Praises and laments for the reversal of abortion rights filled hallowed spaces this weekend as clergy across the United States revamped worship plans or rewrote sermons to provide their religious context — and competing messages – about the historical moment.
Abortion is a visceral issue for deeply divided religious Americans. Some are sad or angry following the seismic decision Dobbs v. Jackson from the United States Supreme Court on Friday. Others are grateful and delighted.
At St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh, the Very Reverend Kris Stubna dropped his homily scheduled for Sunday and focused on the decision, calling it “a day of great joy and blessing.” He said the reversal of Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 years old, was the result of the prayers and efforts of many Catholics and others.
“This law violated God’s very law that every life is sacred,” he said. “A person cannot support abortion and still be a faithful member of the church.”
Stubna’s comments would be considered divisive by some since American Catholics disagree on abortion rights. Supporters include high-level members of the faith like President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi who face fellowship restrictions as a result.
Not everyone attended Stubna’s entire homily. Although unable to ask their reasons, an Associated Press photographer saw a woman leave during it. Security personnel believed that three other people had also come out earlier.
Views on abortions are not only polarizing within denominations; divisions cross the religious landscape.
“SCOTUS has just dealt a terrible blow to women, to girls, to all people of childbearing age, to freedom,” said the Reverend Jacqui Lewis, senior minister of the Middle Collegiate Church, a multicultural Protestant congregation in Manhattan.
She mourned the overthrow of Roe, expressing deep emotions at a Sunday service, saying, “It took safe legal abortions off the table, opening the door for states to rush in and crush reproductive justice. . We are shaken. Spinning. So hurt you can barely move. We feel the loss, the pain.
According to a religious landscape study by the Pew Research Center, a majority of adults of Buddhist, Hindu, historically Black Protestant, Jewish, Protestant, Muslim and Orthodox Christian faiths support legal abortion in all or most cases.
Rabbi Sarah DePaolo took time at the start of Friday night’s Shabbat service at Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, Calif., to express her disappointment, urging community members to support each other and create a space for the fearful.
“One of the most upsetting things about this decision is that while it claims to represent believers, it does not represent our faith,” DePaolo said. “It does not reflect our Jewish law. It does not reflect our traditions. It does not reflect our community.
Catholics are divided on the issue while most evangelical Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases , according to the Pew Research Center study.
Reverend Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, calls the decision a moral and spiritual victory. On Sunday, he told his California congregation at New Season that the time had come for an unprecedented adoption movement.
“We’re going to adopt babies, but we’re going to adopt moms, pregnant moms…who are having abortions because they can’t afford a baby,” he said.
Southern Baptists, who are members of the largest Protestant denomination in the country, are strong supporters of anti-abortion views. On Sunday, several pastors hailed the decision from their pulpits.
The First Baptist Concord congregation in Knoxville, Tennessee, burst into applause when Pastor John Mark Harrison addressed them. He invited a panel of advocates to discuss how everyone can continue to support people with unwanted pregnancies through mentoring, advocacy, adoption, addressing systemic issues and more.
“There’s so much anger and emotion,” Harrison said. “What we need to understand is that we are not called to fuel the emotions of the right or the left. We are called to walk in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ…and to serve real people in real crisis time.
At Central Church in College Station, Texas, Senior Pastor Phillip Bethancourt echoed that knocking Roe down isn’t the finish line: “It’s the starting gate for a new chapter. Abortion should not only be illegal, but unnecessary and unthinkable.
David Rhoades, senior pastor of Broadview Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, said in an email that the court’s decision was comparable to the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth, and would reverberate for years. .
He hoped church members left Sunday service with a clear understanding of what to do next, including “caring for both baby and mother, and continuing to work to elect pro-life representatives”.
Other religious leaders have doubled down on their support for abortion rights.
Women should be able to make their own decisions, Reverend Fletcher Harper preached at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Secaucus, New Jersey.
“Banning abortion is a sinful act that perpetuates male dominance and female subjugation,” he said. “It extends the coercive power of the state into a place where it should have no business.”
During a Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Southern Hills in Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania, music director Mary Pratt read aloud a confessional statement saying she would remain “committed to reproductive justice.”
Pratt said the members were shocked and in mourning, even though they expected the outcome. “They were looking for reminders of why we have to go out and fight,” she said.
The start of services at the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham, North Carolina, included two verses from “We Shall Overcome” and a prayer from Reverend Melinda Keenan Wood for those outraged, heartbroken and afraid of the Roe’s death.
“We know this decision will be measured in death, incarceration and life-altering trauma as politicians race to control the most painfully intimate decisions,” Keenan Wood said.
A prominent black pastor from Columbus, Ohio — Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God — attempted to strike a balance in his Saturday message to congregants, acknowledging conflicting views on abortion and calling on the church to show compassion.
“I know and love people on both sides,” Clarke said. “They are sincere, committed. … They really see it as a life-changing issue.”
Meyer reported from Nashville, Tennessee, and Crary from New York. AP Religion team members Peter Smith and Jessie Wardarski in Pittsburgh; Luis Andres Henao, in Princeton, New Jersey; Mariam Fam in Winter Park, Florida; Deepa Bharat in Los Angeles; and AP writer Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, contributed.
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