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Anglican wussery on abortion

The title does not refer to the present Church of England. There, you might respond, it is no surprise at all to find wussery on the issue of abortion. I'm sorry to say, however, that this post is about an open letter by a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, by its origins a much more conservative denomination. The ACNA is a spin-off of the ECUSA. They left amidst a fair bit of church drama surrounding the ECUSA's wholehearted endorsement of homosexuality. Officially the ACNA is pro-life (see here).

Unfortunately, at least one of its priests, Fr. Thomas McKenzie, is somewhat confused on the moral nature and urgency of the slaughter of the unborn. And that's putting it nicely.

Some of Fr. McKenzie's parishioners asked him if they could pass out literature about a Tennessee constitutional amendment initiative, Amendment 1, concerning abortion, which is coming up on the ballot this fall. Based on my research, it appears that this amendment to the TN state constitution would clarify that nothing in the state constitution enshrines a right to an abortion, not for any reason, not even a right to an abortion in the "hard cases."

The legal implications of such a state constitutional amendment are interesting in themselves. One effect would be that, in the unlikely event (for which pro-lifers nonetheless pray) that Roe v. Wade were overturned in a manner that returned the issue of abortion to the states, activist state judges in TN would be textually blocked from issuing a mini-Roe opinion based solely on a penumbra (visible only to judicial eyes) in the state constitution.

Second, such an amendment prevents TN state judges from claiming that the state constitution of TN places even more restrictions than the federal courts have found on state laws restricting abortion--for example, that the state constitution means that even 48-hour waiting periods or other medical restrictions on how and where abortions may be performed are unconstitutional.

In fact, the TN state judiciary has done exactly that in Planned Parenthood v. Sundquist, so this amendment is extremely practical. The fact that the pro-aborts are getting all hysterical about the many, many restrictions they expect the TN legislature to put on access to abortion if this amendment passes is a good sign that it will be an effective measure for good.

Fr. McKenzie refused to let his parishioners pass out any info. about Amendment 1 because that would be "politicizing" the church. This meets with a weary sigh from me, because I have run into this sort of thing before. In some cases it means that the pastor/priest is afraid of losing his church's tax exempt status, though even then there are ways to avoid actually being in violation of any IRS rules on tax-exempt organizations. For one thing, if private parishioners are handing things to one another at after-service Coffee Hour, this is hardly an official activity of the church. For another thing, the materials passed out can avoid "express advocacy."

But in this case it was clear that Fr. McKenzie wasn't worried about the IRS. He just felt squeamish about anything that might be perceived as political in his church.

I was recently approached by some good people in our congregation. They asked if I could share some information regarding a vote that is coming up, a vote that seeks to amend the Tennessee State Constitution. If this vote passes, it is possible that the state legislature might be able to restrict abortion more than it is presently restricted. I told them I would not allow the distribution of materials, or a meeting about the matter, but I would write a pastoral letter. I do not ever want someone to walk into our church, see a flyer or a poster, and think “this church is for Republicans” or “this church is for Democrats.” Political information, no matter how well intentioned, will almost always give this impression.

That's somewhat annoying in and of itself. The defense of human life has become a Democrat vs. Republican issue because the Democrats have set themselves up as the Party of Death. This is their problem. Many Democrats used to be pro-life decades ago; before their party embraced abortion as its first Sacrament, nobody questioned their Democrat credentials on that basis. It is the pro-aborts who have turned this into a strictly partisan issue. This is an issue of life and death for innocent children. This is a matter of murder, pure and simple, and when we are uncomfortable with advocating against baby-murder because someone tells us it's "political," we have a problem.

But that sort of attitude concerning ballot initiatives and the like is all too common among pastors, especially in mainline denominations and spinoffs of mainline denominations, so I give Fr. McKenzie somewhat of a pass on that particular wussery. He did say that instead he would write a pastoral letter. So great. Let's see if he issues a ringing call for the defense of the unborn and a ringing condemnation of abortion in the rest of his pastoral letter.

Alas, it was not to be. Instead, we get blatant moral equivalence of a sort only too familiar from the Christian left:

Now, to the specific matter. Abortion is a moral evil. In fact, the taking of any human life is a moral evil. Sometimes, such as in self-defense or war, taking a life is better than the alternative. It is better to shoot a violent attacker than allow your child to be killed. Other times, such as in the case of abortion or euthanasia or the death penalty, it is almost always avoidable.

So abortion is like the death penalty, because both are the taking of human life, and both are "almost always avoidable." For Fr. McKenzie, that's why abortion is bad, and so is the death penalty, for the same reason. For Fr. McKenzie the issue of innocence or guilt, defense of the innocent, the rightful role of government in executing the guilty, are apparently irrelevant, despite the fact that these considerations are strongly supported in tradition, Scripture, and natural law. This is very confused indeed. The death penalty, justly carried out, is the execution of a criminal who deserves to die. Abortion is murder pure and simple.

