Black pro-life Christians aren’t just focused on abortion…… | News and reports
For many white evangelicals who led the pro-life movement, the end of Roe v. Wade scores a long-awaited and celebrated result. But for black Christians whose political views on life go beyond a single-issue fight, the feeling is more mixed.
As Founder of Pro-Black Pro-Life, Cherilyn Holloway sees how Black Christians can agree with valuing life from a theological perspective and are open to a “whole life” perspective, while by rejecting politically conservative political positions. For them, racial disparities and injustices that affect abortion must also be priorities.
“To live abundantly, we must be able to recognize the systems that have been put in place to prevent us from doing so,” Holloway said.
While the abortion bans that take effect after the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling may result in more babies being born, black Christians continue to draw attention to so many other factors that overlap and threaten the lives of black people during pregnancy.
“It’s not as simple as some make it out to be. Having the baby isn’t the only problem, and the abortion isn’t the only problem,” said Justin E. Giboney, president of The And Campaign. “There are a lot of other factors that come into play when it comes to policies like paid family leave, health issues – which this country still hasn’t adequately addressed. These also play into the conversation.
Black women are three times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women, and their babies are half as likely as white babies to survive to their first birthday. Racial disparities persist in almost every measure, from income to cover childcare to the quality of education.
A promotional video for the campaign’s Whole Life initiative says, “When black women who have chosen to carry their children to term are still at risk of dying, we need to lead with a more compassionate posture.”
Efrem Smith, co-senior pastor of the Midtown Church in Sacramento, says he and many other black pastors aren’t represented in mainstream abortion conversations because there isn’t much room to simultaneously value the life from a theological perspective and addressing the structural racism and inequalities faced by Black women in particular. Smith’s Church is a multiethnic Evangelical Covenant Church congregation.
“It’s not an easy place to land,” he said. “The mainstream culture has tried to force black Christians into a pro-life, pro-choice paradigm.”
The reality, for Smith, is much more nuanced. He believes black Christians are at their best when they can stand up for life while standing up for “our liberation and empowerment at the same time.”
Smith highlights the historical position of black women in America. They have not had the opportunity to “choose life” when their own life has been endangered by others, whether through slavery, lynching, sexual assault, violence, exploitation or inadequate health care.
A recent Pew Research survey found that two-thirds of Black Protestants support keeping abortion legal. Although they share fundamental theological positions with white evangelicals, black Protestants are consistently much less aligned with the policies of the Republican Party, including its efforts to ban abortion.
Yet the largest historically black denomination, the 5 million-member Pentecostal Church of God in Christ (COGIC), takes a pro-life stance against abortion. One of its bishops, Vincent Mathews, spoke last year at a prayer event around Dobbs organized by the Family Research Council.
COGIC Presiding Bishop J. Drew Sheard said earlier this year, “We recognize the disproportionate harm that abortion has done to the black community — especially women — and we look forward to seeing women in crisis and children in need genuinely cared for”.
While the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), which has 2.5 million members, has historically opposed abortion except in cases to save the life of the mother, the health commission of the he church spoke out on Dobbs in favor of “reproductive justice” for black women, including access to abortion. Likewise, progressive black clergy in the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference criticized the decision and pledged to mobilize against it.
Whether they oppose abortion or support abortion rights, black believers see their faith communities playing a crucial role in the response. Smith in California sees Roe’s overthrow representing a critical moment for predominantly black houses of worship to be recognized as epicenters of mutual aid in their communities.
“The black church, because it was born out of slavery, always had some version of an extended family or a village within it,” he said, “the black church is ready to say, “Regardless of the circumstances in which you became pregnant, if you have this baby, this church will be your family.
His multi-ethnic congregation is preparing to expand spiritual care following the decision. It has partnered with licensed counselors and healthcare professionals and will connect members to available services.
Midtown Church is not alone. Many black congregations are offering similar outreach, and Giboney with the And campaign said he could see more black churches discussing new strategies for providing support to women and children in response to the Supreme Court ruling.
“Christians who are Republicans and Democrats and everywhere must be advocates for these women if we really want them to flourish,” said Giboney, a lawyer and political strategist. “It’s not just about winning on the issue, it’s about putting the skin on the politics, not isolating a policy, but acknowledging all the factors that play into a woman’s decision.”
CT previously featured Cessilye R. Smith, a Black Christian who set out to address infant and maternal mortality among women of color with a free maternal health clinic and birthing center. “When the public eye sees the pro-life movement fighting to end abortion without looking to the root,” she said, “then you will always have a sidelong eye from the black community. “
Holloway of Pro-Black Pro-Life thinks ministry leaders can learn from the black church’s history of self-help. She hopes to see Christians expand church networks and form coalitions within congregations to support women’s access to quality reproductive health care and affordable, adequate housing.
“We don’t want a conviction. We want grace,” she said. “We also want people to understand that if they find themselves in a situation where they have an unplanned pregnancy, they shouldn’t have to run away from the church, they should run there.”
Pew found that Christians from Black Protestant traditions are also the group most opposed to criminalizing women who choose to terminate their pregnancies.
Holloway will continue her advocacy work, educating local black communities about racial equity in health care and ways to support pregnant women and mothers in her home state of Ohio, where the reversal Roe v . Wade triggered a six-week abortion ban.
“We care about the life that is in the womb, but we also care about the man in the street. We also care about those children and where they get their education and their health care, as well as grandma and grandpa coming into end-of-life care and being treated with dignity and respect,” she said. “These are all life issues for us.”
Some black Christian leaders say they can’t wait for those who rallied so passionately for the unborn child to join “whole life” causes to support women as well: pay equity, child care, affordable housing , mental health support and health care.
“Not every church has to do everything…” Holloway said. “Who do we know that we can accelerate some of these things with? They are sitting on your pews.
Amethyst Holmes is a freelance journalist based in Washington, DC.