I was born, raised, confirmed, and married in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, or ELCA. Several factors led to my conversion to Catholicism, but one of the main catalysts was the issue of abortion.
Recently, I read a blog post over at First Things that was a blast from my past. The author, a Lutheran pastor, recently left the ELCA to become a member of the newly-formed North American Lutheran Church (NALC). He said, “My real disaffection with the ELCA didn’t start with sex. It began in earnest over the ELCA abortion statement and the subsequent decision by the national council to treat elective abortion for pastors and dependents as a reimbursable medical expense under the church health plan.”
It was this exact issue that was my first step on the path toward the Catholic Church. I remember reading a news article about the ELCA’s health-care-plan abortion coverage, and I was horrified. I also realized, to my own shame, that I didn’t know what the ELCA’s position was, exactly, on the issue of abortion. Until that point I had assumed that the Lutheran Church was opposed to abortion; after all, how could anyone who claimed to follow Jesus Christ support the killing of unborn children? Wasn’t “Thou shall not kill” a pretty essential element of Christianity?
In my 22 years as a faithful, churchgoing member of the ELCA, I could not remember hearing a Lutheran pastor preach a sermon on abortion. It was not an issue discussed in any of the three ELCA churches I’d attended up to that point in my life. Shortly thereafter I accessed online the ELCA’s Social Statement on Abortion (SSOA), and as I read it my faith in the ELCA was shaken to the core.
The first statement that bowled me over was, “A developing life in the womb does not have an absolute right to be born…”
Incredibly, this statement is followed, mere paragraphs later, by the assertion that, “Human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity. Guided by God’s Law, which orders and preserves life, human beings are called to respect and care for the life that God gives.”
To me, these statements stood in stark contrast to one another. If “human life in all phases of its development… has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity,” how is it that a baby does not have “an absolute right to be born”? If God has created every human being with intrinsic worth, how can any human being decide that another human being is not worthy of life? How is direct abortion, especially elective abortion, “respect and care for the life that God gives”?
Another grave concern came not from what was in the document, but what had been deliberately excluded from it. Shortly after the beginning of Section III, the document reads, “Because we believe that God is the creator of life, the number of induced abortions is a source of deep concern to this church. We mourn the loss of life that God has created” A hyperlinked footnote attached to the latter statement reads, “…and oppose induced abortion as a method of birth control.” The footnotes are statements that “received significant support at the Churchwide Assembly but […] did not receive the vote needed for approval.”
I was baffled. Here was another contradiction. It seemed to me that the ELCA could not be all that concerned about the number of abortions if birth control was considered an acceptable reason to have one. If birth control was considered acceptable by a large number of Lutherans within the Churchwide Assembly, what about abortion for other unsavory reasons?
Upon further investigation, I read the following in an analysis issued by Lutherans for Life, a group within the ELCA that also took exception to the SSOA: “A member of the ELCA inquired of the Board of Pensions as to whether they would pay for an abortion for the purpose of sex selection. The board stated that they would pay for an abortion for that purpose. The secretary of the ELCA confirmed this conclusion.”
In light of the above, the SSOA’s assertion, “…we as a church seek to reduce the need to turn to abortion as the answer to unintended pregnancies,” struck me as a statement that on its face seemed innocuous but was, upon further reflection, rather insidious. The church doesn’t intend to reduce abortions; the church seeks to reduce the need to turn to abortion. This suggests that the killing of innocent life is not a moral evil but can sometimes be a valid choice.
Part IV of the SSOA “recognizes that there can be sound reasons for ending a pregnancy through induced abortion.” Indeed, if a mother’s life is threatened, it says, abortion is a “morally responsible” choice. (Somehow, I think St. Gianna Beretta Molla would disagree.) Obviously, the ELCA has never heard of the principle of double effect, especially how it pertains to medical situations where the mother’s life is in danger.
The rape and incest clause for acceptable abortion is invoked, not surprisingly, but the SSOA also adds, “Some conceptions occur under dehumanizing conditions that are contrary to God’s purposes.” To me, this left a very large question unanswered: whatever happened to “human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity”? Does that statement only apply in the case of babies that are conceived within ideal circumstances, or does it apply to all human life regardless of the circumstances in which they are conceived?
The SSOA also recommends abortion in “circumstances of extreme fetal abnormality, which will result in severe suffering and very early death of an infant. In such cases, after competent medical consultations, the parent(s) may responsibly choose to terminate the pregnancy.” (Sadly, it seems the ELCA was unaware of ministries such as Be Not Afraid, or of perinatal hospice programs.)
Again, more questions left unanswered. Does human life lose its intrinsic worth, dignity, and value once suffering is involved? Is it ever “responsible” to end innocent human life, even with good intentions? What degree of suffering invokes this responsibility—what about babies with Down Syndrome, a condition not necessarily incompatible with life, over 90% of whom are aborted?
One of the more chilling statements in the SSOA was, “Although abortion raises significant moral issues at any stage of fetal development, the closer the life in the womb comes to full term the more serious such issues become.” Abortion, then, is less serious in the first few weeks of pregnancy? Is this not another contradiction with “human life in all phases of its development is God-given and, therefore, has intrinsic value, worth, and dignity”?
Among the document’s concluding statements: “[The church's] pastoral care, compassionate outreach, and life-sustaining assistance are crucial in supporting those who bear children, as well as those who choose not to do so. Through these and other means the people of God seek to be truly supportive of life.” (emphasis mine)
The final contradiction—being truly supportive of life means supporting those who choose not to bear children; that is, supporting the destruction of innocent life via abortion. It seemed to me that the ELCA was much more concerned about being “supportive” of their already-born members as opposed to the ones who were unborn—despite the fact that they, they unborn, allegedly had intrinsic value, worth, and dignity.
Abortion for birth control. Abortion for sex selection. Abortion as a “morally responsible” choice. Abortion as a covered “service” in its own employee health care plan. It was astounding to me that I belonged to a church that could not definitively condemn any of these. It also seemed to me, as I pondered the implications of the SSOA, that the ELCA had forgotten that “support” of a person does not translate into “support” for that person’s bad choices. (This is a failing of the ELCA that has become all too evident in the years since I left, having witnessed their decline into moral relativism; e.g., the acceptance of actively gay clergy).
After I read the SSOA, I had what I now refer to as my Obi-Wan Kenobi moment—it was my first step into a larger world. More specifically, I began to realize the truth of a concept I would later learn from Pope Benedict XVI: “Truth is not determined by majority vote.”Share on Facebook