Ben Sharpton: What If...?

It all started in Sunday School...

I was a member of a really great Sunday School class called "Open View" in our church in Georgia. Our charter was to focus on real issues faced by adults these days and to try to understand all of the perspectives around those issues.

We never shied away from controversy.

We were studying Adam Hamilton's book, Confronting the Controversies, and it was my turn to teach. We were studying chapter six: Abortion.

I should mention that I have been involved in church all of my life. I have a bachelor's degree in Christian Education and a Master's in Christian Ministry. I served in various churches as a youth director for twelve years. But in the late eighties I moved from youth ministry to corporate training, teaching employees of Fortune 500 companies, like Universal Studios Florida and Tupperware World Headquarters. I felt as though I've had a good handle on teaching/training, so the abortion topic didn't cause me any concern.

As I was prepping for class, it occurred to me that most issues, and particularly the abortion issue, always seem to have two sides: the pro side and the con side. Generally, we're for or against gun control, war, assisted suicide, evolution, etc. It seems we seldom look for a compromise or a third choice in our debates. And I wondered why, given our skills in technology and medicine, no one has discovered a third option in the abortion debate. If we can extract a heart from one man and embed it in the chest of another, why can't we extract a fetus from a woman and incubate it until it is able to survive on its own and be adopted by a loving family? In my research, I found there is a term for this: ectogenesis ("out of the body, life). I also found much has been written about ectogenesis recently, far beyond the satirical novel, Brave New World. One article indicated experiments had been performed using ectogenesis with animals and in at least one limited, short-term case, human embryos.

A day or two later, I was talking with a friend about this "third option", and asked the question, "What would happen if someone developed a way to incubate a fetus outside the womb?" Almost before the question left my lips, I gave my spontaneous but somewhat cynical answer: "Politicians, who get funding from pro-life or pro-choice groups, would try to stop it."

That was the genesis (pun intended) of my secular novel, The 3rd Option, in which a seminary dropout applies for a job in a medical think tank, which is bombed before he can arrive for the interview. He runs for his life as a strange bald man attempts to kill him multiple times, and the media and police target him as an "Eric Rudolf-style terrorist". His escape takes him to the former Soviet Union to uncover what really happened at the think-tank and why someone would want it destroyed.

The seminary dropout (and his friend, a fallen - recently-divorced - minister) add interesting elements to the thriller. It humanizes ministers by showing them facing real life-threatening situations and taking unusual stands on controversial issues. All of my novels include candid, honest looks at one or more ministers as a major theme.

The 3rd Option has received good reviews, some from people who have written about and discussed ectogenesis and abortion in the past. It has also won the South East Region award for the Reader's View contest and is a finalist in the Foreword Book of the Year awards, the Indie Excellence awards, the Next Generation Indie Books awards and the Chanticleer book awards.

I guess my main hope in writing a secular novel about such a controversial subject is that it will encourage readers think - think of ministers as being human, think of politicians as having the potential for good or bad and think of women seeking abortion as being struggling children of God, just like the rest of us. Also, think of new ways to resolve existing ideological conflicts - by discovering third options.

And it all started in Sunday School.


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