My Jesus Flipped Tables

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Reproductive rights and religion may not feel like they go hand in hand. But in Atlanta, Black faith leaders are challenging that by talking about abortion…in church.

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Learn more about Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice at

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Gloria Riviera and Samantha Bee are our hosts. Muna Danish is our supervising producer. Hannah Boomershine, Lisa Phu, and Julie Carlie are our producers. Additional production support by Mona Hassan. Isaura Aceves and Tony Williams are our associate producers. Ivan Kuraev and Natasha Jacobs are our audio engineers. Music by Hannis Brown with additional music by Natasha Jacobs.Story editing by Jackie Danziger, our VP of Narrative Content. Fact-checking by Naomi Barr. Executive producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs.

This series is supported by Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Philanthropies, The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Levi Strauss Foundation.

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To follow along with a transcript, go to shortly after the air date.



Samantha Bee, Pastor John Delaney, Kia Smith, Gloria Riviera, Trump, Rosie Washington, Tiffany, Reverend Dr.

Gloria Riviera  00:01

Hey everyone, First off, we want to thank you for listening to The Defenders. And now we want to hear from you what you’ve learned what sticking with you what questions you still have and what you’re motivated to do as a result of listening. Right now you can take our short survey to help us better understand the impact of our work, and even better once you’ve completed the survey, you can enter for a chance to win a $100 Visa gift card. The survey is short and sweet and will help us keep bringing you content you love. Take the survey at defenders survey. That’s defenders survey. Thanks again.


Tiffany  00:41

Many people who preach will tell you sometimes you don’t get a sermon until the morning you’re supposed to preach it. And so I hadn’t even written fully my sermon until after Roe V. Wade came down.


Gloria Riviera  01:41

On the Sunday after the dogs decision Minister Tiffany Mackay sat down to write. It was mere hours before she was supposed to preach before our congregation. And Tiffany knew she needed to address this landmark ruling in her sermon.


Tiffany  01:56

And so that morning while I was writing, I made some tea, burned my candle and then went for broke writing the sermon. I don’t think I actually finished writing it until two hours before I went to preach it.


Gloria Riviera  02:11

Okay, so preachers also procrastinate, good to know.


Tiffany  02:15

Writing that sermon that really is like a sacred communication moment with God, and so then I just kind of wrote the whole way they’re listening to jazz.


Gloria Riviera  02:25

When Tiffany arrived at the church in Midwest, Atlanta, she admired the high ceilings and beautiful woodgrain pews. It wasn’t her usual church and not her usual congregation. She couldn’t shake the fact that she was in an unfamiliar place.


Tiffany  02:41

It’s one thing to preach in your home context, particularly during a heavy political season. It’s another to preach in a context. That’s not your own as and this is even your first time being in that space, and engaging with many of the people in that congregation.


Gloria Riviera  02:59

When Tiffany stepped out onto the pulpit, she looked out at the dozens of faces in the pews. And to her surprise, she recognized a few of them.


Tiffany  03:08

A couple of friends that I didn’t know they were going to come and hear me, they came to support me because they knew I was kind of nervous already


Gloria Riviera  03:17

Nervous, because she was about to get political. But here’s the thing about Tiffany, social justice is a big part of her ministry. So despite those nerves, she began to speak.


Tiffany  03:30

How much has changed in the last three days a lot, including a 50 year landmark case, in this nation.


Gloria Riviera  03:39

Tiffany read some of her sermon to our team. If you close your eyes, you can imagine the congregants seated in the pews, the tension in the room, and Tiffany’s voice reverberating throughout the church.


Tiffany  03:51

Now regardless of which side we are on, I want to communicate the importance of this historical moment. Because if 50 years of landmark legislation can be reversed in a moment by a decision from five people then what else can they reverse voting rights, enslavement, women’s rights that we still do not fully have as equal right.


Gloria Riviera  04:14

As she was speaking from the pulpit, Tiffany was all charged up with emotion. She described to me exactly what she was feeling at that time.


Tiffany  04:22

I really wanted to scream, this is bad, this is really, really bad. But also having to hold that restraint of I can’t just go out and say that because some people may agree with this decision and that’s the reality of the moment.


Gloria Riviera  04:37

Instead, she continued her sermon with a powerful message.


Tiffany  04:41

Now, here’s the beauty in this brokenness. If it is still broken, then that means God isn’t done. Even in the midst of brokenness, God is the beauty in that brokenness, and what an honor it is to be given a chance to co create a new thing with God.


Gloria Riviera  05:03

That idea of brokenness, it struck me.


Tiffany  05:07

Yeah. So I’m talking about Nehemiah, actually, and I’m talking about how sometimes it’s okay that things are broken, and they’re intended to be broken, so that we can build something new. And if, if nothing gets broken, and it just stays the same forever, then how will we know one that it needs to be replaced with something maybe new and better, and that God is doing a new thing?


