HEADlines: Abortion and the Church

Published in The Mustard Seed Sentinel, January 25, 2020~

I don’t know who she sat next to in church that week—or if she even went to church then. And for a long time after I met her, I had no idea what had happened in her life.

It all looked great from my viewpoint.

Then we went on a bus trip to the March for Life. That’s the annual Washington, DC, commemoration of the 1973 Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion in all 50 states. I don’t know the moment that made a difference for her. I just know that she lived that moment and her life changed. She made a connection with someone she felt she could trust with her secret. And when she did, she found healing.

And I might not have ever known but for a chance meeting.

One Sunday morning, we were visiting a church in a neighboring community. And when we got out of our car, she got out of hers.

She was the guest speaker. She had come to tell us the secret she had carried for years. She had had an abortion.

And she told us about the someone who helped her. And the God who healed her.

Now she helps others. And those others are all around us. We just don’t know who they are or what they are living.

Perhaps one such person sat next to you last Sunday.

One in five women who reported that they’ve had an abortion were attending church weekly at the time. Four in ten said they attended church regularly when they aborted. Seven in ten aborting women identify themselves as Christians.

Only seven of 100 such women said they discussed their decision to abort with someone at their church.

Roland C. Warren of CareNet says, because the issue of abortion has been politicized, many pastors shy away from addressing it. So many women sit in the pews feeling that they cannot speak of their crisis pregnancies.

“[A]s a result of pastors’ withdrawal, there have not been broad-scale ministry on-ramps built around helping women and men make pregnancy decisions,” he writes.

It’s not about politicizing our churches. It’s about providing compassion to people who may hold pro-life convictions in their hearts even when they perceive that their desperate situation has no solution other than abortion. So we also must offer compassion for men who have made abortion decisions. Consider this story:

There is a Planned Parenthood facility in Montgomery County, Texas, that was the special focus of prisoners in the local jail during a 40 Days for Life campaign.

Forty Days for Life was meeting outside the PP at that location from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm daily during those 40 days. One of the participants also volunteered in the chaplaincy program at the local jail. He went to see whether the inmates of faith would be willing to cover the other 12 hours of each day in prayer.

A few days later he “returned to the Wynne unit and the offender heading up the unit prayer vigil gave me the sign-up list. It turned out to be 12 pages full of names. As I examined the list in semi-shock and asked several questions, I realized that each man on the list had agreed to pray for one hour each day for the whole 40 days. For example, 16 men are praying every day from 7 PM – 8 PM for the whole 40 days. Again, 16 different men from 8 PM – 9 PM. 15 men signed up for 3 AM – 4 AM and so it goes. Every hour is covered with at least 10 men who signed up to pray.”

I don’t know how abortion touched the lives of each of these inmates.

But Donna Gardner knows that abortion has touched the lives of many men incarcerated today. Gardner became involved in ministry to post-abortive, incarcerated men after an inmate spoke to a prison ministry about his guilt over participating in abortions.

“The inmate was feeling haunted because he had pressured three different women he had gotten pregnant into having abortions. Surprised that a man was talking about abortions, Lawlor invited Gardner to speak at the annual prison ministry meeting in 2011.”

Gardner believed many prisoners suffered from PTSD because of their involvement in abortions. Her research and instincts found support when “an anonymous survey issued to the inmates at both of the prisons [Martin and Okeechobee in Florida] indicated that 90 percent had been involved in an abortion experience that hurt them.”

She says, “It’s not what you think about men in prison. They longed for their children and somehow recognized that life went wrong after their abortion experience.”

It doesn’t seem like a natural progression of logic that men would find themselves in prison as a result of abortions in their lives. After all, these men had histories before and after their abortion experiences that may also have contributed to their incarceration.

It didn’t seem like a logical connection to the men either—at first. “Many men are unaware that their emotions are the direct result of an abortion experience,” according to Gardner.

Emotional wounding comes from all sorts of trauma. But with nearly 62 million abortions happening in the US since Roe, it’s time to acknowledge that the wounding is widespread.

Gardner’s program includes multiple classes. Men learn how to deal with the pain of the past. They find healing. They experience, she says, “the healing power of God.”

The men are building “this beautiful brotherhood of life . . . behind the wall.”

