I hereby declare that many of the people who consider themselves "pro-choice" are not bad people. Misguided? Yes. But not bad. I also declare that our politicians aren't the biggest roadblock standing in the way of real progress regarding abortion. Rather, the bigger roadblock are many of us Christians who do a lousy job at changing hearts.
While our anger over abortion is justified, our anger is unhelpful.
Today, on the 41st anniversary of the infamous Roe v. Wade decision that lifted major restrictions on abortion, it's crucial that we choose with care the face we place upon our faith. That is to say, check your face. If you have come to know Christ, who makes perfectly clear the path to salvation, you should be smiling. If you are not joyful, if you are scowling, you're probably blowing a blessed opportunity.
Allow me to explain. When I was in high school in the late 1980s, the most prominent faces of Christianity in our nation were Protestant televangelists who often spoke with venom, whose suits were expensive, whose homes were huge, who made wild and unfulfilled apocalyptic predictions, and who struck me as absolute lunatics.
It was they, and not archetypal youthful rebellion, who prompted me to run in the opposite direction, back through my Catholic upbringing and out the other side to the lonely, spiritual bottomlands where absolute truth could be tossed in the air and riddled with buckshot.
At the time, I was a greenhorn when it came to demagoguery. These days, I'm not so easily discouraged. That's because I've since met people who model what it means to be Christian. They keep one foot in eternity and one foot on the earth. They are happy. They are fun. You are drawn to them because, in a world wrenched with discord, they've clearly got it together. We need more of them.
In the tens of thousands, they show up at the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C., such as the one held today. Most marchers are young.
"The face is changing. It's not just white male politicians like the pro-choice people like to say," Veronika Johannsen, 22, of College Station, Texas, told USA Today. "All kinds of people come. Religious groups of all different denominations, former abortion workers, women who have been raped or have been conceived in rape."
With that youthful drive ready to be tapped into, I pray for the following:
1. That the face of Christianity today is Christ, Himself, and His joyful adherents. Not self-righteous, indignant, smarmy, cynical Christians. And certainly not political-hack Christians.
2. That the words that inspire people — particularly the youth — are not the barbed-wire words of the Pharisees of cable news whose popularity and bank accounts are contingent upon stoking and exploiting political polarity.
How does this all relate to abortion? Easy. As Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC, puts it, when it comes to abortion, "it's personal, not political."
He's right. We cannot possibly get from here (a country that kills a million babies a year) to there (a country that kills zero babies a year) by waiting impatiently in our protective pro-life bubbles, sitting among the choir, expecting the rest of our fellow citizens to somehow make their way toward us. We must step out, backtrack, and reach toward them. Otherwise, it's akin to expecting a goldfish to somehow drive a stick shift.
No, actually, I take that back. That's a misdemeanor of hyperbole. The "pro-choice" crowd is comprised of thoughtful beings. I know them. They are my neighbors. They are my friends. This is what I know about them:
1. They love their children. They live for others. They want peace in the world. They love their country. They give money to charity.
2. Maybe because their parents have dropped the ball, they have merely a minimal amount of spiritual formation, or none at all. They weren't raised in such an atmosphere, and that handicaps them. That explains why their own children can tell you everything about the super-human powers of Spiderman, but not a single thing about the greatest non-fictional Super Hero the world has ever known: Jesus Christ.
I suspect that now, in 2014, as opposed to then, in 1973, when Roe v. Wade was decided, we're not up against a strident opposition who has declared themselves "pro-choice" as a consequence of reasoned self-reflection or even rebellion. Instead, we are up against a large population who hasn't even been exposed to the sort of spiritual awareness with which a coherent position could be formulated.
Yet, what are many of us doing, we who oppose abortion? We are still fighting the old fight, and we are fighting it with clinched fists rather than open arms. In our culture today, there is no personality type more tiresome and more ineffective than an angry person, whether an angry atheist or an angry religious zealot. We who wish to stand in union with God must meet people where they are at. This is how Christ did it.
Meanwhile, as recent polls indicate, a majority of Americans now view themselves as "pro-life." The small print is much more complex, but we shouldn't view this as anything less than an incredibly positive sign — and an opportunity. How did this come to be? One possibility is that scientific fact sways the discerning mind. Life begins at conception. This is no longer debatable. Now the task is to sway our neighbors and friends — our brothers and sisters — into seeing the truth that the killing of innocent life is an abomination.
This can only be done from the bottom up — through movements like the Divine Mercy movement, considered the greatest grassroots movement in the history of the Church. You can easily see why. When you go to a Divine Mercy conference, for instance, nine times out of 10, you will encounter real people, affable people, people who have come to understand through the words of Jesus to St. Faustina that the "greater the sinner the greater the right to My mercy" (Diary of St. Faustina, 723).
The message — that abortion is intrinsically evil and a direct violation of the Creator's intention to bring a new human being into the world — cannot take root and flourish on barren land. It can only do so through love, personal connection, reciprocal respect, and through messengers who model Christ's capacity to distinguish the sinner, whom we are called to love, and the sin, which we are called to eschew.
This is why — as Pope Francis stresses nearly every day — the face of Christianity needs to be joyful, because joy is the twin sibling of truth. It is the principal mark of spiritual maturity. It is the Way, which is Christ. It attracts. It is contagious.
In the public square, we must speak and act out of love. Otherwise, we are culpable.
To get from here to there, there is no other way.