The issue of abortion has the level of power it does in our nation because we never talk about it. So, we’re going to talk about it. Listen in as host, Lisa Sharon Harper, is joined by Rev. Susan Chorley (Exhale), Rev. Sekinah Hamlin (Christian Church Disciples of Christ) and Andrea Lucado (evangelical journalist) to talk about Abortion and Reproductive Justice. This is a #mustlisten conversation.
Lisa Sharon Harper: Coming to you from Washington, D.C., I’m Lisa Sharon Harper, President of Freedom Road, a consulting group dedicated to shrinking the narrative gap. Welcome to the Freedom Road podcast.
Each month we bring together national faith leaders, advocates, and activists to have the kinds of conversations we normally have on the front lines. It’s just that this time, we’ve got microphones in our faces and you are listening in. And this month, we welcome three guests, all three have had an intersection with the issues of abortion and reproductive justice. Susan Chorley is an ordained American Baptist minister and is Executive Director of Exhale, an after-abortion counseling talk line. Reverend Sekinah Hamlin, is an Economic Justice advocate, and ordained with Christian Church Disciples of Christ and the Economic Justice Minister for the United Church of Christ. Reverend Hamlin pastors congregations in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. And finally, Andrea Lucado is a journalist, author, and editor who was raised in the heart of the White Evangelical Church.
I’ve asked these three amazing women to come and talk with us on Freedom Road about abortion and reproductive justice because we stand at the beginning of the most consequential election year, perhaps since 1860, that election year that proceeded the civil war. And though we have a president that has caged children, ripped them from their mother’s arms with no plan to return them, who has betrayed American security by inviting foreign nations to come in and jerry-rigged our elections, [and] who bragged about grabbing women’s private parts. That president enjoys the enthusiastic support of approximately 77% of White Evangelicals. And according to a Washington Post report last July, the number one reason for that support is the issue of abortion. We’d love to hear your thoughts. Tweet me, @lisasharper or Freedom Road @freedomroadus, and keep sharing the podcast with your friends and networks, and letting us know what you think, and we actually really do love the back and forth. So, keep it coming.
Okay, let’s talk. Abortion and reproductive justice are emotional issues, they are personal. We don’t talk about them in public. In fact, we rarely talk about them at all. In fact, I recently surveyed a room full of Evangelical and Evangelical-proximate women, and I asked them, “Have you ever had a conversation about abortion in public before?” Every last one of them said no. In fact, none of them had ever talked about it in public before, never, with anyone. Really, you might say, yes, never with anyone. And that is why we’re talking about it today, because I’ve come to believe the reason the issue of abortion has the level of power that it does in our nation – enough power to hold a nation hostage to a demonstrated White Nationalist – is because we never talked about it. So, we’re gonna talk about it and as we do, we’re gonna do two things to create protected space for these brave women who have agreed to wade into these waters with me. One, because most of us are very familiar with the arguments against abortion and reproductive justice, we are centering the stories of women who have come to other conclusions. Two, we are speaking from our hearts, from our own stories, not as experts on high. Our hope is that exposure to more women’s stories will help us to humanize this issue, to take it from the realm of a political weapon into the realm of an all too human public health challenge. Susan, Sekinah, Andrea, let’s go. Are you ready?
Susan: I think so.
Sekinah: Thank you.
Lisa: Okay, all right. Let’s talk. So, I wanna ask you, my first question is actually to all of you. How has your life intersected with the issue of abortion or reproductive justice?
Susan: I have something to say, Lisa, this is Susan Chorley and I have actually hosted multiple public conversations about my own abortion experience and also opening conversations around abortion in Christian congregations across the country. And I do agree with you, it is a very fraught and terrifying topic I have experienced to keep on sharing my own personal abortion story. And what I have learned in the process of doing that has been [that] people are very desperate for this conversation, and really would prefer to have a space to be able to process, discuss, wrestle with our feelings and thoughts about abortion and how we as Christians make decisions moving forward about our own bodies, about our communities and about grace and love.
Lisa: Wow, thank you so much. And so, Susan your story intersects and you said that you had an abortion yourself, can you share a little bit more of your story?
Susan: Sure. It was about 13 years ago that I had an abortion and I had a two-year-old son. He is now seventeen and I was pastoring a church here in Massachusetts. And I was recognizing that my marriage was increasingly unhealthy and unsafe and I was the primary breadwinner for us as well. And I was incredibly concerned about how to move my life forward professionally, personally and faithfully. And so, I did; my now ex-husband and I made the decision to terminate that pregnancy and it’s taken me, you know, 13 or so years to feel comfortable speaking out about it in public – not so much because I had experienced, I guess, because I didn’t really know, past forward. I grew up in the church, my dad is also an American Baptist minister, and I felt as though I could bring all of who I am to the church; then when I had this experience, I had great pause about whether or not Christian community could handle it and handle me in the ways that I needed to be cared for and to have compassion for through that experience.
Lisa: Wow, thank you so much for sharing. And that’s incredibly vulnerable and we respect, really the courage that you just demonstrated in sharing your story, thank you.
Susan: Well, it has definitely taken time and lots of…
Susan: –you know, meetings with therapists, spiritual directors.
Lisa: I hear that.
Susan: And to be honest with you, finding a Christian community that can hold the story with me.
