“Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” — Deuteronomy 16:20
A tall order, this word from Moses to the people he is leading to the Promised Land! In his instructions for how things will be different in the land to which they are going, the prophet surrounds his clarion call in Deuteronomy for justice with explanatory notes about what justice is not. Justice doesn’t show partiality (16:19); justice allows for no idols (16:21).
As I begin my new duties as President and CEO of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC), I am trying to keep Deuteronomy 16:20 constantly before me. It seems a good practice, not only spiritually and personally, but also because RCRC recently adopted a policy that calls for all of its future programming to be carried out within a framework of “reproductive justice.”
It is no surprise that RCRC’s United Methodists have had a big influence on our new direction. Reproductive justice is a very Wesleyan framework for studying, thinking, praying and talking about God’s gift of healthy and responsible sexuality.
United Methodists also understood that justice recognizes the good of the community relies, not on draconian rules by which few can abide, but on personal empowerment and sustained local support for people doing the best they can under heavy pressure.
As I have begun reviewing the history of RCRC, it has become increasingly clear to me that leaders of our organization, from the very beginning, have taken seriously Wesley’s admonition that controversial issues like access to health care, women’s self-determination and moral agency, and comprehensive sexuality education require all the benefits of attention to scripture, tradition, reason and experience.
RCRC, which will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2013, is proud that the United Methodist General Board of Church & Society and United Methodist Women were among its founders and continue to be some of its most engaged members.
These programs promote sustained good health, and improve chances to create full and meaningful lives.
In the best tradition of Wesley in 18th century England, RCRC has worked to develop a variety of congregationally based education and support programs to help men, women and families in the process of making life choices relating to sexuality and pregnancy. These programs promote sustained good health, and improve chances to create full and meaningful lives.
RCRC’s Generation2Generation (G2G) is one such program that has had a sustained impact on the lives of young women at Covenant United Church of Christ in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood, The Rev. Drs. Christine and Dennis Wiley are pastors there.
This neighborhood has a rich history of developing African-American leaders who have changed history for the better. The area also faces real challenges derived from the poverty that Jesus and John Wesley made a central issue of focus.
Through G2G, middle and high school girls have learned; then taught each other life lessons that have resulted in later onset of sexual activity, safer sex practices, and fewer unplanned pregnancies. G2G has also proven instrumental in increasing dramatically the number of young women in that faith community who graduate from high school and go on to succeed in college.
G2G alumnae know their faith community cares about them as whole persons: body, mind and spirit. Thus, they are better able to care for themselves and thrive.
Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom
On college and university campuses around the country, another RCRC program, Spiritual Youth for Reproductive Freedom (SYRF), empowers peer educators to help classmates study their sacred texts, engage their own tradition, think and pray before they act. SYRFers often become powerful advocates on campus and off for greater understanding of why women need more options and information, not less, if they are to make healthful decisions for themselves and their families.
SYRF has helped a new generation of young people understand what many older folks remember firsthand: the horrors of the days when contraception and abortion were not available to those who needed them. Those were the days when uncounted women died or were maimed when they sought medical solutions to unplanned pregnancies in an atmosphere that drove them to unlicensed practitioners or to rumored home remedies.
It is not a surprise that SYRF alums have often become effective advocates in the public square for an end to the rollback in women’s access to life-saving health care we have seen in recent years. As they pursue reproductive justice, these young people are calling prophetically for an expansion of women’s self-determination and access to care.
Young adults, along with their older compatriots involved in other RCRC-sponsored programs, are calling their clergy leaders to do more to fill the gap in sexuality education available to those children and youths coming behind them. As Wesley championed improvement in communities by seeking solutions to the root causes of poverty and education, so SYRF alums and their allies are advocating that their local faith communities provide opportunities for safe discussions of healthy sexuality throughout the life cycle.
God’s gift of sexuality
RCRC seeks to be a resource for such deeply spiritual work. RCRC connects faith leaders and religious educators with theologically and culturally appropriate resources that can make their congregations beacons of hope in a world dark with ignorance about what can be the loveliest of topics: God’s gift of sexuality!
A visit to our website at www.rcrc.org can quickly lead to a connection with knowledgeable staff and community-based volunteers ready to assist clergy or lay leaders in finding or developing the resources they need. Through networks like Clergy for Choice, Seminarians for Choice and RCRC Affiliates, faith leaders can learn from the experience of their colleagues. They can become informed about the latest and best resources that draw, not just from science, but also from scripture and theology.
The pursuit for reproductive justice begins, but does not end, with individuals in families and local communities. As the conversation about the nature and practice of reproductive justice moves beyond the very local to larger communities or denominations, to state capitals and Washington, D.C., RCRC provides guidance to people of faith about how to engage in the inevitable debates around issues of sexuality. RCRC facilitates ways that bring the power of our voices to bear on behalf of those often unable to speak for themselves.
RCRC amplifies the voices of faith leaders who know that our commitment to reproductive justice requires us not to show partiality to those who can afford to buy comprehensive health care, but to also stand with those who need the community’s support to get the resources they need. These leaders find a voice through RCRC on issues that range from access to contraception, to pre- and post-natal health care, to availability of abortion.
Working together, we educate policy makers and elected officials about the deeply complex issues confronted by a woman facing pregnancy: issues of her own health, the needs of the children she may already have, or the lack of financial resources or childcare.
The deeply caring people involved in RCRC know better than to make an idol of ideology. To do so only breeds more injustice. Instead, we seek to engage all people of faith, regardless of their views relating to sexuality and reproductive issues, in ways that turn debates into discussions that ultimately empower women and men of all ages to make just decisions, according to the dictates of their faith and in light of their own reason and experience.
On behalf of all our members and supporters, I sincerely hope that you will continue to see RCRC as a resource for justice. Please call on us if we can ever be of service.