Abortion, the Holocaust, and the Archbishop

Oasis Songs: Musings from Rav D
Friday, August 5, 2022 / 8 Av 5782

Summary: When the local archbishop compared abortion to the Holocaust, the Oregon Board of Rabbis took action and met with him. This is the story. Of note, Archbishop Sample stated that everything discussed in the meeting was fine for public dissemination.

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In the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, Alexander Sample, the Catholic Archbishop of Portland, put out a YouTube video entitled Abortion and Catholics. It was picked up by the Willamette Week, which ridiculed the archbishop and highlighted a problematic statement buried late in the video. I’ll return to that issue in a bit.

Before that, it is worth noting that there is little in the video that would surprise anyone who has familiarity with the doctrines and theologies of the Catholic Church, which sees full humanity in a cluster of cells and views abortion always as an evil because it encroaches on the human rights of a fetus.

I am grateful to live in a world with different faiths and the perspectives they bring to the larger human family. How boring it would be if we all believed the same thing or applied our values in the same way! A society in which all its members hold the same beliefs and views things in the same manner may be appealing for the external harmony it projects, yet this is normally a recipe for authoritarianism, close-mindedness, and bigotry. I therefore support the archbishop for representing an essential teaching of the Catholic Church even while I disagree with the Church’s theology on abortion. I believe that the Church’s ideas on this matter disregard God’s teaching and therefore fundamentally errs in when it imagines that full human life begins. That difference in theology is not inconsequential as it impacts how our two faith communities evaluate what makes life sacred. Viva la difference.

In other words, I continue to be a pluralist. Like all beliefs, however, pluralism has limits. When Christian theology gets hard-baked into American law so that people of other faiths and backgrounds have their religious freedoms and bodily autonomy curtailed, then the Church has broken a basic covenant of pluralism, which is that we must make space for all. While that last statement also has limits, hopefully the point is clear.

I believe that the Church’s stance toward abortion becomes problematic because even in today’s world, it maintains hegemonic power over how people think and what becomes law. As I have written previously, this Christian privilege is invisible, hard to eradicate, and too often has erased Jewish lives.

Which brings us to the archbishop’s problematic statement. Within the original YouTube video, Archbishop Sample compared abortion to the Holocaust. This offensive comparison came to the attention of the Oregon Board of Rabbis. The general consensus of the OBR was that we needed to meet with the archbishop. While none of us imagined that we would change the Church’s position on abortion, we did think there was room to educate the archbishop on why a comparison with genocide is wildly inappropriate and inaccurate. Rabbis Abby Cohen, Michael Cahana, and Jonathan Seidel, along with Judy Margles, met with Sample. For my part, I contributed some personal writing about why comparing abortion to the Holocaust perpetuates violence against Jews, which touches upon the half-century history of this noxious comparison, and overall demonstrates how the comparison is an example of shoddy thinking. I hope to share that in a future Oasis Songs.

According to the report I got, the meeting met with some genuine success in that the archbishop heard our concerns and immediately had the offensive statement removed from the YouTube video—not to erase himself, but because he was now educated. He was also surprised that Judaism had a different teaching around abortion than the Church, which led to his desire to learn more about Judaism. That can only be good for pluralism, for Portland, and for the Jewish community.

I am grateful to Judy and the three rabbis for their work on this issue and for meeting with the archbishop. It is more important than ever to meet with those with whom we disagree and to build the bridges we can with them.

Shabbat shalom,

Rav D

Shabbat Table Talk

  1. Is pluralism or freedom of speech an absolute value to you? Why or why not? What limits do you see?
  2. How do you feel when people use the Holocaust to elevate their own issues and concerns? What would make such comparisons valid? When does it cheapen their own points while diminishing the victims of Nazi cruelty?
  3. When has someone helped you see the error in your ways or thinking? Were you gracious and open to such input? What was the ultimate outcome?

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