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Laura Keynes: Christianity includes telling hard truths. Jesus would approve prayer vigils outside abortion clinics


Emma Barnett, Wimmin’s Editor at The Daily Telegraph, has written something so crass and predictable I’m tempted to ignore it, but I haven’t yet seen any response pointing out the obvious.

Her piece, ‘Jesus Christ would be ashamed of Christian abortion protestors’,  argues that “Christianity, and acts done in the name of it, should have charity, love, kindness and respect in their DNA” and that those who stand outside abortion clinics are “silently shaming women as they walk in to have a legal medical procedure” which, she argues, is not Christian.

I’m pretty sure the gospels report Jesus Christ saying words to the effect of ‘Thou shalt not kill’, so when it comes to where Jesus would stand on the whole abortion thing I’m guessing he’s against. Abortion clinics didn’t exist in first century Palestine, so he’s not exactly specific on the subject, but abortion is an act of killing whichever way you look at it. Even the most hardline pro-choicers have to be honest about that. A heartbeat is stilled by abortion.

As for “Christianity should have charity, love, kindness” etc., well yes of course, but sometimes caritas (Christian love of humankind) means telling some hard truths in order set people on the right path. Jesus didn’t exactly waltz through the place dispensing love and light. He said some pretty tough things, and made a lot of people feel rather uncomfortable. To the point that they had him executed because they didn’t like what he was saying.

Being a follower of Jesus Christ means having to state some hard truths, which run counter to the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. Most Christians try very hard to state the truth with gentleness and charity, but the message is not always welcome and usually provokes a reaction of one sort or another.

Really, it’s boring to say this because it’s so obvious. And it’s boring to have to run through pro-life politics again when most reasonable pro-lifers are agreed that certain tactics don’t help anyone. Is it helpful to display graphic images of aborted babies outside clinics? Does approaching women outside clinics do the pro-life cause any good? Etc. etc.

My own feelings on this subject have been informed by personal experience. I’ve been that woman entering a clinic, feeling very alone and vulnerable, only to be confronted on the pavement by two women holding rosaries, shouting “Don’t do it! Don’t take a life!” It shook me up but only because they reminded me that I was taking a life: that was an uncomfortable truth the clinic veiled through euphemistic language and vague medical jargon.

Naturally I’d have preferred it if they’d kept their thoughts to themselves – I think it crosses a line to approach women, either verbally or physically, who haven’t sought an approach – but I’d still defend their right to be there and to free speech, and I have no issue with pro-lifers praying in silence outside clinics. I don’t interpret prayer vigils, as Barnett does, as “silently shaming women”. You might as well say a vegetarian is “silently shaming” other diners at the same table who happen to be eating meat. It’s purely an expression of conscience, and if it draws comment without comment having been sought, it’s clearly touching a nerve and for good reason.

What I needed from pro-lifers at the time I went for an abortion was not confrontation or harassment but a credible alternative to abortion, because the truth is a woman only has an abortion when she feels she has no choice. Even when I was at the clinic I was looking for a reason not to have an abortion, so I asked if I could have an ultrasound scan but was told that wasn’t an option. What if there’d been a van outside the clinic that day offering scans, like this one? What if there had been a representative from the Good Counsel Network offering practical support, like advice on benefits or where to get free baby gear? What if someone had told me in detail what the abortion procedure actually involved and what the after-effects would be on my mental health? What if someone had offered me support instead of abortion?

Emma Barnett thinks organisations like Save the Storks and Good Counsel Network are “mentally scarring women – which is surely the antithesis of Christianity or indeed what Jesus would have wanted.” Yes, let’s talk about mental scarring. Let’s talk about the clinical depression I experienced after my abortion, a phenomenon called post abortion syndrome to which many other women attest but which is routinely denied to exist. What scarred me mentally was not those two women waving rosaries on the pavement, but the abortion itself.

If you asked me now “Where were the Christians on the day you had your abortion?” I wouldn’t say it was the clinic staff, with their seeming kindness and reassuring euphemisms. I’d say it was the people willing to risk vilification and arrest in order to tell me the truth. I’d say it was the people willing to help me towards healing and forgiveness after the event.

Emma Barnett is not telling the truth about Christianity, but is twisting it to fit a secularized narrative about who Christians are and what they do (ie. Christians are nice people who never make anyone feel uncomfortable, because making people feel uncomfortable is mean and nasty!). It’s the sort of thing that happens with mind-numbing regularity in the media, and it’s getting very boring.

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Laura Keynes
Laura Keynes
Dr Keynes is a Cambridge-based academic, writer and critic with two very young children. She writes for Standpoint magazine, the Catholic Herald and The Tablet. Find her on twitter @LMKeynes.

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