A Kid in a Theological Candy Store

(Eds Note: This article appeared originally on CampusProgress.org.)

Growing up, I was one of the only kids who sought out religion; in fact, I even made my parents go to church instead of the other way around. Most teenagers have to be dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning, but as soon as I could drive I was attending church (United Methodist) solo. As a young adult committed to my faith I was always interested in discovering and studying its idiosyncrasies. When entering college in the fall of 2002, I found myself reading the Bible nightly and shopping for churches and fellowships all around DC. It took me over a year to find my niche, but it was well worth the wait.

Young religious kids from all over America find themselves in similar situations to mine, navigating the transition from high school to college and attempting to keep their faith. My story gets interesting, however, when I decided to become a pro-faith, pro-choice activist.

Before coming to college, my political views were mostly unshaped, although I definitely had progressive leanings. Entering into the uber-political climate of The George Washington University certainly jumpstarted feelings I had about what was right and just in politics. Then I found myself wondering what role churches should take in declaring what is and isn't just in society and government. I had never been to a church that talked about politics.

But I was part of a church that freshman year that had a lot to say about people in politics. Despite the fact that their congregation was mostly under 30, I found their views stifling and narrow, very un-Christ like in my mind. They preached to love your neighbor as yourself, as long as that love was not for anyone doing something controversial like being an advocate for the freedom of choice, gay marriage, or an end to the death penalty. Pretty much any current debate in America was off limits. Also, the affirmation of other religions being equally sacred in the eyes of God or a supreme being, was a statement this church considered blasphemy. Somehow these teachings did not seem consistent to me with the religion I loved. Thanks to the help of some very supportive people in my life I gathered the courage to leave this.

I then started attending Western Presbyterian Church in the fall of 2003 where I found myself absorbing politically enhanced sermons by the ear-full. My pastor spoke about the obligation Christians had to be involved in the political process, that as people of faith, it was unacceptable to witness the tragedies of the world without making steps towards improvement. Taught that God thoughtfully entrusted humans to engage in challenges, despite our feelings of inadequacy, I was encouraged to speak up about the issues that made me passionate. Like a kid in a theological candy store, I got to take all of what I believed and put it into action. For the first time I was surrounded by a group of people who were religious and progressive, something I had not yet found but desperately craved.

I sought out United Methodist connections in DC and found important leaders who encouraged me to participate in the United Methodist Student Movement. Attending two forums I was compelled to speak on behalf of the pro-faith, pro-choice movement and then wrote legislation on HIV/AIDS, comprehensive sex education, and reproductive choice to stir up discussion among young Methodists. I began to carve out my space as a faith-based advocate for choice. I began to find a few allies but unfortunately also a great number of enemies. Certain Methodist students have told me over and over again that I lack heart and have no place in the church. Luckily, I have learned to turn the other cheek.

In the spring of '04, I gathered with more than one million other pro-choice supporters at the March for Women's Lives. It was there that I heard the Rev. Carlton Veazey speak about religion and choice. He captivated me with his words and his spirit when he spoke about an idea that's time had come. He said, "The time has come for the religious people of this country to not only defend the constitutional right of women to choose but also to defend the religious freedom of all Americans. The time has come to proclaim with all our moral power that women's rights are also civil rights and human rights." This message inspired me to get more involved. A few months later I became an intern at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), where Rev. Veazey is the current President. An education and advocacy organization, the Religious Coalition offers many religiously infused viewpoints on reproductive choice and provides resources to communities who prayerfully decide that a woman's right to choose is between her and her God.

Amidst these experiences I began to define what aspects of my faith made me pro-choice. For example, the social principles of the United Methodist Church, speak clearly not only on the sacredness of the life of woman and child, but the right of the woman to be a responsible, moral decision maker. Knowing that these principles, a major part of the UMC's polity and law, stood behind choice empowered me to also stand for choice. And although I continue to struggle with many of the Bible's messages, not once does it mention, let alone outlaw, abortion. The beginning of life is not fully articulated, whether God knows us before we are born, or breathes life into us after birth, (both are described in separate stories of the Old Testament). Once I realized that it was not my role to convey what God might think or do for others, I fully embraced the freedom of choice because of my faith, not in spite of it. Ultimately I believe that God gave everyone free will, hoping that we would always be thoughtful and responsible when using it.

Finally, as I prepare to end my nearly two year internship with RCRC's student arm, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF), I will put the finishing touches on the organization's second SYRF Student Summit ("Putting Faith into Action for Reproductive Justice"). The Summit will focus on religion, choice, and the interfaith movement. I cannot think of a better reaffirmation of my journey this past four years than to be an active part of this powerful gathering of young spiritual pro-choice students.

This country is in desperate need of other young people who share the vision of acting upon their faith, a faith that is full of love and respect for our fellow human beings. It is sad that most of the religious voices heard in society today represent only a small minority of narrow-minded believers who would rather live in a simple world with black and white morals, than a challenging, complex and diverse society. Thankfully, voices like the Religious Coalition, Campus Progress, Tikkun, and more are making room for religious young people who don't side with the right-wing. These groups, coupled with progressive church communities (and other faith groups), are making it known that young people are vital in building and sustaining a more just society.

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