Gloria Riviera  05:29

When Tiffany concluded her sermon, she braced for the congregation’s reaction.


Tiffany  05:34

My immediate thought was, they’re going to look at me and say, stone her. Because I came with this kind of sermon and, like, inserted it and kind of gave my thoughts but didn’t. Everyone was so gracious, and so I had quite a few women come up to me and say, thank you. Keep, keep doing what you’re doing, keep being as bold as you are. So it was very affirming, and made me feel even better. I’m sure everybody didn’t feel that way in this space. But for those who, who felt something, and felt free for even a moment, just under the sound of my voice, letting me know that I did what I needed to do with my divine.


Gloria Riviera  06:22

This is The Defenders a show about the fight for freedom in a post roe America. I’m your host, Gloria Rivera.


Samantha Bee  06:29

And I’m your host, Sam B.


Gloria Riviera  06:31

This week, we’re interrogating the relationship between religion and abortion.


Gloria Riviera  06:51

I wasn’t raised religious were you?


Samantha Bee  06:53

Oh, I kind of was I went to Catholic school.


Gloria Riviera  06:57

Okay, so your family was Catholic?


Samantha Bee  06:59

Well, I’m not exactly, I mean, I was raised as a progressive Catholic, but my dad was actually an atheist and my mom is a Wiccan. So let’s just say it was an interesting mix.


Gloria Riviera  07:10

Yeah, wow I would love to hear more about that story.


Samantha Bee  07:14

Yeah, you know what, I’ll just write a book about it one day. We, you know, years ago, I spent a bunch of time with some Catholic nuns who had an even bigger effect on my view of faith. They gave their community what ever it was that they needed, whether that was access to abortion, or food or the clothes off their back. They were totally non judgmental, and loving, which is exactly the kind of faith I can get behind.


Gloria Riviera  07:40

I love that.


Samantha Bee  07:41

Yes, that’s why I find out so frustrating when religion is used to uphold really radical and very unkind stances on reproductive rights.


Gloria Riviera  07:51

Yeah, and it seems like those stances are often the loudest.


Samantha Bee  07:55

Oh, totally.


Gloria Riviera  07:56

I actually saw a lot of that growing up, I was surrounded by the Mormon religion. And even though I wasn’t officially part of the church, I was very aware of the theology, like I always knew they believed abortion was basically a sin. That kind of thinking was pervasive where I was raised.


Samantha Bee  08:16

It’s so true. You don’t need to go to church to be affected by it.


Gloria Riviera  08:20

Yeah, faith is powerful. Its messages don’t just affect religious followers, they also seep into the culture. That’s why faith leaders have so much influence in their communities. And many of them like Tiffany are now challenging the culture of those communities by daring to talk about abortion in church. Before Tiffany was a preacher speaking from the pulpit, she was a little girl seated in the pews. Every Sunday, she and her mom attended service at their local Baptist Church. Now, you might imagine Tiffany loved church growing up, she went on to become a preacher after all. But that really wasn’t the case.


Tiffany  09:02

I think there were moments where I felt accepted, but for the most part, it took a long time for us to find a nurturing environment in the church.


Gloria Riviera  09:13

See, Tiffany’s mom was a teen mother. She had Tiffany when she was just 17, and she faced a ton of judgment about that from their religious community.


Tiffany  09:23

My mother made a tough decision to go with what my grandmother said and have me she kind of didn’t have a choice. I mean, she she did have a choice, but she didn’t really have a choice according to you know, our upbringing and her upbringing.


Gloria Riviera  09:41

In church, abortion was wrong, but at the same time, church was not an accepting environment for young single moms.


Tiffany  09:48

When I was an infant, my mother went through a lot of hoops and used a lot of family connections, my family had to have a lot of conversations just to get me back to I have some Christians in the church, because they did not want to Christian me because I, quote unquote didn’t have a father. And so that was a lot of heartache and pain behind that.


Gloria Riviera  10:12

On our 18th birthday. Tiffany decided that was it.


Tiffany  10:15

I told my mother, this will be my last Sunday, I mean it, I’m not coming back and left.


Gloria Riviera  10:22

And as the next decade passed by Tiffany’s faith unraveled even further,


Tiffany  10:28

My grandmother passed away in 2017, and it completely shook my world. I completely fell out of love with the church, I fell out of love with religion, because just a couple months after my grandmother passed, my uncle passed, and he was my godfather, as well. And so I had suffered a lot of loss. And it made me really start to dissect and deconstruct some of that theological upbringing and religious rhetoric that I had been taught. And one of those was don’t question God. And so now I’m looking at God, like, I have a lot of questions for you like a lot of them.