Lisa: Hmm, oh, that’s so powerful. Oh, my goodness, okay. So, I can’t wait to dive-in deeper in that portion and we will, a little bit later. I wanna turn now to Sekinah. Sekinah, what’s your intersection with these issues?
Sekinah: My intersection in a lot of ways is really carried in my body.
Sekinah: I’m a black female, I look at these issues through that lens and for particularly a black female, since I was young, it did not feel right, the discussion around abortion. And the binary way in which it tends to be spoken about, given the history of this country as it relates to commodifying the body of black people–
Sekinah: As well as how the black female body has been invaded and mapped for the economic and pleasure of white men.
Lisa: Well now.
Sekinah: That is…
Sekinah: That’s for real.
Lisa: That is right.
Sekinah: That tends to be further complicated by the fact that I am a North Carolinian, I was born and raised in North Carolina. And we were one of the states that participated in the Eugenics Movement, in which people of color, mostly African-American, but also first nation people and primarily poor women, and I will say also their daughters, that was the history tells us were sterilized.
Sekinah: And so, I intersect with it in that way. And then to complicate matters, I also have ways in which for me personally: when my husband and I were first looking to adopt and live in Pennsylvania, in Western Pennsylvania which was the first time in my life where I ever seen billboards with aborted fetuses and things like that, just very what, what they’re calling in the secular world, in certain Evangelical circles, “pro-life” or what have you. We went to an adoption agency and black children were discounted, meaning that it was going to–
Sekinah: –cost less for us to adopt a black child.
Sekinah: And if we wanted to adopt a white child or even a biracial child. So for me–
Lisa: Oh, my God.
Sekinah: –you know, it brought up just this whole notion is, again, when we talk about the hidden ways – that the hidden conversations or ways in which people don’t recognize what this looks like systemically and socially – for me, that’s one of the ways.
Lisa: Whew, Jesus, we’re already all the way in. Holy cow, I’m sorry. You almost made me cuss.
Lisa: What? So black children are worthless literally. Oh, my God. I’m sorry, I just need to take a fanning break. I’m sorry.
Sekinah: No, totally.
Lisa: Okay, I’m sorry. We still have to hear from Andrea. So, Andrea, please share your story. How does your story intersect with the issues of abortion or reproductive justice?
Andrea: Yeah, so when I hear this question, I feel like I think about little specific moments of my life and childhood and growing up, and so I think I definitely, kind of, grew up in a very strongly pro-life household, environment, culture, church culture. And I was taught [that] if you’re really a Christian, you have to vote this certain way, you have to vote pro-life no matter what. And so, there was just a lot of indoctrination, I think, for me that I kind of took at face value as an adolescent. I remember reading a book by Francine Rivers called Atonement Child, about a woman who was raped and decides to keep her child. And I remembered hearing the message loud and clear: no matter what, you keep the baby. This is just what you do.
But as I got older and was kind of thinking for myself as I was voting, I was at 22, Obama was running and I was just really excited to vote for him. And I really had no issues voting for Democratic candidates, and started kind of growing suspicious of my Evangelical friends who were voting for candidates I really didn’t agree with just because of this one issue; at that time I would have still fully identified as pro-life, but still just saw some new ones, and [as I] saw and heard more about these other things, [I wondered], Why would I vote this way? But just in the last few years, untangling purity culture, which is a big part of my upbringing, I’ve started to see a lot of correlations with the way that the female body is scapegoated and blamed for things. [I] have been able to kind of see [that] something was smelling very rotten in the Evangelical community with single-issue voting. So, I feel like my associations were definitely more political. [I’m] starting to pick that apart and kind of see what this is about, [that] there’s something kind of not good, not faithful, not Christlike underlying this belief system within White Evangelicalism.
Lisa: Wow, okay. So, you said a lot of big words like purity culture and scapegoat, and we’re gonna come back to those, all right? So, you can see, everybody, why I invited these women to talk with us today, because their stories run deep and they’ve been thinking about these things for such a long time. I wonder if I could turn back to Susan. Susan, as a woman who went through the abortion process, the process of choosing, the process of showing up, of doing it, the process of now, going back to your church and your family. What do people on both sides of these or all sides of this conversation need to understand, that we may not understand yet?
Susan: Hmm, well, I think there’s a lot of things, a lot of ways I could answer that question.
Susan: I think for me, as a clergywoman, as a Christian that was raised in a progressive Christian church in North Carolina (shout out to North Carolina), I feel that no one I know or have talked with takes this decision lightly.
Susan: A decision around abortion is a pivotal decision and will shape your life and your future. And I don’t mean that in a completely negative way or in a completely positive way. And I do think my experience of growing up in a democratic sort of household, surrounded by progressive Christian folks, is that there was this sense that abortion should be a right and a personal, private decision for an individual. But I think the piece that was missing from that conversation is that it’s also an incredibly heavy and sacred decision. And that there can be a lot of pain and a lot of grief around a decision to have an abortion. And there can be a lot of joy and a lot of relief around the decision to have an abortion. And I think what I’ve really come through my own sort of “dephased” development, as well as through the sermon tour that I did with Exhale, is really recognizing that Jesus showed up for me. God showed up for me in ways that I think human beings and the Christian community were not able to. And that was a real gift; it saved my life and I don’t know what I would have done if I didn’t have that sort of upbringing and that sort of understanding of love and grace and acceptance. And I think that that narrative around whether it’s right or wrong, or whether you’re just completely relieved or completely traumatized, that’s not the reality. It is all of those things.
