Follow-Up to "When Complacency Is Complicity"
A recent article I wrote on the late-term abortion controversy in our culture began trending and subsequently led to a wealth of feedback. Although it’s impossible for me to answer every individual question and critique, I have some follow up thoughts that I think are warranted, particularly as the abortion debate continues to intensify and is sure to be a central issue in the 2020 elections.
As I started writing my response, three separate ones began to emerge. Rather than releasing them separately, I’m going to put them all in one article. Even though some of this may not apply to you, it may help you to read how and what I have to say to people with a different perspective than yours. Thus, I’m organizing this response with a word to three different groups: Those impacted by abortion, those who identify as pro-choice, and those who identify as pro-life.
To Those Impacted by Abortion:
Whenever I speak or write on the issue of abortion, it is never fear of controversy that gives me pause. Instead, I am burdened by the countless people bearing the personal pain, guilt, and shame of abortion, and I know that discussing the topic, perhaps even simply mentioning the word “abortion,” has a way of reopening past wounds.
One person humbly confessed that a decade’s old choice to abort her pregnancy still haunts her to this day and has a way of paralyzing her sincere desire to stand in opposition to abortion. The “who am I to speak” syndrome is very real.
This is an underappreciated dynamic to the public debate, particularly when it comes to the cavalier and callousness with which the debate rages. I cringe at the way our culture disputes this sensitive topic as I imagine silent sufferers personalizing all this incivility.
To those impacted, I have two the thoughts.
First, God’s ability to forgive is much greater than your ability to sin. With grace deeper than our deepest shame and wider than our furthest wanderings, the gospel of Jesus Christ can handle anything any of us have ever done, and yes, that includes an abortion. If not, I’m in as much trouble as you, because I, like you, have past regrets that haunt me to this day. But God’s grace is so amazing that not only are these forgiven, they are forgotten. That is to say, God chooses not to remember the failures we cannot forget. To him, they are gone. So may they be gone to you as well.
Secondly, once you can accept your abortion as forgiven and forgotten, we need your voice more than any other. Male voices like mine are easily dismissed, female voices who have never struggled with an unwanted pregnancy also hold little weight, but it is impossible to ignore the prophetic stories of those who have gone through the trauma, pain, and shame of an abortion and are willing to speak. I don’t want to bind your conscience as though you must share, but I do want to dispel the lie that your regrets are telling you. You are not disqualified; you are actually uniquely qualified if you so choose to bless this cause with your story.
To Those Who Identify as Pro-Choice:
Not surprisingly, I received a lot of criticism from Pro-choice advocates. Some critiques were very fair and need to be owned (more on that below), but some I would take exception with. However instead of engaging in argumentation that continually gets us nowhere, I would like my response to be less of an argument and more of a plea. A plea to see how well the unborn actually fit your noble cause. There are many things about the progressive movement I admire and have learned from, but the more I learn, the more I am baffled by the lack of advocacy for the unborn. Allow me to explain:
Progressives pride themselves as advocates of science. The problem, however, is the more advanced prenatal science becomes, the more it affirms the humanity of an unborn child. What was once an unseen mystery inside the womb has become a masterpiece of scientific discovery. We know at the very moment of fertilization a separate DNA has been created; we know when the heart starts beating; we know when ears can hear and eyes can see; we know when organs develop and muscles are used; we know when pain is felt, thumbs are sucked, and dreams begins; we know every single part of a child’s development in the womb. The archaic clump of cells and parasitic lump of tissue distinctions have been replaced by crystal clear 4-D images. Add to this the fact that science is increasingly enabling wanted babies to survive premature births, and what we have is mounting scientific evidence that is challenging the way we have historically denied life of the unborn.
Progressives, we have much to thank you for in your advocacy of science. My humble request is that you not become science deniers when it comes to the humanity of the unborn.
