Thursday, January 6, 2011

Epiphany and Adoption

When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men.
Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.”
Matthew 2:16-18

Epiphany is the season of light, but in the biblical story, it begins in a very dark place. The account of Herod’s slaughter of the innocents is one of the darkest stories in the Bible. Jesus’ life is lived between the two Herods. The first one is so determined to protect the empire from this new “King” that he will engage in wholesale genocide. A generation later, the second Herod collaborates with Pilate to have Jesus crucified, apparently believing, like Joseph’s jealous brothers, that if you kill the dreamer you can kill the dream.

It is jarring to juxtapose Herod’s brutality with the gentle images of the shepherds in the field, but it tells us from the beginning that the Empire (in any age) will not yield easily to the vision of God’s Kingdom.

There are so many places in our world today where the innocents are threatened. (Please take a moment to think about that.)

With its unsettling and tragically realistic violence, this text is a reminder that we often avoid controversy in our discussions of faith issues, as if the most important thing were to keep from upsetting each other, while the biblical narrative apparently has no such reservations.

This morning I am thinking about abortion. And let me begin by saying clearly and unequivocally that I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe that women must have the right to control their own bodies. And I am deeply suspicious of those folks who seem to care so passionately about the unborn, and yet apparently very little about anyone after that.

And in terms of the biblical passage, I don’t mean to imply that abortion and infanticide are the same thing.

But still.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in five pregnancies ends in abortion. That’s just too many. President Bill Clinton’s famous phrase about abortion was that it should be safe, legal . . . and rare. I agree that it must be safe and legal. But we have not done enough to make it rare.

The tragedy is compounded when we note that at the other end of the fertility spectrum there are couples who desperately want to have a child and cannot conceive.

Prior to 1973, 9% of all pregnancies to unmarried women resulted in an adoption. For unmarried white women the number was 20%. Today only 1% of all unmarried women choose adoption. Those numbers are meant to illustrate the problem. Obviously some of the unmarried women want to have a child, and I believe we should support that choice.

The reduction in adoptions is partly related to the availability of safe and legal abortions, but it is also reflective of our lack of support for women who might choose that path. We do not readily applaud a woman’s brave choice to carry a child and go through the risks of childbirth so that this little person can have a good life, and a loving couple (straight or gay) can grow together. Instead, we are more likely to ask in disbelief, “How could she give up her baby?”

Abortion still carries a stigma. And single mothers face more than enough obstacles. But we seem sadly unable or unwilling to provide more support to the women who choose to make an adoption plan. We in the church need to look for positive ways to reinforce and support the adoption plans that women make.

We need good sex education. We need to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. And we need to keep abortion safe and legal. Adoption is not the universal answer. There are many instances in which for medical or psychological or economic reasons, it is not realistic. But we should support it as often as we can. And we should celebrate the women who make that choice.

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