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Credit: Tim Marshall

Only God can form such a brotherhood. And only God can place a healing helper in our path after we’ve wounded ourselves in a way that seems insurmountable.

Whether the place of ministry is a prison or a church, it must be a place of transparent compassion that says, “We will love you no matter what you face, no matter what you’ve done because there is a great God who loved us and you too,” Gardner says.

That’s the same love that my friend found. And the love she now offers. That’s the love the men suffering after abortion offer.

That love is the Gospel.

And the Gospel is the message of Christ. The message of the Church—if we can be bold enough to share it.

Top Photo Credit: Maria Oswalt

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

HEADlines: Our Culture’s Perspective of Sex

Republished from Mustard Seed Sentinel, Saturday, October 26, 2019

I remember watching a segment CBS journalist Harry Reasoner did—perhaps for one of those television news magazines—in the early or mid-1970s. It was about our changing perspective of sex. The most powerful words Reasoner said came at the end of his piece. They went something like this:

It may be that the head cheerleader would give in and have sex with the quarterback. But she knew she was giving away something important. And he knew he was getting something very valuable.

Reasoner bemoaned the shift in America’s thinking that told the young woman she was giving away something trivial. And the young man was not receiving something precious and irreplaceable.

That perspective shift turned into big changes in our culture. The cheerleader and the quarterback who had sex in the back seat of the car would likely marry and likely stay married.

In that back seat, he knew he wanted to. She knew she wasn’t supposed to. Often, they both understood the risks were grave—upset parents, loss of reputation, untimely pregnancy, disappointed hopes for the future.

Today, he still wants to. But she believes she’s supposed to want to also. And neither has any fear of consequences.

The key today is whether she wants to. Whether she consents. In theory, it sounds fair, sensible, progressive. But it doesn’t play out quite so simply in reality.

David French: “You can sum up the sexual ethic of the sexual revolutionary in one sentence: Except in the most extreme circumstances (such as incest), consenting adults define their own moral norms. . . . Desire is elevated over fidelity and certainly over propriety, so bosses bully, spouses stray, hearts break, and families fracture.”

Nearly 60 years after the birth control pill and 46 years of legal abortion in America, we may be waking up to the idea that casual sex has opened the door to exploitation on a level unseen since the dawn of Christianity.

Jennifer Joyner is one who has awakened. She had thought casual sex would be pleasurable and empowering. But it wasn’t. She calls it a “rigged game.”

“Whether we like it or not, sex is intrinsically biased against the woman: biological reality dictates that she carries the brunt of sexual risks while he wields the majority of sexual power.”

But women aren’t the only ones to lose at the rigged game. A male reader provides this insight into his post-abortion world.

As a man who found myself an un-knowing and un-willing participant in an abortion almost 25 years ago, my life became a very dark place. It was 20 years before I ever allowed myself to say the word and then God, somehow opened the floodgates of denial. The last 5 years or so have been a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs (mostly downs), as I have tried to come to grips with the loss alone. There have been a few close friends that kept watch over me when I was in the deepest pits, and I am grateful they were there. . . . [Two] days before the anniversary) I found myself back in one of my pits. I walked to my closet and retrieved my 45 handgun, and stood there for a moment crying. I honestly couldn’t tell you if I was trying to decide whether to pull the trigger, or trying to talk myself out of it.

His situation began with human connection—perhaps a deep emotional connection. He still has a deep connection to his child. But he finds it difficult to work through his grief.

A typical situation begins with two people who come together in passing or in love–but always in passion.

She becomes pregnant.

He doesn’t resist when she says she’ll have an abortion—even though she may be hoping he will take a stand on behalf of their child—that he will choose to stand by her.

Or perhaps he pushes her to abort the baby. Or perhaps, like our reader, he will learn of the abortion only after it’s already happened.

Since before Roe v. Wade, we’ve heard that abortion is between a woman and her doctor. It’s nobody else’s business.

Except it doesn’t work that way–even though it may take some men years to understand that the wound from abortion is like a stone that has been weighing them down.

In The Tears of the Fisherman, Kevin Burke writes:

“[Many men] do not associate the symptoms they are suffering [depression, addiction, inability to maintain relationships] with that abortion event in their past. Even if a man is aware that he is hurting from participating in the death of his unborn child, there is no safe place to share that burden.”

