BY SARAH LEE
In their editorial letter regarding the overturning of Roe versus Wade, The New York Times noted that the decision is one that eliminates “the dignity and autonomy to decide what happens to your body.” And while this is one of the most fundamental and necessary reactions to the Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade also brings to light a greater conversation which has been contentious throughout the history of the United States: the division of church and state.
The question of whether individual religious beliefs should affect the political world has been asked since the creation of the U.S. Constitution, most directly noted in the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses of the First Amendment. But when something as personal as abortion comes into political discourse, the desire to have a strict divide between church and state seems to waver. And when critics try to find who is to blame for such wavering, they often point to one group: Christians.
As a devout Christian myself, the overturning of Roe v. Wade was not only an event which caused me to reflect on my understandings of my body, sex, and autonomy, but also was one which enabled me to reflect on the church vs. state debate, and as consequence, recognize that young Christians must make the time to educate ourselves on the context, history, and implications of religion and politics in order to understand the future of the American public.
Like the Gen Z student that I am, I began this conversation where I knew fellow high schoolers would appear most: Instagram. I conducted an online poll asking how the recent portrayal of Christianity in media and politics affected or changed your view of Christianity.
25 percent voted that their views of Christianity have not changed, 28 percent were undecided, and 47 percent voted that the media made them think less of Christianity. Furthermore, 92 percent of those whose views were not changed by media and politics identified as being religious, implying that even with current political discourse, their relationship to religion has not changed. While religion may affect politics, politics, it seems, does not affect religion.
Trying to better understand the intersection between religion and politics, I conducted an interview with a local priest and a South Korean Politician, Ha Tae-Keung, to get their perspectives.
The local priest noted that “there is no explicit saying in the Bible that prohibits abortion,” though “the holy scripture itself emphasizes the importance of life.” When abortion comes to play, he argues, is when “sex becomes a tool for pleasure” and “when people abuse sex.” Sex, the priest noted, was given “as a gift to people” by God.
There is some merit to this argument. The “abuse of sex” could insinuate the events of incest, rape, or interpersonal violence, all of which could result in an unwanted pregnancy. Take, for example, the 10-year old girl in Ohio who sought out an abortion after being raped, a case which has flooded recent headlines. Does this fall under the religious jurisdiction of the “abuse of sex?” Should we really consider this, as some Christians believe, to be murder?
This is one of the extreme examples of not only how overgeneralizations on abortion can be destructive, but also how priests and other religious officials see more nuance to the issue of abortion and its place in religious doctrine.
South Korean politician Ha Tae-Keung seems to agree with the belief that abortion is murder, but also recognizes that the division of church and state is necessary, stating that he “[prioritizes] the community over one’s devout religious views.” Abortion, he claims, “should be allowed as people have different reasons for doing so, but you have to look at it as murder.” And if you believe abortion is a fundamental right, he said, then execution should also be a fundamental right. Both, he believes, are issues that pertain to the questions of life and death.
To begin questioning the right to an abortion, therefore, is to bring an influx of individual opinion into political establishment. If we want to open these doors of conversation — for example, the local priest connecting abortion with sex for pleasure or Ha Tae-Keung’s understandings of execution — we must critically analyze our own views and understand that individual opinion versus enacted policy must not always align.
Roe v. Wade will continue to instigate conversations on the separation of church and state. It is our responsibility as Christians to examine faith’s current relationship to the body politic, and our responsibility as people to recognize the difference between personal values and policy.
All interviews have been translated into English.