Understanding the nuances of NY’s new abortion law

I originally posted this to Facebook, but copied it here for easier sharing.

Wading into a conversation about abortion on Facebook isn’t perhaps the wisest thing to do. But given all of the misinformation making the rounds on FB — especially from Christians who are hellbent on distorting and misrepresenting basic facts — I sense an obligation as a pastor to say something. (Also I’m tired of “pro-life” Christians trying to take the moral high road for political gain even if it means bearing false witness when it comes to the truth surrounding super complex and nuanced situations.)

Be warned, this is a long post. If you wish to comment, please do so only after reading the full content of what I’m sharing here, including the linked articles.

Most of what I’ll be sharing was written by others.* But first, allow me to briefly share a personal story. I grew up in the church. I was always taught that abortion was wrong. Period. No shades of gray. So it’s no surprise that I understood myself to be a pro-life Christian (and still do today, albeit from a much more nuanced position than before). And I carried these perspectives into ministry. It’s not something I ever thought much about. It all seemed pretty simple — until it didn’t. (Life has a way of challenging us.) Many years ago, as a very young pastor, a newly married couple asked if they could privately meet with me. They were expecting their first child, and had been so full of joy. That’s why I was so surprised when they showed up at my office full of sadness and disappointment. The joy was gone. They had just learned that their baby wasn’t developing properly. I don’t remember all of the medical terminology, but the baby was developing in a way that not only threatened the life of the mother, but would’ve brought excruciating, excruciating pain to the baby when born. This family met with me in heartbreak and tears. The last thing they wanted was to lose their precious child; at the same time they had immeasurable compassion and love for their child.

As I continued in ministry, I encountered more stories like this. I share this story because it’s cruel and insulting to think that mothers and families are cold hearted when making the most excruciating, broken-hearted decisions of their lives. They’re not being casual, callous, thoughtless, or cruel. They are trying their best to do what they think is the most loving and compassionate thing to do, given the heartbreaking moment in which all their deepest hopes feel lost. I know some pastors who say that God can do miracles, and I’m aware that amazing things can happen beyond anything we can expect. But that is also the exception to the rule. I think it’s only fair, at the very least, to have understanding and compassion for mothers and families in these moments. Not to do so says far more about you than them. And the last thing anyone should do to a grieving family who has lost everything they dreamed of is to gloat that God did for you what God didn’t do for them.

The next reflection I wish to share is from Lindsey Erin:

“For all of you who think that New York is allowing these terminations after 24 weeks for people who don’t want their babies, you’re wrong. You are dead wrong. And your posts depicting perfect full-term babies that are supposedly in danger are nothing short of torturous…

I was 17 weeks pregnant when I found out that [my son] had a condition that would make him incompatible with life. It broke me in ways you will never understand until you experience it yourself. I hope you never do.

I wasn’t 24 weeks yet, but I already loved this baby. I named him. I had dreams of holding him, of kissing his little fingers and toes. Dreams of what his giggles would sound like. I wanted him, so very badly. How much worse must it be for women who have made it to 24 weeks or more?

I had to make a choice. As you can see [note from Phil: this FB post contained the last picture taken of Lindsey’s son], he was badly swollen. What you can’t see is that his organs were surrounded by fluid. He was going to drown in the substance that was supposed to keep him safe. I wanted to try to carry to full term so that I could donate his organs to a baby that had a chance. Unfortunately, doing so would have nearly guaranteed that I would have developed eclampsia, had fatal seizures and left my other beautiful sons without a mother. There was only a 20% chance that I would even have made it to full term, because of the severity, and if he had passed before that, his organs would not have been eligible for donation. I made the heartbreaking choice to terminate via induction of labor. My doctors moved quickly, but showed more compassion towards me and my son than many of the people who claim to be pro-life. I was given a chance to hold him and say good-bye.

My story is not uncommon. The stories of the women put in this position through no fault of their own are heart-wrenching. The new law does not allow for healthy full term babies to be aborted. It does not allow for murder, yes a life is ended but it is an act of mercy. The law protects the women who are forced to make the hardest decision of their lives and the doctors who care for them.