Gloria Riviera  11:06

Not happy right now.


Tiffany  11:08

I’m not happy right now so either I’m going to ask them and you’re going to spite me and like, bring me up there with them. Or you’re going to sit here and and sit with my questions, and either answer them, or be the God that I believe you to be. So that we can have a real connection, because right now, I’m not really rockin with you.


Gloria Riviera  11:28

As Tiffany moved through her grief that year, she reflected on a memory of her grandmother shortly before she passed away. Tiffany had been visiting her in the hospital.


Tiffany  11:37

And she looked at me and said, I need you to promise me that you will be exactly who you are called to be. And continue to like, be you in the community. She said, you have more churches in you than half the churches.  She saw it and she had always seen it. And so I spent that next year traveling and doing whatever I wanted to do. And then in 2019, I started to feel that tug. And I started to research and ask God different questions, because now we’ve gone through this deconstruction of relationship and built a more intimate relationship so now I know, at least for me, I can question God and God is okay with that God is big enough to handle my questions and my emotions.


Gloria Riviera  12:23

Tiffany began to scrutinize the Bible for answers. And she never stopped her curiosity led her to attend seminary school. She explained to me that it was more than just a religious calling. It was also because she comes from a long line of activists.


Tiffany  12:39

My grandmother participated in lunch students, and was very vocal about how she felt about the Civil Rights Movement. I have a grandfather who was chased out of the south by a racist sheriff. So like, I got to sit at a kitchen table as a kid and listen to his stories as a civil rights activist and advocate.


Gloria Riviera  13:00

Like her grandparents before her, she is an activist. And she’s bringing that energy to her ministry.


Tiffany  13:07

I always say my Jesus flip tables, and so do I. I’m going through ordination in my denomination now and the board asked me, you know, why do you want to be in church, I said, I’m actually here to disrupt.


Gloria Riviera  13:20

That is exactly what Tiffany was doing with her sermon about the dobs decision. She was disrupting the status quo. She was talking about abortion in church. It all goes back to her mission, what called her back to the church in the first place.


Tiffany  13:36

I think that’s what God is calling me to do is to really literally be the hands and feet and voice of God’s love and what that looks like, and to let people know regardless of what your choice is, God is there, God loves you and God supports you as the child of God, that you were created to be.


Gloria Riviera  14:06

Tiffany totally up ends my conception of what it means to be a religious leader. In the news, and in our communities, we’re always hearing about religious groups, usually Christian, mostly Evangelical, fighting against access to abortion and other reproductive care. I wanted to know what Tiffany thought about this mainstream notion that reproductive rights and religion just don’t mix. There is a misconception out there that if you are a religious person, a person of faith or a preacher, then you oppose abortion. Can you just walk us through your reaction to that? What were what are your thoughts on that?


Tiffany  14:44

Everything you think you know about preachers? You don’t, there is this messaging out there by and large that preachers are anti abortion, and many of us aren’t. Many of us believe in equitable access to abortion care and reproductive justice. We’re at the city hall, we are at the Capitol, we are writing the letters, we are meeting with our local officials or federal officials to say, we can’t do this. We don’t always lead with that so you may not know that your local pastor or preacher is down at Capitol Hill with, you know, a megaphone, but we’re there, just, we just are not all as vocal about it.


Gloria Riviera  15:26

Listening back to Tiffany’s interview gave Sam and me so much to think about.


Samantha Bee  15:31

This is like, ah, this is, well, this is very personal. But like when I’m trying to explain to like my husband, who doesn’t really have any faith, he’s very vocal about being an atheist. And I’m like, No, but like, faith can meet you where you live, like, you can be a person of faith and your priests or your your preacher, the person who you turned to can meet you in your own life.


Gloria Riviera  15:54

Yeah, I didn’t grow up with a lot of organized religion. So I may have fallen into that category where I may well have thought, yeah, if you’re a preacher, if you’re a person of faith, if you’re a faith leader, that equates to being anti abortion, you shouldn’t assume anything is the messaging that made me pause and take note it don’t assume it anything.


Samantha Bee  16:16

I like that yes, that’s great. Don’t assume anything. That’s a lesson that I could learn every single day of my life.


Gloria Riviera  16:25

Every single day. Yes, me too. When we come back, we’ll uncover what religious people of all kinds really think about abortion. Plus, we’ll meet some of the faith leaders Tiffany’s talking about the ones defying convention and standing up in support of reproductive rights.


Gloria Riviera  16:59

Hi, Sam.


Samantha Bee  17:11

Hi, Gloria.


