Well. Today I was helping my friend move out of her Harvard Square apartment and as I’m parking the moving truck on the street in front of the Catholic Church a woman asks me, as I am getting into the truck after loading a few things, if she could ask me a favor. Of course, I think she needs directions, or help or something, well, normal that you ask people for on the street. Instead she asks me if I would pray for an end to abortion in Boston. Obviously this is not a favor, but a proselytization tactic I know from my days of (peripheral) involvement with Campus Crusade (for Christ). Anyway, I told her, “Actually, I am pro-choice” and her response is “Oh, well I hope you’ll change your way of thinking because God loves life and God loves you.” I do not deal well with face to face conflict or disagreement with strangers, so I was happy that I was able to say “Actually, I’m pro-choice” instead of “Sure, no problem” which would have been my pacifist gut instinct. Of course, since reproductive justice is something near and dear to my heart, as are conservative Christians that I believe very often are very well meaning, I thought about this for a while after it happened.
My gut reaction would be to be nasty to her and tell her that if she was so concerned with life, she might want to quit spending her time talking to random people on the streets and instead start adopting all the children all over the world and country that need loving homes or providing comprehensive sex education to all the kids who are getting wrong information in their churches. Or maybe she could talk to her church and ask them to make more of a fuss over poverty or the AIDS epidemic, rather than spending all their time and energy fussing over gay marriage and deferring blame related to the widespread child abuse by priests. In my gut, I really have such a hard time understanding how people can be so into “life” while in the womb and not really give much of a damn what happens afterward or, at least if they do give a damn, that sure isn’t where they put their energies. Instead they spend time asking random people on the streets of Cambridge to pray.
However, since I think nastiness and lack of empathy is typically neither helpful nor kind, I would have never said this. Even though I wouldn’t have had time to engage her in depth on the street, this brings me to a very important question. What do you say to people like this women in order to gently nudge their energies in more productive directions? I really feel a calling to reach out to conservative people of faith in this country and I’m always interested in ways to speak to them in a loving, understanding way, while at the same time challenging them to consider the complexity and multivalent possibilities for conceiving of and interacting with the divine. One part of me wants to think that rational explanation might help. More birth control = fewer unwanted pregnancies. Condoms in Africa = Less AIDS = Less death. However, as many of you know, this does not quite work in the Catholic world (to a large extent) or in many Christian fundamentalist contexts.
Helping people to make connections that might not otherwise be made can make a difference. Maybe it doesn’t occur to some anti-abortion activists that there are children who are already born that need care and love and people to protect their life. But, I suspect, for many this sort of logic does not work. What about the people that read the Catholic document Humanae Vitae and think that this is just a totally reasonable and true document. What about those who really think that by encouraging condom use in Africa this somehow interferes with the sanctity of marriage and conjugal relations, even though it results in the deaths of millions of women whose husbands are unfaithful and infect them with AIDS. How do we have productive conversations with true-believers whose belief is not based in reason or logic (of course, reason and logic as I see it)? Even though I think that result of anti-choice activisim devalues women as agents/subjects of the world, limits their freedom, and results in oppressive and hurtful, and sometimes deadly policies and cultural attitudes, I don’t think that this is how people like the woman on the street conceive of it. I think she really does think she is saving babies. And that a woman’s role is fundamentally different than a man’s role in the world. How do we productively engage people at this level? Campus Crusade for Christ has amazingly effective evangelization programs – a systematic approach to trying to meet people where they are at and invite them into a relationship with Jesus, often which is very fulfilling, meaningful, and well-intentioned. Liberals, lovers of freedom and equality too need to find a way to engage conservatives in loving, empathetic way, inviting them into conversation about theological and social issues. Dismissing them as crazy or weird or as part of some conspiracy to take over the world for evil purposes might feel cathartic sometimes, but will get us no where in better securing the rights and freedoms and love and justice that so many of us desire for marginalized people, or moving toward a culture of reproductive justice. Now I just have to figure out how to do this in a meaningful way – on the streets when people come up to me, in churches that are conservative, with people I meet, with the Jerry Falwells and Pat Robinsons of the world. And with our neighbors – our brothers and sisters – who have great intentions to love, to do good in the eyes of God, even if it is hard for many of us to imagine that the conservative right Christians of our country are simply people doing the best they can to make sense of the world and be right with God. Perhaps I am being overly generous, but I look forward to ways to meet intolerance with love, unkindness with empathy, judgmentalness with understanding, hurt with healing. May it be so. Oh, please may we find a way to do this. Please please please please. For the sake of all humanity – all of us who ache, all of us who are trying to struggle and stumble along to make a sense of this complex world and make it a better place for everyone. May God open our ears and our hearts, give us the inner strength to reach out beyond our comfort zones, to see ourselves in others, to listen, to struggle together in covenent.