This week I received an e-mail from a friend that, upon reading, I immediately knew I needed to share. Her testimony is a powerful one–she was raised in a Christian home but found herself pregnant and unmarried in her early twenties. Fortunately, her parents were supportive so she chose to proceed with the pregnancy, and her son is now an amazing (and TALL!) 14 year old boy.
My friend endured a lot of tough knocks along the way, but she is a beautiful picture of the strength and accomplishment that comes with perseverance and obedience to the Lord. Today she is married, has a successful career, and is also mom to a gorgeous two year old girl.
She sent me the below message after sharing her story with some women in the church (who received her testimony so compassionately, I might add!). I asked her permission to share some of her reflections because I found it helpful to hear her insights on the experience:
“I am, fortunately, not condemned by or ashamed of my story or history but it is a complicated story and people in the church, specifically women, have not always been the warmest about it.
“I lament the fact that we teach and tell girls and young women in their twenties and thirties not to abort, we tell them that their children are gifts from God and that the only choice is for them to have their babies and then – when they do – we whisper in the halls when they walk by, talk about them behind their backs or reduce them to “dumb” girls who are destined to live simple, uneducated lives.”
As Christians, we do a great job of promoting pro-life causes. We fight for the unborn, and we have begun the important work of caring for unwed mothers as well. And yet, women in the church are still having abortions. Why is that?
I strongly suspect that the abortion rate is about more than economic hardship. I suspect that, for women in the church, abortion also results from the tremendous shame associated with this kind of mistake. Shame is a powerful motivator, after all. If the goal is behavior modification, shame is a great tool for promoting modesty and chastity. Whether a pastor publicly condemns women for showing too much sin, or women secretly gossip about a church member who is overly flirtatious, each tactic encourages behavioral conformity quite well. No one wants to be on the receiving ends of those judgments.
Shame-based rules are effective indeed, but they also have an ugly flip side. Shame addresses the behavior and not the heart, thereby promoting an appearance of perfection regardless of reality. When a couple mistakenly deviates, shame motivates them to cover up the mistake. In this way, shame encourages hiddenness for the sake of appearances.
Abortion, then, is one terrible consequence of shame-based rhetoric about sex and modesty. Through abortion, Christian women are able to maintain the outward appearance of virtue. Abortion delivers women from the threat of communal shame.
To be sure, sin has necessary consequences. We cannot alleviate all the negative outcomes of sex outside of marriage, nor is that necessarily the goal. What we should be about, in addition to supporting unwed mothers who choose not to abort, is the clear communication of forgiveness and mercy BEFORE the day of that decision ever comes. Our churches should be a safe place in which women strive after holiness but also expect redemption and love whenever they fall short.
So as I close, I want to end with just that message. If you are reading this and you are currently in a difficult spot, or if one day in the future you find yourself pregnant and unmarried, please know that there is a place for you in Christ’s community! There are Christians who yearn to love you and care for you and support you, as well as your precious child! Even though you may feel utterly alone, you are not. God will work healing and wholeness through His people, so don’t be enslaved to shame another day. Christ crucified your guilt on the cross, so let his healing mercy embrace you. He loves you, we love you, and we are here for you and your child!