April 1, 1998
by Susan Mark Landis, minister of peace and justice of the Mennonite Church
In January, the United States observed the passage of 25 years since the Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision made abortion legal. This decision led to the 1975 Mennonite Church statement on abortion. The statement was written by members of the Council on Faith, Life and Strategy (CFLS) and adopted by the General Assembly during the August 1975 meetings.
Robert Hartzler, then CFLS chairperson, noted how different the atmosphere regarding abortion was then. “When we put the statement on the floor, no one wanted to talk. We had to push for discussion. Finally some older women who were health practitioners stood and discussed matters of substance. The statement was adopted with no opposing votes.”
Another committee member, Don Jacobs, agreed. “Abortion wasn’t causing dissention in the church at that time. The statement just explained that Mennonites believe in the basic sanctity of life. At that time, individual women’s rights to their bodies were not an issue.”
The situation in both the Mennonite Church and society has changed, however. Anna Bowman, one of two women on the committee, explained that the 1975 statement was written “prior to the pro-life, pro-choice polarization. We weren’t as aware that the members of our churches were in a privileged position.” As a social worker, Bowman is aware that many women seeking abortions have not been taught to make responsible choices independent of what the men in their lives want. They do not have financial and emotional support when caught in an unplanned pregnancy. “As a denomination, we still know what we believe, but face a new, different question: do we have the right to make our beliefs the law of the land, especially when others aren’t so privileged?”
Clearly, the official stand of the Mennonite Church continues to be that all life is valuable. We must remember that we take this stand because of our theology, because we worship a God of love and life. We are consistently pro-life, standing against abortion, war, capital punishment, euthanasia, and any form of killing, and for an adequate standard of living for all.
Just as clearly, we are not sure how to deal with legislation or the purpose of government.
Linda Gehman Peachey, former MCC U. S. peace staff person, edited the MCC packet of information on abortion. “While putting together the packet, I didn’t find it hard to decide my personal position on abortion, or even a policy for our church members, because we believe in taking the costly stand to protect life. I did find it difficult to figure out public policy: do we expect everyone to make this choice? I want to be pro-life, but also pro-woman. As a denomination, we can support policies which make abortion less necessary: legislative bills that help mothers and children. What can we as a church do to be woman and child friendly?”
In a September 14, 1993, Gospel Herald article, Marlene Kropf wrote, “If we open our eyes to the justice dimensions of the abortion issue, we quickly realize that poor women suffer most when legal abortions are not available. There is also something inconsistent about forcing parents to give birth to handicapped children and then not providing support for the care of those children.”
“Not many Mennonite Church statements call for specific legislation,” J. Daryl Byler, of MCC Washington, noted. “This has not been part of our tradition. Our statements on abortion are clear on the moral issues and on the alternatives we support.” The Washington office continues to explore how best to help the church work with the public policy aspects of abortion. “We haven’t included abortion in our biennial congressional voting records, but are exploring that possibility. The policy aspects of abortion are complex. One thing is clear,” Byler emphasized, ” if the church does speak to the legislative aspects of this issue, it will have the greatest integrity if it grows out of the church’s ministry of providing alternatives to abortion.”
Mennonite Vicki Markley-Sairs, who publishes a pro-life magazine Meribah, explained how we should present alternatives to abortion. “We need to be like Paul in the marketplace in Areopagus (Acts 17). Paul didn’t compromise his beliefs, didn’t force his way on others, but called out their best. We part company with our pro-life friends when they become coercive. We’ve been good at providing for physical needs (of those caught by unplanned pregnancies), but weak in presenting our pro-life ideas in the marketplace.”
An important way to decrease the need for abortions, Bowman believes, is to give women a voice. “We need to put our energy into helping women find the voice to say ‘no’ to men; to the need to be important to men; to do whatever men tell them to do. We need to change social structures to encourage women to make responsible choices.” Doug Pritchard, PJC member, adds, “Men also need to be responsible for their behavior and its consequences. Instead of just forcing a woman to abort to save themselves a problem, men need to be more responsible before a pregnancy and more responsible after.”
In the same September 14, 1993, Gospel Herald article, Gehman Peachey sums up a compassionate pro-life stance for the Mennonite Church. “Let us take this statement seriously. Let us become known as churches which welcome, shelter, and value people—especially women, especially children, especially those whom our society would cast off. To do this with integrity, the church must offer new models of family, congregational, and community life which truly affirm women and children. We cannot speak to women of the sanctity of life if they feel their own lives demeaned and treated with disrespect. We cannot speak of the preciousness of children if we turn a blind eye to child abuse and neglect. And so I pray that we might truly embrace Jesus’ example and teaching—that true power lies not in the violent assertion of our rights but rather in the strength to love, to protect, to encourage, and to trust in God.”
Abortion: A summary statement. 1975 statement with five pages of study materials, available for $0.20 plus postage from Mennonite Publishing House, 616 Walnut Ave, Scottdale PA 15683 (phone 724-887-8500).
MCC Resource packet on abortion. Send $4 US, $5 Canadian to MCC, PO Box 500, Akron PA 17501-0500 (phone 717-859-3889) or to MCC Canada, 134 Plaza Dr, Winnipeg MB R3T 5K9 (phone 204-261-6381). Also available from MCC Ontario.
Meribah Independent Mennonite pro-life magazine, published as time allows. Send a donation to Vicki Markley-Sairs, 1258 Charmaine Circle, Mobile AL 36605.
Because we believe the Bible teaches that persons are created in God’s image, that human life is a gift from God to be held in high esteem, and that God’s interest in individuals begins before their birth with His desire that they develop into knowledge of and faith in Him:
We believe that
- Abortion violates the biblical principles of the sanctity and value of human life.
- In the light of the spiritual and ethical erosion in our society we need to accept our responsibility to recognize and protect the sanctity of human life.
- While we do not legislate morality for society we should work toward making counsel concerning alternatives available to each person who seeks an abortion.
- In those rare situations when very difficult decisions must be made about the life of the mother or unborn child, Christians should prayerfully seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit with a group of believers committed to discerning the Lord’s leading.
- The Scriptures teach us not to look with punitive judgement on those who differ but to be sensitive toward their situation and surround them with care and compassion.