He has no place to go–either because no one else knows about the abortion or because those who do know don’t want to discuss it. The reader quoted above was blessed to have people encouraging him to work through his pain to a better place of healing.

Burke explains why healing is so important:

“When you went through that abortion experience the natural need for you to grieve the loss of your child and your parental relationship with your son or daughter was also aborted. For some men and women, forgiving self and letting go of the burden of self-condemnation feels like letting go of the only real connection with their unborn child or children.”

Yet there is hope—for both women and men.

A pregnancy scare at 19 turned Jennifer Joyner’s thinking around. She realized that her sex partners were gaining all the pleasure of the act (which she often found painful) and she was carrying all the risk. Instead of playing a rigged game, she could change her behavior. She could play a “long game.” She writes:

What’s attractive to me today is the sort of romance that lasts a lifetime. Men who seek this know it requires patience, wisdom, and a firm grip on their own reins. Because he’s responsible, he restrains his sexuality until he’s ready to share her sexual risks—including that of parenthood. . . . Until then, he’s researching the contours of her character rather than those of her anatomy; he’s focused on the long game.

And more from our post-abortion male reader:

When I started this walk, I was completely alone, with no idea where to turn. I have friends who have supported me once I broke my silence, and I love them to death. But through no fault of their own, I really didn’t trust anyone with the storms that were constantly raging inside me.

I knew there were programs out there, but for a variety of reasons, (pride mostly, but I have to confess to a degree of distrust as well) I wouldn’t reach out. . . . I guess I was waiting on something to just fall in my lap. Once I took a few small steps that is exactly what happened.

There are other men like me out there, many of them probably less informed than I was. Still, it took a lot of searching before I knew what was out there. Anything, and anyone who helps get that message out is a tremendous blessing.

Women can play the long game instead of the rigged one. And men can find healing after the tragedy of abortion.

But that requires a supportive community and the right resources.

A woman seeking to pursue sexual purity (with or without an abortion in her past) will find a wonderful resource in Dannah Gresh’s And the Bride Wore White.

A helpful community comes in the form of Pregnancy Resource Centers and Clinics. CareNet is a network of such organizations who help with crisis pregnancy, STD diagnosis, post-abortion recovery, and wise counsel.

For post-abortion men and women, hope comes, not in forgetting, but in honoring and remembering. Healing ministries provide the opportunity to remember, to name the child, to repent, to find forgiveness. Burke’s book lists the following resources:

Abortionforgiveness.com is part of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign.

Menandabortion.net helps men find healing and works to raise awareness of men’s abortion pain in counselors, pro-life workers, and society at large.

And Rachel’s Vineyard is a ministry for married couples, parents, and grandparents. This ministry provides the stone that symbolizes the burden of abortion.

The rigged game is a lie too many of us have bought into and lost. The foundational lie behind the game is that we belong to ourselves. We think our bodies are ours to do with as we please—and we seek only to please ourselves.

What happens to the other is not our concern.

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Yet the game’s prize for all players is emptiness and a devaluing of our very souls. Every selfish act brings an eventual negative return. Every selfish act is a refusal to let God own us.

Young people convince themselves—or our culture has convinced them—that their sexual purity is of little value. And even our nation’s laws have told them that the result of their casual unions is inconsequential.

In the forty-six years since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion from conception until birth, uncommitted sex has destroyed the lives of 60 million unborn and countless adults.

David French once more: “An ethic that indulges [the sex] drive while also denying the emotional significance of sex will inevitably wreck lives. The wise person understands that desire — even mutual desire — can be dangerous. How many happily married men and women look back on the momentary temptations of the past and wish they’d indulged? How many are grateful that they had the self-discipline and moral character to refuse to do what — at that moment — they wanted to do?”

And how many still carry the burden of an unwise choice during a moment of temptation?

It’s time for society to admit that the sexual revolution is over and our ownership of self has been only destructive.

It’s time for us to give up the lie of the rigged game, to give ourselves back to God.

It’s time for us stop living for ourselves—and in so doing—to make our lives even better than we thought they could be.

Photo Credit: Jared Sluyter and Aaron Burden, respectively

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”