Wednesday, October 31, 2018

You Have the Power to Choose Life



[Brochure #1 for www.teamsofseven.org]


In the late 1980s, I was at Harvard Divinity School, earning a post-graduate Th.M. degree in Ethics and Public Policy. As a white heterosexual male, evangelical pro-life minister, married with three sons, and a daughter yet to arrive, I was virtually a minority of one.

And this is one reason why I was at Harvard to begin with – to be accountable to the most thoughtful and penetrating questions of those who disagreed with me. I found myself intersecting with the Women’s Studies Program, and where the assumption of legalized human abortion was firmly in place. My double thesis focused on the two leading feminist scholar critics of the Bible (Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza and Phyllis Trible), and on human abortion and public policy.

In 1989, I organized a presence at New England’s largest abortion center, Preterm, in Brookline. We countenanced no accusatory language and no bloody pictures. As Jesus spoke of himself, he came not to condemn but to save. We worshiped, prayed, held signs, and engaged in conversation with anyone interested. In two years of Saturday mornings, we saw well over 200 women walk away from their abortion appointments of their own volition. As well, many others who merely saw the signs and our presence turned away. This was also at the height of “Operation Rescue,” a short-lived movement seeking to blockade abortion centers, and it led to some 100,000 arrests nationwide. I met with the founder, Randall Terry, on April 1, 1989, and asked some theological questions he could not, would not answer. Especially: How does vigilante action comport with the biblical order of creation in Genesis 1-2? And: How can you force someone to choose life?

Indeed, one popular pro-life sign has always been: “Choose Life.” But in front of an abortion center, where women are being forced into abortions by chauvinistic and irresponsible men, this language misses the mark since it is in the imperative tense. Elsewhere too. In the metaethics of language, this is easily perceived by such women as an “in your face” attempt to “force” them to “choose” not to have an abortion. Even as the intention is the opposite.

Thus, our slogan became: You Have the Power to Choose Life. This is gift language, it is empowering language, and it includes the life of the mother and unborn child equally. And unless the woman is empowered to choose life for her unborn child, it will not happen. As well, as the “pro-choice” feminist language is examined, “the power to choose” is supposedly central, but also, unidirectional – “the power to choose abortion …” But we redeemed the language of choice to serve human life, and the impact is always dramatic.

On June 3, 1989, when we began, the Boston Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW) recruited college students to “counter-protest” us. We had some 200 volunteers turn out across the morning, and almost none of them had ever been an “activist” or done any public “protesting.” They trusted a biblical vision for “active ministry” – bringing the Good News to a place where people, especially women, were hurting deeply. Boston NOW had roughly equal numbers that day.

We started arriving at 7:00 a.m., and we sang and prayed aloud while holding our signs. The NOW recruits started yelling chants (e.g., “Anti-woman, anti-gay, born-again bigots, go away!”). But their lungs tired sooner than did ours, and by 9:30 there was a lull. It had also hit 90° Fahrenheit, and we were well equipped with cold water and cups, so we started passing the water around. Most NOW recruits accepted the water and the conversations began. Multiple dozens of bull sessions erupted.

While standing next to a reporter from the Boston Globe, one woman NOW recruit told me how she had the freedom to choose an abortion. So, I asked her if she had chosen to be born, or if she were only alive because of the choice of her parents. I concluded: “How can you, who are alive through no choice of your own, then use your choice to deny the life and future choices of the unborn?” She said, “Wow, I had never thought of it that way before,” and her whole demeanor changed.

After ninety minutes, I was standing a few feet away from the president of Boston NOW. She suddenly looked at what was happening, and said alarmingly, “We are not in control here! We must put a stop to this!” She thus ordered her lieutenants to break up the conversations. But perhaps three-quarters of their recruits said no, they enjoyed the conversations, and liked the Christian pro-life men and women there. The power of informed choice in service to human life, in action.

On our second Saturday, at the end of the morning, one of our volunteers was a few feet away from one recruit as she asked a question of an NOW leader: “How do we answer them when they say, ‘You have the power to choose life?’ ” The leader said: “Well, that is their language – we don’t use it anymore.” Those who define terms honestly will win hearts and minds. And across nine months, our volunteers had multiple hundreds, if not one or several thousand intelligent and gracious conversations with these recruits. Then, the leadership of Boston NOW gave the order for the recruits to stop coming down, for we “were persuading too many” of them.

This is at the core of biblical theology, where in the Garden of Eden, with Joshua in the Valley of Shechem, with Elijah in the face of the prophets of Ba’al on Mount Carmel, and with Jesus in the face of his enemies during Passover Week, a level playing field is provided for all – even the devil – to pose their toughest questions of God, leaders and one another. Truth and mercy always rise to the top. The power to choose life is the bequeathal of the Gospel.

