It was the closing celebration at New Wine in Sligo last summer, one of Ireland’s largest gatherings of Evangelical Christians. If you’re familiar with these events, the final evening is a vibrant celebration with bible teaching and vibrant praise and worship, with the aim of sending the masses out affirmed and emboldened in their faith.
Arriving slightly late for the final event I walked past a table laden with hundreds of anti-abortion books. These were to be given free to everyone as they left the auditorium that evening. After a week of worship, teaching and seminars on a range of issues, people’s closing engagement with the conference was being presented with this book as they left.
For families which have been exposed to the complicated pain of pregnancy-related loss – this felt like a shockingly insensitive ending to the conference. I mention this as an example of how Evangelicalism often fails to acknowledge that there is a range of opinions on women’s reproductive health, and can often end up re-traumatising those who may already feel on the margins of church because of their experience and choices.
If the decisive exit poll results are anything to go by, the yes campaign managed to transcend the pro-life/pro-choice divide and appeal to a conservative base. It’s therefore highly likely a significant number of evangelical voters quietly opted for safer, better laws for women.
The clumsy co-option of other civil rights language into one particular anti-abortion campaign, no matter how well-intentioned, suggests a narrowing public square theology that is running out of ideas.
Rather than retreating deeper into a false persecution complex, Evangelicalism needs to cultivate a healthier internal public square on divisive social issues before crying wolf about it’s treatment in the wider “secular” square.
Christians often complain that their views are ridiculed, scoffed-at, and shouted down in the public square but similarly – churches have often been complicit in shutting-down debate and excluding marginalized voices within their own spaces. By mirroring this behaviour in attitudes to differing voices and opinions within our congregations, how many people are being driven away from church?
Sarah Ewart, who was forced to leave Northern Ireland after being told her baby could not survive, was a devout Christian along with her husband. I have not seen her perspective affirmed or supported in any of the mainstream Evangelical contributions to the abortion debate.
John Paul Lederach in his book “Conflct Transformation for Ordinary Christians” writes that: “If we create the social space that brings Truth, Mercy, Justice and Peace together within a conflicted group or setting, an energy is crystallized that creates deeper understanding and unexpected new paths leading toward restoration and reconciliation.”
We as a church movement need to move from the dualism of either/or to the both/and. As Richard Rohr alliteratively puts it – Christian Dualism compares, competes, conflicts, conspires, condemns, cancels out any contrary evidence, and crucifies with impunity. Our congregations and communities deserve better. Jesus’ dangerous and inclusionary thinking on this is evident in Matthew 13:29-30: “don’t pull out the weeds or you might pull the wheat out along with it. Let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest.”
The resounding victory for repealing the eighth amendment presents a significant opportunity for Evangelical Christians on this island to reflect on how this and other contentious issues can be handled with more sensitivity, grace and nuance within our congregations.
Truth and mercy have met together. Justice and peace have kissed. (Psalm 85:10)