This weekend, the nation felt the shockwaves to the news of the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which stripped 50 years of precedent ensuring established access to reproductive healthcare. While there are few words that can be spoken that haven’t been spoken before (and better), on behalf the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy, I particularly wish to lift up the pain, outrage, and despair that this news has caused a significant part of our community. As we hear in 1 Corinthians 12 of the Body of Christ: “If one member suffers, all suffer together with it.”
The polarization that the Supreme Court’s action has fueled in our community of congregations may be symbolized by how our presbytery spans two American states: one state, in Illinois, embodies one of the most accessible in support of reproductive freedom, and another, in Missouri, has become one of the most restrictive against reproductive freedom. For some of our congregations, there is a feeling of standing with feet in both states of being, a divide widening even as an onslaught of floodwaters rise and continue to drive us further apart. Attempts to find the middle ground have only resulted in sinking. I am reminded of the quote attributed to Son of Baldwin that declares, “We can disagree and still love each other…unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.”
As I seek for hope I am struggling to feel and find, I recall a familiar hymn that declares: “On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand, All other ground is sinking sand.” For those feeling a sense of losing ground, I share some affirmations that, perhaps, we can hold onto together:
1) You are loved by God and God is with you. PERIOD.
2) You are not alone. For decades, elected commissioners chosen amongst the grassroots of every presbytery have affirmed and clarified faithful considerations around abortion, including articulations around consensus and agreement. A collection of our positions can be found here: https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/social-issues/abortion-issues/. What the church has long declared is a matter of a complicated, difficult choice left to the individual based on prayerful discernment with their support systems has been a position that honors the dignity of choice. Our courage to have complex, honest, respectful, and nonviolent deliberations about what matters most to us remains a point of pride in how we navigate our shared challenges together. In those deliberations, rage is valid.
3) We minister by love, not by the power of the state. For its first three centuries, the World Christian Movement was often persecuted by the State, yet still thrived. That is our theology of the cross. The Presbyterian Church has long recognized the dangers of merging the work of the church with the will of the State, and we curate that warning together by remembering the function of the Barmen Declaration as a formal part of our constitution.
4) Presbyterians are one of the leading American religious voices on the dignity of women. My past experience of serving a rural presbytery showed that sometimes, the local Presbyterian Church was the only church in the whole county that honored the role of women in leadership. For Presbyterians, equal representational access for men and women to the resources of voice and participation in the life of the church has been a distinctive part of our constitution that is not up for negotiation. Yet, the overturning of Roe v. Wade specifically removes the personal liberties of only the demographic that is child-bearing. Our long-standing commitment to the dignity of women cannot be overruled and is worth fighting for.
5) It is against our polity to lose perspective on what is most important. For hundreds of years, Presbyterians on either side of the most conservative and progressive sides of the continuum have navigated contentious issues of faith by reminding ourselves of “the necessary and essential tenets of the Reformed Faith.” We promise in our ordination vows to “sincerely receive and adopt the essential tenets of the Reformed faith as expressed in the confessions of our church as authentic and reliable expositions of what Scripture leads us to believe and do” and that we will be “instructed and led by those confessions as” we “lead the people of God.” This is the exercise of being able to discern which doctrines are most important to our faith. These include the sovereignty of God, the all-embracing grace of Jesus Christ, and the revelation of God’s presence through scripture. I am concerned that positions against access to abortion have become a new kind of litmus test for what faithful discipleship must look like to be deemed legitimate Christians. The most important commandment, we remember, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength…” and “love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:30-31).
6) The Supreme Court does not have last say on justice. The effects on poverty, sexism, access to comprehensive health care, and racism on our society’s care for expectant child-bearers remains unaddressed and untreated. Our presbytery’s commitment to justice, public witness, and anti-racism does not give us permission to let that go.
7) You cannot be attacked for the sole ability to have your personal opinion. At the core of the way we have decided to live as a community is a consensus around freedom of conscience, that we are individually free to follow the voice of God as we see fit in consultation with the discernment of the collective body. Regardless of who disagrees with you, our freedom of conscience is protected. And valued. Especially when it comes to your own life experience.
8) We are still and always will be guided by our Scriptures. We can remind one another that the teachings of Jesus Christ regarding the status of woman is nothing other than liberative.
9) Our greatest ministry strategy is you. Lovingly, prayerfully, humbly coming alongside of one another through the most difficult circumstances of our lives is the honor and blessing of ministry, even if those moments seem to have been side-railed by the use of real people’s lives in a partisan power struggle. We minister to people, not to issues. And we minister as people, not as categorical monoliths. The time for ministry to each other is now.
10) In case we forgot number 1: “In life and in death, we belong to God” (Romans 14:8).
I am struck at this point by the limitations of words to say or do enough. I know I am not personally affected the same way as others. May these affirmations be, if they are helpful, available handholds: to recover, to brace, to find steadiness, or to LAUNCH. To the best of my ability, I see you. May we be solid ground to one another.
In Christ’s service,
Rev. Ryan J. Landino
Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy
June 28, 2022