I’m going to preface this post with a caveat that I am incredibly aware that I mostly live in a socially liberal bubble in the heart of Oakland, California, and social media algorithms have somehow been shaped in such a way that I often only see content from people who mostly agree with me.
This idea that we shouldn’t talk politics or religion because it’s impolite and just leads to disagreements and arguments is off-putting to me. Yes, that happens, but the opposite can also be true—when we are able to discuss these topics with an open mind, then it can become the foundation needed for understanding people better, especially when we can find the common ground between us.
I was born and raised in a Catholic family. Though I no longer see myself as religious, I still hold what I see as fundamentally Christian values. Things like, “love thy neighbour as thyself,” and “judge not lest ye be judged.” How it’s important to be kind and understanding more than hateful and selfish.
I don’t use the word “God” for what I believe in, per se, but you may every now and then hear or see me use the phrase “The Universe” in place. There is an energy out there that influences how we perceive the world. Though it may not always be the case, I think more often than not, love and kindness begets love and kindness, and hatred is returned also. Because of the way I look for answers and meaning in the world, I have witnessed how mysteriously “The Universe” works. I do believe things happen for a reason. Even the crappy stuff. The same things will happen over and over again until we learn the lessons we’re supposed to learn, so you’re better off taking the time to reflect and find meaning rather than sweeping it under the rug. I’m not saying don’t grieve those bad times—absolutely that is also necessary—nor am I trying to diminish the pain of those experiences. But I do feel like it is easier to move forward when meaning and lessons can be found, rather than dwelling on the negative energy indefinitely.
The reason I bring all of this up is because there seems to be a perception that if you are Christian, or hold “Christian values,” then you must be leaning right politically, and being anti-abortion (or “pro-life”) is the number 1 priority issue to be looked at. It’s like religious-identity and political-identity are so entwined that you can’t escape it, and you’re so indoctrinated in it that if anyone comes in to contradict that mindset, we’re automatically defensive, because we feel like our very identity and character is being attacked. It becomes survival mode time—fight, flight, or freeze.
But this is not reality, this is manipulation, where belief is being used against us, and until the Christian-left and the Christian-right (because, yes, there are Christians across the political spectrum—they do not all have to align one way) can come together to discuss their fundamental values, it’s going to be near impossible to reach common ground and make the much-needed changes we need in the world.
Though I was raised in Australia, my immediate-extended family (i.e. my parents and their siblings) were raised in Wyoming. A “red state” in the U.S.. Republican territory. Although, from what I’ve seen from my family connections on Facebook, the outspoken ones all lean Democrat. I recently got into an argument with my father on Facebook after he posted a video titled something to the effect of “The TRUTH about Biden/Harris” from a priest that I assumed was about abortion, and I responded that I wouldn’t watch the video (because anything with a click-baity title like that reeks of propaganda I’m not interested in, which I mentioned later in the argument). I learned through the argument that he was raised as a Democrat (as, apparently, many Catholics were), but now leans more towards the right, politically, because a) his position on abortion and b) he saw a video of some Democrats showing up at a Trump rally, antagonising the audience, and somehow determined that all Democrats were awful people. For this latter point, I mentioned that I was well aware of there being people like that who identify as Democrats, but that doesn’t mean they’re all like that and it certainly doesn’t discount the fact there are people like that who identify as Republicans either. So, rather than modelling Trump’s “there are good people on both sides” argument, I was instead essentially pointing out that there are people who behave badly across the political spectrum. I didn’t bother pointing out that the ones with guns and killing people seem far more likely to align with Republicans. My dad still lives in Australia so perhaps he’s just too far removed to know how deep this all goes. Certainly being in Australia has likely given him a very different perspective on the impact of COVID-19, which was also part of the argument. As of today (November 10th, 2020), the U.S. has had over 240,000 deaths, versus Australia’s 907. That’s more than 264 times the number of deaths, though the total population is only about 13 times greater. Somehow, I gathered from his perspective, this was more “God’s Will” than the result of “Bad Leadership.” And because there are still more abortions than deaths by COVID-19, the issue of abortion should take precedence.
Towards the end of the argument, my dad commented that he doesn’t get on my Facebook posts and argue with me, and was clearly hurt that I was being argumentative with him. I don’t know if he noticed how often his friends and family were liking and hearting my comments, although a couple of them did comment along similar lines to me. Still, my dad was right, I was being more argumentative than kind when sharing my perspective, and the question was, “Why?”
