"Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Let me hear you say it: abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done. Abortion is a blessing and our work is not done."
That was the Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale in 2007, repetitiously inciting her disciples to be not just pro-choice but fanatically pro-abortion. This is significant because, according to standard journalistic stylebooks, Ragsdale does not exist. We're told that pro-choice folks don't like abortion; they're just trying to help a woman facing tragedy.
Ragsdale, though, says abortion is a "blessing," and not only in harsh situations but good ones: "When a woman becomes pregnant within a loving, supportive, respectful relationship; has every option open to her; decides she does not wish to bear a child; and has access to a safe, affordable abortion—there is not a tragedy in sight—only blessing. The ability to enjoy God's good gift of sexuality without compromising one's education, life's work, or ability to put to use God's gifts and call is simply blessing."
Ragsdale is in the news because of a plum appointment: On July 1 she is scheduled to become president of Episcopal Divinity School, a major seminary near Harvard that was founded in 1974 when two venerable divinity schools (founded in 1858 and 1867) merged.
Hear some more of Ragsdale's statement to her troops: "I want to thank all of you who protect this blessing—who do this work every day: the health care providers, doctors, nurses, technicians, receptionists, who put your lives on the line to care for others (you are heroes—in my eyes, you are saints); the escorts and the activists; the lobbyists and the clinic defenders; all of you. You're engaged in holy work."
Ragsdale is a member of the board of NARAL Pro-Choice America and for eight years chaired the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Rights. Nevertheless, calling abortion "holy work" seemed so over-the-top that WORLD called Ragsdale to ask whether a fanatic had taken her name in a variant of identity theft. Ragsdale acknowledged that the words were hers and that she still identified abortion with "blessing." She said, though, that she had pulled that speech off her website because it was "creating an occasion for sin" as readers posted critical comments. She also said she's "really busy and can't keep up with the comments coming in."
How has Ragsdale developed her position? I looked on her website at sermons that remain. In 2005 she asked rhetorically why pro-lifers did not look at pro-aborts "with tolerance and respect." She then said, "The answer to that question is that in this arena it is women who must make the final decision and that you do not respect the moral agency (or full personhood) of women simply because we are women." Convenient: It's not about life; it's about sexism.
But go back further, to an Easter sermon in 2003 when she said that the Resurrection may never have happened. (Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "If Christ has not been raised, our faith is futile . . . we are of all people most to be pitied.") And go back further to Easter 2002: "The suffering and death of Jesus, according to the theory of the Atonement, pays for our sins and buys our salvation. It's an interesting theory, but not one that I find compelling."
Some denominations have cracked open on issues of homosexual ordination, but the fissure began long before, when clerics put God on trial and chose which doctrines they found compelling. In 2003, proclaiming her lesbianism, Ragsdale took aim at those who say that "we can't help being gay—the old take pity, have mercy, argument. You know, the one that concludes with a plaintive—who would choose this? Let me answer that with three words: Me! Me! Me!"
The tragedy of abortion is bad enough, but the origin of the tragedy, and so many others of our time, emerges from worship not of Christ but of "me, me, me." Katherine Ragsdale may show this tendency in a heightened form, but all of us display it to some degree. May God have mercy on her, on her students, and on all of us.
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