Monday, June 21, 2021

"If We Are Wrong, God Almighty Is Wrong"

Cry, cease not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and shew my people their wicked doings, and the house of Jacob their sins. For they seek me from day to day, sad desire to know my ways, as a nation that hath done justice, and hath not forsaken the judgment of their God: they ask of me the judgments of justice: they are willing to approach to God. Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. 

(Is 58:1-2,6)

I used to think the abolitionist/anti-segregationist argument used by those in the pro-life movement was just another rhetorical angle to strengthen the argument against abortion; another "arrow in the quiver," so to speak. 

Logically, it made sense. If life (personhood) begins at conception, the "deprivation of life" protected against under the 14th Amendment seemed to naturally apply to the unborn. The most vulnerable in society have been snuffed out, legally, for almost fifty years--a modern day holocaust. 

In Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Letter From Birmingham Jail, the great civil-rights activist drew deep from scripture and adjured those who know the moral law to apply it in civil-disobedience to address the issue of segregation, as he wrote: "An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law." He continues,

“An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law”

I have known people involved in Red Rose Rescue who have been arrested and jailed in defense of innocent life, both religious and lay. I will be bluntly honest--I have always felt it admirable but pretty extreme. For those not familiar:

"During a Red Rose Rescue a team of pro-lifers enter the actual places where the innocent unborn are about to be "dragged to death." In the words of Saint Mother Teresa, they enter the "dark holes of the poor."  Red Rose Rescuers peacefully talk to women scheduled for abortion, with the goal of persuading them to choose life. They offer to them red roses as a sign of life, peace and love. Should the unborn still "totter to execution" Red Rose Rescuers stay in the place of execution in solidarity with their abandoned brothers and sisters performing a non-violent act of defense through their continued presence inside the killing centers remaining with them for as long as they can. The Rescuers stay with the abandoned unborn, as the manifestation of our love for them recognizing that unborn children, as members of the human family, have a right to be defended.  The rescuers will not leave the unwanted, but must be "taken away." 


A year or so ago I wrote to pro-life witness Mary Wagner, whom some familiar with the movement may know, while she was serving a prison sentence. She was arrested (yet again) for prayerfully and firmly applying what was written in scripture: Rescue those being dragged to death, and those tottering to execution withhold not. If you say 'I know not this man!' does not He who tests hearts not perceive it? (Prov 24:11)

Though I can't remember exactly what I wrote, I was basically confessing my lack of courage and commitment to the cause. When I received her response by mail from Canada, I really did feel like I was holding what might be a relic at some point years from now. She was quietly confident in her words, prayerful and reassuring, encouraging that we have nothing to fear, and that she is merely following her conscience, not trying to be heroic. 

This evening I watched The Long Walk Home, which recounted the early days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in Alabama in 1955. What struck me in the film was just how deep-seated and normalized racism and segregation was, and has been for much of our history. As the white wife and mother in the film who has affection for Odessa (Carter), her black maid, recounted her childhood as a white woman in the South, "When the rest of the world is just living that way you just don't think about it anymore." At one point, her husband sits her down to set her sympathies straight, "You don't know her life, and you will never know her. It's like a dog knowing a cat. It's a different species." 

"Different species." "Clump of cells." Does this language of de-humanization sound familiar? Not to mention, 

“The most successful educational approach to the Negro is through a religious appeal. We don’t want the word to get out that we want to exterminate the Negro population, and the minister is the man who can straighten out that idea if it ever occurs to any of their more rebellious members.” (Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood, letter to Clarence Gamble, 10 Dec 1939) 

(note: good luck finding this on the internet; it has been completely scrubbed. The only source from this quote I was able to track down came from a 27 November 2017 article in America Magazine (of all places!), which links to the Sanger files at NYU (since scrubbed))

The wife/mother in the story is troubled by her conscience over the injustice blacks faced everyday, personalized in her household maid. She eventually begins to take part in the organized carpools undertaken by sympathizers, "Once you step over that line," Odessa tells her, "you can't ever go back." It's a sobering proposition in light of the pressure to keep things "as they are" and live a comfortable life, not to mention the very real threat of violence and intimidation. 

I began to reflect on this issue in parallel, and I couldn't shake it all evening. I sat down and read Dr. King's Montgomery Bus Boycott speech which was delivered on December 5, 1955 and remembered the words of the white husband in the film who mentions to his wife, as the civil rights movement was gaining steam, "Even I thought this boycott business was silly at first."

