Travelling for abortion: one story, one lady, two lives?

I’ve tried to write this several times closer to the conversations I had with these two ladies, but each time I clammed up and tears were welling in my eyes.  And if it’s been like that for me, I don’t know what it is like for these ladies.

With that in mind, I know how tempting it would be to agree with many of those I met on Saturday at the “March for Repeal” (to repeal the 8th amendment, which bans abortion in most circumstances in Ireland, outside of when the mother’s life is endangered) who asked me why I was vocalising my male views, on a female topic.  And if it were simply that, perhaps both “sides” of the protest could tell their male attendees to go home and shut up.

But I stayed.

It wasn’t easy to stay.  I’d had a long week of work, the sun was out for the first time this summer (in any meaningful way), and there were plenty of places I would rather have been that standing in a 200 strong crowd of angry, yelling protesters, who were chanting things from the depths of their being against what I considered precious to me.  Compared to those who had come down to protest for Repeal from Limerick as they thought this would be a “fun day out”, I was out of my mind.

Repeal rally

And it’s not because I’m “one of those” people either.  You know the ones who love to get their megaphone out and make their understanding of truth be known to everyone, at any opportunity?  I was helping a UCC society new committee this week do some teamwork training, and to help them understand their roles within a team.  And from the survey they all filled in (Belbin), I didn’t score highly on any of the assertive questions about making my views known in a divergent group.  Perhaps I’m blind to my own ways.

What was I doing there?  Displaying signs like these, and saying very little:

20170617_154422.jpg

The group I was with that day also endorse the use of graphic imagery to inform people, as they would believe that statistics don’t hit home “the nature of genocide”.  But before you voice your disgust, I wonder if you could give me a few seconds more and listen in to one of many conversations I had that day with “Eilidh”?

Firstly I should say that we were their legally, having forewarned the Gards about our being there, and using EU legislation to allow us to express what we wished.  We have a code with all those who work with us, that we’re there to stand silently and engage with those who wish to engage in meaningful ways and seek to love those around us, however we can.  “Eilidh” was one of those.

“Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!
Our bodies, our choice!  Our bodies, our choice!

Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!
Pro life, that’s a lie,
you don’t care if women die!”

“Excuse me, I was just wondering if you know that women are protected under Irish law in all circumstances and can have a termination of pregnancy if their life is at risk?”

“That’s a lie.  What happened to Savita, or that lady flung in a mental home for wanting an abortion this last week?”

“Savita was medical malpractice (nothing to do with abortion) and the most recent case of the lady going into care was not because she wanted an abortion.  It was standard medical procedure, and she also happened to be pregnant at the time.”

E angrily, “Why are you even here?  Just to show hatred for women?”

“No, I’m just wanting to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, like these ones” (pointing to large picture of aborted fetuses)

“But they’re all fake images.  Fake news.  Aborted fetuses aren’t like that.”

“I’m afraid not, they’re very real images”

“But, but…but, they can’t be.  Are you sure?”

I nod, but barely a second passes as she gulps and interrupts.

“But I bet you don’t care for women who choose to keep a child.  What do you know about anything like that?  You just campaign for something and then leave women to suffer.”

“Well, no, actually.  I campaign for something and then try to live sacrificially towards it.  I run community spaces in the city to help a diverse range of people, and am involved with others who give financially, give accommodation, give of their time, and surround women who want to keep their children with a loving community of supportive people.  In fact, we even support those who’ve had abortions, to mentally process things.”

“Oh…..that’s beautiful.  Well, I wish that had been made known to me when I was 16 and was forced by my family to go for an abortion”, she said, breaking down in front of me.

Then she turned away, ashamed of her tears, back to the yelling crowd, full of fear.

I once again returned to silence, pondering just how many others like her were in the crowd.  Another I chatted to that day was angry, simply because she had come back from an abortion a few hours earlier, and needed somewhere to vent.