Gloria Riviera  17:15

So if I am being honest, even after listening to Tiffany, it is still hard to shake the feeling that religion and reproductive freedom are at odds. Like when I imagine a preacher talking about abortion, it’s all fire and brimstone. It’s hard to believe it could be any other way.


Samantha Bee  19:19

Oh, I hear you but this is an issue I’ve been lucky to cover and the facts might shock you. And if we’re going to talk about facts, I’m going to need some explainer music please. Thank you so much, okay, the first thing I want to point out is that most religious people in the US actually think abortion should be legal in most or all cases. That includes Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and 56% of Catholics, even if the Pope does not agree in fact, the vast majority of Christians in America support reproductive rights, just not white evangelicals.


Gloria Riviera  19:54

Oh, right then, I guess I was letting white evangelicals speak for everyone.


Samantha Bee  19:59

Yeah you’re not alone there, white evangelical Christians are the most outspoken about abortion, but they’re not the only people of faith in this country, they just tend to have the loudest voices, and they wield the most political power.


Gloria Riviera  20:13

Right, but why are they so powerful?


Samantha Bee  20:15

Well, you’re never gonna believe this. But.


Gloria Riviera  20:18

Well, if you’re explaining it, it must be because.


Samantha Bee  20:21

Yes, exactly it’s all part of a historical plot, by the far right. Look, up until the late 70s, the political opposition to abortion had been primarily Catholic. It wasn’t being treated as a major issue by most evangelicals, the religious right, as we know it today, didn’t really exist.


Gloria Riviera  20:43

Sounds idyllic. So how did they become such a political powerhouse?


Samantha Bee  20:48

Well, it really started with the lead up to the presidential election of 1980.


Gloria Riviera  20:53

Ah, yes, Reagan’s landslide win over Jimmy Carter.


Samantha Bee  20:57

Exactly, he ended up winning 44 states, in part because white evangelicals turned out to vote for him in huge numbers.


Kia Smith  21:06

You’re seeing the president elect of the United States and his family, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, the Reagan children and grandchildren.


Gloria Riviera  21:18

What so what got these white evangelicals behind Reagan?


Samantha Bee  21:21

Well, that was the work of a little group called the Moral Majority.


Kia Smith  21:25

Number one, get people saved, number two, get them baptized, number three, get them registered to vote.


Gloria Riviera  21:31

Oh, I actually remember the Moral Majority.


Samantha Bee  21:34

Oh, same I grew up in Canada and I remember them. I was like 10 years old, and my family would talk about how crazy these people were around the dinner table. So for our younger listeners, the Moral Majority was this far right political group founded in 1979.


Kia Smith  21:44

Very political organization and one’s membership was based upon citizenship in this country in a commitment to a pro life pro traditional family, pro moral and pro American position.


Samantha Bee  22:02

They basically created the religious right, as we know it today. A lot of white evangelicals hadn’t been reliable voters before this. So the Moral Majority took on the project of turning their religious fervor into political power. And at first, they didn’t even care about abortion. They were trying to mobilize Christians to keep southern schools segregated.


Gloria Riviera  22:24

That’s terrible.


Samantha Bee  22:26

But when it was no longer socially acceptable to campaign on segregation, they turned abortion into their new mobilizing issue. Remember the playbook we talked about in episode three. This was when they wrote it. The far right developed a message around abortion that hit a nerve with evangelicals, and in doing so they changed the landscape of American politics, winning on the right became synonymous with winning evangelicals. And it is still like that today.



I have great relationship with God. I have great relationship with the evangelicals, in fact, nationwide, up by a lot of weed leaving everybody.


Samantha Bee  23:06

And that’s how we got here, with Trump winning over 80% of the white evangelical vote in 2016. According to PEW that’s in part because he explicitly promised to appoint pro life justices to the Supreme Court.


Trump  23:20

We’re here for a very simple reason to defend the right of every child born and unborn to fulfill their God given potential.


Samantha Bee  23:32

The religious right has become such a political powerhouse that they really suck up all the air in the room when we’re talking about abortion. That’s how we’ve been hoodwinked into thinking that religion and hating abortion go hand in hand.


Gloria Riviera  23:45

That totally makes sense.


Samantha Bee  23:47

But the truth is, there’s also a long tradition of faith leaders fighting to protect the right to an abortion. Like the religious Coalition for reproductive choice, they push back against abortion bans, and even offer blessings to staff at abortion clinics.



Thanks and ask blessing, especially for the doctors and nurses and other health care workers and staff who served the reproductive healthcare needs of women we speak..


Samantha Bee  24:14

And the religious Coalition for reproductive choice isn’t alone. Faith leaders are actively filing lawsuits against abortion bans in states like Indiana and Missouri. They’re saying that abortion bans violate their freedom of religion and their preaching about abortion, encouraging their congregations to get out and vote and even using their religious tax exemptions to help people get access to practical support. Maybe my favorite is a group of religious leaders in Texas. They’re flying people who need abortions to New Mexico every other week. So next time you hear one of those fire and brimstone sermons, just remember there are 1000s of her legislators across the country who don’t just support abortion rights, they see them as sacred.


