This weekend, I came across an unpublished essay that I wrote in September 2003. It was inspired after an unpleasant experience I had in church. It still resonates with me today because with the discourse that goes on in our social and political circles, it seems to me that collectively we'd experience a significant shift if individually we could look in the mirror and try to be better people.
If you read through the following, I’d love to hear your comments. Remember, it was written in 2003.
RIGHT TO LIFE OR A RIGHT TO A LIFE?
I sat in my Catholic church, Sunday morning, furious because in place of a homily or sermon, the priest presented a film promoting right-to-life vs. abortion.
I watched the film fighting the temptation to jump out of my skin and scream, “Is there anyone else who finds this unacceptable?”
Instead, I forced myself to remain seated and realized the irony contrasted with the beautiful infant girl in the pew beside me.
I asked myself why I had such a problem with the church’s act? Was it the feminist in me witnessing an act that threatened a woman’s domain over her own body; while feeling trapped, controlled and manipulated into believing that I’d be attending mass that morning, instead of a screening by the National Right to Life?
Was it the hypocrisy I recognized in the mass, in bringing such a controversial topic before the congregation when it had never even addressed the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church?
Was it their nerve and audacity in assuming parents’ rights to introduce the issue to their children?
Yes it was these things. However, the greatest issue for me as I watched this film present the beauty of life, was knowing that the concern usually stops at the doorstep of the delivery room. It often seems that as long as the child is born, the work has been done by all concerned, except mother and child.
What about the abused?
News reports tell us of fights for the life for the unborn, with violence against doctors and abortion clinics, and the mission of some politicians to reverse Roe v. Wade. We don’t hear of any movement among the church, politicians and those committed to violence to protect and preserve these lives once they are born into the world.
We hear of the pro-life fight, but not of the pro-human fight. Where is the fight for the child’s salvation in the face of dysfunction and challenges on his or her journey through life? If those who battle for the right-to-life fought against failures in the child welfare system across the nation, more lives might indeed be saved.
Two-year-old Kyshawn Punter of Atlanta might have escaped his physical abuse and death this past summer if the same fervor to bring him into this world remained with him after he arrived.
There was no fight for seven-year-old Faheem Williams in New Jersey before he was killed, stuffed into a container and then locked in a basement. Or his two brothers, who were left for dead, but survived after being physically abused and starved. Who is fighting for these two boys now as they go through life haunted by their loss and what happened to them? Will we care if their experiences lead them down a destructive path to criminal behavior?
We don’t care much about 18-year-old Washington-area sniper suspect, John Malvo, who by 14 or 15-years-old had been estranged and abandoned, off and on, by his parents. We’re not concerned about how he fell under the grasp of John Muhammad. We don’t wonder if he was physically or sexually abused by Muhammad, or anyone else. We only care that he pay for his crimes to the fullest extent of the law, which may mean death.
Proponents of right-to-life argue that life is a decision that should be left to God. Yet man has created a conflict for himself. It cannot be reasoned that it is not okay to take a life through abortion, but it is okay to end a life through lethal injection.
This contradiction was lost on Paul Hill and his supporters - some of whom call themselves the Army of God – when Hill was executed earlier this month for the 1994 killings of an abortion doctor and his associate outside a Florida clinic. Hill called his actions “justifiable homicide” and went to his death for what he felt was a just cause. There was no apparent mention of the double-edged sword that ended his life.
We believe that God has mercy on us if we atone for our sins, and then as human beings we reject mercy and rationalize that it is to be left to the will of the Lord when a life has ended.
Karla Faye Tucker went to her death in 1998 by lethal injection after being turned down by then-Gov. George W. Bush, the Texas Board of Pardon and Paroles, and ultimately the Supreme Court for the brutal killing of two people in 1983. Both Paul Hill and Tucker seemingly went to their deaths in peace. However, in Tucker’s case it was after she had turned her life around during 14 years in prison and had accepted accountability for her crimes.
My eyes saw a transformed woman in Tucker’s TV interviews. She in no way diminished the horror of her crimes, describing herself as a born again Christian raised on drugs to a drug addicted mother and absent father. She said that she sought only to serve life in prison and contribute to others through God’s work.
One of the main reasons I have found Tucker’s death so compelling is because of what it says about our humanity. In my view, compassion was absent in the face of true change in the human spirit.
Although the husband of one of her victims still saw her as a cold-blooded killer, the victim’s brother along with many advocates for the death penalty and former prosecutors in the case believed Tucker was a new person, and opposed her death sentence. And yet, the chairman and body of the Board of Pardons and Paroles were unmoved. Since they had not ever granted clemency in a death case, is there any case in which there is room for mercy and true forgiveness?
This is important question because while a baby in the womb is the most defenseless, it is not corruptible and lives innocently in its private world. The human spirit is exposed to pain the longer it is here on earth. And the longer it is here, the less we nurture it. This means it is not protected from the outside forces that man imposes, and the wrong path will inevitably be chosen at a person’s most vulnerable point.
Looking at ourselves in the mirror
We create inside layers to protect us from all that we perceive as potential pain. These layers may be created by drugs, alcohol, or violence; or may be formed by a wall of personal mindsets and judgments. We teach our sons to conceal their true emotions and project only strength. Our daughters are taught what to perceive about themselves, and to project only the positive. In fact the older we get the less important and valuable we are to society. A newborn is more precious than a toddler, an adolescent is more adored than a teenager. And we know how we feel about senior citizens.
Indifference seeps in with each passing year. The same sweet kid we admired on the street, we view as insignificant 10 years later. The life that was important in the womb only retains its market value if its fits in with the current pop culture.
Life is important. Quality of life is important too. Right-to-lifers may argue that a soul has a right to be brought into this world once it is conceived. I add that a soul has a right to a quality life once it is born.
Ultimately, that morning in church left me disappointed because I recognized the golden opportunity that each pastor has every Sunday. It's a chance to promote the human spirit, as well as the Holy Spirit among imperfect people.
Before these pastors are congregations seeking in their hearts to be enriched with the love and power of their Creator, and to leave with fresh insight into how they will carry out their marriages, raise their children, succeed at work, and just be better people while managing life’s burdens. If the message is provided properly then each individual will look within themselves and seek their God’s help in making the correct choices. And if the effort is to better the human condition and nourish the spirit, then lives will truly be saved.