Friday, July 31, 2015

On the Church and Planned Parenthood

I am not American but the current Planned Parenthood scandal certainly strikes a nerve. I haven't watched any videos but have read some transcripts and a variety of solicited and unsolicited opinions on the matter. I'm not through thinking about this, but having failed to keep quiet on social media I now find myself feeling compelled to try to articulate a concern. It's about a temptation which always crops up in churches when we get talking against abortions. It's the temptation toward sanctimonious outrage which tends to be the go-to response from people who, like me, have been pro-life in name but not so much in action. We can offer up all the legitimate excuses in the book, but not many of us have really pushed ourselves against our felt-limitations all that much.

Let's face it: Abortion is tough because for many of us the act itself a cut-and-dry ethical no-no, and yet the context in which it occurs makes opposition to it very complicated. Like it or not, ours is a society which protects sexual liberty while simultaneously heightening pervasive sexual temptation to inhumane levels, and then puts most of the responsibility for dealing with the consequences on individuals themselves. Female individuals, mostly. When it comes down to it, most of the responsibility is on women--particularly less-privileged women. That means sexual liberty is significantly more 'liberating' for men than for women. We could wish this fact away but it is still there.

Thus in the current scenario there are a number of related issues which make a straight-up de-funding of Planned Parenthood problematic. One is the (apparently) inadequate level of preparedness to replace the non-abortive services which Planned Parenthood offers, were it to disappear. This is more than a merely pragmatic issue. It is a real and recurring moral problem for pro-lifers like me. So much so that it stings: Without such readiness our anti-abortionism really does put us on the wrong side of a woman's rights issue. We cannot hide behind the dictum that 'these women should simply not get pregnant in the first place.' The statement only proves the point and exposes our own complicity in the social politic (of inconsistent individualism). Anti-abortion legislation which leaves unchallenged the exploitatively male-biased sexual-culture on one side, and offers inadequate help to pregnant women (especially of lesser means) on the other, is simply not prepared to be pro-life in the fullest sense of the term.

I say this as a long-term 'pro-lifer' who has done next-to-nothing about it other than to throw votes away to conservative parties who, in the end, were simply dangling anti-abortion sentiment like a carrot on a stick. This is a legal and political issue but it should never have been left to legislators and politicians. To be honest I'm not sure what exactly I personally should have done, but that probably just tells you I let it slip from my mind most the time because I was too daunted or alone. And yet we all know people who have done things (worked for crisis pregnancy centres, fostered and adopted children, fought against sexual exploitation, etc), and we can all say to what degree we've been helpful to them. Me not so much. Part of it, I confess, has been paralysis. Seeing the forest for the trees has been overwhelming, and I have caved to hopelessness rather than living in hope, faith, and love.

John 8:1-11
This is not a guilt-parade. It is just to say that our anti-abortionism, where it exists, needs to be penitent rather than sanctimonious. Not all Christians are in fact opposed to abortion, but those who are do need to try to be consistent. A church opposed to abortion has to be a church which thoroughly supports women before and after pregnancy. It also needs to be a church which is prepared to lean into and offer if not a completely alternative social politic at least a credibly viable one. Else it ends up offering mostly words. Words which on this issue feel like more for the pile of inequity against women. Words which starkly contrast to Jesus' silent solidarity with the woman about to be stoned for adultery.

Jesus had things to say on other occasions of course. Words which established a powerful alternative of life in self-giving community, where sex finds its rightful place in covenant health. Words which established grace-communities of daily confession and forgiveness, mutual support and accountability. Powerful words--as long as they don't end in the futility of resurrection-less inactivity. By the grace of God I hope I might at least be found among those who follow where those words take them. I don't have much to offer at the moment, I'm afraid, except maybe these few unpolished words about our words. I guess it is just that I have heard how I sound in moments like these, when words spouted in black and white, without attention to the greater web of implicated actions required, were exposed for their emptiness--if not their outright pharisaism. I say this in the penitence of political and personal paralysis. Christ have mercy.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The view from Gilead: 'That's the strangest thing about being in the ministry'

'That's the strangest thing about this life, about being in the ministry. People change the subject when they see you coming. And then sometimes those very same people come into your study and tell you the most remarkable things. 

There's a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice and dread and guilt, and so much loneliness, where you wouldn't really expect to find it, either....

My reputation is largely the creature of the kindly imaginings of my flock, whom I chose not to disillusion, in part because the truth had the kind of pathos in it that would bring on sympathy in its least bearable forms. 

Well, my life was known to them all, every significant aspect of it, and they were tactful. 

I've spent a good share of my life comforting the afflicted, but I could never endure the thought that anyone should try to comfort me, except Boughton, who always knew better than to talk much.'

