A friend from work recently posted on our internal forums about the new movie, “October Baby”.
The movie is about a girl who has significant health problems that point back to her difficult birth. She finds out that she was adopted after a botched abortion and takes a road trip to get answers from her birth mother.
My first thought was “Great, another self-congratulatory Christian movie trying to be hip and relevant!” Once I got past my mental tirade, I read the rest of the email that said “If you want to be moved, watch the third trailer under the main movie window”.
In that third trailer you find out that the birth mother, played by Jennifer Price, has a story that somewhat mirrors the movie. Jennifer had an abortion in her twenties, and when the directors approached her to be in the movie, she said, “How did you know?” They had written her story without even knowing it.
I actually would recommend watching the video because if you listen to her you can sense her pain and you know it’s not a contrived sob story; it’s real. She says an important phrase in the video that turned the entire pro-life/pro-choice conversation on its head for me:
“It was easier to get rid of the child … To not be questioned again … Than to have the child and be looked at as another failure. […] So many times, especially as young women, we carry that burden that we’re going to look like a failure, that it’s shameful.”
She makes a very important point that a lot of people have failed to see in The Church’s pro-life/pro-choice conversation: you are shamed if have an abortion and you are shamed if you have a child out of wedlock. Either way, you’re screwed!
When I was in youth group during high school, a girl in a grade ahead of me, Charlie, got pregnant. She was immediately ostracized and sent away to live with an aunt. She came back briefly before she gave birth to the child, but things were never the same. She was only at church a few more months before she left and dropped off the radar.
In the eyes of the church, Charlie did the right thing. In the eyes of the church, she chose to go through with the pregnancy. And yet, when my mom floated the idea of hosting a baby shower for her, they refused because they didn’t want to condone her actions.
Let me say that again: the church refused to hold a baby shower for her because they didn’t want to condone her actions.
Even after her mistake, even after she chose to bear the consequences and did what the church advocates as the right thing, she was still hung out to dry. It didn’t matter that she did the right thing because she had still sinned in their eyes. Even though she “dealt with the consequences of her actions that will affect the rest of her life” (as my youth leaders would say), there was no coming back into the good graces of the church. They made that clear in no uncertain terms.
After an incident like this, how could they expect anyone to listen to them when it came to the pro-life/pro-choice conversation? Did they really expect anyone to believe that they genuinely cared more about the life that was spared than they cared about maintaining their image of purity and patronizing her in the name of a god?
In an interview with Bill Simmons, comedian Louie CK spoke about how as a parent, “you want [your kids] to be able to call you when there is a dead body and a bloody knife. You want them to be able to call you and not be afraid of you. They say ‘Dad,’ and you say ‘Tell me where you are, I’ll come pick you up.’”
While this is an extreme example, something about that statement resonated with me about how the Church should be towards the community.
When I travelled to Nashville in September, I met an incredible woman named Kathy Escobar. One thing she is very passionate about is creating safe spaces. On her blog she says:
“I don’t think the church is aware of how much hurt it has inflicted. The wheels keep spinning. Self-preservation continues to be top priority. [...] Almost every day I hear new stories of people who have lost what they most held dear and now don’t know where to turn.”
Several years ago I was in a good friend’s car in the middle of December outside the movie theater. We couldn’t decide what to see so we talked for three hours instead. One of the things I still remember about that conversation was how yelling at people and shaming them into the pro-life conversation isn’t fixing the problem because it’s only putting on a band-aid and ignoring the deeper root.
If you truly believe in what you are saying when you go to Planned Parenthood protests, we as The Church have to take the shame and guilt complex out of this issue. You want women to come to your community and discuss a way other than abortion? Stop treating these babies like scarlet letters.
We have to build the kind of community that Louie CK talked about where when people are in their lowest, scariest moments, they know they can come to you. They need to know that when they come to you that you will be there for them and won’t make them feel any worse than they already do.
We need to be the kind of community that offers a true, human salvation in a tangible way. We have to be the kind of community who models this in a way where that woman can look at her child down the road and say “You are here because of them. I was so scared, I was so alone, and they saved me. They saved you. I don’t know if I could have made it without them.”
We can be the kind of community that stands outside of abortion clinics and yells at the women and doctors going in, or we can be the kind of community that offers a listening ear, holds baby clothing and supply drives, throws baby showers, and gives support during the busy infant/toddler years for these vulnerable women.
Kathy says, “Love in public looks like sacrifice. It looks like restoring dignity where it’s been lost. It looks like humility and gentleness. It looks like unity instead of homogeneity. It looks like caring when no one else cares.”
We can kill them with our happy, self-righteous church smarts, or we can redeem them by bringing back their humanity. We can be the lipstick in the concentration camp, and the birthday cake for the prostitute. We can be the kind of community that shames women after finding out their dark secrets, or we can acknowledge that they are in pain and be the people in their lives that say “It’s okay. I’m here. It’s going to be okay. Come here, you need a hug.” And leave it at that.
We need to stop focusing on the mistakes and move forward by celebrating the new life that is growing and is about to be brought into the world.
Quit (not so) secretly thinking “OMG, a teenager had the S-word with a boy” and start thinking “This child was spared and will be a great person, and I have the incredible opportunity to be involved in their life and their mother’s life.”
And you know what? Even if the life isn’t spared, we need to be doing the same thing for those women as well. Provide grief counselors, offer support groups without condition (no mini “aren’t abortions bad” sermons at the end), have women in the church who have gone through it so they have someone to talk to who has been through it, invite them to other activities in your life so they might belong someplace.
Once you’ve shown another human that you actually care about them more than trying to add a gold star to your heavenly chart by telling them how bad they are, only then will they listen to you.
Stop caring solely for the sake of conversions and start caring because they are human beings. Take the wind out of the shame that has crippled this conversation for so long and give it new wings of redemption and restored humanity.
Photo credit: Flickr / karine*imagine