What do the Bible and Jesus Christ have to say about a woman’s right to choose?
As a Christian minister, Reverend Matthew Westfox makes a religious argument for reproductive justice when speaking to those who share his faith. “In the parable of the sower, Jesus reminds us that seed alone does not bring about new life,” but that it is up to the sacred conscience of the Sower to choose when and where “the seed are cast.”
“Similarly,” Westfox writes, ““living out a theology of reproductive justice—a theology that truly values and is pro life—means ensuring that those who want to create new life or parent a child never feel they cannot because the ground they stand upon is not suitable.”
Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Rev. Westfox works with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and other organizations whose constituents include not only women, specifically, but people of all genders for whom access to reproductive services is threatened, risky, or nonexistent.
Westfox spoke with The Good Men Project recently about what reproductive justice means, why it’s a Christian issue, and what men can do to advance the movement.
JC: When were you first called to this mission?
MW: In seminary. Christians don’t all speak with one voice: there is disagreement within the faith on reproductive justice, but we are certainly not as monolithic as the media often portrays. I felt it was important to be a Christian voice for reproductive justice, when most people are so used to hearing Christians speak against it. I wanted to do what I could to work for justice and healing.
JC: What do you say to people who believe there are verses in the Bible that contradict specific values of reproductive justice, like a woman’s right to choose an abortion?
MW: As a Christian, you can take the Bible seriously, or you can take it literally, but you can’t do both. The worst thing you can do is try to take one or two individual verses and use them as a hammer without looking at their full context. The beauty and power of the Bible is the work in full context. To me, proof texting is a misuse. “Proof texting” is to take one verse and say, “Here’s the proof” for a particular argument, without any discussion of the context that verse is set in. If a scientist took one fact and ignored nine to prove an argument, we wouldn’t accept that, but we do that with the Bible all the time.
I don’t try to pull verses: I look for the themes. What is it that God and Christ are telling us again and again throughout Scripture? Those are the questions that matter.
JC: Can you encapsulate a Christian argument for reproductive justice?
MW: One theme the Bible returns to again and again is “sacred conscience.” Each of us is wonderfully made by God. God granted us the ability of sacred conscience: the God-given ability to make decisions. God trusts us to make difficult decisions. We are each made differently, so you may make a different decision than I would under similar circumstances, and it still be the right choice. As a pastor and pastoral care giver, my role is not to decide for others, but to make sure they have the full and free ability to decide without interference, and offer counsel if and only if they wish it. Reproductive justice is about ensuring that someone is able to make the reproductive choices they wish to at the point of their life they wish to, whether that be parenting or not. Access to contraception, termination when needed, good jobs, health care: those are all needed so that people can make their own choices free of coercion. Pre and post natal care are just as much a part of reproductive justice as contraception and all the rest. So “sacred conscience” is the first key.
The second is ideas of justice and compassion. As people of faith, we have to look at reproductive issues through a justice lens. When laws make it harder for some people to have access to things, when the ability to become a parent or not become a parent is determined by economic or racial status, that’s not justice.
The other side of the justice coin is compassion. We spend so much time talking about abortion and who has them but how much time do we spend listening? How much do we really know about who has abortions, and why? Who is involved in reproductive decision making? There’s almost no understanding of the context in which such decisions are made. To stand in someone else’s shoes and think you can decide for them, to me, there’s no compassion there. Some reproductive decisions may be easy, some may be difficult, but none of them are ours. All I can do is stand with a loving compassionate God, who supports the decisions we make.
I want to emphasize that last point. It’s important that we don’t talk about abortion as an easy, simple decision, but it’s just as problematic if we make victims out of those who have abortions. For every person, the experience can be completely different. For one person, it is an agonizing decision, a painful process that causes grief even if it was the needed choice while for another, it can be an occasion of relief.
JC: What would you say are men’s roles in reproductive justice?
MW: It’s a very complicated question, and an important one. Particularly because so much of the attack on reproductive justice is motivated by misogyny, so we have to start by naming that. There is a fear of women having power over their own reproduction and sexuality. Men have to able to name the role male privilege plays in this, and how central misogyny is to many of the issue we are discussing. But even as we start there, we must still name that it is not only women who are affected by attacks on reproductive justice. Those attacks hit fathers and partners—and of course as we consider transgender people and broaden our understanding of gender, we remember that some men have so called “female” reproductive systems, some men can become pregnant. So it isn’t just a women’s issue, but it is an issue that is deeply motivated by misogyny and sexism, things men have to call out.
We must also recognize that there is a role for men, or partners of any gender in individual reproductive decision making: if and only if our partners choose to welcome us into those decisions. For any gender, there has to be an openness to expressing your emotions about decisions while recognizing they may not be our own decisions. Men tend to be socialized as problem solvers, not to discuss emotions. As someone who has walked with many couples during difficult decisions I’ve seen how important that shift is. This is a moment when, if the partner asks for her partner’s input, it is essential to be able to listen and name your own feelings and not just try and ‘problem solve’ for your pregnant partner. That’s reproductive justice on the micro level.
Image credit: MIKI Yoshihito (´･ω･)/Flickr