Tag Archives: Pregnancy

Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian churches – some practical suggestions for action

Pat Dickin

This paper proposes possible practical lines of action that could address the most pressing needs that require initial and immediate attention from the Christian Churches in order to start formulating an active response to the extremely high rate of teenage pregnancy in the UK.

There is a need for further training for youth workers and children’s workers. A cursory glance through training manuals for youth workers and Youth Ministers yields a surprising result: sexuality and teenage parenthood are not addressed in any form, perhaps supporting the misleading perception that teenage pregnancies will not happen if they are not spoken about. It is imperative that churches and training institutions train their workers to be more aware and prepared for the reality of teenage pregnancy, by gaining more information of the government and social services available in their local area; enquiring as to the nature of the rights and entitlements teenage parents have, finding out about counselling services in their area, and on making a decision (through the Diocese or church leadership) as to the education that will be imparted to the youngsters from the church. This “education” will entail dialogue and at times challenging the ‘official education’ of the denomination and taking a stance that might be acceptable to everyone at the start of the programme.

Make use of existing information and courses offered by charities in schools. There are some – although not numerous – charities that have already taken steps to address these issues. These charities and organisations have already collected relevant information and are well versed in the practical options available. Christian organisations could invite speakers (from organizations such as Care, or Options) to come to their premises to give talks to the leaders and ministers in the church, to inform the church’s own education but also to open new channels for teenagers to be able to talk openly about the pressures they are experiencing and explore, together with the church leadership and their parents, possible ways to respond, react and educate non-Christian teenagers with an informed Christian message.

Offer a breadth of Christian responses to pre-marital sex. As the analysis of the historical development of attitudes towards sexual relationships has shown, it is difficult to identify one single attitude towards sex as being the only and righteous approach. Because all these methods have reached secular society through higher education and research, the church is now in a position to choose which approach can be consistently taught.

The churches are in a unique position to offer other alternatives especially those relying on pastoral care, such as in-house relationships (“buddy system”) that would allow teenagers who found themselves in this situation to be able to talk with several trustworthy people within their community and in a safe environment.

To facilitate spaces and opportunities for parents to talk openly with their children about relationships and sexuality. These could take the shape of open days attended by parents and their children in which conferences, work-shops and discussion boards could open a dialogue across generations on relationships, sex, precautions, appropriate self-awareness and self-confidence, etc. Some people who were interviewed find this approach difficult to endorse, however SEU identified the need for conversation to be opened up between parents and teenagers. Lloyd & Lyth (2003) in their report about a one-off drama production and accompanying work-shops in a school in North Yorkshire identify, among other interesting points, that “although a high proportion of children felt that sex was not openly talked about between parents and their children, over 70 percent would have liked to talk to their parents.”

Kiddy (2002), after addressing the difficulty in making Sex and Relationship Education (SRE) in schools appealing and relevant to young boys and men, suggests that “community-based SRE can offer a viable alternative and should bring together parents, young people, faith groups and the wider community to address the issues of teenage pregnancy and sexual health”. This is one of the few mentions in secular writings of the possible involvement of faith communities in tackling the issue of unwanted teenage pregnancies, and it is done in the context of facilitating spaces for communication. The church and its community are in a unique position to offer a safe place for parents to come with their teenage children and learn together; this opportunity opens the door within the parent-child relationship to discuss a difficult topic from a common starting point. Taking up and building on these opportunities provides the church with an inimitable opportunity to extend its teaching and mission to families and teenagers; networking with other institutions in the secular world to provide the health education required, or simply providing parents with a moral and faith-full starting point to talk about the pressures their teenagers are facing from their peers.

