Pastor’s Blog: How My Mind Has Changed

I was a college freshman in January 1973 when the Roe versus Wade decision was handed down by the Supreme Court. Brenda, one of the two professors in Honors English 102, asked me about the decision. I had not been following the arguments, and the gravity of the decision, frankly, didn’t register with me. I didn’t even make the connection that Wade was Henry Wade, the long-time Dallas TX District Attorney. I don’t think I ever made the Dallas connection until the woman, who had anonymously been identified as Roe, became an adult convert to the Christian faith and spoke openly and often about her sorrow over being associated with that unprecedented legal decision.

In the next year, Roe v. Wade was personalized as teenaged girls I knew started going to Dallas to get abortions. The conversations mostly went like this: “So-and-so got me pregnant.” Response: “Are you guys going to get married?” Answer: “God, no! My parents want me to get a degree first.” Response: “So, what are you going to do?” Answer: “He’s going to drive me to Dallas to get it taken care of. He’s helping to pay for it.” And that was that. The young woman went on “the pill” or was fitted with a diaphragm or maybe an IUD. All taken care of. No worries.

Somewhere along the way, the slogan caught on: “I believe abortion should be reserved only for cases of rape or birth defects.” Like most students my age, I didn’t give any thought to what that meant. My cousin Johnny was three months older than me. He was mentally retarded, loving, and fun to be around as he pulled pranks. Our neighbor, also named Johnny, was my age and in a wheelchair with cerebral palsy. He was bright, funny, unable to articulate words, but was able to communicate with facial expressions and sounds. I never allowed myself to make the connection that the popular slogan would have killed both Johnnies in the womb for not being “normal.” My seminary classmate Carl, who also had been afflicted by cerebral palsy, could walk with crutches and talk. When he asked me about abortion, I trotted out the slogan without thinking. And Carl bristled, “So, I shouldn’t have been allowed to live?” I replied, fumbling, “Well, I didn’t mean you, Carl.” And he shook his head and said: “Who did you mean? Think about it.” And he wouldn’t let me off the hook until I did think about it and admit I was wrong.

I was on the board of the Center for Action Against Sexual Assault (CAASA) in Waco, Texas, back in the 90s. We heard reports of horrendous abuse cases. Most of the rape cases were actually date rapes. Some of those took place at the local church-related university where dancing was still not permitted on campus. So, I could hang on to the new slogan from President Bill Clinton who charmingly said: “Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.” Everyone felt better having that slogan. And, I never thought further than that slogan even when a philanthropic church member asked about helping to build the Planned Parenthood Clinic in Austin. It was only after a parishioner identified herself as a child fathered by a rapist that, again, the issue was personalized. So, this brilliant, talented person should not have lived? So, the many lives this person had touched and helped to improve would have been better off without her?

A neighboring Roman Catholic priest and I were having a conversation about abortion early in my ministry. He said, “Abortion is not an unforgivable sin, but we must admit it is objective moral evil. It is murder. Until we face the truth that a child’s life is ended by abortion, we are not being truthful and there can be no absolution where there is no confession.” That was a helpful strain of theological reasoning, but I kept that over in that mental box associated with theology and didn’t apply it to real people and real cases.

Two incidents further personalized what abortion is. One woman wept with huge sobs after watching the movie about capital punishment, “The Green Mile.” She said, “I murdered my child, because I was young and didn’t want to embarrass my parents. Now I look at children that are of the same age my child would have been, and I ache.” She experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Slogans don’t cover that, or the incidences of alcohol or drug abuse by those like her. Then, there was the other woman, who was weeping with huge sobs, but these were joyful. She had gotten pregnant as a teenager, sweet-talked into her first sexual experience by a popular boy in high school. She went away to have the baby and gave the child up for adoption. Thirty plus years later the young man found her and said: “Thank you for giving me life. I was adopted by wonderful parents, who raised me with love. I am married and have children. And when I look at them, I thank God for you and your decision not to abort me. I have a great life.” And his birth mother cried and cried as she told me about the healing power of that moment.

The problem with slogans is they don’t deal with real people, and they don’t allow us to think deeply about life and our momentous decisions. Stalin, the serial murderer of his people, was quoted as saying: “No body. No problem.” If one gets rid of the body, then, there is no crime. But only a sociopath like Stalin doesn’t feel remorse over murder. Many murders are, as famously noted, just statistics. No body. No person.

The slogan “Keep Your Laws Off My Body” is very catchy when screamed by a woman in a pink hat. Of course, people shouting that slogan don’t take into account the body that the law needs to protect. From the moment of conception, there is another body with its own DNA. Soon that body has a heartbeat and brain. Soon all the organs including genitalia are there. There is a body separate from the body in which that child is growing. And, now we must admit as the priest wanted me to admit thirty-five years ago: “Abortion is objective moral evil. A child is murdered every time.”

My wife was born in the sixth month of her mother’s pregnancy. She weighed 2 pounds, 11 ounces, at birth. Born in the back seat of a VW Beetle to a mom who was 20 and a father who was 23, my wife miraculously survived after several months in the Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston. She wasn’t a child because her parents wanted her and loved her. She was a child, because she was a child. That’s an ontological fact.

But we live in a narcissistic age filled with high-sounding lies and nonsense that allow people, like the fable of the emperor with no clothes, to contend that we make up our own reality according to how we think, or, really, feel, feel, feel. So, when people want a baby, everyone is thrilled. But when one doesn’t want to be pregnant, then it’s not a child, it’s only a mass of disposable cells a body has made. No body. No problem.

One can watch depictions and even films of trains arriving at Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp. Guards standing on a platform are deciding who lives and who dies. It’s monstrous. It’s obvious what is happening. Live. Die. Live. Die. Live. Die. Think about that scene. Think clearly.

Only sociopaths like Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler, Mao, and their minions can unfeelingly depersonalize and kill unwanted bodies.

My mind changed because all the experiences of my life came together to form a very clear picture. And, there’s a commandment against murder. So, I pray for people who cheer an unlimited license to kill babies in the womb. May God have mercy on you. Abortion is murder!

szumwalt@bellsouth.net

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt

szumwalt

The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 42 years and in May 2018 celebrated the 37th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity (www.societyholytrinity.org). In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.