Two times last week during our Pentecost 2007 conference – at the presidential candidates forum Monday night and our march to Capitol Hill Tuesday afternoon – anti-abortion advocates not registered at our conference made their presence known in our midst. At face value, it seemed that they were there to protest our events, but I wanted to know more. So I wandered over to hear their stories and ended up talking for over an hour.
The group was young, passionate, and thoughtful. Our conversation covered a lot of ground. My very first question was whether they saw our respective messages as contradictory, and they adamantly said no. However, they qualified this by saying that they feel that sometimes groups can “forget” about certain issues and need to be reminded – an apparent dig at our priorities. It was clear that they see abortion as THE issue for Christians, the lens through which all other issues should be viewed.
What pleasantly surprised me, though, was how refreshingly different these young activists were from the stereotypes. While they have clearly chosen, for a variety of personal reasons, to make abortion their primary issue, they were hardly card-carrying members of the Religious Right. When I brought up the notion of a “seamless garment of life,” which would include stances against capital punishment and war, they were 100 percent on board. In fact, one of them was an outspoken vegan, taking his “seamless garment” ethic to the animal kingdom. They talked about the need for fair trade policies, and some had protested at WTO meetings. One of the women lives communally here in the U.S., trying to tread lightly on the earth. They were friends and fans of Shane Claiborne, a good friend of Sojourners and one of the keynote speakers at Pentecost 2007.
Together, we all lamented the false choices that are presented in the political world on the issues we care most about. For us, it seems that one party is often more in line with our vision for eradicating poverty and caring for “the least of these” by means other than the free market (which is anything but free – have you seen our commodity subsidies, for example?), but they often drop the ball on abortion. Conversely, the other party has integrally incorporated a strong stance against abortion into its platform in past years, yet it seems resistant to comprehensive abortion reduction measures and on many other counts fails to remotely approach what we all felt would be a biblical platform that values all life and truly cares for the poor. They also lamented that they are so often lumped in with the Religious Right, when they are anything but.
These young activists impressed me with their fervor, their organization, and most importantly, their overall sensibilities. While I may disagree with them on how much emphasis they put upon one issue at the expense of others, I was truly surprised at how much we had in common. It got me excited about the possibility of a new Third Way among our young activists of faith, a way in which we uphold a seamless garment of life while also upholding a robust compassion for the poorest among us, both here and abroad. It is a Third Way in which we fight for the unborn and the migrant farmer; where we advocate for the radical reduction of abortions and fair trade and debt reduction for poor nations; where we care for the unborn child while not forgetting mother and child once the baby comes into the world.
Maybe there is potential for a new pro-life movement that is pro-life in EVERY way, where young activists with different emphases but the same heart join to – as my boss says – not go right or left, but deeper.
Bob Francis is the organizing and policy assistant for Sojourners/Call to Renewal.