The heinous killing of Dr. George Tiller last Sunday in church reminds all of us that the lack of common ground in this country on abortion has real consequences. In this case, those consequences included the ultimate violation of the sacred space of a church in what must be described as a political (or culture wars) killing. Normally we resolve our conflicts in this country through discussion and debate. That is the mark of a civilized society. The abortion fight has long threatened to de-civilize us, and it did that once again last week.
President Obama recognizes the profound cultural consequences of our nation’s unresolved fight over abortion. He has become the first president to convene a conversation of national leaders who care about this issue and who want to find common ground in reducing the need for abortion.
The most striking thing that I heard when attending a White House meeting on common ground was this phrase: "the sacredness of sex." It was named by a White House official in a list of several different kinds of initiatives that were surfacing in White House-sponsored discussions of common ground.
My contribution to that meeting was to jump on that phrase. I said something like the following: It will not be enough to offer a series of technical solutions or policy "best practices" to the problem of reducing the number of unwanted and unplanned pregnancies each year in this country. These proposals-like improving access to effective contraception, or streamlining adoption procedures, or strengthening access to health care services for poor, pregnant women-are essential. But there is something going on at a deeper values level and it must be addressed at that level. The question is whether a pluralistic, diverse nation can find common language and common vision at that deeper level.
I went on to say: That values level has been touched on with the phrase, "the sacredness of sex." Sex is indeed sacred. My Christian tradition would say that sex is a good gift from God that is deeply important interpersonally and as the means by which the next generation is brought into the world. Our society has cheapened sex and thereby damaged relationships between men and women while endangering the next generation. We need the president (and all of us committed to this issue) to include as part of any abortion reduction proposal some kind of values-laden language reminding Americans that sex is sacred, it is not just a fun game, it is not just an occasion for pleasure, and it must not just be used as a way to get something from somebody and then leave them behind. We need to emphasize the dignity of each person and the dignity of the sexual act between persons, and to call for the appropriate reverence and responsibility in this area of life. (At least, I hope I said that. I am saying it now, anyway.)
There was not really time in our meeting for any particular suggestion to be taken up for intensive conversation. So I don’t know whether this kind of language resonates outside of my own particular community or not. I do know that a common ground effort must get to the deepest sources of the problem at hand, and one of these is a society in which a widespread sense of "the sacredness of sex" has been lost.