Pro-Choice Evangelicals?

Adam Hamilton does not call himself "pro-choice." He prefers "pro-life with a heavy heart." What that means, as he explains in his new book "Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White," is that he believes abortion should be available and legal, that there are instances in which it might be necessary and that those instances should be very rare. Further, he says, the abortion debate has been too hot for too long, and that, as a Christian minister, his job is to try "to support people no matter what decision they make." As an evangelical megachurch pastor in Kansas, a man educated at Oral Roberts University, Hamilton speaks carefully, aware that he's staking out a controversial position.

Or maybe not. About a third of white evangelicals say that abortion should sometimes or always be legal, according to the Pew Research Center—a number that hasn't changed in a decade. In recent election seasons, however, these moderate voices have been drowned out by hard-line shouting on both sides. In the past, an evangelical who might condone abortion in the case of his ailing wife or 14-year-old daughter would never say so in public. Now, the abortion rhetoric has faded somewhat as evangelicals turn their attention to other things: AIDS, the environment, Darfur. In 2004, megapastor Rick Warren announced that abortion was a "nonnegotiable" for evangelical voters. This year, he's been silent. What's new, then, is not that a pastor like Hamilton would take a softer approach to abortion, but that he would feel comfortable enough to say so from the pulpit and in print.

Hamilton wants pro-choice and pro-life advocates to join forces to reduce the number of abortions and he enumerates seven areas where they could find common ground. Let both sides agree that adequate information about birth control can help prevent pregnancy, he says. And let both sides agree that the longer a pregnancy progresses, the more morally problematic an abortion becomes.

As for his heavy heart, Hamilton comes by it honestly. Seven years ago he received a letter from a parishioner describing her own teenage pregnancy in the years before Roe, the pressure from her parents to abort and her refusal to do so—in spite of the cost. That letter was from his mother.

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