After leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion, religious rift over contentious issue on display

The national debate on abortion in the wake of the leaked U.S. Supreme Court draft opinion continued Sunday in houses of worship across metro Atlanta.

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., said in his Mother’s Day sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church that many anti-abortion activists are engaging in hypocrisy by not standing up for children in other ways, such as supporting public education, universal pre-K and policies that reduce the nation’s high incarceration rates.

“While the Supreme Court seems poised to force its will upon women in a whole range of circumstances, perhaps we ought to focus our energy and our public policy on mothers who are just trying to make it,” said Warnock, who is the senior pastor at the historic Atlanta church.

Credit: Ebenezer Baptist Church

Credit: Ebenezer Baptist Church

At First Baptist Church Atlanta, one of the largest conservative churches in the region, the Rev. Anthony George said a special prayer for all houses of worship. The senior pastor noted some — particularly Catholic churches — have received threats or plans to disrupt their services Sunday. George said his church had extra security.

“This would be the wrong Sunday for somebody to mess around in here,” George said.

George noted in his sermon the uproar about the high court’s draft opinion. The justices appear poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and end the nationwide right to legal abortion.

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“It would be easy to jump on the wrong side of the fence of this issue and go along with the flow. ... But as followers of Jesus Christ, that is not an option or a choice that God gives us. If we believe in him, we believe in what he says about life within the womb,” George said to applause.

Credit: First Baptist Church Atlanta

Credit: First Baptist Church Atlanta

At New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, one of the largest predominately Black churches in the state, senior pastor the Rev. Jamal Bryant said the draft opinion is evidence that the U.S. Supreme Court “has no confidence in women making decisions about their own bodies.”

Bryant read a portion of comments made by the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg that when government controls the decision about abortion, women are “treated as less than a full adult.”

“If America is anything more than racist, it is sexist,” Bryant said during his sermon. “It is diabolically designed to keep women out of power and in a subservient place.”

Credit: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

Credit: New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

The Sunday metro Atlanta sermons reflect the debate going on among America’s faithful — some with cautionary joy and others with looming dread — as a reversal of the 49-year-old ruling has never felt more possible.

National polls show that most Americans support abortion access. A Public Religion Research Institute survey from March found that a majority of religious groups believe it should be legal in most cases — with the exception of white evangelical Protestants, 69% of whom said the procedure should be outlawed in most or all cases.

Faith groups that have historically taken a strong anti-abortion stance, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, have urged followers to pray for Roe’s reversal.

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Bishop Garland Hunt of The Father’s House in Peachtree Corners used the holiday to note that children are " blessed and ordained in the womb.”

Referring to the high court’s leak, he said that “God is the giver of life. God brought life into existence. "

Life, he said, begins at conception and that a woman’s body should not be “a murder zone.”

“Actually, life has already been ordained before the foundations of the earth. If you really want to know, you already were called before conception. Conception is just catching up to what God has already ordained.”

No faith is monolithic on the abortion issue. Yet many followers of faiths that don’t prohibit abortion are aghast that a view held by a minority of Americans could supersede their individual rights and religious beliefs.

In Judaism, for example, many authorities say abortion is permitted or even required in cases where the woman's life is in danger.

“This ruling would be outlawing abortion in cases when our religion would permit us," said Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, scholar in residence at the National Council of Jewish Women, “and it is basing its concepts of when life begins on someone else’s philosophy or theology.”

In Islam, similarly, there is room for “all aspects of reproductive choice from family planning to abortion,” said Nadiah Mohajir, co-founder of Heart Women and Girls, a Chicago nonprofit that works with Muslim communities on reproductive rights and other gender issues.

According to new data released Wednesday by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, 56% of U.S. Muslims say abortion should be legal in most or all cases, a figure that’s about on par with the beliefs of U.S. Catholics.

“I personally feel that abortion is the biggest failure of our church, of our Christian way of life,” said Deacon Chester Griffin, during services at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Atlanta on Mother’s Day. “We now are in a situation where people are actually saying that if you have an abortion, you should go to jail. Now, I don’t know how that is going to work out, but I think that as the Good Shepherd, our Jesus would not want that. Our Jesus would want to have compassion.”

Griffin said he believes that over the next few months and years, women will change the world.

“I think there will be enough women who will say enough. Stop this madness and start living like a human beings and those of us in the church will say ‘start living like Jesus.’ ”

Compassion is a virtue emphasized by some Christian leaders who are calling on their ardently anti-abortion colleagues to lower the temperature as they speak out on the issue.

Caitlyn Stenerson, an Evangelical Covenant Church pastor and campus minister in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, called on faith leaders to “tread carefully,” bearing in mind that women in their pews may have had abortions for a variety of reasons and may be grieving and wrestling with trauma.

“As a pastor my job isn’t to heap more shame on people but to bring them to Jesus,” Stenerson said. “We are called to speak truth, but with love.”