These babies are wanted. These babies are loved. These mothers aren’t murderers. These mothers are devastated. You are politicizing their pain and demonizing them.”

The following link is to an article by the Rev. Dr. Amy Butler, pastor of the historic Riverside church in the city of New York. (She’s also a contributor to my latest book, Preaching as Resistance.) Here she shares her own heartbreaking and deeply personal story:


The next reflection is from my friend and colleague Yuki Schwartz, who shares her story of being a hospital chaplain:

“If you know anyone who is clutching their ideological pearls over various abortion laws being implemented or under consideration around the US, please send them this article [linked below] and invite them to think with compassion and within the bounds of reality, rather than going along with the hatred of women so many anti-abortion arguments are crafted around. What these laws do is place the authority for a medical decision in the hands of a patient and their doctor, not a governing body that is ignoring science in order to advance a religious agenda. Late-term abortions involve the loss of a wanted and expected child, whose survival is either not possible or whose birth threatens the mother’s life, or both. Anyone who pictures women gleefully lining up to kill a child that’s two minutes from being born are participating in a cruel and heartless politics that fundamentally hates women and disdains mercy and care for those in tragic circumstances. They are also willfully ignoring the fact that making abortions more difficult to get means depriving families of medical care and causing more trauma and suffering.

I did my chaplaincy training on the high-risk pregnancy floor at a hospital. I sat with families and helped them make decisions and funeral arrangements in the midst of a loss of their hopes and dreams for a life that couldn’t be saved. To deny these families and individuals the ability to make a hard decision with the help of a doctor’s advice compounds their grief. These laws lets doctors and patients take back their ability to make the decisions that are right for them in this difficult time, and stops religious fundamentalists from spreading their misery through the law.

We must call out the liars who seek to cause suffering just to satisfy their own sense of twisted self-righteousness. And also demand that people approach issues like this with compassion and education, and not with knee-jerk reactions to sensationalist propaganda.

H/t Violet Fenn

Article referred to by Yuki:


Lastly, there are many who will say these stories are exceptions to the rule, to which I respond in at least two ways: First, these are stories related precisely to the legislation in New York, which has been widely misrepresented. If people are going to try to figure out what they think about New York’s legislation (especially when the right is desperately trying to turn it into naked political gain) they need resources that directly apply to the actual content of New York’s legislation. I’m tired of people on the right saying those on the left are cold and heartless supporters of infanticide, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Secondly, the vast majority of those of us on the left who understand the necessary legal reasons for upholding Roe v Wade also do not take abortion casually. That too couldn’t be further from the truth. Which is why I wrote the following article a while back:


* Please note that each of these reflections were set to public on FB, or shared with the permission of the authors.

Think twice before saying “Merry Christmas”

Here in the Bible Belt, it’s not uncommon for people to think that saying “Merry Christmas” — as opposed to “Happy Holidays” — somehow recovers the true meaning of the season. But this is hardly the case.

I don’t say this as a nihilistic cultured despiser of religion. I say it as a Christian pastor who very much loves the Christmas season and wants to recover all that it means.

The phrase “Merry Christmas,” on its own, expresses a beautiful sentiment of well wishes for others. It can be understood as a shorthand way of saying, “I hope the birth of Christ brings you hope, peace, joy, and love,” which are the Advent promises.

But here’s the thing. Nowadays, the phrase “Merry Christmas” gets used in very different ways, with very different connotations. Instead of saying that one hopes the birth of Christ brings hope, peace, joy and love to others (including those outside the Christian faith), it’s frequently weaponized. It’s fallen victim to the incessant culture wars that mark the increasingly surreal landscape of existence in modern day America. “Merry Christmas” has morphed into a positioning statement that has more to do with establishing one’s identity in the culture (usually as a conservative Christian) than in expressing what one hopes for others living in the culture (whether they identify as conservative Christians or not).