Susan: And I think that we as women and as people that can carry life in our bodies, [we] are entrusted with an incredibly sacred responsibility and duty. And I think that no one takes that lightly – no one that I’ve talked with, Christian or not, takes that lightly.
Lisa: These are our stories. You’re listening to the Freedom Road podcast where we bring you stories in the front lines of the struggle for justice.
Have you ever been on a pilgrimage? The very first one I ever did changed my life forever. We do a lot of things here on Freedom Road, but the most powerful of all is a pilgrimage. Freedom Road journeys roll to cohesive stories and help us understand better how the world broke and what it would take to be whole. Our absolute favorite thing is to leverage the power of pilgrimage to straighten a group’s capacity to do justice in their communities. Check out the show notes for this episode. Click the link to learn more about Freedom Road Pilgrimages, and contact us through the website if you would like to join us on Freedom Road.
Susan, I wanna come back to you because you just shared such a powerful part of your story. And I wanna ask you and go back to the response of your church when they heard that you had an abortion – or did you ever tell them – and what was their response?
Susan: The church that I grew up in now … know because it has been a public conversation around my experience. The church I was serving [in was] sort of the same thing. I did not feel like when I was serving there that it made sense for me to intersect this piece of my life into my ministry there. So, I actually resigned and left that congregation before I spoke publicly about this experience. I do find that since I have now shared this abortion experience publicly in this intersection with my own Christian faith in congregations where, [for instance], I went to seminary, and sort of dear colleagues of mine that are pastors of congregations in various parts of the country in Minnesota and then Salt Lake City, Utah. I think one of the most precious moments I had was actually of a mentor pastor in Oakland, California where I went to seminary, who said to me … was [that] I think that we missed out on an opportunity of supporting you. [That’s] what his words were to me, and it was in the context of thanking me for my bravery and of opening up this conversation in the context of his congregation many years later. And it really just stuck with me, I really felt as though Jim sort of saw me, and saw the ways that, at times, Christian community has limitations around what we can hold and how we can show up. And I really felt validated by that apology, especially [since it was] from a man.
Susan: That was very important to me.
Lisa: Well, it’s interesting that you say that because I think one of the biggest things, like a big “aha” that I had, maybe two or three years ago, was that when I looked around and I asked the question of who is actually guiding the public conversation on abortion – and I wouldn’t actually say reproductive justice because it has nothing, it’s not even part of their point of view – but who is guiding the conversation, the public conversation about abortion, is white men.
Lisa: I mean, [they] are the ones, who are literally the ones pushing it in the legislative arena generally speaking, and they’re the ones who have literally crafted the frame through which we view the issue. And I’m really intrigued by Andrea: I’m intrigued by this article that you wrote last August 2019 for the Washington Post entitled, “How the Female Body Became the Scapegoat for White Evangelicals.” In that article, you talked about the concept of the scapegoat. You ask the question, what is the scapegoat and how do we actually walk away from it, like why are things the way they are? And you named this concept of the scapegoat as being the reason. I would actually think that the scapegoat has something to do with the way or the reason why Susan wasn’t able to be pastored by her church. So, Andrea, can you explain a little bit more about that concept of the scapegoat?
Andrea: Yeah, um, so it’s definitely not original to me. It’s something that I studied back in grad school when I was actually looking at female heroines in postcolonial literature. A literary theorist and anthropologist named Rene Gerard has this theory about how ancient civilizations worked, how they tried to maintain order when chaos came into the community – they kind of cast that chaos on to a scapegoat that was then killed. The scapegoat is innocent but doesn’t have a voice. And Gerard actually argues that Jesus was kind of a symbol of the ultimate scapegoat, the final scapegoat, the end of the scapegoating mechanism. He was killed, he was innocent but he had the voice; if you look at the Gospels, where his stories are told, it’s clear that he was innocent. That’s kind of the end of the scapegoat mechanism as you finally have the scapegoat who is able to speak. And so, I feel like I’ve seen [that] even though Jesus was here a while ago and the crucifixion was over two thousand years ago, humans still default to the scapegoat mechanism in order to maintain order. So that’s kind of the big picture theory of the scapegoat that I was looking at.
Lisa: It’s really interesting. And so, in your article, you mentioned purity culture; can you explain that?
Lisa: What is purity culture, and talk about how it lives and breathes in White Evangelicalism?
Andrea: Purity culture was a movement that kind of peaked in the late ’90s, early 2000s, so I would have been in middle school and high school during that time. And … the big idea was abstinence before and outside of marriage, keeping yourself pure until you got married; there were purity rings that you would wear on your left hand or right hand to symbolize this commitment that you are making to God to keep yourself pure. But … there are a lot of kind of underlying messages to that, a lot of it was a responsibility put on girls to maintain their own purity and to maintain the purity of the boys around them by dressing modestly, because … our bodies would lead them to temptation or lead them to lust. So, it was definitely a patriarchal kind of misogynistic movement, but I was fully subscribed to it as an adolescent – it made sense to me. It was taught to me. So, it’s definitely been deconstructed and kind of criticized for the past, I would say since the early like, since like 2012 or ‘13. I think people have been talking about how hurtful it was, but I see kind of the scapegoat mechanism at work in purity culture, and it’s the female body that is the problem, the female body that is leading others to sin. So, it was definitely a damaging thing for me and it definitely kind of reduced the story of Jesus and the Gospel to this one “sin.”
