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Why Support a Religion That Shames You? Pro-Choice Religious Group Offers Alternative

Religious faith should give us strength and confidence, not guilt and shame.
 
 
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 “Today we pray for women for whom pregnancy is not good news, that they know they have choices.”

“Today we pray for the men in our lives, that they may offer their loving kindness and support for women’s difficult decisions.”

“Today we pray for Christians everywhere to embrace the loving model of Jesus in the way he refused to shame women.”

Above are some of the individual components of the “40 Days of Prayer,” a series composed by the Rev. Rebecca Turner, a United Church of Christ minister, and the head of Faith Aloud, a pro-choice religious organization based in St. Louis, Missouri. Turner originally wrote these prayers to counter religious-based protests against women's rights to choose abortion. For some years, the “40 Days of Prayer” were used in various ways by clinics but ignored by the anti-choice movement. However, recently when a clinic in northern California reprinted the prayers in a brochure, the movement took notice, and Turner’s prayers—and by extension, the concept of a religiously-based prochoice group—drew much attention from the religious right, including interviews by Fox News and Focus on the Family, and follow up stories in various anti-choice publications.

Below is an interview I conducted with Rev. Turner about her organization, the 40 Days of Prayer, and the reactions of opponents of abortion when news of her activities went viral.

What is Faith Aloud?

Faith Aloud is an interfaith nonprofit organization with a history of 30 years of pro-choice activism. Our mission is to eliminate the religious stigma of abortion and sexuality. We train clergy to talk to women about their pregnancy choices and we receive calls from women all over the country as well as internationally. We also provide spiritual resources for abortion clinics to use to help their religious patients.

Most women in the US identify as religious, and those seeking abortion are no different. Our resources, created by clergy of several faith groups, offer support to women during times of distress.

Why did you write the 40 Days of Prayer?

I wrote some prayers and offered them to abortion providers to use whenever and however they wanted to. We've since made a full poster of the prayers that is on the walls in many clinics across the country. We were angered by the swarms of protesters that regularly took siege of abortion clinics and would hurl hateful remarks at the women arriving. As a Christian minister, I was especially angered that most of these protesters who were so hateful and judgmental actually call themselves Christian. I wanted women to know that many Christians are compassionate and supportive, and to help them find strength in their religious faith instead of condemnation.

I also wanted to give spiritual support to the other people [affected] by the daily barrage of hate -- the clinic staff and escorts. Few people know what they go through every day because of their dedication to women. And few people understand that many of them-doctors, counselors, administrators-are deeply religious people themselves who have often felt rejected by their faith communities. This is wrong. I feel that I am a pastor to many of the abortion providers who use our services. Religious faith should give us strength and confidence, not guilt and shame. I have never understood why anyone would support a religion that shames and judges and ridicules its own members. That is abusive behavior and should not be tolerated in any setting.

Tell more about your mindset as you wrote the prayers.

I wrote all of the prayers in one day. I thought about women's reproductive lives, the difficulties of being female, the choices we make, the relationships we have, the various people who work with pregnant women, and I prayed for them all. Many websites are claiming that we're praying for more abortions, which is silly. They can read the prayers and see that isn't the case. Most of the prayers are really all about women and their reproductive lives. We pray for gender discrimination to cease. We pray for women who are abused. We pray for women who are infertile. We pray for women to have confidence. How can they be upset by this? Really I think the only objection to these prayers comes from a deep misogyny that refuses to acknowledge women as autonomous beings with their own spiritual lives.

How would you characterize the main reactions you have received since this flurry of publicity?

The media to date has been from anti-choice groups, so most of the people calling and writing to us are their constituents. They are quite hostile, usually rambling, callers are often screaming. They accuse us of pretending to be ministers or Christians. They accuse us of baby-murdering. Emails quote a lot of scripture and tell us we're going to burn in hell. We have had some new supporters find us through this, though. And we've begun a campaign called "Hate-into-Love" which allows our supporters to pledge donations for each hostile contact we receive.

Why do you think the 40 Days of Prayer has hit such a nerve with the Right, once they became aware of it?

They claim they think it's a mockery of the 40 days for Life campaign, but I don't think there is any mockery in it. The prayers are quite sincere. Apparently the religious right does not believe that anyone is allowed to pray except those who believe as they do. This is not a biblical idea; it is pure arrogance. The Christian scriptures say "Judge not, lest you be judged" and yet these people want to judge us as "fake" or "delusional" or even "possessed." One person who called us after the news broke asked "Are you planning to get groups of people to rally at abortion clinics to pray your prayers?" My answer was "The people inside the clinics are praying every day." Prayer does not belong to one group of people. But this seems to be the source of the outrage, that we dare to pray. It is apparently a very scary proposition to them that women might hear a compassionate religious voice and feel strengthened instead of weakened.

What have reactions to this campaign been in the pro-choice community?

A few pro-choice [organizations] have helped to pass along the information about our "Hate-into-Love" campaign and have re-posted the stories. We're getting pledges from around the country. We've been gaining a lot of new Facebook friends [who] learned about us through the negative media.

Do you think this community is more open now than in the past to a religious presence, such as that offered by Faith Aloud?

The independent abortion provider community has always been very welcoming of spirituality, seeing it as an important part of a woman's life and her decisions. But there is an element of the pro-choice community that is less supportive, seeing religion as the problem rather than a part of the solution, and really I can't blame them for feeling that way. They've been threatened and attacked and shamed by religious zealots. But, as I mentioned, most of the women in the United States call themselves religious or spiritual, and so we need to help them use their faith for strength during difficulty. It shouldn't be about we need, but what women need making difficult decisions.

In the several days that news of the “40 Days of Prayer” has gone viral, you have received much hate mail. Have you received anything from any anti-choice individual or group that suggests some common ground?

No. The hate mail tends to fall into these camps "You have no right to call yourself a Christian or pray" or "I'm praying for God's vengeance on you." We're getting some love mail, too, with people finding us for the first time and saying thank you for being a religious voice of compassion and reason.

Carole Joffe is professor of sociology at the University of California-Davis, and a senior fellow at the Longview Institute.
 
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