Unintended consequences?

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women with Downs Syndrome talk about what it’s like to grow up in a society where the vast majority of babies like them are aborted? Have you ever listened to these women talk about how they deal with societal messages that it would be best for them if they didn’t exist, that their lives are not worth living? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who were conceived during rape and/or incest, sometimes when their mothers were really young? Have you listened to them describe what it is like to hear people say that their mothers, by not aborting them, did not make what is the “best choice, 100% of the time”? or what it’s like for them to hear that no one could possibly love a child conceived by rape? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who have survived their mothers’ attempts to abort them? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who grew up in the foster system describe what it’s like to hear that it would have been better for them not to have been born at all, that no one should have to live their life? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to women who regret their abortions? Have you held women in your arms as they wept over abortions from years, even decades, before? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to pro-life women? Or have you bought into the idea that all pro-life people are men who want to control women’s sexuality? Have you listened, really listened, to women who are falsely accused of not adopting, not fostering, not supporting single mothers, etc.? Have you visited your local crisis pregnancy center and politely asked the women there why they volunteer and what services they provide? I have.

Have you ever listened, really listened, to black pro-life women talk about the ugly racist legacy of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood? Have you listened to why some black women say that abortion is black genocide? I have.

Do you know what it’s like to have a doctor, mistakenly thinking that your medical condition is genetic, suggest your baby be immediately tested in utero because, “of course you won’t want to bring a child like that into the world”. What?! “Of course I don’t want to bring a child like me into the world?” Did you just seriously say that to my face?

Do you know what it’s like to have a miscarriage in our culture, to wake every morning with a grief so intense that it’s like a sledge hammer blow to the heart, and to carry that grief in a culture and society full of laws, politicians, and abortion advocates loudly insisting that it was not a child that I lost, but a product of conception, a clump of cells, a part of my body no more significant than an appendix, perhaps even somewhat of a parasitical creature — but certainly less than human because it had not lived long enough to take a breath. Do you know what it’s like to experience agonizing grief in a society that doesn’t think I lost anything worth grieving? I do. The only people who wept with me, who carried my sorrow with me, who were there for me, were the pro-lifers who supposedly don’t care about women.

My dear, sweet, beautiful daughter has lost babies in the womb. She buried four sons. Sons — not clumps of cells or potential humans. I lost grandsons.

Do you know what it’s like to hear the stories I’ve heard, wipe the tears I’ve wiped, weep with the women I’ve wept with, grieve the losses I grieve — and have to ask myself over and over again: Do abortion advocates realize how much pain they cause with their rhetoric? Do they even care about women? Or do they only care about women who want abortions?

This morning’s Gospel reading at Mass jumped out at me:

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy. A woman in childbirth suffers, because her time has come; but when she has given birth to the child she forgets the suffering in her joy that a child has been born into the world. So it is with you: you are sad now, but I shall see you again, and your hearts will be full of joy, and that joy no one shall take from you. When that day comes, you will not ask me any questions.’ (John 16:20-23)

NOTE: I will not be approving any comments advocating or defending abortion. You have the entire rest of the Internet to do that. Not here.

Echo chambers of white privilege? | Responding to memes

I recently encountered the following on social media:

Protestor with sign expressing a false accusation, unless the word “you” is singular and addressed to a specific person who believes that only white, healthy, non-impoverished babies have a right to life.

In an attempt to be charitable to the protestor, I will assume he or she truly believes what the sign says. That can only be possible for someone who lives in a bubble of white privilege, an echo chamber in which one does not actually encounter many (if any) people with divergent views, or people of other races, with disabilities, etc.

There is thinly viewed racism in what the protestor may have meant to be an accusation of racism against white pro-life advocates. The racist assumption is that no blacks and no Mexicans are pro-life. This could not be further from the truth.

I live in an area where I am increasingly at a disadvantage because I don’t speak Spanish. According to the 2020 census figures, the nearby city is 77% Hispanic, and the majority are from Mexico. At least one of the local pro-life groups is headed up by a Hispanic woman. At one of the local parishes, Mexican women gather often to pray for an end to abortion — for all babies. Obviously the white protestor holding the sign doesn’t live in a community like mine, or he/she would know of the strong pro-life and pro-family ethos among many Mexican women.

It is through conversations with Black women that I learned of Planned Parenthood’s racist origins (as far as I know, the organization has never repudiated their racist founder, Margaret Sanger) and what some view as a racist ethos that continues to this day.