Lisa: One sin, the sin of sexual like, what’s the sin? Name it.
Andrea: Sex outside of marriage or before marriage.
Lisa: Wow, that’s so deep … and you know what doesn’t that make sense? It’s like all this, like, synapses are firing in my brain, I’m remembering conversations about people asking well, do you think that the original sin was actually sex? You know that kind of thing.
Lisa: No, that purity culture makes you think, right?
Andrea: Yeah, yeah.
Lisa: Now what do you say, how does purity culture connect with abortion?
Andrea: I kind of have just been seeing purity culture at its root. It was just like the responsibility was on the woman – I mean, I remember thinking, “Oh, I need to stay a virgin until I’m married but I can’t expect my husband to be a virgin still, of course not.” So, it’s kind of always this understanding of it’s me that has to remain pure. And so, I kind of was just putting the dots together, … even … before writing this article that when you think about kind of the pro-life language and the language that surrounds that movement, it’s very much, this is the woman’s fault. This is her responsibility … [and] it’s kind of shaming of her in a way that I saw purity culture shaming of young girls and even women. And I was like, “There’s just something that is connected here, that is gross to me and that just doesn’t seem right and seems rooted in, ‘Let’s just keep pointing the finger at women specifically at their bodies.’”
Lisa: Now, it’s interesting because as you were talking about the scapegoat earlier. I don’t know about you, Sekinah, but I totally had visions of The Cross and the Lynching Tree.
Lisa: Were you thinking about that? I was absolutely thinking about The Cross and the Lynching Tree. … [Because] James Cone, what Dr. Cone said in that amazing theological treaties is that African-Americans have actually been the scapegoat in America. So, literally, put on the cross in order to take the sins of America into our bodies, and that cross was the lynching tree. Sekinah, do you want to say anything about that?
Sekinah: Yeah, I was actually, I was, and for me, and I’m so proud of womanism as well…
Sekinah: …and just how we begin to other, as well as how we begin to limit women’s voices and put them in a certain position, and how we as a Christian community have supported such in our theology, in the way we live out our theology in terms of in communities or practice as well. So, I actually look at [and] it brought to mind for me several things about pastors policing bodies, about times in which women were made to go before their congregation and to tell of their sins, … you know of those times, but also just how we have lifted up those figures in the bible. And that has become part of what we teach our children, what we teach new Christians, and we’re keeping the concept and we’re keeping that wrong theology going. It is an infection in our Christianity.
Lisa: So, for you, Sekinah, what are the implications of the “Right to Life” movement on racism and white supremacy?
Sekinah: Hmm, interesting question. You know the whole “Right to Life” movement for me, given actually what I’ve shared before should be quite honestly just that: the right to life. It seems as though once a baby is born, then all of a sudden then there is no right to life. The whole notion of particularly black bodies were counted in as much as we need to be for the political gains of white society, just like we were accounted for the economic gains of white society. Of course, … looking at this whole notion of the three-fifths of a person, if you will, coming up even on the senses. But that was really because you didn’t want to recognize that we also had souls and we were people. But you needed us in order to gain certain things economically and politically. And so, you need us in order to gain certain things. And so, you court black people – you court black people who are Evangelical, and I used to use that term myself to describe myself all the time. But it’s become a term … that does not reflect the totality of who I am.
But when I think about the Right to Life movement, I think about the anti-racism movement or the movement to look at the wholeness of our persons. I see that there were times in which recently some white Evangelicals have tried to take folks along another way. [I’m] thinking about when even The Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission at the conference that they usually put on, began to talk about “Right to Life,” as it relates to people in black bodies, in terms of police brutality and things of that sort. And so … I think what we have to do is expand this conversation and look at the dignity and worth of our people and look at what truly, what is life. And for me, life has to be those things that make up reproductive justice. It has to include also the right to parent a child or children [in] a safe and healthy environment, recognizing that they would not have their life taken away for having their music too loud or carrying Skittles or what have you, or having a Nerf gun, if you will. But they have to be able to look at me as a true person and those people who I welcome into my life to parent, or those that come from my own body would have to be lifted up in the same way
Lisa: And so, you just mentioned another big word: reproductive justice. Can you break that down for us?
Sekinah: Sure. Reproductive justice is a movement that was started basically to change the narrative, (much like Freedom Road does), to change the narrative, to change the conversation, to recognize that … this is as I’ve talked about. In our society, power, and privilege have been the so ways in which, or the people of which, have set the course of a conversation. And so, black women came together and said that this conversation is wrong. We’re gonna set the conversation based on our needs, based on how we see ourselves. And they created the term, “Reproductive Justice,” and … it deals with three things: the right to have a child, the right to not have a child, and the right to parent a child or children in safe and healthy environments.
And, of course, each one of those phrases can be dissected in different ways. But I do think that one thing to point out that for me, as this movement was getting started, I was actually graduating from a black women’s institution, a historically black college for women at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina. And as that conversation begin to grow and develop, I believed that it is because of those founders of that conversation. It is because those black women chose to reshape the conversation and claim their own space, even publicly, by putting out ads in the Washington Post and in roll-call [for] those that are political junkies and know something about the newspaper that people in Congress and their staff people read. More than 800 black women signed a declaration, if you will, that basically started the reproductive justice movement in a name. I would say that black women in what they did, they always acted in that way. But in a name, if you will.
