I have been unsure what words I might offer that could be of value in this national moment. I considered just leaving it be and yet conversations over this weekend with women in my life and in our congregation have revealed how gutted, violated, and full of fear many of our sisters and siblings feel right now about the overturning of Roe v Wade. My silence as a male pastor seems inappropriate. And since one side of this equation claims more publicly and vociferously Christian scriptural justification and language for their position, my silence as a Christian pastor seems inappropriate as well.
So, I want to share my response to a Christian word that I’ve been hearing people in the pro-life movement use in response to the Supreme Court’s decision. They’ve been saying that they “rejoice” in the outcome. Honestly, it makes me a little sick to my stomach when I hear it. It’s a word used in some of the most beautiful of our sacred texts – “rejoice in the Lord always, again I say rejoice” (Philippians 4:4), “This is the day the Lord has made I will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24), “I rejoice in God’s salvation” (I Samuel 2:1) “So you have sorrow now but I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice” (John 16:22), to name just a few.
Rejoicing is something we do in relation to God whose wisdom far exceeds our own, not in response to a decision that intends to protect certain life while threatening others. Rejoicing is something that we do when encountering God’s mercy for all, not when a court’s decision removes human rights for one segment of our population in favor of another. Rejoicing is something we do when witnessing God’s win-win solutions to our terrible human predicaments not when those in power have decided that some must lose in order for others to win. Rejoicing in the Bible is often done when the poor are lifted up and the lost found, not when a decision has been made in which the poor will suffer the most. Rejoicing is what we do when prisoners are freed not when a whole new population of criminals is about to be created. Rejoicing is something we do when we realize that loving our enemies, as Jesus commanded us, actually creates friends not when we witness our defeated enemies gutted, violated and full of fear.
The use of the word “rejoice” reveals how deeply many in the pro-life movement have come to identify their perspective as God’s perspective which across human history has spelled profound trouble for so many. It’s a remarkable identification for conservative Protestant Christians to make given how authoritative they claim the Bible to be in their lives. Nothing is revealed in our sacred word that delineates when life begins much less a definitive answer to the question of abortion. It’s the same with homosexuality. If you had never read the Bible, you’d think our scriptures were filled with injunctions against same-sex relationships and abortion and yet the references to both are scant, nearly nonexistent. And yet they “rejoice” as though this decision is God’s, while so many of God’s children despair.
So, sisters in Christ – brothers and our nonbinary siblings too – I am sorry if you are in despair right now, grieving what is a withdrawal of fundamental liberties that had been ensured for you. I am sorry if you are fearful and anxious because of the power wielded by the highest court of our land. I am sorry if you as a Christian are wearied by the way our religion is misrepresented time and again. I’d encourage you to bring it all to God in prayer. Let Her hear your anger and fear, your frustration and raw emotions, your questions about what is to be done, remembering that God’s Spirit is still very much active in this world and with your assent can use your life (your mind, your heart, your strength, your creativity) as a conduit of goodness and grace for the sake of others.
And if/when that happens, I hope you rejoice in the miracle of God’s loving work through you. I hope you rejoice to see how love wins and are glad in it.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Will Burhans