Progressives pride themselves as advocates of the helpless. I genuinely admire your passion to advocate for those who have no advocate; to defend the weak against the powerful; to give voice to the voiceless; to do justice for those suffering injustice; indeed, to do exactly what Jesus calls us to do—to care for “the least of these.” More than anything else, this is what my more progressive friends have helped me see as a glaring deficiency in my own faith.
Conservative Evangelicals have a notorious blind spot in our disproportionate emphasis on orthodoxy (right thinking) at the expense of orthopraxy (right actions). Our church recently hosted a conference on Neighbor Love, and I was deeply convicted at the disconnect between my beliefs and actions, and it has led to some significant steps of repentance in my own life. Having said that, I struggle to understand why progressives do not view the unborn as fitting their passion for justice. What group is more vulnerable, voiceless, and the victim of violence than the unborn?
Progressives, you are leading the way in your advocacy for the helpless. My humble request is that you see the unborn as a demographic in desperate need of your advocacy.
Progressives pride themselves as advocates of cultural diversity. They rightly point out the domineering tendency of white western culture to look down upon other cultures as inferior, or even imperialistically impose our culture upon others. You have helped us to see that we need to humbly listen and learn from a diversity of perspectives rather than simply assuming our way is the only way. Diversity is the key to dismantling the echo-chamber temptation within us all. The problem, however, is I’m not sure many progressives want to hear non-Western opinions on abortion, because, quite frankly, other cultures view our practices as barbaric.
Even by Western standards, America is very radical when it comes to abortion policies and practices, with some states rivaling China and North Korea. When you step outside Western culture, abortion is viewed very differently. A compelling example of this took place at a United Nation’s panel discussion on the topic of maternal health in Africa recently. The clip begins with a European woman lamenting colonization by attempting to colonize her maternal beliefs and practices upon female Africans. Oh the irony! The applause of other Westerners is interrupted by a brave speech from an African woman, and I’ll let her words speak for themselves.
Progressives, thank you for your advocacy for cultural diversity. My humble request is that you listen and learn from views of other cultures on the topic of abortion as well.
Progressives pride themselves as advocates of public opinion over special-interest power. Polling consistently shows the majority of Americans favor at least some form of stricter gun laws; so why does that public opinion not translate into legislation? Progressives’ response: the NRA. Polling has consistently shown that the majority of Americans believe prescription medication costs are way too expensive; so why do prices continue to increase? Progressives’ response: Big Pharma. Polling shows most of Americans see climate change as a pressing issue; so why is it not being addressed with equal urgency? Progressives’ response: Oil and Gas.
I am really not trying to make any statements about any of these issues and certainly don’t want to derail this conversation by adding controversy to an already deeply controversial topic. But with the examples above, I believe I’m representing what progressives see as a deep flaw in the system—special-interest money reigns over public opinion.
But let us then consider public opinion on the topic of abortion. Recent polling is showing a major shift in public opinion toward pro-life positions. For example, consider the recently released Harvard CAPS/Harris poll on the most debated issues facing American voters. Here are some conclusions on the topic of abortion:
A majority of Americans (54%) believe Roe v. Wade should be modified or overturned.
A great majority of Americans (70%) believe abortion should only be allowed in the case of rape or incest or during the first trimester.
Only a small minority (6%) believe abortion should be allowed up until the birth of the child
So how is it possible that a position with such little public support could be so legislatively protected? How is it possible that a bill that only represents 6% of American support could be passed with a standing ovation in the state of New York? How is it possible that same 6% position must be held by 100% of DNC presidential candidate in order to be considered viable for the primary? In fact, why is it nearly impossible at all to successfully run as a pro-life DNC candidate in any race? Why? Money. The DNC is owned by the special-interest money of the abortion lobby as much as they claim the GOP is owned by their own special-interest groups.
Progressives, thank you for your advocacy of science, for your advocacy of the helpless, for your advocacy of cultural diversity, and for your advocacy of popular opinion over special interests. My humble plea is that you rise above partisan dogmatism and consider how perfectly the unborn fit the cause of your advocacy.
