This post was originally published over at Missio Alliance.
Recently, Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote a compelling and viral post in the National Review on her conversion from being a Pro-Choicer to Pro-Lifer. In the piece, she cites reading a detailed description of an abortion in her dad’s copy of Esquire magazine as catalytic for this conversion. She writes,
Once I recognized the inherent violence of abortion, none of the feminist arguments made sense.
Not only does she liken the abortion movement to that of genocide, she also highlights the great illusion of abortion. Although many around women who undergo abortions quickly forget about the pregnancy, the woman never forgets and may even struggle with the decision for the rest of her life as Mathewes-Green reminds us, “… life stretches on after abortion, for months and years — for many long nights — and all her life long she may ponder the irreversible choice she made.”
As a woman who has served in ministry in local churches for the past 12 years, I can attest to this reality personally. I have sat with countless women who are still trying to grapple with their choice to abort a life so many years ago. That pain and trauma sits with them for their entire lives, and many never fully move on.
Abortion Doesn’t Make Sense, But Something Is Wrong with the “Environment”
Following the logic of Mathewes-Green, many will agree that for a variety of reasons, “abortion doesn’t make sense.” But why, then, do so many women flock to Planned Parenthood? Mathewes-Green explains,
No one wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal, caught in a trap, wants to gnaw off its own leg.
Women with unplanned pregnancies view this as a trap not because they have a disdain for human life; rather, fear grips their hearts and minds as they see their environment as not conducive to raising a child. She compares the stress and environment of a mother to that of an animal,
If you were in charge of a nature preserve and you noticed that the pregnant female mammals were trying to miscarry their pregnancies, eating poisonous plants or injuring themselves, what would you do? Would you think of it as a battle between the pregnant female and her unborn and find ways to help those pregnant animals miscarry? No, of course not. You would immediately think, ‘Something must be really wrong in this environment.’ Something is creating intolerable stress, so much so that animals would rather destroy their own offspring than bring them into the world..
When I read that, I thought, bingo! Something is wrong with the “environment.” Many women in our world who are faced with the reality of an unplanned pregnancy, somehow see a future of intolerable stress, with little to no support, and worst of all, shame.
Where is the Church?
The main question that should occupy the thoughts and emotional energy of those who follow Jesus is just this: What role does the Church play in all of this? What messages are we sending to women in distress? Are we sending a message that the doors of our churches are not flung wide open to care for them? Does the mother who feels caught in a trap, or the mother who feels ashamed and unsupported, see the Church as a place that she is not welcome? Why does it seem like Planned Parenthood is winning? Could it be because when it comes to this conversation, grace and support are far from our vocabulary?
Most regrettably, over the years, abortion and unplanned pregnancies have been reduced to political party lines. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, this was often the dividing line for voters. Christians couldn’t fathom voting for a candidate who was Pro-Choice; similarly, feminists and liberals couldn’t fathom voting for a candidate who was Pro-Life. On one end, those who were Pro-Choice cried out for the rights of the woman. Why should she have to endure a pregnancy without the support and wherewithal to raise this child? On the other end, the Pro-Lifers cried out for the life of the unborn. What about the baby’s rights? Both sides looked to a political party as their hope to either protect the woman or protect the baby.
But if the church continues to put all of its hope in the Political Pro-Life Movement, it will fail countless future unborn babies and broken mothers.
Is There a Third Way?
It wasn’t until I met two charismatic, passionate, and articulate women, Suanne Camfield and Terra Vincent from Chicago based organization, Caris that I was given new language. Caris doesn’t claim to be Pro-Life or Pro-Choice; instead, they claim to have a “Third Way”: Pro-Grace™. Caris appeals to both sides of the “debate” by caring about both the mother and the child. In an interview with Evangelicals for Social Action, Caris President Angie Wezley says,
The Pro-Grace™ Movement is a movement of Christian individuals and churches who extend the same grace we’ve received in order to create a positive future for both the woman and the child.
[Tweet “@IamProGrace appeals to both sides of the abortion debate by caring about both woman & child.”]
Caris is on to something profound, and it is my hope that the Church soon catches on. For far too many reasons, women who are faced with the unexpected reality of pregnancy believe that the world in which they live will not welcome and support them or their baby. They feel trapped. The one place that is called to be a subversive community of love, grace, and care is somehow perceived as a place of judgment and shame. So like an animal in the wilderness eating poison or gnawing off it’s own leg, is a woman – alone and afraid – who views abortion as her last resort.
Consider the words from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Ephesians,
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.
Wake up, oh, Church. Wake up! As a people who no longer live in darkness, but live in light, may we be the generation that creates spaces of light. May we, the Church, be an open community of grace where women with unplanned pregnancies flock because, they see the Church as their only hope and final resort. May our churches fling their doors wide, with grace and love as our banner, and hospitality as our DNA.
How Will Future Church Historians Remember Us?
At the conclusion of Mathewes-Green’s article, she somewhat prophetically warns that future generations might look back on this era as a time of bloodshed and genocide. Similarly, I can’t help but wonder if church historians will write about the voice and posture of the Church during this time. Will the Church of our generation be remembered as seeking political parties to protect the unborn, but failing to prioritize the creation of safe, healthy, and welcoming spaces for scared, confused, and ashamed women to find support and tangible resources to raise their child? Will the Church be remembered as not only failing the unborn by seeking change to come from the Nation’s top-down hierarchy instead of being a countercultural place of grace, love, compassion, and tenderness? Or will we be remembered a place that screams, “You are welcome here! We will walk with you and care for you! We will raise your child with you by tangibly caring for your needs!” to the mother in shock and disbelief? Or will we be remembered as the Church that instead communicates by its (lack of) actions that we are a place of judgment, shame, and even silence towards scared and confused women who are carrying the world’s most vulnerable possession.
