Tuesday, April 3, 2018
Friday, March 30, 2018
It is a good thing there aren't people walking through the streets flailing themselves with bamboo switches, like in the Philippines. It is a good thing no one is getting nailed to a cross, today (hopefully). But I'm not sure that it is such a good thing that there is nothing different about Good Friday here.
From where I be, you can hardly tell this is a holiday at all. There is little solemnity in the air. There is virtually nothing different about today, except for a few anticipatory Easter wishes at work. Same dirty jokes on the radio. Same advertising. Every day its just pizza and chicken.
It should be expected. There is nothing commercial about a holiday whose distinguishing features are fasting and the memory of a torturous death. Its hard to make something to sell out of all that. Maybe that makes this a very special holiday, indeed.
It is a good thing that we don't live any longer under an oppressive religious system that forces us to attend services and adhere to strict and sometimes unfair lifestyle guidelines (like fasting). It is a good thing that it is no longer a scandal for someone to break with convention, out of necessity or choice. Its a good thing you can get yourself an emergency tank of gas, if you need one, or stay home from church. On Good Friday, of all days, it is good that there is mercy in the system.
But like the song goes, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.
And nothing from nothing leaves nothing. You gotta have something.
40 Days of sacrifice. 40 days of fasting. 40 days of walking the death walk with Christ. The Lenten season: an inconvenience. Church services and religious observance. It is a hollow victory to throw all that away and replace it with . . . nothing. Or more of the same, which is really a big nothing. We are free from the shackles of oppression, now go buy something. Target is open late. We beat that bad church, now let's collect the spoils and have another day of same ole, same ole. There's a porn star on NPR. And that's nothing.
And maybe this is a day of nothing. I'm not even going to memorialize it with a capital "N". No, its not "Nothing Day". It is just nothing.
And maybe this is a day to experience nothing. For if there ever was a day when nothing promises to turn into something, it would be Good Friday. If there were ever a day when the hollow becomes the hallowed, it would be today. Good Friday: God as Creator again makes something from nothing. Because, you know, you gotta have something.
And that, like the rest of creation, is good.
[This post originally written and published by me in 2008 on my personal blog.]
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
|A house divided is only half a house.|
I've often been frustrated with my own Catholic Church and have been tempted to shop around. I have enjoyed visiting other churches but have always fallen short of joining. I have always come away from that search with the strong sense that I would only be exchanging one set of problems for a different set of new problems—and possibly worse ones. So why bother? At least I have history with my own church.
Let me show you what I mean:
As a Catholic, I am often asked to answer for every sin that was ever done in the name of the Catholic Church, even sins committed hundreds of years ago on another part of the globe (like the Inquisition). Fair enough. But Protestants don't have to do that. They can simply close down one denomination and open a new one. But that does not clean up the mess. It reminds me of a corporation that can sidestep problems it has created by declaring bankruptcy and its members starting a brand new corporation with a new name and blank slate. It may exonerate the individuals of legal responsibility but not a moral one—the problems still exist and someone still has to do something to fix them.
One of the worst theological slams a Protestant can say about a church is that it tries to merit grace through its own effort—i.e. the dreaded "works-based righteousness." This may be something Protestants believe in principle, but overall they certainly don't live it very well. Again, it's human nature. We often hate in others what we hate about ourselves.
While Protestants profess to believe in a God who showers humankind with unmerited grace, many have no interest in showering unmerited mercy and grace on their fellow human beings in need. It's all "tough love" and "pull yourselves up by the bootstraps." Everyone earns their own worth by how hard they work. Unmerited grace is hard to find in their politics. For two hours every Sunday morning, they may hear a message about unmerited grace from the pulpit, but the other 166 hours of the week are consumed in works-based, merited righteousness. The standards for heaven and earth seem quite different indeed. Yet, Jesus prayed "on earth as it is in heaven."
Protestants take quite a bit of pride and boast of the "Protestant work ethic." What exactly is the Protestant work ethic? I define it as a tedious lifelong task of judging the worth of everyone around you by whether or not they "work hard enough." Bonus points if you can mask your condescension with an even more prideful faux humility. We try to mask this shame with pride, but pride is the absolute opposite of unmerited grace!
You could give me the theological run-around and say that the Protestant work ethic isn't a way to earn salvation but simply evidence of that freely-given salvation—the Calvinist twist. Step away from the theological double-speak for a second and see it for that it is: A system of works-based righteousness. Even more damaging, these thoughts lay the groundwork for the prosperity Gospel.
