Monday, August 24, 2015

Another One About Abortion

I re-posted an article by Matt Walsh on Facebook the other day, and I really gotta stop doing that. Even when I agree with some of his basic points, his tone and attitude offend me, and I always end up being associated with them. This one had to do with Planned Parenthood and abortion, and a friend took me to task on account of it. So, even though I thought I was done with this topic, I guess I have more I need to say.

My friend contended that pro-life advocates have fought against effective strategies to reduce unwanted pregnancies. Maybe so. Other friends have argued that pro-life advocates leave these mothers hanging when they've had the babies they didn't want aborted. True sometimes, but less often than they contend. My friend believes that pro-life tactics are at least 50% responsible for abortion rate in the U.S. today. I agree that pro-life advocates have often gone about this wrongly and irresponsibly, but the 50% figure I'm not so sure about.

My friend asked me to read the story of a couple struggling with the revelation of their unborn baby having a serious medical condition. And I truly sympathized with that; as I wrote earlier, there are certainly situations that would find me wishing that abortion was a viable alternative. I don't have answers (at least, legal answers, answers outside of my faith) for those really difficult situations: rape, the life of the mother being at risk, etc.

But those are a minority of the abortions performed, maybe 15%, according to even liberal sources. The other 85% are done for other reasons: "I don't feel mature enough to raise a child . . . I don't want to be a single mother . . . I'm not ready for a child, can't afford it . . . I'm done having babies . . ." 85%.

I want to talk about that 85%. That was the group I was talking about to begin with. Abortion is too big a topic to address as a whole: I want to talk about the aspect that we SHOULD be able to agree on. That 85%.

See, although I've always believed abortion was wrong, I haven't been very outspoken about it, and I've entirely backed off of the discussion of laws regarding abortion. And I had a reason: my opposition to abortion was solely based in my religious beliefs, and I understood that the country couldn't make laws based on any one group's religious beliefs.

But the situation has changed. You don't have to be religious anymore to recognize that abortion is the destruction of a living being. I have nonreligious friends, even atheist friends, who agree with me. There is just too much information out there now to realistically believe otherwise. Yet, I have friends who apparently do believe otherwise – intelligent, thoughtful, informed, compassionate friends. And I just couldn't understand this.

Until I read another article this week entitled, "I Don't Know If I'm Pro-Choice Anymore." The author explains that he's struggled with his pro-choice stance in recent years and that the Planned Parenthood videos have just about turned him around. He says from the beginning he understood the abortion debate as "a tug-of-war between competing rights—those of the mother versus those of an unborn baby" – and yes, that's exactly what it is.

Then he said this: "I sided with the mother. And I tried not to think about the baby."


That's it – that has to be it. That's the only explanation that makes sense to me. My pro-choice friends are compassionate people. They fight for the underprivileged, the oppressed, the helpless. They see women in desperate, heart-breaking situations, and they hurt for them. They "side with the mother" . . . and they try not to think about the baby.

May I remind you of citizens in the Nazi regime who enjoyed the resurgence of their nation, the growth of their economy, the stability of their communities, the new pride in their country . . . and tried not to think about the Jews.

And of early 19th century Americans who benefited from the cheap cotton products made possible by the beautiful, well-ordered plantations run by their Christian brothers and sisters in the south . . . and tried not to think about the Negros.

Folks, I contend that we don't have the luxury anymore of not thinking about the babies, because their plight is obvious, it is horrific, and it is in our faces. There is medical information and research – there are ultrasounds, pictures, videos – there are testimonies of mothers, medical practitioners, people involved in every aspect of the birth and/or abortion industries. It's one thing if you're a teenage girl with your head in the sand not thinking further than your next crush and your weekend's entertainment. But my friends are not teenage girls; they are intelligent, informed, thoughtful, compassionate adults. And to be such a person and not recognize the nature of a fetus in the womb and what is happening to it during an abortion . . . well, I'm sorry if I offend someone I love, but I can't escape this conclusion: that seems to require a willful choice to ignore this particular category of the innocent and helpless. To try hard to not think about the baby. I recognize that if you are enmeshed in the pro-choice movement, that choice may be made easy for you by the limited amount of information you are exposed to. Nevertheless, these are lives we're talking about. If that choice is not immoral, it is certainly irresponsible.