And I think that because that was out there, then that is why you had in my home state of North Carolina – our home state of North Carolina, if you will, Susan, that people weren’t able to talk about the eugenics movement. And talk about the fact that we did need to give financial compensation to those people that were sterilized, and on that history and begin to attempt to clean up that history. But you can’t do that until that narrative is changed – until the conversation gets to be changed.
Lisa: See? This is the thing that is actually, honestly, really striking me – is that you have, in this one conversation, you have Andrea who sat in the pews of a white Evangelical Church and heard the message that was crafted by white men who led those churches. That said, “Be pure and definitely don’t have an abortion otherwise you’re absolutely stained for life.” It’s like, you know, the Scarlet A. If you’re gonna have sex that’s already stained for life. You might be able to revirginize. We didn’t talk about that, but that’s all another deal. But if you have an abortion, oh, Lord, no. Like you are going to hell. And then, if you look at those same men, … it’s that same group of men that also they hold the lineage of white men who were a part of that eugenics movement back in the 1930s and ’20s. And that’s the lineage. That’s the folk who actually did that stuff. And purity… it’s just interesting to me that it has both racial and gender intersections. And it’s the same movement that is doing both things in America. Anybody else want to speak to that?
Sekinah: Well, now … given that you’re saying that because the eugenics movement, particularly in our state, went through 1976. And as people are filing, well, the deadline has passed now. But once they’ve filed to actually receive compensation, some people were not even granted compensation because it was not the eugenics board that issued the order to sterilize them. It was so ingrained in the culture because of the intersection with race and gender. It was so ingrained in the culture [that] judges and social workers were out going into people’s homes convincing parents falsely to sterilize their kids.
Lisa: See now … the thing is it’s not only eugenics. It’s also Jim Crow. I mean, it’s lynching.
Sekinah: Yes. Mm-hmm.
Lisa: It’s all of the legislative structure that actually limits life for people of African descent, right? So, Susan, you wanted to say something too?
Susan: Well, I think Andrea might have been the one that stepped in, but just because you just said that piece about the lynching culture. Last fall I went to the Equal Justice Institute and also visited the Lynching Memorial, or the Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama. And I was just really struck on that trip with one of my college roommates, who was also a black woman from North Carolina, I really was struck by the intersection of white supremacy and bodily control. And…
Lisa: That’s it. That’s it. That.
Susan: And I think we’re not [looking at] sexism – … we’re not looking at that, you know. I think that we’ve gotten so colorized and so divided that we don’t recognize that this isn’t orchestrated and very highly planned attack on people’s bodies, on Black and brown people. White people have not stood up and said no. And then, [in] women’s bodies where … men have not stood up and said no. And we’re…
Lisa: And, honestly, other women.
Susan: And we’re all, yes, and other women too. And we’re all, we’re all complicit in it. At least, as a white woman, I can say we’re all complicit in this. And coping [in] this together.
Andrea: Yeah. Well, I mean just…
Lisa: Okay, Andrea.
Andrea: Seconding everything that has been said but that connection is really strong. And I even feel like I’m seeing in white circles, using this pro-life stance or this anti-abortion stance to even avoid talking about systemic racism and things that really matter. Tim Keller tweeted recently –he’s a white pastor and Presbyterian, like PCA… And Lisa, I think you mentioned at some point in the thread or I saw you respond. He was kind of like, “Hey, White nationals ain’t this bad. We should probably keep our eyes out for this.” And all of these white people were like, they’re response was, “What about abortion?” And it was just this really strange, like, really? Why are we even? And it’s used as this way to avoid what’s actually underneath all of it, which you all could help me connect those dots, I think. But, I’m like, “There’s something.” Why is this the connection? Why is this the leap? When these things are so, I don’t know. It’s just…
Susan: Because it divides us. It’s a natural divider, you know. And I think … when the Religious Right made a very determined and calculated decision – … in the late ’70s, early ’80s – that pro-life was going to be their stand, and their movement, and their mission to take over churches, to take over seminaries and then ultimately to take over the government. That was the dangling topic. We will dangle abortion in front of everyone’s faces and make them realize that they have to be on our side or they’re morally corrupt or morally bankrupt. And I think it … continues to this day.
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Thinking CAP is a weekly podcast hosted by the Center for American Progress’s Michele Jawando and Igor Volsky. In the current political moment, we find ourselves in, full of anger, protests and activists’ momentum, Thinking CAP hopes to lay the groundwork for the bold, progressive policy ideas we need. To continue moving this movement and our country forward. You can find new episodes each Thursday on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud and americanprogress.org, or wherever you get your podcasts. Also, find them on Twitter, @thinkingcappod.
Lisa: Okay. So, Sekinah, before our break you were about to say something. Can you share with us what that deep thought was?