To Those Who Identify as Pro-Life:
The most feedback I received was from fellow pro-life advocates, the majority of whom seemed overwhelmed and wanting to know what, if anything, they could be doing. And in most cases, the question was posed from a posture of desperation, perhaps even skepticism that anything could be done at all. I understand. The sheer pervasiveness of abortion combined with the seeming impossibility of any real change can feel insurmountable.
In some ways, the article was written to get us to that place. Not so much to guide us, but to disturb us. I believe the “wake up” effect is itself a step forward. But I also recognize the deficiency of the article in unmasking the issue without providing a way forward, a common deficiency in the pro-life movement. As one progressive friend said to me, “Don’t come with your critique if you’re not prepared to give a better solution.”
Fair enough. Allow me to address this issue as practically as I know how. But first, I feel the need to state upfront what my practical answer is not: It is not a legislative one. I will suggest that the politicization of this cause has unwittingly crippled, perhaps even paralyzed, the cause itself. We need to think outside the bounds of legislation and courts in order to reimagine and reframe our advocacy. Here I suggest a three-part strategy that requires the work of us all, not just those we elect. Here is my A. B. C. way forward against abortion: Apologize, Broaden, Change.
First and foremost, we must lead with our apology. Unless we have the audacity to claim our movement is perfect, then it must begin with humbly searching for our imperfections and owning them. In fact, even more than searching ourselves, we must actually listen. Our pro-choice friends are telling us where we have fallen short, but do we have the humility to listen? If so, I can tell you what they desperately want us to admit. The pro-life movement, in essence, tends to be a pro-birth movement. What rightfully irks them is our duplicity—a passion for unborn life with what seems to them an indifference to other lives. Until we apologize for this, our voice will continue to be drowned out by the noise of our own hypocrisy.
I know conservatives will want to rush to defense. And to be fair, the angry callous caricature of conservatives is extremely unfair and inaccurate. In my experience with many conservatives, I have found them to be compassionate, caring, and generous people. However, if we lay down our defenses and examine the measure of zeal, sacrifice, and certainly our politics, I think conservatives must admit that we have cared far more for the life of the unborn than the lives of the immigrant, poor, orphaned, discriminated, and otherwise marginalized people in our community.
There is certainly room to debate the best way to care for the hurting (I happen to agree the government is not the most effective system of care), but I think progressives are right to say, “At least we care!” I once asked a pro-life Democrat about aligning himself with the pro-choice party, and I think his response is worth consideration: “It seems to me that Democrats care more deeply about injustice in every area except one. I’m fully pro-life, all of life, and Republicans just don’t seem to care about anyone I care about, with the one exception of the unborn. And conveniently, the unborn are the easiest to care for, because you don’t actually have to care for them. The mother does.” Ouch. Resist the partisan knee-jerk reaction and ask: Is there any truth to this? Put policies aside on the best way to care, and genuinely ask the question: Do I care? Personally, I know I was convicted by my answer to that question. Are you? Are you fully pro-life? If you detect hypocrisy, it really is okay to just admit it and ask forgiveness. What you will find is the power of an apology to disarm this heated debate and create space where dialogue and common ground are actually plausible.
So it starts with breaking the number rule of our polarized and partisan culture: An apology. That does not mean you apologize for your passion for unborn life; rather, it means admitting that it is not matched by an equal passion for all of life. And then our apology must be reinforced by our actions
Which brings us to point B.
Apologies are important, but only so far as they give way to change. The pro-life movement needs to broaden its actual advocacy such that our protest against the taking of life is accompanied by a proactive care for life. Simply put, pro-life must truly mean pro-life. Nothing would be more compelling and convincing to our cause than the care of unwanted children who were not aborted.
