I had planned on making my first substantive blog post on the November 2011 newsletter of Faith Aloud, but checking Twitter caused me to push that back to a somewhat later date. It seems that Faith Aloud did an interview with RH Reality Check, and they were quite pleased with how that interview turned out.
It became readily apparent that this interview needed an answer before I posted my thoughts on the prayers themselves, or even looking at the 2011 newsletter, because it makes some…interesting claims about the “anti-choice” crowds at abortion clinics, though it mentions none by name. The Reverend Rebecca Turner, who is the Executive Director for Faith Aloud (hereafter FA), was interviewed. This was not the only interview they have given recently, and FA has otherwise been unhappy with how those interviews turned out.
So on to the interview itself.
Why did you write the 40 Days of Prayer?
I wrote some prayers and offered them to abortion providers to use whenever and however they wanted to. We’ve since made a full poster of the prayers that is on the walls in many clinics across the country. We were angered by the swarms of protesters that regularly took siege of abortion clinics and would hurl hateful remarks at the women arriving. As a Christian minister, I was especially angered that most of these protesters who were so hateful and judgmental actually call themselves Christian. I wanted women to know that many Christians are compassionate and supportive, and to help them find strength in their religious faith instead of condemnation.
Before I say anything else, I would like to say that I have seen some groups who do exactly this: who hurl condemnation, judgment, and are the equivalent of a verbal trebuchet. They are making a very, very, bad impression on everyone, not just those inside the clinic. So I’ve seen how not to do pro-life counseling in front of clinics.
But something is missing from this evaluation: namely, do the ‘judgmental’ have a point? Sure, they might be terrible messengers, but do they have a real message in there somewhere? (They might not. My interaction with them seems to indicate a lack of sophistication when it comes to the finer details of pro-life ethics.) On that note, what about the 40 Days for Life folks: do they have a point? Is simply standing with a sign (and/or rosary, or cross, or whatever) a ‘hateful’ act of ‘judgmentalism?’ Hateful? Not necessarily. Judgmental? Yes–but judgment in and of itself is not a sin: they might well be right, and we have tools to determine the rightness of that judgement. But since all we get from the interview is “these people are hateful,” we have no interaction with the case for life that we make. Simply dismissing them as with the slur-du-jour isn’t enough.
I’m curious, though. What is said that constitutes “hate?” Can we see some examples? “These people are saying X, Y, and Z” would be a very quick way to effectively engage the claims themselves.
Many websites are claiming that we’re praying for more abortions, which is silly. They can read the prayers and see that isn’t the case. Most of the prayers are really all about women and their reproductive lives. We pray for gender discrimination to cease. We pray for women who are abused. We pray for women who are infertile. We pray for women to have confidence. How can they be upset by this? Really I think the only objection to these prayers comes from a deep misogyny that refuses to acknowledge women as autonomous beings with their own spiritual lives.
When asked about the impetus for the prayers, these were the reasons given–but they perhaps missed a good opportunity to ‘seek common ground’ (a complaint that shows up later).
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.–Galatians 5:22-23, ESV
“Against such things there is no law.” I think I speak on behalf of an awful lot of Christians who peacefully oppose abortion in saying that we are seriously interested in pursuing the truth of the matter of abortion, to follow the facts where they lead, and doing so with the fruit of the Spirit. We pray, and invite, those aligned with FA to do the same. See? Common ground.
But there’s a little more to this paragraph than that. A few prayers very much do pray that abortion is at least left untouched or made more available–as we will see when I post my thoughts on the prayers themselves. On that note, I will give a bit of a preview and say that I heartily agree with at least a few of the prayers as they are written…and could well have been written (and written better, but I digress) by pro-lifers.
But it is beyond absurd to claim that the only reason pro-lifers are getting their dander up about these prayers is “deep misogyny.” Slander by any other name smells just as bad. But the theme reappears: what if they have a point? Could it possibly be that they have well-thought, conscientious reasons to find such prayers offensive (and most of them simply wrong things to pray for)? We don’t know. Instead, we’re told we just hate women.
Hint: With language like this, don’t complain that you can’t find common ground.
How would you characterize the main reactions you have received since this flurry of publicity?
The media to date has been from anti-choice groups, so most of the people calling and writing to us are their constituents. They are quite hostile, usually rambling, callers are often screaming. They accuse us of pretending to be ministers or Christians. They accuse us of baby-murdering. Emails quote a lot of scripture and tell us we’re going to burn in hell. We have had some new supporters find us through this, though. And we’ve begun a campaign called “Hate-into-Love” which allows our supporters to pledge donations for each hostile contact we receive.
“Baby-murdering”–that’s sort of an interesting phrase in light of the interview with Focus on the Family.
Focus on the Family interviewer: And is that fetus a baby?
Turner: That answer’s gonna be different for every person who calls themself pro-choice, but for me personally, that, uh, significantly depends on the stage of development. […] I cannot equate that early embryonic life with, with your life.
Interestingly, this represents the first time that FA has actually tried to defend their stance on abortion. But it is hopelessly flawed: is humanity simply a matter of what each individual person thinks? Can it really be the case that the unborn are “human for you, but not for me?” Such a claim is a violation of the law of non-contradiction; a fetus cannot both be human and not-quite-human at the same time. Even granting that the interviewer and an embryo are not developmentally equal, their moral equivalency is not mentioned. Are they morally equal? Why or why not? I would argue that based on embryology, and philosophy, that all humans, even embryos, share an essential nature that makes us all human and thus makes us subjects of human rights. So: If we are to take Turner seriously, then for the pro-lifers, it is true that Faith Aloud is abetting ‘baby-murderers,’ but for Turner, it is not.
On that note: why determine humanity with development? Where at in development, for that matter? Modern embryology does not allow for development to determine when we ‘become’ human–we either are or we aren’t. Side note: David Bereit did not do that good of a job trying to answer Turner. And the interviewer from Focus set, and walked into, his own trap by asking if “a fetus was a baby.” This is otherwise technically imprecise; ‘fetus’ and ‘baby’ are terms for stages of development. A pro-lifer can say without blinking that a fetus is not a baby, but–and this is the point that Focus missed–the fetus is fully human.
In the several days that news of the “40 Days of Prayer” has gone viral, you have received much hate mail. Have you received anything from any anti-choice individual or group that suggests some common ground?
No. The hate mail tends to fall into these camps “You have no right to call yourself a Christian or pray” or “I’m praying for God’s vengeance on you.” We’re getting some love mail, too, with people finding us for the first time and saying thank you for being a religious voice of compassion and reason.
Well, I’d sure like for this to be the first. As a pro-lifer I think that our positions, and even our prayers, are worth subjecting to scrutiny in the court of public opinion. Unfortunately, I do not see much acknowledgement of the really good pro-life positions (think Stand to Reason, Life Training Institute, etc.). I’d like to see what Faith Aloud has to say about their claims, since there is no shortage of information at either site regarding the ethics of abortion.
Next up will probably be a look at FA’s November 2011 newsletter since it makes some interesting comments that are worth taking a look at. Then will be a closer look at the prayers themselves.