People’s experiences can change them.  Change us for the good, but also change us for the worse.  It can blind us all to logic.  And logic in the light of experience can seem so cold, so brutal.  Unless you have a warm community around you, taking away any shame and willing to unconditionally support you.  I’ve linked some places you can go if you want to experience that.

I hope the table below makes it clear that there aren’t any reasons to endorse abortion, unless you are also willing for infanticide in the same cases, as pro-choice ethicist Peter Singer so rightly has argued.

What makes a human

What about rape?  What about fatal foetal abnormalities?  What about the hard cases?

Well they are hard.  And they’ll never become anything but that.  They are also rare.  But so this doesn’t get any longer, perhaps I could point you to find answers here and here, and further support below:

  • Gianna Care – for any type of support
  • Rachel’s Vineyard – for support post-abortion
  • WomenHurt.ie – Irish women who have walked in your shoes before you
  • Your local Students for Life group in Cork (or near you) are at the main gates of the college once a week and are willing to chat.  Coffee is on us!
  • Local churches like this one and this one have provided finance, accommodation, community, support and much more for those Students for Life Cork have met who want to continue with their pregnancy.  Many others would do similar.

The women changing the world

It must be one of the most ironic reasons out of our 5 for why the unengaged and unreached people groups in the world are still unengaged and unreached.  We’ve already seen that the evangelical church scene is plenty large enough to reach the world with the good news of Jesus.  But then yesterday we saw that a fair percentage of us have little awareness that there might be different needs or priorities other than the immediate on our own doorstep.  So little priority or energy gets put into reaching the unengaged world (that has no church, few [if any] Christians and sometimes even no Bible in their language).

And so today we tackle reason 2:

2.  The Church in many areas of the world is greedy to keep its “best”

As you look round the mission field of unengaged and unreached peoples in the world, you will find many incredible individuals.  Many of them are women who have responded to Jesus’ words to go to all nations/peoples, and have given up much at home to do so.  They’ve moved far from their loved family and friends, given up jobs, wealth, status, comforts and far more, and have landed in what so often is the back of beyond, in harsh environments, where women are often treated as second class citizens.

Many of them as the years have gone on have realised as they’ve looked around even at the largest of their mission conferences that their organisations run, that for those that desire it, the chance of marrying anyone with the same heart as they do, is negligible.  Why?  Because there are no single males there.

Nada.  Zero.  Zilch.  None.

20170729_112906

My sister, a missionary in an unreached people group, who always wondered whether she would be able to get married.

Mission team, after mission team, are so often comprised of a few missionary families, and a bunch of single females, some of whom are happily living the single life and many others who would rather have married or are still looking, particularly for those reaching out in cultures where being single is (sadly) the most abnormal, socially bizarre thing possible.  Shame and rejection by their communities would be felt every day for such single women in some parts of the world.

So where are the men?

Well a small bit could be down to the statistics of gender ratio in the church in general (supposedly there are far more females than males in the western evangelical scene).  To consider that, there are plenty of other places we might turn to see what could be done (restoring a right view of preaching in the church, and fighting a dualistic understanding of the world that tells us that the physical is bad, might be two brief ways I’d start).

But the more directly connected thing taking males away from unengaged peoples and the mission field, is complementarian, conservative evangelicals.

20170722_131700

Another town which is technically “unreached” in Ireland, where I’ve been reaching out this summer.

Yes, you heard me right.  One of the top 5 hindrances to world mission is complementarian theology.