One pro-choice advocate reached out to me with this feedback, “So will your church be paying for full maternity healthcare for the duration of these pregnancies? Will you pay for maternity leave for these women that work hourly jobs? Will you pay for or provide daycare that costs more than an average worker makes in a month? Will you provide diapers? Will you provide formula? Will you pay for the 18 years of medical care, medication, vaccinations, and then contribute to their college funds?”
Could you imagine if the Church of Jesus Christ could (in good conscience) say, “Yes. As a matter of fact, we will.” Too idealistic? If so, then we must concede the dream of ending abortion as likewise idealistic.
One of the unique marks of early Christianity was the stark contrast between the Christian conviction of life’s sacredness as opposed to Roman culture’s cruel indifference to life, most notably in Rome’s practice of “exposure.” Unwanted children were simply discarded and exposed to the elements until death. This was anathema to the early Christian community, and their solution was as effective as it was simple: They started picking up the discarded babies and adopted them as their own. If a small, impoverished, and persecuted movement had the gumption to solve Roman Empire infanticide, then surely the enormous, wealthy, and free American Church has the ability to take on the epidemic of unwanted children in our land.
A telling statistic in America is the number of children in foster care roughly equals the number or children aborted each year. One could easily argue that the seriousness of our pro-life stance toward the roughly 600,000 aborted children in our nation could be measured by seriousness of our pro-life stance toward the roughly 600,000 children in foster care.
Our own Commonwealth, in particular, is an interesting test case. Typically in Kentucky there are just over 3,000 abortions performed each year. At the same time, we are nearing a record 10,000 children in foster care. So Kentucky Christians must ask ourselves whether we are truly pro-life. Because a poverty-stricken state with 10,000 unwanted children is an epidemic of injustice that needs to come to an end. And legitimately, the KY church community could bring it to an end. That may seem hopelessly naïve, but I suggest it is as tangible and possible—if not more so—than ending abortion in our state, and we’ve never let idealism stop us from trying that.
Unlike abortion, there are no laws to be changed, no resistance to overcome, literally nothing standing in our way of ending this crisis except, of course, personal sacrifice. Which is precisely the Pro-choice talking point. But what if that talking point was nullified by our actions? What if churches across our Commonwealth united together for the common good of foster care and adoption? Suddenly the Pro-life voice becomes too legitimate to disregard, too loud to ignore.
This is only one example to consider in the broadening of life’s advocacy, but the greater point is that until our cause is broadened, our cause will continue to be viewed as shallow.
We Apologize, we Broaden, and then finally we Change.
When I speak of change, I speak of strategy. It is time to reimagine how we advocate for the unborn.
The pro-life movement has largely been politicized, making it predominantly a partisan movement. In fact, I would suggest it has become the issue that determines the very battle line of our polarization. Because of this, it is constantly being leveraged for votes by politicians that never deliver on their promises (the cynic in me can’t help but think there are political strategists that don’t want to deliver because it compromises their hold on one-issue voters). So my contention is that we desperately need to rescue the cause from its enmeshment with toxic partisanship and reclaim it as an issue of justice that transcends our political divide.
I understand that now, more than ever, the legislative fight seems obtainable and likewise more tempting than ever. Yet ironically, I’m not certain that these bills being passed in conservative states will amount to any significant victory for life. Don’t get me wrong, I understand and sympathize with the strategy, but I’m suggesting that it will likely prove a failed strategy in the end. Consider the potential outcomes.
Worst-case scenario: State legislation is ruled unconstitutional, challenged at the Supreme Court, and when the SCOTUS actually reconsiders Roe v. Wade, it is upheld. I do not have as much confidence in the makeup of this court as many conservatives do, and if I had to wager, I do not believe the landmark decision would be overturned. If not, then what? Overturning Roe v. Wade has been the central focus of the pro-life agenda for decades, so what will become of the movement if it is upheld? That is to say, what becomes of our strategy when our singular strategy is defeated?
