catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 6 :: 2004.03.12 — 2004.03.25


The abortion journals

“You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy . . . .’”

Tuesday, February 27, 2001
6:00 PM, home

I’m not sure why I’m going tonight, frankly. An assignment, yes, but the abortion issue: it’s “relevant,” I know, but it feels so trite, and the Scriptures sound like clichés in my head. And, honestly, I’m tired of the whole thing. Yes, I know my Psalm 139’s and am aware of the hungry activism of the opposition. Christian media is pregnant with slogans and marches, and the bumper stickers are thoughtless and embarrassing: “it’s” not a child; “it” is an impersonal pronoun.

Does anything ever change? Does anyone ever change his mind? Does one ever change sides? I wonder what it’s like on the other side. I wonder why there are sides, and who erected the boundaries in the first place. I wonder if anyone else shares my wonder, and why I’m going tonight.

7:00 PM, Webster University, Webster Hall foyer

I’m here to watch Live Free or Die, a film documenting the conflict between small-town religious leaders and Dr. Wayne Goldner, an abortion provider in New Hampshire. I know little else of the film apart from this; I did, however, do some research before coming, and I found an online forum for those who have seen the film. So I wandered in, hoping for helpful discussion. Five minutes of scrolling through comments and retorts and re-retorts and slander and vilification only affirmed my wonderings. And as I read, I watched the bulwark of abortion being buttressed by vitriol and venom: the poison hardens on the ramparts of “righteousness,” and the hatred piles high, and we can no longer see each others’ faces or hear each others’ voices. So instead, we send lethal electronic messages past the defense of ears and eyes, and they lodge deep in our hearts.

I was embarrassed, at least, and angered, truly, by the hateful, disrespectful posts of those claiming to be Christians, those who, by that same claim, ally me to their words. So I made the decision to break company. So I discharged myself from the war. Who knew AWOL could feel so good? And I sent notification to the other side:

apology from a Christian
Date: Sat Feb 24 [1:33 PM]
Posted By: Jeremy Huggins (

I’m a Christian, and I’m going to watch this film at a school nearby as part of a paper I’m writing for a class I’m in. I decided to do some pre-search and ended up on this “bulletin board,” and I’m almost in tears as I sit and read the disrespectful, ungracious comments of so many who claim to be Christians. Though I can’t reconcile vicariously, I wish I could apologize for the terrible behavior of so many on this list. As a Christian, I believe that all of us are made in the image of God, and as such, there are things that are good and true about all of us, and as such, you all deserve my respect, first and foremost. Beyond that, even if we disagree, I have no right to malign or slander you—I am in no better shape, on my own, than anyone else. So please know that there are some Christians out here, though pro-life, who do care. I’ll react to the film more specifically after I see it. Jeremy

So here I am, and the film begins soon, and this foyer is full of noise and pamphlets and the hands attached to them. Black-and-white and sepia-toned presidents glare from the walls, and I’m not sure if it’s disapproval or fatigue; the water fountain has a leak and the drips form a cadence on the carpet; and the perfumes and leather and anticipation have joined ranks to form some familiar smell. It smells new.

RE: apology from a Christian
Date: Tue Feb 27 [4:18 PM]
Posted By: Ken Carman

It’s gentle folk like you, especially amongst the younger generation, who can resolve this issue; as much as it can be resolved, along with those on the “other side” who also have more open minds AND respect. While I cannot count myself as a true believer for EITHER side, I have hoped more like you would join the dialogue. I’m afraid “fighting fire with fire” both verbally, and in reality, has become the madness in our methods of rhetoric and action. Occasionally, I have been guilty of such on this topic and others…you shame me and many of the thread makers…Thank you…

9:30 PM, Pony Expresso Café

“What am I doing here?” has ceased to be a legitimate question and is becoming a rhetorical joke-of-providence. Of course I’m here, a Pro-Life, Orthodox Calvinist Seminarian at a private party for friends of NARAL (National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League). Of course.