Gloria Riviera  25:08

Wow, thank you, Sam. Okay, are you ready for a big reveal? I actually got the chance to listen in on a conversation between some of those pro choice religious leaders last spring. Here they are.


Rosie Washington  25:23

Reverend Dr, how are you?


Reverend Dr.  25:25

I’m good, how are you?


Rosie Washington  25:27

Wonderful, wonderful. Good to see.


Gloria Riviera  25:29

It’s April 2023, you’re listening in on a Zoom meeting of black faith leaders. The hosts, Reverend Rosie Washington and Kia Smith are greeting attendees as they join the call. Rosie kicks things off.


Rosie Washington  25:42

So our opening question today is going to once your your name, your title, and your location and make sure.


Gloria Riviera  25:51

It starts off like any other zoom call with the standard introductions. But then it starts to sound a little different.


Rosie Washington  25:58

And then I want you to complete the following sentence. As a person of faith, I am in this room discussing faith and reproductive health access. Because blank.


Gloria Riviera  26:14

Since the overturning of Roe, this group has been convening every so often to discuss social issues, including reproductive health access, they talk about how these issues intersect with their faith and why they matter. The reasons they share are diverse, maybe more of what you’d expect to hear from activists, not faith leaders.



There’s not enough room in a woman’s vagina, for her, her doctor, and the legislature or the courts. For that matter.


Tiffany  26:43

I feel that there’s a divine dignity and choice that this fight has actually connected me closer to my faith. I come to this work because I am first and foremost a woman and a black woman and the maternal mortality rate is garbage.


Gloria Riviera  27:07

Recognize that voice ,it’s Tiffany, who you heard from before she joined the Black faith leader cohort after it began in 2022.


Tiffany  27:15

I believe in being the hands and feet of the fight. I manifest God’s will of justice here.


Gloria Riviera  27:23

And finally, we hear from Kia Smith, Senior Director of Communications at faith in public life, the organization behind these cohort meetings


Rosie Washington  27:31

And Kia, we will end with you.


Kia Smith  27:35

Thank you Reverend Rosie. So I am Kia Smith, and I am in Eliwood, Georgia, east side of Atlanta close to Decatur all the things. And what brings me into this room today, I am going to tell you.


Gloria Riviera  27:52

Kia co leads the cohort meetings with Rosie. And she told me she’s seen faith leaders from all different backgrounds and beliefs about reproductive justice show up to the meetings. While some were very much in support.


Kia Smith  28:04

Others, were like I’m not sure about this. I don’t know how I feel but sitting in those rooms and hearing the stories and expanding their understanding of what abortion care is used for. It created a community where people became bolder and more excited to go into their communities to have these conversations.


Gloria Riviera  28:26

But before the faith leaders can have those conversations with their communities, they need to talk strategy. That’s because many of them sort of conflicted congregations, congregations made up of people with different opinions on abortion. So there is a real art to approaching the topic. In that same zoom call with the cohort. Kia explains the importance of language.


Kia Smith  28:50

We don’t use pro life and pro choice in our messaging. We avoid it because both of those phrases come with a lot of baggage. You may want to avoid them so that you aren’t alienating your audience before you can have a deeper conversation.


Gloria Riviera  29:06

Rather than alienating folks with polarizing language. Rosie says that faith leaders can use the skills they already have.


Rosie Washington  29:13

You know, often as preachers in this room, ya know, we can go off the cuff, if you want to know about that and tell you about but what does it mean to be strategic in my sharing right and to create the type of conversation we know is necessary to move us in the right direction.


Gloria Riviera  29:30

Rosie says one way to do that is through sharing your personal journey story.


Rosie Washington  29:36

The journeys voice the information into relationship to learn more about who we are authentically.


Gloria Riviera  29:43

The journey story, it’s something Rosie encourages the cohort to think about and practice sharing. It’s like a hero’s journey, but through the lens of reproductive health. It starts with who you were before the journey. What you thought about abortion for example, then a conflict that makes you question who you are and what you believe. Finally at the journey’s end, you’ve grown from your initial views into a new state of mind. You might have a reproductive journey story of your own, or you know someone who does. When we come back we’ll hear Kia’s story a path from shame to a new relationship with God. Plus, we’ll hear from a faith leader who is changing his own anti abortion views.


Gloria Riviera  30:47

Kia, who organizes the faith in public life cohort meetings, describes herself as a cradle Baptist, someone who was involved in the church from basically birth. So growing up, she absorbed the conservative religious ideology of her community.


