Local churches respond differently to Roe v. Wade decision

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — Bruce Stoker was already planning a sermon on the roles of men and women in the church when the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade came down Friday.

The inside of a church looking down on the pews and the pulpit.
[Jada Respress | WOUB]
He was going to focus on a Biblical passage in which the apostle Paul states that women should be silent in church. Given the court’s decision, he worried church members would see the statement as an “attack on women and women’s rights.” 

The court’s decision can be seen as a woman’s body is now placed under the authority of men, and Stoker worried that Paul’s statement would be interpreted as a man telling women they must also submit their spiritual lives to men.

Stoker was among many church leaders in the region trying to figure out how to address with their congregations the court’s decision to strike down a constitutional right to abortion.

Stoker ended up using his sermon Sunday to explain that Paul’s words have been wrongly used as justification to keep women subservient to men.

Phil Westenbarger, pastor of Glouster Baptist Church, decided not to address the decision in his sermon.

“Previously, before Sunday, a couple people had texted just kind of asking about the decision and what that meant and what that looked like,” he said.

But Westenbarger decided that because of his style of preaching, which involves moving book by book through the Bible, the court’s decision didn’t connect with where he was. He did, however, mention the decision in his morning announcements.

“I made a statement so that everyone knew what was going on, y’know some people aren’t listening to the news and things, like they’re busy and even if they do hear the news they may be wondering what’s going on,” he said. 

Universalist church members in Athens took a different approach. On Sunday a nurse and three lawyers attended their service to provide more information regarding Roe v. Wade and answer any questions members had. 

“People that are in low income have an increased much higher risk of dying from pregnancy related complications, adolescents age 10-14 that are now gonna be forced to carry children have much higher risk from pregnancy related complications,” nurse Lish Greiner said. 

Greiner further states that women of color are three to four times more likely to die from child bearing complications. 

The Universalist faith disagrees with the court’s decision. 

“The overwhelming majority of Unitarian Universalists support keeping abortion legal in all or most cases. This is rooted in our principles and our core religious beliefs that are firm gender equity,” said Susan Frederick-Gray, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  

Phillip Foster, pastor of New Life Assembly of God in Athens, addressed the decision with a word of prayer, but not in his sermon. 

“I did mention it, but I didn’t come here Sunday morning with a revamp message just for that. If I did that every week in America right now, I’d be having to deal with something cause there’s always something going on,” Foster said. 

Despite the varying approaches, the universal theme from all churches is that there’s work that needs to be done. That can look different across denominations.

The Universalist church is willing to “drive women across state lines,” said Michelle Wilson, a guest speaker at Sunday’s service. Westenbarger plans to get more involved with the adoption and pregnancy resource centers in Athens County. Foster says the Assemblies of God are heavily involved with the foster care system and he plans to find ways to help with that initiative.