Actually Choosing “Life”

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live… — Deuteronomy 30:19, NRSV

I am assuming that many of you know about the recent anti-abortion legislation that has recently  been passed in Georgia, Alabama, and now Missouri. If not, hey, now you do. I’m sure many of you are celebrating it, and I am also sure many of you are furious about it. It’s a polarizing topic in that way (Captain Obvious strikes again!).

Unfortunately, though, the abortion debate is one that has pit us against each other in such a way that civil conversation about it is nearly impossible. I get it that it is an emotional concept, but let’s face it, the loudest voices of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocacy groups have a vested interest in fueling our emotional responses to this problem. After all, if we found a way forward together, things would actually have to change, and that is no good for the powers that be.

As a Christian, this debate is just a headache. Scripture and our tradition exhort us to make life-giving and life-preserving choices. For some people, this means simply voting pro-life (a misnomer) and moving on with their day. But is that really a comprehensive and helpful way to ensure the preservation of life and the improvement of its quality for our people?

Shifting gears, the idea that a woman has absolute autonomy over her body and whether or not she decides to bring life into this world is so strong that for some, morality need not enter into the discussion. It’s a personal, private decision that isn’t anyone’s business. Unfortunately, again, I don’t think this appropriately addresses the problem of why abortions are even necessary, and dropping the conversation altogether for the sake of “freedom” doesn’t seem like a healthy option.

Then there are people like me. Having gotten a girl pregnant in high school whose parents made her get an abortion, I can tell you that it is not a positive experience. No one skips into the abortion clinic and high fives everyone as if they are taking their life back. Part of this is due to the ignorant protesters outside, screaming “murder” at people who could just be getting regular OBGYN care.

To those protesters, thanks for your (non) help. Your time is better spent elsewhere.

The other aspect is that something has begun to take shape in this woman’s body, and removing that is not a light or easy decision, even if her parents aren’t forcing it. Needless to say, even with freedom of choice, most women will not be thrilled to have to make this kind of visit to a clinic, which implies that there is something… “off” about the procedure.

In fact, I would bet that most people (whether they pick the pro-choice or anti-abortion camp) would agree that a world without abortions would be ideal. So if that is the case, why all the screaming? Why not find a way forward that adequately addresses the problem?

From the Christian perspective, yes, the teachings of the faith place an emphasis on valuing life (don’t get me started on the devaluing of criminals and women that has also been a part of “tradition”). But those same teachings also tell us that surface-level action is not enough.

Jesus is furious when he chastises the religious leaders of his day, saying, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence” and “you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (Matthew 23:25, 27). On the surface, the actions of those leaders could be called “righteous,” but the truth is that the actual causes of sin and death were not being addressed, rendering such actions shallow at best.

Jesus exhorts us to “First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean” (Matthew 23:26). We are to get at the source of our iniquity and do the work of facing our darkness before we can actually hope to improve anything. This is true on a personal level, like treating the cause of addiction rather than just the symptoms. It is also true socially. As a nation, we must find what is causing our problems and deal with those first, rather than blanketing them over with inadequate arguments and decisions.

So what does this mean for those of us trying to find a good way forward with regard to this tricky abortion topic?

Simply passing legislation that just makes abortion illegal doesn’t solve anything. It merely makes some people sleep better at night. The truth is, abortion happens and has happened since humans started having children. When the clinics close, the back-alleys will be back in full swing, costing even more life. The choice isn’t whether the law stops abortion, but what kind of abortion the law is going to allow for: safe and clinical, or the kind of dangerous “procedures” that often end up killing women. That’s the current choice, politically, and simply looking to such useless legislation is not an adequate measure of preserving life.

Also, can fetuses be insured? Can child support be paid as soon as a heartbeat is found? Will a pregnant woman be entitled to all governmental and societal benefits of motherhood from that point on? Odds are the answer is no. So what this amounts to is simply telling women what to do because they are the only ones who actually have bear the consequences of what two people did. Again, this is not life-giving decision making that fully recognizes that humanity of everyone involved.

On the other hand, we don’t want there to be a ton of abortions every year. So how do we trim that down in a manner that will promote a healthier society that honors humanity and the gift of sex?

This would require economic changes, changes to healthcare and adoption protocols, access to birth-control, and evidence-based sexual education made available to all people in all places attending all schools. Ironically, it means taking the church out of sex education, because abstinence-only methods have been proven ineffective. It also means removing the stigma around sex, talking about it and the importance of having it safely, because assuming kids will stop “doing it” is a pipe dream.

For us individuals, this means contacting representatives, attending school board meetings, advocating at our children’s places of learning, and, yes, voting accordingly. We have to talk to our kids realistically and pay attention, suspending judgment. This is a lot more effort than simply voting “pro-choice” or “anti-abortion,” but hey, it takes actual effort to make any kind of a difference.

If everyone got the education, healthcare, and communal help they needed, I guarantee you abortion rates would fall and the legality of the practice would no longer be a major issue. This, in my opinion, is what it would take to truly promote life in this nation. This would be a step forward in recognizing and affirming the humanity and autonomy of women while also eliminating the need for a practice that is a concerning metric of where we are as a society.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for bearing with me and reading this post. The truth is, I belief that most of us have more in common than we do to divide us, even on a topic such as abortion. Like all other controversial topics, the answer is not in what makes us feel better, but what actually makes this situation better. Our shallow political climate, then, isn’t going to cut it. Further, slinging mud at each other and digging in our heels is also no way to be productive or kind.