Kia Smith  33:13

I grew up in a small conservative Alabama town during the 80s and 90s. So I was a teenager, just this purity culture. And what would Jesus do bracelets started breaking through into mainstream culture.


Gloria Riviera  33:28

She learned stuff like having sex before marriage is wrong, abortion definitely wrong having a child out of wedlock also wrong. So when she got older, she didn’t want to get contraception in her small town because she was afraid people would talk.


Kia Smith  33:44

It was the summer before my senior year in high school when I found out that I was pregnant.


Gloria Riviera  33:49

When Kia told her parents she says they told her to have an abortion. She says even her pastor agreed it was really the best option.


Kia Smith  33:57

Because my future was so bright and having this child at this point in time in your life, it would it would be too hard it will prevent your future so for three days, every waking moment of my life was consumed with conversations about why I should have an abortion.


Gloria Riviera  34:16

But Kia didn’t want an abortion and I get it. When you’ve absorbed the message that abortion is a sin. It might be really hard to see that as a valid option. For Kia both choices, either having an abortion or being an unwed mother were shrouded in shame.


Kia Smith  34:35

I had internalized all of the evangelical Christian teachings of my time.


Gloria Riviera  34:40

It’s what Kia calls embedded theology, the religious teachings we end up following whether or not we actually believe in them. In the end, Kia chose to have her kid.


Kia Smith  34:52

My pastor wanting me to apologize to the church for my sin. I would not do that because as what exactly is the same here. And also if it is sin, that’s between me and God and it really has nothing to do with the rest of the people in this room. And I was refused communion, because I would not apologize and my child could not be blessed at the church or congregation.


Gloria Riviera  35:21

Looking back now Kia understands what she truly needed when she was 17 was the ability to make a choice without shame about her body and her future. She says having an abortion or having a child out of wedlock are not sin.


Kia Smith  35:39

The same was other people attempting to control my body and my future.


Gloria Riviera  35:44

It’s really hard hearing what happened to Kia. In so many ways kids story parallels Tiffany’s. For Kia, the church wouldn’t bless her daughter. For Tiffany, she was the daughter at the church wouldn’t bless. For both it meant feeling incredibly alone, in a place you were meant to feel embraced.


Kia Smith  36:05

That was when I really started to understand how patriarchy and sexism and misogyny is often embedded in the faith that we learn. And I became intentional about building a relationship with a God that I knew


Gloria Riviera  36:25

That realization that she could still find God outside of her congregation. That was a turning point. These days, Kia is leading conversations about reproductive justice with the black faith leader cohort, like you heard, she’s had quite a reproductive journey of her own. And she often shares that story to help change the minds of others. That work is important. Because Kia knows faith leaders hold a lot of power to transform the culture in their own communities. And that transformation sometimes starts with their own beliefs. Pastor John Delaney is a participant in the black faith leader cohort, he is unlearning his own embedded theology.


Pastor John Delaney  37:09

I always ask people a pull out a coin, like a quarter, which people don’t carry around anymore, but I search and find a quarter and I asked people, How many sides are on the coin. And they always say two, but actually, there’s three sides to a coin. There’s the heads the tail, and then that edge is also aside.


Gloria Riviera  37:33

John is a spiritual leader and teacher based in Atlanta. As a person of faith, he told me, it’s important for him to examine big questions of life and religion with some nuance. That’s something he teaches to.


Pastor John Delaney  37:45

Always tell people my Bible study always tried to stand on the edge in terms of Scripture, in terms of people’s position, stand on the edge and be able to look at both sides, because oftentimes, truth lies in the middle of the corn.


Gloria Riviera  38:04

Standing on the edge of a coin is easier said than done, though, even for John, when he joined a black faith leader cohort meeting at the suggestion of a friend. He didn’t know what he was getting into. Because within a few minutes, he learned the discussion centered on a topic he already felt strongly about. He knew which side of the coin he was on.


Pastor John Delaney  38:24

I found out that they were talking about reproductive rights. Initially, I was I was sort of, you know, just I tuned a lot of things out because I was hardcore on my position.


Gloria Riviera  38:37

But it didn’t take him long to realize that he was the only person in the Zoom Room with that position.


Pastor John Delaney  38:42

For I came to faith in public life. I had tunnel vision, when it came to abortions, and a good friend of mine, he calls the church brain. And so yeah, I came into faith in public life into that cohort with serious church brain. And just my hardcore position that I knew abortions was wrong.


Gloria Riviera  39:03

John didn’t get this notion from just anywhere. He grew up in conservative Indiana steeped in Baptist teachings. So well, John sat on that first zoom call with his quote, church brain activated. The people in his group were discussing reproductive issues, including an upcoming pro choice March. John had been listening quietly for most of the meeting. But at this point, he knew he had to speak up.


