After Roe’s death, clergy lead believers in praise, lamentations

Praise and lament for the overthrow of abortion rights filled sacred spaces this weekend as clergy across the US rearranged worship plans or rewrote sermons to give their religious context — and competing messages — about the historic moment.

Abortion is a deep-seated problem for deeply divided religious Americans. Some are sad or angry in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s seismic Dobbs v. Jackson decision Friday. Others are grateful and delighted.

At St. Paul Cathedral in Pittsburgh, Rev. Kris Stubna rejected his scheduled Sunday sermon and focused on the decision, calling it “a day of great joy and blessing.” He said the destruction of the nearly 50-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling was the result of prayers and efforts by many Catholics and others.

“This law violated the law of God Himself, that every life is sacred,” he said. “One cannot support abortion and still be a faithful member of the Church.”

Stubna’s comments would be viewed by some as divisive as Catholics in the US disagree on abortion rights. Followers include leading members of the faith, such as President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who are faced with communion restrictions as a result.

Not everyone watched Stubna’s entire sermon. Although he was unable to ask for their reasons, an Associated Press photographer saw a woman leave. Security personnel estimated that three others also left early.

Attitudes about abortions do not just polarize within denominations; the divisions span the religious landscape.

“SCOTUS has just dealt a terrible blow to women, girls, all people who have children, and freedom,” said Rev. Jacqui Lewis, senior minister of Middle Collegiate Church, a multicultural Protestant congregation in Manhattan.

She mourned Roe’s overthrow, expressing deep emotions at a service Sunday, saying: “It took safe legal abortions off the table, opening the door for states to storm in and destroy reproductive justice. We are teetering. Twisting. So hurt we can barely move. We feel the loss, the pain of it.”

A majority of adults of Buddhist, Hindu, historically black Protestant, Jewish, predominantly Protestant, Muslim and Orthodox Christian faiths support legal abortion in all or most cases, according to a religious landscape study from the Pew Research Center.

Rabbi Sarah DePaolo set aside time at the beginning of Friday evening Shabbat service at the Shir Ha-Ma’alot Congregation in Irvine, California, to express her disappointment and urged members of the community to support each other and to create space for the fearful.

“One of the most disturbing things about this decision is that while it claims to represent people of faith, it does not represent our faith,” DePaolo said. “It does not reflect our Jewish law. It does not reflect our traditions. It does not reflect our community.”

Catholics are divided on the issue, with most evangelical Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses and members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints saying that abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, according to the Pew Research study. Center.

The Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, considers the ruling a moral and spiritual victory. On Sunday, he told his congregation in California during New Season that now is the time for an unprecedented adoption movement.

“We’re going to adopt babies, but we’re going to adopt mothers, pregnant mothers… who have abortions because they can’t afford to have a baby,” he said.

Southern Baptists, members of the country’s largest Protestant denomination, are staunch supporters of anti-abortion. On Sunday, several pastors praised the verdict from their pulpits.

The congregation at First Baptist Concord in Knoxville, Tennessee, erupted into applause as Rev. John Mark Harrison addressed it. He invited a panel of advocates to explain how everyone can continue to support people with unwanted pregnancies through mentorship, foster care, adoption, addressing systemic issues and more.

“There’s so much anger and emotion,” Harrison said. “What we need to understand is that we are not called to stir the emotions of the right or the left. We are called to walk in and through the gospel of Jesus Christ … and serve real people in real times of crisis.”

At Central Church, in College Station, Texas, Rev. Phillip Bethancourt reiterated that toppling Roe is not the finish line: “It is the starting gate of a new chapter. Abortion should not only be illegal, but also unnecessary and unthinkable.”

David Rhoades, principal pastor of Broadview Baptist Church in Lubbock, Texas, said in an email that the court’s decision was aligned with the Emancipation Proclamation and Juneteenth, and will reverberate for years to come.

He hoped church members would leave Sunday’s service with a clear understanding of what to do next, including “taking care of both the baby and his mother, and continuing to work to elect pro-life representatives.”

Other faith leaders redoubled their support for abortion rights.

Women should be allowed to make their own decisions, Rev. Fletcher Harper taught at the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Secaucus, New Jersey.

“Prohibiting abortion is a sinful act that perpetuates male domination and the subjugation of women,” he said. “It extends the coercive power of the state to a place where it should have no business.”

During a Sunday service at the Unitarian Universalist Church of the South Hills in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania, music director Mary Pratt read a denominational statement affirming that it would “remain committed to reproductive justice.”

Pratt said members were shocked and saddened, though they expected the outcome. “They were looking for reminders of why we have to go out and fight again,” she said.

The start of services at the Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham, North Carolina, included two verses from “We Shall Overcome” and a prayer from Rev. Melinda Keenan Wood for those who were outraged, heartbroken and anxious about Roe’s passing.

“We know this decision will be measured in deaths, incarcerations and life-changing trauma as politicians rush to control the most painfully intimate decisions,” said Keenan Wood.

A prominent black pastor in Columbus, Ohio — Bishop Timothy Clarke of the First Church of God — tried to strike a balance in his Saturday message to congregation members, acknowledging conflicting views on abortion and calling on the church to show compassion.

“I know and love people in both camps,” Clarke said. “They are sincere, committed. … They really see this as a life-changing issue.”

Meyer reported from Nashville, Tennessee, and Crary from New York. AP Religion Team Members Peter Smith and Jessie Wardarski in Pittsburgh; Luis Andres Henao, in Princeton, New Jersey; Mariam Fam in Winter Park, Florida; Deepa Bharath in Los Angeles; and AP writer Tom Foreman Jr. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, contributed.

Associated Press religious coverage is supported by the AP’s partnership with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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