Best-case scenario: The Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. If so, then what? That doesn’t make abortion illegal in our country, it gives the decision back to the states. So in essence, conservative states will ban it, liberal states will protect it, and women will simply seek abortions in states where it is legal. For example, under Kentucky’s current state leadership, I have no doubt abortion would be banned. However, I also have no doubt that Illinois to the West and Virginia to the East would protect abortion to the furthest extent. So, although abortion would be eliminated in Kentucky, I suspect it will only increase in other areas. Is that the victory for life we imagine?
In addition, we will have a new crisis of life on our hands. The ones who will not be able to seek abortions elsewhere will disproportionately be the poor and underprivileged. As I already stated, Kentucky is nearing a record number of children in foster care, and if abortion were banned, then this problem would become an all-out epidemic. To be clear, I much prefer that humanitarian crisis to the option of death, but it will be a crisis nonetheless, and I believe the pro-life movement under its current strategy is woefully ill-prepared to take up that challenge. In short, putting all the proverbial eggs in the basket of overturning Roe v. Wade is a deficient strategy, and we need to reorient around a new way forward.
But what does that even mean? That question itself is problematic and reveals how much politicization has crippled this movement. Thus far, pro-lifers have primarily conceived of legislative solutions when there are so many other ways to address this issue.
What if all the resources, time, and energy devoted to making abortion unconstitutional was directed toward making it unthinkable? To be clear, I’m certainly not opposed to changing laws; I just happen to believe that changing the narrative is far more effective and obtainable.
I believe our culture is primed for a new way forward. Without a doubt, the radical far-left position held by DNC leadership is wildly out of touch and unpopular (again, only 6% percent hold the same view that every DNC Primary candidate holds). The problem, however, is people don’t view the current pro-life approach as a compelling alternative. Our country is ready for a new narrative to emerge, one that rejects both the Fox News and MSNBC ethos and invites the public to embrace solutions that are refreshingly novel. A truly pro-life campaign seeking to change the minds of our land, not just the laws of our land.
But how? Seeking to make abortion unconstitutional is a tangible goal with a clear path, but to make abortion unthinkable feels frustratingly nebulous. My concrete solution to this theoretical ambition is a change in leadership. Specifically, I believe it is time for Boomers to pass the torch of leadership to the rising generation.
Pro-life Boomers, you have fought so nobly for this cause. Your obvious love, passion, and sacrifice for the unborn is as beautiful as it is commendable. But we no longer inhabit a world of moral and logical absolutes, where change is primarily born out of argumentation. We need a new strategy that embraces this new world, and the older among us are ill-equipped for that challenge. Instead, we need your empowerment and resourcing of a new generation of leadership.
It’s easy to pick on Gen-Z and Millennials, but I find them fascinating. They are called the “Justice Generation” for a reason. They are the generation of action. Exhausted by the endless debates between right and left, they actually want to stop arguing and start doing. And not only are they zealous for action, they have the creative fortitude to do so.
Allow me to share a few ideas that have come my way, which will show you how differently the younger among us approach this issue. An ambitious entrepreneur dreaming of creating an empire of free women’s healthcare as a market rival to Planned Parenthood that offers everything Planned Parenthood offers with far more excellence, minus abortion services. A tech developer with the idea of an app that mobilizes Christians to be more fully pro-life by systematically connecting churches to children in need of foster care, adoption, and even women struggling with unwanted pregnancies. A cultural think tank made up of Gen-Z and Millennial thinkers to completely rebrand the pro-life movement with a unified and compelling vision and theme, much like the End It movement’s Red X against human trafficking and the ONE campaign against global poverty.
These are just several examples of what could be if the rising generation were organized, empowered, and resourced to think beyond protesting clinics and overturning Roe v. Wade. They are creative, they are ambitious, they are savvy with technology and genius with marketing, they have just enough naivety to believe they can actually change the world, and they are ready to go. Let’s let them go. Let’s let them lead us. Simply put, my grand changed strategy for the Pro-life movement is, “I don’t know. Ask a Millennial.” And then give them, not your politician, the money to pull it off.
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