A plan of action is necessary. Although the results will not be seen for many years, not taking any action at all (that is, continuing in the same train of action as at the moment: doing nothing) will have predictable results: a failure to reduce the scale of teenage pregnancies, with the consequential detrimental value laid on the family core; social, attitudinal and behavioural issues with the children of teenage parents, who according to the statistics are more likely to be involved in criminal activities and perform badly academically. It is not the church on its own that will bring the changes about. The government is already taking steps calling on the educational and health systems to take action and responsibility. The church needs to step in, use the power of influence over those it can still influence, and exert a positive teaching experience. The church has the opportunity to fill the faith and moral vacuum that is gripping British society that leads many people to search for ethical answers in other faith practices. This means that foremost, Christians must openly speak about Christian beliefs: the value of relationships and community links and support, and the belief in marriage as the future of the family and the community.

The church holds a great richness in her history, a history that remains alive in the present and that her leaders can draw on with ease. The church, and all Christians alike, therefore, have a great responsibility to address this issue and facilitate change. The timely reminder put forth by Grenz on the validity of celibacy as an option young people should be encouraged to consider, rather than feeling forced into sexual relationships by their peers and the media, should be taken up by the Christian organizations with the greatest urgency, and serve as a foundation to the message that not all sexuality needs to find its expression in genital sexual relationships (i.e. intercourse).

The paper from which this article is taken attempts to address and frame a theological scaffolding that could inform and shape a response – much overdue – by the Christian Churches to the social reality of teenage pregnancy. I aver that the need for a change in the way the church and her ministers talk, preach and teach about teenage pregnancy is born purely out of the pastoral and ethical responsibility the Christian Churches carry as embodying the greatest commandment: “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22.37-40). This love needs to find a practical expression to vulnerable and lost young people with the greatest urgency.

The church places the burden of sin on one third of British teenagers, those who by their own admission are involved in sex at very young ages and outside of marriage – the only acceptable place for sex to take place according to the official teaching of the majority of Christian Churches. For one of every three teenagers, the church is a place where they do not feel welcome, indeed where they have no inclination to go, as the perceived message they will receive is one of condemnation, exclusion and imposed guilt. The Christian Church has the opportunity to change this around: this necessarily requires the church to self-examine her teachings and re-assess where and why guilt is being placed. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbour as much as ourselves (Matthew 22.39; Mark 12.31) and without judging them (Matthew 7.1-3; Luke 6.37). It is therefore the church’s responsibility to teach, preach and proclaim, by word and example, a Christ-centred non-judgemental message that encourages positive relationships with others (our ‘neighbours’) within an equal society. This can only be translated in opening up dialogues where conversations have ceased, affirming relationships instead of domination, encouraging a self-examination of the individual where each person is re-affirmed rather than condemned, and gifts, talents and positive attributes are seen as assets and not as flaws.

This is the concluding section to ‘Teenage Pregnancy and the Christian Church’ by Patricia Margarita Lenton de Dickin submitted for the Degree of MA in Theology for Christian Mission and Ministry, May 2008

References

  • Biblical quotes are taken from The new Oxford Annotated Bible, New Revised Standard Version, (Metzger & Murphy, eds), New York: Oxford University Press
  • Grenz, S.J. (1997) Sexual Ethics: An Evangelical Perspective, UK: Westminster / John Knox Press
  • Kiddy, M. (2002) ‘Teenage Pregnancy: whose problem’ in Nursing Times, Vol 98, Issue 04, (24 January 2002), UK.
  • Lloyd, K. &Lyth, N. (2003) ‘Evaluation of the use of drama in sex and relationship education’ in Nursing Times, Vol 99, Issue 47 (25 November 2003)
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A Christian response to the abortion dilemma

Jane Fraser

Despite the availability and use of reliable contraception, unintended pregnancies happen outside of marriage as, indeed they happen within it. One in three women in the UK will experience an abortion during their reproductive life. This is not, therefore, a ‘fringe’ issue, either within our churches or outside its doors. Even if it only affects a small number within our Christian communities, it will have touched the lives of many of our families – a sister, cousin, aunt, mother or grandmother, perhaps. It is not surprising, therefore, that since the passing of the Abortion Act in 1967 there have been repeated attempts to repeal or amend the legislation, most of the initiative coming from individuals or groups with a Christian background.

