Friday, April 24, 2015

Graduation & Life Update!

In true form, I am updating my blog when I should be doing something else - finishing my final paper for seminary. Below is a letter I recently wrote to my home congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Granbury, Texas. It was edited to be shorter for the newsletter, which I completely understand, but I wanted the full letter published so people in the congregation could also read it. 


I wanted to write you a short letter thanking you for the continued support over the last 3 years. As many of you know, I came to McCormick Theological Seminary in the fall of 2012 open to exploring different forms of ministry both inside and outside of the traditional idea of church. It was only through your continued prayers and financial support that I was able to fully discern my call.
I have been fortunate to complete my field studies education this year at Faith in Place, a faith-based nonprofit organization headquartered in Chicago focused on helping faith communities across Illinois to better care for the Earth and address issues of environmental injustice on economically-depressed communities that suffer worse from pollution than more privileged communities. I have served at Faith in Place as a very untraditional seminary intern with a focus on grant writing. I realized last year when I was in the process of leaving my traditional seminary intern position at Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church that my seminary education and undergraduate degree in business coupled with my passion for helping the underrepresented and deep love of Excel spreadsheets were perfectly married in the field of grant writing.

I came to Faith in Place as the organization was in the midst of a leadership transition. The woman who started Faith in Place in 1999, Rev. Clare Butterfield, stepped down as Executive Director in June 2014, and I began my internship just a few short months later in August. God’s hand was truly in my assignment to Faith in Place, as I felt when I spoke with the new Executive Director, Rev. Brian Sauder, and shared with him my hope of learning grant writing. Brian was not new to Faith in Place, and had started the Central Illinois office 5 years ago as he completed his Master of Divinity and MBA at the University of Illinois. Faith in Place did not have a staff person focused on grant writing, though much of our budget depends on it, and the news that I wanted to focus on it was a huge relief.

I have had fantastic learning opportunities during my 10 months at Faith in Place and I am happy to tell you that Faith in Place is hiring me full time, starting on May 1st, to be their new Development Director! I am so glad that I will be able to stay in Chicago, working alongside my devoted colleagues who work hard every day to make our shared Earth a safer and healthier place for future generations.

I am honored to graduate on May 9th, with a Master of Arts in Ministry, alongside my creative and passionate classmates. Members of my class will continue in their careers as ministers, teachers, lawyers, and small business owners, and start new jobs as both ordained clergy and leaders outside of the church working as chaplains, worship coordinators, social workers, and staff at nonprofit organizations.

Thank you again for your many years of support! I cannot imagine what my time at McCormick would have been like if I did not have such a caring, dedicated, and supportive group of people cheering me on. Regardless of where I live, First Presbyterian Church of Granbury will always be my home congregation!

If you are interested in Faith in Place and want to learn more about the organization (or donate!!) please click here to visit our website

Friday, September 12, 2014

What have I been doing?

Hello friends!

I only seem to write in this blog when I have 75 other things that I should be working on at the time. This year is going to be an experiment in how I do with my time management skills when it comes to things beyond classwork. My only class this year is the class that goes along with my field site [Faith in Place]. There isn't very much coursework that goes along with the class, mostly just reflecting on our experience.

Beyond my course, I am trying to work 15 hours a week at Faith in Place [FiP]. Luckily the Executive Director, Brian, is equally as excited about teaching me to write grants as I am to learn! I honestly believe that this field site experience is worth the emotional toll I went through this past winter with Lincoln Park. I feel like I am actually learning skills that will benefit me in the future. I was talking with a friend over breakfast yesterday and shared with her that I am just comfortable at FiP. I get to work with people who are passionate about their job. My coworkers are friendly & open to answering my many questions. I am currently in the process of reorganizing our grants files, which is a pretty serious undertaking. I love it. I'm just so happy to be at FiP, I have a hard time describing it.

On top of my field site responsibilities, I am also one of the RA's for the McCormick housing. I'm the Community Life RA, which means I get paid to plan parties. AND IT IS AWESOME. All summer long I held weekly grill nights with our neighbor seminary, the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago [LSTC]. And I don't have to deal with building issues because there is a separate RA for all of that. It is pretty awesome.

I am still working at Daystar with their After School Care program. Hanging out with kids a couple of times a week is always fun to do! This fall, my friend Megan and I are going to have a special weekly cooking class for some of the kids. We already have a few ideas about things to cook with the kids that are healthy, can be done in a group setting, and can be done in about 45 minutes [since that is all the time we have]. I think we are also going to try & tie in theological themes of caring for one's body by eating healthy foods. Megan is a student at LSTC & Daystar is a Christian school, so it should work out pretty well. If you have any suggestions for things we can cook - send them my way!

