I had no idea where this conversation was going when she asked me this question.
She saw that I was reading a Bible and we had a short conversation of what we did for a living, and really this question came out of nowhere.
She used to go to church a lot, but just stopped going because it was no longer her priority and she felt comfortable with the idea of not going to church.
When she learned that I was a pastor, she nodded and there’s always that awkward silence as if the person needs to now watch what s/he needs to say.
Then she asked a very loaded question. Something that’s very divisive in the Christian community.
“So, as a pastor, what do you think about abortion? Where do you stand?”
It kind of caught me off-guard.
I took a long sip of my coffee to buy time to assess the whole situation and play the possible outcomes of my response and also try to figure out if there was a motive behind this question.
To buy more time, I asked: “Honestly?”
“Please,” she replied.
And I said to myself, oh what the hell. I’ll just be completely honest.
I warned, “You probably won’t like my answer or think that it’s a cop out.”
“It’s okay. I just never really talked to a pastor for a long time, and I just want an opinion of one.”
Oh great. No pressure at all.
So, I begin to explain what I really believed in.
This is basically what I said (and believe):
I personally feel that I shouldn’t label myself as a conservative/fundamentalist/evangelistic or liberal/progressive. I honestly believe that it all depends on the issue. I think that some issue requires me to be the so called “evangelical” and other issues makes me a so-called “liberal” but those are all labels and labels are not one-size fit all. I’ve been stereotyped and labeled all my life being a minority, so maybe that’s where this resistance to being affiliated with one side bothers me.
But, to your question to where I stand on abortion, I can only respond: both.
I do believe that life begins at conception. I believe that abortion should be the very, very, very, very, very last resort and that life should be protected. But at the same time, it’s the woman’s body and ultimately her decision. I feel that as a pastor, my job is to be love and to love regardless of what the decision is.
I don’t believe demonizing those who choose abortion and the radicals who bomb abortion clinics help the situation or the debate. And it doesn’t help the debate when pro-choice people demonize or belittle the other group. Name calling leads us to nowhere.
I love what Mother Teresa said. She basically said, “Give me the child. I want that child.”
I think that’s an action of love, and I think that’s the most important aspect we forget when we debate over issues: love. As cliche-ish this may sound to you, I choose love. By that I mean, that woman needs a LOT of love when she is confronted with this decision. I don’t think I have enough courage and strength to say: give me that child, but I know that I can say that there is nothing on this earth, no powers, no depths, no heights, that not even death or life can separate us from God’s love. The only thing I can try to do well is to be the embodiment of God’s love and grace. Let those who want to debate, debate. But that woman is in need. She’s in need whether she goes through with the abortion or not. And I believe that the Church should be there loving her and helping regardless, because God will love her regardless.
And then there was this long awkward silence.
Why isn’t she saying anything?
I pretended to take a sip of coffee, even though I finished it with that sip earlier to buy myself time.
“… and you?” I asked with uncertainty.
She just smiled and said, “Thank you for your honesty. I don’t know if I agree with you completely, but I believe your right in saying that the woman needs love and support at the beginning of the process, during the process and at the end of the process, regardless of her decision.”
“Why did you ask me the question to begin with?” I had to know. No one really asks a stranger that kind of loaded question. Right?
“It’s just that I don’t like the Christians I’ve been running into. It has affirmed my decision of not going to church. Since you were a pastor, I don’t know, may be I can gauge a section of the Christian community with your answer.”
“Oh, sure no pressure there. And, uh… as a minority, can I just add, that’s sorta stereotyping?”
“OH! I know! I’m sorry. Leave it to a white person to stereotype, huh?”
“Not really. We all do it. You guys just do it more. I’m just kidding.”
She stayed a bit longer and we talked about all sorts of things from her experiences of church to my experiences of church. After about an hour, she said to me, “You know, I can’t promise you much. But this Sunday, I think I’ll try to stop by my old church. It’s been a while since I’ve been, and I think it might be nice. Thank you for that.”
“Thank you for sharing your story. And when you go to church, say hello to God for me.” (Yes. I’m that corny and stupid).
By far, that was the sweatiest time I have spent at a coffee shop.
But I was really thankful that she was open and honest which allowed me to be open and honest.
If anything, this conversation just affirmed that we can talk about the most divisive issues openly without demonizing or labeling groups of people who think different from us.
I was wary, nervous and scared when she first asked me because of my other experiences in which someone asks me a question like that, and I say something and they hijack my response and try to teach me the Way to Salvation. But I’m glad that God was in the midst of our conversation and that we were able to teach one another about where we come from and what we believe and how we perceive the world.
And I really do hope that she stopped by her church the following Sunday.