I prefer the very Catholic approach that we should love one another and not try to judge who is worthy.
Case in point: A colleague of mine says that in his town a poor person can sometimes have a hard time getting help. Most of the soup kitchens and shelters have conditions on their charity. In some, you have to be a member of their church, listen to a sermon or meet other criteria. If a person cannot or will not do that, they are advised to go to the Catholic outreach center "because they'll help anybody." Unmerited grace. We are accused of not preaching it, but I see us practicing it all the time.
The initial reformers themselves were fear-based people. Many were quite harsh, if not downright brutal. That's not exactly what I look for in a spiritual leader. Luther for example, was complex and relatable. I can appreciate his righteous anger at censorship and his zeal to hold the Church accountable. But there's something missing when I hold him up against Francis of Assisi. I don't know what's missing, but whatever it is is somehow essential. I can understand Luther, I can sometimes agree with Luther—but I would not follow Luther. I'd like to think I'd follow Francis.
To me, the Protestant Reformation is one of many movements within the life of the Church. It has value, as I hope I have illustrated above. But with almost each positive comes a negative, and I suspect there is something about the movement itself that lends itself to this. I see the Reformation more as a wound to be healed than as a pure victory. Now, Protestants and Catholics are separated but we are all still struggling over the same things we were struggling over before—the only difference is that now we are struggling apart from each other, which just adds to the tragedy of what happened. I'm reminded of the last verse of Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd:
ADDED LATER: If you are going to have a "protest" movement, that means one of two things is true. You are either throwing out bad theology and practice to have a more streamlined, purer church—or you are throwing out half the wisdom of the church. Given the zero-sum nature of the examples above, I suspect more of the latter may be true in the Protestant Reformation.
Sunday, March 11, 2018
More than any other issue, abortion is the poster child of the polarized culture wars. People just scream at each other. They recite talking points, often with their fingers firmly in their own ears. They lob verbal grenades at each other while staying lodged within their respective bunkers. Neither side gives an inch, and, perhaps because of this, neither side advances an inch. These steps are repeated ad infinitum. Many are weary of the fighting but don't know how to stop.
Trench warfare is getting us nowhere fast.
Literal trench warfare didn't work well in World War I, either—it mostly left a wake of immense trauma and loss of life while battle lines moved only a few meters back and forth. As the war lingered on, no side abandoned the trenches all at once, but each starting putting resources into other strategies. It was obvious that the trenches were a losing endeavor.
This analogy works quite well for the culture wars today, too. Incredible energy is expended by both sides. All this effort may enable each side to hold its ground, but each also gains very little with no end in sight. For every small "victory," you have to wonder how many people are forever alienated by the brutal conflict.
Can we open pathways for discussion so that energy can move more freely? Is there any way to tip the scales to encourage people to talk in a different way?
A number of people are hard at work trying to figure this out. Some great examples are these articles in Nurturing Faith and Secular Pro-Life Perspectives. The organization The New Pro Life Movement is also an attempt to find a new way. Along with this blog, that includes Baptist, Catholic and non-religious viewpoints, suggesting that people from multiple backgrounds are trying to re-think how we approach this issue.
It is my hope that this essay can contribute to that discussion. Let me suggest the following 8 points:
1. Reflect on how we talk to each other.
We can bravely set aside our talking points for a while and just reflect on how we regard each other and talk to each other. Take a step back—instead of talking about "the issue," talk instead about how you talk about it. That can be a difficult thing to do when your hands have been clenched around your weapon for so long, when you can pull out your talking points faster than Bill the Kid could pull out his six-shooter. Yet, there are stories in every war where this happens. After fighting each other in battle after battle, sometimes soldiers put down their weapons and say, "We can't keep doing this, we've got to find another way." Do you practice active listening and nonviolent communication when someone with contrary views talks to you? Is it more important for you to "be right" and "change people" than it is to help others? Would you like being talked to in the way that you talk to others?
Check out The Story of the Christmas Truce, which incidentally occurred in the trenches of World War I.
Perhaps we can learn to speak the language of conversation and conversion rather than condemnation.
2. Admit it: People of goodwill exist on either side of this debate.
The culture wars have gotten to the point where it has become impossible for people on either side to say anything good about the other side. They are afraid of giving ground or appearing to soften their viewpoints. Personally, I have strong views on this issue, but I can still affirm the people and perspectives on the other side.
