Monday, November 24, 2014

We Were All Strangers.

“Scripture tells us that we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”

Of all the things that President Obama said in his speech last week, I found this application of Exodus 23:9 to be one of the most poignant aspects of the entire presentation. I thought it was perfect.

In the last several years, I’ve been appalled by many responses of the Conservative Christian Evangelical machine towards the issue of immigration. With all of the ways in which the religious right tries to impose their particular brand of Biblical living within the confines of the Constitution, they seem to want to pretend that the sections of the Bible that give explicit instructions on how we treat immigrants do not exist. It is westernized American Christian hypocrisy at its best.

Why do so many believe that immigrants are only here in this country for a free ride or to have some sort of easy life of no accountability? Because I feel like that is what the argument comes down to...this sense that we don’t want to share the rewards of living in this country if we deem that someone has come here to take advantage of the system (especially if their skin is brown)? Let’s be honest here…when we talk about immigration, internally many people don’t immediately picture a college aged kid from the Ukraine or Lithuania, or Australia. We don’t seem to have a problem with those folks coming here to study, get a degree, or contribute to our economy. But we seem to have a problem with the people south of our border who want to come here to provide a better life for their family, sometimes working two or three jobs only to send that money back to their families in another country…by the way, doing jobs that most of us would never be willing to do, or to seek refuge from dangerous and complex situations in which they are powerless. After all, isn’t this the exact same manner in which many of our ancestors came to this country?

How can people claim to be followers of Christ and yet feel that children sent here to escape horrific violence in their own country should be sent back to those awful situations? How is it that people can be so intolerant towards immigrants but say they believe in the Bible, when it has so many examples of mercy shown to people seeking a safe place to live?

I recently experienced this kind of hypocrisy from a friend who claims to be a Christian. On one hand, she proclaims to be a follower of Christ, but insists that the immigrant children who have entered our country need to be returned to their countries of origin. I do not understand her reasoning on this…how can she claim herself as a follower of a teacher who did not send the marginalized or oppressed away from Him, who said that the world will know His followers by the love they show to others? How can she not see that her attitude is the exact antithesis of a person who follows Christ?

I’ve concluded that she is able to take this position, as others easily do, because they do not personally know someone who has faced that struggle. Their lack of empathy is the direct result of insulating themselves from the issue.

Years ago, I went to Nicaragua with a group from my church. It was the summer of 2001, and Nicaragua was smack in the middle of election season, not to mention that some hundreds of thousands of coffee workers were protesting the loss of their livelihoods. Meanwhile, there was still vast corruption and economic hardship that the country had been struggling to climb out of. Gangs were running rampant, drug use everywhere, child exploitation far and wide. While in that country, my eyes were opened up to some of the complex problems of Central and South America. It is not an easy place to live. Not a day went by when myself and most of the other ladies on this trip were not approached by a young mother, who would plead with us to find a way to take their babies and children with us back to the United States. There were mothers, literally trying to hand us their infants, because they knew that their child would have a better chance to live…the kind of living that you and I take for granted, the kind of living where we don’t fear for our lives every day and with every breath. Their babies and young children actually had a better chance of living past the age of 17 if they could just find a way to get them to the United States. I will never forget that and the desperation I saw in the eyes of those mothers, who were willing to find any way to save their children.

We desperately need immigration reform in our country, for the sake of all of us. And yes, the politics behind the President’s speech last night are multifaceted, but they are only distractions from the actual work that needs to be done. And we need leaders who are willing to do the hard work, regardless of what that means for their future political careers. So, it is incredibly frustrating to already hear demands to sue the President, impeach him, do everything possible just to score political points for the next election and please the base. I hear people on the right say that the President lacks leadership…well, he just took the reins and did something that Congress wouldn’t do. And they can throw their arms in the air and throw a fit for as long as they would like, but at least the President did something, which actually is super similar to policies put in place by both Republican and Democrat Presidential predecessors. So, this isn’t a new thing at all. Stop trying to pretend it is. And maybe there is a better way for us to have comprehensive immigration reform…so let’s explore that, but stop pandering and just sweeping the issue under the rug. That’s not governing, and it certainly isn’t serving the American people, which is what our elected officials are supposed to do.

Here’s your chance, Republicans, to show just how devoted to the pro-life, pro-family, Biblical ideals you claim as the foundation of your political principles. Here’s your chance to ante up and not just talk the talk, but walk the walk.

So, to our Republican lawmakers, I’ll simply repeat the best advice you’ve ever been given by the President: “Pass a bill.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Yes, I Am A Pro-choice Christian

The first time I recognized that I had a different point of view than pretty much all of my church friends, it was the 2000 election. I had turned 18 and the very first election in which I was able to cast my vote was when George W. Bush was running for President against then Vice President, Al Gore. 


After placing my vote earlier in the week, I was headed off to visit Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri. My best friend was attending there and I was going to classes at a local college in Indianapolis, but longed to go to a Christian university to study ministry. So, I took advantage of a trip that our church youth group was going on to take other students interested in attending this particular school. We were listening to election results on the radio in the church van, when the youth pastor’s wife realized that I had voted in this election. She was really excited for me and was glad that I had voted for George Bush…


Except, I did not vote for George Bush. 


