As a female in her thirties, I've been witness to the evolution of shaming and oppressing women in America, and indeed the world round, for years. I have also watched the act of shaming women become exponentially more toxic and vicious throughout my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. I have seen women blamed for their own rapes because the clothing they chose to wear was "too provocative." I have witnessed the assignment of blame to women who, fearing for the safety and security of themselves and their children, didn't leave the spouse or partner at whose hands they suffered brutal beatings and painful verbal attacks. I've read of women persecuted by their contemporaries for having children and then making the choice to return to the workplace instead of staying at home.
Indeed, shaming women has become what some might call The Great American Pastime. In 2011, American women saw over 1,100 pieces of state legislation introduced that would have restricted the right to an abortion, and before the ball dropped to ring in the new year on January 1, 2012, 135 of them had been enacted. In addition to the staggering number of bills regarding abortion care that were introduced, in the last year women in at least seven states witnessed the defunding of Planned Parenthood affiliates, effectively removing access to valuable, life saving health care such as pap smears, breast exams, and STI testing. Women in at least 12 states were faced with the passing, or attempt at passing, legislation that would require transvaginal ultrasounds prior to receiving abortion care, despite the stark absence of medical evidence suggesting that such procedures provide any improvement in the quality of care a woman receives before terminating a pregnancy. And perhaps the most egregious development, a national debate about mandated insurance coverage for contraception was spawned when conservatives, religious leaders, and even radio talk show hosts asserted that access to contraception was a matter of morality and not medical necessity, and further, that contraception use was the hallmark of sluts and whores. So yes, you might say that I've seen my fair share of the shaming of women – and my guess is that you have too.
Considering these developments, it probably shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that when Faith Aloud's 40 Days of Prayer—a campaign of prayers meant to lift up the voices, hearts, and spirits of all people through peaceful prayers acknowledging God's love for women, men, their families, and their choices—caught the attention of the anti-choice community, the shaming would begin once more. This time though, women were being shamed and judged for praying. Irrelevant, apparently, is the fact that prayer is what some clergy call a biblical promise from God. No matter that prayer is a fundamental principle in the Christian faith that scripture repeatedly touts as an imperative component to living in a way congruent with God's love and direction, and that which believers should turn to in times of great difficulty and in times of great joy.
No, according to the anti-choice community, women who pray for safe abortion care, women who pray for the strength to make the best possible choices for themselves and their families, women who pray that violence against medical professionals committed to serving reproductive health needs will end, these prayerful women are apparently becoming a threat to Christian America by “praying for abortion.” And as has become the hallmark of the anti- choice community, they will resort to shaming women in any way possible in order to stop them from praying for their physical and emotional health. And so these anti-choice organizations and leaders have written blogs and filmed interviews alleging that the women who support 40 Days of Prayer are mocking the Christian faith. They call women and their supporters nasty and inflammatory names like "murderer" and accuse the groups, such as Faith Aloud, who actively support women and women's health, of being “propaganda machines” aiming to "trick" women into believing that abortion is an “easy” decision. In the most basic of interpretations, the anti-choice community has turned prayer into a weapon against those who mean to use it in the peaceful way that the Bible teaches us to.
In my experience studying and exploring both religion and theology from both an academic and personal perspective, I have learned that there are a great number of differences among the various sects of Christian faith, but that there are a great many similarities as well. That Christians share similar values across the board sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, and with it, the idea that there are important theological concepts that help people choose how they will personally worship and praise God. Some Christians, for instance, believe that we must grow humility in our hearts as a part of developing our faith in the Lord; some believe that we are called to make sacrifices to God and for God, by way of acts such as tithing philanthropic endeavors; many Christians accept the Bible and its teachings as God’s guide for making spiritually inspired moral decisions when faced with dilemma, specifically looking to scripture for words of comfort and direction; and indeed, many Christians believe that an important (if not imperative) part of cultivating spiritual faith and trust is the use of prayer to create a meaningful dialogue between oneself and God.
