Colouring in – I had resisted for several years. My gift is writing, not colouring in. It’s childish. Pointless. But I decided it wasn’t any less pointless than social media or surfing the internet. So I gave in, purchased twenty-four triangular colouring pencils and a tiny book to play with.
A few weeks later I am finding pleasure in occasional play. Side by side, colours nurture and challenge each other. But I’m also learning to dare to colour over what I had already done, to blend tones and contrasts, depth and shading… I’m now feeling less constrained by the lines. They serve to give structure and shape, to create challenges and forms on the page, but they are there to encourage juxtaposing of contrasts and complements rather than to define and limit each individual block.
The lines, like the law of God, help us to give shape and purpose to our lives, to enter into the process of dealing with conflict and contrast, with complementarity and commonality, even to discover our part, within God’s image, as co-creators of God’s communion within the Trinity and between God and humans, amongst humans and with the whole of creation.
I’ve been thinking about the interaction between the absolute values we hold as Christians and the way these play out in different lives and messy situations. In particular, I’ve been reflecting on the high view of the human being, from conception, and how at times, holding rigidly to that view may obscure or efface the value that Jesus Christ gives us for women and for people who are, by societal norm, dispossessed or disempowered. It is counter-intuitive, but frequently true, that where women are given freedom to choose whether or not to proceed with an unplanned pregnancy, the rate of abortion tends to be lower than in places where the absolute value of the child excludes any possibility of the woman exercising her judgment in the situation which she faces (often including caring responsibilities for other children, and for older relatives).
It appears that where women in Northern Ireland are choosing to travel across to GB for pregnancy termination, they are more likely to be over 35. Perhaps women at this age can afford to pay for the travel, and perhaps they also have a lot more to lose by risking pregnancy, childbirth and (additional) parenthood responsibilities at this stage of their lives. And perhaps, if this could be discussed openly and without pre-judgment, women would find ways and support mechanisms to make faith-filled, loving choices in community rather than alone. Perhaps, we in the churches might ask ourselves, “Why can we hear the absolute monochrome of the right of the as yet unborn, unviable, unknown person, and yet not make room to really listen to the nuanced and shaded experiences of mainly mature women?”
Many reading this will assume that I am in favour of abortion. They will assume that I have abandoned the fundamental belief that every human being is made in God’s image, and the Bible’s radical siding particularly with those who are unable to defend themselves. On the contrary, I want to protect unborn babies. I continue to cherish the babies when they grow into men and women, facing the very complex situations that they face. But I want every one to know the love and compassion of the Living God. I do not want half the population to feel that the Church of God has ganged up against them making it impossible to speak of the choices they have made, or feel they have to make.
Prohibition and criminal sanction against her mother is not the best way to protect the unborn child. Grace births physical and spiritual life, where penalty and guilt breeds rebellion. Sometimes decisions are impossible because the “right” answer is too hard. Blended shades are more beautiful than monochromes, and more true to the life of the God who created all colours. It is time for the churches to discover – and reinvent – ways to talk about the unspeakable. Maybe using the simple tools of child’s play.
Cheryl Meban is Presbyterian Chaplain University of Ulster and is passionate about the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Once again a woman in full time ministry provides real insight and stimulus to a difficult debate within the church. Life is rarely black or white and wouldn’t it be dull without colour. As a Presbyterian Elders we would like to thank you for this contribution.
Cheryl makes an intelligent and sensitive plea on behlf of the “mature” women in Northern Ireland who have “to travel across to GB for pregency termination” because they find themselves in situations in which “they have a lot more to loose by risking pregnancy, childbirths and (additional parenthood responsibilities…”
She rightly points out that sometimes one or more absolutes can conflict when she asks: “Why can we hear the absolute monochrome of the right of the as yet unborn, unviable, unknown person, and yet not make room to really listen to the nuanced and shaded experiences of mainly mature women?” When this happens indiviual Christians and the wider Christian communities have to choose between two evil courses of actions. Her implied choice seems to be in favour of mature women again what she labels “as yet unborn, unknown person,….”
