Commentary Religion

Pro-Choice and Christian: How I Unlearned What My Church Taught Me

Livi Burke

If someone feels like ending their pregnancy is what they need to do, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to, and no reason why God would look down on them for it.

Growing up, church leaders taught me that a lot of things “the world” agrees with just aren’t right according to God. Two people of the same sex should not get married, sex before marriage is off the table, and one definitely should not get an abortion. Reinforced by both church leaders and my family, these views had a huge impact on me during my adolescence.

Little did I know that my opinions on these issues would change so dramatically as I gained a better understanding of our society. It also became clearer to me over time that “the world” agrees with the thinking of that church, despite how harmful the views are that it holds.

My church definitely wasn’t a very conservative or even traditional church. It played contemporary music, and people wore jeans during Sunday service. We even handed out water bottles to activists protesting outside another church for their pastor’s homophobic comments. Yet, this kindness was actually what made the church’s teachings even worse. The church’s message and environment seemed accepting, but ironically it never truly embraced what fell outside of church-approved values and lifestyles. Instead of, for example, accepting LGBTQ people as they are, the pastors and other members of the staff would open their arms saying they accept their “flaws” and that God loves them even though they are “flawed.” These believers may see this mindset as a way of being accepting, but what they are really saying is that they will accept all of you except the part that they believe to be harmful or of a sinful nature.

When you grow up in the church, the pastors and others at the top tell you what’s right based on what’s supposedly aligned with the word of God. This makes it easier for them to dismiss an opposing view that becomes prevalent in society, because to them it is of the world or a deception from Satan. I would even hear my pastors say that we should stay strong in our beliefs even if we are called a “something-aphobe” or accused of having any type of prejudice. I believed these things for so long, especially when it came to abortion.

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Growing up, I went to a private Christian school from elementary school up until my sophomore year of high school. Most of the people who attended that school were pretty conservative, so the environment definitely enhanced my way of thinking.

It wasn’t until I got to college that I really started talking to people with various points of view. My RA had a friend who was an intern at our local Planned Parenthood. She and I hung out a few times and started having conversations about feminism, the wage gap, and even abortion. She started a club on campus called Fem, where a group of us girls would talk about such topics and also just hang out and have fun. Even though I didn’t end up staying involved in this club, I did continue learning about feminism and what it really means to call oneself a feminist.

I started getting into feminist media and began educating myself on the issues. I then realized just how wrong my way of thinking around reproductive rights really was.

From Cecile Richards to YouTubers like Hannah Witton and Riley Dennis, these women really helped open my eyes to just how much misinformation is spread by community leaders. When I learned that abortion is not an act of murder that goes against God’s will but simply a medical procedure that every person should have a right to, my mindset completely changed.

Abortion isn’t this inhumane act that deserves the stigma it has; it’s a health-care service that allows people to live the life they’d like to live. If someone feels like ending their pregnancy is what they need to do, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be able to, and no reason why God would look down on them for it. Despite this, numerous legislators in the United States, and leaders around the world, continue to limit access to abortion care. Like some church leaders, many lawmakers and other officials are determined to stop people from making decisions about their life and the family they want—and that includes LGBTQ people.

So, while many conservative politicians will promote the idea that their “pro-life” arguments are biblical, the truth is actually quite the opposite from what they will tell you. This strategy is very beneficial for their supporters and movement as a whole, but even more harmful for the women and other potential patients who may need such services.

Now, to say that taking on this perspective has been easy would be far from the truth. My mom and I do not disagree on much, but when it comes to abortion, that is when the tension really builds, forming a gulf between us. I would try to reason with her and explain my point of view, but because of her persistence and familiarity with the issue, her views did not change. She said that she had known women who fit into the stereotypical  “slutty” category who had multiple abortions simple because they could. I would try to explain that there are many reasons why one would make such a choice—namely, their constitutional right—but because she had clearly made up her mind about the issue, I eventually decided to move on.

My mother is not the only woman in my family who I have had conflict with in recent years because of my pro-choice beliefs. I have had a fair share of debates with my aunt, whom I am very close with, over this issue as well. As for my nana, I wouldn’t dare to go there with her. She goes to annual “pro-life” conventions with her church, so my pro-choice position is antithetical to hers.

But I wouldn’t take back the information I’ve learned over the years about reproductive health care or LGTBQ rights to please the women in my family. Why? Because I know why “pro-life” supporters believe they are doing the right thing, even though they are doing more harm than good. I know why they push back against other views and explanations, no matter how reasonable they might seem. It’s because the leaders of their church and conservative Christian culture will always find a way to turn accurate information into a form of propaganda against reproductive rights.

This is done to reinforce beliefs and ideologies promoted by the conservative Christian community, such as purity culture and guilt surrounding women having sex before marriage. Even though at a glance it would look like the “pro-life”movement is only about reproductive rights, once you look at the big picture you can see that it is about much more. It’s about creating an environment where women are only fully accepted if they bear children and fit into this image of a “pure wholesome woman.” While the reinforcement of this is not always intentional, there are still many harmful effects, such as anti-choice bills. These bills have negative effects on women by limiting their reproductive options, which is harmful toward reproductive health as a whole.

So, if my experience counts for anything, maybe it’s that I was able to come to a good place where I am able to use what I have learned to help others like myself. Because if I can use what I have learned to help someone else who is where I used to be to understand that what they are feeling is right, or, if I am able to use this knowledge to help others, then my experiences and difficulties with my family members would all have been worth it.

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