It is an exciting time to be at McCormick. The student body really seems to be energized in a way I haven't experienced before.

Between work, school & having a social life, I have been trying to find the right balance. The first two weeks of classes are always a little hectic. At the end of August I ran my first half marathon. I'd been training for it since March, so it was a great sense of accomplishment when I finished the race! I was really worried in the days leading us to the event because I had a stomach bug and was worried that I would be too weak/dehydrated to compete. But I took it slow & easy and everything worked out in the end!

I've been trying to get more organized & declutter my life. I realized when I moved from Lincoln Square back down to Hyde Park that I have so much stuff I don't need. I've been loving the resources I've found online, especially Light by Coco. Her make me feel like I'm getting good life advice from a friend. Ok, now I am off to tackle my ever growing to-do list.

[9/13/14 Note]: I am happy to also be able to announce that I am now the editor of The Herald, the student newspaper at McCormick! It hasn't been very active in the past year or so, and I am hoping to really revive it. We are also going to be putting out a print edition, so if you are a McCormick person, look for it on Wednesday at worship!

I also now have a foster puppy, Fritz. He is an adorable Schnauzer mix who weighs around 25lbs, is extremely friendly with people & other dogs, and housebroken. If you are interested in adopting him, I am fostering through One Tail at a Time. His profile isn't up on the site yet, but when it gets posted I will link it here. You can check my Instagram page for pictures of him.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Post-Modern Open Communion

Below is my final paper from Introduction to Theology. Since I shared my ethics final, I thought I would share my theology final as well. This is another paper that I would love to continue thinking about and working on...I wrote it a year ago (and got an A+!) but still believe the same things when it comes to theology. Like my paper about abortion, researching and writing the paper really influenced my beliefs and challenged what I had previously thought. Questions/comments/concerns? Send them my way!

