Abortion is a hot topic right now. Throughout the year, states have been passing laws related to abortion – some passing laws making abortion more restrictive (like Alabama) and other extending when abortions can be performed (like New York).

And with each new law, statements are made. Here’s what Gov. Ivey of Alabama was quoted as saying:

“To the bill’s many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians’ deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.” 

The problem with a debate on abortion is that it quickly becomes an emotional argument. People want to know who’s side you are on right away. When they know, then they can determine if they should listen to you or come up with opposing arguments right off the bat.

And as is usually the case with most emotionally charged arguments, the arguments end up being truncated down to simple tweets or memes designed for social media posts.

Too often, issues like abortion remain theoretical issues to be debated – removed from actual people that we know. We end up in heated debates at the macro level. At the macro level, wide-sweeping statements about the whole of the issue are made. And the problem is these wide-sweeping statements and arguments are often full of holes in logic and reasoning. They lack nuance. They become more like statements of faith, rather than anything that can be practically applied. They are the essence of philosophical arguments. There is a time and place for such arguments of course.

But the challenge with the debate about abortion is that these simplistic arguments often ignore something – the complexity of people’s lives. Too often we refuse to see how messy people’s lives really are. We think we can compartmentalize something like abortion – so that the debate is only about one thing. As if that is even possible. It’s not. It’s just one piece of the bigger puzzle. Until we are willing to look at the bigger picture, we’ll never solve abortion as an issue – we’ll just keep debating it, changing laws, etc. But never really dealing with it. The same could be said of many issues that we face – guns, violence, crime, drugs, criminal justice system, etc. These are really complicated issues that often intersect with each other. One law isn’t going to change much. We should be realistic about that. And we could if we really understood that changing a law isn’t futile, it’s just a small piece of a larger puzzle.

Here’s what I know – we’ll never get to the point where abortion isn’t needed, regardless of what the law says. Because that would take a lot of work and a lot of change. That would take us removing the emotion we attach to the issue and actually start figuring out how to make a better society where abortion isn’t even really needed. It would require us to look at many policies in order to actually show what Gov. Ivey said – “…that every life is precious.”

For every life to be considered precious, we’d need to move past convenient political rhetoric to examining policies that would actually move us in a direction to ensure that every life was cared for and valued. And that would also require a significant investment of money, time, and energy, among other resources. Such policy changes would send a clear signal that lives are far more important than money, or control, or power, or rhetoric, or politics.

If every life is precious then we should be looking at pre-natal care for pregnant women. We should be looking at contraception and sexual education so people are armed with reality around sex. We should be looking at family leave laws. We should be looking at funding education and updating how we do education. We should be examining how we provide health insurance for everyone in a way that makes sense. We should be examining how retirement happens. We should explore ways to end homelessness through housing first programs. We should be doing what we can to ensure no one is hungry. We should be doing what we can to promote peace in the world and in our neighborhoods. We should look at ways of strengthening families – all families. We should be honest about the effect of racism on whole segments of our society. We should be doing what we can to be better stewards of creation to ensure that people are breathing cleaner air and drinking cleaner water. We should be doing what we can to end human trafficking. We should examine ways we objectify women through our advertising and entertainment. We should be looking at ways to curb and treat addictions like alcoholism, drug, porn, etc. The list could go on and on, if we are honest. That’s not an excuse to throw our hands up in the air and give up because it is too much. If every life is precious, then we owe it to ourselves and these precious lives to do what we can to improve their lives.

Instead, we end up fighting about issues that separate us. It’s just much easier to fight and it costs us nothing. Except, in reality, it costs us a great deal – it costs us lost opportunity, a whole lot of money, relationships, trust, and more. When we prefer to fight instead of hashing out how to move forward, we are rejecting responsibility. Arguments and zingers and tweets may feel good – because we think we are right. But they do nothing to move us forward. They do nothing to show that every life is precious. They do nothing to move society towards the ideal that abortion would not be necessary in most cases – regardless of what the law is – because we have changed society in such a way that people know that every life is precious. All they have to do is look around them and see. Isn’t that what everything is claiming they want?

So where do I stand on abortion? It’s complicated. I don’t see a nice easy answer. That’s what I’ve discovered from talking with women who have had abortions – those who I’ve had the opportunity to do pastoral care with. Every single one of them feels the weight of the world on their shoulders for the decision they made. It was not an easy decision for them. In fact, it was gut wrenching. When I have sat with these women, sometimes years after the abortion, I listen to their stories. I hear them talk about how they have kept silent and lived in their own world of torment. They have questions – serious questions of faith. Can I ever be forgiven? Is my child in heaven? These are painful questions. If only there were easy answers to these questions. If only there were easy answers for women who face difficult situations and decisions – regarding abortion and so many other aspects of life. If only. But that’s not how life works. Life is complicated and messy.

As a pastor, more often than not, I sit and listen to people as they struggle with difficult decisions – life and death decisions. Often I sit with people who are living with the consequence of decisions they made. Many times people come to me because the decision they made was not a good decision. I don’t have all the answers. Too often I feel as though I don’t know the answer because there are/were no good options. And it is in that time that I am reminded, and I remind those I sit with, that we have a loving and forgiving God. I don’t think God is looking for perfection out of us. I certainly hope not. The bible is full of stories of people who made bad decisions – some that cost people their lives. Yet, God keeps coming back. And we are promised forgiveness. We are called to repentance – a radical reorientation back towards God. That certainly isn’t easy. It’s complicated and messy. Just like life.

Where do I stand on abortion? It’s complicated. It’s messy. Instead of the easy way out by picking sides, I’m interested in working with people who want to change our society so that abortion isn’t needed in most cases because we have done what we can to show that every life is precious at every stage of life. If all we do is pick sides, then no one will win the abortion debate ultimately because we will never make the changes that need to be made – we’ll just keep fighting. Frankly, I’m tired of fighting. I’d rather move towards improving lives. Abortion is complicated and messy. It’s time to start cleaning up the mess instead of scoring political points. Lives are dependent on it.