I have no good memories of third-grade math.
To be honest, I don’t remember most of my elementary school days, but math in Mrs. Smith’s classroom is strangely familiar. Maybe it is because that’s where a school subject first became hard for me, or because the homework was such a drag. Or, actually, it may be because third-grade math was the first time I realized I was a crock.
It happened like this. Soon I noticed my friends were picking up math quicker than I was. I can’t recall the exact lessons — just that I wasn’t good at them. And everyday, during that math hour, Mrs. Smith would have students step up front and rehearse homework problems on the board. My classmates would write out the problem and swiftly solve it. They would carry numbers here and make a few notes there, and voila! — the answer.
But what seared this exercise into my memory was that after every answer was offered, Mrs. Smith would ask the rest of the class if they had the same answer. “Raise your hand,” she would say. “Raise your hand if you agree.”
I don’t know that my real answer ever lined up, and to me it didn’t matter. When she asked for the class consensus, I would simply swallow the knot in my throat and scan the arms in the air around me. If there were enough hands held high, and the key kids were in (you know, the smart ones), I’d stick my hand up too. I didn’t really know what I was doing, or what I really thought, but I passed as if I did. It was a hollow agreement, a conviction by association. It was the same problem I fear persists today with many Christians who call themselves pro-life.
The Hollow Agreement
According to the statistics, 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the United States. But we should not assume that 1.2 million abortions mean that all 1.2 million women are pro-choice. The numbers showing the racial inequality that exists in the abortion industry are outrageous. Most abortions occur with women who are minorities (66%), economically disadvantaged (69%), and live below the poverty line (42%). But none of these are 100%. Of course, abortions also occur with white women (34%), and those who are not economically disadvantaged (31%), and those who actually identify themselves as born-again Christians (13%).
Thirteen percent equals 156,000 women a year. Which means, there are quite a few girls who probably come from evangelical families, attend an evangelical church, say they are pro-life, and still have abortions.
To be clear, the point here is not to overdo the demographics behind abortion. I hate abortion of every kind, and I want it to end everywhere. I don’t intend to draw attention to the fact that self-attested Christians have abortions, as if that’s the epidemic upon which we should focus. The point I want to make, the epidemic of which I lament, is that our pro-life convictions too often prove too shallow.
Hopefully the above numbers get our attention and overturn the thinking that assumes the problem is “out there.” Hopefully these numbers make us realize that more than a few folks sitting next to us on Sunday mornings are just like me in third-grade math. They raise their hand because that’s what everyone else in the room does. They pass by (and even vote) like they have a conviction. But they really don’t. They — you? — have a conviction by association, a conviction that flakes the first moment the issue gets real for them. Ignorance is still a problem, even among those who are supposed to know. For not all who are identified as pro-life belong to pro-life. And I believe it would make a difference if all who said they were really were, like deeply and truly really were.
Some Steps Forward
So then what do we do?
Let’s deepen our conviction. We should be better at resourcing than rhetoric. It can do some good to hold up signs and state the stats, but all slogan and no substance won’t last. We may get attention from outside the church, but we won’t help the reluctant inside. As one pro-life apologist points out, “for too long the pro-life movement has been shouting conclusions rather than establishing facts.” We need to be clear about the humanity of the unborn and the inhumanity of abortion. One means to do this is the wise use of abortion pictures1, along with several other resources, whether specific ministries, important books2, or corporate study material. Our churches should have these and run the gamut in their use, from just making them available to starting regular reading groups. The hope is to really know and believe the truth, such as when life begins and why it matters.
Let’s have the conversations, which involves life outside of formal settings. The rights of unborn children should be a familiar topic among our friends. We shouldn’t assume that every Christian we know has a robust view on life, or even that our own stance is fully matured. We should talk about it. Bring it up. Make this an injustice that you expressively feel and want to influence others in. Brainstorm ways you can help in your communities and mobilize a team to make something happen, as small as it may seem.
Let’s love, truly love, single mothers, which means stepping up in tangible ways for women who find themselves unexpectedly expecting. This means partnering with pregnancy support centers, building real friendships, mentoring, and more. This can be a complex issue, especially when some fear that support for such pregnancies condone the fornication behind them. To be sure, sometimes it can. But it doesn’t have to, and it shouldn’t. Believing fornication is sin and that every life matters doesn’t form two opposing truths, despite their causality relationship. We must love single mothers without a stigma on their situation. The church must be clear on what sin is, but scarlet letters are not in the gospel’s alphabet. This plea has even greater urgency in some Christian subcultures, like the Belt where I grew up. It would not have been voiced, but the silent consensus suggested that the guilt of abortion is preferred over the shame of unwed parenting. Loving single mothers means the stigma must go. Love is not plausible words, but power.
And power is what we need. Power is what we need if our conviction is real, and not just raising hands.