In grieving the overturn of Roe v. Wade, these community members turned to their faith

·6 min read

“The women who will have to suffer needlessly.”

“The women who will have to carry their babies to full term, babies with genetic defects who won’t live beyond two hours.”

“The women and people who were raped.”

One by one, members of the congregation at Raleigh’s Pullen Memorial Baptist Church stepped up to the center of the gently sunlit chapel Monday evening. One by one, they poured water from a blue ceramic jug as a tribute to whom they grieved for.

Quiet, angry, shaky with emotion. One by one, they streamed tears into an overflowing bowl.

“The 140 million poor and low-income people who will disproportionately bear this burden.”

“The children who will be brought into this world unwanted, unloved, uncared for.”

They mourned because of a decision made by a faraway, unelected body whose ruling would impact millions. And they turned to faith for solidarity, hope and a path forward.

Pullen Memorial Baptist hosted a “Service of Lamentation and Call to Action” service in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 27 decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, thus stripping abortion of federal protections and handing regulation of the procedure over to state governments. Sixteen states have already or are expected to outlaw abortion entirely.

“The United States of America is no longer a free country,” the Rev. Nancy Petty of Pullen said, quoting commentator Diane Roberts. “Women are no longer full citizens with equal rights. The theocracy also known as the U.S. Supreme Court has decided that our bodies don’t belong to us. Anyone who is or can become pregnant will be a ward of the state, captive of a misogynist minority.”

A history of political organizing

Pullen has a history of progressive political organizing and social advocacy. Around 45 people came to the service Monday, filling the high-ceilinged, airy chapel with familiar chatter that soon hushed to make way for a collective expression of sadness, anger and eventually, resolution.

Psalms and a song of lament echoed through the room. In somber voices, the congregation sang one plea: “O Lord, hear my prayer.”

In a litany, the congregation “shed tears over the barrenness of justice for women and all who bear children” as Sarah, the wife of Abraham, lamented barrenness in the Bible.

“As Jesus lamented over the broken systems of religion and government,” the Rev. Ian McPherson called out, “we too cry our tears as we experience communal trauma and share in our sorrow for God’s people,” the congregation replied.

A deep breath.

In between offerings of tears, a burst of anger from a congregation member: “Damn it!”

In the following moment, Petty urged the congregation to simply let go. Release all the emotions they were feeling, wail and moan out loud, holler and cuss if they needed to.

“How long, oh Lord?” someone cried out over the building groans, murmurs of agreement and the frustrated pounding of a podium.

Another deep breath.

A Pullen Memorial Baptist Church member pours water into an overflowing bowl as an “offering of tears” for those impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
A Pullen Memorial Baptist Church member pours water into an overflowing bowl as an “offering of tears” for those impacted by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

The Rev. Elena Ceberio and the Rev. Lacey Brown offered poetry and a prayer as the sun set outside the chapel and the candles inside burned brighter.

“Let us not grow weary,” Brown urged, “in claiming our power, in professing and practicing our solidarity, in sharing our resources.”

Reverend Katey Zeh, executive director of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, also spoke, meditating on how her faith and interpretation of the Bible supported an abortion rights stance.

She imagined Jesus Christ walking by an abortion clinic. In her imagination, Christ does not join the anti-abortion protesters on the sidewalk or walk quickly past the clinic. He accompanies patients so they don’t have to enter alone. He holds their hands, reassures them and gives them saltines and paper cups of ginger ale.

He “certainly would be in this room figuring out how we’re going to make sure people get the care they need,” Zeh said. “Because that is what it means to be a compassionate, kind, loving person.”

In understanding what the Bible says about abortion, she added, people of faith must interpret and “read the text and try to make sense of it for today’s world.” Zeh found her call to ministry while visiting an abortion clinic and spending time with the clinic staff and its patients.

“I go inside this place that’s been told to me as godless,” she said. “And I experience the divine.”

The service closed out with a pledge to support birthing people “in the pursuit of bodily autonomy, human dignity and reproductive justice” and to “pray, organize and act until these rights are restored and there is justice for all.”

In her final remarks, Petty referenced the anti-abortion stance held by other Christian denominations and the Biblical interpretations often employed to support opposition to abortion access.

For “far too long,” she said, pro-abortion rights Christians let “our siblings who see things differently define our faith, and it’s time for us to get clear.”

The service, Petty told The News & Observer, “gives us a way to have a voice and to say that all Christians are not operating out of this narrative of exclusion and injustice, a narrative that doesn’t respect the individual and is oppressive. We come at our faith from a place of human dignity, freedom, liberation and respecting the individual to make decisions about their lives and their bodies.”

A ‘sense of solidarity’

Katie Found of Durham went to the service because amid shock that the Supreme Court overturned nearly 50 years of precedent and fear that LGBTQ protections could be next, she wanted to remember that “there are actions we can take. There’s a community that, in our fear, will be actively working.”

“I just don’t want to be helpless,” she said.

Found, 40, started attending Pullen in September 2021. But she was first brought into faith through a conservative community. She attended a Southern Baptist college and remained closeted until she was 38 — “because I had been told by the same folks who were pro-life that I wasn’t allowed to be gay,” she said.

Coming out of the religious right, Found said she does not see conservative Christians who oppose abortion rights and LGBTQ protections as “hateful,” but as “painfully misguided and painfully myopic. Just unable to — afraid to — look outside itself.”

Deborah Brogden, who attended Pullen when Roe v. Wade was first decided in 1973, also came to Monday’s service seeking a “sense of solidarity.”

The church “gives me context to understand how I want to respond, and how I hope other people respond,” she said. “And it gives me some fellowship and some support with numbers.”

In the aftermath of the decision, Valerie Collins said she toggled emotionally between “anger and despair and sadness. [On] different days, you can start to feel hopeless. But I know we can’t afford to feel that way,” she said.

“Pullen does what I think more churches should do, and that is, they are focused on social justice,” Collins added. “That’s what Christ was about.”

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