HERALD OF HOPE
BISHOP JEFFREY R. HAINES
Pro-Life Movement Needs One-On-One Encounters
I used to think that the Pro-Life movement was all about advocacy — things like gathering for Pro-Life rallies and marches, electing leaders in government sympathetic to the Pro-Life cause, lobbying for legislation promoting limitations and restrictions on funding for abortion or even passing a broad-based Human Life Amendment. In my mind, that was the priority of the Pro-Life movement. And, I still believe in the importance of such efforts. They are critical. We who value life with the utmost respect can never stop working for this and never rest from such efforts.
Yet, I now believe that there is another priority that is just as vital and perhaps even more so. There is a vital need to interact with women facing a crisis pregnancy or other related life issues on a one-by-one basis.
One of the ways I learned this was during my visits to the growing number of Pro-Life Centers of Care for Women in our area (e.g., Women’s Support Center, Life’s Connection, Women’s Care Center, Milwaukee Birthright, etc.). There, I discovered the daily work done to respect life. I learned that it was not enough just to change laws; it’s about changing lives. The Pro-Life movement is not just about advocacy. It is about empowerment. It’s about providing the programs, the services, and the support to help women say “yes” to life.
One of the things that struck me about this insight was deeply rooted in my faith. As a Catholic and Christian – and someone who has studied a lot of Biblical theology – I noticed how this one-by-one approach in reaching out to women is exactly the approach that Jesus Christ took in his mission when he was here on this earth. When you think about it, there were many ways Jesus could have chosen to accomplish his mission of converting people to his cause. When you come right down to it, it would have been a lot easier if he had chosen a very broad and comprehensive way to do so.
He could have chosen to fulfill his mission of conversion in a political manner. After all, he had a lot of encounters with the Sanhedrin of Judah and even a famous meeting with the Roman Procurator, Pontius Pilate. He declined to do that.
Or, Jesus also could have selected a military option to win people to his cause. Consider the fact that one of his disciples was even a Zealot. The Zealots were rebels, and their primary goal was to overthrow the Roman Empire by force. Hence, Jesus could have applied his power in massive wave of might – first conquering Israel and then on to the rest of the world. He did not choose such an option.
Jesus never pursued a means of creating a tidal wave of support that would win people to his way. In fact, there is a scene in Chapter 6 in the Gospel of John, after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, when Jesus noticed that there was talk among some people about making him king. Jesus’ response was rather dramatic. He ran away and hid. That was not the means he wanted to use to bring people to God.
Rather, Jesus chose to reach out to people one by one – healing, giving hope, forgiving, teaching, affirming and, most of all, caring. It was all about changing hearts. That is how he brought people to God.
Interesting enough, that also was the approach he chose when training his disciples to carry on his mission after he left this world. In the missionary discourse to the 12 in Matthew, Mark and Luke — and, even more clearly in the missionary discourse to the 72 in the Gospel of Luke — there are three simple components to the mission: to bring peace, to heal and to proclaim the Kingdom of God.
Those three components happen to be the same ones that made up the way that Jesus approached his mission. I would like to suggest that those three components characterize the work of Pro-Life Centers of Care for Women in our area.
The very environment of these Centers of Care are imbued with peace. The setting is much more like a house or a home than an institution. And the way that the mentors and caregivers treat the women who come is with gentleness and tenderness. The values of these Centers of Care are expressed in words like safety, nurturing, compassion, unconditional support, education, health and well-being.
The Centers of Care for Women also embody the second of the instructions of Jesus for mission: healing. This is accomplished through the gracious offer of medical means, with advice on health, testing and referrals to doctors. But, healing also comes in the form of education. Counseling provided for individuals and/or families can serve as a soothing balm.
Yet another form of healing which comes through the Centers of Care are those “helps” which address some of the very practical problems of a crisis pregnancy or of life. Assistance is offered for such things as telling parents about a pregnancy, speaking with the child’s father, dealing with medical bills, addressing the matter of a job, helping with the question of finishing school, answering the question of place to live, or responding to the need for things like food and clothing. Sometimes it is the very practical issues of life that vex us all. How healing it must be to know the reassurance that comes from the Centers of Care that literally rescue women from such worries and concerns.
3. Kingdom of God
Then there is the third of the instructions of the mission of Jesus: the Kingdom of God. The Centers of Care for Women proclaim that, too – though they don’t do it in a proselytizing manner. There is no intention to push or force faith on anyone. Rather, the essence of the Kingdom of God is conveyed not in words but deeds. When Jesus preached about the Kingdom, it was about the Spirit of God being made manifest. Through his actions, he showed that the Spirit of God was entering our world by entering our hearts. That Spirit is Love. The Spirit of Love animates everything which happens when you contact one of the Centers of Care for Women.
And, so, that is why I now look at the work of the Pro-Life cause in new ways. I do not want to diminish the importance of the work of advocacy. Such legal and legislative efforts remain very important and truly necessary. But, as St. Paul the Apostle often notes, the law does not have the power to save. The law prevents harm and protects things we value. But, there is no means by which the law can fulfill itself.
The law cannot save; only the Spirit can. It is precisely the Spirit – love made real and tangible in the midst of daily life – that the Centers for the Care of Women for Women in our area are all about. Places like the Women’s Support Center, Life’s Connection, Women’s Care Center, Milwaukee Birthright and others reach out with care and compassion, one by one, changing lives – and saving them.