What’s more, “Merry Christmas” is often delivered as an opening salvo to anyone who dares challenge the power and dominance of the Religious Right in the history and culture of the United States. Instead of being connected to what the biblical stories about the birth of Christ actually say, this phrase is unplugged from the biblical tradition; it’s become a shorthand way of thumbing one’s nose at those who don’t celebrate Christmas (even though most non-Christians in the U.S., who comprise less than thirty percent of the population, are not in the least bit offended by those who do celebrate Christmas).

It’s cheap rhetoric. After all, it’s much easier to say “Merry Christmas” than to actually care about what the birth stories teach. It’s much easier to wage culture wars in the name of religion than to actually live by the principles at the heart of the Christmas narratives. It’s much easier to put up nativity scenes, even with big letters that spell “Jesus,” than to follow the way of Christ.

Much of the rhetoric surrounding “Merry Christmas” serves as a mask for avoiding the deeper implications of Jesus’ birth and what it means for us today.

Let’s not forget that Jesus and his family were refugees fleeing violence (recall Herod’s massacre of the infants and the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, as recorded in the gospel of Matthew). Yet in our culture today — in a cruel stroke of irony — it’s the Religious Right that is most hostile to refugees fleeing violence. In fact, conservative Christians in the U.S. represent the largest demographic that supports policies that tear gas refugees and place them in cages. Until we repent from sanctioning such inhumane policies, we can’t begin to say that we take the Christmas stories seriously. You can choose to support such inhumane policies all you want — that offense is on you — but you can’t claim to honor the meaning of Christmas when doing so.

If we wish to conserve the true meaning of Christmas — if we wish to be conservative in our reading of the biblical stories — we must remember that the birth of Christ was never about dominant groups using their religion to discriminate against others. Quite the opposite. Jesus and the Holy Family were marginalized from the beginning by the most dominant groups in society. Contrary to what Stephen Miller and the Trump administration may think, Jesus didn’t do the oppressing. It was the other way around. As O Holy Night recalls, in Christ’s name “all oppression shall cease” — not be amplified.

When reflecting on the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, as well as the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt and the Magi’s visit to them, theologian Carlos Rodriguez summarizes the Christmas stories in a way that would come as an unwelcome surprise to the Religious Right:

“Christmas is about believing what a woman said about her sex life. Christmas is about finding safety as asylum seekers. Christmas is about a child receiving support from the wealthy. Christmas is about God identifying with the marginalized, not the powerful.”

If we wish to offer a Merry Christmas to others, then we at least need to have the courage to honor what the stories actually say. Otherwise it is we, the Christians, who are the true cultured despisers of religion – because we know what the stories say but we refuse to acknowledge them in order to serve our own self-interested goals. Which is the ultimate form of nihilism.

On the inhumane treatment of migrants on the southern border

A few reflections on the inhumane treatment of migrants at our southern border, in no particular order:

(1) It’s not illegal to seek asylum in the U.S. It’s perfectly lawful. The migrants are not breaking the law in their attempts to do so.

(2) Tear gassing children is inhumane, unconscionable and cruel, full stop. This represents a total failure of leadership on multiple levels. If you wish to defend this practice by appealing to whataboutism, then you haven’t provided an ethical justification for it; you’ve simply heightened the ubiquity of the practice and the urgency of meaningfully responding to it.

(3) Anyone who wishes to say “we are a nation of laws” must first ask why our own leaders are violating our very own laws set in place for asylum seekers. The border was closed preemptively in order to keep the migrants from applying for asylum. You can call this shifting the goalposts or violating the laws of the land; both are unlawful.

(4) Those who say progressives are arguing for open borders fail to listen to what we’ve been saying all along (perhaps to a fault): all we want is for our leaders to follow the laws currently in place for migrants seeking asylum, and to provide proper resourcing to carry out these laws. We are asking for law and order. Protecting the border begins by protecting the laws at the border and making sure our country has the resources necessary to implement the laws in place. When we have to resort to other measures, we have failed. We are a nation of laws. When these laws aren’t fair, when these laws fall short of the call for justice, then we need to follow proper protocol in order for such laws to reform and reconfigure so they better align with justice, fairness, and dignity.