When I told her that I did not vote for George Bush, she was shocked, as were all of the other adults in the church van. When they all asked me why, I said it was because he was not pro-choice in regards to women’s reproductive rights.


Not only were the leaders appalled at my decision, but they felt the need to tell me over and over again that it was wrong for me to feel that women should have access to choose to end a pregnancy…did I not think that all life was precious? How could I believe it was okay for a woman to kill a harmless, innocent little baby? To say I was berated would be an understatement. The response from the youth leaders in that van and even from some of the students was straight up harassment. The entire weekend, I heard lecture after lecture about this wrong I had apparently committed. And when I wasn’t being lectured by adults, I was being made fun of by some of the students. Everyone assumed I had just made a misinformed mistake, that I just didn’t know what I was doing. 


But I did. I made that conscious decision when I cast my vote.


What the youth leaders, pastors, and students didn’t know was that I was adopted, and being adopted played a huge role in how I came to feel about a woman’s right to choose.


Now, most Evangelical Christians would still probably assume that since I was adopted, I would still be pro-life instead of pro-choice. Again, this is a false assumption.


My biological parents were very poor and already had two children before I came along. Since my parents had very limited financial resources, they were desperately trying to figure out what they were going to do. It was financially impossible for them to raise a 3rd child. My biological father began to insist my biological mother have an abortion. But my biological mother knew that she had a choice in the matter…


She had a choice. And she pushed back against this idea to end her pregnancy, knowing there must be another way.


Eventually, through a lot of random circumstances, my biological parents met my adoptive parents, and they worked together, which resulted in me being born, and adopted by a couple who could not have a child.


Now, what most people on the pro-life side of this issue believe is that anyone who is not pro-life is some evil, baby-hating, pro-abortion person. And that’s just not true.


I’m not pro-abortion. I think it must be an incredibly horrific experience and difficult decision to make. But I also know that I’m limited in my understanding of choices because I’ve never been in a position to have to make that choice to end another life. I know that when I say that I believe in the Constitution and in the rights of individuals, it means that I would protect the right for people to make intensely personal choices, even if it means I may not agree with their choices. I know that I can’t fully understand what it is like to walk in the shoes of a person who has come to that decision to have an abortion. What I do know is that if I can’t understand someone else’s experience, then I certainly can’t judge them. I certainly have no right to do that or to tell them what they should do. Based on my limited experience in life, I have no right to take away someone else’s rights.


And I believe that if we limit a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, we would do irreversible damage to civilization. Let me make it clear: passing legislation that would make abortion illegal will not stop abortions from happening, just in the way that prohibition did not stop people from consuming alcohol, but instead, created a subversive and dangerous market for what they were seeking, resulting in corruption and death. Making abortion illegal will not solve the problem, it will only mask it from being seen in daylight. 


By allowing a woman to have the right to choose, however, we can create regulations that may help us create opportunities that ultimately help women and children. We can make sure that if a woman has to make that difficult choice, then she will be taken care of by a qualified physician, and not by someone with more nefarious intentions or motivations. We can create education programs that help people understand the circumstances of their decisions and give them alternatives.


It would be na├»ve of us to fully believe that we live in a country where women have equal rights. The truth is that women still face issues of inequality in multiple aspects of life here in the United States. Can you honestly say that if we pass legislation that would absolutely take away a woman’s right to choose what happens to her body, that we are the advanced society that we claim to be? What does it say about us as a society if we don’t trust that a woman is capable of choosing what is best for her and her family? If we only mask the problem so that we aren’t forced to see it in the daylight, can we really lay claim to be the greatest democracy in history? 


Being pro-choice is not the antithesis of being pro-life. It is not the enemy. Being pro-choice is acknowledging that women face all kinds of issues in our country, and is a decision to be open to help educate and serve women that desperately need help, no matter if they decide to end a pregnancy or to seek out adoptive services. Being pro-choice is being humble enough to know that I am in no position to pass judgment on others. Being pro-choice is a practice of unconditional love, humility, sacrifice, and being brave enough to confront the difficulties of humanity.   


I fully believe that if I had been conceived prior to Roe vs. Wade, that I would not be alive. If my biological mother had no choice in how to decide whether she would give birth, I believe that she may have sought out an illegal and potentially dangerous method to end her pregnancy. If she did not have the right to choose, she may have felt forced to give birth and raise a child that she could not financially support. The fact that she was able to choose adoption, though, gave her the opportunity to not only help herself, but gave another family a chance to have a baby. Her choice created a space for love and sacrifice and healing to exist where it may not have existed had she been forced to raise me. She chose to find a way to choose life.


I know it goes against the grain of what our American ideals are of what it means to be a Christian, but I’m pro-choice. Being a follower of Christ means that we don’t just sweep issues under the rug so we don’t have to confront them. Being a follower of Christ doesn’t mean that we pass judgment on people because we don’t understand their circumstances. Being a follower of Christ means that we meet people where they are at and love them, even when it is difficult or they do things we may not agree with. It is a harder path to follow. 


So, when I look back on the days following the 2000 election and remember how I was harassed and bullied by people who thought I had made a mistake, I don’t look back with regret. I look back on a situation where I made the first few steps of following a path that was more difficult, required more love and less judgment, and doesn’t exactly sit well with religious folks. And that reassures me that I’m on the right path.