Before the film, I made myself busy by collecting printed matter from display tables and eavesdropping on conversations ranging from RU 486 to the devil/George W. to the protestors outside the building. I had seen those people (the protestors, not the devil and George W.) on my way in, their faces stormy and whorled like malignant clouds. I assumed they were disgusted with the weather. Turns out they were disgusted with the mass of cold-hearted folks inside.

Turns out I was one of the disgustees. And I received an unsolicited visit from the president of the outside people. I was leaning over to read the fine print on a pamphlet entitled “Spiritual Comfort: Before and After an Abortion” when I felt the breathings in my ears, breathings-turned-words, cold and distant: “Nobody asks them to raise the child; just let the child live.” I raised my head and met the profile of the speaker, now facing away from me, muttering something about misnomers and lies of Satan. And as quickly as she planted her seeds of disgust in my ears, she had grabbed stacks of pamphlets (to be disposed of outside) and left me to rejoin her comrades in the frigid drizzle outside.

Initially, I felt guilty, like the Benedict Arnold of all-causes-holy, but as I looked around the room at the smiles and hugs and hospitality, the warmth of it all melted the icy accusations lodged beneath my skin, and I was sure that whatever I was doing in there, it was a new thing, and it was good.

Among the mostly middle-aged, mostly female crowd, a few people my own age, one of them a guy like me, attracted my attention. I wanted to know who they were, why they were there. So, the new kid on the block, I shuffled over and introduced myself to the group, which, it turns out, was in charge of setting up tables and facilitating the film-viewing. I unfolded and offered my hand and met A.J. Theoretically, and doctrinally, I’m sure I was prepared to meet a homosexual, but my heart was still thawing, so the unflinching warmth I intended sounded like slightly flinching interest, and I blurted out the first meaningful syllable I could manage: “Um . . . .” And I um’ed in and out of a thirty-second dialogue, and A.J. was patient with me.

Maybe I thought that simply talking to someone else would clear everything up for me. It didn’t, but intertwined with my mono-syllabic grunts and head-nods was a genuine and new desire to listen, to hear what someone different than I, someone else, anyone else, anyone inside, had to say. I managed to ask if there would be any sort of discussion or forum after the film. There wasn’t, but there was a private party if I wanted to come. Of course. And I did.

So here I am, drinking coffee because everyone else is, one person at a two-person table, scribbling notes about the film. Dr. Goldner was portrayed as a normal, warm, loving family man; happy music played when he was on-screen. The religious folks, whose threats-by-letter served as an introduction to the film, played to a consistently minor-key soundtrack. They looked and sounded like fools, like the would-be butts of all the film-viewers’ jokes. Dr. Goldner’s family was willing to risk its father’s life for what it thought was the truth. The church wasn’t willing to risk association with sinners for what it thought was the truth. They had heard it said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy . . . .”

So I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable in the theater. Part of me was afraid of what all those people in the theater would think of the church, of me. Part of me was afraid of what I had heard said and what I thought was the truth. And part of me was afraid that the people outside might try to bomb the building. As I was in the theater, so I am now in this coffeeshop: feeling out of place, angry, afraid, and somehow alone . . . .

11:41 PM, home

As I leaned over my coffee, writing, I felt the breathings in my ears again. But warm this time. Inviting, friendly, hospitable: "Hey there, I’m Celeste; mind if I join you? Celeste, like A.J., is a volunteer at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, IL. Celeste, like A.J., could see that I felt out of place, so she began to ask questions of me, questions about my name and how my coffee tasted. So I began to answer, and one of my answers betrayed my cover: I was Jeremy Huggins, Christian. And instead of turning me over to the Abortion Regime, she extended a heart of gladness and words of curiosity, an anthropologist who had just found the missing link, or a new species, at least. “So you’re a Christian, and you’re at this party? I don’t know what to say.” “I don’t, either,” I said, “which is why I’m alone, sipping cold coffee.” By reaching out to me, Celeste dignified me, gave me back my voice, and I wanted to use that voice to begin to know her, to understand her, to understand the “other side,” the “enemy.” I wanted to know what it would mean to hear, and, thus, to have the ability to love. “I didn’t really plan on this, so I don’t have anything prepared, but do you mind if I ask you some questions for my paper? And you have to be totally candid with me.”

