Conversations by e-mail november

These are extracts from postings to the OPF's e-mail discussion list.

Sanctity of all life

It is important for OPF to champion a "sanctity of all life" position, especially in light of the fact that there are anti-abortion groups that, because they favor the death penalty, are not strictly speaking "pro-life" -- or at least pro-life-beyond-the-womb-and-before-the-tomb. While such groups do a great service in pointing out the evils of abortion, they focus little attention on offering assistance to those who have decided not to have abortions -- and offering care and consolation to such individuals, leading them to the "peace which passes all understanding," is absolutely essential if one is to proclaim that all human life, and not just life in the womb, is indeed sacred.

I can't understand how one who proclaims the sanctity of human life can, at the same time, promote the death penalty as a means of "protecting society." This implies that one cannot repent, that one who has committed a serious crime cannot have a genuine conversion away from his or her crimes. Somehow the image of the wise thief, "who in one moment was made worthy of paradise," is erased.

There needs to be a visible "pro-life" witness, as opposed to a narrow "anti-abortion" witness. Failure to devote appropriate resources and time to help those who have decided not to have abortions is a serious mistake, as this is indeed a "peace and justice" issue, for sure.

So, while OPF is primarily devoted to the peace ministry, I applaud its positions on the sanctity of life, and the fact that it has stated important things that are not always stated by the strictly anti-abortion groups.

Fr. John Matusiak

A society without abortion

Several recent posts have revolved around the question of our response to abortion, which has caused me to wonder: what is our view of a solution? I don't just mean "Do we oppose abortion in principle?" but rather "How do we envision a society with no abortion?" Do we believe that such a society will be created by legislation, by strict enforcement of external legal principles, or by an inward transformation of the culture in which we live? We cannot get from point A to point B until we can envision point B. We cannot move towards a society free of abortion until we know what such a society ultimately looks like.

At times I sense an underlying assumption within our churches that the solution to the abortion problem is essentially a legislative one. Basically, we mimic the approach of conservative Protestantism in this regard. If we repeal existing legislation on abortion and make it illegal again, if we roll things back to pre-1973 (pre-Roe v. Wade), then we have accomplished our mission. Or have we?

The root of the "culture of death" is the "culture of fear." If we try to legislate a solution to abortion without dealing with the underlying causes, we will succeed only in driving abortion back underground, making it again a back-alley franchise. We must address the "culture of fear" in order to successfully confront the "culture of death."

In this regard, I would suggest that there are at least three elements that we should carefully consider:

1) We need a deeper examination of the link between poverty and abortion. Planned Parenthood and other organizations like it have made abortions for poor women a multi-billion dollar industry. Do we recognize the fact that a large number of abortion recipients are poor women who are desperately afraid, who cannot afford even time off for well-baby checkups, much less birthgiving and recovery? And then what about childcare? Do we realize that "ending welfare as we know it" has meant that those women who have exhausted their welfare "allowance" do not have the luxury of going back on welfare if they become pregnant, that they are in some cases literally faced with a choice of abortion or homelessness? It's not enough to legislate against abortion; being pro-life also means fighting for universal health care, paid family leave, affordable housing, and affordable child care. We have something to learn in this regard from countries like Holland, which has liberal abortion laws but a very low abortion rate, in part because of its strong social services.

2) We also need to examine our views of motherhood and childhood, and how these views impinge upon our society's approach to abortion. Abortion will end when we create communities where women are supported and nurtured, where mothers can envision their children's future without fear, where childhood and motherhood are valued and not demeaned. Modern feminism has severely aggravated the problem by emulating masculine models of success (career, advancement, wealth) models that have little room for either motherhood or childhood. However, we in the Orthodox church cannot hold ourselves guiltless, not so long as our liturgical language continues to describe everything having to do with motherhood (menstruation, parturition, recovery) in terms of impurity and pollution. Many traditionally Orthodox countries have poor records when it comes to their treatment of women. We too have something for which to repent in the way that we have been complicit in the creation of a society that values neither the sacred gift of motherhood or of childhood.

