A sermon delivered by The Rev. Kathy Schmitz on October 21, 2012
At First Unitarian Church of Orlando, Florida
Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life…
Part of an amendment passed by Florida voters in 1980
Amendment 6 on next month’s Florida ballot would, if passed, greatly restrict the options available to women needing to terminate a pregnancy. Our tradition and our congregation have a long history of supporting a woman’s right to choose in this deeply personal arena. This morning we look at this difficult topic from a religious and spiritual perspective.
An audio recording of several parts of the service can be heard here
. It starts with the Words for All Ages. The reading begins at 3:20. The 22 minute sermon starts at 11:39.
from a Passover Haggadah, #453 in Singing the Living Tradition (adapted)
Words for All Ages:
A discussion of choices (using fruit as an example) and who gets to make them
Prayer for Our Elected Officials, Jessica Halperin (adapted), (From Unitarian Universalist Theology of Reproductive Justice in the June 2012 Congregational Resource Packet of the UUA)
excerpts Frederick Turner in “She’s Come for an Abortion: What Do You Say?” Harper’s Magazine, Nov. 1992. Pages 53-54.
Mindful Of Our Highest Aspirations, Rebecca A. Edmiston-Lange
Permission is granted to quote freely with attribution. Permission is granted to use as a whole in worship with notice to the author. To reproduce in print, please contact the author.
As I suspect may already be apparent, I’d like to start this morning by talking about sex.
It has been said that Unitarian Universalists would rather talk about sex than many other topics. This point is often brought up at the time of our annual pledge drive. Many of us are more comfortable talking about sex than money. I’m going to guess that there are a lot of people present this morning who would much rather talk about sex than the upcoming election. In fact, I suspect some of you would rather talk about almost anything rather than the upcoming election.
And so, to some of you, I apologize… because we are going to talk about both sex and the election this morning. And we are going to do it because I believe that I am compelled to do so by my understanding of our Unitarian Universalist values.
Let me be clear from the outset about several things:
Your understanding of our shared Unitarian Universalist values may lead you to a different conclusion. I respect that.
In our tradition we have freedom of the pulpit. This means that, as your called minister, it is my right and my responsibility to speak from this pulpit as dictated by my conscience.
In our tradition, we also have freedom of the pew. This means that you are free to disagree with me… and say so.
Clergy, according to the IRS regulations governing non-profit organizations, cannot support or speak against specific candidates or political parties in their official capacity. They may, however, speak to issues.
Related to this, I am a strong supporter of the separation of church and state, which means that I think we must keep the institutions of the religion separate from our institutions of government.
However, I believe just as strongly that there is a role for the values of religion in the public debate of our society. I do not know of what use it is to have values if we are not going to use them.
So back to sex… I contend that it is a shared Unitarian Universalist value that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of human relationships. It has been said that:
Sexuality provides people with opportunities to grow in intimacy with each other and the sacred, as well as opportunities for harm and exploitation. As a powerful force that contributes to love and justice, as well as to intense discord and pain, people are responsible for being stewards of this tremendous capacity. Human sexuality must be understood and celebrated in its complexity, diversity, and possibility.
(From Unitarian Universalist Theology of Reproductive Justice in the June 2012 Congregational Resource Packet from the UUA)
This is why we teach comprehensive sexuality education across the life span as part of our religious education or faith development program. We call our program OWL, which stands for Our Whole Lives. It is a program that provides developmentally appropriate offerings starting with kindergarteners and going up through adults. The longest and most comprehensive program is, not surprisingly for our middle school youth. That program is taking place, as we speak, in the Enrichment Center and will take up Sunday mornings for the better part of this year.
The predecessor to OWL was called About Your Sexuality (AYS). It was created back in the 1970’s. It was pretty radical and state-of-the-art then. A few years ago, I asked an adult, who had taken AYS as a young person, what they thought of it. “Well,” she said, “When it was over, I was pretty sure they had told us everything.”
Our current program was developed through collaboration between the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. The description of the program from its website tells us that:
Our Whole Lives helps participants make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual health and behavior. It equips participants with accurate, age-appropriate information in six subject areas: human development, relationships, personal skills, sexual behavior, sexual health, and society and culture. Grounded in a holistic view of sexuality, Our Whole Lives not only provides facts about anatomy and human development, but also helps participants clarify their values, build interpersonal skills, and understand the spiritual, emotional, and social aspects of sexuality.