I've met a lot of people on either side of the abortion debate and in every position in between. I've come away from that with a strong belief that there are simply good people of good will on either side, as well as in the middle. They aren't monsters. They simply disagree on a very contentious issue. I still think some people are very, very wrong and have huge blinders on. But I respect them as people. I like them. I love them.
People can often be so disgusted by differing views that it can be hard to even acknowledge each other's humanity. They look at each other in disgust, thinking, how could someone possibly hold that viewpoint?
Admittedly, it is a fair question. I sometimes find myself asking it, as well. We may never fully understand how or why someone could take the opposite view in this debate. But we also have to admit that millions and millions of people do. We also have to realize this debate is probably not going to be settled anytime soon. We may want it to go away, but it's not. Yet, somehow we have to live together, share this world together and function in society together in the meantime. That's simply a fact.
3. I can understand and affirm the concerns on either side.
Even though I may not completely understand why someone could hold a differing view on abortion, I can still sympathize with the profound issues in play on either side of this debate. It is not hard to see why people are passionate about this issue.
People on either side should be able to at least affirm that the other side has valid concerns. You may not think their conclusions are good, but I'm talking here about their concerns.
For example, I am a strong proponent of peace and nonviolence, but I can certainly understand why someone would choose to go to war. I think that in most (if not all) cases, war and other forms of violence come from an unenlightened place. However, I can at least understand the emotions and fears that go into that decision, even though I hold out for a still more excellent way (1 Corinthians 12:31). There are all sorts of actions that would make violence a tempting response for me, and I don't lose my nonviolence credentials by acknowledging this temptation.
4. Understanding the other side does not mean I have to lessen my own views.
We are afraid that if we affirm the people on the "other side" and validate their concerns, that our own argument will lose something. That does not sound like a person who is confident in his or her point of view. Odds are, my position will be strengthened because I have the courage to face the points from both sides.
But you can still respect the other side even if you think they are totally missing the boat.
Some spokespeople for both sides are all to often caricatures of their positions. There are some pro-life people who seem to have an anti-feminist bent and there are some pro-choice supporters who express a lot of anti-male fervor. So what?
These people do not represent everyone. There are good, decent people who have arrived at their viewpoint on either side of this debate through the hard road of life.
6. People on both sides can be accused of being inconsistent.
There are some pro-life supports who are very inconsistent—they seem to be against abortion but rarely invest time or energy in other "life" issues, even those that may yield less abortions. You could make the same argument on the other side—why are some on the left so concerned with just about every social injustice except for the unborn baby in their own body?
Contradictions are sometimes useful to point out, but most of this is just deflection. Instead of addressing the argument, people instead try to discredit the people on the other side. These arguments usually assume people fall along political party lines, but many people fall somewhere in between the two parties.
7. Find a goal we can share
There is possibly one thing that pro-choice and pro-life activists have in common: Many are weary of the culture wars but don't know how to end them. They feel they can't give up, but they see little hope in continuing the battles.
Can we all commit to ending the trench warfare? Can we all apply ourselves to the task of melting the stalemate? In other words: Can we try to figure out how to figure this out?
What's interesting is that many people on both sides want to live in a society where no abortion occurs. Let that sink in for a moment. The linked articles above go into more detail about this. Do you agree? If so, this seems like a profound unifying platform to work toward!
8. Redefine victory.
Ardent activists on either side might define victory as convincing the other side to change its stance. I'm not asking anyone to give up this goal. But perhaps we need other short-term goals along the way: Can we at least agree to disagree and find a way to respect each other in this? Maybe that's not the magic answer anyone was looking for, but don't knock it till you try it. Simply agreeing to disagree can be an immensely healing experience: The plates shift. The whole discussion may not be resolved, but it could graduate to a higher level, laying the groundwork so that a more substantive change may happen later.
We don't trust each other.
I can't promise that in any of this there is a magic bullet that will break the stalemate. But perhaps if we did the recommendations above we might get somewhere over time. This is a marathon, not a sprint. But one thing is clear to me: The current trench warfare is getting us nowhere fast. We need to be brave and try something else.
But it has helped me see the human beings behind those views. And that matters.
Friday, February 23, 2018
Darth Vader is not just a bad guy. He's a tragic and sad character, perhaps even pathetic. It's hard to feel sorry for him when he's intimidating the bejesus out of everyone, blowing up planets and leading an assault on peace and goodwill in the galaxy.
