Progressive Pastor: ‘I Felt No Guilt, No Shame, No Sin’ for Her Two Abortions
“I felt God’s presence with me as I made the decision to end two pregnancies,” said Rebecca Todd Peters, an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA), during a July 9 homily on Psalm 139. “And I felt no guilt, no shame, no sin.” Psalm 139:13-14 says, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.” Yet in a message titled, “Reproductive Justice: Beyond the Abortion Imaginary,” Peters — clad in an a Planned Parenthood stole — argued these verses do not condemn abortion.
Peters, a member of Planned Parenthood’s Clergy Advocacy Board, was speaking in The Community Church of Chapel Hill, which sounds like a non-denominational church but is actually a Unitarian Universalist congregation. Unitarians believe there is no trinity, while Universalists believe faith in Jesus isn’t required for salvation because God will save everyone. In other words, it’s a “church” that shares neither a gospel nor even a God with the Christianity of the New Testament. Small wonder, then, if they hold no great love for the Scripture that revealed a doctrine and a faith they deny.
Peters was trying to jar her reluctantly pro-abortion audience into political action by describing the active, eloquent, and successful mobilization of pro-lifers:
“Despite many people’s profound discomfort with abortion, images, messages, and moralizing about abortion are ubiquitous in our culture. Talking fetuses, aggressive bumper stickers, and saccharine billboards quoting Scripture and invoking God’s wrath pave our streets and plaster our highways. Politicians stump on the issue. And state legislators spent the last 50 years working to control, regulate, and ultimately overturn Roe v. Wade.”
She herself sounds more like a politician on the stump than a person delivering the words of God to the people of God. In fact, the only mention of Scripture is to call the billboards quoting it “saccharine,” or nauseatingly sweet. I’ve never known a Christian — someone who loves God and believes in Jesus Christ — to be nauseated by the words God spoke. To the contrary, the psalmist writes, “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (Psalm 119:47).
“Their success [in overturning Rode] was our failure. In the [anti-]abortion imaginary, all people of faith are against abortion. This imaginary has colonized our minds, traumatizing many people with its toxic theology, and shaping a culture of stigma and shame that has silenced millions of women and people who have had abortions, erasing their voices, their stories, and their witness from the public sphere.”
Peters unapologetically describes laws to save unborn babies’ lives as “our failure.” Not just “a” failure, but the collective, possessive, “our” failure, implying that she and all her audience belong to a conspiracy to deprive unborn babies of life. She also rebelled against biology itself, in the phrase, “women and people who have had abortions” — which implies men (she means women who identify as transgender) have had them too.
Gilding a monstrous argument with florid rhetoric does not improve it; it only confuses it. If you’ve never seen the words, “This imaginary has colonized our minds,” combined in that order, then bless your sane and normal existence. After vainly searching for a dictionary that defined “imaginary” as a noun (outside of mathematics), I finally discovered it is sociological jargon for a collective group’s worldview. Meanwhile, “colonized” is a Marxist pejorative for taking over something that doesn’t belong to you. In other words, Peters argues the only reason her hearers feel uncomfortable about abortion activism is because pro-lifers’ cultural dominance has influenced their worldview.
But that’s not the real reason.
The real reason even polite, nominal Christians feel uncomfortable openly discussing abortion is because “the work of the law [of God] is written on their hearts” (Romans 2:15). That law states, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for God made man in his own image” (Genesis 9:6). It applies to all people, even those who did not inherit and do not know God’s law as revealed in Scripture.
A person may not be able to consciously articulate the doctrine of the Imago Dei, or even provide any justification for considering human life precious, and yet feel strong revulsion at the idea of deliberately ending the life of an innocent baby in the womb. This is the work of their conscience, which “bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:15). Everyone has a God-given conscience, which explains why they can more or less distinguish between right and wrong, even if their worldview cannot provide a satisfactory explanation.
“As a child of God, I can certainly appreciate the lyrical beauty of this text [Psalm 139], as well as the descriptions in Jeremiah and Job of their certain knowledge that God was with them in the womb. I too feel that I am known by God in these ways. As a woman who has borne two children, I can affirm that I felt something sacred happening in my gestating body during those pregnancies. I can also attest that I felt God’s presence with me as I made the decision to end two pregnancies. And I felt no guilt, no shame, no sin. While the liminal space of my womb — and all fertile wombs — represents the possibility of creating new life, if pregnancy and gestation are to remain holy mysteries, they require cooperation. A forced pregnancy or birth is not holy. I cannot fathom a God who would imagine otherwise.”
It’s difficult to say which aspect is most horrific: that Peters invoked the name of God to defend abortion, that she did so using Psalm 139, that she claimed to be God’s child while denying her own children, that she had no pangs of conscience for her own abortions, or that she maintained this callous attitude despite bearing two other children.
What mother can, with scientific detachment, refer to the baby growing in her womb as a “liminal [in-between] space” which “represents the possibility of creating new life”? What mother can hear the faint heartbeat, feel the small body shift positions, or watch the protruding elbow and yet conclude that it is not life? What mother can deny the humanity of her own flesh and blood?
First, a correction: Christians have never believed that “all people of faith are against abortion” — only Christians. In fact, the practice of “exposing” newborn infants to die — a low-tech substitute for abortion — was common in the ancient Roman world into which Christianity was born. But Christians have universally opposed this practice from the First Century. An ancient letter described how Christians contrasted with their surrounding culture, “They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.” This is because Christians believe the Word of God, “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward” (Psalm 127:3).
Second, notice the rationalist revisionism at work in Peters’s theological universe. After acknowledging the creation of new life is a “holy myster[y],” she immediately rules out any possibility beyond her understanding. She limits God’s imagination, not to mention his motives, to those she can understand — to those she has invented in her own mind. In a word, she has invented her own God in her own image. This is evident from her appeals to authority in this paragraph — “I can certainly appreciate,” “I too feel,” “I can affirm,” “I can also attest,” “I felt,” “I cannot fathom.” Her own thoughts, experiences, and feelings influence her beliefs more than the Word of God.
Most of all, the upside-down morality of Peters’s statement is shocking, “I can also attest that I felt God’s presence with me as I made the decision to end two pregnancies.” Whatever she felt, I’m certain it was not God’s presence. Abortion is wrong, and “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one” (James 1:13).
Here applies one of Jesus’s most chilling warnings. The Pharisees had accused Jesus, who was filled with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:16), of casting out demons by Satan’s power. After powerfully rebutting their argument, Jesus warned, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31). Scholars have debated the exact meaning of this blasphemy against the Spirit, but it seems from the context to involve a person attributing the Holy Spirit’s work to Satan, or vice versa. As to why this sin will not be forgiven, some suggest it indicates a person who is not convicted of sin and will not repent — whom God has given over to a debased mind (Romans 1:28).
What can we say about Peters’s conscience, which did not make her feel no guilt, shame, or sin at her abortions? If she’s telling the truth, there are two possibilities. A conscience can become warped or misshapen, so that it condemns what God approves or approves what God condemns (1 Corinthians 8:7). Or a conscience can become ineffective when a person grows calloused to it through routine neglect (1 Timothy 4:2). These are general principles Scripture gives us for understanding the conscience. Beyond that, we aren’t competent to judge; that is God’s role.
Scripture gives us no warrant to consider ourselves sinless (1 John 1:8-10), even if our consciences do not condemn us. Even the apostle Paul did not dare to judge himself, “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). “Therefore,” Paul continued, “do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.