A Pastoral Letter by Rev. Kent Gilbert
I was asked by the Berea Citizen’s editor to provide some reflection and reaction to Friday’s Supreme Court decision and what it means for Kentucky. I know that he probably can’t print my whole letter, brief as it is, but I thought I would share it here with remarks in full context.
To better understand the exact parameters of the current law and to see resources that I have shared with the congregation, please read my letter to members and friends sent on June 24, 2022. It contains specific information about what is legal and what is not, what resources there are for women seeking abortion care, and what friends and family should know as sources of information become more restricted. Click here to read that letter.
Thank you so much for reaching out to me (and I assume other clergy) as we all process the new reality of Kentucky’s “trigger law” that banned almost all abortions from last Friday.
As a person of deep Christian faith I believe that God intends for us to “have life and have it abundantly,” AND that means entering into the complexity of who and what should guide decisions about abortion. Having a life of quality and safety, having a life of care and a caring community, having the right to exercise the heart and faith in each individual is just as sacred as is the collection of cells that grow into living children.
In my own religious tradition, and at my own church, there is great diversity of thought about exactly when individual cells become a human being, capable of receiving a soul and exercising a life. I know many people of faith are similarly unsure. For me personally, I am swayed by the biblical account that suggests unless and until a child can survive outside the womb, it is not yet fully a body or a person. (Exodus 21:22-25). In this example from the bible, a woman’s life is distinct and valued differently than an unborn fetus.
Whether one is opposed to abortion rights or not, I am gravely concerned that the 2019 “trigger law” now in effect was poorly crafted and will cause unintended harm. There are further measures that were passed this year (now stayed in court procedings) that would add even more barriers to sensible care even for those experiencing a spontaneous abortion ( also called a miscarriage). In my opinion it is immoral to deny care to or frighten doctors away from medical treatment that could seriously injurious but not “threaten a life sustaining organ.”
What is the morality of making a 14 year old carry and bear the child of her rapist? Or in the case of a severe deformity that develops in the fetus, how can it be moral to force a couple into the prolonged agony of carrying that fetus until it is developed enough to suffer and feel the suffering of its inevitable death? Neither parents or potential child are served by this and the law makes no exception for these cases.
As a person of faith, as a follower of Christ, I believe that the pursuit of life must be for more than the pursuit of “birth,” and to honor God as many of those affected must be included in a compassionate calculus, and the decision left to the mother and her trusted advisors. I am not in favor of a single religious viewpoint being forced onto society, especially when–either through oversight or design– it will cause death, injury, and spiritual suffering, with limited medical recourse or remedy. I do not think that is God’s intent, and I know of many abortion opponents who agree that for these and many other reasons, abortion should be treated as health care under the law, a matter between a woman and her doctors. The current law is unsafe for women in any circumstance and limits physicians in ways that are indeed more injurious than the supposed harm the law seeks to prevent.
Christ calls us to compassionate care, and not just for embryos. I hope to see legislators who are rejoicing at the ban on abortion similarly leap at the chance to support children in this state and put their money where they say their faith is. Christian love is not determined by what Christians say. It is determined by what Christians actually DO. If you claim the label, show your faith in your actions.
As I hope is explicit in my text, these views do not purport to represent the views of anyone except myself. In case you need bio, I am ordained in the United Church of Christ and have been pastor of Union Church since 1997. Union Church founded the city of Berea and Berea College under the leadership of John G. Fee, a fervent abolitionist who sought the equality of all people under God and under the laws of the land.
Finally, I want to say that I am very much in support of women and their families who decide to bear children in any circumstance, and hope that we might support them with everything they need. Kentucky lacks basic services for children and expectant parents, especially if one is poor. Many Christians and other faith leaders have been begging for a child tax credit for years, and have tried to fight for better food support and medical care. But despite the fervor to support a so-called “right to life”, our legislature just came through a session that eviscerated the social services to the 1.4 million poor Kentuckians, cutting benefits even during a time of a state surplus. Is this how we intend to support mother, families, and healthy children?
I hope this will be a help.
All the best,