Monday, January 31, 2011

Stories Told and Untold

Several days ago, a friend sidled up to me and said she wanted to show me something. It was the bulletin from her church’s Sunday worship the previous week. She had circled a responsive reading, which was all about “life” and abortion. I know this woman is pro-choice, and she was visibly upset. She proceeded to tell me that the whole service was on this theme, that her community’s crisis pregnancy center has moved into the church, and that the minister had said during the service that she’d hoped the church would step up and volunteer with this organization.

I listened to this woman share her anger and frustration. I listened as she shared sorrowful family history – a few generations back – that helped to form her pro-choice convictions to this day. In the midst of my anger and frustration, I began to think.

I thought, of course, of the many people who affirmed the message at this church service. They probably felt pleased that their pastor was taking a stand. They probably were challenged by her words that "all life is precious." I hope they heard in that the idea that it is not just the lives of the unborn that are precious, but that drug addicts and rapists and racists and other ne'er-do-wells are precious in God's eyes (though I'm a little skeptical that that happened, though there could be perfectly innocent reasons for that.)

But I also thought about the other women in this church who’d been present. I thought about how many of them had had abortions. I especially thought about a couple I know, who are largely pro-life but who had made the heart-wrenching decision to end a much-hoped-for pregnancy when they learned their son would never develop more than a brain stem before living for a few months in constant, excruciating pain. What would this service have been like for them?

And I began to think of some of the women I counsel. Those who have gotten pregnant after marital rape; those who have cheated on partners only to find themselves pregnant from that one-night stand; those who feel as though abortion is the only choice for them in their circumstance, but who also believe they should be sterilized at the same time because they will never be “worthy” to be parents again; those who have never heard a person of the cloth say that not all Christians oppose abortion, and who, upon hearing my voice, are just grateful that a minister is not judging them or telling them what to do, but simply affirming their journey with God and their heartfelt decision.

I wondered, Was there room in this worship service for these women? Was there a place for their experiences? Were these stories also told in the midst of all this “choosing life” and “abortion is murder”? And if not, why not?

It is not my place to tell my colleagues what to preach, when or how. For many, including me, this is an issue of justice (though my colleagues in this community do not agree with me on the nature of this justice), and I respect their right and duty to speak out as they feel called to do, just as I do.

But I still wonder. How many of the women in the pews, and their partners or children or friends, will be unable to share these burdens with their pastor for fear that they will be condemned? How many people will erect barriers between themselves and their communities of faith because they now believe it is unsafe to bring this part of their lives in the doors of the church? How many people will, like my friend and her husband, simply stew in their anger at the injustice of their church opposing abortion while also failing to support efforts that PREVENT the need for abortion? How many women will be shamed into silence, lest they be judged by the one person who is supposed to represent the love and grace of Christ to them?

I don’t always know the outcome of the stories these women tell me, and I have made my peace with that lack of knowledge. But their stories have become a part of me. Their grappling with competing needs, fears, and desires mirrors my own faith-wrestling. I do not want any of these stories to become “tokens” or two-dimensional images upon which we can project our own morality or judgment. So I cannot bear to see this issue reduced to an oversimplified choice between “good” (that is, continuing a pregnancy) and “evil” (that is, ending a pregnancy). These women and their families are very real to me, and I carry their stories inside of me. Their burdens have, in some small way, become my own, and I stand with them in the muck and the mess of our lives and together we wonder where and how God is at work, and to what ends. These lives matter, too. They are precious in God's sight.

Why, then, when there is so much talk of "life being precious," are these stories left untold?


Beth said...

My theory is that it's easier to let those voices go unheard. Listening forces us to share some level of their pain.

It's a sad statement, though, when even Christians are unwilling to bear one another's burdens.

Father Anonymous said...

Good post, on a subject that's hard even to discuss reasonably in our society.

I live in a different society, these days -- one which is outwardly pretty traditional and highly religious, compared to the US, but in which abortion rates are fantastically high. There are also a large number of orphans, raised in Dickensian orphanages, which suggests that there's no simple "adoption is the answer to unwanted children" fallback.

I haven't been here long enough, and don't have many friendships sufficiently intimate, to have talked much with anybody about this. I have no sense of how people here perceive the matter. Outwardly, at least, it arouses far less conversation than in the US. But heaven knows what is happening deep down.