It’s my prayer is that all of us, no matter what “camp” we may have settled into, will see beyond the lies and trickery of the current times. All of us have a vested interest in preserving the rights and healthcare of women. All of us have a vested interest in reducing the need for abortion. All of us have a vested interest in moving forward together. If we can recognize that and behave accordingly, we will stand a far better chance of actually choosing and promoting life.

Peace be with you!

 

 

The Dangers of Tunnel Vision

In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes. — Judges 17:6, RSV

Like others who grew up in the United States, I was raised with an emphasis on individuality. Sure, you’re expected to have a respect for family and authority as a child, but as an adult, the goal is to pull yourself up by your own bootstraps and carve your own way in the world. If you end up in an unhappy or undesirable place, that just means you didn’t put in the work or effort to get yourself where you wanted to be.

In recent times, this individualistic mentality has actually intensified. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, even if it is proven to be dead wrong. We get to choose what version of the truth suits us best, and we form tribes that align with our own sense of what is right and wrong. These groups are actually just larger extensions of our individual selves, and we use them to do battle with others.

We have “representatives” upholding party lines, no matter how insane and unhelpful such tribalism might be for us as a nation. As a society, we have carved ourselves into groups that are either entirely supportive of or condemnatory toward police officers. We must be either pro-choice or pro-life, even though solutions exist that could actually appeal to both sides. We can go online and find articles published by terrifically biased sources and share that misleading information, justified only by the fact that we agree with it.

Further, it’s become fashionable to speak and act callously, even cruelly, whether in the name of our specific cause or even just in the name of “freedom.” We are obsessed with our rights while dismissive of our duty to use them responsibly. Using vicious language designed for shock value, we have become more violent in how we think, speak, and act with regard to each other. Should anyone try to correct us, we are quick to remind them of our right to speak and do as we please, and our individual freedom will not be hindered by something so pesky and invasive as compassion.

This is what we see in the Biblical passage referenced at the beginning of this post. The Book of Judges is full of ironic warnings regarding our tendency to depart from the path of God, and the core of the problem is quoted above and appears as the very last sentence of the book. “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6, 21:25). It seems the ancients shared our self-centered problem.

In Judges 17, the unnamed mother of a man named Micah makes a graven image from silver coins (violating the teaching of God). Micah takes this idol and establishes a shrine in his home. Soon after, a Levite happens upon Micah’s home, and Micah makes this Levite the priest of his shrine. Then in Judges 18, the Danites get involved, take the Levite and the idol, and “set up the graven image for themselves” (verse 30). One woman’s sin, perpetuated by her son, becomes the sin of an entire tribe of Israel. To put it more broadly, because one person did what they felt was right, without regard to anyone else, an entire nation suffered violence.

I hope you can see where I am going with this.

As long as we allow our thoughts, words, and  actions to go unrestricted by compassion, our nation and world will suffer violence. If we continue to live our lives in our own little, individual bubbles, our society will face dire consequences. Every individual person has the ability to build up or tear down, to give life or to take it. For us to choose correctly, we must stop caring only about what is right in our own eyes and strive to look through the eyes of others.

What would happen if the staunch, pro-life advocate looked through the eyes of a woman who couldn’t afford to feed herself, much less the healthcare and maternity leave needed to care for a child? What would happen if the most avid pro-choice proponent saw the guilt a young woman carries after having an abortion? The most anti-police demonstrator could learn much if they saw the fear and anxiety that accompanies an officer’s family every time she puts on her uniform and goes to work. A blue-blooded tribe could also stand to experience and understand the fear a patrol car elicits as it rolls down the streets of a low-income, predominantly black neighborhood.

Could the Democrat grow to appreciate the need for a careful, conservative approach to change? Could the Republican see value in loosening our hold on a system that hasn’t been working correctly for quite some time? Maybe those in the public eye could learn that shock value is not the same as substantive content.

Each of us, perhaps, could learn to approach our daily lives with a compassionate heart and an open mind.

None of this means that we need to stop thinking critically for ourselves. It does mean, however, that thoughts and actions rooted in our own narrow perception of life don’t add up to much. When we cease to care about how we affect each other, we abandon the most fundamental commandment of God. We love Him in how we love one another.

I hope you’ll join me in trying to take a more “outward” approach to life. We Christians have just entered into the season of Lent, a time for personal reflection and growth. It is also an ideal time to make compassion a daily practice. We could listen to those that we disagree with, without waiting for our turn to speak. We could imagine what it’s like to be like those who are different from us, and when we are unsure, we could ask questions. We could ask the simple question of how we would like to be interacted with if we were in the same position as someone else.

Transformation is often viewed as a process that comes from power. The law must change, the policy must be altered, and the results must be major. While I agree in a series of just laws and policies guiding us, I believe in Jesus’ model of transformation: One person and relationship at a time. Consistent, intentional effort for the Kingdom of God will lead to far greater things than we can ask or imagine. So let’s get started!

Peace be with you!