Sarah Bennett
May 7, 2013
Introduction to Christian Theology
Term Paper
Radical Hospitality: Open Communion in the Post-Modern World
Introduction: Context and Importance of Communion Practices
As long as there have been formally recognized sacraments, communion, The Lord’s Supper, Eucharist, etc has been considered one of the most important ones. During the Reformation, churches decreased the number of sacraments, but continued to hold onto communion. This is a testament to how important communion is, has been, and will continue to be for Christians around the world.
            Communion is a controversial topic. Aside from the differences in opinion as to Jesus’s presence, real or not, at the communion table, churches also vary on who should be allowed to participate. There are those Christians who believe that in close(d) communion – only those who subscribe to their particular theology and church doctrine can partake in communion. Open communion is the stance of many Reformed church denominations – any baptized Christian is welcomed at the table. There is a third group, newly emerged, who’s beliefs I have called post-modern open communion. This third group doesn’t limit communion to only church members or those who are baptized. Instead, communion is open to any and all who are present and feel called to the experience.
            The United Methodist Church has long believed that open communion should be practiced. Recently their theology and belief on this subject have expanded to include the non-baptized in the congregation. The Anglican Church has also recently (within the past few years) had this conversation.[1] Post-modern open communion is often housed within a church’s desire to practice radical hospitality. But just how far does the church have to go in order to practice such hospitality?
Communion is a very important church practice for me. In high school, as I was experiencing doubt about my Christian faith, I would only attend church on the first Sunday of every month so that I could have communion. My theology on communion has shifted dramatically during the course of this semester. As a cradle-Presbyterian, I have always experienced communion from the reformed position. My best friend is a cradle-Catholic, so I have attended Mass a number of times. When I was younger, I did not understand why I could not have communion at Mass, but Emily could take communion in my church. Before diving into my first year of seminary, I believed that communion should be open to everyone. During the course of the year, my theology shifted as I learned how diverse the Christian position is in regard to communion. After researching this paper, my belief has swung back towards a more open communion.
There is a concern by some that these post-modern open communion tables “water down” the link between communion and Christian baptism. I agree with those concerns, but think that communion should be open to anyone, including the unbaptized, as long as participants realize what this holy sacrament means.
Debate Among Theologians
Close Communion Practices
In order to have a discussion about open communal practices, a slight comparison has to be made to those who practice close(d) communion. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that anyone who wants to take communion must confess his or her sins first.[2] This automatically limits participation in communion to those who were baptized in the Catholic Church since only baptized Catholics can go to confession. This idea of “good standing” within the eyes of the church is also shared by Baptists. O.L. Hailey, a Baptist from Little Rock, Arkansas, argues that since communion is a holy task given to Christians by Jesus, the church must make sure that only those who are worthy can receive it. This sacred meal should be limited to only church members so that the preacher knows who should and should not take communion.[3] This is true for those close communion churches – only a few are worthy of taking communion, so church membership is a requirement so that the church leadership can make sure that no one outside the church’s beliefs takes communion.
Open Communion Practices
Churches who practice open communion disagree with that fundamental statement: that only a few are worthy of taking communion. As Daniel Migliore points out in Chapter 12: Proclamation, Sacraments and Ministry of his book, Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, the sacrament of communion is a tactile example of God’s love for the world through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Communion is meant to be an uplifting act that gives Christians hope.
Migliore broadly defines open communion as inviting all those who want to take communion to participate. This is a fairly unchallenged view among Reformed churches. Migliore clarifies that what the Reformed theology actually meant was for any baptized individuals to freely take communion at a church where he or she is not a member. Migliore argues that communion is the sacrament that partners with baptism to form Christian life. Baptism is the one-time act, but communion is a constant reminder of the commitment that an individual makes to follow the teachings of Jesus. Partaking in communion with other Christians strengthens the community.[4] In the hopeful celebration of Jesus is expressed the Christian desire for justice, equality and peace on Earth.[5] Justin Martyr who wrote that a prerequisite to taking part in the communion celebration was full acceptance of the Church, aka baptism supports Migliore in this view. Additionally, the Didache explicitly states that only those who are baptized should be allowed to partake in communion.
Those who practice open communion accept that although there might be slight differences among their theology, this should not limit Christians from celebrating communion together. Migliore even argues that an open church congregation wants to share in the communion experience with those who practice closed communion.[6] Although Christian theology differs on how Jesus is present at the communion table, open communion churches say that this does not matter since all are baptized in the Holy Spirit and acknowledge that Jesus is present in some form at the table.
The ethical implications that open communion has are extremely important. Migliore does point out that Jesus’s ministry focused around fellowship with ‘the other’ and our communion practices must do the same thing. Most Reformed Christian liturgy around communion does make the clear statement that all are welcome to the table. This fits in well with Jesus’s desire for equality. In order for a Christian to sit at the communion table, Migliore writes, everyone must be welcome there. Additionally, it is not ok for Christians to be at this holy, open table and then perpetrate forms of discrimination and inequality.[7] This holy meal is intended to be shared with all.
Post-Modern Open Communion Practices
Post-modern open communion agrees with the theology that Migliore puts forth in Faith Seeking Understanding, but takes it a step further. Post-modern open communion churches argue that we are living in a world where not all church-goers are baptized individuals. During the Reformation, it was not the case that large numbers of people who attended church were not already baptized. This is the context that we find ourselves in today. Kathryn Tanner argues for the opening of the communion table to unbaptized individuals to practice the radical hospitality taught by Jesus.[8] She is not alone in this opinion, as the United Methodist Church openly gives communion to unbaptized people. John Wesley thought that communion could be used as an evangelism tool, and that to deny someone communion might prevent that person from becoming a Christian.[9]
Kathryn Tanner argues for this post-modern open communion[10] by disputing some arguments against post-modern open communion.[11] One argument against is that The Last Supper never actually happened, and that early Christians invented it to support the practices they were already following. Tanner writes that this is not important and all that matters is understanding the practice Jesus followed of eating with everyone – not just his disciples.[12] Additionally, she argues against close communion in this way by stating that Jesus’s disciples were not worthy. These were not holy and sinless men – Judas was about to betray Jesus, Peter was going to deny Jesus 3 times, etc.[13] Just like us today, they did not deserve this gift, the disciples were not more worthy than any of us today.
