This is something that has come through in our Adult Christian Education class’s study of the documentary, “God in America.” It has dealt with the some of the most controversial issues which have split America---slavery, war and peace, civil rights, religion in the public schools, abortion. I hope one of the things that we have gained from our study is a sense of humility and less of a tendency to demonize others that might hold differing opinions.
We also have had a current lesson in how complicated the issue of religious freedom can be. There was an absolute furor when the federal government proposed a regulation that would require religious institutions like Catholic hospitals and colleges (churches were exempted) to provide insurance which would provide free contraceptives, including the “morning after” pill, to their employees. The interesting thing was how unpredictable the response was. The division was not just along the usual Republican vs. Democrat and liberal vs. conservative lines. The issue was too complicated for that. Many Democrats and Republicans, conservative and liberals, Protestants and Catholics found themselves opposed to the new regulation. Many of all of these groups found themselves supporting the new regulation. It involved the deepest questions about the health of women, the beginning of life, human autonomy, the role of the government, and religious freedom. Each of these alone is complicated. Taken together, we all found ourselves drawn into an ocean of moral complexity. We weren’t sure what to think.
The longer I live, the more convinced I am that we are not as divided as we think we are on life’s most complicated issues. Take abortion, for example. Some would have us believe that we are neatly divided between pro-life and pro-choice groups and we feel no commonality on the issue of abortion at all. This may be our perception if we only look at the surface, but I find that this is not the case at all if we dig deeply into individual thinking. I find that many “pro-choice” folk are deeply uncomfortable with abortion and want to make it as rare as possible. Many “pro-life” folk really don’t regard the life of a fetus and the life of a born person as being of equal value. This is true of even the most ardent.
This came home to me in a fresh way when I was reading Kevin Roose’s book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University. Kevin was a secular student at Brown University who decided to go underground and become a student at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University. The experience was full of revelation for Kevin and for his readers. One of the things that struck me was how Liberty University dealt with student who had abortions. Obviously, there is no more anti-abortion institution than Liberty University and no stronger abortion opponent than Jerry Falwell. Their policy prescribed that any student who had an abortion would be fined $500, receive 300 demerits, and possibly be expelled. I wonder what Liberty’s policy would be if one of their students murdered her roommate. I doubt that a $500 fine and 300 demerits would be regarded as being sufficient. The point is, despite their language to the contrary, Liberty didn’t really regard abortion as being the same as murder.
Deep down, everybody seems to know that life is complicated and that bumper stickers are not enough. Let’s not ever forget it.
©2012 C. David Hess