The issue of abortion and Roe v. Wade has been the elephant in the hearing room in every judicial hearing since President Bush came into office and is front and center in the Harriet Miers nomination. In my view, in fact, Roe v. Wade was the catalytic event that lit the slow-burning fuse that ultimately launched terms such as “strict constitutional originalist” into our awareness. The Miers brouhaha has led to several thought-provoking (well, provoking anyway) posts on abortion that I’ve read recently such as here, here and here. It has also led me to ponder the way my own thinking has changed over the years.
Some background: I was a lusty 14-year-old boy when Roe v. Wade overturned the law of the land and made abortion legal. Looking back now I can see it as an event that separated me from my innocence as I started to make my way into the adult world. Innocence was lost because this was the first time that I recall letting my head overrule my heart in determining how I was going to run my life.
Some more background: I was raised in a mainstream Christian denomination that taught salvation through grace rather than through decision. When I was seven, however, my parents let me go to a vacation bible school course with my best friend. There the teacher said that if anyone wanted to earn extra credit we should watch the Billy Graham crusade on television that night and then make a report to the class the next day. Extra credit was always encouraged at my house, so I raised my hand. That night when Reverend Graham invited anyone who wanted eternal life with Jesus to stand up and come down front, I scarcely hesitated. Sure I was in my own basement, with my mother ironing on the other side of the room, but I stood up, walked to the TV and repeated the prayer. I figured if God was God, he’d get the message, and I followed my heart.
When I was thirteen, my parents let me stay overnight with another friend and go to a Bill Glass crusade with my friend’s Webelo pack. I thought I was going because Bill Glass was a former football player, and I loved football. I’m not sure if I remembered my TV experience then or not, but I again answered the altar call and made my way backstage from the second tier of the arena. There I was surprised to see that Mr. Martindale from my church was one of the counselors. We prayed and he gave me a workbook and then came over to my house once a week for six weeks to go over the six chapters in the book. About all I remember of the book is that I usually waited until the last 15 min-utes before Mr. Martindale arrived to whip through that week’s lesson.
So there I was at 14, hearing that abortion was legal and thinking, “All right! There’s one less reason for a girl not to have sex with me!” (Ugly, callow and shallow, to be sure, but there you have it: portrait of the writer as a young man.) At the same time I was thinking that, my heart was going “Ewww! How could anyone do such a thing?” It took a lot of mental gymnastics to overcome my unsophisticated heart, but I managed. By God’s grace, I was thankfully never put in a position where I had to put my new belief into practice.
Flash forward to December, 1987. Newly restored to God, and newly married, I watched the monitor intently as the ultra-sound traced my wife’s stomach, finally revealing a three-week old head, arms and hands, right where they were supposed to be (it was supposedly medically impossible for her to become pregnant). At once my heart soared while my mind plunged to its depths and pleaded, “My God, forgive me!”
Jump forward another decade or so and I was reading a StarTribune columnist (no longer with the paper) who also happened to be a pastor from the same denomination in which I grew up, relating how she was advising a member of her flock to have an abortion. I remember the writer described herself as someone “in the trenches” where there were no “hard and fast” rules when a woman’s life is concerned. Rather than anger, I felt a piercing sadness for her and for those under her care. It occured to me then that there’s a difference between a trench and a pit, and how important it is to know which one you’re standing in.
The unpleasant truth is that there are hard and fast rules for every situation, whether we choose to follow them or not. The struggle comes in trying to figure out a reason in our heads why the rules we know in our hearts don’t apply to us. Doing so, however, leads not to peace but to other, more desperate, situations that also have hard and fast rules — and even harder choices.
More painfully, I saw my former self in that columnist and realized that I didn’t have to ask how someone could be so deceived because I already knew. And then I had to ask the logical, but oh-so-difficult question: “God, what is the lie that I’m still believing? Where is it that I still let my head decide the way things really are as opposed to what’s in my heart and in your word?” I know the answers are there waiting, if I really dare to look.
In the final sifting of heart (what we believe) and mind (what we think), it’s not what we think that is going to matter.
Psycmeistr has succinct take on the Miers situation and the sentiment that conservatives must be loyal to the Party and the decisions of the leader:
Since the beginning of the Miers nomination debacle, we have been hearing from the “the elite Republican Priesthood” that our CIC, the head of our party, has made a decision, and that we need to be good little foot soldiers and fall in line. To that, I politely say BUNK!
…Folks, we live in the United States of America, under a government “by the People, of the People, and for the People”, not “by the Party, of the Party, and for the Party.” Ours is a bottom-up government, not top-down, and the rule is by the consent of the governed.
Further, while I would like Roe v. Wade overturned – and Ms. Miers may share my personal belief – the decision in this arena must be overturned because it is bad law and outside the intent of the Constitution, not because it is perceived to be immoral. That is why a constitutional originalist interpretation is more important than an evangelical one on the Supreme Court. If it comes down to the personal beliefs of whoever is on the court at any given time, then the judges become no more than bizarrely dressed politicians themselves.