Tanner challenges the baptismal requirement for participation in communion. She asks if the act of baptism is really one that educates Christians to the extent that some say that it does. Specifically, Tanner raises the question of infant baptism. How is it possible, she asks, that a child who is baptized is allowed to take communion, but an educated, unbaptized adult cannot take it?[14] She answers her own question by saying that the entire point of communion is to remind people of their baptismal vows because the baptized are not better than those who are unbaptized. If baptism really made that much of a difference, then communion would not be necessary.[15] She also points out that the idea that an unbaptized person would take communion with absolutely no idea of what it means is ridiculous. Many people take communion everyday out of habit or because they are expected to. Tanner argues that a baptized person who takes communion simply out of habit or because they are expected to, without regard for what it means, is not more deserving of communion than an unbaptized person.
Tanner argues that people today attend church for spiritual reasons, compared to those in the past that made their decision regarding church on a more political basis. Broadly speaking, people do not attend church simply to look good in the eyes of their peers. The only reason someone should fear the unbaptized or be weary of their motives for taking communion is if one is living in a Christian nation. Then, and only then, should someone’s faith be questioned for having an alternate motive.
My Theology on Communion
With a fuller understanding of the debate within the church universal regarding who is eligible to have communion, I have to move closer to my original opinion of open communion. Given the trend in church membership, communion being open to those outside the baptismal vow is perfectly ok. As Kathryn Tanner points out, church attendance used to be something that everyone did so that one wouldn’t be a social outcast. I think the argument can be made for the opposite today – in some circles, simply attending church regularly can place one on the outside. So the sheer fact that someone is devoted enough to attend church in the 21st century could be claimed as essentially the same as being baptized during a period of strong Christian rule. Aside from increasing the number of baptized church members, Tanner questions what the point of requiring baptism before communion if the person taking communion is educated and acknowledges what communion means.
Post-modern open communion, although an attractive sounding theological stance, is something I struggle to fully support. My personal attachment towards communion is too strong for me to say that I am comfortable with communion being open to everyone 100 percent of the time. I am struggling with the notion that some non-Christians will take communion, just to know what it feels like. And the idea of a devoted Jew, Buddhist or Muslim taking communion to me is a strange thing. I have to acknowledge Tanner's point that this would probably not happen. Just as an unbaptized person would not come to the table without any understanding of baptism, the argument can be made that a truly devoted person of another religion would not simply come sit at the table for no good reason. And if I agree with and support the non-baptized person's right to communion, why would that be limited to people who don't subscribe to any religious beliefs? 
Although I do not often speak in terms of evangelizing non-Christians, I do agree with John Wesley's perspective of communion being the thing that brings people to know and understand Christ's love for us. I strongly believe in being open to letting the Holy Spirit work in ways that we cannot imagine. To say that we as humans know and understand just exactly how Jesus expected us to interpret communion is preposterous and conceited. If the experience of taking communion is what turns someone's life around, that is something I fully support. When I was questioning my faith, I continued to take communion. If I had been a member of a close communion church, they would not have allowed me to continue experiencing Christ through communion and I might not be a Christian today. Truly, the only person who can judge someone's 'worthiness' is God. It is not up to the leader of a church or denomination. And since one can never truly be sure of what is in someone’s heart, regardless of baptismal status, we should follow the command given by Jesus in Matthew and allow everyone to eat and drink, for this is truly what Jesus wants.[16]
No matter what one believes regarding the openness of communion, Christians cannot take part in this meal and not strive to share a meal with the sick and the poor. The ethics of communion means that all are supposed to be fed. If your church believes that only members should eat, I think seriously theological discussion needs to happen around the idea of feeding the hungry. In my opinion, Migliore did a good job of linking communion to a Christian’s duty to act ethically and responsibly in the world.[17] It is good that he acknowledges that communion is an act of hospitality, but he only goes so far as to describe this act as welcoming strangers. Does this mean that Migliore believes non-baptized individuals should be allowed to take communion? I think not because of his discussion between the connection of baptism and communion. However Migliore makes sure to point out that the naturalness of the communion elements shows the interdependent nature of the relationship between humans and the earth. Only through caring for God’s creation is humanity given the gifts necessary for communion. This is a point that I believe all Christians should pay attention to, regardless of one’s personal theological stance on who should be allowed to participate in communion.
Concluding Thoughts
            The Christian faith should be open to the idea of change. Our practices and beliefs need to constantly be reconsidered in the light of societal changes. Though one might not think it is important, who is allowed to take communion speaks towards who The Church thinks is acceptable.
As Thomas Breidenthal points out in his article, Following Jesus Outside: Reflections on the Open Table, allowing non-baptized young adults the chance to experience communion helps these young people to realize and reflect on what they are hungry for.[18] Many people who claim to be “spiritual, but not religious” do so because they see The Church as exclusionary. This is in contrast to the message of Jesus. They see this contrary position and decide to hold themselves outside the boundaries of traditional Christian faith.
If through the act of communion, people can come to understand that communion is not a symbol of inclusion, but instead a symbol of exclusion, perhaps The Church can regain some of its members who have left. Uniting oneself with Christ through communion is not the act of someone trying to be a part of a group, but actually the action of someone who says, “I don’t want to be a part of society.” Jesus did not break bread with the disciples so that nothing would change. Instead Jesus taught the radical idea of going against the norm and being on the outside of what is considered to be normal.
            This is truly the Good News! Post-modern open communion teaches the radical hospitality that Jesus intended. I know this to be the case because I am not completely comfortable with it. The Christian faith is not intended to make one comfortable one hundred percent of the time. Nowhere in the Bible does Jesus tell the disciples to do what makes them comfortable. Practically speaking, The Church should consider it’s position on the matter of who to invite to the table and then think about what that says regarding their faith as a whole. Christian communities should not exist to make its members happy with the status quo. That type of thinking is how Christians have been on the wrong side of inclusion almost since the beginning. We are called to inclusion regardless of race, gender, language, ethnicity, sexual orientation, career, etc. I believe this call should also govern how we open communion to others. Jesus called everyone – why should humankind limit that call?

