Yes, We Can
Back in 2008, I sent my family the most intense, embarrassing email. I still have it. I read it from time to time just to remind myself of my journey. I wrote it around the time of the election and I knew that most them would vote for Barack Obama.
I took it upon myself to warn them. I can still remember it so vividly; it was an exciting time for my family and for many people who look like me. My brother and sister in law stood in line outside for hours early in the morning so they could vote before they went to class on their HBCU campus. My Mom and Dad texted us pictures with grins and “I voted” stickers. My grandmother, a retired educator in the Baltimore Public School system, shed tears. I know she cried because I could hear her tears in the voicemail she left me. I had ignored her phone call that day. My family responded to the email. They said they loved me and that they were praying for me.
See, I was far removed from it all, living hundreds of miles away from my family in what I came to later understand was a “red state”. I wasn’t very political at that time; I was just zealous and I had only known this place as a place where God was moving and as an atmosphere where there was an “open heaven”. I was clueless as to what living in a red state could mean for the type of Christianity I would be exposed to and the type of Jesus that would come along with it. I guess if forced to identify, I would say I was republican by default. These were the only positions I’d ever been exposed to related to my Christianity and I certainly didn’t know there were other "godly" options.
In the email, I talked to my family about statistics, about Margaret Sanger and Eugenics, about the blood of innocent babies crying out from the ground and impending judgment. I told them we were in danger as a nation if we supported this man and he was elected. After all, we were Christians and Barack Obama supported the gays and women’s rights. He wasn’t fearful of Muslims, in fact he might even be one and he wanted healthcare for all. Though he claimed to be a Christian by choice, he had a pastor who propagated heresy known as liberation theology. I mean, what could be more anti-christ?
I really believed all that because well that’s what the majority of the spiritual leaders I was hearing were saying and more importantly that’s what I believed was so clearly laid out in the Bible. This was serious. I stopped eating for over month and I prayed day and night over this antichrist figure, Obama and the abortion issue.
And then he won.
It was during his second term that Trayvon died and I began to hear a different sound. This time it was the blood of grown black bodies crying out from the ground. Yet, for some reason the voices of grown black bodies both dead and alive were muffled to those around me.
At this point I began to see the discrepancies and to feel ashamed. The first black President of the United States of America had been caricatured as an antichrist to me and I bought it...hook, line and sinker.
Maybe this is why my grandmother was crying when she called me that day.
She had been a freedom rider.
She had even desgregated the Tastee Freeze ice cream shop in her neighborhood because her mama liked French Vanilla.
She must’ve known I had no idea what I was really saying the email I sent that day.
I suddenly came to the realization that I’d missed out on a crucial moment in Black History. I didn’t even have eyes to see it. There is hardly anything that makes me more aware or regretful of that fact than the 2016 election, the evangelical support of the Trump presidency and the subsequent shenanigans.
Black People: An Endangered Species
They say that abortion kills more black people than any other demographic. They speak of the atrocities and the geographical placement of Planned Parenthood. They say that because of these realities, we are an endangered species. And they are right. These statistics are maddening and disturbing.
In recent years however, I have come to understand the issue of abortion as one of supplyand demand. In all those years I never heard the demand aspect addressed in an embodied and contextual way. It was always very stationary and ethereal. “Lord, send forth your Spirit to the Black community” I would cry. “God overturn and end abortion!” I would declare. “Do a new thing God and send healing and revival,” I’d pray (I still pray some of these prayers and I still believe that God will answer them, because I still believe that prayer works).
If I am being truly honest, praying for the ending of abortion (in terms of supply) made me feel virtuous. It made me feel like I cared about what Jesus cared about. It made me feel righteous and right. Abortion was murder I believed, and there was no two ways about it. It was black and white, no nuance and anyone who dared disagree or was "pro-choice" was, in fact, in favor of killing babies.
Tamir, His Toy and The Awful Truth
During that time, I even got involved in a specific outreach in the inner city to sort of put my money where my mouth was, but it never felt quite right. It was becoming clearer and clearer to me that the proximity to the city didn’t do much to heal my disconnect from it. I felt about as disconnected from that community as I did from my middle-class family during the election back in 2008. What was the problem? I was trying to bring the gospel; I was mentoring young women who lived there. But it wasn’t taking root and I didn’t feel right. I couldn’t figure it out.
