Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Common Ground

Reflecting on How Pro-Choice and Pro-Life People Can Work Together*

This summer I am a Beatitudes Fellow at Faith in Public Life. The Beatitudes Society is a progressive Christian resource center for and network of faith leaders that offers seminarians like me internships at key national social change organizations. Faith in Public Life is one of those organizations, focusing on "advancing faith in the public square as a positive and unifying force for justice, compassion and the common good," a lot of which is in making the progressive faith voice audible in the media. I believe God has called me to parish ministry, yet I felt strongly that I needed non-profit experience if I want to be an effective pastor working for a just world. I have not been disappointed with this decision. I hope to write a few reflections on this experience throughout the summer.

Before starting to work at Faith in Public Life, I read their blog and really commended them for their work on sexuality education (which I blogged about), immigration, and their work against the anti-gay bill in Uganda, but I really struggled with their health care work because they focused on dispelling myths about abortion and the bill. It is important to dispel such myths, certainly, but I was wondering why they were focusing more energy on dispelling myths than telling Congress that women's health must be remembered in this bill.

And while I still am absolutely committed personally to making abortion legal and accessible to all women, I have really come to appreciate the work that groups like Faith in Public Life have been doing on common ground on abortion. This means working with others towards a common goal--- reducing the number of abortions.

Now, some feminists reject this goal, focusing instead on destigmatization. They have no problem with abortion as birth control. I must admit that I do not either, but I think using abortion as a form of birth control except as a last resort is completely irresponsible in a society in which STIs are so widespread. I think that such focus on destigmatization negates the focus on prevention. I want to live in a world ultimately where abortion is obsolete not because of some desire to save potential lives, but because I want to live in a world in which when people have sex, they hare having safe, protected sex each and every time. This means not only that condoms and dental dams would be readily available in this perfect world, but that people would be educated enough and respect each other enough to not have sex unless it is safe.

This is not maybe the same vision of some pro-life advocates who may not be as positive about sexuality, but ultimately the goal of reducing abortions is the same. That's what common ground is: a focus on prevention, on actually working with the other side to make changes everyone can be happy with. It is not a compromise in which everyone leaves unhappy--- for instance, if common ground meant that we had to support Crisis Pregnancy Centers that lie to women or that we had to put up with more abstinence-only education. More and more pro-life Christians are realizing that to reduce abortions we must have comprehensive sexuality education, which is evident in recent statements from the National Association of Evangelicals that support contraception. So common ground is focusing on a point at which we can agree and actually affecting change.

This has so touched me since starting at Faith in Public Life because it reminds me why I have chosen to work for justice from a space within the faith community: to live in a just world, we must be able to reach out, to work with those we don't agree with. But we also cannot compromise to the point that nothing is done (as in politics). Common ground is that way we work together to actually get some radical change done. It was how health care was passed, and continues to be important to public policy.

UPDATE (kinda--- it's more like further reading): Check out this post from the blog Abortion Gang, Preparing Religious Leaders to Support Women and Choice. It really speaks to the fact that faith leaders are so ill-equipped to talk about sexuality let alone deal intelligently with issues of choice.


*I do recognize a difference between pro-life and anti-abortion. I use anti-abortion to refer to extremists who kill or want to doctors and who picket abortion clinics and hurl hateful insults at the women who enter them. Hate is not pro-life.

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