It is said that introverts often struggle with expressing themselves through speaking. I have personally found that to be true for myself. I rarely have a reply ready during a discussion. In fact, I often do not even speak a word while everyone else is talking around me. It is only after a few hours, or even after a couple of days before I can actually say everything that I was thinking and feeling during a discussion that is long over. So when all sorts of social justice things happened over the summer, the struggle to communicate everything I was thinking was incredibly real.
One of the issues that was particularly on my mind was the uproar over the Planned Parenthood sting operation, where certain anti-abortion individuals went undercover to obtain footage of PP officials’ discussions over the use of fetal body parts in research. I watched as people on Facebook shared the videos over and over again. Some expressed disgust at Planned Parenthood, calling them murderers who took innocent lives. Other defended them vehemently, arguing that the comments were taken out of context with malicious intent, and concluding that women’s lives were still more important than potential lives. Every night, the news revisited the topic, going back and forth, while I continued to eat my dinner silently, eyes averted from the screen. My ears, though, continued to listen intently. All the while my heart turned all their words over and over upon themselves, like waves in an ocean.
As I have said before, while I do not support abortion, I also identify as a feminist. When it comes to abortion, I believe that there are real lives involved. Real lives that include the lives of real children, as well as the lives of real women. Both unborn children and already-born women are inherently worthy of dignity simply because of their humanity. So, while I do disagree with Planned Parenthood’s opinion and treatment towards unborn lives, I also sympathize with the women who side with Planned Parenthood. After all, Planned Parenthood has been one of the only organizations to see and acknowledge their worth and humanity.
After a whole summer of thinking this over, I think I finally had the words to say what I want to say. It is simply this: I honestly do not see how Christians can condemn women and Planned Parenthood for how they address unborn lives when the Christian Church is just as guilty for treating the lives of women and children as disposable.
This is where Christians start to get defensive. I know this, because I am one and have been one for 15+ years. “We aren’t like those arrogant misogynistic bigots!” we retort, “Those are just the super radical conservative fundamentalists, twisting Scripture into hateful signs for their own devices. As for us, we love women, and we believe in their dignity.”
In their (our?) defense, that is mostly true. I have met and worked with a great range of people, churches and ministry/non-profit organizations identifying as Christian. Their denominations have ranged from charismatic, to Baptist, to Presbyterian, to Catholic, to non-denominational. Being objective as I can, I’m glad to say that the vast majority of them are actually genuinely kind and compassionate people. Most of them would never declare to a woman in her face that she is a murderer condemned to hell for having an abortion. Neither would they call a woman who had carried to term and had her child out of wedlock a whore or a slut. It’s obviously unkind, and unloving, while they really do seek to be kind and loving, like the Jesus they profess their faith in.
But — being objective as I can — I have found that even many of those Christians can too be incredibly condemning and hurtful toward women without even knowing it. For it is much more subtle than angry people twisting the Scripture into signs spewing hate. Instead, it is more often a simple Facebook status decrying abortion as murder.
To many Christians, that’s simply stating a theological fact, considering the Bible’s stance on pre-natal life (Psalm 139). What cannot be justified, though, is the lack of compassion that too often accompanies those statuses. While they always assert the humanity of the unborn children involved, they also often fail to acknowledge the humanity of the already-born women also involved. Their intentions are rarely to hurt people. But in failing to acknowledge the circumstances that women who choose abortion often face, they too often end up inadvertently alienating the women they are called to love. For when they call those involved with abortion as unrighteous murderers, they have already disposed of and labeled women who support or have had an abortion as less than they are. Christians on one side: righteous anti-abortionists. Pro-choice women on the other: sinful sinners. They don’t know it, but the women on the other end do. For these women are the ones that feel the weight of the scarlet letters they have been stamped with by their words.
It looks like I’m not the only one that struggles with words.
Furthermore, the Christian Church has not just failed many women, but their children as well. Even if women do everything the Christian pro-lifers often prescribe — have the child and then give them up for adoption — the Christians are too often not on the other side to care for the children now desperately in need of loving families. Instead, in their silence and lack of attention towards children caught in foster care, the Christians are often complicit in affirming that foster care children are nothing more than damaged goods, unworthy of their time, affection or love.
No wonder women look to Planned Parenthood for their defense. Good intentions or not, the Christian Church has too often failed in what they say and do to prove that they acknowledge women’s worth and dignity, in addition to the worth and dignity of the life they carry.
The reasons that women give for having abortions are varied and often full of difficult decisions. Some chose to give up their pregnancy, in order to be in a better financial position to support the children they had later on. Others chose abortion because they knew they weren’t ready to be good mothers then. But rarely did anyone decide what they did flippantly or with maliciousness. Instead, all I found was a common anguish, riddled with long nights of deep thought.
On the other hand, the Church has no defense for their negligence to love people as Christ first loved them in their words and actions, as opposed to seeking simply to be right or righteous. Such points to a deep lack of understanding of their Messiah. And both are evident of a great absence of love.
I’m tired of that. I really am. And I get the feeling that I’m not the only one who’s feeling that way.