Pastoral Message Following the Overturning of Roe v. Wade
Beloved people of God,
Christ’s rich grace be yours as we strive, as God’s church, to be witnesses to that grace, particularly in turbulent times fraught with political and social discord. My pastoral message offers basic reflections on the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States to overturn a previous Supreme Court decision in Roe vs. Wade.
First, I commend to you Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton’s pastoral message to the entire ELCA. You may find her message at this link: pastoral statement issued by Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton.
Second, I urge you to read the ELCA Social Statement on Abortion. It is a relatively short social statement, which is a teaching document intended to inform discernment around complex public issues drawn from biblical, confessional, and theological commitments of Lutheran Christians. Please read the ELCA’s carefully nuanced teaching document yourself in this statement. You may find this social statement at this link: ELCA social statement on abortion.
Now I offer a few basic reflections. The social statement asserts, “The strong Christian presumption is to preserve and protect life.” Consequently, the weight of Lutheran theology and conviction falls on the side of carrying a pregnancy to term and avoiding induced abortion.
Still, the social statement recognizes that sometimes pregnancies occur in difficult, complex situations. Accordingly, the social statement grants that the circumstances of a given pregnancy could be such that aborting that pregnancy may be morally justifiable. As church, as the gathered people of God, we are “called to be a compassionate community, praying and standing with those who struggle with decisions” as they arise from unintended pregnancy, involuntary pregnancy, or health risk pregnancy. The Social Statement advocates that pregnant women, in deep conversation with their physicians, their families, and their pastors, have agency (ability, authority, and opportunity) to discern whether and when aborting their pregnancy may be morally justifiable.
It appears that, in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade being overturned, this deep conversation around a morally justifiable abortion in a particular pregnancy, considering all the attendant circumstances of that particular pregnancy, will be able to take place in some states and will not be able to take place in other states.
Questions and concerns about ramifications of this Supreme Court decision remain open, even beyond concern about restrictions on abortion so stringent that the restrictions preclude community conversation of a morally justifiable abortion. For example, will restrictions affect poor and working-class women and families more than women and families with ample financial resources? If there are medical exceptions that allow abortion as a legal option, who will decide if a particular medical condition suffices? What proof of rape will be required, if abortion is a legal option in the case of rape? These questions themselves require moral discernment.
We live in a time when there appear to be no limits to vitriol and self-righteous villainizing of one’s opponents. That cannot be us. We Lutheran Christians frame our understanding of what it is to live as a Christian in daily life around God’s grace. All that we are and all that we hope to be is the result of God’s love and forgiveness, freely given to us sinners through Jesus Christ. Gratitude for God’s grace leads us to be gracious with and respectful of others, and particularly women and girls agonizing with a pregnancy in fraught circumstances.
Let us ever walk with Jesus, follow his example pure,
Through a world that would deceive us and to sin our spirits lure.
Onward in his footsteps treading, trav’lers here, our home above,
Full of faith and hope and love, let us do our Savior’s bidding.
Faithful Lord, with me abide; I shall follow where you guide.
Bishop, Central/Southern Illinois Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America