Sekinah: Oh, sure. I just wanted to echo what everyone else was saying, but also, just look at this whole notion of white supremacy and [how] they [are] controlling the bodies. Of course, it … maps back to slavery, but it is something that has been being appropriated by this so-called Right to Life movement and this abortion single-issue movement. But we see it also now as it relates to the border and how the bodies of people of color are being controlled at the border – how their children are being controlled, [and] what this looks like, even to the point where people are being targeted. Their bodies are also being targeted. … When you are released from these detention centers, you’re often released without any shoelaces. And that’s easy then for you to be spotted and you can be targeted as someone who can be picked back up again, if you try to get back into the United States.
But also, someone that has been through some trauma … can be targeted because … you don’t have certain things. There are things that get taken away from you, so if you try to go back to your country then … you are prime for being violated physically. So, this whole notion of bodily control is something that has been part of American society. It is what lynching was all about, because if you know that there’s someone out there that is going to control your body, also it is so that you can then have yourself muted and not [being] powered to speak. Dare you lose this human body or your life. And I think that when we think about what the white male has set up, in some ways it’s brilliant. You know the devil … is brilliant in a lot of ways.
Susan: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Sekinah: You know, in terms of…
Susan: That’s right. That’s right.
Sekinah: In terms of how this entity, this evil one if you will, will seek to turn us away from God and turn us to people who are complicit. One of you said, in this whole notion of commodification and control of bodies it makes us then be complicit in controlling where people live, if they live, and if they have everything that they need to live. All of that is wrapped into this whole abortion piece.
Lisa: Wow. So, Andrea, in her article that she wrote back in August of last year, one of the ways that you end the article, Andrea, is you asked the question, “What is it that they fear?” Or actually, what is it that they desire? And you ask, do they desire this? Do they desire this? Because of the scapegoat and the purity thing, it also, Rene Gerard’s theory, you know about it girl. Just explain it.
Andrea: Yeah. … Well, you were saying it. … What are they trying to, what system are they trying to hold together. And it kind of seems like they got to hold together their tribe. And that’s kind of … at the root of it is power, but at the root of power is control. And so, this sense of being in control and continuing, like, perpetuating this white male control over what was going on in the evangelical church. And now, getting that into politics so we can control the entire country. So, I feel like that question I keep [asking is], “What do they want?” … [and] it’s just to maintain this control, to maintain this power that they have always had. And as a white person, I’ve been very privileged in that too and understand this comfort with, “Oh my gosh, am I not, like… will I not have the power that I’ve always had? Will I have to, you know this, will I have to actually share the table with people.” And so, I feel like there’s – I feel like I could be at the heart of it. … I would love to know what other people think too.
Susan: Yeah, that’s one … is it okay if I say something?
Susan: This is Susan again … one thing I’ve been thinking a lot about is, after I left pastoring I worked in a Unitarian Universalist organization, running a domestic violence shelter. And I definitely feel like working in a domestic violence field, and looking at the issues around control and power within family dynamics, and then within systems, and then within a culture – I mean, there are some huge overlaps between that sort of dynamic within personal relationships and then how it plays out in an institutional reality, both around racism as well as intimate relationships, around immigration, around control of people’s bodies. At Exhale, I’ve been surprised how many of our callers are calling us to talk about an abusive relationship that they are in, that has then led them to have to make a decision around abortion. And I’ve just been struck by – I didn’t really realize that my turn to doing domestic violence work actually would better prepare me for conversations around the intersection between people’s bodies. Women’s bodies in particular and their reproductive health and reproductive choices … are really a stranglehold on our country in a much bigger way than I had really recognized.
Lisa: You know, this one quote – thank you, Susan – this one quote from Andrea’s article stands out to me. Andrea, I’m gonna read it because it’s so good and it speaks directly to what we’re talking about. You said, “Or do they fear what an end to their scapegoat mechanism would do. When the woman or scapegoat speaks it causes unrest. It causes a dismantling.” And I can, I can absolutely – just even from this conversation – substitute the word, “when the African-American woman…”
Lisa: …speaks, it causes unrest. When the black man speaks, it causes unrest. When the immigrant … when this asylum seeker at the border…
Lisa: …speaks about the sexual abuse they experience in the cages or the fact that they’ve lost their mother or father forever, it causes unrest. When the one who is not of the tribe, that has had the power for literally two millennia, when they speak, it causes unrest on that order. And so, one of the things that really blew my mind recently was just realizing white men have literally been at the top of the hierarchy of human belonging since the Roman era in Western society and ever since – but not in all places. But it reached all places when colonization reached those places.
Lisa: So, since … the realm of colonization [this] has been just the norm. The norm of the world is that white men control everything and everyone. So, the prospect of having the scapegoat speak, of having the black person, the woman, the gay person, the immigrant or asylum seeker speak, it disrupts. And so, therefore, it must be, it must be crushed. It must be silenced. And we have been effectively silenced in this area because we are not talking about it until now.
Andrea: That’s right.
Sekinah: That’s the whole mother of the movement. That is…
Sekinah: …that is why the mothers that watched or looked at their black male sons…
Sekinah: …bodies, when they stood up. And when they went across this nation to speak…
Sekinah: …it rocked everyone. It’s so much so, I mean, one of them is in Congress right now. Lucy McBath, right? Like, what happens when we take our own agency and we do speak? I mean, I think that’s powerful.
