On Reproductive Rights: Here are the Churches

This is in reply to  Trusting Women‘s, “On Health and Rights, What Happened to the Churches?”  TW writes about growing up in a liberal church that offered sex education classes.  She writes:

“Church was the place I first heard the word feminism.  Church was the place I first practiced putting a condom on a banana.  It was the place where I had openly gay and lesbian adult mentors and ministers.  The congregation my father grew up in gave the local Planned Parenthood their first home.  My first minister was a member of the Clergy Consultation Service, a network of liberal clergy that referred women to safe abortion providers in the days before Roe versus Wade.”

She then asks, “What happened to the churches?”   Here’s her answer:

“Liberal religions (particularly Protestants) feel guilty and ashamed on an institutional and cultural level.  Between the mid 19th and mid 20th century, liberal religion was at its apex. It lauded the possibility of human potential, placed science and empirical method right next to (if not above) Scripture, believed that human civilization was evolving morally and civically. Advances in science and medicine fueled and confirmed this hope and hubris.  Then the World Wars happened. The Holocaust happened, aided and abetted by liberal institutions, included liberal churches in Europe, governments, and academia.  Maybe evil really did exist in this world, maybe human beings were not so great after all.  Maybe the growth of liberal thought not only coincided with great democratic and medical advances, but also with brutal colonial and imperial endeavors; brutal injustices like Tuskegee Experiments and the recently revealed syphilis experiments in Guatemala. Maybe liberalism was not as perfect and wonderful as we thought…..”

My reply was:

Overall this is a thoughtful post but seriously — liberal protestant churches were solely to blame for the Holocaust?  What about the Pope? Or  Father Coughlin who blamed the Depression on an international Jewish conspiracy?

Also, what about the liberal church members, white and black, who participated in the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, and other movements for social justice in the 1960s?  Liberal clergy were also active in reproductive rights:  see Tom Davis’ book _Sacred Work: Planned Parenthood and its Clergy Alliances_.”

Furthermore, look at the extensive history of reproductive rights activism outlined by the group Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.  Their most recent work includes counter-protests against Operation Save America (formerly Operation Rescue) , a strong presence at the March for Women’s Lives, opposition to the nominations of Supreme Court Justices Roberts and Allito, and the “Lift Every Voice for Reproductive Justice” program for voter empowerment during the 2008 election.

In other words, the activism of liberal churches on behalf of reproductive rights and other areas of social justice has not gone away.  It’s the media that has turned their back on the work of liberal churches.

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  • crowepps

    In other words, the activism of liberal churches on behalf of reproductive rights and other areas of social justice has not gone away.  It’s the media that has turned their back on the work of liberal churches.

    In the current climate, there isn’t anything ‘media-worthy’ about being loving and caring.  The tape isn’t going to be shown unless there’s someone frothing at the mouth.  The only time liberal churches get any news is in those articles between Thanksgiving and Christmas about “Neighbors Helping Neighbors At the Holidays”.


    Part of this also can be attributed to the fact that the liberal church that is running, say, a food pantry is spending their time and investing their effort in actually running the food pantry, not looking for self-aggrandizing publicity.

  • arekushieru

    …but I’ll repeat, if only to nip in the bud any criticisms that might be directed my way after one reads this comment:  I am a Christian.

    Yet, this has nothing to do with TW’s original claim.  Crowepps, herself, delineated the problem quite clearly, in the comments thread of the blog post this blog is a response to.  She wasn’t attributing blame in any way to just one faith.  The words ‘particularly’, then, at the bottom, “not as perfect and wonderful as we thought” would indicate this.

    Also, liberal churces ARE complicit.  If you don’t speak out against something, you ARE giving your tacit agreement to certain actions, after all.


  • trustingwomen

    Thanks for engaging my ideas.

    HMPrescott, as a minister, i am quite committed to the history and future of liberal religion, but believe we can only move forward by telling the full stories of our past.  I think too often in liberal congregations, we like to focus our “successes,” the stories that make us look “good.”   I know in my denomination, we love to talk about Unitarian Minister Theodore Parker, a great abolitionist….even though his fellow clergy nearly kicked him out of the clergy association because he was too radical at the time.  My denomination ordained the first women…..but only because men wouldn’t serve some far our mid-west congregations in the mid 19th century and they had to put up with a lot of B.S. and worse in their roles….   I just want a story of liberal religion that is true to our strengths and victories, as well as our sadnesses, regrets, and embarrassments.


    And the question regarding “what happened to the churches” was not just mine, though in your summary you suggest this is the case.  “What happened to the churches”  was a question posed by a long-standing abortion provider.   In her life experience, she experienced a shift in the support she received from liberal congregation. I take her experience seriously and want her to once again feel supported by liberal religion.


    Again, thanks for your engagement.


  • meg

    Not media worthy in the current climate? Who cares about THAT media when there is THIS media? Our media. THAT media can often be counted on to ignore, minimize, mis-report or underreport. Also to annoy, inflate and over-report. I come straight here, when I want to know and undesrstand about many issues and topics of interest/concern to me, to which mainstream media gives the above described treatment.

    I for one would welcome an opportunity to learn everything about social justice advocacy in the liberal churches. I think this is very media worthy. Of THIS media,  which is in turn worthy of me and the minutes-becoming-hours that I spend reading here. I would read every article by and about. I deserve to be able to read these, and would like to have them conveniently presented alongside the rest of what I read here.

  • arekushieru

    I think Crowepps IS talking reality and pragmatically, rather than what she believes.

  • crowepps

     I deserve to be able to read these, and would like to have them conveniently presented alongside the rest of what I read here.


    I’m sure that since you “deserve to be able to read these”, everyone here will drop what they’re doing in their own areas of interest, run right out and do all the research on your behalf, spend the time to compose and edit articles, and then post them here so you can have all the information you want ‘conveniently’ without having to go to any effort whatsoever.


    Or, alternatively, since you are the one interested in social justice advocacy in liberal churches, YOU could do all that work yourself and then share it with us.

  • meg

    I can’t write that well. The writers here are great. And the writers here have already done that for other topics I am interested in, they already “do all the research … spend the time to compose and edit articles, and then post them here” not necessarily on my behalf but it does enable me to get all the information I want.