What Justice Demands
Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis
“Male power over women means a denial of women’s right to control their own bodies. Denial of reproductive decision making is fundamental to this control”—Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk
Throughout my years working on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, I regularly saw anti-choice activists converging on the Capitol grounds, advocating for overturning the landmark case Roe v. Wade, which protected women’s constitutional right to have an abortion. These activists were often religious people, carrying placards and flyers with religious messages and Bible passages steeped in normative constructs of male sovereignty and denigration of women’s agency and autonomy. Now that the Supreme Court has overturned the precedent, I wonder how much of a role theology played in this ultimate betrayal of a woman’s right to control her body. If it’s just politics, we respond with better ideas, organizing, and mobilization to restore a right. But a scarier thought is that our religious rhetoric is still shaped by normative and essentialist constructions of sex, gender, and sexuality that continue to threaten women’s agency and autonomy.
I am convinced that the overturning of Roe is not a religious or theological victory. It is a political victory resulting from years of organizing, fundraising, and mobilizing people using a Christian tradition that “denies, diminishes, or distorts the full humanity of women.” And yet, we are stuck with a destructive, oppressive theological paradigm of sex, love, and desire that privileges male power, concerns, and intrusion in matters having to do with a woman’s choices about her life, body, and pursuit of happiness. So, this is a justice issue, requiring the ongoing work of liberation from the patriarchal dictates of religion so that the human dignity and the equal humanity of women are affirmed and celebrated.
There can be no justice for women when mostly male judges and politicians substitute their will and preferences for women in law and the Constitution. A religious and political-institutional tradition that has historically silenced, dominated, and ignored women’s voices, agency, and dignity is wholly inconsistent with the biblical vision of justice in God’s acts of liberation. My belief in justice leads me to affirm the right of all women to consult with the God of their understanding and the medical professionals of their choosing when making decisions about their own reproductive health care. My belief in justice leads me to respect the right of women to fully engage their faith on questions of moral direction and consult their doctors for their health care without sanction or interference by the government or any other institution. As we embark on the political enterprise to restore a woman’s right to choose, I pray that we are led by the liberating power of a gracious and generous God in whose image and likeness the women of the world reveal what is good, right, and just. May it be so.