The following post first appeared on ThinkTheology, and follows on from a couple of other posts there, to which you’ll find links at relevant points.
Early in 2009 Abby Johnson was named Planned Parenthood’s employee of the year for 2008. By September that year she had quit her job and moved to ‘the other side of the fence’ both figuratively and literally.
Planned Parenthood is a US charity providing reproductive health information and resources to women who can’t otherwise afford it. They are also the United States’ biggest provider of abortions.
Abby had joined them as a volunteer while at college in Texas and although she knew they carried out abortions, she believed the recruiter when she said that the goal of Planned Parenthood was actually to make abortion rarer.
Over the next eight years, Abby rose through the ranks at her clinic, eventually becoming its director. Though she and many of her colleagues firmly believed they were doing good in meeting the needs of vulnerable women, and were sincere in their desire to make abortion rarer, Abby was disturbed by the sense the organisation had of being at war with the pro-lifers who stood praying on the other side of the high fence surrounding the clinic. In Unplanned, the book telling her story, Abby writes:
If we are pro-choice, I thought, … why do we feel we need to protect clients from conversations about their choices? … We want them to consider the alternatives and make the choice that’s right for them. Right?
Unplanned gives a fascinating insight into the mind of a Christian who honestly thought that she was helping people by the work she did, and how her eyes were opened to the truth of what she was not just allowing but enabling.
Now a pro-life speaker and activist, Abby makes it clear that it was the approach of the volunteers from the pro-life charity Coalition for Life that created the openness in her heart which eventually allowed God to break through her prejudices and open her eyes to the truth.
When she first started working at the clinic, the protestors at the fence included someone dressed as the Grim Reaper and a lady brandishing a placard showing a gruesome image of an aborted baby. They would shout abuse at the already very emotional women entering the clinic and seemed more determined to judge than to persuade.
The volunteers from the Coalition for Life were different. They seemed genuinely to care for everyone entering the clinic – including the staff. Though they too called through the fence, their words were gentle ones of love and hope. Most of the time they simply prayed. And prayed and prayed and prayed. Usually quietly, occasionally on their knees sobbing and pleading before the Lord.
Over time these volunteers managed to convince the placard-waver and the Grim Reaper that their tactics were counter-productive and they left.
Where threats, harsh words and condemnation had fostered only fear, anger and division, the love, gentleness and kindness offered by the volunteers who remained would occasionally win them the attention of clinic clients, and eventually won Abby’s heart.
I’m sure that both groups of protestors were motivated by a sense of righteous anger at the practice of killing pre-born babies, but the tactic of one was almost guaranteed not to win even a single mind, let alone the entire battle. We’ve talked on this blog before about the importance of disagreeing agreeably, and Andrew recently summarised an excellent example of two people doing just that. Anger and condemnation don’t change hearts and minds; love and compassion do. If we are to have any hope of shifting the pivot that Matt wrote about last week, this is a lesson we have to learn.
The task looks huge, and despite the well-documented example he gave of the abolition of the slave trade, it can be hard to imagine where to begin.
A couple of weeks ago, Phil Moore likened abortion to the Holocaust, and for some of us, it may be that God calls us to resist abortion the way Corrie ten Boom and her family resisted Nazism – one baby at a time. This might be through training as a counsellor at a crisis pregnancy centre, by standing quietly and respectfully outside an abortion clinic and praying, or even by becoming adoptive parents.
For others of us, as for a couple of individuals in Abby Johnson’s story, it might be by changing the mind of one key abortion provider at a time.
In private correspondence about this article, Matt shared an example of people he knows who work with young men – who of course are at least 50% responsible for the pregnancies in the first place. For some of us this may be the role God gives us – working to prevent unwanted pregnancies even occurring.
For others it may be influencing (or becoming!) the influencers and policy-makers, while for still others it might be bringing about a far broader shift in the cultural attitude – raising awareness of the issue and painting a new picture in the public eye.
The holocaust was able to happen because a nation believed the lies about the value of human life and the criteria required for personhood. Abortion is allowed to continue for the same reasons – Western culture has been deceived about what constitutes a person and what kinds of humans are worthy of life.
We’ve got to win our culture over to a godly understanding of the value of life, to make abortion not just illegal but unthinkable.
But it must all be done with as much love and compassion for the perpetrators as we have for their unborn children. Angry and abusive words and actions won’t shift the lever, they’ll shatter it and undo all the good work that went before.
Let’s not get so anxious to do the right thing that we forget to do it the right way.
Picture Credit: Untitled by db Photography | Demi-Brooke (Creative Commons)