Then, two years into the Obama administration, I watched a grown man kill a little boy who was about as tall as my nephew is right now. His name was Tamir Rice.
He was 12.
He was just a baby.
He was somebody’s baby.
Why weren’t we talking about the cries or the sounds of his blood? Why were these same people who asked me to speak up for the endangered lives in my community now also saying that the shouts and protests of my community were too much? What was the difference? To me, he was a baby like all the other endangered black babies. He was playing with a toy gun; you know doing what 12-year-old babies do. Why were they asking the black community to fight for the lives of black babies then becoming indignant when they did so? After all, babies who are born in my community, like everyone else’s, grow up to be adolescents and teenagers, young men and women. Why was everyone so concerned for the quality of their lives as unborn babies and indifferent once they experienced puberty? Where were the bible verses, the solemn assemblies, the sermons on this issue?
This cant be what it means to be pro-life; I don’t know what this is.
These questions culminated in a moment of awakening that led to years of quiet observation, even depression and outrage. There was a serious disconnect and the more the grown black bodies fell, the more I felt pimped and played. It was an unpleasant time.
Assume the Position
Eventually, I realized that the concern for the unborn particularly in the black community had only ever been talked about in terms of eradicating supply. There was hardly attention given to demand. When I prayed, and heard sermons, went to the rallies they only ever seemed to be about the dangers facing the black community that came from within the black community. One billboard read that the most dangerous place for a black child is inside a black woman. Sure, it was a clever use of real statistical data, but think about that message for a minute? What does that clever tag line imply about black women? Now guess where these ads were placed.
There was not much attention given in these sermons, if at all, to the systemic realities of economic and educational oppression, the generations of trauma being passed down and the centuries of messaging and oversexualization that might lead to and influence the demand.
We all thought it was gangsta rap.
Some women, who routinely seem to go unmentioned in this conversation, terminate pregnancy due to unfavorable conditions in terms of the quality of life for the child whether it is related to too many children and too little income or single parenting. There was a time I would have labeled these as lazy excuses instead of what some women based upon circumstance may perceive as legitimate reasoning. Then there are, of course, the lesser statistical reasons related to health either of mom or baby. I have become all too familiar with this reality and have repeatedly found myself disgusted at what it must feel like to be on the receiving end of extreme right wing rhetoric when facing that situation.
Then there is the most commonly talked about motivation for termination. Convenience. It would be absurd to suggest that women didn’t make the decision to terminate pregnancy for the sake of their own convenience. But decision making for the sake of one’s own convenience at the expense of another person feels more universal to me than acute. This doesn’t make it right; it just makes it broader than one issue especially here in the United States.
We are all responsible for the choices we make even if we can point to the impetus, but what else is new? Isn’t that the nobility of being human—to make choices? Be they good or bad, choice is a gift that is given by God. Agency is an aspect of Imago Dei. Should that be taken away? Can it be taken away? Why do people fight so hard as if you could ever actually take away a persons ability to make choices especially by governmental force.
I had always thought being pro-choice equaled being pro-death and anti-abortion was equivalent to being pro-life. But I assumed this position like I said by default, without thinking and I may have done a lot of damage. I felt shame over how I’d approached counseling those young women back then and how I hadn’t really asked them any questions about what they were carrying economically or emotionally or how I could help them long term. I came into their community with a pre-packaged message, a disembodied gospel and blind spots as big as the red state I was living in.
Looking back, I celebrate my sincerity and simultaneously mourn my ignorance and I think that means I am growing. All of this has been sinking in over the years and while it has been a relatively quiet process related to this particular issue, the Parkland shooting and the commentary about gun rights have caused me to share about it publicly here on my blog.
