A female pastor who is also a Planned Parenthood advisor delivered a sermon in which she said she felt “God’s presence” when she aborted two pregnancies and blasted Evangelicals for their “toxic theology” on the subject.
In a sermon delivered July 9 at The Community Church of Chapel Hill Unitarian Universalist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Rev. Rebecca Todd Peters spoke candidly about her own experience with abortion and how she views Scripture through that lens.
Wearing a pink stole emblazoned with the Planned Parenthood logo, Peters opened her message bemoaning the state of pro-life Evangelicalism, with its “talking fetuses, aggressive bumper stickers and saccharine billboards quoting Scripture and invoking God’s wrath.”
Peters, who is also a professor of religious studies and founding director of the Poverty and Social Justice Program at Elon University in North Carolina, referenced the state’s recently passed law banning most abortions after 12 weeks. She said the bill’s passage is an example of Evangelical culture setting the political tone on abortion.
“When it is primarily Catholics and Evangelical Christians who talk about God and faith and abortion, they define the narrative anti-choice Christians have so effectively shaped,” she said.
This narrative, according to Peters, is a phenomenon that involves “shaping a fictional narrative that frames and controls how we all think and feel about abortion,” which she called “the abortion imaginary.”
Peters, invoking the language of decolonization ideology, went on to claim this narrative “has colonized our minds, traumatizing many people with its toxic theology and shaping a culture of stigma and shame that has silenced millions of women and people who have had abortions, erasing their voices their stories and their witness from the public sphere.”
She pivoted to her recent work on the Abortion and Religion Project, an interfaith research effort aimed at “documenting the stories and experiences of religious women/people having abortions.”
Peters spoke about how what she called the “abortion is sin” message has been “internalized not only by Christians but by Jews and Muslims,” calling it “one of the most disturbing things” she and her team learned in their interviews with over 500 “religiously identified people who have had abortions.”
After claiming that “the Bible doesn’t say anything about abortion,” she appeared to describe her own statement as “astonishing because the Bible has a lot to say about how people are to live what is and isn’t allowed. … [B]ut to reiterate, it says nothing about abortion.”
In one of the more shocking moments of the sermon, Peters referred to pre-born life as a “zygote” and criticized the “anti-choice” position that life begins at conception.
“The lens through which anti-choice Christians read the Bible is the theological belief that from the moment of fertilization, a zygote is biologically, morally, ontologically and in every other way indistinguishable from a baby,” she said.
“When they then read Scripture through this lens, they abrogate all manner of text to support that position.”
But for Family Research Council’s David Classon, Peters’ assertion that the topic of abortion is not in the Bible is simply a “fundamental misreading of Scripture.”
While the word “abortion” itself does not appear in the Bible, Classon told CP Thursday the concept of “human life beginning at the moment of fertilization is all over the pages of Scripture.”
Peters said her reason for choosing Psalm 139 as the sermon’s primary text was because she views it as “one of the anthems of the abortion imaginary.”
“As a person of faith, I’m outraged by the Religious Right’s co-optation of God, and whether you believe in God or a sacred presence or a divine order in the world or something else entirely, I expect that many of you might also be troubled by how Scripture and God are being used in the public debate about abortion,” she said.
“I refuse to cede the sacredness of Scripture or its interpretation to those who would wield it as a weapon.”
Classon, however, cited two of the more well-known passages, including Psalm 139, the same text from Peters’ sermon, showing how God views life from conception.
“The author, David, talks about his development in utero, and he praises God for fearfully and wonderfully making him in his mother’s womb,” he said. “It’s a profoundly pro-life text.”
He also pointed to Luke 2, where Mary, who is pregnant with Jesus, goes to visit her relative Elizabeth, who is also pregnant with the child who would become known as John the Baptist.
“The unborn John the Baptist leaps for joy … she refers to Mary as ‘the mother of my Lord,'” Classon said. “Jesus is a couple of weeks in utero, yet Elizabeth recognizes Jesus as her Lord and Mary as the ‘mother of my Lord.’
“So the idea that the Bible says nothing about abortion, and has nothing to teach us about abortion, is patently false.”
Calling Psalm 139 a “liberating message of justice and light,” Peters then read from the text, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Peters shared her appreciation for both the psalmist and the Psalm itself and appeared to affirm, along with Jeremiah and Job, “their certain knowledge that God was with them in the womb.”
She revealed that as a mother of two, she had previously aborted two other pregnancies.
“I, too, feel that I am known by God in these ways, as a woman who has borne two children. I can affirm that I felt something sacred happening in my gestating body during those pregnancies,” said Peters. “I can also attest that I felt God’s presence with me as I made the decision to end two pregnancies and I felt no guilt, no shame, no sin.”
While acknowledging his inability to know Peters’ innermost thoughts, Classon said he finds it hard to believe Peters’ claim about not experiencing any shame or guilt over her decision to terminate two of her unborn children.
“I don’t know her heart, I can’t get inside of her mind, but I think it’s inevitable for the folks who go through terminating a pregnancy to think about it,” he said. “It’s not an easy decision.
“But to protest it as strongly as she does, ‘no guilt, no shame, no sin,’ if she really does feel that way, it would betray a conscience that has been seared, a conscience that no longer can hear the convicting voice of the Holy Spirit.”
“Guilt and shame, those are appropriate responses to doing things that are morally blameworthy. And if it’s true that she feels no guilt or no shame, that speaks to a conscience that has been seared, likely by decades of protesting and trying to convince herself that abortion indeed is not what it actually is, which is the intentional ending of a human life.”
Peters further offered her views on what she termed “forced pregnancy.”
“If pregnancy and gestation are to remain holy mysteries, they require cooperation,” she said. “A forced pregnancy or birth is not holy.”
Her sermon culminated in a stated theological position in which she suggested Bible-believing Christians can be both pro-life and pro-abortion.
“As complicated, thoughtful morally capable people, we are able to hold both of these realities in tension: that the gestation and birth of a child is a wondrous event to be celebrated and that not all pregnancies will or need to culminate in a birth,” she said.
“This is theologically consistent with the belief that prenates are not yet human beings.”
Peters did not respond to a request for comment from The Christian Post. This story will be updated when a response is received.
According to her bio, Peters has been active in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) for over 25 years and currently represents the denomination as a member of the Faith and Order Standing Commission of the World Council of Churches.
She is also listed as a member of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, which supports “access to safe, legal abortions and other sexual and reproductive health care,” according to a statement from board chair the Rev. Burl Salmon.
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