind of radical love that understands that life is complicated, and there is always grace for the complicated.