A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended our local ProtestPP rally. Not being a particularly experienced protestor, I showed up feeling unprepared and anxious. Were we going to just stand there? Hold signs? Learn some kind of chant? Having had the misfortune to drive past a Westboro Baptist Church demonstration once when I was young, I had a bad taste in my mouth about protests in general.
When we arrived, we found the usual Bible-belt suspects – homeschool families, pastors, small children dragged out by their parents – lots of knee-length skirts and Jesus t-shirts. Our location could also boast a street preacher with his own sound system. There was a noticeable lack of “cool factor.”
The ProtestPP rallies of August 22nd constituted the largest ever demonstration against Planned Parenthood. The protests took place outside of Planned Parenthood clinics across the country. The fact that gatherings were held at local clinics, rather than at a centralized national location, brought an undeniably personal element to the scene. Everyone at the protest was your neighbor. And the people driving by and staring probably were too.
I couldn’t help but think about what it would look like to meet a PP customer there. What if she’s just going in for an exam? What if seeing us makes her feel ashamed? What if she’s already had an abortion and she’s hurting and we just make it worse?
I think this feeling is common among us millennials. We’re wary of the culture wars of our parents – the protests and the rallies remind us a little too much of CCM and gaudy bumper stickers. Isn’t there a more effective (and less tacky) way of forwarding the pro-life cause? And besides, shaming abortion-vulnerable women offends our sensibilities of compassion and love. Protestors are just going to push them away from Christianity and alienate them. There’s got to be a better way.
It’s not a bad critique, but it’s based on a false assumption – that loving abortion-vulnerable women means sparing them discomfort. It’s worth considering why we protest at all. Historically, protests have been a means for the common citizen to express disapproval with some element of public life. Some have wielded great political influence (think of the Selma to Montgomery marches) and some have not (think of Westboro Baptist Church). But they nonetheless grow their respective movements in power. Protests aren’t merely about expressing disapproval for the status quo in numbers – they are about unifying the community of like-minded people. The ProtestPP rallies were designed with this purpose in mind, that pro-life individuals and institutions in local areas could meet together and support each other going forward. In many ways, protests are more for our sake – that we would be encouraged and unified.
My husband and I found this to be the case – we were able to talk about the work of Save the Storks, learn about local pregnancy resource centers, and meet a pro-life community group that works near my husband’s graduate program.
But these positive outcomes still fail to answer our deepest concern and the source of our discomfort:Are protests worth the potential cost of shaming abortion-vulnerable women? There is a distinct difference between a pro-life protest outside a government building and a pro-life protest outside a Planned Parenthood. The latter has a secondary aim: to discourage potential patrons of abortion clinics from walking through those doors. And that is what makes us so uncomfortable.
But if dissuading women from having abortions comes at the cost of some embarrassment and even shame, is it not worth it? We’ve inherited a language of tolerance and many millennial believers have turned a critical eye on the church for being too “judgmental” or “conservative.” And that criticism may have a place. But we absolutely cannot claim to love the lost and wayward if we let them sail blindly into death. We must be willing to draw moral lines in the sand and to stand by them, even if it means saying some hard things and hurting some feelings.
This is the example Christ set for us. His love for the poor, the weak, and the wretched was limitless, but that did not keep him from exposing and condemning sinful ways – even in public, even at the price of discomfort. Surely the moneychangers at the temple were made uncomfortable when Christ turned over their tables, as must have been the Samaritan woman at the well, when Christ pointed to her life of sexual immorality. As the Apostle James writes, “remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
So I am learning to look on protests in a different light. They may not be the most attractive or winsome face of the pro-life cause, but they are a vital part of unifying our voice and community, and even the shame they may cause might save a soul in the end. Our brothers and sisters who support or patronize abortion clinics are not merely confused, not merely wounded (though they are both of those things) – they are brainwashed. They are wandering in darkness. And whatever might wake them up to truth we must try. But if we cannot wake them, we must be content to remove the instruments of death from their hands, and if shame is necessary, so be it.
C.S Lewis sums it up well in his work Mere Christianity,
I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth – only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair.