Roe-ing, Wade-ing, & Reflecting

Today is the 41st anniversary of the landmark decision immortalized as “Roe v. Wade.”

This may seem like a silly play on words for the sake of a blog metaphor (and one which has probably been done before), but if Roe v. Wade was a changing of the tide, I wonder how we are all doing – as a nation, as a church, as a human race – in these new seas. How are we getting on? Are we sure of ourselves or just wading out a little further into the ocean of safe and legal abortion to see if it all works? Have we climbed into our row boat and launched out into a new age of reproductive rights for women with total commitment, only to find the seas a little stormier than expected?

Are we better for all this, navigating like seasoned sea captains?

Or are we more lost – even shipwrecked?

I don’t think there’s a black and white, one size fits all answer to this, but it’s a good time to reflect. When the answers do come in a black and white negative or positive, it ought to give us some pause. The nuances here are pretty overwhelming. The stakes are pretty damn high.

I’ve said before that when it comes to the perspective of a government and its legislation, it seems pretty unavoidable that “safe and legal” is the best option, with hopes that there might be movement toward the third part of the slogan, “rare.” But I just can’t, in good conscience, feel happy about any of this. I can’t celebrate.

So I guess I’m wading, and hoping that a better, if unforeseen, legislative option may come along before I get too deep.

And when it comes to the church, and how we are doing in all of this – well, we’re doing pretty miserably, honestly, and it goes deep into our own theology and culture. Instead of supporting women as equal human beings, we’ve suppressed and demeaned them, using choice Bible verses and swift theological dismissals to facilitate a culture of shame. In this culture, female sexuality is the enemy and men are the victims – a recipe ripe for all kinds of disasters including unwanted pregnancies. Then, when those overwhelming, terrifying pregnancies happen and abortion is chosen, we’ve shamed, suppressed, and ostracized women again. And we’ve topped it all off with politicized rage, sealing the cycle of shame for good.

You know the duct tape that pro-life protesters often wear in honor of pre-born lives lost?

I think we should all wear that when it comes to the women who have chosen or are considering abortion. 

We should stop with all the Scripture and shame, the preaching and judging.

And maybe, if we really believe that the God of life desires breath for every conceived baby, we should also get consistent and oppose war and the death penalty and the wretched doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell for the vast majority of human beings.

And we should start loving and supporting all living women as full equals, regardless of decisions about sex and reproduction. We should advocate for women, empower their leadership and vision, and fight for their rights in the midst of global oppression. That’s what it means to support life, and that’s how some of the deep cultural realities that lead to unwanted pregnancy and abortion in the first place will be truly, deeply, and holistically changed.

So that’s it, I suppose.

When it comes to Roe v. Wade, I’m wading.

But when it comes to advocating for the rights and equality of women, I’m all in.

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About Zach Hoag

Zach J. Hoag is a writer and missional minister from notoriously non-religious New England. His book, Nothing but the Blood: The Gospel According to Dexter was released in 2012. Twitter & Facebook.

  • Amy K Thedinga

    That’ll preach!  Good word Zach.

  • zachhoag

    Amy K Thedinga thanks amy :)

  • jkabaerg

    Timely topic for myself. My current boyfriend and I had a heated argument on this topic. I’m a pacifist (he’s not though he’s firmly pro-life) and a rape survivor (my ex-fiance) and for a while I was unsure if I was pregnant. I am aware of the contradiction but I would have had an abortion. I was in a situation where I would have had more burdens than I could have coped with and it would have been me and the child (suicide) or the child dying. He couldn’t see how I could feel this way. I get it. I get that there is really no way I could transfer those feelings – the shame, the fear, the chaos, the family shunning and all of that. Now almost 6 years later I would make a different decision if I had been pregnant but I’m also in a position where I can – privilege swings this discussion in different directions too. 

    I know we want to live in the spaces of black and white – I would love to live there.  But instead, I think we need to find a place where the discussion isn’t about abortion being safe and legal but how to do we change the systems so those choice don’t have to be made, rather than just taking it away. Where do we make it not the woman’s “fault” for a pregnancy – whether rape or unplanned and where do we find ways of encouraging men to be a part of the process in a way that doesn’t shame them for being “dead beats” or giving them freedom to walk away because “it’s just in their nature.” I know those aren’t easy questions and I don’t know what our answers are.

