Oklahoma, my home state, just passed House Bill 4327, the strictest abortion ban in the United States. Already anticipating a spike in new births, theocrats in our government are charging Christian churches and constituents to become adopters and fosters. On a surface level, the biblical call in James 1:27 to “look after orphans and widows in their distress” may seem an honorable notion, but only if you dig no further.
Firstly, while all people are certainly entitled to their private religious convictions, Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma theocrats are using taxpayer-funded positions to preach Christianity to Christians, ignoring Oklahomans of other faiths (and the growing percentage of religious “nones”). Stitt and company embrace Christian Dominion Theology, where biblical law informs American law to create the Christian nation our Founding Fathers ostensibly wanted. As the state is their church, the abortion fight isn’t merely about bodily autonomy and reproductive rights. It is a holy war against the baby killers. Onward Christian soldiers.
It’s hard for many to accept, but America was never intended as a Christian nation, and state-church separation is a cornerstone of the US Constitution. The First Amendment specifically prohibits the government from establishing a religion, and Article IV specifies that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification” for public office. John Adams signed the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, which clearly states that “the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” So, while many of the Founders did hold a personal faith and even referenced a Creator, they specifically penned the Constitution as a secular document, God-free. These men had come to these lands escaping the theocratic overreach of the Church of England, and they didn’t want the American experiment to become a church as well.
We also must remember that the Bible is hugely problematic on human rights issues, especially those involving women. Beyond the cherry-picked love verses (and those are certainly present), Republican zealots are building their platforms on anonymously written books penned by domineering patriarchs who often subjugated and penalized women through their sexuality.
Eve’s punishment in Genesis? God gave her agony in childbirth. A woman accused of adultery in Numbers 5? A male tribunal would force her to drink “bitter water” which would flush any so-called illegitimate fetus from her womb. The consequences of rape in Deuteronomy 22? Old Testament law commanded the rape victim to marry her rapist after paying off the father. Christianity’s texts are loaded with sexual control and punitive consequences targeted at the female. No measure of “old covenant” apologetics excuses them, and myopic recitations of “love thy neighbor” don’t erase them. The biblical Yahweh was a lot of things, but he was definitely not “pro-life.”
Then, we have the litany of “submit” verses that place women under male authority. We’re seeing this play out in today’s Oklahoma legislature. Our politicians, mostly privileged white Christian males, are planting their dogmatic flags inside the uteruses of 2 million Oklahoma women.
Oklahoma is laughably inept at science-based sex education, inverting cart and horse with lofty notions of Christian homes adopting and fostering the unwanted. This tactic sets children up for indoctrination into a specific faith and potentially shames Christians who don’t wish to add another massive commitment to their already crowded and stressful lives. “Receive the needy children” is a bumper sticker appeal as impractical as it is inappropriate.
Escalating the specific issue of unwanted teen pregnancies is Christian purity culture, which sets teenagers up for failure. If puberty begins at roughly 13, and if the median age for marriage in this country is 30, we’re looking at 17 years where young people navigate premarital sexuality. Religious youth are often kept clear of science-based sex ed, and are instead force-fed sermons about sanctity and sin, abstinence and chastity, purity of mind and body. These tactics backfire spectacularly, and the data confirms this.
Repression cultures struggle the most with sex, which is why our state sees more than half of its pregnancies unwanted, with 15% of them by teenagers. Despite the sermonizing and shaming, Oklahoma’s teen birth rate is near the highest in the nation. (Another interesting sex statistic: Oklahoma is ranked fifth nationally for porn use. Welcome to the Bible Belt.)
How many unwanted pregnancies might have been prevented if the pious weren’t so awkward about saying the word “condom,” or if they taught responsible sexual practices, or if they hadn’t declared the Morning After pill a murder weapon against the freshly fertilized soul?
I was a Christian for three decades, yet thanks to Christian “education,” I was nearly 50 before I learned that roughly half of all fertilized eggs get ejected from a woman’s body through menses. Thinking that scenario through, if an eternal soul is created at conception, and 50 percent of those souls get flushed down the toilet, this would make the biblical god the most prolific abortion doctor in history. How could any believer call this scenario “intelligent design”? And why would a Christian be so obsessed with protecting a clump of barely developed cells obviously dismissed by Yahweh?
So often, conservatives are told horror fiction about babies ripped from wombs by the moustache-twirling “libs” eager to snuff out sacred life. These dog-whistles effectively outrage and activate, but the claims don’t jive with the data. Most abortions happen in the first few weeks after fertilization, and the Roe model rightly increases restrictions on abortion as the pregnancy progresses. Almost all late-term abortions involve critical dangers to the mother or the non-viability of a fetus, those terminations often devastating women anticipating a desperately wanted child.
Also in play are minorities and the disadvantaged. Abortion rates spike among non-whites with poor access to education and healthcare, which pinballs us back to discussions about privileged white males making the rules for poor non-white females.
With the stripping away of reproductive choice, grown women are infantilized. Rape victims (often pre-teens) are expected to deliver or raise the child of their rapist. And lost is any concept of bodily autonomy, which is strangely ironic, as the same conservatives that met the COVID pandemic with personal-choice protests over mask-wearing have now stripped reproductive choice from millions of others. When challenged about this exercise in privilege and control, evangelical Republicans can simply invoke God. Convenient.
Finally, I take issue with declarations that Oklahoma’s problems must be solved by the protestant church. Citizens who are not Christians don’t deserve dismissal or exclusion. We are just as Oklahoman. We are just as American. And no politician should tell us to adopt or not, to abstain or not, to abort or not. All good citizens agree that we must reduce unwanted pregnancies, and while abortion is a complex issue, many of us (and even many Bible-believing Christians) consider it an intensely personal choice and not a religious or political one.
Ultimately, here in Oklahoma, my taxpayer dollars are funding – against my will – those who religiously maneuver, restrict, and dictate the reproductive lives of others. Christian anti-choicers glean their agenda from Iron Age Bible authors who silenced women, kidnapped virgins, and stoned rape victims. They unconstitutionally deploy political clout to promote Christianity to Christians. They cast votes because they apparently cannot trust a God to intervene directly with a person considering abortion. And they remain a machine of mostly men deciding the fates of women.
Oklahoma isn’t a church, and its residents—and democracy—deserve better than Christian Dominionism. Reproductive choice isn’t the domain of the theocrats. It’s not their decision. And beyond the walls of their own private homes, it’s absolutely none of their business.