But the truth is, I want to believe that my friends are guilty of this irresponsibility; the alternative is worse. Are you telling me that you have come to grips with what an abortion truly is, and you still support it as a valid, legal choice? You have no problem with a woman ending the life of the child in her womb for one of the reasons of the 85% given above? "I'm done having children, so I'll end the life of this one." "I don't think I am ready to be a mother, so I'll end the life of this child." (Consider, as I wrote before, what those words would sound like if spoken just after the baby leaves the womb.) You have no problem with our country having laws in place that not only make this legal, but strive to make it as easy and painless as possible for mothers to make such a decision? Really, my friends? Because if that's you . . . well, please, don't tell me so. It may affect what I think about your character, and I just don't want to believe such things of my friends.

You do understand, I hope, that "siding with the baby" does NOT have to mean siding against the mother? Not with this 85%. One thing we have learned in the last forty years is that the choice to abort is not without dramatic consequence to the mother who makes it. There is a huge wake of psychological, emotional, and even physical damage as evidence. Despite what you think, pro-lifers are very concerned about the welfare of the mother; for many, it was the heartache of the mothers that convinced them this practice had to stop. There are solutions to these desperate situations that are in the best interest of both the mother and the child. Can't we all be on the side of both?

I'm not smart enough to offer any answers for the difficult 15%. But this 85% -- this should be a no-brainer. We should all be able to agree on this. It grieves my heart that we don't.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Breaking Baptist

I grew up in a Southern Baptist church (in fact, I tell people I was a Southern Baptist nine or ten months before I was born). My husband grew up in an American Baptist church (for my unchurched friends, yes, there is a difference). Over the course of our married life, we've attended an Evangelical Free church, a Methodist church, a Reformed church . . .

But we've always been Baptists at heart, and now we're officially Baptists again. Our family joined Woodland Baptist Church earlier in the summer. And a lot of this feels like coming home. Partly, that's because it's a very traditional church: hymnals, robed choir, Wednesday night dinner and prayer meeting . . . it feels a lot like the church I grew up in.

But we're also coming back to a few things that are Baptist in practice. Such as the monthly business meeting. Baptist congregations are run by the congregation. No bishops and denominational overseers who assign leadership and set rules. No elder boards making decisions on behalf of the congregation. Baptists vote. On everything.

I have "fond" memories of the monthly business meetings at my church. Robert's rules of order. Accepting the minutes from the last meeting. Approving the budget statement for the last month. Acknowledging the change of wording in this and that . . . I move we accept the minutes as revised . . . I second that motion . . . Boring stuff, except when punctuated by the occasional fun controversy. I remember once when a youth leader I respected stood up to protest the amount of money we were spending on lawn maintenance. "I mean, green grass is nice, but it don't save souls!" I thought he had a good point. His motion did not carry.

Another Baptist distinctive: committees. Baptists committee everything to death. Within three days of coming forward to join Woodland -- in fact, about forty minutes before we were officially voted in as members at the monthly business meeting -- we were already invited to be on a committee. In our Welcome to Woodland packet was a printout of the committees and their members: the finance committee, the building and grounds committee, the outreach committee, the personnel committee, the missions committee . . . there is even a Committee on Committees, and no, I am not exaggerating, people. (At my home church, that was called the nominating committee -- same dif.)

And then there was the list of Ministries, which are essentially sub-committees of the committees, in a lot of cases. The prayer ministry, the flower ministry, the kitchen ministry, the ushers and greeters ministry, the handyman ministry. There is no lack of places to plug in.

Yesterday, hubby and I had a meeting with the Young Families and Singles committee to finalize plans for a retreat happening in a couple weeks. (No jokes about that "young families" thing; we questioned whether we still qualified for that label as well, but it seems to be broadly applied.) And while I enjoyed spending time with these people, the meeting reminded me of what I learned as a young person in my home church: running things by committee, while very democratic and safe and fair, is also very inefficient.

I had offered to help two ladies plan a teaching session they are in charge of. They wanted to hang around after the meeting and talk about it in more detail. But here was the thing: I knew what they wanted to do, and being a teacher and a writer, I knew exactly how to set it up. I knew I could whip this out at home on my own in a fourth of the time it would take to talk it through with them -- and if I had something wrong, they could point it out and I could fix it. So, I told them that. They said, "Are you sure?" . . . and I know their concern was that they were dumping all the work on me when they were supposed to be sharing the load, as committees do.

But as I said, the effort to share the load this way in a committee is usually inefficient. God set up the church (and the world, to a degree) as a Body with many parts. Each part is gifted to do particular jobs. If we find the job we are supposed to do and do it, it all works out well. If we try to do jobs we aren't good at, or try to spread the load out in awkward ways, we may look like nice people but we don't work effectively.