(www.uua.org/re/owl/ accessed October 20, 2012)
May I suggest that this approach to sexuality education differentiates us from some other religious traditions? May I suggest that the attitudes and assumptions underlying this approach, in particular, that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of human relationships, differentiates us from some other religious traditions?
People I love and respect serve as leaders in some of those other religious traditions. They are not afraid to use their voices and their positions to promote their values. As much as I love and respect them, I must respectfully disagree with their positions. I would go so far as to say that some of the positions that they promote are dangerous and harmful. I think it is harmful to condemn homosexuality and birth control. I think it is dangerous to treat women as second-class citizens who cannot be trusted to make important decisions about their own health care. I am compelled to speak.
The specific topic before us this morning is access to abortion. However, I want to place it in a larger context. That context is the realm of reproductive justice. As it turns out, reproductive justice is the Congregational Study/Action Issue for the next 3 years in our wider Unitarian Universalist Association.
Since some of you are probably not familiar with our Study/Action process. Let me take a minute to explain. It is an important part of the democratic process we hold so dear.
First Unitarian Church of Orlando is a member congregation of the Unitarian Universalist Association or the UUA. The UUA is an association of congregations, run democratically. One of the manifestations of that democracy is the annual gathering of delegates from the member congregations, known as General Assembly, GA.
While at General Assembly, the delegates do a lot of business on our behalf. One of the things that they do is pick issues for the congregations to study and act on (thus the name Study/Action Issue). Every other year, delegates choose a new topic. Those congregations that choose to, study the topic, they engage in actions, they reflect on those actions. They report back to the next General Assembly on their experiences. For each topic, this happens three times and then, if possible, delegates adopt a Statement of Conscience, that is, a statement that summarizes the views of Unitarian Universalists on the subject at hand.
In recent year, delegates have adopted Statements of Conscience on Creating Peace and on Ethical Eating. We are several years into a Study/Action Issue on Immigration as a Moral Issue. Last June, delegates adopted a new Congregational Study/Action Issue (CSAI) titled — Reproductive Justice: Expanding Our Social Justice Calling.
Although Unitarian Universalists have a long history of advocacy around reproductive rights, the newly framed issue adds a dimension that I think is important. It asks us to consider how issues of power and systemic oppression constrain access to reproductive rights and health services. In the introduction to the Study/Action Issue we read:
… Reproductive Justice represents a broader analysis of racial, economic, cultural, and structural constraints on women’s power. The right to have children, to not have children, and to parent children in safe and healthy environments is a human right…
For those who choose to engage this issue, there are opportunities to consider a broad array of interrelated topics that expand beyond traditional issues of sexuality education, contraception, abortion, and women’s rights as well as the additional issues of power and systemic oppression. Just as examples, there are a great number of questions that can be asked in the areas of adoption or fertility or childbirth options.
I know that there are members of the congregation interested in exploring these areas together, in considering how our Unitarian Universalist values might speak to these important issues of our day, and in learning what we share in common and where our views might diverge.
I look forward to seeing where this will take us.
Wherever it takes us, I hope that we will hold on to our deeply cherished shared value of the right of conscience and the democratic process. In our coming together, we honor the search for truth and meaning, knowing that ultimately each of us is accountable to our own conscience.
There are some things that we have to agree on, and some things we don’t.
It is important to know the difference.
To the greatest degree possible, I believe that when there is an area on which we are unlikely to agree, we should try to frame our common life together to allow for as much liberty of individual conscience as possible.
This may be in the congregation. This may be in our local, state, or federal government.
When it comes to the abortion, a topic on which good people can draw different conclusion, I believe that we must create our public policy to allow for individual choice.
I know that there are people in this room who are strong advocates not only of choice, but of the choice of abortion in certain situations. I know that there are people in this room, who strongly believe that they would neither choose an abortion nor counsel another person to choose one. I don’t think that is a problem. We do not have to agree on that. What we do have to find agreement on is who it is that will make that decision.
Given the ambiguities and complexities inherent in the situation, I believe that this must be the person, the woman, who is “… on the ground, in the trenches, dealing with the situation.” (A reference to the reading, see above.)
