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Isaiah 5:30

"Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"

 

A Classical Christian Response to Trust Women: A Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice by Rebecca Todd Peters

Part 1: It's not a Christian book 

by Deborah B. Hollifield

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Editor's Note: In advertising her book, Trust Women: a Progressive Christian Argument for Reproductive Justice, author Rebecca Todd Peters, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), says that abortion can be "a moral good." 

 

Deborah Hollifield, also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) has written a cogent and comprehensive classical Christian response to Todd Peters. PPL will publish her response in a series over the next few months. You can access the entire article on our website or download an abridged pdf version using the links below this excerpt.

What follows is my response to the author's attempt to justify abortion as a moral good compatible with Christian faith and practice. Some necessary preliminary caveats:

The subject book is not a Christian book. If readers expect to read about reproductive justice from a Christian worldview, the title of Peters' book, containing the word, "Christian," together with the author's credentials as an ordained minister in a Christian denomination, is simply misleading. Not only does Peters not use Scripture as a foundation for her arguments, she does not even seriously reference Scripture. Indeed, the Bible is dismissed early on:

 

"Clearly there are limitations in seeking direct ethical guidance for contemporary sexual behavior from a book that reflects sexual and cultural attitudes two thousand years old." (17)

 

Additionally, she claims the Bible is the source of all the cultural misogyny in Western civilization (178-179). While it is true that misogyny is depicted in the Bible, along with other sinful behaviors, nothing in Scripture indicates God's endorsement of the mistreatment or oppression of women – rather, the opposite is true. Finally, she maligns her sisters and brothers in Christ as those who "misrepresent the Christian tradition's attitude and approach to pregnancy, contraception and abortion," (185) and slanders them as "bullies and hate-mongers" (206).

 

A recent promotional interview for The Nation, (hardly a fundamentalist publication), reveals more:

 

Interviewer: One thing I found surprising was how little of the book was explicitly Christian.
RTP: Well, what do you mean when you say that?

 

Interviewer: Maybe that's my own misunderstanding, based on that dominant narrative.
RTP: What I would say is, my book embodies progressive Christianity, and that's what most people don't understand. Progressive Christianity, for me, and for many people, is about focusing on what the social teachings are in the Bible, in the traditions, in the church, that help us think about and address the social problems we see in the world. That's very different from an evangelical understanding of Christianity, which is about salvation. I actually don't care that much about salvation. That's not my primary concern. My primary concern is about the world that we live in, and how we make a more just world. That's the tradition of the social gospel.[1]

 

Context matters, and so do words: Whenever we read, it is important to know something about the author. In many ways, we are the products of our particular environments – where we live, who we live with, our vocations and what we read. We all have biases, both known and unknown, even to ourselves. Peters' context is noted above; mine is set out at the end of this article.

 

Vocabulary and definitions: There is a famous line in the movie, The Princess Bride, where the hero says,"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." Dialogue becomes confused – or impossible – when we speak a different language while using similar words. It is critical to Peters' thesis that the unborn is neither 1) human; 2) alive; nor 3) a person, and she finds it necessary to redefine all three.

 

For example, when I say, "This fetus is human," I am making a biological truth claim. Peters disagrees. She cannot attach the label of humanity and still maintain her moral high ground, so she has coined the word, "prenate" as a substitute for "fetus," or "embryo," which terms she considers "cold and clinical" (164). She will not use the terms "unborn child," or "unborn baby," because her utilitarian approach will not allow her to equate the value of the "prenate" as equal to that of an "infant," "child" or "the woman."

 

Further, when I say, "The fetus is alive," or "Life begins at fertilization," I am making another biological – as well as theological - truth claim.[2] In the 21st century, all 8th graders know that biological life begins at fertilization. That the fetus is alive in the womb is also a basic and consistent Scriptural theme in Christian thought and witness. It is only the philosopher-class that prevaricates. Peters disagrees, because if the zygote/embryo/fetus/unborn is alive, it undermines her claim that the zygote/embryo/fetus/unborn is not a human being from the very beginning. She asserts, instead, the logical fallacy that "location" (in the womb versus a bassinette) and "dependence" (versus independent viability) prevent the moral status of "life."