But he's not a happy guy. He's barely even a guy at all, anymore.
Driven by pain, anger and ultimately fear, and literally torn apart by his numerous scuffles, his once graceful form was replaced by cold machine. Part by part.
He may have been the galaxy's chief bad ass, but that armor hid another truth. The loss of his flesh and blood mirrored the loss of his own humanity.
He didn't just participate in a war. His own body was the war zone.
In light of the alarming rate of mass shootings in U.S. schools, a number of plans are being proposed. Some involve stricter regulations around guns and gun ownership. Other plans involve turning schools into barricaded fortress with armed teachers.
This online meme from a Twitter discussion captures the basic idea. @FoxNews issues the following, from Judge Jeanie Pirro: "We need to protect kids, & that means we've got to have metal detectors, we've got to have experienced cops..., & we've got to be able to have perimeter controls. We've got to have teachers who can carry a weapon & react to this kind of nonsense." #Hannity
Journalist Scott Gilmore replied with: "That's a prison. You're describing a prison."
There is a cost to living like Darth Vader. Every piece of armor replaces your own flesh and blood. Every wall between you and someone else means another wall between a part of your own self. You could drape armor over yourself, never leave home without packing firepower and be always on the lookout for danger. Somewhere along the line, perhaps in shades of gray, you lose your humanity and become a hunted beast— always on the lookout, always afraid, always griping this metal extension of your body tightly. No one can shoot you, no one can beat you . . . but is there any "you" left?
Whenever this happens, the gun has become an "essential" part of your life. It is a continuation of your own hand—it starts where your hand stops. It may be held around your heart. Or gut. The gun has in effect become a part of you. By definition—that's what "essential" means. At this point, you will have taken a large step forward on the path to becoming like Darth Vader.
Case in point: The way the Parkland, FL, students are being insulted, harassed and villified—when they are asking questions, speaking their voices and sharing their testimonies—all during this time of grief—tells me all I need to know about the gun lobby and its bought-and-paid-for politicians: Mean spirited, juvenile, heartless and ultimately selfish. There is no humanity left in the gun lobby. Or if there is, it is buried so far beneath its armor that it can barely breathe without it.
I don't know what motivates the gun lobby, but it's clearly not freedom. If they were concerned about freedom, they would be supporting these students' free speech. Instead, they slander them and try their various smear, diversion and distraction tactics that have worked so well in the past. America may finally have had enough.
The Darth Vaderization of the gun lobby is complete. When grieving high school students are the subject of political spin and slander, there is no line of decency left that won't be crossed. Anyone who comes between them and their gun is an enemy who must be discredited and destroyed. They live, and we die, for the gun. The gun no longer serves them—rather, they serve the gun. They worship the gun. It is supreme. All other concerns are in a far secondary place, if at all. Everything is negotiable except the wishes of the almighty gun. No other liberty or right matters other than the liberty to carry a gun—even the right to life itself.
Van Morrison sings "Ain't it lonely when you're livin' with a gun?"
The song is Who Was That Masked Man? Fans of old westerns know that masked man was the Lone Ranger—aptly named.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
When it comes to mass shootings in the U.S., there is something we should all be able to agree on no matter where on the political spectrum we fall.
Like the old saying goes: If you do what you've always done, you're going to get what you've always gotten.
What Do We Do?
Other data, like in this Washington Post article, is showing us that a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines would result in a significant drop in mass gun deaths. We already had a version of that law from 1994-2004 and no one lost their basic liberties over it. It probably wouldn't solve the whole problem, but it would be a significant step in the right direction.
Some say the solution is better mental health treatment. In this NY Times article, a psychiatrist shares the cold reality about why mental health treatment will not fix the problem of mass shootings. She argues convincingly for better gun control.
Some gun rights supporters don't actually have a plan, other than the slow arming of the entire population. It seems like the only scenario they support is turning this country into some kind of a Wild West video game, where everyone walks around all day packin' in some kind of testosterone-fueled action movie and schools are turned into fortresses. That seems like a fantasy for little boys, but this is a situation that calls for mature men and women. The fact that virtually every other nation in the world has figured out how to keep school children safe without having to resort to this should be our first clue that there is a better way.
It is hard to accept someone telling me that my child is safer if teachers are armed when the halls of Congress is a gun free zone.
