Some celebrated rejection of Roe v. Wade; others alarmed

Many religious leaders in metro Atlanta reacted passionately during weekend services to Friday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned constitutional protections for abortion.

The varied opinions, sometimes from within the same denomination, reflected national polarization over the issue. Some celebrated. Others expressed disappointment.

At Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, Senior Pastor Raphael Warnock expressed his disagreement with the Supreme Court’s decision.

“I know that times are hard, but we’ve stood at this Jordan before,” said Warnock, who is also a Democratic U.S. Senator. “We’ve seen bad decisions coming from bad actors sitting on the Supreme Court before.”

The Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling Friday in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Warnock faces a November election and criticism from some conservative Black ministers for his position in favor of abortion rights.

ExploreBlack ministers urge Warnock to change abortion rights stance

Most Americans support some abortion access, according to national polls, including a majority of religious groups. By contrast, 69% of white evangelical Protestants said in a Public Religion Research Institute survey in March that abortion should be illegal in most or all cases.

Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, an East Cobb megachurch affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention, has expressed opposition to abortion rights and embraced the ruling on Sunday.

“I do not want to miss the opportunity to celebrate what happened this past Friday with the overturning of Roe v. Wade in our country,” Senior Pastor Clay Smith said at the start of his Sunday morning sermon, adding, ”This is a time when we need to be supporting our local crisis pregnancy centers. We need to be supporting adoption and foster care networks. We need to be befriending young mothers and fathers who feel they have no alternative in life but to rid the life of a child. We need to be helping and supporting and loving all the way from the womb to the tomb.”

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Reverend Winnie Varhese from Saint Luke's Episcopal in Atlanta poses for a photograph in the church's chapel on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. In addition, faith community leaders, or non-ordained in their faith communities, have provided moral leadership, especially to women seeking women's advice.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Reverend Winnie Varhese from Saint Luke's Episcopal in Atlanta poses for a photograph in the church's chapel on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. In addition, faith community leaders, or non-ordained in their faith communities, have provided moral leadership, especially to women seeking women's advice.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Combined ShapeCaption
Reverend Winnie Varhese from Saint Luke's Episcopal in Atlanta poses for a photograph in the church's chapel on Wednesday, May 11, 2022. In addition, faith community leaders, or non-ordained in their faith communities, have provided moral leadership, especially to women seeking women's advice.

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Credit: Miguel Martinez

Rev. Winnie Varghese of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church said at a Friday service that the first time she went to a march was more than 30 years ago, when she and friends from Agnes Scott College went to Washington, D.C., to call for protecting Roe v. Wade.

“For everyone who is listening for how political I am today, about the human, the worth of the human person, of the human body, of human dignity — there is no way for that not to be the work of the church,” Varghese said. “It is our primary work. ...It is different to be a person who can bear a child today in the United States of America, than it was just a few days ago, last year, 10 years ago.”

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Megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, whose nondenominational church, Free Chapel, has five Georgia campuses, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in front of thousands. ”When I saw this week Roe versus Wade turned around, I said to myself, ‘God’s not done with this generation!” he said. (contributed file photo)

Credit: Contributed

Megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, whose nondenominational church, Free Chapel, has five Georgia campuses, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in front of thousands. ”When I saw this week Roe versus Wade turned around, I said to myself, ‘God’s not done with this generation!” he said. (contributed file photo)

Credit: Contributed

Combined ShapeCaption
Megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, whose nondenominational church, Free Chapel, has five Georgia campuses, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in front of thousands. ”When I saw this week Roe versus Wade turned around, I said to myself, ‘God’s not done with this generation!” he said. (contributed file photo)

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Megachurch Pastor Jentezen Franklin, whose nondenominational church, Free Chapel, has five Georgia campuses, praised the Supreme Court’s decision in front of thousands. ”When I saw this week Roe versus Wade turned around, I said to myself, ‘God’s not done with this generation!” he said.

The crowd erupted into claps and cheers. Several congregants stood up from their chairs, raising their hands in the air.

”Oh, you better clap about millions of babies being saved!” Franklin cried.

At St. Dunstan’s Episcopal Church in Buckhead, Rev. Patricia Templeton opened with a reading from chapter five of Galatians: “You, my brothers and sisters, have been called to be free.”

The Episcopal Church since 1967 has considered abortion both a tragedy and a right that should not be limited by the government, Templeton said.

”We must not give in to the temptation to narrow God’s grace,” she said.

On Friday, hours after the Supreme Court decision was announced, Bishop Garland R. Hunt of Father’s House in Norcross posted on Facebook that he celebrated the overturning of Roe v. Wade. He added that as a Black man, he believes the decision being overturned “slows down the genocidal impact of eugenics promoted by Planned Parenthood and (its) founder Margaret Sanger.”

Sanger, who is known as a pioneer of the birth control movement, believed that society could be improved through breeding for desirable traits like intelligence, according to Planned Parenthood, which has disavowed those beliefs.

During the church’s service on Sunday, Hunt celebrated the opportunity to “reverse the curse” and make every state a “pro-life state.”

ExploreAbortion in Georgia: Here is what’s currently legal — and not

First Baptist Church of Atlanta in Dunwoody, which posted a statement online celebrating the Dobbs ruling, increased security for Sunday services.

Pastor Anthony George said President Joe Biden’s religious beliefs are at odds with the president’s opposition to overturning Roe v. Wade. George also thanked former President Donald Trump for appointing three of the justices that voted in the majority for the Dobbs ruling.

First Baptist Atlanta lost 42% of its giving households when George became the lead pastor because some thought he was too political, he said from the pulpit.

”What happened on Friday would not have happened if it were not for pastors and Christians engaging their convictions when they vote,” he said.

Bishop Flynn Johnson of Metro City Church praised the Supreme Court’s decision and discussed all the people who would not be alive if their parents had abortions.

“God has chosen the perpetuation of life to come forth through a woman as the son of God himself came into the world through a woman, and when you try to destroy that which comes into the world through a woman, you are doing damage,” Johnson said. ”You’re cursing God.”

Some religious leaders did not overtly mention the ruling but called for unity, kindness and trust in God during uneasy times. Rev. Alex Sherrill of St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in North Druid Hills told the story of Jesus rebuking disciples who wanted to destroy a village that would not receive him.

“How do we treat someone who thinks differently than us?” Sherrill said, quickly answering, “To love our neighbors as ourselves, and that can be really hard, to show a friend or foe the same love, but that is the way Jesus has shown us to live.”

Some who stated a position nevertheless urged compassion for those on the other side.

Monsignor Henry Gracz of the Catholic Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Atlanta said Sunday the Gospel passage of Jesus not knowing where to lay his head “certainly touches the hurt and pain of so many women” who have concerns about their future, fears about miscarriage and medical complications and who are experiencing a sense of confusion in wake of the overturning of Roe v. Wade.

“So we, who are a pro-life church, have to listen very carefully to the pains of others,” Gracz said. “Too much of the movement about life choice has been people at each other’s throats…that can’t be the call that we have in the Gospel, people.”

Reporters Jennifer Brett, Hope Dean, Asia Simone Burns, Rosana Hughes, Taylor Croft and Zachary Hansen contributed to this report.