By Norris Burkes Jan 28, 2023
Last Sunday was Sanctity of Life Sunday, a day proclaimed by President Ronald Reagan in 1984. And it was a hard subject to preach in my new pulpit at Community Church, Nevada City.
Unfortunately, the Bible gave me little help. The Old Testament only hints at abortion in Numbers 5:11-31. You might find some favored assumptions in the New Testament, but it’s silent of literal references – rather strange since abortion is likely as old as birthing.
Yet with Bible in hand, this past Sunday, Christians on both sides marched with parading placards as churches proclaimed the certitude that comes from reducing life’s most difficult times into formulas and platitudes.
In my sermon, I asked my parishioners that they pause before they join the march for or against abortion to remind themselves that “Life is complicated.”
I suggested that everyone put down the placards and let me guide them through a mental picture of the hospital where I once worked as the chaplain for women and children.
Like many hospitals, Sutter Medical Center is where black and white views often wilted under the glaring light of reality. It was a place where the gray areas were often distilled by life’s complications.
For instance, prolife folks might want to test their convictions as I revisit the hospital chapel where I sat with a couple who agonized over the choice to abort her Trisomy 18 baby. Doctors told the woman that her child would certainly die in his first weeks, if not minutes, of life.
Or if you’re prochoice, then turn your attention to that child’s weeping father as he begged his wife to carry that baby full-term.
But the story was different with another couple. Follow me downstairs to the delivery room where Sue and Mike Reed welcomed Gigi, their Trisomy 18 baby. The parents made the monumentally difficult decision to allow her entry into this world for 80 minutes just so they could say goodbye.
When I wrote their story ten years ago, some readers thought Sue’s decision undeniably selfish, and others saw it as enormously heroic. But I never make that call because life is complicated.
Certainty fails us when we meet a mother who made a different decision. Her baby had a malformation of the heart, spine and brain – all complications that presented a real danger to the life of both mother and baby.
“Chaplain,” she told me in a later email, “The clinic made me sign a paper declaring that I didn’t want the baby.”
Her tears bled from her writing as she explained, “I wanted this girl more than anything. We wanted her to be OK. But she wasn’t.
“But most of all, we wanted her not to suffer no matter how much that meant that we suffered with the burden of making this choice.”
Her faith was clear as she declared her belief that “God gave women the joy, responsibility and the burden of childbirth. God knew that, as mothers, we would make any sacrifice for our children.”
She confessed she would “suffer the trauma of an abortion the rest of my life,” but would do it again if it meant that her baby would not suffer a single day. “We hope abortion is a choice that parents never have to make. But it was our responsibility to make.”
Now distanced from the procedure, she warned those on both sides who want to preach there is only one story of abortion.
“I am mad at the liberals who think this procedure would be liberating. I am mad at conservatives who might assume I wasn’t responsible.”
My sermon ended without a defining conclusion because chaplaincy constantly prompts me to see that life is rarely black and white. The healthcare community reminds me that we don’t have all the answers and I need to listen more before I impose my beliefs on others.
I suppose that’s why a grieving mother made this concluding request, “What we need from your readers now is simply to listen to our truth and pain.”
I told her how I wish there was better direction from the Bible on this subject.
“Ah, but there is,” she said as she quoted Psalm 139:13-14.
“‘For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made.’”
She paused with expectant news.
“I’m pregnant again. A baby girl.”
I expect she will be fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Contact Chaplain Norris at [email protected] or 10566 Combie Road, Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602 or voicemail 843-608-9715.