What Harlym Has Taught Me About Abortion
I am in the midst of an extremely high risk pregnancy. And let me tell you, nothing has done more to bolster my desire to do whatever it takes for my baby to have the best quality of life inside and outside of my womb. At the same time, nothing has served to stoke my confusion over the evangelical embrace of the right wing obsession with the issue of abortion. In some ways I feel there has even been a pimping of black voices by the majority of these groups to trumpet a shallow, single-issue agenda. This results in confusion and angst for some of us because it scarcely seems to rally behind candidates with an agenda for black babies outside the womb that is based in reality, actual understanding or relational knowledge.
With the current president saying things like: "You're living in poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58% of your youth is unemployed -- what the hell do you have to lose?" It's as if the majority of right wing and sadly evangelical opinions of the black quality of life is coming straight out of a John Singleton film. The question must then be asked, if this is true then who would want that for their child? Dont these seem like conflciting messages? Dont kill your baby, but we dont care how they live.
Isn’t parenting about making the best choices that will result in the most positive impact regarding the quality of life of our children? Isn’t this why some moms don’t vaccinate their children, or swear only by organic food products? Do we not use our choice as moms to do what is best for the long-term quality of our child’s life? Could this ultimately be what it means to be pro life?
I want Harlym to grow up to love God and those around her. I want her to be strong and creative; to be unafraid to express herself. I want her, from a young age, to love and respect her body and to demand that others do too. That’s why I am here, in the hospital, committing to 90 days of extreme discomfort and inconvenience. I want her life to be wonderful.
What I cannot understand, is how anyone can think they care about my baby girl or her well being more than me?
To try and take away my ability to choose her good as her mom would infuriate me. And while I love having the ability to make decisions on her behalf, I won’t do it perfectly and I won’t do it right all the time. I won’t even always end up doing what is best.
All I can do is try.
This is something to think about as we talk about women’s rights. Doesn’t it seem unfair for someone to force their opinion on your motherhood when it’s your baby and your body? Doesn’t it seem even more unfair that those with the opinion, may not be interested or willing to go beyond sharing that opinion into the inconvenience of actually carrying the burden with you? Doesn’t it seem weird that those who take a staunch position and who infringe upon women’s rights for the sake of the babies, are not also willing to have their own gun rights infringed upon, for the sake of the babies? Again, doesnt this feel like a mixed message?
What Are You Saying?
First, I have several friends who have stepped up and adopted babies out of these very concerns. They have put their money where their mouths are and they are some of the most amazing people. There are also great agencies that seek to help others do the same.
Second, I shared the story of my starting point on purpose. I ask these questions and make this appeal in light of it, not in spite of it.
The point of this post is not advocacy for abortion.
The point of this post is advocacy for humility.
It’s an appeal to recognize and resist hypocrisy.
Although I am under no obligation to convince anyone that I care deeply for the lives of the unborn and want, with all my heart, for policies to be in place that aid in the eradication of the demand side of the issue. I can also say having looked at the scriptures and quietly observed the debates on abortion for some time, it is striking that though ardent and passionate the arguments being made against “choice” (especially by the church) are for the most part sentimental, not holistic and lacking any real plan of action that goes beyond a Supreme Court Case and name-calling. This cannot be what Jesus or scripture is calling us to related to the issue. In fact, biblically this issue seems to be neither above or below but rather lumped in and equal to every other example of loving thy neighbor in the scriptures.
The reality is that while unborn babies have immense value they don’t really make choices or voice their opinions from inside the womb. Moms make decisions for them even after they are born because we are aware that they don’t have the capacity to do what we believe is best for themselves or for their overall quality of life. Moms do the best they can with what they know and what they have. We exercise our rights to make decisions everyday in terms of our own babies. It is wonderful to have facts and information, we should conintue to share it but at the end of the day moms end up deciding forthe kids what they think is best. I know from what I read in the mom blogs as I prepare myself, that most moms don’t want anybody forcing their hand when it comes to decisions about their kids and the hate being told what to do.
All I am asking is that we would apply this logic across the board. That we would think more critically in terms of what is meant by “pro-choice” and that maybe we would stop the name calling, the bias and the generalization.
Our concern and our compassion cannot be hypothetical it has to be authentic. It is love, not law that produces the deepest change in others. For us as believers, a pro-life stance must extend beyond the belly or as it is often said from the womb to the tomb or it is not a pro life stance, it is hypocrisy.