The Baptist church is very American in how it runs things. And while I'm quite cognizant of the need to "share the load" (or rather share the power) on a national level to maintain our earthly political liberties, my Baptist heritage has also taught me the advantages of a benevolent, wise dictatorship. Which is good, because the Kingdom that my real citizenship is in is essentially that.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The One About Abortion

This is a long post, and it's a post I don't want to write. I have some friends that I'm pretty sure will tear me up – some politely and gently, some a bit more viciously. But being a believer means doing what God calls you do to even if it gets you torn up, so here I go. Folks, we need to talk about abortion.

I had a friend in high school who worked for many years at George Tiller's clinic. When we re-connected later on Facebook, we had a very civil discussion on the topic. Interestingly enough, she said she usually respected the people who peacefully protested at the clinic (key word, of course: peacefully); they had every right to try to persuade people to agree with their opinion of when life begins, she said.

Because we both agreed that the whole issue really hinges on the question of when, precisely, life begins. If life begins at conception, there is no doubt that abortion is wrong. On the other hand, if life doesn't begin until the fetus leaves the womb, abortion might be legally justified. And if life begins at some vague, arbitrary point in the gestation period . . . which is apparently what most Americans believe these days . . . well, that makes it all awfully fuzzy.

But deciding when a fetus is "alive" is the key to the whole argument. If you believe the fetus is alive, I'm not sure how you can give any justification for ending that life. All the reasons given to justify an abortion immediately cease to apply once the baby leaves the womb and everybody agrees that it is now "alive". Consider:

If the baby is born with some defect or medical condition that wasn't previously detected, nobody argues that it is now, after birth, okay to end that baby's life. If a new mother in a hospital suddenly decides that she isn't qualified or prepared to raise a baby, nobody would argue that it is okay to end that baby's life now, after birth. If a newborn could, in some way, put the life of its mother in danger, nobody would argue that it is okay to just kill the baby to spare the mother, once it's already born. If some terrible tragedy happened in the course of the delivery and that baby will now be a daily reminder to the mother of this trauma in her life, nobody would argue that it is okay to end that baby's life, after its birth, to spare the mother her emotional struggle.  Nobody argues that, because a newborn baby cannot survive independently without the nurturing of another that it is "unviable", and it is okay to allow it to die.

These arguments only apply to fetuses, to babies still in the womb, and they only apply if 1) the fetus is not really "alive" and 2) it is just a part of the mother's body that she can choose what to do with. (And you must believe both, by the way: none of this nonsense about the baby being alive but the mother still has a legal right to choose what to do with it. That's obscene rationalization. Yeah, I'll get crucified for that statement, but that's the truth, people. If you believe that baby is alive, but you think the mother should have a legal right to end its life because "it's her choice" . . . well, I don't know what to do with you.)

Here's the heart of what I want to say: whatever your religious stance, it is hard for me to understand -- based on what we know today, forty-some years after Roe v. Wade -- how you can come to these two beliefs (especially after the 1st trimester or so) unless you just want them to be true.

I'm not going to rag on Planned Parenthood and what they may or may not be doing that is illegal or immoral. But I do want to focus on something that came out in all those videos. Fetuses that they abort have organs. Intact (before they are mangled by the aborting process), visibly identifiable human organs. Even sexual organs ("It's another boy!" one of the technicians said).

These fetuses have DNA that is distinctly different from their mothers'. I don't know the legal or scientific definitions that apply to all this, but personally, I don't need the law or science to tell me that different DNA is a clear indication of a different human being, not simply a part of a human being growing inside itself.

These fetuses have beating hearts. I heard Chris Christie say the other day that he changed his position on abortion when he heard the heart of his child beating at his wife's OB appointment soon after the first trimester. This is a common story; there are many, many people out there whose feelings about the fetus changed when they heard that early heartbeat or saw that early ultrasound. This is why pro-life clinics try to give pregnant women ultrasounds as early as possible.

(And I don't understand why pro-choice people are so angry about this practice. If they are really about women having a choice, why are they opposed to women having all the available information before making that choice? My friend told me that at Tiller's clinic, they went way out of their way to be sure these women really wanted an abortion – they had no interest in performing procedures that the mother may regret someday. If this is the case with abortion providers, why would they fight the ultrasounds?