But such a chice, however, undermines her claim that “I want to protect unborn babies” because it is basesd on the asuumption that wishes of a mature woman with “nuanced and shaded experiences” are to be given priority to “the right of the as yet unborn unviable person.” Let me hasten to add that in certain circumstances such as when the preganancy would risk the life of the moher, for example, abortion may be permitted. But her preferred choice implies a wider criterion of “personal and social convenience”, and this is the criterion used in anything up to 95% of the abortions that are currently undertaken in the so-called Christian countries.
Cheryal implies but does not clearly spell out an alternative. Christians and Christian communuties must provide facilities and forums to listen to and be sympathetic to the mother seeking an abortion in love and without condemnation, and determine whether abortion is the only viable solution. Let us not forget that many childless couples have to wait for a long time, and sometimes for ever, to adopt a child. So there is a shortage of children for adoption on the one hand, and, on the other hand, millions of unborn babies are aborted primarily for the personal and social conviemce of mothers. If we really care both for the mothers and the unborn babies, then we must first seek to address this anomaly.
I want to end by making another plea. Christians geneally, and those in leadership positions in particular, must inform themselves about their pro-anti abortion stances both in the light of the Scriptural teaching and medical and social findings re the consequences of allowing abortion. And whatver decision one comes to, it must be made in unqualified love without any hint of condemnation, an attitude Jesus displayed throughout his life.
I agree with Puran that Cheryl’s implied choice undermines her claim that she wants to protect unborn babies. It would have been good to spell out the alternatives that Puran outlines in his last paragraph. Christians and Christian communities must work harder to make the right answer easier to come to and to do so with a committment to continue to love and support without judging when it is not chosen.
Response to Cheryl Mabyn’s article
I highlight the following sentence: Perhaps, we in the churches might ask ourselves, “Why can we hear the absolute monochrome of the right of the as yet unborn, un-viable, unknown person, and yet not make room to really listen to the nuanced and shaded experiences of mainly mature women?”
The above quote is the crux of this valuable contribution to the whole discussion about treatment of unwanted pregnancies. I would highlight the phrase “really listen” to mature women. Those of us who are convinced about the inviolability of Scripture often do not appear to listen to the heart-cry of women who are torn between the priority of head over heart, logic over emotion. Emotionally they just feel they cannot cope with continuing the pregnancy, even to accept the advice of others to give the newborn up for adoption. (It is just the same with those in the LGBT community who feel that we Biblical purists are so quick to jump in to our Biblical quotes before we assure them that we, as members of Christ’s body, the church, do love them and want them to know that we are one with Jesus when he confronted the woman taken in adultery by saying “neither do I condemn you..” John 8:11, but interpreted in the light of the first 30 verses of this eighth chapter.) Jesus did acknowledge to this woman that she had sinned, but initially she realised that he respected her humanity and fallenness. Those of us who reject abortion often appear insensitive to the cry of those who plead for a termination of pregnancy.
[As a former mission doctor in Nigeria I was faced with the request to abort pregnancies conceived through rape by soldiers during the Biafran Civil war but could not do so even though I knew the heartache of the girls so afflicted. People who insist on abortions have got to think of the moral conflict which they inflict upon the doctors who have to approve or carry out the abortion, though I have seen little reference to this aspect of the abortion debate.]
My take on the wisdom of Cheryl Mayan’s observation on blending of colours in human society, as also in the Church, is that too may of us, like the Pharisees, see only two colours, pure black and white. We forget that in the rainbow neither colour exists. Rainbow’s colours are not only the primary 3 colours of red, yellow and blue, but a mixture of all, (in response to light) to give the permanent message that God, through light and colour, promises never to destroy the earth again ( Genesis 9:12-17) . Just as Christ, who is the Light of the World, took upon himself the sins of the world, so we in the church need to transmit the multicoloured light of God’s word and identify with those whom the scriptures account to be sinners by offering words of compassion and loving forgiveness to sinners, pointing them to our long-suffering, and loving, Saviour.