Recently I sat down with two men whose views are different from mine. We are involved with Better Angels, a citizen’s organization formed after the 2016 election. We focus on building a more perfect union, which to us means disagreeing with respect and working together to find common ground … like getting big money out of politics.
As I anticipated our meeting, I was nervous because I am not as articulate as I’d like to be when it comes to discussing policy. That is a growing edge for me and I wanted to contribute to whatever we discussed that evening.
I was surprised at how much we agreed upon. I felt respected by these men. And that gave me the courage to raise a major concern of mine … abortion. I was met with immediate disagreement.
My friend softened when he realized I am not a fan of abortion, would prefer that it not be treated casually, but that sometimes woman find it necessary … and for them, it needs to be performed safely. Instead, because making such a major life decision is complex, I was advocating for
- poor women who will be most affected by outlawing abortion
- young women who will be similarly affected
- women in dire circumstances who find themselves pregnant
- women who bear the burden alone … because prospective fathers often get off scot-free … no laws forcing them to assume responsibility for their actions.
- mothers and their children in need of social support systems if they are going to be given a chance at
- the abundant life Jesus came that we might have (John 10:10)
- a life of liberty and justice for all (pledge of allegiance)
- domestic Tranquility and the Blessings of Liberty (Preamble to the Constitution)
But it was an experience … a story that made the difference
What really turned the tide in our discussion was an experience … a personal story … of a woman I knew in dire circumstances who made the best decision she could in her perilous and complex situation. She felt so guilty about her abortion that her arm was paralyzed. She was sure she was being punished. (Her story can be found on pages 77-80 of my memoir, A Long Awakening to Grace.)
After hearing her experience…her story, my friend admitted that his side “may have some blind spots.”
We went on to discuss the need for restorative justice for those prospective fathers who are not in a position to support their children and the mothers of their children … supervised community service where they are forced to learn the consequences of their behavior.
I came away from our three-hour discussion with a sense of hope and gratitude for the soul connection I hadn’t expected to experience. We not only talked politics … we shared at a deep personal level as well … revealing experiences … personal stories that caused us to struggle and grow.
Speaking Our Beliefs Tends to Divide Us
A few days later, as I listened to Michel Martin interview Rev. Rob Schenck on Christiane Amanpour’s program, I was struck with the difference experience and a personal story made in his life.
Schenck is an evangelical minister who in the 1990s was one of the most aggressive figures in the movement to curtail abortion rights. He now admits to attempting to dehumanize the abortion clinic doctors and workers by calling them “murderers, callous profiteers in misery, monsters, and pigs.”
The Wisdom of Experience
When you dehumanize someone, you devalue them to the point where in fact they are an animal to be hunted. Someone will go out and hunt them and kill them. … there are those out there waiting for that tacit permission to unleash their murderous impulses. ~Rev. Rob Schenck
Even though he had doubts about his tactics, he failed to see the contradiction between his actions and his core message about the dignity of all life.
Despite his wife’s and children’s challenges … despite his colleagues confrontations about his compromising the gospel message of love of God and neighbor, he had to convince himself that he was “right.” He cast his colleagues as weaklings and cowards, more concerned with being politically correct and socially acceptable. He fed off his ever-increasing audience approval.
He sees now that his rhetoric probably motivated the man who, in 1998, murdered one of those doctors … known in his community as a beloved ob-gyn. Schenck admits to harassing this doctor and his family in their home’s driveway. Dr. Slepian’s wife and children witnessed their husband and father being shot through their kitchen window.
Because the personal implications were too great, when he learned of the murder, Schenck had to compartmentalize his momentary regret and convince himself that no one in his movement would resort to such action. Instead, it had to be someone trying to discredit them.
He knew something was deeply wrong after seeing a photo of the shooter standing very close to the leaders of his movement. Even so, it took him years of moral and spiritual reflection in therapy as well as conversations with his wife and children to face and address the connection between the violence of his words and the violent actions of one of his followers.
Speaking From Experience Tends to Connect Us
The real moment of awakening to the reality of his actions came when he worked on a project with a passionate pro-choice activist. Over the course of a year, Schenk forged an unlikely friendship with a woman he had previously thought of as a different species, morally defective … not worthy of the respect the people he kept company with deserved.
They developed a level of trust and rapport that made it possible for her to tell him her experience … her personal story of abortion. It was unlike any conversation he had ever had. It forced him to look at himself more than at her or his opponents.
When I did, that was a moment of truth. The Bible talks about the need to look in the mirror and consider what sort of person we are … and I took that on as a personal challenge and that led to what I call another conversion in my life. This time it wasn’t as instantaneous as the first one was. ~Rev. Rob Schenck
The greatest gift God has given to the Universe is humanity. … We are all in the same family. We all deserve the same dignity and respect. We’re all made of the same material. When I think back to contributing in any way to the diminishment of anyone’s humanity… to the point where his life was taken in the ultimate act of contempt and his own wife and children witnessed that … is an enormous sense of pain … and it’s selfish to even say it because I didn’t lose anything there except my own dignity by the words that I used.
I could not take back my words. Very regrettably, I could not take back the words I released from those stages. But I could stop and I did. ~Rev. Rob Schenck
The tables have turned for Rev. Schenck. Now many of his colleagues regard him in the same way he once regarded them … “as weaklings and cowards, more concerned with being politically correct and socially acceptable.”
You shall know them by their fruits. ~Jesus of Nazareth in Matthew 7:16
You look at what a person’s life produces. When I look at what my life of activism produced, I don’t think it is fruit that anyone would want to eat. There was contempt, there was pain, there was fear. There was certainly a dismissal of the complexity of people’s lives. And worse, people were being shot and killed. That’s enough to say, ‘Maybe we were wrong.’ ~Rev. Rob Schenk