Works Cited
Breidenthal, Thomas E. Bp. 2012. "Following Jesus outside: reflections on the open table." Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 2: 257-262. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2013).
Catholic Church, “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” (accessed May 5, 2013).
Hailey, O.L. “Why Close Communion and Not Open Communion.” (accessed May 4, 2013).
Hefling, Charles. “Who  is communion for? The debate over the open table.” The Christian Century 129, no.24: 22-27. Scanned article in Moodle. [Did not cite this source, but I read it.]
Migliore, Daniel L. Faith Seeking Understanding An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, Kindle Edition.
Tanner, Kathryn. 2004. "In praise of open communion: a rejoinder to James Farwell." Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 3: 473-485. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2013).
The United Methodist Church. “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion.” (accessed May 5, 2013).

[1] For an overview of the Anglican Church’s discussion of Open Communion, please refer to the following article written in 2011:
[2] Catholic Church, “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” (accessed May 5, 2013).
[3] O.L. Hailey, “Why Close Communion and Not Open Communion,” (accessed May 4, 2013).

[4] Daniel L Migliore. Faith Seeking Understanding An Introduction to Christian Theology. Grand Rapids: W.B. Eerdmans, 1991, Kindle Edition, Location 5792.
[5] Ibid 5792
[6] Ibid 5780
[7] Ibid 5911
[8] Kathryn Tanner. 2004. "In praise of open communion: a rejoinder to James Farwell." Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 3: 473-485. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2013).

[9] The United Methodist Church, “This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion,”, (pages 9-17).
[10] I need to note that Kathryn Tanner does not actually refer to post-modern open communion in her article. Instead she is working from a more broadly defined definition of ‘open communion’. I think it is important for the purposes of this paper to make a clear distinction between ‘open communion’ as it is broadly defined by most Reformed traditions and specifically this idea of open communion in the post-modern world.
[11] The article she writes in response to is Farwell, James W. "Baptism, Eucharist, and the hospitality of Jesus: on the practice of "open communion." Anglican Theological Review 86, no. 2 (March 1, 2004): 215-238.
[12] Tanner 476
[13] Ibid 476
[14] Ibid 477
[15] Ibid 477
[16] Matthew 26:26-27: While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and said, “Take and eat. This is my body.” He took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from this, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many so that their sings may be forgiven.” (CEB)
[17] Migliore KL 5911
[18] Thomas E Breidenthal. Bp. 2012. "Following Jesus outside: reflections on the open table." Anglican Theological Review 94, no. 2: 257-262. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed May 7, 2013) pages 261-262.

Radical Love & Abortion as a form of Birth Control

Below is my final ethics paper. I am still working through my thoughts/beliefs on abortion, but this is where I am today. I could only write a max of 7 pages and had to use at least 5 sources,  so I was limited in how deep I could go. I hope to continue reading/thinking about this topic. If you have any resources/insight, please feel free to send it my way!