When I speak with the seasoned pro-life activists I am friends with who have been on the front lines for years and who started meeting in basements and each other's houses to organize, they sometimes speak of the weariness they experience when it seems like it's just setback after setback of advocating for not only the overturn of Roe v Wade, but the complete abolition of abortion supported by "unjust laws." 


"We are here, we are here this evening because we’re tired now.  And I want to say that we are not here advocating violence. We have never done that. I want it to be known throughout Montgomery and throughout this nation that we are Christian people. We believe in the Christian religion. We believe in the teachings of Jesus.  The only weapon that we have in our hands this evening is the weapon of protest.  That’s all."*


Civil disobedience is not neat and tidy. When Odessa begins walking to work instead of taking the bus to work all day, she is so tired, and her feet so battered, day after day with no end in sight. Yet she draws on a deeper source (the church meetings she attends with other blacks, to be fortified in faith for what is ahead) to continue the work. Those who enter abortion mills to offer roses and speak to women waiting for abortions, pleading with them to give the life in their womb a chance, are painted by the media as extremists, zealots, "trespassers and criminals." I think of the quiet, resolute, prayerful, and peaceful witness of Mary Wagner and others who see clearly what is happening and "desire to see right exist"

My friends, don’t let anybody make us feel that we are to be compared in our actions with the Ku Klux Klan or with the White Citizens Council. There will be no crosses burned at any bus stops in Montgomery. There will be no white persons pulled out of their homes and taken out on some distant road and lynched for not cooperating. There will be nobody amid, among us who will stand up and defy the Constitution of this nation. We only assemble here because of our desire to see right exist. My friends, I want it to be known that we’re going to work with grim and bold determination to gain justice on the buses in this city.*

The thing is, as Catholic Christians, we know abortion is unequivocally wrong--not just an unjust law, but a moral evil. We are not on the "wrong side of history" in working for a culture of life and seeking legal protection for the unborn. We are not blind, but see.

But if abortion is unequivocally wrong, how wrong? And laws supporting it unjust, how unjust? When the President of the United States not only tolerates, but advances support for this sanctioned killing in the name of "reproductive rights," keeping things comfortable and not rocking the boat for those who choose to do so, are those putting it on the line because they know an unjust law when they see one wrong?

And we are not wrong, we are not wrong in what we are doing. If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong.  If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong.  If we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie.  Love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.*

When I reflect on my reticence with regards to pro-life activism (such as Red Rose Rescue), and I see my friends being arrested and jailed in conscience, but how few of them they are out there doing this work, I see that I am not much different from those whites in Alabama in 1955 going about their daily lives to the point where one "just doesn't think about it anymore." When one lays down, and then another, and then another, a critical mass begins to build. But when those who know what is right and don't act sit on the sidelines, the brothers and sisters go to jail alone.

I want to say that in all of our actions we must stick together.  Unity is the great need of the hour, and if we are united we can get many of the things that we not only desire but which we justly deserve. And don’t let anybody frighten you. We are not afraid of what we are doing because we are doing it within the law. There is never a time in our American democracy that we must ever think we’re wrong when we protest. We reserve that right. When labor all over this nation came to see that it would be trampled over by capitalistic power, it was nothing wrong with labor getting together and organizing and protesting for its rights.*

The early martyrs of the Church would not have died or endured the suffering and humiliations they did without the deep well of faith to draw from. And who was the source of this faith? Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. This is what I see in the vast majority of those committed to the pro-life cause for protection and assurance of life for the innocent, the most vulnerable, the poorest of the poor: you cannot commit to this cause without fortitude, and fortitude requires faith to endure for the long game.

We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality. May I say to you my friends, as I come to a close, and just giving some idea of why we are assembled here, that we must keep-and I want to stress this, in all of our doings, in all of our deliberations here this evening and all of the week and while—whatever we do, we must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all of our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian face, faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.*

What impresses me about those I know in Red Rose Rescue and other pro-life activism is they are learning to "take a beating" as blacks did for the cause of civil rights. This is not academic pontificating, "hearing but not doing" as St. James says. When one comes before God they will have to answer to Him for what they did, or did not do, for the least of these. And He will look for your scars.