Lisa: You hit it. I think so. I think we hit it, ladies. I think we hit it. So, Andrea, can you talk to me a little bit more about how your article impacted your relationships within this white evangelical community? And not only that y’all, just understand this, that … according to sociologist(s), White evangelicalism is really, they hold the American ethos and its most concentrated form. Like, American whiteness is held in its most concentrated form in white evangelicalism. I don’t know exactly why that is. It has something to do with our history, our puritan roots and all the rest. And the fact that that’s the strain that this comes from. But you sat in the center of it all, Andrea, so when you wrote this article and you began to speak out against the normative understanding of the world, what was the impact of that?
Andrea: Yeah. Um…
Lisa: On your relationships?
Andrea: Conveniently, I had taken a social media sabbatical in the month of August. Not knowing I was going, not knowing I was going to write this article at the very end of the month. So, I didn’t post it because I technically wasn’t on social media. But to be honest, I was afraid of posting that myself. I was okay with other people reposting it and it ended up on my personal Facebook page. And that’s all fine because obviously I wrote it publicly. But I was, I mean, there were certain people…
Lisa: The Washington Post, it was somebody, yeah.
Andrea: But I was afraid of certain people reading it. And, I mean, even my parents who … printed it off and read it more than once. And we discussed it for a long time and it ended up being a pretty good and fruitful conversation. But … I feel more disoriented in my faith than I have ever felt because I’m trying to figure out. You know, I was taught this one kind of Jesus who was like white Jesus. And, I’m realizing I have kind of worshipped this really flat character of God and of Christ and I’m having to re-learn who is Jesus actually? And … it’s been hard within evangelical facets – not the faith community that I’m in now – which ones really identify as evangelical. But I’ve done some avoiding and of certain relationships and talking about this. I’ve also had several people reach out and be like, “Thank you for writing that.” And that really spoke to me when white evangelicals say that to me. So, I definitely have always felt like I just need to say what is true and I need to say it when I feel led to say it, which I believe is the Spirit at work. So, typically, if I’m out publicly speaking about something that’s because it feels time and it’s right, but … I feel disoriented a little bit as far as what kind of church I was brought up in. And it’s been kind of difficult. But…
Lisa: Yeah. I think, honestly, I’m fascinated and also encouraged and inspired by your bravery, your courage to write your story as you did. And, for those who are not familiar, I mean, Andrea’s father is Max Lucado, who is a best-selling author within evangelicals. So for her to actually just be honest about what she thought and felt was literally an act of courage, and so, I just wanna lift that up and, and just to acknowledge that.
Susan: Yeah. I was just thinking about when I made this decision … to go public about my abortion experience. I first was reached out to by Parents Magazine that wanted to do a piece on mothers who have had abortions because, I can’t remember the statistic, but it was actually a large statistic of women who had abortions who are already mothers. So [that] debunks a lot of myths that are out there. But I remember when I was sort of going through the process of making this decision that I really wanted to have conversations with people that were close in my life.
With my parents, with my son, with my ex-husband, with my current boyfriend, … and then with a host of friends and other clergy leaders. I wanted people to know that I was planning to do this, but also to know that they would be with me through this experience, because I knew that I could not do this on my own. And, Andrea I just super appreciated what you said about social media because you can really get sucked into the negative things that are put out on Twitter and on Facebook and it’s very overwhelming. And … if I hadn’t had a circle of sort of social media supports that were kind of interfering and speaking to people on my behalf or from their own experience as well, I think that I wouldn’t have been able to do this. Or come out the other side of going public, feeling so convinced and certain of my Christian faith, of my moral decisions and of my just goodness, as a mother and as a female.
Lisa: Hmm. Amen. You know, so you actually just … kind of gave me an idea. And I wanna do kind of a lightning round with everybody. Can I ask you in twenty seconds or less to share what is the number one myth about this issue? About the issue of abortion, reproductive justice, that you wish could be dispelled. That you want people to know is a myth and not a reality. And whoever would like to start, go.
Lisa: Okay, I’ll go. Okay. And then you can follow if you get inspired. Okay, so the number one myth that I want to dispel is that I hear so, so many times, I hear people come to me and say, “You should be … pro-life.” Well, I want you to know I am … for-life. But I am for-life from the mind of God through conception all the way to death. But the myth is that it is black babies that are being targeted for abortions and so I should be for this: I should be there for the pro-life movement because it’s saving black babies from being aborted. Well, I want to say that’s a myth. The truth is that abortion follows poverty. That poverty is the number one most clear indicator of abortion rates in America. Wherever you have high poverty rates you will also have high abortion rates. So, I was amazed when I was living in New York City and people would point to me. I mean, people of color, pastors of color will say, “Well, what about East New York? East New York has the highest abortion rates. That is evidence that they are targeting babies in East New York. We need to stop this.” No. Do your homework. If you look at East New York it has the highest poverty rate in New York City. And so, therefore, it also has the highest abortion rates. Now, what does that tell you about the choices people are making? They are actually making economic choices about how much they can handle. And that is based on the reality that services for poor families have been cut by those very same people who want to outlaw abortion. Hello, somebody?
Lisa: So, that’s my myth. Anybody else got one?
Susan: That was awesome.
Sekinah: It was.
