By Scott Bolejack
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SMITHFIELD — At Smithfield’s First Christian Church, the congregation largely believes abortion should be legal but rare, says the Rev. Beth Burton-Williams, pastor.
But in the current climate, she doubts broader America can reach consensus on abortion. “How to achieve that end requires a depth of conservation not presently seen in our polarized, all-or-nothing, all right-all wrong climate of national conversation,” Burton-Williams said in an email last week.
Perhaps broader America should follow the example of First Christian, which is purposely neither red nor blue politically, the pastor said. “We believe it is our mission at First Christian to be decidedly and intentionally ‘purple,’ a place where we can look together at all angles of an issue and discuss the gray areas [that] are plowed over in national conversation,” she said.
That allows a congregation like hers to discuss such topics as the availability of birth control and ectopic pregnancies, which are those in which the fertilized egg implants outside the uterus.
“I have said it so many times — as long as there is a church or an organization somewhere that can be truly purple, there is still some hope left for this country,” Burton-Williams said.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the pastor said, she has had many conversations on the topic with individual members of her congregation. “We will discuss it as a group in fall Bible study,” she said.
In an email interview shortly after the Supreme Court decision, the Rev. Kristen Tucker said she hadn’t broached Roe v. Wade or abortion with her congregation at Smithfield’s First Baptist Church.
“In my quiet times this week I have not been led to address the congregation as a whole,” Tucker said via email. And “no congregant has reached out to me … for comment on the matter. If they do, I definitely would be open for discussion with them.”
And Tucker prefers discussions to pronouncements. “Conversations are healthy,” she said. “Demands for one blanket statement are not.”
Unfortunately, many Americans seem to prefer shouting to talking, Tucker said, echoing Burton-Williams’ sentiments. “In my quiet times, Proverbs 18:1-5 continues to come up,” she said. “I hold it dear to my heart, especially today in our society that seems to have lost the gift of healthy conversations from both sides.”
The New Living Translation of the Bible puts Proverbs 18:15 this way: “Unfriendly people care only about themselves; they lash out at common sense. Fools have no interest in understanding; they only want to air their own opinions. Doing wrong leads to disgrace, and scandalous behavior brings contempt. Wise words are like deep waters; wisdom flows from the wise like a bubbling brook. It is not right to acquit the guilty or deny justice to the innocent.”
If Tucker does broach the subject with her congregation, she will follow the Holy Spirit’s direction. Still, she thinks it’s generally best to leave politics out of the church sanctuary.
“It is my hope that everyone who comes into FBC Smithfield will come with the focus of worshipping God and stepping away from the news of the world,” she said. “Of course, there are times the church needs to respond in action. However, Sunday mornings, our action should be that of worship and focus on how the Holy Spirit speaks to us as individuals and as a church body.”
Tucker thinks the abortion debate is more nuanced than simply anti-abortion or pro-choice.
“It is not a black-and-white issue,” she said. “I don’t see anything dualist in our thinking and experiences. That’s why it … is so difficult to pinpoint a law or direction everyone would be on board with and support.”
And the church should embrace all people, Tucker said. “I see the church as a big tent, not a platform of ‘one side,’ especially in political or controversial topics,” she said.
Tucker doesn’t know how she would counsel a woman seeking advice on abortion. “I would first need to know the details of why this is a choice on the table,” she said. “I would ask is this a life/death matter for her own life. What is she hearing in her own quiet times of reading God’s word and in prayer to lead her to this option? Are there resources or options to help her during this time?”
“My first and foremost question would be is this a danger to her life or the baby, which then would guide our conversation and counsel,” she added.
Like Tucker, Burton-Williams said her advice to a woman asking about abortion would depend on the woman’s circumstances. “There is no standard protocol,” she said. “Each person and each situation is different. Is there deep rage due to violence? Is there family support?
“In any case, however, if we as a society deny women in desperate situations the option to abort, then we have every ethical responsibility to support them in caring for and raising the child.”