“Abortion, sex — these are all forbidden topics. The good news about this organization is that because these are forbidden topics, you don’t usually expect to have a pro and affirming religious voice, and that’s what we want to be,” says Reverend Valerie Jackson, the new president of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a focus of this week's cover story, "Sex Marks the Spat."
Jackson was brought up in a conservative Baptist household, and one question nagged at her: “How is it that people of faith can actually seek with intentionality to prevent all people from having equal privileges and rights?”
“As I began to know myself theologically, it became evident that [the Baptist] tradition no longer aligned with my values,” Jackson says.
Today, she wants to help ensure that “all people have the absolute right and privilege to live life authentically,” she says. “There are so many religious voices out there that condemn or pass judgment on women and families.” There’s one that doesn’t — but Jackson didn’t know about it until a few years ago.
Jackson completed her Doctor of Ministry degree at the Iliff School of Theology and became a staff member there in 2010. “My first introduction to the coalition was through the students at Iliff,” she remembers. Several of them were looking for a faculty advisor for their school organization, Seminarians for Reproductive Choice. Jackson was an academic advisor at Iliff, not a faculty member, and told the students she’d refer them to a colleague. “But they really wanted me to do it,” she recalls.
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While courting Jackson, the Seminarians for Reproductive Choice invited her to a lunch meeting with the Colorado Religious Coalition’s past president, Jann Halloran, who persuaded Jackson not only to work with the Iliff students, but to steer the coalition as a boardmember, too. Not long after, “Jann began talking to me about being the president,” Jackson remembers.
In 2011, Jackson started the ordination process and simultaneously joined the United Methodist Church; in 2012, she was named pastor at a United Methodist church in Aurora — a conservative congregation that “might not necessarily celebrate the work I do with the coalition,” she says. And that work is to ensure that all religiously affiliated women and their families have a choice when facing a pregnancy — a choice that can be controversial these days, in the wake of the shootings at the Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs.
“UM isn’t perfect,” admits Jackson. “It’s still fighting for full equality for the LGBTQ community. But what I do love about the United Methodist tradition is that you can engage in these discussions.”
And the discussions will continue.