It can be tough at times to live in the world of academia, as professor in the social sciences, and in the world of Christianity, as a born-again Christian trying to reconcile my over-feeling heart and my over-thinking mind. One of the toughest issues for me has been abortion. I have sworn for years that I will always be ardently pro-choice, as a feminist and as an American who believes in the separation of church and state, despite my personal feelings about abortion as a Christian. But a series of lessons, culminating in an epiphany regarding the unlikely person of Miley Cyrus, has proven the old adage: “Never say never”.
My husband and I are considering adopting children from the foster care system, and my sister-in-law gave me a wonderful book about adoption for Christmas: Russell D. Moore’s Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families and Churches. Among the many mind-blowing points the author makes (Jesus was adopted! And he fulfilled the prophecy that the Christ would come from the patriline of David-Jesse-Abraham through his adoptive father, Joseph!) is that Satan seeks to destroy innocence, and particularly the innocence represented by children. Moore sees much of human history as a war on children/innocence and entreats Christians to fight that war through the loving adoption of children.
Last Sunday in church, our pastor showed a slide of Miley Cyrus, with her little devil-horn ponytails and that huge tongue sticking lasciviously out of her mouth. Miley Cyrus has been a point of despair for me ever since the whole twerking horror. I hated the way our society collectively blamed her for her sexuality and gave the ole double-standard free pass to Robin Thicke. He’s a 40-something, mature, married man who should know better. She is obviously still a child, one of those technical adults who lived the infantilizing, artificial childhood of stardom and never really grew up. (Come to think of it, that may be Robin Thicke’s problem, too!) To me, the imagery of that moment was of a pedophile dry-humping a teddy-bear-laden child – and then we blamed the child for the actions of the pedophile. I’ve been saddened to think about the life of a sweet girl who once claimed to be a Christian and a role model for other girls, who has now become (Sinead O’Connor had it right) nothing better than a prostitute who cannot see how her fame and wealth-seeking parents, agents, and music industry patrons are pimping out her half-naked body and naiveté for their own gain. I’ve been saddened to think about the sexualization of girls (and boys) in this country, and how it affects them at younger and younger ages. We devour these children as a society. When I saw that slide in church, the point about Satan devouring innocence suddenly had a poster child: Miley Cyrus, and the image of our society that she reflected back to me from the screen.
Some quotes from past readings came floating into my head, quotes from the pro-life movement about how a society that doesn’t protect innocence and life is doomed. And suddenly it seemed clear to me that, when we dismiss the idea of life, when we detach women from the sacred (from the point of view of pretty much all religions and spiritual traditions) role of protecting and ushering in that life, we have done something terrible, something that will doom us and all the children who are born to us and live in our society. I have read with interest a lot of material about how we can define life, how we determine when a “fetus” becomes a “life”, and I’ve thought that this was the difficult issue to resolve, that this was where we as religious people with a religion-bound notion of life should not force our beliefs on non-Christian people who may have different beliefs. But Miley Cyrus made me see that that it’s not really an important distinction. When the idea itself of life is no longer sacred or our top priority, it doesn’t matter if that life is five seconds, five months, five years, or even five decades old. We’ve already lost the game, whether we’re Christians who believe that God plans our life before we’re ever even conceived or we’re non-Christians who believe that our own children are more than a compilation of cells and chemicals.
How will I act politically on this new certainty? I’m honestly not sure yet. I worry greatly about how this way of thinking has led to many Catholic countries in Latin America and elsewhere prohibiting therapeutic abortions, forcing a woman whose life is in danger because of pregnancy to go ahead and continue the pregnancy nevertheless. I worry greatly about the deranged church and political leaders who propagate the harmful myth that a female who is raped cannot get pregnant and conclude that a child victim of incest should be forced to undergo the physically and psychologically harmful nine months of carrying the product of an evil act. I worry greatly about the encroachment of religion on the laws of the U.S. – because, let’s face it, the world is full of examples where that isn’t working out so well, even for the members of that religion. As a feminist, thinking back to how women have not only been lifted up by their sacred responsibility to usher in life but also chained to it, I worry greatly about women being seen as breeders rather than as individuals with their own destinies and right to make their own life choices. Although I personally feel I would carry a fetus to full-term no matter what the circumstances, because I would believe that is the path that God has chosen for me, do I have any right to demand the same of another woman who is not supported by the same belief system or the same understanding of her role vis-à-vis that fetus? I’ll have to work out answers to all of my questions over time. But for now, for the first time, I realize that these and other examples are actually the result of our desecration of life, and not a separate issue. If life means little to us in the form of an innocent fetus, then why should we care about a 15-year-old incest victim, or an ill pregnant woman, or an unhappy woman whose husband gives her no respect because she’s “just a wife and mother”. For the first time it occurs to me that the pro-life way of thinking is the solution to these problems rather than part of the cause of them.
One thing that hasn’t changed is my frustration with some of the loud voices in the pro-life movement that offer no practical solutions to the kinds of situations that lead women and men to choose abortion. Counter to the images the pro-life movement holds up and even seems to display in a pornographic kind of way, I believe that abortion clinics are not full of frivolous, uncaring people whose lives are full of easy sex and serial careless abortions. I am certain it is always a horrible, heart-wrenching decision, and a painful and demoralizing procedure, that most people make because of their economic or relationship circumstances. I think we need good sex education, readily available birth control, structures to help economically vulnerable people care for their children so they don’t have to choose between abortion and poverty/unemployment, ready help for victims of relationship abuse, programs that emotionally and psychologically help people who choose adoption over abortion (another surely heart-wrenching decision with lifelong consequences). I think we need to be realistic about what families look like today, and how they can best be helped, in a way that blames less and supports more. I believe that here is where the pro-life and pro-choice movements can find common ground, if they can stop demonizing each other’s politics and really live up to their words about putting children, women, and families first.
I will continue to pray for Miley Cyrus, and for the misguided, supposedly feminist commentators who have portrayed her twerking as a symbol of how women now own their own sexuality. I will continue to pray for a society that vilifies Miley Cyrus but valorizes the likes of Robin Thicke. And I will add a new prayer: that we as a society come to value life, to support life, to celebrate life, to protect life, to love life. To me, that now means that we must think deeply about the place of abortion in our laws and politics.