But before you start to complain, let me first confess that I label myself a complementarian (someone who considers male and female to, although equal, have different roles and giftings in life and particularly in the church).  And secondly let me say that much as this is a consequence of such a theological view, it need not be.  Now let me explain…

  • Church attendance in Europe and (north) America is in decline (regardless of whether you think true Christianity is in decline in these areas)
  • There are many denominations with many buildings that house now dwindling congregations
  • The denomination is left with several choices that I could perceive:
    1. Keep the church going and trust God will turn things round and see genuine conversions (the ideal world?!  But few match that reality.)
    2. Re-plant the church, to get rid of old attitudes and make it more likely to engage a modern-day audience (high intensity, needing more man-power)
    3. Keep the church going until it fades out (uses one minister for a small flock)
    4. Join the church with another in the denomination, miles away (one minister is stretched to the maximum capacity, trying to cover double the work, and what was meant to help the church, often hinders it in the long-run)
    5. Bi-vocational ministry (where the minister is asked to take on another job to supplement a part-time role with the church).  Often resisted by those with a particular view of “calling” to the ministry, but often successful at re-engaging with the local community, as the minister does a “normal” job.
    6. Join the church with another from another denomination (rarely is such humility seen to allow this to happen)
    7. Shut the church (rarely is such realism seen to allow this as a progressive option)
  • Most denominations for various reasons, despite many of them having other evangelical churches nearby, opt for 1-4, which are the labour intensive options.  They need a full-time workforce and that in conservative evangelical circles is a man or men.
  • Where should they get these men from?  Well, we’ll start to emphasize it early on, and make sure we get them young before they can do anything else.  And so, as many of the smaller congregations aren’t sustainable, all the young men from the bigger churches become the workers in the smaller churches.

And there we have it.  Regardless of how your church denomination works (or whether you’re independent), I could guess you’ll fall into similar issues, often unconsciously.  It can be from the best of motives, and from the greatest statements of faith (we want to believe God can still grow the church in the west), but ultimately all the male workers are being used for our small patches in areas which have had gospel witness over centuries or at least decades.

At the same time as many parts of the evangelical church scene look to train up men for ministry, often the development of female gifts and roles within church life are not being given as much of an emphasis (sadly).  Females within a congregation can, regardless of theology, be left feeling like second class citizens.

20170710_145052

United Beach Missions in one of Ireland’s oldest Christian heritage sites, but one that would fall into Europe’s “unreached” category.  Here, female giftings are grown and developed in public proclamation of the gospel in a setting to kids.

But on the positive, many of them take this freedom from responsibility to end up going overseas, pioneering evangelism, and shaping the Christian scene overseas, some in ways that their churches probably wouldn’t even allow them do back home (rightly or wrongly)!

They are the heroines of our Christian scene today.  The drivers in world mission.  By conviction, and also just through pragmatically being part-ignored by a western church obsessed with keeping churches going and training every possible gifted male to fill those pre-existing gaps.

It was United Beach Missions that drilled into me the great blessing of sacrificially giving of the best that I had, so that I would receive the blessing of living in light of the God who gave the best that He had (Himself) to rescue a dying world.  It was my church families and actual family who bathed me in such a good news of a generous Father, that I revelled in knowing Him, in growing in the knowledge of His will, in the likeness of His Son.

20170726_165120

Our good God, relentlessly revealing to us greater depths which we can dive into of His goodness, deeper than the deepest sea. Photo taken 30/07/17, Aberdeen

And it was people like Lindsay Brown in IFES World and Kinsale Baptist Church plant who practically gave me the example of Christian mission, that cared not about keeping their young people for their “own cause” (small and struggling as some of the teams/churches were) but freely giving them to the needs of the world Church.

And the small, struggling, local churches that have sent their “best” have often been blessed out of proportion because of it.  They get to participate outside their context to what God is doing worldwide.  They get to understand contextualisation better for their own setting.  And they often get wiser, more experienced workers coming back to them in a few years, buoyed on by what they’ve learnt, and ready to serve back home.

What a joy!

This joy and blessing of looking outwards is why when some friend approached Lindsay Brown recently and proudly declared that his life calling was “to reform the Church of England”, Lindsay said to him:

“Only that?!  That’s not much.  Your God has a worldwide Church that He is building.”

As we revel in His goodness, may we pour ourselves out as drink offerings, and praise our God for His army of women across the nations, who are sharing glimpses of what they have received from Him!

Titus: 3: 3-7

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.