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OPINION | LOWELL GRISHAM: NWA's official church?

by Lowell Grisham | July 13, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

It seems the proposals in the Washington and Benton County quorum courts to declare each county a "pro-life" jurisdiction are pretty silly. Meaningless gestures. Posturing. Mere resolutions with no teeth, not real ordinances. Obvious unconstitutional violations of the First Amendment.

But the justices of the peace forge ahead, creating drama, anger and division.

So maybe each month the quorum court members will bring up other religious resolutions for consideration. "Ban birth control." "Prohibit blood transfusions." I want to be there for the debate when my pacifist Quaker Friends propose our counties become "gun free and wiolence free zones." A court that ignores the First Amendment can surely ignore the Second Amendment.

The quorum courts could solve all of these pressing religious issues by taking a more efficient step: Just establish an official religion for our counties. I think the Episcopal Church is the obvious choice. After all, my church has some experience in these things. The Episcopal Church is the American expression of the Church of England, the established church of the United Kingdom. George Washington and many of our nation's founders were members of my church. And today, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., where our nation gathers for solemn state occasions, is also the cathedral of the Episcopal Church's Diocese of Washington. The quorum courts seem interested in establishing religion in Washington and Benton County; the Episcopal Church is the obvious choice. We've got experience.

Now, if you don't like the idea of my church being in charge, then let's suggest that the quorum courts back away from violating the healthy wall of separation between church and state as enshrined in our Constitution's First Amendment: "... make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

Roman Catholic scholar Garry Wills recently published a column looking at abortion from the perspective of Catholic religious history. He notes that neither Jesus, Moses or any of the Biblical authors condemned abortion. Nor did Dante or any of the major definitive creeds of the church.

St. Augustine couldn't declare a time when personal life begins. St. Thomas Aquinas believed the God-infused soul entered the body at some unspecified time during the last stage of pregnancy, finding that the fetus in its long pre-rational life is not yet a human being.

Catholic theologian Bernard Häring noted that since at least half of the fertilized eggs fail to attach to the uterus, counting a fertilized ovum as a "baby" would imply that God and nature are guilty of mass murder.

When Garry Wills' wife was at severe personal risk of miscarriage, he sought advice from religious authorities about what to do should she miscarry. He found that "the church did not prescribe or recommend baptizing a miscarriage as if it were a full human being, nor giving it last rites, nor burying it in consecrated ground."

In 1972 the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in support of abortion in cases of "rape, incest, and clear fetal deformity" and also when there was threat "to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." In 1973, former president of the convention W. A. Criswell said in Christianty Today, "I have always felt that it was only after a child was born and had a life separate from its mother that it became an individual person ... and it has always, therefore, seemed to me that what is best for the mother and for the future should be allowed."

The rise of politicized anti-abortion religious rhetoric is often credited to Paul Weyrich, a conservative Republican, who was looking for a hot-button issue in 1978 to draw Catholics and evangelicals into a new movement of the Religious Right.

According to the Pew Research Center, 59% of Americans say that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. That number has stayed relatively stable for the past five years.

I wish we would regard decisions about abortion as private, personal, faith and family matters – matters of conscience, not politics.

There are other pro-life issues that are appropriate public concerns – access to mental and physical health care, housing, safety, nutrition, child care, a living wage and quality education. These are things a healthy quorum court could address meaningfully.

It is a religious notion to declare that a fertilized human egg is the same thing as a newborn child. It is a matter of faith, not of fact or science. Leave the mystery to our various faiths and individual consciences.

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