The abortion debate is heating up in my home state of Tennessee. In a few weeks, voters will affirm or reject this amendment to the state Constitution:
Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion. The people retain the right through their elected state representatives and state senators to enact, amend, or repeal statutes regarding abortion, including, but not limited to, circumstances of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest or when necessary to save the life of the mother.
The amendment is a long time coming. In 2000, the Tennessee Supreme Court in a 4-1 decision swept away a number of common-sense abortion restrictions in favor of a perceived Constitutional right to privacy, a decision with implications that exceed even the limits of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Since 2000, the states around Tennessee have increased regulations on abortion, while Tennessee has become something of an “abortion destination” where one can receive an abortion on demand, without waiting periods, ultrasound requirements, and various other elements of informed consent. The TN amendment will open the door for legislation regulating the abortion business.
It’s one thing to be pro-life nationally, but it’s also important to be pro-life locally. That’s why I’ve been watching with interest how this debate has unfolded in our state.
At least 20 county governments have approved resolutions backing Amendment 1, but the pro-abortion side is out-fundraising pro-lifers. The campaign to defeat Amendment 1 took in more than $1.5 million in July, August, and September, while proponents raised $631,576. On Oct. 10 the pro-abortion side had $1.6 million on hand and planned an aggressive get-out-the-vote and television ad campaign.
The list of anti-Amendment-1 contributions is heavy with Planned Parenthood affiliates. The April/May/June published statement, for example, included $189,500 from Planned Parenthood of Middle and Eastern Tennessee, $50,000 from Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (Seattle), and other large contributions from Planned Parenthood groups in southern California, Massachusetts, Kansas/Missouri, and Southern states.
The Vote No on 1 campaign has focused on government interference. Planned Parenthood and other abortion businesses have rallied people to the phones to call likely voters and encourage them to vote no. I’ve never seen the big abortion businesses so exorcised over the potential of new legislation. I’m not surprised, though, since these types of regulations generally result in less abortions, which lead to less revenue.
Meanwhile, the pink “YesOn1″ signs are everywhere in middle Tennessee. We see bumper stickers, signs in downtown Nashville, in neighborhoods, on busy streets, in front of businesses. And even in front of churches.
It’s the church element that has led to consternation from abortion advocates in Tennessee. Why would a church put up a sign for a Constitutional amendment? Why would a church devote time to informing members about a vote? Isn’t this mixing religion and politics? Isn’t it against IRS regulations?
The week after a large evangelical church in middle Tennessee devoted attention to “YesOn1,” the local newspaper ran a story that featured “dismay” from opponents. The story was fair; it gave voice to both sides of the debate, quoted from the IRS regulations, and laid out the facts with journalistic integrity.
What bothered me about the article was the argument put forth from a woman who, while respecting the church’s work on behalf of the disadvantaged in the city, believed the church had overstepped its bounds in advocating for a political cause. I was afraid that the potential for controversy might cause other churches to stay quiet.
So, I wrote a letter to the editor, which was printed in the next Sunday paper, defending the church’s right to take a position on issues related to life.
In “Church hosts Amendment 1 backers to dismay of opposition,” Rebekah Majors-Manley expresses her disapproval of New Vision Baptist Church’s decision to promote a TN amendment that will allow voters and legislators to pursue reasonable restrictions on abortion access in Tennessee.
Majors-Manley respects New Vision’s work on behalf of the poor, but she believes churches should not take positions in political matters that concern public policy.
On this issue, New Vision is in line with a 2000-year-old tradition of Christians who show love to the most vulnerable human beings among us. Their advocacy for the unborn is reminiscent of the early Christians who rescued infants left to die of exposure in the “throw-away culture” of the Roman Empire.
By leveraging their influence on behalf of the voiceless, New Vision is acting consistently with the witness of Scripture and the testimony of the church for two millennia.
Majors-Manley’s arguments, on the other hand, are reminiscent of the segregationist position a generation ago and the citizens who told pastors and churches to stay out of politics and stop pursuing civil rights for African-Americans. Where would we be without the prophetic witness of Martin Luther King Jr. and prominent churches who leveraged their influence on behalf of the oppressed and marginalized?
New Vision’s “good work” on behalf of the poor cannot be separated from their work on behalf of the unborn. When walking the Jericho Road, Christians see all who are in need — whether poor, downtrodden, wounded, or unborn — and like the Good Samaritan, we say, “There is my neighbor.”
We’re living in an interesting cultural moment. Though religious influence seems to be on the decline, recent polls show Americans want more religious voices speaking out on political issues, not less. Just last week, city attorneys in Houston issued subpoenas to local pastors who had expressed opposition to an ordinance regarding access to public restrooms. Thousands of pastors are, in effect, daring the IRS to investigate them after endorsing candidates on “Pulpit Freedom Sunday.”
I’m uncomfortable with pastors endorsing political candidates (even though I affirm their right to do so), largely because of how easy it is for churches to become a rallying point for political agendas – whether on the left or the right. But when it comes to defending the weakest members of the human family, I believe churches should feel free to speak up.
Neighbors who love the vulnerable. This is who we are. This is what the gospel makes us.