We also had twelve signs asking questions, all aiming to empower the women to choose life. Now, as this effort is reconstituted in 2018 (Sacred Assemblies for the Unborn organized through Teams of Seven [.org]), the TEI has condensed these twelve questions into five. And they are suitable not only at abortion centers, but in any context where the politics of the issue are at the forefront (political rallies, university campuses etc.).

Question #1: Can You Imagine Jesus Performing an Abortion: Why Not?

I first expressed this question spontaneously in a 1985 college debate with a man representing the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR) of Massachusetts, the Rev. Spencer Parsons. When I spoke these words, he stopped, and then tried to come up with language that would imagine Jesus in such a capacity. He was unable, and we had several good debates and conversations thereafter.

Once, in front of Preterm, as I was holding the sign, a young woman said I was imposing my religion on her. And I said, how so? Namely, she did not have to look at the sign, and it is part of my religious and political freedom of speech. She was welcome to her selfsame freedoms. Then I said, “If Jesus means something to you, this is an important question. If he means nothing to you, then it is of no concern.” And we had a great conversation thereafter: Who is Jesus?

Question #2: How Does Human Abortion Add to a Woman’s Dignity?

Every woman knows there is no dignity in having her body violated by an abortion, and the grief of later mourning for a lost child – whether consciously or subconsciously. The Latin term for abortion is ab + oriri, and it means “to cut off from rising.” It is reactive, not proactive; destructive not creative; and women do not plan ahead of time to get pregnant in order to have an abortion.

Question #3: How Many Men Push Their “Girlfriends” into “Choosing” Abortion?

When the research data of the Alan Guttmacher Institute of Planned Parenthood is examined, and the data of thousands of Pregnancy Resource Centers likewise, the reality is that male irresponsibility and chauvinism drives the abortion ethos. Men who get women pregnant and refuse responsibility. At Smith College in 1994, in a forum with the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW), Patricia Ireland, I was asked a question from a woman student at the end on how I could “oppose a woman’s choice.” I had fifteen seconds to answer, and I said, “Just as much as abortion rips off women, it rips off the unborn and allows the male chauvinists to run free.” An audience of over 500, mostly in favor of legalized abortion, erupted in loud and sustained ovation. Reality has been defined.

Question #4: Are Planned Parenthood and the Abortion Industry Racist?

The founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger, was a eugenicist who praised Adolf Hitler in 1922. Today, about 38 percent of all abortions, in the United States, are performed on Black Americans who equal 12 or 13 percent of the population. The same racist ratio holds true for other minorities, and Planned Parenthood et al. heavily locate their abortion centers in poor neighborhoods. And they earn billions in blood money.

Question #5: Pro-Life Libertarian or Pro-Abortion Statist?

These are exact opposites. Pro-life libertarians want maximum religious, political and economic freedom for all people equally, from biological origins to natural death. People are free so long as they do not injure the lives, liberties and property of others. Pro-abortion statists support massive and enslaving top-down state intervention in people’s lives, especially against religious, political and economic freedom.

The Toughest Question: What About Rape and Incest?

This is not suitable for a public sign, since the hell of such evil and its pain cuts so deep. But it needs to be addressed. I have been asked this question many times across the years, and indeed, this is the title and content of Chapter One in my book, Changing the Language of the Abortion Debate (available at johnrankinbooks.com).

Whether at Denison University as a college student several months prior to the January 22, 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, when a fellow male student pressed me on it in a religion class; or at the University of Massachusetts (Amherst), in answering the question of a woman student who had been conceived through the rape of her eleven year-old mother; or at Brown University in debating the former president of Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island who had been excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church, in addressing the question posed by a woman student; or with a woman caller on WGAN Radio in Portland, Maine, who personally knew the hell of rape and abortion; or with a “pro-choice” physician and wife of an astrophysicist working on the Hadron Collider; or in a forum at Dartmouth College with the woman head of Republicans for Choice – they all responded well, and also with others in different instances. Only in a forum at Yale Law School, with the woman president of the national Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights (RCAR), did I not get any response – silence instead.

To sum up this territory, one question emerges: How does human abortion unrape the woman? She has been through hell, abortion only deepens the hell, and we who follow Jesus are here to serve her courageous power to choose life in the face of a hell that very few of us can imagine. Indeed, we are here to serve any woman who needs the courage and power to choose life for her and her unborn child, regardless of the situation.


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