Call the Midwife

Hi, my name is Elizabeth. As I write this, I am 26 weeks pregnant. Rolling somersaults bulge my abdomen outward; my daughter’s kicks jar my thoughts mid-way through my Sunday sermons and as I lead committee meetings.

When my son was three months old, I wrote about death, murder, and corpses for a volume of philosophical essays about Sherlock Holmes. One of my sisters-in-law practices attachment parenting. The other has established a natural diet in her home, free of groceries with preservatives. One friend, a model with an undergraduate pre-med degree, has given birth to three beautiful daughters – all at home. Before I married, I shared a house with two women, one of whom was a single mom and full-time student. All these women have connections with The United Methodist Church. Several of us would describe ourselves as feminists. But none of us would feel accurately represented by a recent statement from the Director and Organizer for Women’s Advocacy at the General Board of Church & Society: “We are a church that is pro-life, not pro-birth.”

Let me be clear: this is not an issue within Mommy Wars – overcharged, hyperbolic debates about cloth diapering, stay-at-home parenting, birth options, or nursing. I appreciate several of the new director’s comments, and I do not question either her concern for women or the veracity of her faith. I am weary of politically-disguised cat fights. I also bring a pastoral heart to discussions of women’s faith and their profoundly personal experiences. What pastor wants to alienate women who have had abortions? What pastor wants to discuss rape insensitively among silent rape victims?

The GBCS comment came on the heels of a ridiculous statement by an ignorant politician: that pregnancy was impossible in cases of “legitimate rape.” Women – and men – all over the political spectrum led an outcry. Surely such a widely condemned claim could not be taken as representative of most pro-life advocates. Yet it yielded the “we are a church that is pro-life, not pro-birth” response. While it did not show the blatant, uninformed sexism demonstrated by the male Missouri politician, it suggested a misunderstanding of the intent of United Methodist Social Principles.

“Unlike pro-birth proponents, we don’t believe in forgoing the life and safety of the mother,” the director said. “We appreciate the fact that, like Jesus, our denomination doesn’t seek to treat any person as simply a means to an end. To emphasize birth at any cost means treating a woman as if she were worth nothing more than her reproductive utility. Truly, all that harmful policies that risk women’s safety and status need in order to succeed is our silence.”

Now, I don’t feel like an impersonalized tool that serves only to propagate the species, or the birth of a vast evangelical brood of children that will populate Liberty University’s corridors in a couple of decades. Nor do I – along with many United Methodist women – believe that valuing life and valuing birth can be separated. Many pro-life women place high value on women’s health: after all, most Protestant pro-life women use birth control. Indeed, some pro-life women also support the notion of a national health care program, which the director suggests pro-life supporters universally oppose.

Moreover, using exceptions rarely proves a sound way to argue a case: policies that “risk women’s safety and status”? All women acknowledge the painful presence of heartbreakingly difficult medical cases. But status?

What, then, do we make of the Incarnation? That Mary was blessed among women, or that she was valued by the Divine only because of her available uterus? That Word Became Flesh through a woman, bestowing unimaginable honor on an undervalued gender in that culture, or that God used and threw away this woman as “a means to an end”?

This, also, is what concerns me: the unintended consequence of statements like, “we are a church that is pro-life, not pro-birth.” When status becomes part of the measure in deliberating abortion, it is not unlike gender-selection abortion or abortion for birth control; most dangerously, it can be taken this way: “rape victims, do not consider carrying a resultant child full-term to place it in adoption: that would lead to embarrassing questions about how you got pregnant or why you’re choosing to carry the infant. Instead, hide the assault that happened to you; keep it invisible by ridding yourself of the proof in your abdomen.”

As members of the Body of Christ, as sisters and brothers in the faith, as midwives of Divine Truth entrusted to the church, let us boldly affirm the truth birthed in our midst over the past two millennia: that children can be part of the redemption of suffering.

This is one glimmer of the truth of the Incarnation: for unto us a Child is born…

This is one glimmer of the truth of impoverished women around the world who don’t have iPhones, or yoga instructors, or baristas. Rather, like the impoverished immigrant mother in the BBC’s “Call the Midwife,” they have only a cramped apartment bursting with children – and glean joy from them…

This is one glimmer of the truth of rape victims who, finding themselves with child, boldly feel the result of their trauma squirming in their wombs and take control of the deep violation, rendering it a blessing to someone else –– a childless couple…

We are pro-life. We are pro-birth. Because the light of a Child born to a poor couple without access to pre-natal care is the pulsing core of who we are. If the church is anything, anything at all, it is the Body of the Baby who brought goodness out of evil, light out of darkness, beauty out of ashes, healing out of pain.

We are midwives together, coaxing and discovering Truth birthed among us. No woman ever needs to feel alone in The United Methodist Church, whatever choice plagues your past, whatever trauma devastates your present. Birth is an eschatological event – a mini-drama of the Day when we hear, “See, I am making all things new.” There is no such thing as labor without pain. But the Baby, we announce every time we utter the Creed, will wipe away all tears from our eyes.

Elizabeth Glass Turner is the pastor of First United Methodist Church of Kemp in Kemp, Texas. In September, her essay, “The Grim Reaper on Baker Street” appeared in The Philosophy of Sherlock Holmes, published by the University Press of Kentucky. She currently balances sermon writing, her husband John, and her giant two-year-old Jack, and strong nesting instincts as her family prepares to welcome a daughter in January.

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