One of the phrases from Scripture that comes back to me with some regularity whenever I talk with people who are suffering is one that many of us know well from Psalm 139, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
How many of us need these words at various points in our lives? How many of us need the reminder that we were formed by God before consciousness – that we were loved before our biological parents even knew we were stirring to life?
I have friends who are all over the political and theological map. They come with a range of experiences, views, and doctrinal interpretations and I value their faith, intellect, and integrity. I find myself physically ill when those who are more “conservative” are called bigots because they are wrestling with Scripture faithfully in light of social change. I find myself deeply frustrated when more “liberal” friends are disregarded because their faith is second-guessed as they try to remain active in the Church even as they see it re-enacting sexism, bigotry, or homophobia they long to see left behind.
What I am seeing emerge, particularly in new generations of clergy and believers, are interesting blends of conservatism around some aspects of faith and liberalism around others. For example, I see theological conservatives active as voices for social change. I see theological liberals coming to the most traditional of liturgical churches. I see a combination of pragmatism about the work of evangelism in which ideological differences are set aside for the sake of Kingdom building. Yet, I also see a zero-sum mindset at times in the Church in which one side sees the need to “win” on a given issue while ensuring the ostracism of the “losing” side.
Yet, in all of this, I see a longing for the Church to be that which gathers people from all over the map (literally and figuratively) and gives them a shared home and hope.
I write this with an eye toward a theological dissonance that has emerged with greater clarity for me over the years. I find myself returning to my pro-life roots. I also find my sense of the need for greater welcoming of LGBT folks being strengthened. Politically, this is a challenging place to be. Our national political dialogue makes enemies of these positions. Yet, theologically, the Venn diagram has come into focus for me a bit and it rests, in part, on that promise of Psalm 139.
“You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” Reading this one line of Scripture (and it is difficult to read any one line in isolation of course) I find myself challenged to think more deeply about what it means to be pro-life. A God who knows us and inspires our creation and who guards us in the womb must be a God who longs for our protection when we are most vulnerable. Yet, that vulnerability does not end when we are born. Indeed, to be pro-life must mean that life is absolutely precious and must be tended and cared for in all the ways a civilized society can manage. This must mean robust care for mothers and children before and long after birth.
The vulnerability we all share as human beings is particularly acute among those who are LGBT. They find their worth questioned and their dignity undermined in ways that I never will. The God who knows us in the womb must, I assume, know wherever we may find ourselves on the gender and sexuality spectrum. The many people in the congregations I have served who are LGBT are not people who chose “disordered affections” at some decisive moment in their lives or were recruited by wizened gays and lesbians. They were born this way and long to live as God has called them into being. They were known in their mothers’ wombs.
The God of creation – the God of new birth – imparts an inherent and inviolable dignity as we are made of the very likeness of God. The conferral of God’s love cannot, I believe, only happen at the second of physical birth. The intricacy of God’s working in and through us begins with the Word – in the beginning. Our longed-for birth comes out of a creation that is, like Christ himself, held in the heart of God from the beginning of time. We are in the beginning – we are with God – at rest in the fullness of Christ’s own being as heirs of an eternal promise that stretches before our consciousness.
I believe that people make poor decisions across their lives. Some will drink. Some will smoke. Some will hurt others. Some will try and fail. Some will never try. We will sin, we will fail God, and God delights in our salvation. There are choices we all make that God counts as part of our growth – part of the process of turning toward God in hope and for healing.
I do not believe that being gay is one of those choices. I do not believe that being born is one of those choices. The God of grace knows us as part of his created order from the very beginning and calls us good.
The Church’s call is to protect the vulnerable – to protect that which God has called into being. Of course, through our own fault and through the fault of others, we will be drawn into a web of sin and sin-stained choices. War, poverty, famine, and more are all part of sinful cycles in which we are caught up. Yet, through it all God calls us to be faithful witnesses that his mercy endures. That his love is made manifest. That the Body of Christ can heal a broken world.
There are a host of policy options that must be considered when thinking about abortion – any realistic person knows this. Yet, it seems dangerous to pretend that legal abortion is somehow an anodyne or sanitary policy choice. It is the ending of life. Camille Paglia, the noted scholar, who is very much pro-choice (she would even say pro-abortion), noted recently that, “Progressives need to do some soul-searching about their reflex rhetoric in demeaning the pro-life cause. A liberal credo that is variously anti-war, anti-fur, vegan, and committed to environmental protection of endangered species like the sage grouse or spotted owl should not be so stridently withholding its imagination and compassion from the unborn.”
I suppose this is where I find myself – trying to do soul-searching about what it means to hold in tension all that which is held in many quarters to be diametrically opposed. I am not much of a theologian really – I have no advanced degree work in theology beyond a basic degree in priestcraft (an M.Div.) so I do not know how any of this squares with neo-Platonism, Barth, natural law, Radical Orthodoxy, or the like. I have almost written this piece a few times – never quite sure how or what to say – or what might be theologically tenable. I do know though that God keeps stirring me to think and pray more deeply about these things and to have the humility to know that I might be wrong.
By his holy Incarnation Christ entered the world as a child in the loving arms of a mother – he entered with vulnerability and relying on the care of a Mother and a guardian. For God so loved the world, he gave his only Son. I firmly believe that it was because God so loved the world that you and I were given to it too. We are here for the love and through the love of God to be that love for those who find themselves broken, lost, and bereft.
Whether still in the womb or whether struggling with what it means to be both gay and Christian – God has given us a greater, deeper purpose and promise than we can ask for or deserve and he has called us into being to be for the most vulnerable a word and witness. We are known in the womb. We are wonderfully made. May we have the courage to share that news with many.
But why is it so often not understood that preventing pregnancy and ending a pregnancy are NOT the same thing?
Sister Mary Winifred Ascension Hermitage & Sanctuary0
Dear Fr Robert, my husband and I are gay, and Christian, and pro-life. And, by keeping on coherence, we became vegan in 2008. Progressism and conservatism have trends for every century, and those trends may associate unrelated and even contradictory positions.
Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians … http://www.plagal.org/