3) Finally, we need to start thinking and acting at a local level, rather than viewing this as an issue that will be solved at the federal or state level. The solution to abortion begins in our own communities, not in faraway marble halls. At some level, abortion may be viewed as the result of a failure of community, when children are no longer the "wealth" of the community, but simply one person's "choice." It is precisely the breakdown and isolationism of our culture that has made abortion an individual "right." When we take a wholistic approach to abortion, we begin to realize that there is much that we can do, that we have something to work for, and not just something to work against. Whatever we do to get involved in the lives of others, to volunteer, to develop a sense of connectedness in our neighborhoods, this too is working towards a solution to the problem of abortion.

I also think that taking a more wholistic approach to the question has the potential to transcend the left/right dichotomy that is so often determinative of our thinking on this issue. Perhaps a crucial aspect of our thinking, as an association devoted to peace, would be to adopt an approach to the question of abortion that works towards such a transcendence. This does not mean softening our opposition to abortion, it simply means recognizing that there are more ways than one of working to reduce the number of abortions. It means recognizing that right-wing politicians who oppose abortion in principle are frequently the same politicians whose policies serve to reinforce the system of poverty and desperation that perpetuates abortion. It means recognizing that some politicians on the left who have voted in favor of abortion rights have also worked very hard to reduce the conditions that cause abortion and to lower the number of actual abortions.

It means recognizing that people of good will, on the left and the right, can work together to create a society that values motherhood and childhood so highly that abortion is not necessarily illegal, simply unthinkable.

Fr. Paul Schroeder

Helping women choose life

I agree with almost every point you make. Although I would hope that some day Roe v. Wade is overturned, my thinking is that if it were overturned tomorrow without any change in our social thinking and structures, it might create a whole set of new problems. Although there would be fewer abortions, poor women would be thrown back on their own devices (with the deaths that result) and wealthy women would simply go out of the country to take care of their "little problem." The doctors who would continue to provide abortions to women at the risk of losing their licenses would be held up as the heroes of the age, the "new martyrs." And the real problem would not be dealt with.

Here in Holland it's true that the abortion rate is very low, but just yesterday the government presented a budget that will make deep cuts in social services. The labor and socialist parties are up in arms, not to mention the small Christian parties. If Parliament approves the proposed budget, single mothers with pre-school children will be forced to find jobs or lose their welfare payments. This will no doubt force the abortion rate up.

You said that "Abortion will end when we create communities where women are supported and nurtured, where mothers can envision their children's future without fear, where childhood and motherhood are valued and not demeaned." I'm afraid I can't be as positive as you on this. One thing that feminism fails to take into account is that women are sinners, too. Some abortions are really thoughtless decisions. Some women are simply selfish, or have an astounding failure of the imagination, when it comes to envisioning their lives with an un-planned child.

I think on top of everything else it would help women to choose life if they had some pro-life role models to help them find their courage. What would happen if a famous woman writer, or movie star, or singer, were to start a "Don't be afraid to go ahead with that pregnancy" campaign. Not stressing that abortion is murder, but putting the emphasis on overcoming fear. Now that's what I'd like to see.

Nancy Forest

The role of law

Fr. Paul makes an eloquent case for Christian culture. Where I see his case fail is when he appears to draw a distinction between teaching people to be Christ-like and resisting abortion through legislation and the courts. To my eyes, teaching abortion to be sin and opposing it through he courts are two pieces of working for a Christian society. Not the whole package, but two pieces of it.

Only when we put ourselves in the skins of those being killed will we understand the horror of killing -- as we see Christ in those targeted by our "culture of death."

Fr. Paul calls us to the higher good, but does this not include fighting evil through legislation and the courts? A "society with no abortion" would also be a society with no war or capital punishment. Is it not right to use the courts and every other legitimate means at our disposal to oppose these killings as well?

Regarding a link between poverty and abortion, it is illuminating to read 19th century feminists on this point. These blamed rich men for championing the movement to legalize abortion, and saw the poor as victims of this "utilitarian" ethic of the rich.

John Oliver

Thinking globally

A Christian solution to abortion should have both a global perspective and a global impact. But the global impact that I'm most particularly interested in is on Christians ourselves. Recently I read a report that Greece has the highest abortion rate in Europe and the third highest in the world.

While many Christians find themselves deep into pro-life activism aimed at saving mostly non-Christian or non-practicing-Christian women and their unborn children from the tragedy of abortion, our own daughters and sisters may be falling victim to the propaganda of the other side.