  • zachhoag

    jkabaerg  wonderful points, especially “privilege swings this discussion in different directions too.” thank you for sharing some of your story. :)

  • Joshkap

    I only know of one outspoken source who addresses this issue from the perspectives of the Bible, Christian history and medical science and who still comes out kinda pro-choice,  That is the young Yale Divinity Grad. Jonathan Dudley.  His arguments look well reasoned to me.  I appreciate the respectful, nuance here Zach.  I think many people want to take a similar line, but they don’t know how.  Perhaps they need Dudley’s help.

  • zachhoag

    Joshkap Thanks Josh – I’m not familiar with Jonathan, but his perspective sounds similar. Appreciate the input.

  • fellowtravailer

    “we should also get consistent and oppose war and the death penalty and the wretched doctrine of eternal conscious torment in hell for the vast majority of human beings.” Just wondering what is inconsistent with protecting the innocent and punishing the guilty? Seems rather consistent to me. Unborn = innocent. Hussein = guilty. Me = guilty > hell. Me (converted) = innocent > heaven.

  • zachhoag

    fellowtravailer Come, now. War doesn’t just mainly kill Hussein – it mainly kills innocent people. And the death penalty takes innocent life on the regular, especially those who are marginalized minorities. (And the justice system is unjust in this way to begin with.) And hell – do you believe that aborted babies go to heaven automatically? If so, isn’t that better than rolling the dice with a life in which the odds are overwhelmingly that you will burn forever? And is “innocence” predicated on not receiving a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime – when eternal hell is given to all the nonelect for the even the slightest infraction?

    I think we need to clarify some terms here.

  • jkabaerg

    fellowtravailer This depends on how you see the work of Christ and the effect of sin on humanity. Are fetuses/children to a certain age innocent or is it fundamental in all our DNA? As for the issue of adults at war and the death penalty – we have flawed systems, most highly influenced by privilege where we decide who is “good/innocent” and who is “bad/sinner/evil.” As such to say a war is just or the death penalty is just is to suggest we know perfectly the actions are wrong and ours are right and that those on the “wrong side” are outside of God’s plan of shalom and restoration.  This does not suggest we shouldn’t respond to injustice or have a penal system, it does suggest just like with the issue of abortion we are quick to ignore our privilege be it social, political and spiritual and have an overly simplistic understanding of God’s work of redemption and declare those who are on the margins guilty. 

    Does this sort of answer your question? I’m sure Zach will have a more nuanced/coherent response.

  • fellowtravailer

    zachhoag fellowtravailer
    Thank you both for your responses. I do appreciate you
    taking the time to share questions and have dialog. I really do want to be a
    pacifist and a universalist (or even an annihilationist) but I just can’t get
    there. I have honestly tried but I can’t find a way to be consistent which is
    why I seized on that word in the original post.
    I hope to be able to post momentarily on each subject you raise.
    Humbly yours,

  • fellowtravailer

    Hell. Hate it. Unfortunately I do believe in eternal
    damnation but not because I want to. I do not believe that innocent children or
    unborn go there regardless of when or by whose hand they died. If either of us believed
    in the “roll the dice” logic then we’d go home and murder all our under-aged
    children. Where I take solace here is that the decision about hell is between
    God and the individual. I pray that I may be a useful instrument in preventing
    someone going there. Again, I loathe this doctrine but I see it as consistent
    with Jesus’ teachings on the subject.

  • fellowtravailer

    War. Sucks. Every. Time. But sometimes in order to protect
    and save the innocent we must bear arms. Most US wars have not met the criteria
    for ‘just’ or ‘necessary’ and that is why war should always be entered into
    with great trepidation. (Regardless of my earlier statement, deposing Hussein
    was not a just goal….so please don’t pick that nit.) However, I think I could argue
    that a few wars have been for the greater good of humanity.