Sarah Bennett
Introduction to Christian Ethics
April 27, 2014
Dr. Reggie Williams

“Radical Love and Abortion as a form of Birth Control: Working towards justice for all”
“Love is the expression of the one who loves, not of the one who is loved. Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all. Love discards truths about individuals that others cannot see.”– Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

This topic is very difficult for me to discuss, because I feel as though God is challenging me in my beliefs. For the past 25 years, I have been a strong supporter of a woman’s right to choose whether or not an abortion is the right decision for her. However, this course has prompted me to question and reevaluate my beliefs. I have come to the conclusion that in order to realize the radical hospitality and love that Christ calls all Christians towards, the Christian community should not condone abortion.
Let me be very clear. I believe that in medically dangerous situations for the pregnant woman, abortion should be allowed. I believe that churches should encourage women to fight for their health and wellbeing in all matters, which might manifest itself as an abortion, equality in the workplace, etc. I believe in situations of rape, incest, and other such traumatic situations that lead to a pregnancy, Christian leaders should provide support for whatever decision the pregnant woman decides is best. When abortion is used as a form of birth control, after sexual intercourse between two consenting adults, this is where I have a problem. There are feminists who would argue in favor of abortion even in these cases, “where a woman finds herself pregnant through ignorance, carelessness or contraceptive failure”[1], and though I consider myself a feminist, I have to disagree. The power of humanity comes not from the biological ability to create a child, but from the ability to love others within culture and society[2]. I believe that Christians are called to show radical hospitality and love towards all, which cannot be done through abortion.
When Does Life Begin?
This is a difficult question to ask the Bible because the average person in the twenty-first century has a much more scientific-based opinion of reproduction than the Biblical writers. Genesis 2:7 says, “the Lord God formed the human from the topsoil of the fertile land and blew life’s breath into his nostrils. The human came to life” (CEB). Here, the creation story shows the God created life and put life into human bodies. If this life is due to God’s good will, who can say that humans have the right to end a life? This text, however, does not talk about life formed in the womb through natural human reproduction. Isaiah 49:1 speaks to this, “Listen to me, coastlands; pay attention, peoples far away. The Lord called me before my birth, called my name when I was in my mother’s womb” (CEB). Isaiah speaks to receiving his call from God before birth and shows that God pays attention to the fetus in the womb.
Christians no longer live in a world without knowledge of science, and many Christians struggle with defining when life begins, because the scientific community has not been able to give a definitive answer. According to Peter Singer, it is “the absence of any obvious sharp line that divides the fertilized egg from the adult [that] creates the problem”[3]. Unable to definitively say when life begins, the abortion discussion often revolves around the conversation of when life begins[4]. Where is the line to be drawn? At birth? When the fetus is considered viable?
“The fact that life is truly a continuum further complicates the question of when a new life commences. […] In light of the continuous nature of living cells, defining the beginning of a new organism as the onset of zygotic transcription or the breakdown of nuclear membranes is intellectually and scientifically unsatisfying. [These points] are arbitrary, variable, and not indicative of any fundamental change in the entity under consideration”[5].

In her article, When Does Human Life Begin?, Dr. Maureen Condic attempts to scientifically work through the question of human life. As she shows, life is a continuum, which means finding its starting and ending points can be somewhat complex. The places that many pro-choice individuals like to point at to declare the start of life are shown to be “arbitrary”.
“If fertilization is seen as a process rather than as an event, then prior to the completion of this process the zygote is not yet fully present. Based on this view, the cell that results from the fusion of sperm and egg is not a new individual but, as expressed recently by a colleague, merely ‘a unique human cell in the process of becoming a new human, but not there yet’. This way of thinking about human development is compelling to many because it is similar to our thinking about the much more familiar process of manufacturing. [… And yet] the embryo is not something that is being passively built by the process of development, with some unspecified, external ‘builder’ […] the embryo is manufacturing itself”[6]