I find myself rapidly moving towards the view that raising children to be Christian in this global environment of perpetual and diverse temptations is becoming almost impossible to do outside a strong Christian community, and that presenting simply an individual Christian witness to the world is becoming less and less feasible, viable or effective. In addition to taking other actions, we need to focus our efforts on forming strong Christian communities so that our children may be surrounded by Christian friends and grow up with the sense that living a Christian life is the normal thing to do.

Timothy Beach

Parish food pantry

After years of work at houses of hospitality, and work with drug and alcohol addicted folks, homeless, unwed moms, etc., I am now working with a small food pantry in our parish, Holy Trinity Cathedral in Boston. This is the only context I have found which addresses the issue of conflict from within with confession and with repentance. If there is ever to be a "new social order," it can only be built on repentance. We back away from conflict because it hurts our feelings, and remove ourselves from relationships which wound us. But if we choose the relationship over "the way I want to do things" or even the "way I think you want me to do things" and especially over and against our need to be treated well and understood, then we can move in a different direction.

It takes an open hearted priest (not necessarily a "sensitive-to-my-wounded-condition" priest) and the willingness to look at our patterns of working under authority with others. New territory

Alice Carter

One act of virtue

It may be helpful here to remember that, in the mystical theology of the Church, one act of virtue -- however hidden -- is itself a "systemic social change." It is the descent of the will of God "on earth, as it is in heaven."

In The Brothers Karamazov, Father Zosima speaks of a love that stems from a deep sense of the intimate link between all persons and all things. Such a love, he says, would not find it strange to ask forgiveness from birds:

"That may sound absurd, but when you think of it, it makes sense. For everything is like the ocean, all things flow and are indirectly linked together, and if you push here, something will move at the other end of the world...Understand that everything is like the ocean. Then, consumed by eternal love, you will pray to the birds, too. In a state of fervor you will pray to them to forgive you your sins. If you push here, something somewhere will move; if you strike here, something somewhere will wince; if you sin here, something somewhere will suffer."

There is value to a discussion of social change in "quantifiable" terms, but one might also remember that one solitary act of virtue may, in the economy of God, have as much impact for social change as a thousand centers of hospitality. This is not to discourage virtue in high volume -- let's start two thousand centers -- but simply to remind us that the universe is, literally, at our fingertips.

Dn. John Oliver

Human rights

Generally, I've come to think that there is no such thing as "human rights" -- just mutual human obligations. I don't have the "rights" to anything, not even my life, which was a gift. But I have the obligation to assist everyone else in every possible way. If every human being on the planet at any given moment were concerned to see that everyone else's needs were met, no one would be claiming "rights," just giving thanks.

I realize that I'm waxing idealistic here, but I'd like to think that I've pointed toward the most basic elements of justice, at least insofar as we poor mortals can aspire to that particular aspect of the Divinity in Whose image we were made.

The fact remains that there are people with more money and people with less. People whose every whim is satisfied, and people whose really basic human needs are not met. This has to be mediated.

Politics? Religious revivals? Grassroots movements? Take your pick and do whatever works, only do it with love. "Let your light shine in such a way that when people see you, they give glory to Your Father in Heaven."

Monk James Silver

Letter from Romania

My name is Joel Klepac. I work in Romania with street children and marginalized families. My wife and I and our son of eight months are preparing to parent a home for boys wanting to take steps off the streets. We have been working with an inter-confessional mission organization which finds its unity in placing Jesus in the center and understanding that He places those on the margins in the center with Him.

Two years ago my wife and I were chrismated in the Romanian Orthodox Church and recently had our son baptized. For me personally becoming a part of the Orthodox church has brought together many missing pieces in my Protestant background but has felt much more like a step rather than a leap. I recently found out about the OPF and have been greatly encouraged by its vision and journals.

The present struggle we are finding is bringing other Orthodox workers along side us in accompanying boys off the streets. The difficulty is that we already have a community of around fifteen people most of which are Pentecostal or Baptist. In our city the Protestants find it hard to believe Orthodox can be believers and likewise the Orthodox have little or no framework for regarding non-Orthodox as followers of Jesus. There are clear lines drawn and unashamed proselytization of one another.

I am interested in how some of you regard non-Orthodox Christians? Can you work together? Pray together? How do you balance the convictions and doctrines of the Orthodox church and still walk with non-Orthodox in peace, respect, and an appreciation for the work of the Spirit? As Jim Forest recently wrote me, "It is hard to find people who aren't at war with their past." I am trying to understand a healthy approach to working in community

Joel Klepac