To ignore the pro-life voices coming from the Mexican and Black communities is, at best, ignorance born from the privilege of living in a bubble populated only by people of similar beliefs and ethnicity. I would suggest that the protestor needs to venture out of his/her safe zone and actually engage with people before making assumptions about them.

Equally offensive, if not more so, is the accusation that people who hold the pro-life position only believe that some babies have a right to life. Those who truly believe in the sanctity of life do not believe that it only applies to their particular demographic, and only if the baby is healthy. As for the latter assumption, some of the most passionately outspoken pro-life advocates I’ve ever met or heard speak are people who were born with disabilities (the very disabilities or conditions that are often targeted for abortion).

I know many people who have worked tirelessly for the pro-life cause for decades. I have never encountered any who would suggest that a poor woman of another race, pregnant with a disabled child, consider an abortion. Instead, I know people who provide a myriad of services to support women with unplanned pregnancies, and who continue supporting them in many practical ways after the child is born. I know people who have adopted ill, disabled, and abandoned infants. I could go on and on.

The absurdity of this sign is even more apparent because the protestor felt a need to include “gay” and “transgender”, as if future sexual preferences and future gender dysphoria could somehow be diagnosed in babies. One would think the author of this sign viewed supposed pro-lifers as all being white racists who believe that only certain privileged babies have a right to life. If the protestor was pro-life, he or she would know that nothing is further than the truth. But it seems that the protestor believes that either no babies have a right to life — or only babies privileged enough not to be selected for abortion. Otherwise the sign would read, “All babies have a right to life, even if the baby is poor…” etc.

Pro-lifers believe that every baby, including the most inconvenient, unwanted, unloved baby — the very life too many in our society would deem as unworthy and disposable — is a human being created in the image of God, and thus is a life worthy of protection.

The protestor’s own privilege is showing.

American Civil Religion Part 2

Just in case my first post didn’t have the potential of stepping on enough toes…

In case anyone might think otherwise, let me hasten to emphasize that I’m thankful beyond words to live in the United States of America. Many are the privileges that I enjoy because of my citizenship, and I try not to take any of that for granted.

Oh, yeah — and I grew up during the civil rights era, wishing I could march along with Martin Luther King. Over the years since, I’ve engaged in some peaceful protests and civil disobedience (even went toe-to-toe with a sheriff over my constitutional rights) while also believing that sometimes freedom and justice demands a lot more than that. I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the American soldiers who liberated Germany (including my mother!) from the Nazis… and I definitely wouldn’t exist without one special American soldier who was part of the occupation force in the 50’s.


There is always a “but…”

I may have gotten a heavy dose of American Civil Religion in elementary school, but I also got a heavy dose of the Bible from my soldier-turned-pastor father. So I learned about the Apostle Paul, who insisted upon his rights as a Roman citizen. And I also learned about Jesus, who told His followers that His Kingdom was not of this world.

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)

Decades of my life have been spent wrangling with the implications of that verse.

Jesus never preached political revolution or urged that His countrymen throw off the shackles of their Roman oppressors. He didn’t shout, “Rise up!” or “Freedom!” He didn’t urge his followers to remember the great military heroes of their past. He never said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He never told his disciples, “After I rise, let your fight for independence begin!”

As an American, I don’t quite know what to make of all that. Enjoying the hard-won freedoms that I do, and owing my existence to brave Americans who fought and won against tyranny makes me wish I could ignore the questions and contradictions that haunt me.

Sometimes I tell myself that maybe my inability to see Christianity as a battle cry for independence and freedom, to see spiritual revival as political revolution, is because I’m not called to be a warrior.

But then again, none of Jesus’ disciples became warriors or freedom fighters either. They only seemed to defy the government when they were ordered to stop preaching. Even Paul, the Roman citizen, seemed stuck on the message of Christ, crucified and risen. He didn’t use his privilege to fight for religious freedom and national independence for the Jewish people, nor did he urge anyone else to do so.

The early church was full of martyrs who died preaching and praying, not fighting.

Then there are those extremely troubling beatitudes that Jesus preached. They seem not only completely at odds with the civil religion I was taught as a child, but with the entirety of American culture… and especially with the syncretism that has infected too many of our churches.

I don’t know what to do with all that.

Sometimes I don’t even know how to pray.

On days like that, I’m learning to rely yet again on the wisdom of those who have gone before me and on the treasures of the historic church. So I grab one of my prayer books to help me pray Biblically-informed prayers for my leaders, for my country, for the world… and for what truly ails me. I trust the Holy Spirit to intercede for me, as promised in the Bible.

And I become more willing to admit that I am not the one with the answers — and that, all too often, I’m not even asking the right questions.