  • fellowtravailer

    Capital Punishment. Reprehensible. It should only be
    administered in cases where there is no doubt AT ALL. However, I see people
    like Ted Bundy who gave up his right to life by taking other lives. Although
    most capital cases aren’t those of serial killers they are all meant to stop
    the perpetrator from being able to repeat that action. I also see your point
    about racial disparity. Unfortunately the greatest majority of murders occur in
    minority communities and that is why most of us are not willing to move our wives
    and daughters to those communities. We realize the danger would be far greater
    than our ability to help stem the tide of violence. I really wish we had a way
    for our justice system(or everyday life) to operate without racial bias ever
    being a consideration.
    I hope that clarifies some of my earlier statements and
    answers a few of your questions.
    Again, thanks for your thoughtful responses.
    Humbly yours,

  • HappyHeretic

    fellowtravailerzachhoag  You may see it as being consistent with your understanding of Jesus’ teaching, but how is it consistent with his character?

  • HappyHeretic

    fellowtravailerzachhoag  I would be interested in what you would define as a just or necessary war?

  • fellowtravailer

    HappyHeretic fellowtravailer zachhoag If you will permit a definition: “Truth is that which is consistent with itself.” I find it difficult to believe that Jesus would teach something inconsistent with his character. I apologize in advance if I misunderstood your question.

  • fellowtravailer

    HappyHeretic fellowtravailer zachhoag The American Civil War and World War II seem to me to meet the criteria of just and necessary, but maybe the arc of the moral universe would have bent toward justice in those cases too.

  • zachhoag

    fellowtravailer thanks for elaborating there. i think you might have missed my point about hell – a consistent ethic of life doesn’t square with eternal conscious torment precisely because aborted babies are (by your admission) better off. this is one of the reasons why i reject ECT.

    another reason is that Jesus actually didn’t teach it – but that’s a whole other story :).

  • HappyHeretic

    fellowtravailerHappyHereticzachhoag  I don’t mean to insinuate Jesus would teach something inconsistent with his character.  My personal journey to universalism began with what I took to be the irreconcilable contradiction between the character of Jesus as the vessel for salvation through grace and tossing people into ECT (thanks, Zach for the acronym).  Everything about the character of Jesus made me question the doctrine.  For close to 2 decades I dismissed Christianity as hopelessly self-contradictory until I stumbled across some arguments for universalism that shattered the paradigm.  I don’t know your experience, but I was raised with a staunchly conservative Arminian Christianity.  Until I could divorce the doctrines from the character of Jesus and then work backwards, I couldn’t shake the paradigm.  This is off topic and so probably not the place to get too deep into this, but I would encourage you to keep looking if you really ‘hate’ the doctrine of Hell.  I am neither clergy nor theologian so I hesitate to make too strong a statement about what is or isn’t, but I think there is a compelling case to be made for universalism that, to me anyway, solves the problems of the other extremes.

  • HappyHeretic

    fellowtravailerHappyHereticzachhoag So, I am not a pacifist (at least not yet, anyway).  I spent 6 years in the US Marine Corps.  Isn’t it interesting though, that WWII was virtually a direct result of WWI, which, in turn, was, at least partially, a result of the Franco-Prussian War, which was also partly a result of the Austro-Prussian War?  Wars begetting wars.  And the Civil War, although proximately about slavery, was primarily undertaken to ‘preserve the union.’  And 100 years of Jim Crow laws afterwards can make one wonder if a war was the most effective means to resist the evil of slavery.

    I think there are times where force may be necessary, but it does set up a troubling paradigm.  Like my comments earlier about power structures, I think violence is also baked-in to our DNA.  And what is spoken of. theoretically, as a last resort seems far too often to be a first.

    Enjoy your comments.  Thanks

  • Joshkap

    Good posts! 
    Here’s a few links that explore the topic of hell in the scriptures and how it is being discussed in recent scholarship.  I lean toward the Conditional Immortality view.
    Kurt Willems says about Edward Fudge
    “His book is considered the best academic treatment of conditional
    immortality / annihilationalism that there is”
    Fudge lays it out briefly here

    There’s a new movie detailing the drama behind Fudge’s
    struggle coming to this view. but I don’t know how to see it without
    paying $25.

    And Willems hosted a series of blog posts on hell here: