Being Christian and Being Pro-life Look The Same

There’s been a certain amount of solemn nonsense going around about what it means to truly live a Christian live and evangelize. Are hot button issues talked about too much or not enough? Do we emphasize the message that Jesus came to save us, or is proselytizing not meeting people where they are? Is what we really need to do as Christians just serve those I need and let our actions speak for themselves, or is that turning the Church into an NGO rather than the conduit of Christ’s gospel?

Myself, I don’t think our new pope’s messages have been that hard to follow if one reads them in context, but certainly there has been both a lot of worry and a lot of people attempting to rub other Catholics noses in things they image they won’t like.

Francis is a concrete thinker, it seems to me, and perhaps it works best to point to a concrete example. I read this piece by Abby Johnson the other day and it seemed to me that it summed up how evangelizing, pro-life activity and serving those most in need are not competing interests, but one “seamless” package of what it means to live out the Christian message:

One night over dinner, a friend of mine told me that he had seen a very pregnant homeless woman on the corner of a busy Austin intersection. I knew the intersection he was referring to…there is a huge non-denominational church on the corner. I felt confident that she had probably received some assistance from them. Maybe they were in the process of trying to help her find resources.

One of the friends with us at dinner, Heather, is the executive director of the Austin Coalition for Life, a non-profit group who holds daily vigils outside of Austin’s four abortion clinics. Their goal is to connect abortion-minded women with pregnancy resources in the area to help them choose life for their child. I was about to deliver my own baby any day, so I was limited with what I could do to reach out to this woman. Heather said she would continue to go by the intersection until she found her.

After several days of unsuccessful attempts, Heather was finally able to connect with her. She explained that there were several pro-life agencies in town that could help her with housing both before and after her baby was born. They could also help with expenses, pre and post natal care, labor and delivery, food, clothing, and all of her other basic needs. She talked to her for a long time and found out that she was running from an abusive relationship and was trying to protect her unborn child from the father.

Heather’s next question was a pretty obvious one … had the megachurch a few hundred feet away offered to help her? Instead of asking the woman and putting her on the spot, Heather decided to go and ask the church if they knew anything about the woman. She was startled at the response. “Well, one of our members took her to the Target Café to share the Gospel with her.” So, no material assistance was offered for her or her baby? No resources offered for where she could receive assistance? No phone calls made to maternity homes or pro-life groups in the area? “No,” the woman responded. “Just the meeting at Target to talk about the Lord.”

Well, isn’t that fantastic. I’m sure the Gospel will help her find a hospital to deliver her baby in. I’m sure the Gospel will help her with food to nourish her body during the last few weeks of her pregnancy. I’m sure the Gospel will help keep her safe from harm as she sleeps outside night after night.

Their answer made me disgusted. How can we expect to nourish someone spiritually when their physical needs aren’t met? How can we expect someone to be receptive to the Gospel when they go physically hungry during the day? How can we expect someone to believe in the power of Christ when they don’t know if they will be forced to deliver their baby in alley somewhere? This is Christianity? This is how we treat those in need of help? Certainly not. That is not what faith is about. James clearly states that “faith without works is dead.” What is faith if we are not willing to step out of our comfort zone and get our hands dirty in service to Christ? We are called to be the “hands and feet of Christ,” right? That means service to those who need him … not just words … actions.

This is what it’s all about. And I think it does a great job of underlining the way in which much of the great work that people in the pro-life movement do is helping those in need (both the unborn and their mother’s) and is evangelization. This is not a focus on “small minded rules”, and it is meeting people where they are.

I don’t think that Pope Francis would ever suggest that these pro-life advocates were emphasizing the wrong things in their work. And they clearly are doing a better job of bringing Christ’s love into people’s lives than the folks who took a pregnant homeless woman out for Coffee to tell her about Jesus but didn’t do anything to actually help her out. That is when proselytizing becomes “solemn nonsense”.

9 Responses to Being Christian and Being Pro-life Look The Same

  • I doubt if Pope Francis meant much of anything when he declaimed that proselytizing is “solemn nonsense”. It was a throw away line in response to the atheist journalist who said that his friends feared that the Pope would try to convert him. That is precisely the problem. The Pope seems to me to be big on throw away lines, when he is speaking off the cuff, without much thought behind them. Then Catholics spend endless hours debating words that the Pope probably didn’t spend a minute thinking about. We have a Pope who is careless with words without a prepared text. Until we have more concrete actions from him, it is useless to argue about what his words in informal settings mean and attempt to fit them into the pattern of Catholic teaching.

  • Mike Petrik says:

    It seems that in many circles the “solemn nonsense” line is being explained away by a definitional distinction between evangelization (good) and proselytization (bad). While at first blush it appeared to me that the distiniction relies on a rather idiosyncratic definition of proselytization, apparently that term carries with it a pejorative tone that informs a commonly understood meaning that escapes standard dictionaries. Perhaps, but it all seems weird to me.

