An Example of Why the Peace Movement is in Deep Trouble
by Rachel MacNair
Ego and Anger
Richard Rohr, OFM, is a Franciscan Friar, a prolific author, and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC), a CLN member group. One major point made by CAC is that if we take action on nonviolence without contemplation, there’s a danger we’ll bring in ego-centered thoughts and unconstructive anger – which could end up doing more harm than good.
Richard has also been for many years an endorser of our Consistent Life Mission Statement. As he put it:
If we do not have a seamless garment of justice that applies to all of our relationships and all of society, we will not be taken seriously on any individual hot-button issue. If we do not seek and pursue justice across the board, then any concerns for or against issues of abortion, homosexuality, immigration, women’s rights, prison reform, opposition to war, etc., should and will be seen as a small rag that has been torn from any clean or consistent cloth of thinking. It is seen as mere self-interest or angry moralizing.
Daily Meditation, November 19, 2010
Rachel at the CAC conference with a cardboard cut-out of Richard Rohr
The “Action” Part
I went to a CAC conference, “The Universal Christ,” on March 28-31, 2019. I expected there would be, as is normal with 2,300 attenders, a variety of opinions on the consistent life ethic, including people who’d never heard of it. Richard Rohr expounded on the contemplation aspect. Most of the comment on action and specific issues of inclusion came from the Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis, and she did an excellent job. Except for just a few deadly minutes.
In her first talk, she selected five areas of concern where people are being badly mistreated, and the first concerns that she mentioned I share.
Suddenly, she made a remark about how maybe government ought to more vigorously regulate Viagra and vasectomies – and said we knew where she was going with this.
Oh, yes. I knew. Her point was that if there are abortion regulations for women, then shouldn’t we also regulate medicine specific to men?
I’ve heard this astonishing non-sequitur many times. I’ve seen speakers think it was clever. Yet it completely ignores the actual point in contention. Given how thoughtful and well-reasoned the presentation had been up to this point, this sudden turn to sarcasm was by itself jarring to me.
She quoted Jim Wallis of Sojourners as saying he thought Trump was so bad that Christians couldn’t justify voting for him even for the sake of a set of issues he listed, one of which was abortion. This left a one-sided impression of what Jim thinks.
Jim is another endorser of our Mission Statement, and Sojourners is a member group. And Jim has indeed been quite exercised about Trump, as has Richard Rohr, along with several others of our endorsers (and me). But he also said, in a piece called Politically Homeless:
Moral issues of intrinsic concern to the faith community are often disregarded or disrespected by Democratic Party orthodoxy, which often takes extreme or overly strident views on issues like abortion. Many of us in the faith community regard abortion as a moral issue and part of a consistent ethic of life and seamless garment of concern for the many threats to human life and dignity. . . we find the Democrats even reluctant to make a commitment to reducing abortion by supporting women with health care, nutrition, and social services. Many in Democratic leadership don’t seem to want to talk about or even being willing to use the word “reduction” as a positive term in relation to abortion. . . . While a younger generation in the faith community is indeed more welcoming of LGBTQ people than their parents have been, they are not so welcoming of abortion as the Democratic elites seem to be, and the Democratic Party needs to figure that out.
Sojourners, January 4, 2018
Jacqui went on with the normal over-simplified rhetoric about how government shouldn’t have control over women’s bodies. As is customary, she was totally oblivious to what that assertion means: women who’ve felt traumatized by their abortions should be denied the right to petition their legislatures for a redress of their grievances. Their voices are discounted and excluded.
But then came the assertion that set my heart to pounding and put tears in my eyes: she said while she’d never had an abortion herself, if she had ever gotten pregnant and been told there was a disability, she’d want to talk to her pastor about it and didn’t want government interfering.
Dropped into the middle of a presentation stressing the importance of being inclusive of everybody, she expressed intense bigotry against people with disabilities. I’d say one can’t get much more bigoted than proclaiming it’s acceptable to chop a child into pieces just because she has an unspecified disability. And this was her only mention of people with disabilities.
Oh, but it’s worse. When she said this, she got applause from the crowd.
I was suddenly struck with this fear: Trump may win re-election because so many anti-Trump people are deliberately making themselves unattractive to tender-hearted people who are grieved over massive violence to millions of babies.
In a speech on inclusiveness, she had also deliberately excluded, by not even acknowledging that they exist, an entire category of human beings: unborn children. This is a category that every human being ever born has once fit into.
I fear greatly that the practical effect of this kind of inconsistency, shared by many in the crowd and in the country, will benefit Trump. I think a good case could be made that Trump would never have won the first election without it.
There were no literature tables, no leafleting allowed (I put a handful of our leaflets on one table where others had put theirs), and in the one short Q & A I was never able to get to the microphone in that huge crowd. I did have lengthy conversations with a staff person, who was sympathetic but couldn’t offer me any method of redress beyond one-on-one conversations, and he accepted the two books I offered to donate for CAC’s staff library.
In Jacqui’s second session, she apologized if she had offended anybody. This at least had the advantage of communicating lack of unanimity.
But she wanted to clarify her position. Her position was stated more humbly this time. But the apology was thereby turned into an opportunity to have yet more stage time for a “pro-choice” position. Unchallenged.
Genetic testing was mentioned, but the bulk was the normal argument about how women need a choice.
The case I’d make (if I had a chance) is that this assertion actually helps patriarchy, by implying the absurd idea that only women who freely choose abortions are having them. It lets off the hook men who are pressuring, threatening, dictating, or withdrawing support. It helps them to do so self-righteously.
I think the crowd was full of people who hadn’t thought about that point, and would benefit greatly from having it brought to their attention. Instead, we had a bandwagon.
This leads to another observation: the stark contrast between her abortion comments and the rest of what she said. She was normally speaking her own words, well thought out and innovative. Not words you’d expect from just anybody, but what she herself says. Yet on abortion, she was using other people’s words. I know because I’ve heard them. Over and over. For decades. With such oversimplification, she struck me as stepping out of character.
Without contemplation – either individual reflection or group discussion – there’s a danger of ego-centered thoughts and unconstructive anger.
Is it ego-centered to declare the right not to give birth to a child with disabilities? What does this do to inclusiveness for born children and adults with disabilities? What does it say to the millions of people worldwide who regard being female as a disability?
Is it unconstructive anger to demand that tender-hearted people vote differently, scolding them for regarding their concern as most important, when one hasn’t spent time to understand where their angst is coming from?
Of course, I also fall prey to the ego-and-anger problem – I think we all do. But CAC is right to point out the dangers are very real.
I’m also not implying that the Democrats would be OK if only their abortion position changed. After all, Obama presided over modernizing nuclear weapons and civilian-killing drones. But Trump is on people’s minds now as a major threat to peace, justice, and inclusion.
One word I’d use for a small bit of something toxic in a large positive set of justice proposals is poison. For so long, the abortion issue has been poison in the midst of peace advocacy. I think this incident is yet another illustration of this.
Dr. Lewis Responds
Editor’s Note: Dr. Lewis was sent a pre-publication copy of this post and asked if she wished to offer thoughts. Here is her response in full:
“Rachel, it seems you disagree with me. I am pro-life and pro-choice and here is my talk: https://www.facebook.com/CenterforActionandContemplation/videos/427055894770821/. Thank you.”