The most recent of these initiatives sought to amend the health and social care bill to guarantee that all counselling of women seeking an abortion would be ‘independent’ of abortion providers. It was based on the premise that providers such as the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) and Marie Stopes’ clinics have a financial incentive to pressure women into choosing a termination, leaving women feeling rushed and unable to control the process. We may leave aside the most misleading of these assumptions, as they are ‘not-for-profit’ organisations. On the other hand, should Christians be concerned that women facing an unplanned and problem pregnancy might feel rushed or pressurised into a procedure that terminates a life or the potential for life?

As someone who has counselled hundreds of young women attending a young people’s clinic who were facing a problem pregnancy, this is an issue that I have faced with them and alongside them. As a professional social worker and counsellor working in a secular setting and as a Christian, my focus was on the need for this young woman to explore what, for her (and, as far as is possible, the father of the child) was the ‘right’ solution, in the sense of having the greater potential for good. She was also encouraged to grieve for the ideal that she could not realise in her situation and in this way she had the opportunity to learn from and grow within the process of following her decision through. Roughly half of the young women we counselled chose to continue with their problem pregnancy and the rest chose to seek a termination of the pregnancy. Even when this latter group were referred to a clinic providing an abortion service, they would be given further opportunities to review their decision. This ‘non-directive’ approach to counselling is followed by any professionally qualified counsellors working in the private or ‘not-for-profit’ agencies offering abortions.

So what really lies behind the amendment debated by Parliament? And why should we, as Christians, be concerned? If this amendment was passed, it would have opened up the provision of counselling women seeking an abortion to separate, ‘independent’ agencies, adding a further hurdle for such women to seek out and overcome at a time of stress. Bids for such work would come from the network of crisis pregnancy centres closely linked to religious organisations or founded by those various faith groups, whose basic assumption is that abortion is a sin and should be avoided at all costs. Women who are ambivalent about having an abortion receive support and guidance to continue with the pregnancy from those agencies. Those who feel they cannot do so, for whatever reason, are given advice, rather than non-directive counselling. They invariably report that they felt intimidated and were made to feel guilty for their decision, leaving them distressed and no further forward as such agencies would not refer them on to a clinic providing abortions.

There are, however, some church-based agencies in the Midlands and in London that offer non-directive, professional counselling and evidence-based information on all the options available to women facing a problem pregnancy, but these agencies are rare. There are, of course, individual Christians working on a professional basis within secular organisations such as BPAS, Brook and Marie Stopes. Again, they are rare. A woman looking for such help may have the good fortune to encounter them and even find a sympathetic and informed response to any faith based concerns they may have.

Should we not, as Christians, speak openly of the dilemma faced by women coping with a problem pregnancy, rather than deny her the freedom to explore all the options open to her? How might we express the compassion and understanding that Jesus demonstrated, for example, in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well or the woman caught in adultery? As in those cases, there was also a man involved who needed to be considered. I can only offer my own thoughts that have been developed in dialogue with other Christians working in this field and those who have looked to me for a Christian perspective on their situation.

If the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the basis for our understanding of how good can come from evil and nothing is too evil that it cannot be redeemed it has a very powerful message for a woman facing a problem pregnancy when, in effect, she ‘cannot do right for doing wrong’. There is no ideal solution, for each solution to the problem falls short of the ideal. Hence she needs to be encouraged to seek what for her seems to have the greater potential for good. I believe she should then be supported by her church community in realising that potential for good.

Freedom of choice lies at the root of this approach and is based in the freedom to choose good or evil that God gave to humanity at our creation as embodied in the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is also based on the supreme example of humanity’s freedom of choice in the risk God faced in allowing his people to choose to accept their Messiah or reject him. Christians should not be involved in strategies that misinform those who come to them for guidance or support when facing a potentially life changing situation. Nor should we impose our own beliefs on other people, especially those who are vulnerable because of their need or distress. Rather, we are called to respond with compassion to their dilemma, travel alongside them as they consider options that may challenge our own beliefs and encourage them to seek, with honesty, what for them is a solution to their problem.

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