The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, “I love you, Israel.” He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and said: “Be still and know that I’m God, that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.” Standing beside love is always justice, and we are only using the tools of justice. Not only are we using the tools of persuasion, but we’ve come to see that we’ve got to use the tools of coercion. Not only is this thing a process of education, but it is also a process of legislation.*

We seem to be standing at a landmark moment, where abortion has become so normalized, so accepted, so rabidly defended, and yet so at odds with the Natural and Moral Law, at odds with science and the Hippocratic Oath, at odds with our own future as a human species, that future generations will look back at the barbarism of this era in the culture of death as we look back at the vitriol leveled against blacks who dared to take a stand for equality. They will view our age with disgust and amazement that this could have ever happened to a civilized people.

As we stand and sit here this evening and as we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead, let us go out with a grim and bold determination that we are going to stick together. We are going to work together. Right here in Montgomery, when the history books are written in the future somebody will have to say, “There lived a race of people a black people, ‘fleecy locks and black complexion’, a people who had the moral courage to stand up for their rights. And thereby they injected a new meaning into the veins of history and of civilization.” And we’re gonna do that. God grant that we will do it before it is too late. As we proceed with our program let us think of these things.*

My friend who was just arrested after a Rescue attempt will be holding a RRR meeting next month with Fr Fidelis (first picture, top). Her husband, too, has been to jail many times for his pro-life civil-disobedience. They put their money where their mouth is. Like the white mother and wife in the film, reticent but stirred by conscience, I will attend. It takes prayerful discernment to "step over this line," but I'm reminded of those who did in 1955, and what those in the pro-life movement are willing to put on the line as witnesses and collaborators today to put an end to the injustice and scourge of abortion.

But just before leaving I want to say this. I want to urge you. You have voted [for this boycott], and you have done it with a great deal of enthusiasm, and I want to express my appreciation to you, on behalf of everybody here. Now let us go out to stick together and stay with this thing until the end. Now it means sacrificing, yes, it means sacrificing at points. But there are some things that we’ve got to learn to sacrifice for. And we’ve got to come to the point that we are determined not to accept a lot of things that we have been accepting in the past.
So I’m urging you now. We have the facilities for you to get to your jobs, and we are putting, we have the cabs there at your service. Automobiles will be at your service, and don’t be afraid to use up any of the gas. If you have it, if you are fortunate enough to have a little money, use it for a good cause. Now my automobile is gonna be in it, it has been in it, and I’m not concerned about how much gas I’m gonna use. I want to see this thing work. And we will not be content until oppression is wiped out of Montgomery, and really out of America. We won’t be content until that is done. We are merely insisting on the dignity and worth of every human personality. And I don’t stand here, I’m not arguing for any selfish person. I’ve never been on a bus in Montgomery. But I would be less than a Christian if I stood back and said, because I don’t ride the bus, I don’t have to ride a bus, that it doesn’t concern me. I will not be content. I can hear a voice saying, “If you do it unto the least of these, my brother, you do it unto me.”*

Those who were moved by conscience in Alabama in 1955 faced a Goliath of opposition and intimidation. But their faith was in Jesus Christ and their assurance that they were not wrong any more than the God of the Bible was wrong. But it costs, and many have taken beatings on your behalf. As Arthur Schopenhauer noted, "All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-​evident.

And I won’t rest; I will face intimidation, and everything else, along with these other stalwart fighters for democracy and for citizenship. We don’t mind it, so long as justice comes out of it. And I’ve come to see now that as we struggle for our rights, maybe some of them will have to die. But somebody said, if a man doesn’t have something that he’ll die for, he isn’t fit to live.*

*: passages from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. "Montgomery Bus Boycott Speech," Holt Street Baptist Church, December 5, 1955 

1 comment:

  1. This has me reeling. I had recently, just last week, posted on a Facebook page I thought was Christian and sane, that I remembered the words of Dr. King (“I look to a day when people will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”) with wonder at just how far we have strayed from the intent and desire. I was called every kind of racist and miscreant by almost everyone who responded to my post, not the least of whom was someone professing to be the niece of Martin Luther King, Jr.
    We are in an insane world where up is down, east is west and good is evil. It shook me, rattled me, I admit, to have one of the most memorable inspiring quotes in my lifetime become the catalyst for something twisted and sick.
    And that incident illustrates, for me, the woke culture that goes beyond not blinking at the dismemberment of innocent babies within what should be the safest place on the actually celebrating each other's abortions.
    So don't expect to convince those people with the analogy, however spot on and apt it is (and it most certainly is). I think we're beyond the "convince me" juncture in history. I can only surmise that we are dealing with powers and principalities who rejoiced with each lynching and dehumanizing action toward men and women and children, God help us, of color and who drool at the prospect of a mother sacrificing her unborn child.