Condic goes on to show that even the fertilization process is a continuum that is difficult to pinpoint. The embryo, following the pattern laid out in the DNA, gets to work manufacturing itself. Through a process she deems purely scientific, Condic shows that in the instant the sperm and egg meet, the embryo is formed and conception has occurred. Her conclusions show that the evidence points to human life forming at the moment of conception[7].
Beverly Harrison argues that pro-life and pro-choice groups both respect and value human life. The difference comes from what each group defines as human life. Harrison writes that Christian theologians need to take a closer look at the complex issue of human life, prenatal life and how Christianity has treated these stages of life in the past[8]. In order to women to have full rights, conception cannot equal human life. How could it be possible, Harrison asks, for someone to value the life of a zygote over the years of existence of the woman? The power of humans is not the biological ability to have a child, but the love it takes to shape a person within culture/society[9].
Still others argue that human life does not begin until the fetus is viable. “The point at which the fetus can survive outside the mother’s body varies according to the state of medical technology. […And] fetuses born after as little as five and a half months of gestation have survived”[10]. Since viability depends so strongly on medical technology, the same fetus would have different chances of survival depending on which country the pregnant woman lives.
Given the complex nature of the human life continuum, I believe that human life begins at conception. There is not a clear point after conception that the zygote transforms into a human being, so starting at the beginning is easiest.
Abortion as Birth Control
Women are entitled to birth control. Women should be encouraged to physically live out their sexuality, without risk of unwanted pregnancy. However, pregnancy is a possible outcome or result of sex. This is a fact that every adult must consider before acting. The feminist argument in favor of contraception includes abortion as a form of contraception. Sidney Callahan, a pro-life feminist, challenges this view. The right a person has over their body extends to organs and contraceptives, but not an embryo[11]. Pregnancy is not like a disease or cancer, because it is the process through which all new human life is born[12]. Using abortion as a form of birth control is just another manifestation of the powerful in society exercising their control over the weak individuals in society. When the powerful say that another human organism is without a soul, rights are taken away. Should an individual be able to end the development of another without consultation by anyone else? If human life is indeed a continuum, who (Callahan asks) has the right to define when it begins?
                  In his paper, The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine, Mark Cherry raises a number of important differences between Christian bioethics and secular bioethics. His point that secular bioethics emphasizes the individualistic nature of culture in the United States is a particularly important one to make[13]. Since secular bioethics does not place God in a position of authority, the individual is instead given that role, and “personal autonomy is highlighted as integral to human good and human flourishing, with individuals choosing life values, private perceptions of virtue, and moral content for themselves”[14]. Cherry writes, “abortion and infanticide are interpreted as giving women personal control over their reproductive lives, and as thereby liberating them from the burdens of childcare”[15]. This intersection of an individualistic society and a desire for women to have control over their own bodies has resulted in abortion being seen as a viable contraceptive option for many.
I strongly disagree with Cherry’s opinion of the LGBTQ community and believe that marriage is not just meant for men and women. I do not believe that one’s sexuality is a choice and believe that children should be encouraged to discover their own sexuality (which encompasses more than just experimenting with the physical act of sex). Though I disagree with much of what Cherry writes, I agree with his critique of abortion. For a Christian, “properly framed medical decision making requires recognizing that all persons are in a relationship with God. This core relationship exists regardless of whether particular individuals choose to recognize this fact of the matter”[16]. Though I believe each individual is entitled to defining his or her own relationship with God, all Christians must acknowledge this relationship, especially in matters of abortion. By using abortion as a form of birth control, women act immorally and irresponsibly. Søren Kierkegaard once said, “Those who think they can love only the people they prefer do not love at all.” Abortion (when used as recreational birth control) is an act without love.
Christian Community Support
Regardless of one’s position on abortion, individuals are connected through their desire to protect human life[17]. Feminists (either pro-life or pro-choice) are all working towards helping women achieve equality in society. Christianity at its core is working to bring justice for all. A truly just society would realize all of these desires because at the core, each is trying to protect human life. If equality truly existed, would abortion even be an issue discussed in bioethics? Working together with feminists groups, Christian communities should help society reach equality. This can happen through welfare programs. If women are not burdened with the responsibility of raising the baby alone, and instead received support from church congregations, society and the government, would the number of abortions decrease?
Martha Ellen Stortz struggled with these questions in her essay, Dear Children of My Daughter:
As I began to think about the community called church, I felt compelled to raise these broader considerations. Because we professed a physical, as well as spiritual, concern for the members of our community, we had to raise issues of sex, marriage, and family; issues of gender, race, and class. We had to point out that proposed regulation of abortion would not alter the availability of the services to wealthy women, who could travel to a state with liberal laws. […] We had to emphasize that the costs of childbearing and childrearing fell increasingly upon the nuclear family and often upon the mother alone. We had to reiterate that the primary responsibility for contraception still fell on women. […] We had to protest federal cuts in welfare, health care, and education”[18].
She came to the conclusion that church congregations are not doing enough to work for equality. Though her words were written about the church in the 1980s and 1990s, they still ring true today. As she writes, there is a gap between where the church is and where it is called to be. Wealthy women still benefit above poorer women when it comes to access to resources. The responsibility towards using contraception is still mainly put on the woman and budget cuts have dramatically affected the effectiveness of welfare, health care and education (especially for women and children).
                  Adoption is a viable alternative to abortion. My godmother, Marj, owned and operated her own adoption agency. She and her husband were unable to have children, and instead of adopting their own, Marj worked to make sure that other families could adopt a child. When she passed away a few years ago, hundreds of families wrote cards, sent flowers and attended the funeral to show their support and gratitude for her years of dedication. Some of the children came from other countries, but a majority of the babies came from women who did not want the child, but who also did not want to have an abortion. I grew up believing that adoption was a perfectly natural thing to do. Marj was not particularly religious, so I did not put adoption into the context of Christian community or radical hospitality/love until I was much older. Adoption as an alternative to abortion is an expression of love, as described by Søren Kierkegaard.
                  Finally, churches need to facilitate discussion about abortion within their congregational communities. I cannot think of a single time abortion was explicitly mentioned in church within the context of a sermon, bible study or book discussion. Christianity is not meant to be a comfortable religion that allows Christians to become complacent with the status quo. Individuals need to be challenged on their views so that they may grow, learn to put their beliefs in the context of Jesus’s call, and discover how to live a Christian life in a secular society.
Struggles that remain
There are still some struggles that remain, even after putting abortion into the context of Jesus’s call of radical hospitality, love and justice. Many of the feminist arguments assume that having a child will ruin the life of the pregnant woman. On the contrary, other options exist for the pregnant woman besides an abortion. The Christian community needs to do a better job of providing support for pregnant women so that they do not feel alone.
                  How can we, as a Christian community, have a stance on a moral issue that many people will ignore or merely make them feel guilty? Women will continue to have abortions, regardless of the legality or societal acceptance of abortions. How can the Christian community continue to support its members if women are ashamed of their actions, sacred of revealing their illegal/immoral actions, and/or worried about the backlash? “In those Latin American countries that prohibit abortion or allow it only in very limited circumstances, illegal abortions are widespread and a major cause of death and injury to young women”[19]. How can the church take a stance that will cause so much harm, pain (both physical and emotional) and death?
                  The individualistic nature of society in the United States has permeated my opinion on abortion. I still want to be able to say that women should always have the option to choose to have an abortion. But I cannot in good conscience continue to voice that as my opinion. Christians must work towards justice in all aspects of life, which requires taking a pro-life stance when it comes to abortion as a form of birth control.

