I went to my first several nonprofit leadership seminars totally unaware of people’s perception of the work I did. I was proud of our pregnancy counseling agency, as I thought we were trying very hard not to take political sides in the abortion debate, but instead offer real help to women and children. But the other Executive Directors of local nonprofits didn’t see it that way.
As soon as I said the words “Christian, unplanned pregnancy and abortion,” their demeanor shifted. I wanted to engage them, to see if our organizations could partner together or refer for services, but they weren’t interested. Most of them didn’t even ask about our services, which I thought was strange. Instead, they got a bit cooler and changed the topic of the conversation. After a few of these encounters, I got the impression they were just lumping me into whatever stereotype they had of “pro-life people.”
I got a bit defensive. How did they know how our organization treated women? Did they really think I was like the people who hold up graphic signs in front of abortion clinics?
And what about their pro-choice position? Didn’t that mean they favored abortion in any situation, at any point in the pregnancy? How were they really helping women and children?
By the time I attended my third workshop, I was solidly in this defensive posture. So when a fellow leader started questioning me about how we interacted with women, I shot back, “So you’re telling me your answer is just to promote abortion.” The whole table went silent. And she coolly replied, “No, that’s not what I’m saying. You’re making a big assumption about how I interact with women just because I’m pro-choice.”
My face went hot with shame. I mumbled some sort of apology and retreated into silence for the rest of the conversation.
Because I knew what I had done. In my defensiveness, I had done the same thing to her that I thought other leaders were doing to me. I had lumped her into a stereotype without really taking the time to hear her views, or the services her organization provided to women.
I repented from that, asking God to help me approach this topic in a way that would be more consistent with his heart and his character. Over the next several years, he allowed me to meet and develop relationships with people at all points on the political spectrum. And he opened my eyes to the hurt, the misconceptions, and the lack of trust that surfaces when we try to talk about abortion with people who have different views than we do.
That’s why the first two weeks of this ProGrace Experience are all about listening. Last week, we asked people to comment on their perceptions of the Christian response to unplanned pregnancy and abortion. How was that experience for you? Did you find yourself getting defensive at any point in the conversation? Did anything they said make you stop and consider how we have been responding to this issue? And if maybe we could do a better job of communicating God’s heart of compassion for both women and children?
This week, we will be asking people to share their views on the topic. Again, the goal is to pick someone you think has a very different opinion from you, just listen to them and try to understand where they are coming from. We won’t be jumping in with our position, even if what they say makes us cringe. And even more than understanding their views, we want to try and understand why they hold those views.
Ask them when they first started thinking and feeling this way about abortion? Was it based on a personal experience?
One of the most powerful conversations I had like this was with a pro-choice doctor who told me, “I am an ob/gyn, and I have been deeply impacted by delivering many babies where the parents are obviously neglectful. The mom will be on her cell phone and the dad out in the hall doing whatever and I say, ‘I’m going to stand here and hold this baby until someone is ready to show it some love.’ If a child is so unwanted, they are much more likely to be abused. And that breaks my heart.” This doctor is also a loving parent and foster parent.
I don’t have to agree with someone’s stance on abortion to respect them. I can respect how they came to their views while still holding strongly to my own. But I can’t stay the same once I hear their story. The Holy Spirit comes in and helps me see them through his eyes. That’s my prayer for us as we listen to people this week.