By Bill Mefford
It was in college when I first really focused on my relationship with Jesus and it was thanks to my friends, some of whom I am still close to. They discipled me and showed me the importance of having a personal relationship with Jesus and maintaining that through spiritual disciplines. I still believe in that now.
But I came to college very interested in issues of social justice. There was no internet back in the good ol’ 1980s and so I had no idea that there were groups who believed that being passionate about Jesus and being passionate about people on the margins of society was required for all who follow Jesus. I just read Scripture and these two elements seemed to be wedded together in the stories throughout Scripture and especially in the teachings and ministry of Jesus.
Most of my friends, however, while passionate about the personal relationship with Jesus part, were not nearly as focused on the justice for others part. Though, there was one issue they seemed upset about and that was abortion. Frankly, I did not understand why they were so passionate about the issue, but they were. I accepted their passion, but as I got more and more involved in our campus chapter of Amnesty International and particularly our goal of abolishing the death penalty in Texas, I could not understand why so many of my friends who were so passionate about a personal relationship with Jesus and who proudly called themselves “pro-lifers” were not also interested in saving the lives of those on death row. In fact, a few of my “pro-life” friends often made comments about hoping that states would actually kill more people more rapidly. I was stunned.
Even more, there were other issues I began to care more about like homelessness and poverty and once again more than a few of my “pro-life” friends either showed little interest in the people whom society has cast aside or who were openly hostile and blamed the poor for their own poverty and oppression. I also began to detect a subtle yet particularly venal form of racism. Yes, there were racist jokes, but more than that, there was general feeling of distrust and angst when a group of people of color were around or were working towards greater equality. The college I attended seemed to house Black students at one end of the hall with whites at the other end, at least in the men’s dorms. And I started noticing a few of my friends going out of their way to not walk down the parts of the hallways where the Black students lived. It is odd that it sticks out to me, but I remember it vividly.
By the end of my time in college I was already worn out whenever the issue of abortion would come up. The arguments pro-”lifers” used had become stale (and this was 30 years ago!) and there was little empathy given to women who were facing incredibly difficult situations. As it was with issues of poverty or crime, the fault of abortions were on women and their need to have consequence-free sex. I tried to point out the complexity of life situations, but none of my most ardent pro-”life” friends were interested in listening. I grew increasingly tired of the constant victim-blaming and the glaring hypocrisy of calling oneself “pro-life” while doing very, very little to actually value lives. I saw that pro-”life” was not really about saving unborn babies as very, very few (if any) of my most ardent pro-”life” friends showed any interest in adoption. Instead, pro-”life” became a way for far too many Christians to deny compassion or empathy to anyone who was not unborn.
When I left college I wasn’t ready to call myself pro-choice yet, but I was done with the pro-”life” movement. I continued to identify as an evangelical Christian because I believed (and still believe) in the transformative power of Jesus. But as I rejected the pro-”life” movement for its refusal to actually value all of life I increasingly was uncomfortable in the evangelical movement as a whole. Though I again want to stress that not all Christians who proclaimed to be pro-”life” were in actuality anti-life in every issue except abortion, the pro-”life” movement in general seemed quite comfortable with other peoples’ discomfort. They seemed committed to protecting unborn babies while not giving one damn about anyone post birth.
It was not until evangelical support for the Iraq War remained at 80% or higher, even when the lie of weapons of mass destruction was uncovered and the Bush administration openly engaged in the use of torture and then made the soldiers at Abu Ghraib take the fall for the policies they wrote and commanded those under them to obey; it was then that I was ready to give up on evangelicalism entirely. In 2004 I was completely done with evangelicalism - the spiritual movement I had been a part of for more than fifteen years. Though, when I look back, the full break with evangelicalism that happened for me in 2004 actually started to crack in the mid-1980s because of the hypocrisy of the pro-”life” movement.
I now label myself (if I have to label myself at all) a liberationist - someone who believes Jesus has come to set the oppressed free. If anyone wants to follow Jesus we must be about the work of setting the oppressed free as well.
I cannot help but reflect on the fact that if evangelicals had followed their foreparents in the faith - people like Jonathan Blanchard, Theodore Weld, Sarah and Angelina Grimke, Grandison Finney, Elizabeth Booth and so many more - then I would most likely be an evangelical today. If evangelicals in the 1980s (and today) would have focused on stopping illegal wars, if they would have focused on welcoming refugees and immigrants and opening our borders rather than closing them, if they would have sought restorative justice rather than retributive justice, if they would have sought to redeem all of creation rather than dominate and exploit it, if they would have worked for everyone to have access to affordable health care and a living wage, then I would be an evangelical today. But they didn’t and so I am not.
I feel fairly certain that the heroes of the faith I listed above would be ashamed to share the name “evangelical” with the know-nothing, science-hating, racist-bating, anti-women group of so-called pro-”lifers” who passed the horrendous anti-abortion bill in Alabama this past week and other similar bills being passed in other states. The group of mostly white men responsible for these policies are not pro-”life” at all. They are committed to the complete subjugation of women and an increasing use of retributive justice to coerce and force a wary American public to live under their unbiblical public theology. They speak of justice but they know nothing of it. Their form of justice is one that focuses only on wrath and completely lacking love, grace, or compassion. Their justice is not of God.
I am now fully and openly pro-choice because I believe that abortions can only be reduced when we take seriously the interconnected issues of justice that so many women face. Women must be allowed to make their own decisions around reproduction outside the duress of overly restrictive laws. We should trust women. In addition, if you want to reduce the number of abortions then women must receive equal pay, we should be more focused on stopping workplace discrimination, sexual assault and violence towards women, and we absolutely must make contraception and affordable health care accessible to ALL women. Women’s employers should not be allowed to decide if they are given access to contraception or any form of reproductive care.
I am pro-choice because I believe in the sacredness of all of life.
And I am tired of bowing to the bullying, manipulative forces of the pro-”life” evangelical movement, an evangelical movement that has lost any connection to the biblical movement that it once was. I would have never rejected evangelicalism if most of the evangelicals I have known would have actually been evangelicals. But the evangelical movement is dead; no longer able to claim they are anything resembling a spiritual movement bringing the good news of Jesus into a broken world.
Once again, for the third time, I know individual evangelicals who I would separate from the movement; people who do work for the sacredness of all of life. But let’s not kid ourselves, the evangelical pro-”life” movement as a whole has become a toxic form of spiritual abuse and is just another virulent and hostile lobbying group in DC that bullies and runs over anyone in their way. Though they have captured the Executive and Judicial branches of government, and until 2018 they owned the Legislative branch as well. But I believe their time is up and it is time for those of us concerned with the sacredness of all of life - all of creation - to rise up and cast a vision of a world where the oppressed are set free. It is time for liberation.