Fr. McKenzie goes on:

Abortion is sin, but it is not an unforgivable sin. In our congregation are women who have had abortions, and men who have encouraged abortions. If you are one of these people, I have a message for you: you are loved, accepted, and forgiven in Christ. I accept you, and I believe our entire congregation accepts you. You are more than welcome here—you are dearly loved.

This represents the usual confusion between accepting people "as they are," even if they are unrepentant, and loving them by means of calling them to repentance. If you really "dearly love" someone who has encouraged his girlfriend to have an abortion, you should tell him that this was a grave evil and that he needs to repent. The one mention in this paragraph of sin and forgiveness is really insufficient to overcome both the confusion generated by the moral equivalence in the previous paragraph and the general emphasis upon quodlibetal acceptance. I hate to say this, but I find it difficult really to wonder for very long how Fr. McKenzie would apply this "come one, come all" attitude to those in on-going homosexual relationships. (More on that point later.)

This next paragraph is possibly the worst, though the competition is fierce:

As a Christian and a representative of the Church, not as a Republican or Democrat, I would prefer that there be less access to abortion in our state. I would prefer there be no abortions in our state. I would also prefer our state end the use of capital punishment, do more to fight hunger and homelessness, better educate our children, encourage adoption, and a whole host of other things. The Church should help these things happen as well.

Fr. McKenzie would prefer that there be less access to abortion in the state? He would prefer that there be no abortions in the state? This is an incredibly weak statement. Replace "abortion" with "deliberate baby murder" and see how it sounds: "I would prefer that there be less access to baby murder in our state." And then, as before, the muddying of the waters by mixing abortion with a bunch of other issues which Fr. McKenzie would prefer were handled differently. In case you didn't notice that "prefer" is a very weak term to use for the importance of stopping abortion, Fr. McKenzie makes the matter explicit by putting abortion in a basket with hunger, homelessness, and a host of other issues too many for him to list! It could not be much clearer that Fr. McKenzie simply does not understand the moral urgency and the true evil of abortion.

Fr. McKenzie does manage in the end to summon up approximately one-and-a-half lukewarm cheers for Amendment 1:

You might disagree with me about something I say in this letter. That is your right, and I respect you. The only thing members (not visitors, who can believe whatever they wish!) of our church must agree on is the Nicene Creed. The Creed has very little to say about most modern political conflicts.

All that said, I think this “Amendment One” is worth considering. Voting yes on this amendment might help curtail abortion in our state. I think that is a good thing. If you would like to learn more, I found a completely non-partisan website on the issue. On this website, you can find links to what both sides are saying, as well as other interesting information. Here is the link: http://goo.gl/8zwnam.

It might curtail abortion, and that would be a good thing. You know, like reducing poverty and homelessness or reducing uses of the death penalty. And again, let's not forget that the cause of the unborn is a merely "political" issue and is merely an issue of our modern times. It has nothing to do with timeless and essential truths of Christianity--you know, like not murdering people.

Let me note, too, that while Fr. McKenzie gives a rather informative link which explains the background, and though that background shows an astute reader why we can expect that the passage of Amendment 1 would curtail abortion, part of Fr. McKenzie's unenthusiastic approach is to give the reader the impression that Amendment 1 might be no more than a futile pro-life gesture. In fact, that was the one part of his letter that influenced even me (pessimist that I am) before I went and did the research he (commendably) recommends. I wondered if this was just another of those "salute the flag" ideas that has no practical point to it. He might have bothered to put in a few informative sentences about the reason for the amendment--a previous state court ruling that struck down various restrictions on abortion access. But that would presumably have been too much positivity to expect from someone who is obviously determined to remain just barely better than neutral on Amendment 1 and who is obviously gravely confused to the point that he doesn't care nearly as much as he should about the slaughter of the unborn innocents.

Unfortunately, I am beginning to realize that the ACNA, for all its brave beginnings, may well be full of broken reeds when it comes to important moral issues. The ordination of women should have been a tip-off on this point, I suppose, though in fairness I should say that I have heard of women "pastors" in the Lutheran church who are strongly pro-life. But as for the ACNA, we already had the evidence of a "priestess" who proudly viewed herself as a "moderate," who didn't want to occupy any political space with the likes of Jerry Falwell, who has made it extremely difficult to find out where she stands on the morality of sodomite relationships, and who was shocked, shocked to find that her group got kicked off of Vanderbilt's campus for insisting that their leaders adhere to the Nicene Creed or any creed at all.

Fr. McKenzie and other Christians who are wobbly on abortion and homosexuality should take note. When you compromise on all those allegedly merely "political" issues, which are really essential moral issues, you may find in the end that the Thought Police don't want to leave you with the Nicene Creed, either.

Comments (7)

McKenzie seems to have forgotten that a matter becoming "political" (by which he means partisan) does not mean either (a) that is ceases to be a moral or spiritual matter, nor (b) that "nothing can be said with certainty" about the matter from the Church's deposit of faith. Indeed, a great many partisan political issues are intergrally affected by moral and spiritual teachings that any Christian must adhere to.