Pastor John Delaney  39:27

I think everybody thought I was pro choice until I stepped up when they call for us to sort of come to a March and I said, hey, guys, I don’t feel comfortable advocating as a pro choice person, because I’m more of a pro life person. And so I can’t be out there stumping for pro choice, when that’s not where I stand. And so now I did state that and I we’ll think, oh, that’s probably gonna be my last call. And I gonna invite me back.


Gloria Riviera  40:05

But that’s not what happened. The opposite actually, instead of kicking John out, the other cohort members thanked him for his openness. They encouraged him to return. So he did again and again.


Pastor John Delaney  40:17

By the second or third call, some stuff started to light, like peeling the onion, the layers of my understanding started to come off.


Gloria Riviera  40:32

How would you describe yourself now, after this experience with faith and public life? You said the needle has shifted for you? How so?


Pastor John Delaney  40:41

Right? Yes. So again, it’s shifted in terms of the lens that I look at abortions through, I tried to take off the monolithic stance that I’m in as far as being a 49 year old black male, with no kids, and I try to place myself in a young 1718 year old mother that has this option, it’s a way out, she doesn’t have to let the community know and be looked at as some loose woman that’s had a baby out of wedlock. She’s able to get it done and get it over with, I still think it’s wrong but now I understand it better. You know, I don’t look through a judgmental lens like I used to. I said you know what, and I know this might sound crazy to my faith community. But if I was a 16, 17 year old mother put in that position, I probably would have decided the same thing against my fate.


Gloria Riviera  41:50

Wow, that is a huge moment to be able to say that, that you would have chosen an abortion in those circumstances. And you would not have said that before you walked into that meeting?


Pastor John Delaney  42:04

Absolutely not.


Gloria Riviera  42:07

Let that sink in for a moment. Here’s a guy who strongly identified as pro life saying he’d probably choose to have an abortion if he were a pregnant teen. Yeah, John is still working through the theology he grew up believing. But it is remarkable to hear his newfound empathy, thanks to the cohort. Even outside of their meetings, he’s reflecting on these issues. He told me that he recently talked to his sister about abortion. She’s a nurse in Atlanta, and she told him about Georgia’s super restrictive six week abortion ban. It’s sometimes called a heartbeat law. But that’s an anti choice misnomer. While doctors can detect cardiac activity at six weeks, a true heartbeat doesn’t exist.


Pastor John Delaney  42:54

She says she sees women that are dying, because they know that the woman is going to miscarry. But they can’t do anything to the fetus, because it still has a heartbeat. So that heartbeat law is very damaging but that comes from a very conservative viewpoint on abortion.


Gloria Riviera  43:19

Pastor John, it brings up a question, which is, would you vote in favor of legislation that would overturn the heartbeat bill, knowing what you know, now after your time, attending the meetings with faith and public life?


Pastor John Delaney  43:37

Yes, I would, I would definitely vote to overturn the heartbeat bill. You know, one of the things that I’ve, I’ve found out is that some people are anti abortion, but they’re not really pro life. Because those are two separately, totally different things. They just don’t want to see abortions, but they really are not actively involved in pro life. Because when you’re actively involved in pro life, you’re actually concerned about the life of the fetus and the mother. And so a heartbeat law, you would fight to sort of overturn that because it could be damaging to the mother.


Gloria Riviera  44:27

Damaging because it can lead to unnecessary health risks or even death due to complications. And that’s why John has shifted his previously anti choice stance to be more open to abortion in life and death situations, which I know is not exactly progressive, especially after hearing from Tiffany and Kia and other activists on this show. But still, I was struck by this moment of our conversation. I did not expect to hear that from John. And I really wanted to know what Sam thought.


Samantha Bee  45:05

I do have conflict in my heart. I have to say, when I hear that, though, you’re gonna go like, okay.


Gloria Riviera  45:11

Tell me, say more.


Samantha Bee  45:14

Well, how many people have to have conversations with you? I’d like to change one person’s mind a little bit. Like, I want to congratulate a change of heart. I do and I do applaud that, I do applaud that. But at the same time I go, think faster please actually things are people are dying now. Like they’re dying now. So I’m sorry, I feel like I have I have a bad reaction to that I should have a very positive one. But I’m like.


Gloria Riviera  45:42

But no, maybe not, maybe not. No, I think this is so interesting, because I heard it and I was amazed, right that he said he would vote to overturn a heartbeat Bill and I felt some pretty immediate, I don’t know, enthusiasm over that. But when I hear your reticence to, you know, just quote unquote, offer, congratulations, I relate to it, because that’s what it takes his own sister to talk to him and explain that, for his, you know, thoughts on this to change.


