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Opinion: I’m a Baptist pastor and abortion rights advocate who is deeply troubled with Speaker Johnson’s interpretation of scripture

Opinion: I’m a Baptist pastor and abortion rights advocate who is deeply troubled with Speaker Johnson’s interpretation of scripture

By Tim Schaefer

December 8, 2023

Speaker Mike Johnson’s views on abortion do not reflect the core tenets of all Christians, Wisconsin pastor writes.

In recent years, we’ve seen politicians who subscribe to extreme Christian nationalist ideologies elevated to the highest levels of our government—leaders who use their faith as a weapon to assert power and control over Americans’ lives and personal decisions. Most recently, Republicans chose Rep. Mike Johnson (R-Louisiana) — a conservative Christian and anti-abortion extremist who called for a “biblically sanctioned government”— to serve as Speaker of the US House of Representatives. 

As a Baptist pastor who holds freedom and justice as core tenets of my faith, I am deeply troubled by Speaker Johnson’s views on abortion and his dubious claim that his stance represents all Christians. I am equally concerned that he will leverage his position of power and particular brand of Christianity to enact further abortion restrictions against the will of millions of Americans

Speaker Johnson, who supports a total abortion ban, has been working for decades to end access to abortion care. As a congressman, he co-sponsored multiple pieces of legislation to ban abortion nationwide. He also spent years as a senior attorney with Alliance Defending Freedom, an evangelical legal advocacy group that helped engineer the end of Roe v. Wade, which stripped away federal protections for abortion rights

After the fall of Roe, Johnson celebrated by speaking in front of a congregation in Shreveport, Louisiana, proclaiming, “this is a day we’ve been waiting on for a half-century.” I, on the other hand, spoke to my congregation at the First Baptist Church of Madison about how the Supreme Court decision should worry us all. Now that Johnson holds the Speaker’s gavel, making him second in line to the presidency, I fear that our freedoms are even more under threat.

As I discussed with my congregation, freedom is a core tenet of our faith as Baptists. That includes the freedom to decide whether to end a pregnancy. People should have the right to decide what is best for their lives based on their own faith, and we should trust them to make those decisions. 

Our faith as Baptists is also deeply rooted in the separation of church and state. I believe that no single interpretation of scripture should be used by any government to determine laws for how everyone should live. Extreme conservative politicians like Johnson, however, are injecting their radical, narrow interpretation of faith into legislation.

Johnson has called that separation a misnomer and stated that “the Founders wanted to protect the church from an encroaching state, not the other way around.” Not only does this belief go against our teachings as Baptists, it also goes against the fundamental rights enshrined in our nation’s Constitution. No political or religious leader should have the power to enforce their faith as law. 

When we look to the words of Jesus, his harshest criticisms are reserved for those who use religious laws as tools of oppression. And yet, that is exactly how Speaker Johnson and other extremists have wielded their political power. In doing so, they have forsaken the very religious teachings they claim to follow.

Johnson has told those critical of his beliefs to “go pick up a Bible.” Well, I’ve read my Bible from cover to cover and dedicated my life to the church, and I couldn’t disagree more with Mike Johnson’s interpretation of our sacred scriptures. 

As the new Speaker wraps his arms around church and state in an effort to bring them even closer together, he omits one of the central tenets of Christianity: love. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbors, not to judge or shame them for decisions made in good faith. As a pastor, I have counseled members of my church and community on their decisions to receive abortion care. We discuss how these decisions are best for their lives and fit into their expression of faith and relationship with their Creator. 

To everyone who has had an abortion or is seeking abortion care, I love you. I know that God loves you. There is no love or compassion behind Speaker Johnson’s efforts to restrict access to this critical care, only a disturbing pattern of condemnation and control through the weaponization of religious scripture. 

I am a fierce supporter of the right to abortion access because of my faith, not despite it. And I am not alone. There is a long history within the faith community, here in Wisconsin and across the country, of defending the right to abortion, and we will not be silent. We refuse to be drowned out by those who cloak oppression in a veil of religious beliefs. People of all faiths and those who do not subscribe to any particular faith must stand together against this siege on our freedoms before we lose our right to make decisions about our own health, families, and futures.

Author

  • Tim Schaefer

    Tim Schaefer is the first openly gay pastor at First Baptist Church of Madison and a member of the Wisconsin Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. An advocate for the protection of reproductive rights, he has counseled several members of his church who have sought abortion care.

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