“I would love to,” she said. So I began to discover the beauty of honest questions and honest answers, a combination that I have been hard-pressed to locate in the church’s involvement with the abortion issue. In my involvement with most issues.

Throughout our discussion, Celeste made me aware of so many misconceptions, so many false assumptions I nurtured, so much truth that I thought the church had monopolized. “Nobody thinks abortion is good; I’d love to work myself out of a job,” she said. We wanted the same thing. She’s tired of the temporary solutions that many Christians provide; I’m tired of the same “solutions.” Though we found common ground on many issues, we also stood our ground on a few basic ones: “Celeste, I think abortion is wrong. But if I sit here right now and tell you that, and in the same breath tell you that I want to learn what it means to love you, and then, actually, to love you, do you believe me?” The silence between my question and her answer was thick, tangibly weightier than any words that had been spoken; we realized that what lay in the answer was the power either to deify or destroy the wall of separation between us.

“Yes, Jeremy, I believe you’re sincere, but part of believing you is looking for consistency. I need to know that you understand me.” Yes, it was something new I had smelled earlier that evening: hope. Yes, it was possible to disagree, to have opposition on an issue, but to love still. “I need to know that you understand me”—that line lapped in my head the rest of the evening. How can I understand behind a wall of assumptions and hatred? Without respect and compassion? Without asking questions and actually waiting for the answers? It was, after all, the reason for her surprise: I was the first Christian to sit down with her and ask her what she believed rather than assuming what I wanted to, rather than demonizing her with my agenda. It was the testimony of almost everyone I talked with that evening: as Celeste and I dialogued, someone would walk by, overhear, and sit down to join in. Eventually, she would leave and bring someone back, and the two were made three.

On her way out, Allison Hile, Hope Clinic’s Director of Information and Education, stopped at my table, warmly introduced herself, and thanked me for “the bravery to come and talk.” The bravery to come and talk? The foyer of Pony Expresso was kinder and more inviting than most church foyers I have found myself in this year.

Before she left, I asked Allison a question I had asked Celeste earlier: “If you could tell the church one thing, what would it be?” She answered, “Don’t let abortion rob a woman of her religion.” Celeste answered, “You should help the girls before you try to proselytize them.” On the surface, the answers are different, but fundamentally, they are both indicative of the church’s sin: we only love when someone satisfies our definition of love. We have qualified our love, and the qualifications have piled up, and a wall now separates us. I left my room five hours ago, knowing only that I was to write a paper on the abortion issue. I’m beginning to realize that maybe we have mitigated our responsibility and deflected the reality of our failure by calling it an “issue.” What’s at issue is our failure to love. Have we unwittingly mis-defined love, or are we so afraid of its consequences that we would rather erect a wall and, in so doing, keep out those whom we would rather not love? We preach with zeal our love for the unborn babies, and I am glad for the zeal. Though we do so imperfectly, we seek justice for the oppressed, which often results in a desire to minister to the women who are considering abortion. But we have erected the wall in the faces of those who support abortion rights, whether the doctors, the spokespeople, or the volunteer escorts, people like A.J. and Celeste.

Five hours later, and I find myself writing a paper specifically on loving abortion providers and supporters, but I am beginning to feel like the principle here is too big to fit into the theological boxes I have constructed for myself, too big to allow me to feel comfortable, so big that the wall looks ridiculous in comparison.

I feel safe here in my room, but I can raise my window and stick my hand outside, the air cold and bracing. The snow on my hand is pure, like flour sifting from heaven, and it feels medicinal, like restoration. God is doing something new in me, and He has extended the face of humanity to me tonight, warm beneath my skin. The faces are named A.J. and Celeste, and they have given me something. They have given by taking, and what they have taken from me is my lack of hearing, my inability to love. And I don’t want it back.

" . . . But I say to you who hear, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who revile you, in order that you may show yourselves to be the sons of your father in heaven. Give to everyone who asks of you, and whoever takes away what is yours, do not demand it back. . . .’"

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