Susan: I can speak. This is Susan again. I think I sort of already referenced it, but for me, it’s this notion that people don’t want to talk about it. I actually found on my sermon tour and in other conversations across the country with people using what Exhale calls a Pro-Voice approach to talking about abortion, which means leading with abortion stories – personal abortion stories. People are very curious and interested and want the space to be able to talk about their own personal intersection around abortion. If given … the sacred container to be able to do that, I think people are desperate for the kind of space. And I also think that there’s a strong myth around religious women or religious individuals being not choosing or not having abortions. And, again, I think that that is a… it is a complete myth. And I also think people are looking for ways to connect their faith and this experience. And I think that that is actually kind of a magical spot where we as faith leaders can lead the way.
Andrea: Um, yeah.
Lisa: Amen. Anybody else who have any myth you want to bust?
Andrea: I would like to … just make a strong plea because we’re coming up on election season, and the prime areas … when we’re recording this … soon and I just want to say that you can still be a Christian and vote for a pro-choice candidate. It is possible, especially what Lisa just said, if you look at the facts, and the numbers, and the poverty level. I mean, if your goal is for less abortions, that’s probably what you should be doing anyway. And so, I really just want to make a plea to any women out there especially a white evangelical woman who thinks that she really has to vote a certain way in order to still [be] a pure Christian or to look like she has a certain faith that you don’t have to. You can still vote for pro-choice candidates and maintain your integrity.
Sekinah: I would just simply say, since you all have covered it very well, the myth for me is that being pro-life is being pro-children, and this whole notion that it is about really us lifting up what is best for all God’s children. And if you are not pro-life, then you are not pro-child. I think, ultimately, if you are pro-life but you are not fighting against hunger, you’re not fighting against poverty, you’re not fighting against affordable housing. If you don’t – if you’re pro-life but you do not have a vision for God’s community – then recognize that God’s vision for all of us is to have a future and a hope. And to not be tied down in debt and things of that sort, then you’re really not pro-life. You have to be able to have those conversations that the mothers of the movement whose sons and some daughters were killed in police brutality and excessive force. You have to be able to have those conversations. You have to be able to fight against kids in cages. You have to be able to fight against the controlling of people’s bodies. You have to be able to be one that supports the child growing in fullness and in joy.
Lisa: That’s great. Susan, one last quick question for you and then I have one question for everyone. Susan, what does good pastoring for women who have experienced the termination of pregnancies look like?
Susan: Wow. Well, I have a few different ideas around that. If there is a way – if you have space to speak about abortion or termination in prayer or in a sermon – I think, it opens up the window that people recognize that you know that that’s just a part of their life. And a part of the intersection of your faith community and how you can show up for people, I think that’s one powerful thing. I think also one of the things I worked on in my master’s thesis and continue to do sort of personally and then in women’s community, is creating ritual space for women and for folks who identify as women to be able to honor and ritualize their experiences around sexual assaults, around racism, around domestic violence, and around abortion. And I think creating that kind of space in sacred community should happen.
You know, it should happen in congregations and for a variety of reasons, I think white supremacy and white nationalist culture being the primary one. We’re not, we’re not doing that. We’re afraid of it and we move away from it [and are not] creating those alternative spaces. And then I think … all of us need to be reminded of our created goodness and of the beauty and sacredness that is our bodies, and the opportunity for us to each day take a moment to recognize that. And I think, especially, to teach our children of the gloriousness that is in there and in their bodies, in their gender identity and in the ways that they experience intimacy and closeness. That, again, is another piece of what I think churches have not been able to figure out [and are not] creating space around. And what a revolution … it would be for our children to have a different kind of an inheritance than what we have been given.
Lisa: Wow. And what is your – everyone, what is your prayer for the church regarding the issue of abortion and reproductive justice?
Andrea: I would say my prayer, I think, is that the priorities shift in the white evangelical church. I think, once you kind of really start to talk about and see and understand systemic racism, it really changes the way that you see faith changes your priorities. And so, my prayer is that that becomes a priority for the white evangelical church rather than the abortion thing, because I really think priorities will fall in line once that’s something that the church can really repent of and start to make changes in.
Lisa: Thank you.
Sekinah: And my prayer is that we continue to create our own narrative. Not one that is dictated by secular society as well as by racism but one that allows us and our children to grow into a theology that is more so before the fall, not afterward. And recognize the wholeness of our people which therefore would mean that there would not be any single-issue voting at all, because life is filled with gray area. And that, and how we practice our Christianity and how we live out our discipleship that we would do so in a manner that we are setting a table for all those sojourners that come to it in very complicated ways. So that even the chair that they sit in will still be comfortable, though their journey may be rough.
Lisa: And Susan?
Susan: Yeah, I think my prayer and what I have continued to uncover and recover is that the love of Jesus is big enough. And any of these limits that we’re trying to place on Jesus’s love are false. And it’s a real opportunity and actually a revival of the Christian community to trust in the abundance and never-ending love of Jesus.
Lisa. My prayer is that the church, particularly the white evangelical church, and all those people of color who are part of that would gain eyes to see the humanity in the other and in themselves. Amen.
Susan: I have a song that goes with, what you just said so well, Lisa.
Lisa: Wow. Want to sing? You can sing it now.
Susan: If that’s okay with you, yeah, we don’t have to, like, you super do not have to share this, but…
Susan: It goes, “Give us eyes to see, and ears to hear. And courage to step out without any fear. Give us wisdom to know the way to go. God be with us. God be with us. God be with us on this journey of faith.”
Lisa: The conversations leaders have on The Road to Justice. This is the Freedom Road Podcast. Don’t make me cry.
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