This is why, as we prepare to cast our votes in the upcoming election, I strongly urge a “no” vote on Florida Amendment 6.
This proposed amendment to the Florida Constitution is titled: Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights.
There are a number of problems with it.
First, like all the state level amendments proposed, it is should be a legislative matter rather than a constitutional matter. Someday, I will explore Florida’s obsession with enshrining in its constitution things about which other states write laws. For this reason alone, I plan to vote against all of the proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. If someone can make a case for supporting any of them, I would be sincerely interested in hear it.
Another problem with the amendment is that some parts of it are redundant and unnecessary – even if you happen to agree with their intent. In particular, the “proposed amendment provides that public funds may not be expended for any abortion.” This is already the practice in Florida so this component is unnecessary.
More concerning is a related provision. Not only can public funds not be expended for abortions, but they may also not be expended for “health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion.” This extension meddles in the right of public employees to choose the health care coverage that is right for them. It flies in the face of our understanding of the dignity of all people and our faith in the ability of people to make the personal decisions that are right for them. It sets a chilling precedent.
The proposed amendment does include an exemption when continuing the pregnancy would place the woman “in danger of death.” It does not include an exemption for when continuing the pregnancy would place the woman at risk of debilitating illness or injury.
And then, the second half of the amendment is alarming. It reads:
This proposed amendment provides that the State Constitution may not be interpreted to create broader rights to an abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution. With respect to abortion, this proposed amendment overrules court decisions which conclude that the right of privacy under Article I, Section 23 of the State Constitution is broader in scope than that of the United States Constitution.
In 1980, the citizens of Florida voted to amend the state constitution to say in part:
Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life…
Known as the Right to Privacy clause, this provision is at risk from proposed Amendment 6 which attempts to nullify the right to privacy where abortion is concerned.
Every day, women can and do make decisions about their reproductive lives with which I disagree.
That would be a problem if the decisions were mine to make. But they aren’t.
We want the world to be simple…. black or white, cut and dry, on or off. But it isn’t.
Which leads me to the last reason that I believe that our Unitarian Universalist principles and values call for a “no” vote on Florida’s Amendment 6… and that is compassion.
From my vantage point as a minister, I have the privilege and heartache of accompanying women and families as they navigate life’s most difficult decisions. I have never seen the decision to have an abortion made lightly. It is often heart-wrenching.
The factors that influence such a decision are many and varied. None of us can pretend to understand all complexities that can arise. Compassion requires that as women struggle with these decisions, the state does not add to the complexities. Amendment 6 would enshrine dangerous complications in the Florida constitution.
Imagine a woman who has several children and, due to a failure of contraception, finds herself unexpectedly and unwantedly pregnant. She feels that her well-being and the best interests of her existing children would be diminished by the addition of another child to the family. She does not consider adoption an option. Have you known such a woman? I have. My heart ached with the choice she faced.
Imagine a couple, who wants a baby badly, and learns, well into the pregnancy, that the fetus has a heart defect and will die before it reaches term. They can wait for the inevitable or they can terminate the pregnancy. Have you known such a couple? I have. I would never presume to dictate what decision they should make.
Imagine a couple who learns through genetic testing that any child they have has a 25% of being born with a serious form of cystic fibrosis. If the child lives at all, its short life will be filled with suffering. Have you known such a couple? I have. While we waited for the test results which would tell them whether or not the developing fetus was in the 25%, I yearned to relieve them of the possibility of facing such a choice.
You may not have known these particular women, but I assure you, you have known women who have faced scenarios such as these and many others. My experience tells me that more than a couple of women and men in this room today have struggled with decisions such as these.
I do not believe that we can reach consensus on right or wrong answers.
I do believe that we could reach consensus on compassion.
The factors that influence the decision to terminate or to continue a pregnancy are many and varied. None of us can pretend to understand all complexities that can arise.
Given that reality, I believe that our commitment to the right of conscience compels us to advocate for public policy that creates the most spaciousness possible for honest, deep, and personal discernment.
Compassion requires that as women struggle with these decisions, the state does not add to the complexities. Amendment 6 would enshrine dangerous complications in the Florida constitution.
I urge you to vote no on Amendment 6.