Despite all the negative comments you may hear about gun regulations, the truth is that the government does a fantastic job regulating weapons. The vast majority of weapons are only available to the military, and the military does a great job of keeping it that way: Armed tanks, missiles, nukes, chemical and biological weapons, most bombs and grenades, you name it. You just can't go out and buy that stuff, because regulation actually works quite well. In fact, if you want a bomb, you pretty much have to make it yourself. Try to research how to do it and acquire the ingredients without attracting the attention of Homeland Security in the process! A few domestic terrorists have shown us that it can be done, but it's clearly not easy. I'm tired of making it easy for mass murderers.
But you need a comprehensive control. You can't allow it in one city then ban it in the next city (i.e. Chicago).
"A Good Guy With a Nuke"
Some things are not meant for private individuals to use at their own discretion. Nuclear weapons are a great example. A "good guy with a nuke" is not an effective deterrent against a "bad guy with a nuke." If both parties have a conscience and feel responsible for the lives in their respective nations, then a nuclear standoff might work. But all you need is one crackpot dictator with nothing to lose who doesn't care about the consequences, then suddenly we've got nuclear Armageddon. A good guy with a nuke will be ineffective in stopping the deaths of millions in that scenario. He might get the last word, but at what cost?
A school shooter is very similar to a crackpot dictator with nothing to lose. They all probably know they are going to eventually get caught and either killed or imprisoned. They don't care. They just want to cause as much devastation as possible before that happens.
The best solution is that we as a whole society should come together and make a social contract with each other—making the free choice to give up the use of some weapons because the lives of our children are simply more important—and their freedom to live is more important than our freedom to own weapons of mass destruction.
Living in the large civilized society means that we have to continually make adjustments and compromises in order to figure out how to share this space together and accommodate each other in the best possible way. There is nothing new or unusual about having to make adult sacrifices in order to be in relationship with each other. We do it all the time, as we are a nation of laws and sensible regulations. Like a successful marriage, you give up some things so you have have even better things. We can choose to stomp our feet and complain that the "government is taking things from us," or we can maturely come together and take responsibility for these choices because we realize that are indeed the best options available.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
|For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement,|
"YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF."
In all the debates over whether or not to have universal healthcare in the U.S., there is one very simple, obvious reason for it that I almost never hear anyone mention.
It's so obvious. That's probably why it is so completely overlooked.
It's right under our noses.
We should have universal healthcare in the U.S. simply because . . .
. . . (wait for it) . . .
Simply because . . . we can!
Yes, it's that simple!
I'm sorry if you expected a more complex answer. But hear me out.
We are the richest, most productive nation on earth. Why shouldn't we enjoy that? Why shouldn't we make life better for both ourselves as well as fellow members of society? Health care is something everyone wants, and at some point or another everyone will need it. Let's do it! We have public parks, public schools and public roads. Why not have public access to health care?
This will, in turn make life better for each of us. Diseases would be better controlled and other conditions prevented. Why should our fellow citizens live in constant fear of health issues and painful decisions over whether to buy food or medicine? Let's be as healthy, productive and happy as possible. Why in the world would we not want that?
There is no reason to make it any more complicated than this.
Instead, we turn healthcare into some kind of game. It is seen as a reward for people who supposedly "work hard" and know how to be enterprising. We link access to health care to employment, even though there are many ways well-intentioned people can fall between those cracks. Through no fault of their own, children are dependent on whether their parents have secured health coverage. Later in life, health coverage could be at risk if you have a pre-existing condition or lose your job. For some people, losing health care coverage is akin to losing their lives. Being in-between jobs should not be a death sentence. Even people who do all the "right" things can find themselves without coverage.
Perhaps it's our Puritan roots coming back to haunt us. If something is too good to be true, then it must be bad, right?? It can't be that easy!
We already have the money. All we need to do is take the money we currently spend on health care and instead put it toward a nationalized system. We can pay doctors and hospitals through a Medicare-for-all system rather than going through private insurance companies. We'll end up covering more people, thus improving the quality of our system, and actually saving money. It's a win-win. It's practically a no-brainer. Otherwise, there is always the over-inflated military budget or tax cuts for the rich which could be pulled back to pay for healthcare. We spend more on the military than the next the 8 highest spending nations. But if we don't even have healthcare for our citizens, what exactly are we protecting with that military budget? We pay a lot in taxes, we should actually get what we want (and need).
Virtually every other developed nation on earth has comprehensive coverage for its citizens. Despite the fact that American "news" sources report that some of those nations are going "bankrupt," none of them are showing signs of changing. The horror stories you hear about coverage in other countries are largely false. People generally love the care they get. The bottom line is: Most would never opt for a U.S.-style system.
