"There is nothing about the abortion debate that is comfortable," said seminarian Kelli Clement, as she addressed a Sunday service at Dakota Unitarian Universalist Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.
Clement grew up in Paris, Texas, and her voice still has a North Texas twang to it, which fit the mood in the small church on a cool February morning. Clement quietly but bluntly discussed her own experiences with reproductive choice. "Choice is what makes us human," she said. "The choice to regulate our own family is a way to love."
Clement experienced that choice in her 20s, when she was by her own admission addicted to alcohol and in an unstable place in her life. And she made the choice then to seek an abortion.
"I have never regretted my choice to terminate that pregnancy," Clement said to a quiet congregation. "It was the most loving thing I could do."
"We are not pro-choice in spite of our faith."
A recovering alcoholic, a mother of a 5-year-old and a musician, Clement is also one of the co-chairs of Seminarians for Choice, part of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. The RCRC is part of a small but growing group of religious liberals who are working to expand the scope of what political beliefs are considered morally and religiously sound.
"We are not pro-choice in spite of our faith," Clement told a group of pro-choice activists at a March 3 gathering in Minneapolis. "We are pro-choice because our faith instructs us."
I sat down with Clement after the gathering, and asked her why it is that faith is equated so strongly with the anti-abortion position.
"Anti-choice activists have been extraordinarily effective in saying, 'There's one way to believe,'" Clement said. "I think religious liberals mostly believe the Bible should be read in context — we mostly don't believe the Bible is inerrant. We take a more nuanced view."
Clement said that the nuanced view on religion meant that religious liberals come to see support of choice as separate from their religious views.
"We need to be more comfortable with metaphor," she said, "more comfortable with a broader, more liberal view of God."
"We could lose this right"
"We can learn a lot from the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life," Clement said. "About how organized they are, and how passionate they are."
Clement was working to rally the troops on the eve of Pro-Choice Rally Day, an event that will bring a number of pro-choice activists to the State Capitol today to talk to their state representatives.
In some sense, this is a good year to be a pro-choice activist. The Legislature is more pro-choice than it been since the Roe v. Wade decision; the DFL's 2006 sweep brought a true pro-choice majority into the state Senate, and the state House has a majority that is at least functionally so.
But the narrow, 5-4 pro-choice majority on the U.S. Supreme Court lends an air of urgency to the endeavor.
"In many ways, the struggle for abortion rights is a states' rights issue now," Clement said. "I think that it is not at all far-fetched to think that we could lose this right [to abortion]."
But Clement was nothing if not positive. During discussion, when some of the assembled activists worry about whether enough people are attending the meeting, Clement said, "It's generosity of spirit, generosity of body to show up at this time of night."
"We feel more powerful together," she said. "We feel more powerful when we align our beliefs and our actions."
In our interview, Clement said that the voices of religious liberals need to be strengthened, in order to align belief and action.
"We need more, broader, deeper connections" between religious liberals and the broader liberal community, she said. "We shouldn't be afraid to speak out from a position of strength."
I asked about Barack Obama's recent statements that equality for gays and lesbians was supported by Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.
"I read the Sermon on the Mount and think it's clear Jesus was a Democrat," Clement said, chuckling. But she noted that "politicians say what they need to say." And she was clear that you could find "any proof statement" in the Bible if you wished.
Ultimately, Clement says she isn't working just for herself. In closing her remarks on Monday, Clement brought up her daughter as a reason for her activism.
"I am connected to my daughter in a different way because I am working for her freedom," she said.