 

When I say, "The fetus is a person," I am making a biological truth claim that the fetus has a unique DNA, distinct from either parent, that will (barring miscarriage or accident) develop into a distinct human being, with all of the attributes of personhood individually, communally, and as a bearer of the Imago Dei.[3] As Gregory Koukl writes, "If the unborn is not a human being, no justification for abortion is necessary. However, if the unborn is a human being, no justification for abortion is adequate." [4] Peters cannot advance her argument if she accepts that the fetus is a person, (since then no justification would be adequate for the killing of a person), so she must invent a new term, "human becoming," in order to kill with impunity. She must reject biological truth and claim that the liminal status of the fetal human precludes the labels "human" and "person." Additionally, in order to bolster her rejection of the idea that the fetus is a developing person, (as is a toddler or a teenager), she must add qualifiers to the definition of "personhood." These qualifiers are "consciousness" and "reciprocal relationship" (159-164), the use of which aligns her with the radical philosopher Peter Singer, who advocates for infanticide up to the age of two years, calling it "after-birth abortion."

 

Standard of authority: The author presents that her motivation and approach are purely scholarly and sociological; but when one removes the endless recitation of (questionable) statistics and obscure studies, it becomes clear that the book is sourced primarily in the author's personal feelings, personal experience and political worldview. For a book whose major premise is that those who choose abortion should not be compelled by society (family, community, government or church) to justify their decisions, the entirety of the book is exactly that: one long emotional justification for why abortion, (at any stage and under any circumstances, including ordinary birth control), is a moral good that should not be challenged, limited or qualified in any way.

 

Beyond the jettisoning of Scripture as a Christian standard, Margaret Atwood's novel, The Handmaid's Tale, (where women are treated as property and forced into sexual servitude as breeders), is appealed to as though it is a present – or imminent – reality. If dystopian fiction is to be the new standard of moral wisdom, it would be helpful to this discussion to expand the booklist to include George Orwell's Animal Farm (where all animals are equal, but some are more equal than others); Orwell's 1984 (doublethink: The act of holding, simultaneously, two opposite, individually exclusive ideas or opinions and beliefs; and newspeak: Newspeak contains no negative terms); Golding's Lord of the Flies("Which is better--to have laws and agree, or to hunt and kill?"); and Benson's Lord of the World, ("Men do recognise at last that a supernatural Religion involves an absolute authority, and that Private Judgment in matters of faith is nothing else than the beginning of disintegration.") For nonfiction, the Book of Isaiah is helpful: "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!"(5:20).

 

[1] Russell-Kraft, Stefanie, The Nation, “A Christian Argument for Abortion: A Q&A With Rebecca Todd Peters,”https://www.thenation.com/article/a-christian-argument-for-abortion-a-qa-with-rebecca-todd-peters/ (accessed 6.8.2018)

[2] The broad consensus of the scientific community is that biological life begins at fertilization. She is confusing categories and is conflating her view of personhood with biological, human life: https://www.princeton.edu/~prolife/articles/embryoquotes2.html. For reference to personhood imparted in the womb by God, see the Scripture Appendix to this article.

[3] Ibid.

[4] www.ReasonableTheology.org, "Words Matter: Rejecting the Vocabulary of the Abortion Industry," https://reasonabletheology.org/words-matter-rejecting-vocabulary-abortion-industry/, (accessed 6.9.2018)

 
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PPL Recommends . . .

Legacy Conference, September 15, Chattanooga                                               

 

Articles to equip you to champion life

Equip for ministry:

Abortion regret is real (for men too!), by Walter B. Hoye, II, Black Community News

 

Educate yourself and others: 

Breakpoint: Having Children Transforms Women's Brains, by John Stonestreat and G. Shane Morris

 

Encourage advocacy that protects life:

Could this Nebraska law be duplicated in your state?

 

Resources on PPL's website

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To Do This Month:

1. If you are near Chattanooga attend the Legacy Conference and get equipped for end of life ministry in your church and community.

2. Pray specifically & boldly for God to guide PPL Board of Directors to wise decisions and obedient service as they meet in San Antonio October 11-13.

3. Click on at least one resource link in this newsletter or visit PPL's website resources.

4. Make a donation to PPL--we cannot equip Presbyterians to be champions of human life without your help!

 

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