Vol 2, Num 3 :: 2003.01.31 — 2003.02.13
An editorial in the most recent issue of Christianity Today proclaimed that “signs are emerging slowly that the tide could be turning in the pro-life movement’s favor” and then proceeded to discuss abortion exclusively. Why do we call it the pro-life movement? The movement doesn’t even acknowledge other issues of life, such as capital punishment, war, healthcare, feeding and sheltering the homeless, or the environment. I can’t help but see a contradiction there.
I guess that sums up the reasons my wife and I decided to chaperone a group of high school students from our alma mater, Illiana Christian in Lansing, Illinois, to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C. We wanted to challenge the students to a broader definition of being pro-life and we wanted to challenge ourselves to re-examine our own preconceptions of the typical pro-life activist.
We arrived in Washington at a very interesting time. Just a few days earlier, tens of thousands of anti-war protestors had voiced their concerns with the apparently impending war in Iraq, and now tens of thousands were gathering on the Mall to protest the killing of unborn children on the 30th anniversary of the momentous Roe v. Wade decision. It seemed very intriguing that these two groups had little in common on the surface. Weren’t they both concerned with essentially the same issue: Life?
During our day of sightseeing before the March, we had the opportunity to visit both the Holocaust Museum and the Vietnam Memorial. We were “greeted” outside the museum by a woman holding a sign depicting a bloody, aborted fetus head and asking every passerby, “Are you pro-life?” Even though I could understand the connection she was attempting to make between abortion and the Holocaust, I still felt as though I’d been accosted. After I’d gone through the exhibit, I realized the difference between the display outside and the displays inside. The pictures of the cruelty inflicted on the Jews, Gypsies and others during the Holocaust were shown out of respect, and in memorial to, the lives lost in that insane tragedy. The picture on the woman’s sign showed little, if any, respect to the unborn child. I don’t think that people using such “violent” tactics, for lack of a better word, are really doing themselves or the movement they represent any good.
After the Holocaust Museum, we headed west toward the Lincoln, Korean War and Vietman War memorials. The Vietnam Memorial is one of the most reverent monuments in Washington. Simple, elegant black marble slabs are inscribed with the names of each and every American soldier lost or killed in the war. We stood there staring at the seemingly endless listing; the sheer number of names is overwhelming. Imagine the impact of a similar memorial for the 30 million children aborted since 1973. I realize each unborn child would need to be given a name, but somehow I feel this would be far more respectful to the lives of those children than the display outside the museum.
The morning of the March, we had the opportunity to visit Jubilee Ministries, an umbrella organization comprised of several smaller Christian non-profits. Each organization was founded by members of Church of the Savior, a small ecumenical church in D.C., as they saw needs in the community around them. The ministries covered a dizzying array of services, including addiction recovery, housing assistance, healthcare and tutoring programs.
During our discussion with two representatives of Jubilee, we were encouraged to think about life-giving structures and people who, for whatever reason, found themselves outside of these structures. The students responded by trying to figure out what it would be like to live without the things we take for granted inside the life-giving structures of our American society, such as having a warm home (especially during a cold winter), cooking meals in well-equipped kitchens, visiting the doctor when sick, receiving quality education in a good school, buying clothes whenever needed. We were then reminded that Christ spent most of his time with people who were outside of these structures: fishermen, tax collectors, prostitutes, Samaritans, thieves.
On the train over to the rally, a man sitting near us attempted to convert a “100% pro-choice” woman by spouting off an obviously memorized litany of abortion statistics during the ride and handing her a plastic fetus on his way out. The woman was visibly offended and so was my wife, Kirstin, who told him, “I’m pro-life too, friend, but that’s not the way to change peoples’ minds.” The woman thanked her and I was left wondering, “Where in the world do you buy little plastic fetuses?”
When we arrived at the March for Life rally, the difference between a broader pro-life view and the traditional pro-life view was stark. Speaker after speaker got up to the microphone and decried the evils of abortion, including a rabbi who went off on Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman for about five minutes. I guess he’s been excommunicated or something. Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Greek Orthodox traditions were all represented in some capacity, and all of them seemed to be allying themselves with Republicans. This affiliation would be understandable if the only issue were abortion, but a broader pro-life perspective shines light on the contradictions inherent to both the Republican and Democratic platforms.
The pro-life movement is concerned that children are born, but doesn’t seem to want to deal with the quality of life these children will have after they’re born. I can’t separate these issues; I feel they are one and the same. I guess I’m left with more questions than answers after the trip, but it was certainly a good experience for me. I hope the students felt the same.
In the future, I hope we can find a way to hold a rally that is pro-life in the broad sense, where groups traditionally divided can find common ground in their desire to protect life by being pacifists, Right-to-Lifers, anti-death penalty activists, environmentalists, human rights activists. I think people from all of these groups could learn something from one another and relieve themselves of hateful political animosity toward one another. At a rally like that, I think I might finally feel at home.