The only obstacle is that it would put a lot of private insurance companies out of business. They are getting rich off of the system we currently have, so they are putting a lot of money into the pockets of politicians, lobby groups and anti-information campaigns to halt the progress toward universal health care. But their gains come at the expense of human lives and human well-being. After all, they make money by denying coverage to sick people. It's simple math: They make profits by getting as much as they can get in premiums and paying as little as they can get away with in actual health care costs. It is an evil system in that it rewards callousness in the face of human suffering. Morally speaking, some industries should never be tied to a profit motive, and health care is a perfect example of that.
Sadly, our current system is not that great. The World Health Organization rates the U.S. as #37th in the world. However, we spend the most by far! Why aren't we getting the best care for our money? This makes no financial sense.
Lack of Social Contract: Could it be racism?
So many Americans live in fear that their neighbor might benefit from their tax money, they end up biting their own nose to spite their face. They would rather deny coverage to everyone (including themselves) rather than let something benefit their neighbor.
If your family were sick, you would probably want to provide for them. So why wouldn't we want to provide for our fellow citizens? I think the reasons is exactly that: We don't see ourselves as family. America's original sin is racism, as Jim Wallis points out. Here it comes to bite us again. We don't want universal health care because black people might benefit from it, or Hispanic people, or LGBT people, or some other groups that we don't like. We're so individualistic that we barely see ourselves as part of a shared society at all. European countries have a sense of shared culture and heritage so they have fewer problems insuring each other's health care, because they see each other as part of a l venture together—they are going forward as a whole society together, not as isolated individuals.
Wouldn't it be nice to go to any hospital or doctor at anytime and have access to all the care you could ever need without having to navigate a complex system of in-network and out-of-network providers, (assuming you have coverage at all)?
If you got rich in this nation, it's partly because we as a society made that possible through education, infrastructure as well as police, fire and military protection. You didn't earn it "by yourself." We all helped you. So this is one way to pay it back. But more importantly: We're all in this together. Let's act like it!
Saturday, January 27, 2018
The 45th Annual March for Life was held last week: Another year, another march and another long stalemate in these longstanding culture wars.
I've been observing the pro-life movement from both the inside and sidelines for years now and I've come to a stark realization:
There are exceptions to this, of course, but I'm talking about overall trends in the movement itself, especially on the national level.
I understand why people would want abortion to be illegal. It makes sense for the unborn to have the protection of the law, pure and simple.
But you have to look no further than the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s to see what happens when a law is forced upon a population that does not support it. Despite being illegal nationwide, many people still drank alcohol. An entire industry of organized crime, backwoods 'stills and urban speakeasies sprang up to meet the demand. This underground economy gave opportunity to gangsters like Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. The experience was such a colossal failure that it ended up killing the movement against alcohol. The movement not just for prohibition but also for temperance and moderation has been set back decades, if not forever. When is the last time you heard a sermon on temperance? I hope you have, but from what I can tell, they are much rarer than they used to be.
The pro-life movement can and must evolve into a movement that encourages a holistic culture of life—creating a society where abortion would simply not make sense anymore to anyone. Other options and other ways of looking at unplanned, unwanted or problematic pregnancies would be so prevalent. That's going to require everyone's "all in." Making abortion illegal is actually easy by comparison—it doesn't require most of us to change our lives, attitudes or behaviors. We can sit back and judge "those people" from what we think is a safe moral distance.
It is worth asking whether making abortion illegal in this time and place in history would have the net effect of saving lives. Those with resources would simply go abroad to have the procedure done (it's not the 1950's anymore, flights are readily accessible anywhere). There would no doubt be an industry of back alley abortions outside of any kind of regulation or oversight. Offenders could be punished by the law, but I wonder how many additional lives would be lost by botched procedures? Despite that, I'm sure that abortions would probably be significantly reduced if it were made illegal, but that could get negated when you look at the long-term trajectory: Eventually, our pro-choice culture would revolt against this legislation, putting such strong nails in the coffin to make it hard to ever resurrect it again, with the pro-life movement no doubt in full retreat and unable to mount much of any resistance at that point (just like with the prohibition of alcohol). If by some miracle Roe v Wade were overturned and each stated voted against abortion, it still wouldn't stay illegal for long and that's the piece I never hear anyone mention.