Pro-choice people vehemently protest that they are NOT pro-abortion; it's not that they want babies aborted – they just want women to have the choice. If that's true, why would they be pushing the medical route that is most likely to result in an abortion? If they are NOT "pro-abortion," why do they seem to be actively trying to prevent a pregnant woman from having any possible reason to change their mind about the procedure, from making any emotional connection with the fetus?  Why would they pointedly discourage a practice that helps pregnant women recognize and embrace the role of "mother"?  Why would they not rejoice at this? Aren't loving connections between mother and child a positive thing for society overall? Really, I don't understand this.)

Again, I'm afraid to bring this up, because I don't have the knowledge, energy, or time to make the pro-life case to friends who will get riled by my post. And I'm quite sure anyone who wants to can nickpick a million holes in everything I've said here – in everything every pro-life advocate would say. And I'm certainly not denying that there are pregnancy situations where I might wish abortion was okay (my friend described 9-year-old girls who were brought in for abortions after being raped – dear God – no, I would have no idea how to counsel someone in that situation, and that's the truth).

But those extreme situations are extremely rare . . . and arguing the individual points here can shield us from seeing the obvious big picture of what abortion is and how it is happening in our country. Don't focus on defending the trees and miss the layout of the forest – back up and look at this forest we've created. I want to urge my pro-choice friends to really consider what brought you to this position. Listen to your heart. Your gut. To justify abortion, you must believe that there is no life in that fetus. Can you honestly look at those videos, listen to those heartbeats, view those ultrasounds, and believe this is not a life?

If you can, I guess our conversation is done. If you realize that you can't, then God has answered some prayers today.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Group Markers

My pre-teen years were pretty icky. I felt ugly and awkward, and my school experiences confirmed that: I was a social outcast. I took to faking stomachaches so I could go home when it got to be more than I wanted to deal with.

(This was my first real acting experience. I instinctually knew that to pull that off, I had to be totally committed to the role -- facial expression, physical stance, weak voice . . . I had to be willing to turn down good food offered me, because sick people don't feel like eating . . . I had to be willing to miss activities I wanted to go to, because sick people don't feel like having fun . . . and I played my role well. Apparently, my parents were worried enough about all my stomachaches to take me to the doctor, concerned that I might be under too much pressure or something. Kinda feel bad about that now.)

In any case, this morning for some reason, I was remembering the jeans that suddenly became popular in my late elementary years. They had colorful embroidered designs on the back pockets -- hearts, rainbows, stars, that kind of thing (these were girls' jeans, obviously). The popular girls all had these jeans, and I so wanted them. My mom eventually made a deal with me where she would pay what a regular pair of jeans would cost and I had to make up the difference for these fancy jeans, which I did. Unfortunately, the fancy jeans didn't get me out of the outcast corner.

Those symbolic jeans are interesting to me now. The uniform of the in crowd. Like the colors that gang members flash. Like the jerseys a basketball team wears. We put things on our outsides to identify us with a group. And we all want to be identified with a group.

Now some of these groups are logical. It makes perfectly good sense why, say, all the mothers of young children in a congregation would group up. Or all the recent immigrants from Korea in a certain town. Or all the people interested in knitting or running marathons.

Popular groups at school seem to be a different phenomenon. Sometimes wealth brings them together, or athletic ability, but not always. It's always a mystery to me how the popular kids gets "popular", especially when many of them are not very nice or very well-liked by the rest of the school community. And even more a mystery why everyone else accedes this status to them. I'm sure there are psychological studies about this stuff; I'd love to read them.

I wondered this morning, as I remembered the rainbow-embroidered jeans, whether this cliquish behavior is part of our image-of-God DNA (God is a three-person entity, after all, always existing in community), or if it is a mark of our sinfulness. I suspect it is both, a sinful warping of how God made us. When you look at scripture, God is quite intentional about giving His people instructions for setting themselves apart from the rest of the world, through ritual, behavior, and appearances.

However, they are not to physically isolate themselves from the world. Even the ancient Israelites were to welcome the gentile stranger hospitably and offer them a clear path to join their ranks once they taste and see that the Lord is good. New Testament Christians are instructed to be salt and light to their communities, to be in the world but not of the world.

So, God made us to group up, to identify with a certain people, but not necessarily for protection or for comfort or for our own selfish purposes. We are, first and foremost, made to identify with Him -- and those who identify with Him will necessarily identify with each other (like the spokes on a wheel that are all lined up evenly once they are in right relationship to the center) -- and His people will then minister to the world and draw more folks into a relationship with Him.

It's a good system, when we don't muck it up with frivolous markers like expensive Sunday suits, tattoos (or a lack of), and rainbow-pocketed jeans.