Samantha Bee  46:15

It is such a great reminder that it often I find in this country, it takes a really lived personal experience of something to make people change their mind. It just takes so much for people to go actually turns out my child is is is LGBTQ. Now I don’t want to create laws that oppress LGBTQ people. It’s like, well, could you have thought, could you have had empathy or just like imagined people’s pain up until the anyways, stepping off my soapbox?


Gloria Riviera  46:50

What did you think of him saying, you know, you’re not really pro life.


Samantha Bee  46:54

I do appreciate that. That is very onpoint you’re not being pro people’s lives, if you’re letting them die in the service of, you know, a miscarriage that goes south.


Gloria Riviera  47:04

Or if you’re bringing them into a world where they’re under threat at school due to gun violence or food insecurity or LGBTQ oppression, it’s the reproductive justice ideals, right? The right to raise a child in a safe environment. Yes, that’s what we’re talking about.


Samantha Bee  47:24

There’s more to life than just being physically alive. After talking with Sam, I realized, I do have some conflict in my heart to on one hand, it took several conversations for John to empathize with someone seeking an abortion. On the other hand, it’s incredible that the cohort was patient engaged and able to show him how his hardcore position wasn’t actually so unmovable. I’m grateful to John for letting me into his own reproductive journey story. I don’t think that journey can even happen without thoughtful, open hearted conversations. That’s exactly what he’s been getting through those cohort meetings. Here’s Kia again.


Kia Smith  48:10

And I think that is just an example of how when we take the venom out of these conversations, and we approach each other with, with love and dignity, but also really leaning strongly into our values, we can help expand how people understand faith and reproductive health access, we can really expand the people of faith that faith leaders who are with us on this issue and to stop people from using faith as a barrier to us getting the access that we need.


Gloria Riviera  48:46

Not everyone is cut out to do this kind of emotional labor, for what feels like should be a basic human right. It’s hard work, because people don’t change their minds in an instant. It’s more like an evolution. In John’s case, he can now empathize with a teenager seeking an abortion. He has a new view of Georgia’s heartbeat law. These shifts on a personal and policy level. They’re meaningful. I’m so glad that people like Kia and Tiffany are creating the faith communities they didn’t have communities that support the reproductive choices of their congregants.


Tiffany  49:25

Faith is such an integral part of our lives and at our best, our congregations and our faith communities should be where all of us can come and gather and care for one another.


Gloria Riviera  49:39

Like Kia, Tiffany is in favor of talking about reproductive issues in church. She already gave a sermon on the overturning of Roe after all. But it’s not just that she sees the church as a good place to discuss these issues. She thinks it’s one of the best places.


Tiffany  49:58

I mean, think about a large portion of people in this country are in churches every Sunday. They’re in Bible studies, they’re at choir practice, their kids are playing, you know, on church leagues and things like that. So if we’re spending this amount of time in churches, why wouldn’t we have the conversations in those spaces as well, we have to live our lives day to day outside of the pew. So while we’re inside the pew, I’m not saying you know, throw all the politics in there. But I am saying when something like a school shooting happens, or another reproductive justice ban happens, or access to abortions is limited, or the maternal mortality rate is the highest in the nation like it is here in Georgia where I live, those are conversations we need to have, because they’re impacting each and every person in the pews in one way or the other.

Gloria Riviera  50:52

We’ve all heard about people being pro choice in spite of their faith. But when we use those terms, we assume that these ideas, faith and abortion are inherently opposed. When you choose one, you have to renounce the other. But as you’ve heard, those beliefs are not actually incompatible. For many, the fight for Reproductive Health Access can actually bring them closer to their faith, and lead to more empathetic and joyous community building. Now, I am not particularly religious, but that gives me some faith in humanity. Next time on The Defenders, we’ll look at what it means to make complicated reproductive choices under Georgia’s six week ban through the stories of two women, one who was able to terminate a pregnancy within the timeframe, and one who was forced to leave the state for care.


CREDITS  52:19

There’s more of The Defenders with Lemonada. Premium subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content, like extended interviews with organizers, abortion providers and experts subscribe now in Apple podcasts. The Defenders is a production of Lemonada Media. We’re your hosts Gloria Riviera, and Samantha Bee. Muna Danish  is our supervising producer. Lisa Phu  is our producer. Isaura Aceves and Tony Williams are our associate producers. Ivan Kuraev and Natasha Jacobs are our audio engineers. Music by Hannis Brown with additional music by Natasha Jacobs. Story editing by Jackie Danziger, our VP of narrative content. Fact checking by Naomi Barr. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs. This series is supported by Charles and Lynn Schusterman, Family Philanthropies, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and Levi Strauss foundation. Follow The Defenders wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership

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