Making abortion illegal would punish people (mainly women), but it may not stop abortions from happening. Those on the pro-choice side often accuse the pro-life movement of being punitive toward women. Making abortion illegal without an underlying culture of life to support it could potentially have that effect.
However, changing the goal of the pro-life movement from "making abortion illegal" to "saving lives" would be very freeing—and at the same time, challenging. Everyone would have to do their part, not just people in difficult pregnancies. It would be about nurturing and supporting people in all stages of life, rather than making life as difficult as possible as some kind of a moral test to see what they will do—we can all do some pretty rotten things when pushed to our limits.
It might also ease some of the tunnel vision. The pro-life movement has thoroughly been used and taken advantage of by politicians. They appreciate the votes but give very little in return outside of occasional showmanship and lip service. Pro-life voters are held hostage because of the distant possibility that politicians might actually do something about abortion rather than just use it to win elections and then play political football with later, always blaming the other party for failures. Pro-life voters have shown they will support the most vile candidates who do the most vile things in office (including murderous policies) in exchange for the *possibility* of anti-abortion legislation.
Stopping abortion does not have to happen legislatively. In fact, it probably cannot happen that way if it is going to be a sustainable cultural change. In our current cultural context, a legislative overturn of Roe vs. Wade would be punitive but not corrective, judgmental but not life-giving.
A final note: If the movement is going to carry the name "pro-life," then it must be a champion of just that—life. All life, all the time, everywhere. From conception to natural death. Otherwise, it is the "anti-abortion movement" but not the "pro-life movement." Words matter, and we need to be honest about what we are about.
In some ways, the anti-abortion movement has no choice. The moral strength of the movement is based on the fact that abortion is the taking of life. It is the taking of life that is wrong. Abortion is simply one instance where the taking of life happens. But if abortion is wrong, then the taking of all life is wrong. Moral theologians make distinctions and add qualifiers such as the "intentional" taking of "innocent" life, but the faith teaches us that all life has dignity. Activists need to pick and choose which causes to dedicate their limited time, talent and treasure toward, and some may chose abortion and not other issues. But it is important when doing so not to deny the legitimacy of other issues. If the pro-life movement is going to carry that name, then it needs to step up to the plate and be a champion of life itself. Those are big shoes. Either fill them or just call yourselves what you actually are. And by supporting other issues, such as ways to reduce poverty, reform immigration and address injustices in the criminal justice system, we may find that rates of abortion also go down in the wake.
My recommendation: The pro-life movement could get out of its stalemate by focusing more on saving lives than making abortion illegal—a subtle but significant distinction. This involves creating a widespread, holistic culture which is life-affirming from conception to natural death. Addressing poverty, immigration, criminal justice and wage theft are proven ways of reducing abortion rates, as well as simply being good neighbors who reach out to the people around us. You may never know how many abortions you might prevent by being a good mentor, neighbor, uncle or teacher, but statistics say you would be directly alleviating the stressors that people claim are the primary reasons that drive them to consider abortion. The movement would have an easier time seeing these connections if it adopted a truly holistic, consistent ethic of life.
Addendum: I am not suggesting that the movement should entirely give up its goal of making abortion illegal—not at all. But if that is going to be successful, the culture has to be willing to accept it or else a purely legislative change without the support of the people would most likely seriously backfire and send the movement back decades.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
Our society is so divided over many hot-button issues. There are conservative and liberal viewpoints, with variations of all kinds in between. It can be confusing to know what to think when half of the population seems to have strong opinions one way and seemingly the other half of the population has just as strong views on the other side.
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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It's hard to imagine a more urgent and timely topic: How can Christian churches understand and address the problems of racism, especially in its most current manifestation, mass incarceration?
Full disclosure: I am one of the authors who has a piece in this volume.
YOU CAN PURCHASE IT HERE.
What is mass incarceration?
If you talk about what racism was like before the Civil War, you couldn’t do that without talking about slavery—it’s most sinister manifestation. For 100 years after the Civil War, you couldn’t talk about racism without mentioning the way Jim Crow laws in the U.S. South institutionalized segregation and, along with it, racism. Today, you can’t really get a full grasp on the reality of racism without understanding how it manifests itself in the phenomenon of mass incarceration and the selective bias and privilege which fuel it.
What can we do about this? And more specifically, what can our churches do about it? I recommend Thinking Theologically about Mass Incarceration, Biblical Foundations and Justice Imperatives to help with that.