Friends, change will not come through a ballot to vote, a candidate rising as our best hope, or signs of protest. Last I checked, Jesus is King and the King is among us. His Kingdom, then, is a counter-cultural community that is radically different from the rest of the world. We are a community that welcomes the alien, the orphan, the unborn, and the scared mother.
So today, I will not look to the Pro-Life movement to bring the change I long for; rather, my hope is in the Lord and the Church as his Bride, pregnant with the life of new creation!
I’m not sure how much personal experience you have with the prolife movement, but many with whom I have engaged fit in the pro-grace category you describe. They do offer support–including free prenatal care, opening their homes to house women in crisis, and supplying practical needs for both mother and (later) child. I think many persons’ perception of the prolife movement is based on a caricature perpetuated by a very pro-abortion news media.
Dear Rev. Leach:
With respect, I believe you are misinformed about the causes of abortion and the role of organized religion – the church.
Frederica Mathewes-Green is, of course, correct that many women say “I didn’t really have a choice.” But in a significant majority of instances, that is simply not true. She did have a choice: to carry her baby to term. The abortion choice is, in the majority of instances, a choice of convenience. The Guttmacher Institute, an arm of Planned Parenthood, [hardly an organ of the pro-life movement] publishes data concerning abortions, the number, and reasons given by the women seeking the abortions. According to Guttmacher, 75% say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and 50% say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husbands or partners. Those are the factors that are weighed against the life of the unborn baby. It may be that the continued use of abortion as a curative for inconvenient pregnancies is more a reflection of a cultural disregard for the value of human life than a desperate act. Significant numbers of young women choose repeated abortions rather than submit to the undoubted inconvenience and, perhaps, life-altering effects of pregnancy.
You seem not to know that the pro-life movement was the child of the church from its inception to this very moment. Whatever political trappings may attend pro-life arguments, they are thin beer compared to the deep commitment of hundreds of thousands of pro-life people of faith. The Roman Catholic Church was first into the trenches. Protestant churches, across the board, were late to the game. But once in, churches and para-church organizations have been at the front of the effort to emphasize the sanctity of the life killed during the abortion. The Sanctity of Life Sunday celebration and parade in Washington, DC is expressly the work of the church, not politicians. I must say that I was troubled reading your comment that it was regrettable that pro-life people “couldn’t fathom voting for a candidate who was Pro-Choice. . .” The implication is that pro-life voters can and should vote for those who support abortion. If abortion ends the life of a baby, how is it not abhorrent for anyone who believes in the sanctity of life to vote for someone who supports ending that life? It is true that the life issue has become a dividing line among American voters just as the issue capital punishment has; and the issue of homosexual marriage; and the issue of religious liberty. All of these issues are freighted with moral and biblical weight. Why on earth would a Christian voter fail to vote his conscience on such issues and make them points of decision? Those involved in this movement concluded long ago, if they ever believed it, that the political arena would not ultimately protect the unborn. Only a fundamental change in the hearts of men and women would reduce abortion frequency.
Across this country Christians have prayed outside abortion clinics, praying for the women being aborted as well as the abortionists, brought clinic staffers cakes and cookies, all in the name of love. But while church members and some pastors have led marches, spoken at rallies, and sponsored Christian adoption programs and pregnancy counseling centers, most churches have been silent, routinely fail to observe Sanctity of Life Sunday, fail to talk meaningfully and frequently about the horrors of abortion, the resulting death of a child, the frequent physical and psychological damage to the aborted mother, and fail to encourage their parishioners to change their attitudes about abortion. Until the celebration of the sanctity of human life is a regular, staple and honored practice in America’s churches; until the church speaks to the hearts of people , it is unlikely that the frequency of abortion will decline much.
Though there are likely some churches in America and elsewhere that shun or condemn women who are pregnant and unmarried or who have aborted their children, there is little but anecdotal evidence to support that and the number of such churches is unknown. What is known, however, is that the American church has been far in the vanguard of the movement to protect the unborn, minister to their mothers, and aid them in finding alternatives to abortion and the life circumstances that have brought them to the abortion choice in the first place. God is surely the God of Grace and Mercy; and Christians are called upon, individually and through the church, to extend mercy and grace. But our Lord also admonished those with whom He came in contact to “go and sin no more.” While extending mercy and grace, the church must also be the clear, forceful, and prophetic voice calling men and women to repentance for their conduct that leads to the killing of the innocent.
I agree strongly with both of the above comments. The straw man of the uncaring “right” may be what is needed to claim an already inhabited territory of grace… but it is definitely inhabited by some of the most wonderful, dedicated, Christ-like caring citizens…caring for all, those who have abortions and the lost human babies. Let us not continue to create the impression that somehow the “church” is the enemy and the reason for the millions of babies lost and mothers forever scarred as well as abortion survivors, the children who were allowed to be born always wondering about the siblings they have lost and the parent(s) that let that happen.