(5) The horrific systemic violence these migrants are fleeing is worse than what Saddam Hussein did to his people (just read the Amnesty International reports). Which makes me wonder: Why did so many Americans back then think it was noble and courageous for us to spend billions (trillions?) on a war to “liberate” the Iraqi people from the evils of Hussein’s regime (you’ll recall this was one of the most popular justifications made by those championing the war effort), but now, when it comes to tangibly helping people at our border who are fleeing traumatic violence that is far more severe, we are now hostile to the idea of investing paltry sums of money and resources (by comparison to the war effort) to help those who are most desperate right now? While this may sound like the height of hypocrisy, it’s perfectly consistent with a narrative of American aggression against people of color. This is a very ugly truth that is in the DNA of our country. Dominant power structures in the U.S. idolize violent aggression, especially against people of color.

Note that this also answers the question of why those most hostile to immigrants are usually and ironically the descendants of European immigrants who “founded” this country by (a) stealing land from indigenous peoples, (b) committing genocide against indigenous peoples, and (c) enslaving Africans: Again, the common denominator is aggression against people of color. The same is true today.

(6) Relatedly, I’m disturbed by the fact that no small number of people get a perverse pleasure in watching the suffering of others.

(7) Using pejorative language like “illegals” (or “illegal aliens”) is intentionally designed to dehumanize those seeking asylum in order to make the inhumane treatment of other human beings more palatable. It’s a classic form of “othering” that is historically connected to racism, discrimination, and genocide.

(8) As I think about the exchange between Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lindsey Graham, and the Auschwitz Memorial (which quickly shut down Graham’s mansplaining on Twitter), I keep wondering where we are in this narrative. Are we more like 1930s Germany, when Jews were being dehumanized and “othered”? Or are we more like those countries who refused to grant asylum to Jewish migrants fleeing certain death?

(9) Even though Facebook will be Facebook, I’m still taken aback at just how cold-hearted and calloused some people are. I understand if to a certain extent we disagree on best policies, but how can a person not have any sympathy for those desperate to survive? How does one take this so lightly, replete with lots of haha emojis that make fun of the suffering and sadness of real human beings??? This is truly awful. I suppose this is related to item 6 above.

(10) We can’t forget that our foreign policy (including the sale of arms) has contributed to massive amounts of suffering in Central and South America. We’ve supported numerous despotic regimes and propped up oppressive power structures for decades. Complaining that people are fleeing violence that we have no small hand in creating is akin to setting a family’s house on fire and locking the doors and blaming them for trying desperately to escape. Or tear gassing their house and when they try to find refuge in our house we tear gas them again to keep them out.

(11) I don’t know what your views are. You may or may not be in favor of helping desperate people flee from violence and find safety. Whatever. Just don’t use Christianity to justify your views. Especially at Christmas. Recall Herod’s massacre of the infants. Recall the Holy Family (Mary, Joseph, and Jesus) fleeing to Egypt to escape violence. If Egypt had the same policies currently in place at our southern border, it’s likely that the Holy Family wouldn’t have survived. And recall Jesus’ words to welcome the stranger. Hell, he even has a parable where those who don’t welcome the stranger go to hell. So just stop. Don’t. And if that’s not enough, recall Jesus’ tradition. He was Jewish. And the Torah (what Christians call the Old Testament) repeatedly talks about treating the foreigner and the immigrant as one of you. So please. Enough with the empty appeals to religion. All it does is cloak your discrimination in the name of God, which is a prime example of taking the Lord’s name in vain. Which goes against the 10 Commandments. So stop. If you want to be inhumane, own it your damn self. It’s your prerogative. But don’t go around saying Jesus supports your views when all the evidence shows he doesn’t.

(12) I close with the poem “Home,” by Warsan Shire, which has been widely shared as of late (TW: language and imagery):

no one leaves home unless

home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you

breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten


no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough


go home blacks


dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

[N-word] with their hands out

they smell strange


messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

i want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans



be hunger


forget pride

your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear



run away from me now

i dont know what i’ve become

but i know that anywhere

is safer than here