A few weeks ago I saw something on Facebook I had never seen before.
A long-time acquaintance, who I knew to be a committed Christian, announced that she was pregnant. At this stage in my life, pregnancy announcements are about as common as Tuesdays, but her news was a little different.
She wasn’t married.
For a moment I was confused. Did I miss something? Gradually it dawned on me, the enormity and the courage of her decision. She had decided to keep the baby. I was in awe of her bravery.
The responses that followed blessed me even more. Friends and family members all joined in on the celebration of this new little life. They pledged their support and couldn’t wait to meet the baby. They rejoiced in God’s redemptive power to turn a difficult situation into something good.
That entire Facebook thread was Christians doing what Christians should do. It was a good day for the church.
I thought about that young woman this week as I read response after response to the Planned Parenthood controversy. I haven’t really known what to say, because the video was just so awful. As a mother with a young baby, it’s difficult to hear language like that. I wasn’t sure I could find the words.
But this morning God gave me a word. I hope the people who need to hear it, can.
Abortion is a complicated subject. Many of the women who get abortions are poor, or abused, and there are no easy answers for them. They don’t have much control over their own bodies, or they’re struggling to provide for the children they already have. That’s why 40% of abortions are among women below the poverty line.
I won’t offer simplistic answers to those questions, because they require systemic changes to even begin to address them. Instead, I want to consider one group of women who get abortions, women who are, in many ways, like my Facebook friend: professing Christians.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, one in five women who get abortions identify as born-again, evangelical, charismatic or fundamentalist. What this means is that my friend cannot be the only Christian I know who has become pregnant out-of-wedlock. Of all the Christian women I know, there must be others who have become pregnant unexpectedly. And yet, I have heard of very few.
With the church being so vocally opposed to abortion, it’s surprising that so many evangelical women get abortions. It’s also not surprising, because abortion occurs at the crossroads of two very powerful influences: fear and shame.
Fear and shame are formidable forces. Who among us is brave enough to withstand the two combined? Who among us “nice, put-together Christian women,” could endure it? If you really put yourself in the shoes of women like my friend, do you think you could face it? Do you think you could honor the faith you profess? It’s easy to say yes in the comfort of your current circumstances, but it would be hard. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure what I would do.
It’s there, at that terrible intersection of shame and fear, that abortion, with it’s confidentiality, seems like an easy escape. I can understand that. I think God does too, which is why His mercy and forgiveness are so blessedly available.
As Christians, we need to be honest about this reality. Shame and fear are more powerful than cold principles and unsympathetic solutions. That’s why pat suggestions to “just adopt” fall so flat (that and, if you’ve ever been pregnant, you know what a physically grueling, emotional torture that would be). In a church that teaches against sex before marriage, it is an act of true courage to admit, yes, I had sex out of marriage, and now I am pregnant. On top of all the other uncertainty a pregnancy brings.
What does this mean for the church, if we want to preserve the lives of unborn children? It means many things, but here are two:
1. If you are currently pregnant and unmarried–or if you ever find yourself in that situation–I want to encourage you with my all my heart, to be brave. Make the bravest choice. It is hard and it is scary and you are not weak or faithless for feeling that way. Those are normal feelings when life deals an uncertain hand.
But please know that you are not alone. God goes before you in the form of his church. Maybe the church you currently attend is not that supportive community, but many are. If you need help finding one, please contact me and I’ll do everything in my power to connect you. But just like my Facebook friend, there are people waiting to rejoice with you over this new life, and ready to support you through it. You do not have to be brave alone.
Which leads me to my second point…
2. If you are on the outside looking in, don’t oversimplify abortion. Don’t act like it’s this straightforward thing and what’s wrong with the women who have them? And don’t bemoan the abortion rate in America when all you’re doing is ranting about it on social media but doing nothing that actually helps. Support your local crisis pregnancy center. Support the single moms in your church. Support families who adopt.
And while you’re at it, guard your words about premarital sex. As Christians, we need to find a way to be faithful to the Bible’s teachings about sex without creating a culture in which the shame of a mistake is unbearable. This culture cannot be had through blanket condemnations about “sluts” and celebrities and how our nation is going to Hell in a hand basket. That kind of language is part of the problem.
If you’ve read much of my writing, you know I do not use the term “courage” lightly. Just last month I wrote a post for Her.meneutics about the dumbing-down of brave–it’s not often that we see or do truly brave things. But the decision to continue a pregnancy is a truly brave act. There are so many obstacles to overcome. So let’s treat these women as the courageous ones they are. They are choosing to let God bring beauty out of brokenness, and we could use a whole lot more of that in our world. And in our church.
Wherever you are, whatever is going on, God loves you. You are loved.