In fact, the taking of any human life is a moral evil. Sometimes, such as in self-defense or war, taking a life is better than the alternative.

It seems that McKenzie doesn't bother to read the Bible enough: "Do not do evil that good may come of it." If killing a human is always morally evil, then doing so in self-defense CANNOT be better than the alternative, and saying that is is better is just leading his flock straight into hell. Either that, or he got the first part wrong: taking a human life is not always a moral evil. Which the Bible tells us. Hmmm, difficult choice there, ain't it?

If you are one of these people, I have a message for you: you are loved, accepted, and forgiven in Christ. I accept you, and I believe our entire congregation accepts you. You are more than welcome here—you are dearly loved.

That's a possibly true statement, but not a necessarily true statement (except that I've never understood what "accept[ance]" is actually supposed to mean in this context). It's possible that all those people are forgiven, but it's certain that they are amenable to being forgiven. The writer could have been just as solicitous without being inaccurate.

To the extent that McKenzie thinks he's hamstrung by the IRS on this, he's wrong. Those regulations prohibit interventions in elections between candidates. Tennessee's Catholic dioceses have swung an explicit endorsement of Amendment 1 into action. (See statements out of Nashville and Memphis, plus mention of oral statement by the Bishop of Knoxville.) American bishops are a pretty uneven lot in a host of ways, but they tend to have sophisticated legal advice and a well-attuned sense of CYA. There's no way all three Tennessee bishops would be this blunt about the topic if there were a risk of running afoul of pertinent Treasury regs.

In other regards, your analysis is spot-on, Lydia. We need the Amendment to unwind PP v. Sundquist. It's a perfect year for it, because the statewide elections aren't competitive. Hopefully the lack of compelling statewide races will reduce turnout among Democrats who would otherwise vote against the Amendment. In addition, it will let those voting in favor skip casting a ballot in the gubernatorial race, which, in Tennessee's crazy system, makes it easier for the Amendment to pass.

In addition, it will let those voting in favor skip casting a ballot in the gubernatorial race, which, in Tennessee's crazy system, makes it easier for the Amendment to pass.

This intrigues me, Titus. Why is that the case?

26 USC 501(c)(3) Corporations, and any community chest, fund, or foundation, organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, testing for public safety, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals, no part of the net earnings of which inures to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual, no substantial part of the activities of which is carrying on propaganda, or otherwise attempting, to influence legislation (except as otherwise provided in subsection (h)), and which does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office.

Correct Titus for the most part. I doubt the Amendment would qualify as legislation, but, if intended to overturn or prevent (i.e., influence) legislation, I suppose an argument can be made. Subsection (h) exempts communications to members of the organization (i.e., preaching to the congregation), which it seems would qualify even if the pastor had put the handout in the weekly (or is it weakly?) bulletin. Even further removed if its parishioners handing it out, not the Church staff (and even better if they had just done it and not told the pastor, who could then plead ignorance).


There are two rules at issue in the excerpt. The one relates to "intervening in candidate's campaigns" and the other is "influencing legislation."

In the former case, the prohibition is absolute: any participation or intervention in a campaign on behalf of or against a candidate would violate the terms of the regulation.

The latter case, however, is different. An exempt organization may attempt to influence legislation, so long as the activity is not a "substantial part" of its overall activities. A three-month period once in a generation where the Diocese tells people to vote for a ballot measure and hangs out a few signs is merely an incidental, and not a substantial, portion of its total activities.


Tennessee's Constitution requires that a constitutional amendment receive in excess of fifty percent of the total number of votes cast in the gubernatorial race. (The way the text reads, it should be over fifty percent of the votes of people voting in that race, but that's not what our enlightened Supreme Court here says.) So, if 10,000 people vote for any candidate for governor in an election, a constitutional amendment on the ballot passes if it receives 5,001 votes.

But, say that 11,000 people cast ballots. 10,000 of them vote in the governor's race and the amendment race. But 1,000 of them only vote in favor of the amendment, without voting in the gubernatorial race. The number of votes needed for the amendment's passage is still 5,001, whereas it would be 5,501 if the 1,000 had voted in the gubernatorial race as well.

Because there is zero chance in the world of the Democratic candidate (look him up, I can probably think of worse things than him winning, actually) beating Bill Haslam in the governor's race, conservatives can skip the gubernatorial ballot and increase the mathematical efficacy of their votes in the amendment race. (And to answer the follow-up question, yes, politics are preventing the Amendment proponents from expressly encouraging people to do this.)

Heh, yes, with all the piety about how it's everyone's duty to vote on everything, no matter what, it would not go over very well to tell people that they should refrain from voting in the governor's race and vote only for the constitutional amendment.

Titus, thanks for that last information. I will pass it on and my husband and I will skip voting in the governor's race; I don't really want to vote for Haslam anyway, though he's better than the alternative.

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