Let’s Talk About the ‘A’ Word

I grew up in a conservative, Evangelical church tradition where “traditional gender roles” were the norm. While women could serve as pastors, most women in the congregation were subtly prodded toward more “appropriate” tasks like caregiving, coordinating pot lucks, and participating in women-centric, feelings based small groups and bible studies. By the same token, women and girls were expected to uphold particular modesty standards in the vein of of Proverbs 31 woman and “keep our bodies pure.” For more on that, read my post on Modesty.

At a national youth convention I attended around age 15, teenagers were encouraged to commit ourselves to chastity in exchange for a purity ring we could replace with our wedding ring later down the road. A huge, massive, overbearing emphasis was placed on abstinence in the context of religious life and personal spirituality, particularly for women, which resulted in teenage girls feeling shame at their inability to resist the temptation of sex and its related activities; repulsion toward sex and sexual desires; and/or extreme pride that they were able to resist (I fell in the latter category).

We were told that Jesus was the only man we needed.

We were told that if we resisted that first kiss, we could stop ourselves from “going too far.”

We were told to save sex for marriage.

But what we read between the lines was this: commit sexual “sin” and you will suffer great consequences at the hands of this, your religious community. 

When I was 16, one of my church friends got pregnant. 

Other youth group kids were having sex. We all knew it. But this visible sign of her impropriety did her in. She was told to step down from teaching the kindergarteners. She was commanded to publicly apologize to the congregation during a church service. Remember, she was a child herself.

And that’s when I realized that getting pregnant as a young, conservative, unmarried Evangelical Christian girl was a death sentence. It was the Scarlet Letter. The whole community would turn their back on you, avert their eyes, demand an apology. 

(A LifeWay Research study indicates that this anecdote is consistent with national data)

Before then, I was staunchly pro-life. But I decided at 16 that keeping a baby wasn’t worth losing everything. My church demonstrated that this, indeed, was what would happen. I didn’t learn it anywhere else. 

And that’s when my eyes opened and I stopped averting my eyes when those so-called “sinners” looked into my face for signs of grace.

My church, it probably goes without saying, was explicitly pro-life. Influenced by the “Religious Right,” most adults I knew were practically single issue voters. They were Republicans because they were against abortion. It should be noted that in this most recent election, many of those same individuals voted Trump on the grounds that he was the pro-life candidate (you know, if you squinch up your face and plug your ears and vote with your eyes closed, but we all know Hillary wasn’t/isn’t pro-life, so I guess they felt stuck).

If you’re politically pro-choice, you must understand that when abortion is conceived of as genocide there is no other choice but to lobby against it. 

The pro-life lobby is mostly sincere. You must trust that before we can move forward. “You knit me together in my mother’s womb” – this confirmation that God knows us before we are born – compels many well intentioned Christians toward a tunnel vision perspective on abortion. If we are being handicrafted by God’s own hands in our mothers’ uterus, then we are valued and valuable before we open our eyes in the world.

If you’re politically pro-life, you must understand that abortion by its very nature of being linked to another life – the life of a woman – cannot be wrapped up neatly into a single judgment call. 

The pro-choice lobby is mostly sincere. You must trust that before we can move forward. If God loves you so much that God handicrafted you together in your mother’s uterus, then that means God loves women and girls of childbearing age, too. It means that the livelihood of the mother must not be ignored. It means that the social expectations, personal experiences, financial situations, and systemic injustices that press upon women and girls in our country and our world are contributors to the myriad choices a woman makes that lead to pregnancy, and possibly abortion.

We are slaves to patriarchy, to the crushing weight of mixed messages telling us to make ourselves more attractive to men and also live like hermits, to be hardworking and perfectly groomed, high reaching and as settled as a cat sleeping in the sun.

We are slaves to individualism, that tells us that all decisions are personal decisions, unhindered by collective forces. That my life is a book in which I’m the lead character, that if I just try hard enough I’ll turn out fine.

We are slaves to meritocracy and supremacy, to the dangerous lie that racial and economic opportunities are determined by who is better, not who society is built to favor.

We are slaves to all of these things, and so it is no wonder that people get pregnant, and some have abortions.

Abortion is symptomatic of brokenness, but it is not in and of itself brokenness. 

When you’re part of a religious community that stops proclaiming God’s love for you the second you get pregnant, that’s brokenness.

When you’re unable to afford a second or third kid because you don’t have access to jobs or social support, that’s brokenness.

When you’re trying hard to get an education and land your dream job and you know that society’s disdain for working moms means you can’t do it with a kid in tow, that’s brokenness.

When you got pregnant because you didn’t have access to adequate sex education and health resources, that’s brokenness.

When you were assaulted because men are still told “boys will be boys,” that’s brokenness.

Until we decide to resolve, once and for all, the gross injustices that present abortion as the best or only option, I cannot abide an argument that claims outlawing abortion is a solution when it’s actually the surface leak from a burst pipe rotting away the drywall from the inside out.

My faith tradition orients me toward the idea that life is sacred, and that defining the gradations of meaningful life isn’t my job.

Young and old, differently abled and able-bodied, mentally ill and well, fetus and death row inmate – I believe that all are meant to be cared for, to be greeted and given a seat at the feast in God’s kingdom.

So, sure, I am pro-life, if that means that everyone matters. I am pro-life if that means women matter, too. I am pro-life if it means we’re going to stop systematically killing people. I am pro-life if it means that LGBTQA, people of color, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, refugees and even white supremacists and religious fundamentalists matter.

I am pro-life if it means that we have a responsibility to radically, unequivocally, enact love in our world until its rooted so deep in us it hurts.

If that’s not what it means? Then never mind.

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