Callahan, Sidney. “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda.” In Moral Issues and Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 363-370. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.

Cherry, Mark J. "Sex, Abortion, and Infanticide: The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine." Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality 17, no. 1 (January 2011): 25-46. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2014).

Condic, Maureen L. “When Does Human Life Begin: A Scientific Perspective.” The Westchester Institute For Ethics & The Human Person 1, no. 1 (October 2008): 1-12. []

Harrison, Beverly Wildung and Shirley Cloyes. "Theology and Morality of Proactive Choice." In Moral Issues & Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung, 355-362. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013.

Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Stortz, Martha Ellen. “Dear Children of My Daughter. In Confessing Conscience: Churched Women on Abortion, edited by Phyllis Tickle and Marilou Awiakta, 13-25. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990.

[1] Peter Singer, Practical Ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2011), 133.
[2] Beverly Wildung Harrison and Shirley Cloyes. "Theology and Morality of Proactive Choice." In Moral Issues & Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press (2013), 359.
[3] Singer 125
[4] Ibid
[5] Maureen L. Condic. “When Does Human Life Begin: A Scientific Perspective.” The Westchester Institute For Ethics & The Human Person 1, no. 1 (October 2008): [], 2.
[6] Condic 11
[7] Condic 12
[8] Harrison 359
[9] Ibid
[10] Singer 127
[11] Sidney Callahan. “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda.” In Moral Issues and Christian Responses, edited by Patricia Beattie Jung and L. Shannon Jung. 8th ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013, page 365.
[12] Callahan 365
[13] Mark J. Cherry. "Sex, Abortion, and Infanticide: The Gulf between the Secular and the Divine." Christian Bioethics: Non-Ecumenical Studies In Medical Morality 17, no. 1 (January 2011): Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed April 26, 2014), 26.
[14] Cherry 27
[15] Cherry 33
[16] Cherry 38
[17] Harrison 361
[18] Martha Ellen Stortz, “Dear Children of My Daughter. In Confessing Conscience: Churched Women on Abortion, edited by Phyllis Tickle and Marilou Awiakta. Nashville: Abingdon Press (1990), 22.
[19] Singer 130