It is the Bible’s emphasis on prayer and its powerful role and impact on the relationship between a worshiper and God throughout scripture passages that seems to leave little ambiguity, regardless of what sect of Christian faith one identifies with, about how important the act of praying truly is in the Christian faith. The Bible’s scriptures, in fact, go beyond just soliciting the faithful to pray but also offer directives on how to do so. Consider Corinthians 14:15, for instance, which instructs the faithful, “What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also.” This scripture seems to leave no question about two things: First, that prayer can take on many forms, whether it is spoken, written, in our hearts and minds, or through song. Second, and perhaps most importantly, prayer is meant to be a dialogue with God that comes from the spirit and also our mind. God demands that we influence our spiritual dialogue with our intellectual one, clearly demonstrating that God trusts us to make moral decisions and impart our needs and desires to him through prayer.
And so, I have to wonder what it is about a woman praying and following this biblical directive to pray with her spirit and mind that threatens the anti-choice community so much so that it will go to such great lengths to rain untruths and a hateful campaign of rhetoric down upon an organization like Faith Aloud and the women and men who support it. What is it about the prayers of a woman like myself that attracts such negative and aggressively hateful attention from a community that claims over and over to be living and carrying out the word of God, often using the Bible as evidence of their mission?
I am 34 years old and was raised a Roman Catholic by two loving and devoutly Catholic parents who emphasized compassion, charity, goodness, and faith my entire life. I received the sacraments of baptism, penance, Eucharist, and confirmation as a child and adolescent in accordance with my Catholic education; I once received the Anointing of the Sick along with penance and Eucharist the night before a surgery to remove a tumor on my spine that was believed to be filled with cancer and that was suspected to likely lead to my early death. I taught the CCD/Catechism, to children in my church during my middle and high school years. I was surrounded by faithful and spiritual family and friends my entire life and I was encouraged to pray, ask God for guidance, and extend my love to those around me the way Jesus did in the Bible. I did all of that and yet, I still struggle with my spiritual faith and question the presence of God almost daily. My battle over my spirituality intensified last year when I endured a terrible trauma that robbed me of my closest friend to an unexpected illness.
Interestingly, however, in my darkest moments, I have turned to prayer and, at times, the church itself. I have found comfort in believing that there’s something more to all of this and beyond. I have found peace in entrusting my pain and anger to something greater than me. I have even enjoyed a calming energy in participating in mass. And, as we near the one year anniversary of my loss, I have found great joy and equanimity in the 40 Days of Prayer written and inspired by Rev Rebecca Turner and Faith Aloud. I find myself turning to prayer daily thanks to these devotions, and I feel a growing strength of spirit that has little to do with abortion or birth control and everything to do with being a proud woman looking for a solid foundation for my spiritual health in a time of great struggle. That I happen to also be a former abortion care nurse and that I happen to be pro-choice does not define me, the prayers shared by Faith Aloud, or my faith – it does, however, define those who seek to shame and disgrace me for using them. The definition of morality is a collection of principles offering distinction between good and bad behavior. Is it immoral to pray for the future of my family, or the safety of my countless health caregiver colleagues, or the strength of my friends faced with choosing what’s best for themselves and their families? No, simply stated, it is not. Not in my eyes and not in the eyes of my God.
In Matthew 5:43-44, we read, “You have heard that it was said, Love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I tell you: Love thy enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” And so, in response to the hateful speech and negativity of anti-choice organizations and leaders who fear my prayers, my vigor, and my commitment to both God and reproductive healthcare rights, I say this: In addition to these 40 Days of Prayer devotions, I will pray for YOU. I will pray that you come to know the God I know, the God who embraces us all and invites our prayers even when we know not what we should pray for. I will pray that you find compassion in your heart for all women, and especially for the women in your own life that may have already, or may in the future, be faced with a painful decision about pregnancy. I will pray that you begin to use prayer as an expression of thanks or in solemn requests to God rather than a weapon to humiliate and disgrace those who don’t share your “values.” I will ask my contemporaries and colleagues to pray for you too. So, right after I pray for abortion to remain safe and legal, right after I pray for the safety and wellness of the nurses and doctors who legally provide abortion care, right after I pray for the women who terminate pregnancies they desperately want but can’t keep because the pregnancy is causing life threatening/ending issues…. After all my prayers for compassionate and loving acceptance of all people, I will pray for YOU. I will pray for you because even those who insist on twisting God’s word and intentions deserve our prayer and compassion.
The Bible says so.