I dug deeper and got vulnerable with him in a place where I perhaps should’ve taken it to a private chat, but decided to keep it on the semi-public post where others could see, so they could bear witness to the change of tone. I told my dad that, in truth, I generally don’t get into arguments like that with people, about their fundamental values, because most people’s opinions have zero impact on my life. The opposite was true here strictly because he’s my dad. His values, his opinions, leave a mark on my life where most don’t.
Since my mother passed away in 2005, I’ve borne witness to changes in my dad that I don’t think would’ve happened had she not died. I told him that, from my point of view, I’ve seen his need to dive deeper into Catholic doctrine as a way to try and get closer to my dead mother—who didn’t leave the church like he did after she separated from him more than a decade before she passed—and the more he did so, the more he pushed at least some of his living children further and further away from him. I asked him, is that really what he wanted? And suggested he stop living in the past, because he can’t change it, and focus on who he wants in his life right now. My words made an impact and he said he would take the time to consider them.
Emotions run wild most often when we do care about the person we’re arguing with, and they can get out of hand. I’ve seen enough anti-abortion arguments to know what it’s about, but for some reason logical arguments against abortion bans don’t work. It’s not enough to explain that policies that expand sex education in schools, ease access to contraception, provide a social safety net so women living in poverty can afford to financially support any children conceived, and keep abortion legal actually have a better chance of reducing the abortions the religious-right want than an outright ban on abortions does. This is an emotionally-charged issue where people do not wish to listen to logic and have their worldview altered.
Instead, I like to come at it from a different religious angle. The Bible teaches that it is not our place to judge others, as we have not lived in their shoes. Leave judgement to God, as God will deal with their sins.
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.John 8:7
Well, we’re all sinners in one way or another, and don’t be kidding yourself otherwise. No one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. If your faith is teaching you otherwise, and that being religious in itself somehow makes you perfect in the eyes of your God, and teaches you to hate those who are different, then you need to re-read the Bible and reinterpret the words. Judging others is not living with the kindness and love that leads to a path of peace.
I am not a woman who has had or could see herself being able to go through with an abortion. I have two children of my own, neither of which were specifically planned, but whom I love more than anything. Despite being young and not being ready for children when my first was conceived, and then despite barely recently overcoming marital issues and still being moderately unsure if I wanted to stay married when the second was, I knew I was not the kind of person who could’ve lived with myself if I had chosen anything other than following through with my pregnancies. Even so, I recognise that my experiences are mine alone, and I cannot judge another woman for choosing differently. She is the person who has to live with her choice, and I don’t imagine it is ever an easy decision to make, whatever the circumstances. Even in cases where a woman never wanted children, or an embryo was conceived as a result of rape.
No matter the circumstance, if you are religious, if you believe in God, I can’t imagine God is out there judging you because someone else decided to have an abortion. I also can’t imagine God is judging a woman who has an abortion more harshly than the man who raped her to conceive. God is not sending someone to Hell because they supported a politician who doesn’t want to ban abortions. It is not the black-and-white issue the religious-right seems to make it out to be. It’s nigh time the less judgemental Christians help those who see themselves as morally-superior see another perspective, with compassion and understanding. That can’t happen as long as we continue to adhere to the notion that we shouldn’t discuss religion and politics, or the idea that if we do, it only leads to fighting. Meet the other side where they are—without judgement, without name-calling. They won’t listen and be open to changing their minds if all you’re doing is calling them out and telling them why you think they’re bad people. They’ll continue to be silent and vote against policies that are actually more in line with what they want, because all they see from the “other side” are the ones who are “being mean,” and that just further entrenches them in their perspective.
We can’t reach everyone. Yes, many are too far gone into their homophobia, misogyny, and racism. But I cannot believe that is true of more than 71 million people in the United States. I know the cognitive dissonance is hard to overcome, and it won’t happen overnight. But true Christian values cannot support any of the hatred and vitriol that has bubbling to the surface and taking over the United States. If you truly value Jesus and the lessons he espoused, then it’s time to embrace what the political-right vilifies as “socialism” and support a structure that cares about the weakest members of our community. Supporting the homeless, the drug-addicted, the mentally-ill, those living in poverty, the disabled, and treating them as people instead of worthless and/or a drain on the economy is what Jesus would’ve done.
It is not up to those who’ve been actively harmed by the hateful rhetoric of the religious and political right to educate those of their indoctrinated followers of a better way, to come together and forgive. They’ve already spent enough emotional labour talking about their experiences. And you cannot expect a survivor to forgive their abuser. This is the responsibility of their heterosexual, white Christian allies. The ones who look like the majority of Republicans, who are their family and friends, to speak up and sway minds. Silence is no longer the answer if we want to avoid a civil war in the coming years.