I marched Saturday in Austin.
I marched with a sober mind and spirit, with knowledge of the organizing group’s principles, and with humility. I marched as a follower of Jesus, and as a result, as one who values human life deeply. I marched as a feminist – as one who believes Jesus values a woman equally to a man.
In the past few days, I’ve read and heard varying viewpoints, opinions and thoughts surrounding the march. Some in favor, some against, some asking questions. But the conversation in my sphere is largely centering around the intersection of Christianity and women’s rights.
I hesitate to categorize any viewpoint into an either/or argument, a one-side-or-the-other argument. Because the reality is, while there may be two main schools of thought around women’s rights, and abortion specifically, there are countless nuances to both sides of the aisle. These countless nuances are informed by our individual perspectives, experiences and lenses in which we view the world.
Here’s the thing: I marched because I love Jesus, and because I value human life, not in spite of those beliefs.
I marched because I am pro-life for unborn children, and pro-life for their mothers who often feel desperate, alone, and like they have no choice. I am pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, pro-Muslim, pro-disabled, pro-LGBTQ community. I’m pro-women who have been abused, and pro-people of color. To me, being pro-life doesn’t only mean advocating for the rights of unborn children, although it certainly does include that. For me, pro-life means I am for all human life, especially those lives who are most vulnerable, most alienated and marginalized by our society.
As a result, I cannot be a single-issue voter in our current political climate. A vote either way is a vote for the rights of some, but not all. This election forced me to look deeper than one issue, to listen to different perspectives, to hold my current views up to the light and examine, test. What I found when I pressed deeper is that there are no easy answers, and very few (if any) black and white issues. I found that trying to sort millions of unique individuals, including myself, into one of two standard viewpoints just doesn’t work.
So, where does that leave us? How do we move forward? What does pressing deeper and engaging in these tough, messy issues look like in real, every day life?
I read a fascinating article yesterday about the systems the Obama administration put in place to sort and select the 10 pieces of mail that former President Obama would read each day. Over and over again, the staff interviewed for the article emphasized the importance of empathy. Part of practicing empathy was remembering that the letters represented people, not policy. Their stories were what mattered most, not whether they were pro-this or pro-that. Additionally, in responding to the letters, remembering that President Obama was a person, responding to an actual person, was paramount.
In thinking about how we move forward, that sounds like a great place to start.
I’m a person with a story. When I’m having a conversation with someone I disagree with, the temptation is to dehumanize. It’s easy, whether it’s intentional or not, to devalue their point of view simply because it’s different from mine. It’s more convenient to debate a policy; harder to converse with a person. I will be the first to confess I’m guilty of that.
But, the person I’m talking with is a person with a story as well. Just because we may not see eye to eye doesn’t make my story or my view any more or less valuable. Let’s remember that we’re real, complex people. All of us. We cannot be sorted into simplified stereotypes, labels, or political ideologies. The human soul goes much deeper than that.
It will take courage and vulnerability. It will take a willingness to step out of our comfort zones and enter into conversations that may be uncomfortable. It will take an increased capacity for admitting we don’t know it all. Practicing empathy is a high calling, but I think it’s one of the greatest gifts we can offer each other.
Listening, holding space, remaining in the tension when all you want to do is run – that may just be the first step to healing. It may be the first step to actually coming together, to learning to work together across beliefs and political views.
I believe, deep down, that we truly are more alike than we are different in our desire to care for people. We may all have different thoughts on how we get there, but I think the majority of us are desiring the same end: that all people would be valued equally regardless of weeks in the womb, age, sex, race, religion or ability.
Let’s choose to believe the best about each other. Let’s choose to see past the surface and go deeper to the heart of the matter.
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. Let’s allow different perspectives and beliefs to sharpen us, to make us wiser, to equip us, to fuel us toward effective solutions, to encourage us to actually go out and help the men, women and children who are far too often simply the subjects of our debate.
Let’s start with listening, empathy and love. With believing the best, and looking each other in the eye. With remembering that we’re people, talking to other people.
This is not the time to be silent. It’s not the time to remain in our silos, interacting only with like-minded people. Find someone who thinks differently, sit across from them, have a conversation, engage.
Let’s get to work.
A few perspectives I’ve found interesting the past couple days:
Do the pro-choice and pro-life movements really empower women? // Ali Kefalos Smith
Abortion and the Womens March // Erin Taylor Green
How to Disagree // Kid President (this kid. love him.)
On Being a Christian and a Feminist… and Belonging Nowhere // Sarah Bessey