- John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead (pages 6 & 46)

(What's she's able to capture here--I'm not sure it could be said better)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

The view from Gilead: 'confusion where theology is concerned'

'Two or three of the ladies had pronounced views on points of doctrine, particularly sin and damnation, which they never learned from me. I blame the radio for sowing a good deal of confusion where theology is concerned. And television is worse. You can spend forty years teaching people to be awake to the fact of mystery and then some fellow with no more theological sense than a jackrabbit gets himself a radio ministry and all your work is forgotten. I do wonder where it will end.'

- Rev. John Ames, in Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, page 237

(A prophecy of facebook memes and blogs)

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Tanizaki's Praise of Shadows

'The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty's ends.'

'I wonder if my readers know the color of that "darkness seen by candlelight". It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow. I blinked in spite of myself, as though to keep it out of my eyes.'

Junichiro Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows, p. 29, 52

(a lovely, illuminating, at times I daresay wise, little book)

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

The Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (and a word about our response)

Seven years ago I posted an excerpt from a paper written to give a theological response to the legacy of residential schools in Canada and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) that had recently been initiated. Click through if you want to read that post, entitled The Prince of Peace Smokes a Peace Pipe.

Today after several years the TRC produced its report, including a document called What we have learned: Principles of truth and reconciliation. This document is well worth reading. It includes a brief review of the history and an assessment of the legacy still felt by Aboriginals. It also includes a number of very insightful and challenging statements such as these:

"Reconciliation requires constructive action on addressing the ongoing legacies of colonialism that have had destructive impacts on Aboriginal peoples’ education, cultures and languages, health, child welfare, the administration of justice, and economic opportunities and prosperity" (p. 3).
"To some people, 'reconciliation' is the re-establishment of a conciliatory state. However, this is a state that many Aboriginal people assert never has existed between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. To others, 'reconciliation,' in the context of Indian residential schools, is similar to dealing with a situation of family violence. It is about coming to terms with events of the past in a manner that overcomes conflict and establishes a respectful and healthy relationship among people, going forward. It is in the latter context that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has approached the question of reconciliation" (p. 113).

The report also includes 94 recommendations for everything from justice to education to sports and recreation in a document called Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Calls for Action. This is worth reading as well. I have skimmed it this evening myself, and highlight just a few items here:


"18. We call upon the federal, provincial, territorial, and Aboriginal governments to acknowledge that the current state of Aboriginal health in Canada is a direct result of previous Canadian government policies, including residential schools, and to recognize and implement the health-care rights of Aboriginal people as identified in international law, constitutional law, and under the Treaties."


"41. We call upon the federal government, in consultation with Aboriginal organizations, to appoint a public inquiry into the causes of, and remedies for, the disproportionate victimization of Aboriginal women and girls. The inquiry’s mandate would include:
i. Investigation into missing and murdered Aboriginal women and girls."


"45. We call upon the Government of Canada, on behalf of all Canadians, to jointly develop with Aboriginal peoples a Royal Proclamation of Reconciliation to be issued by the Crown. The proclamation would build on the Royal Proclamation of 1763 and the Treaty of Niagara of 1764, and reaffirm the nation-to-nation relationship between Aboriginal peoples and the Crown. The proclamation would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments:
i. Repudiate concepts used to justify European sovereignty over Indigenous lands and peoples such as the Doctrine of Discovery and terra nullius [nobody's land]."


"48. We call upon the church parties to the Settlement Agreement, and all other faith groups and interfaith social justice groups in Canada who have not already done so, to formally adopt and comply with the principles, norms, and standards of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a framework for reconciliation. This would include, but not be limited to, the following commitments: ...
iv. Issuing a statement no later than March 31, 2016, from all religious denominations and faith groups, as to how they will implement the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples."


"59. We call upon church parties to the Settlement Agreement to develop ongoing education strategies to ensure that their respective congregations learn about their church’s role in colonization, the history and legacy of residential schools, and why apologies to former residential school students, their families, and communities were necessary."


"62. We call upon the federal, provincial, and territorial governments, in consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, to:
i. Make age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada a mandatory education requirement for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve students."

It is interesting that when the second commandment says not to "make for yourself an idol" -- i.e., european civilization -- or to "serve" it, the commandment then gives us that rather famous line that the "iniquity of the fathers" will be visited "on the third and the fourth generation".

Whatever this means (and I acknowledge this requires further exegetical and theological reflection), we should at the very least recognize in this story a pretty compelling example of how Christians might bear responsibility for that which we've inherited, and give humble testimony to the hope that "love will be shown to a thousand generations".

Click here to read and/or watch "Residential school
survivor and Anglican couple forge 'unlikely' friendship"