These things we can say together

Is there Common Ground on abortion? Is there any hope of fruitful dialogue? Is it possible for pro-lifers and pro-choicers to work together to reduce abortion? Can this happen in our sharply divided nation? Can it happen in the PC(USA)?

Tuesday was one of those days filled with little occurrences that are separate, yet somehow all of a piece. By afternoon I began to ponder whether God was trying to communicate something in particular. After a few days of reflection I think maybe I am seeing a way forward for the church on the prickly issue of abortion and perhaps even a model for other areas of conflict…..or I could be wrong. Let me just ‘think it through’ aloud in this blog and you can respond with your comments.

This morning I made a presentation to the Pittsburgh Presbytery Council on behalf of The Pittsburgh Presbytery’s Task Force to Study Abortion. As I was waiting, I chatted with a friend…

A friend of mine asked if she could talk with me a while ago and confessed that she had not one abortion, not two….she had four abortions, and the guilt! She cried and cried. Fortunately she attends a church that teaches forgiveness through Jesus Christ and she is going to be okay…

I was called into the Council meeting to give the Task Force report. I requested that Council approve distribution of the report to the churches in the Presbytery. I told how four women with differing views on abortion were surprised to discover common areas of concern and a shared vision for tangible, practical care and ministry that if engaged by the whole church could provide women with real alternatives to abortion. Our study together did not alter our political or theological positions on abortion, but we found a desire to work together to reduce abortion in our denomination and in our community.

One council member admitted that when he saw the topic of the Task Force report—abortion-- he cringed and almost didn’t read it. He expressed his weariness of the debate on abortion. But then he shared how he was drawn in as he began to read and he concluded by saying it was the “most even-handed” and perhaps the “best” document he had seen from the church on abortion. He enthusiastically gave his endorsement for the broadest possible distribution of the resource.

As I left the meeting of the Council, I fell into conversation with a stranger who had listened to my presentation…

Didn’t President Obama say he wanted to work with pro-lifers on alternatives to abortion?

I explained that I’ve been away for a few days and haven’t paid attention to the media. We were interrupted and our conversation ended.

I stopped at McDonald’s for a cup of coffee and a late breakfast and headed back to my office. I turned on the radio, set to my favorite Christian station…

The solution to conflict and division in the church is God’s grace!

Yes! That resonates with my recent experience on this Task Force. We listened to one another carefully and deeply. We shared our hearts and not simply our positions. We extended grace to one another in the prickly moments when we disagreed most sharply. Sometimes we were simply silent rather than being defensive. We were aware of deep differences in the way we read and interpret Scripture and in our political positions on abortion. Yet, we found commonality as beings created in God’s image, sinners for whom Christ died. God’s grace provided a unity that was stronger than our differences.

Upon arriving at the PPL office I found in my email inbox two articles and a video link all responding to President Obama’s commencement speech at Notre Dame University. Baptist Press said:

Obama urged both sides of the abortion debate "to work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions," to "reduce unintended pregnancies," to "make adoption more available" and to "provide care and support for women who do carry their children to term.""Let's honor the conscience of those who disagree with abortion and draft a sensible conscience clause and make sure that all of our health-care policies are grounded not only in sound science but also in clear ethics, as well as respect for the equality of women," the president said.[1]

All three commentators agreed there is NO common ground. The problem they exposed is that Obama’s call to “work together” is denied by the pro-abortion actions he has taken since his inauguration and by the appointments of numerous pro-abortion radicals to positions of power and influence.

I found myself reminded of the PC(USA) policy document on abortion, “Problem Pregnancies and Abortion”. The policy document was written by the Special Committee on Problem Pregnancies and Abortion and approved by the General Assembly of the PC(USA) in 1992. The Committee was made up of persons with differing views on abortion. Like Obama they acknowledged the conflict on this issue. They recommended that future publications of the denomination reflect the diversity of positions on abortion. They called the church to “open debate” and “mutual respect” in areas of controversy and debate. And, like Obama, they expressed a desire to protect individual conscience.

Unfortunately, like Obama, the actions of the PC(USA) in advocating an extreme abortion rights position over the years since 1992 have caused all the words about “areas of substantial agreement[2]” to be neglected and forgotten. The portion of the document dealing with the church and the law is the section over which there was the least agreement among committee members.[3] It essentially affirms that there should be NO laws restricting abortion or limiting access to or public funding for abortion. For many years Louisville staff and the Washington Office have used this part of the 1992 document as platform from which to advocate for unrestricted and fully funded abortion.

Recently, however there seems to be a change. During the last two years there has been a virtual silence on abortion from the Washington Office. That silence is a welcome breathing space that allows dialogue on abortion to bear fruit in groups like the Pittsburgh Presbytery Task Force to Study Abortion.

What does this uncanny string of Tuesday’s events mean? What is God saying?

I think the point is this. What that one Presbytery Council member found to be so different in the Task Force’s report from other church documents on abortion is simple. We did not attempt to make a statement on those things about which we disagree. We chose to focus on our areas of agreement and we sought God’s guidance to help us identify what we could do together. We extended God’s grace to one another in all the areas of disagreement between us and we relinquished our need to say more than those things about which we were united. We essentially said only two things: 1) The church needs to break silence on abortion and talk to one another about their differences, and 2) The church can do much better in making alternatives to abortion tangible and practical choices for women.

The search for common ground can be treacherous. Too often it crumbles beneath us into coercion and compromise and leaves a trail of forsaken conscience and lost integrity. Too often “dialogue” is a thinly veiled “hearing” by a governing entity that has already decided their course of action. I don’t hold a lot of hope for finding common ground with the Obama administration on abortion, but for the church I have a great hope.

“The solution to conflict in the church is God’s grace.” Yes! There it is. When we practice God’s grace we hear the other’s heart. We listen to views that oppose our own and forsake angry response. We make ourselves vulnerable by the completeness of our honesty. When God’s grace is present and acknowledged we are reduced to the lowest common denominator--- we are all sinners saved by grace through the death of Christ on the cross. In the presence of God’s grace we know complete equality and our common value as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High God.

From such loved-ness comes the safety to engage in open-hearted, honest, caring conversation that helps us identify those things--limited though they may—that we can do together to make a tangible difference in the lives of women and men facing problem pregnancies. This we can do. This we must do.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. John 13:35


Report of the Pittsburgh Presbytery Task Force to Study Abortion, May 2009
Obama's 'Common Ground' on Abortion is Killing Ground, Family Research Council, May 20, 2009

[1]Pro-Lifers: Policies deny common ground, Staff, Baptist Press, May 18, 2009.
[2] The report said there was “substantial agreement” that “we are disturbed by abortions that seem to be elected only as a convenience” and that “abortion should not be used as a method of birth control” or “for gender selection” or “to obtain fetal parts for transplantation.” The committee expressed “grave concern” over the number of abortions in our society. There was agreement that “we ought to express love and grace to one another,” and that “after a human life has begun, it is to be cherished and protected as a precious gift of God,” and that “taking human life is sin.” (pp.10-11)
[3] Problem Pregnancies & Abortion, Section E.3, e, 1-3, p.15


  1. Interesting insights Marie!

    A new Gallup Poll finds 51% of Americans calling themselves "pro-life" on the issue of abortion and 42% "pro-choice." This is the first time a majority of U.S. adults have identified themselves as pro-life since Gallup began asking this question in 1995.

    Ironic that we may find that the PC (USA) is more “pro-choice” than the general U.S. population.


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