Which adjective came to mind when you read the title of this post?
During my high school teaching days I also served as moderator of the pro-life club, and my students and I would pray outside abortion clinics from time to time. I miss my time with them very much, but based this experience–and hearing lots of criticisms from many different quarters–I can guess what some of those adjectives might be:
Tonight, I got a very moving note from another high school teacher who told me about a recent experience bringing his students to pray at an abortion clinic. It is well worth reading, not least because it blows these stereotypes completely out of the water…
I wanted to pass this along before other tasks consumed me this evening.
So, earlier this afternoon as twenty-five of my students and I were praying outside of the abortion clinic here, something happened that hasn’t happened in all of my years praying outside of this or any other abortion clinic: a clinic worker actually felt compelled to address us and walked outside to do so.
Now, again in all of my years of praying outside of abortion clinics, this has never happened. General indifference from abortion clinic staff: Yup. Occasional tsk-tsking and tut-tutting as they walked by: You betcha. But never an actual address.
No doubt, it probably had something to do with the fact all twenty-five students with me were young women (as is usually the case.) And the fact that our ethnic and racial diversity looks like something out of a college catalog, only better and more authentic. But I am guessing that it likely had something to do with the fact that our presence is starting to look a lot more powerful and persuasive, and this is becoming ever more worrying to those who work inside the abortion clinic here.
So back to the action: When the clinic worker walked up to us, she was polite, but firm in asking us if we were ever in a vulnerable situation. We nodded. Moreover, she asked if we ever felt like we needed support. We nodded again.
But then the agreement came to a screeching halt. She told us that those like her inside the clinic were “supporting women” and “helping women” (her exact words),” and those like us outside, were “hurting them” (her exact words again.) Next, there was a slight glimmer of hope that her address might tack back to her more promising start as she remarked that she “appreciated” why we were out there. But then she insisted that it was best to pray to our God inside the privacy of our homes, but not on the sidewalk because, again, we were “hurting women.” She repeated this phrase about two or three more times, but then walked away before we could respond.
Now, normally I don’t like to interrupt our witness in front of abortion clinics. We somewhat regularly endure our not-so fair share of obnoxious car horns and four-letter words. So, I generally don’t like to acknowledge those who seek to disrupt us from our primary task of praying and bearing witness.
But this time was different. And so I asked my students to gather around me for a few brief comments.
First, I noted that we had just been told that our presence here is “hurting women.” I told them that I had no doubt that we were making the clinic workers inside uncomfortable and that we were probably provoking some tough and disconcerting questions for any and all mothers inside. But “hurting women.” No way. No how.
Second, I noted that we had just been told that those inside the clinic were supporting women, and those outside the clinic like us were not. I then reminded students that less than two years ago, our very presence on this very same sidewalk inspired an abortion-minded woman to come outside of the clinic and pray with us for quite some time. She didn’t give us her name, but she motioned that she not going to go in again, and later pulled away in a taxi that came to greet her. I told my students that our presence that day, and not theirs inside the clinic, supported a vulnerable woman and vulnerable child in a time of need. I told them that today a child likely got to celebrate a first birthday, got to eat ice cream, and got to enjoy countless hugs and kisses because of our presence. In other words, a mother and child got to experience love because we were present. And that our thirty minutes of praying that day two years ago provided more authentic support and occasioned more beauty than the clinic here ever had. Or ever would. Period.
Third, I noted that we were told in so many words that the abortion clinic workers here resented our presence and wanted it to end. I told my students that absence was only assent to the violence of abortion. But presence was the power to identify it, resist it, and so overcome it through the grace of God. And so long as this violence continued, we would remain present. And we would remain present because our presence has already had the power to dispel anxiety and affirm life. In short, because our presence has allowed a child to most assuredly live and a mother to hope. To hope what she never thought possible two years ago.
Fourth, I noted that we were told in so many words that our love hurts. I told my students that this may be so for those who have not experienced the fullness of the gift that we have received. Or who have felt its lack. Or who have even refused it. But, in truth, our love does not hurt. It hungers. It hungers for justice. It hungers to end discrimination. It hungers to end violence against whomever and wherever. It hungers that all human beings may be welcomed in life and protected in law. And it was this hungering love that so provoked anxiety in the woman from the abortion clinic who addressed us on the sidewalk. It was this hungering love that challenged her. And it was this hungering love that could indeed inspire the beginning of her conversion. Moreover, I told them that no doubt those in clinic know that we will not walk with women inside there. But those in clinic know too, and fear to acknowledge, that, even though we will not walk inside, we will indeed walk with these very same women in all other places and in all other moments, come what may. In other words, they know and fear to acknowledge this: that if the women inside the abortion clinic need holistic prenatal care, we’ll find it. And if they need help with education, we’ll fund it. And if they need help with post-natal aid, we’ll get it. And if they need help with childcare, we’ll provide it, because we have the will and we have the love. Our love hungers, but it never wearies and never rests, because it bears all things, believes all things, and hopes all things.
Finally, I noted that we were told to go pray in our homes. And I told my students that we would and that we would indeed do so tonight. But so too would we pray in our churches. And in our schools. And on our playing fields. And in the streets. And most definitely on this very sidewalk in front of the abortion clinic. And we would do so again and again and again, rain, shine, sleet or snow. And we wouldn’t be just twenty-five strong next week because we’d all be showing up with a classmate or two or ten. Twenty-five of us had caused the clinic staff anxiety. Seventy-five of us next week was going to send them reeling. And it was going to send them reeling because of the fire of Christ’s love burning in us and burning for every man, woman, and child.
And with that we returned to prayer. But judging from the focus in my students’ eyes, it certainly seemed like we did so with a firmer commitment and greater fire than ever before.