    I’m more troubled by associating the word “obsession” with “abortion.” I wonder how the Holy Father would feel about associating “obsession” with “the holocaust.” I mean, can one be excessively critical or judgmental about genocide? I don’t for a minute believe that the Holy Father really means to suggest that abortion is not that big a deal, but his words are vulnerable to such a suggestion, and imprudently so in my view.

  • Darwin says:

    I would posit that most people mean things when they say something. Personally, it’s always struck me as pretty easy to understand what the Holy Father seems to be getting at, though I understand the frustration of people who are bothered by his tendency to talk casually and imprecisely. If I were to advise a pope on how to speak, Pope Francis’s style is not what I’d recommend. But that’s in part simply because it’s not my style or my culture.

    That said, to the extent that there’s confusion (or in the case of liberal Catholics, misinformation and deception) about what the pope says, I think there’s a value in orthodox Catholics doing what they can to control the message. If all that’s heard from faithful Catholics is “Who knows what the pope means here” and a lot of worrying about the pope putting the 70s liberals back in charge of the Church — then we basically cede the message game to those liberals and their agenda of distorting Church teachings. So while I have a lot of respect for guys like Dale Price, who’s written movingly about the way that he’s felt unsettled by various things the pope has said and the way they’re being interpreted by the wider culture, my own approach is probably going to be to continue pounding what I think is clearly the real message the pope is working on — and not ceding that ground to the liberals who want to turn this into a “victory lap”.

  • Art Deco says:

    Darwin, I think we are going to discover that the Pope’s statements in black letters given the delicate condition of the Church matter less than what you take to be so much static. For one thing, one set of intermediaries is the parish clergy, who are amply studded with people who wanted to ‘do ministry’ but are lackadaisical about content and, truth be told, heretical. The clergy is also amply studded with company men. There is nothing wrong with company men in the right circumstances. In these circumstances, they may prove troublesome. (What’s the most salient reason liturgical practice in most places is suck-o? The man behind the alter).

  • “I would posit that most people mean things when they say something.”

    True. My point is that this was a phone conversation and the Pope was obviously winging it. He wanted to deny an effort to convert the 89 year old atheist and he said the first thing that came into his mind. I doubt it went much deeper than that. Many people express themselves fairly clumsily without a prepared text and I think Pope Francis is in that category. I think Father Lombardi’s bizarre comment about getting the general sense of what the Pope is saying and not looking for a word for word parsing was an admission of this current fact of papal life.

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2013/10/06/popewatch-father-lombardi-explains-it-all/

  • Micha Elyi says:

    My point is that this was a phone conversation and the Pope was obviously winging it. He wanted to deny an effort to convert the 89 year old atheist and he said the first thing that came into his mind.

    Donald R. McClarey

    I winced when I heard the Pope’s remark because I’d rather he’d have said yes I’m trying to convert him. I’ve been weak myself, though, just as Pope Francis was in that phone conversation. But I expected a man who has been a priest, a Jesuit, a bishop, a cardinal and is now a Pope to have better skills at catching and fielding such a lob from the press. Sigh.

    What would Cardinal Arinze have replied? Double sigh.

  • Darwin says:

    FWIW, I don’t necessarily agree with:

    He wanted to deny an effort to convert the 89 year old atheist and he said the first thing that came into his mind. I doubt it went much deeper than that.

    I don’t think that the pope wanted to deny that he was trying to convert Scalfari, but was actually trying to make a distinction between a kind of “talking at” attempt at conversion versus a “talking with” attempt. I’ve got basically three reasons for this:

    1) He gestured at a distinction between proselytizing and evangelizing.
    2) This would tie in with other comments that he’s made about the importance of a type of evangelizing which involves meeting people where they are and understanding them as an essential first step of the process.
    3) Later in the interview he tries a couple different ways to get Scalfari to admit that the convictions that he does possess actually amount to something akin to belief in God (which if we take Aquinas’s five proofs for the existence of God as a guide is a good first step towards building belief.)

    So I think he did have a real point and a fairly deep one — however, what does seem to be fairly characteristic of Francis (and what I think Lombardi was pointing out in the interview you link to) is that he has a very casual and somewhat telegraphic way of expressing his ideas. He most certainly does not have the precision and thoroughness of Benedict XVI and John Paul II (which I dearly miss.)

  • Foxfier says:

    While at first blush it appeared to me that the distinction relies on a rather idiosyncratic definition of proselytization, apparently that term carries with it a pejorative tone that informs a commonly understood meaning that escapes standard dictionaries. Perhaps, but it all seems weird to me.

    Thank you!

    Trying to figure out how to explain the implication– which, you’re right, doesn’t really show up on paper– a lightbulb came on over my head.
    The Pope’s whole thing is informality, right? Bypassing the stuff that gets between him and normal folks– much to the consternation of the folks who care about him, like his body guards… or random Catholics trying to prevent sometimes-willful misunderstandings….

    I like precision in theology, but some folks find it off-putting. He’s not too precise in his “getting folks relaxed and to start talking” mode.

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