Welcome to ProGrace on Abortion: Real Talk, No Politics. I'm Angela Weszely, CEO and co-founder of ProGrace. We are a community of people who want to have the conversation around abortion. Now, it's not currently happening in our churches because there's so much tension around the debate, and having a civil conversation is hard. The church is divided, but it's time to come together. And the way we'll do that is to model our approach after Jesus, not politics. If you feel like you don't really belong in either the pro-life or pro-choice camp, and you think surely Jesus has a better way, then welcome to the pro grace community, a place you can belong.
Hi and welcome to episode one. If you find yourself listening to this podcast, my guess is it's because you don't feel quite at home in either the pro-life or pro-choice camp as things are rolling out. Actually as I'm recording this, we are almost to the one year anniversary of Roe versus Wade being overturned. And what I've seen with that is an upheaval of sorts in the church. Maybe currents that were under the surface became apparent after Roe was overturned. And we're now living in an era, almost a year in of figuring out how are we really going to address this? And if you're like me, you may have a framework of only seeing Christians address this through politics.
So I grew up in the 80s in the Midwest, and that's what I've seen. And actually still today as I'm in this work, I still see most Christians usually talking about certain subjects when they're addressing abortion. And the first is the political, which is the question, should it be legal or not? And oftentimes that goes right along with the theological question Christians have. Is it moral or not? So those things go together.
Secondly, I see when Christians are more engaged in directly trying to help people who are having this experience, they want to know what do we say to a woman? And some Christians will say, "Should we tell her not to have an abortion? Do we tell her it's wrong? How do we do this?" Now, the common denominator with all these questions is they focus on things outside of us and outside of us individually and outside of us corporately as the church. And so the reason we've called this podcast Real Talk, No Politics is because we want to start to have a different type of conversation that doesn't focus so much on outside of us.
I will say that's an important conversation to have and we may have guests on the podcast later who that's their specialty. But in terms of where I'm coming from, where ProGrace is coming from and where this podcast is coming from, it's going to be talking about us, so us individually as well as us as the Christian community. And it's because of what Jesus says in Matthew 7:3-5. I'm going to read it because I love it so much. He says, "Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'let me take the speck out of your eye,' When all the time there is a plank in your own eye. You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
So personally, I don't want Jesus to call me a hypocrite, and I really like how he lived his life and how he demonstrated what the father is like, and I want him to be my model. So that's what we'll be doing in this podcast is asking ourselves some different questions. So we'll look at what do we need to do differently, which will mean looking at some things we've done wrong and we'll look at my own personal experience as well as data and statistics and stories from other people. Where has the church gone wrong and how we've addressed this? We'll also look at what are the consequences of only having a political approach.
So it's cost the church that our main response has been political, and we'll look at those. We'll talk about what stereotypes we're creating when we use those words describe ourselves, pro-life or pro-choice, we may mean one thing when we say them, but other people hear something different. And that's really important about communication. Not that I get to say what I want to say, but what I mean to say is heard by the other person. And that's not happening. When we have political conversations.
Another question we'll ask ourselves is, how are we part of a culture or a community that people are living in? And so many of them think they have no other option besides abortion, like what's going on with what we're creating as a community that doesn't feel supportive for people who are pregnant at a time when they didn't plan to be? We'll talk about why we don't talk about this in our churches and we'll have pastors on and different people who can talk about why this is so difficult. We'll also look at why congregants, so people in our own churches don't open up to us either before an abortion decision or after that decision and what we can do to change that. And then we'll also look at the implications for younger generations of Christians.
So I'm Gen X, but we'll look at millennials and Gen Z, why they are leaving the church in increasing numbers. And actually there are increasing numbers from folks in all generations, but particularly generation Z is leaving the church in record numbers. And could the way we're addressing abortion play a factor in that? And if we changed it, could that make a difference?
The last thing that we will not be... or we'll be talking about it, but we want to ask this question, why do we focus so much on a one woman who's making this decision right in that time? And why do we think the answer is so individualistic with her and what she's doing instead of, again, what type of community are we? What's going on in our culture? Can we take a step back and look at this from a different viewpoint? And that's what I love in the scriptures where we see Jesus taking tough questions from the Pharisees and often he just stops or slows down the conversation and you can almost see him pan out. He's panning out to God's perspective of everything that's happening. And that's the conversation we will attempt to have here.
Now, we're called ProGrace for a reason, meaning we think his grace is the answer to this, which means I'll also need grace as I start having these conversations. And we want to be a place where we extend grace to ourselves first. When we start to look inside, it can be painful, but there's grace for us and there's grace for everyone in this conversation. So that's so great about looking at Jesus. He provides this welcoming safe space for us first, so we can interact with him and with his stories and then we can become a safe place to have this conversation for others.
So in order to do that, we have to take the politics out at least of this conversation in this podcast. I personally take the politics out of all my conversations. I don't say that I'm pro-life, I don't say that I'm pro-choice, and the reason will unpack through this podcast, but it's because again, the stereotype of what people hear. So I prefer not to talk about my political views on the subject, but to talk about what I think I can do differently, what I think the church can do differently. And like I said, we're all going to have to choose how we vote. We're going to be going into an election year. We will talk about that in the podcast, but we'll keep our own personal opinions of that out because I've found that that then shuts people down. It shuts the person with the other political view down, and that's not what we're doing. We're looking to be united as Christians around Jesus and how he treated people.
So that's what we're doing. I'm going to start off the podcast actually by telling you my story and how I came to be in this work. Like I said, I was raised in the Midwest. I was actually on staff with a campus ministry for about a decade after I graduated college. And I had my own, what I'll call legalistic or Pharisee breakdown about after 10 years. And I left that I found a community of Christians who understood grace, who really prayed the father's heart into me. I went into counseling, and I feel like grace healed this part of me that thought I had to please God. And when that happened, the way I viewed other people changed as well, right? Because we're harsh on other people if we think God is being harsh with us.
So after I'd gone through this journey, I'd had some jobs in corporate America doing different things. I wanted to go back into ministry and I found what's called a pregnancy center in Chicago where I was living. And I thought, this is great. This is great because this would be a place where we're not being political, we're helping women who are pregnant. So I came into the role and it was my first exposure to just how divisive this issue is. And one of the first things that happened is I started hearing from conversations with friends who would get a weird look on their face when I told them what I did. Through research I was doing and hearing other people's stories and through reading things, I was hearing really strong criticisms of organizations like ours. And that forced me to take a look at that.
So that's an uncomfortable place to be. Now, because I was new to the organization, I think it was easier for me than what I found for some of my colleagues later on. So that was a gift to me that I could come in with no ties. I was coming in as a Christian, but I hadn't been involved in this field. And I started hearing criticisms like this, "Oh, well, you guys don't really care about what the woman's going through. You don't care about the very real issues she's facing. You just want her to have the child." I heard people say, "And you will in fact use unethical and manipulative practices to get her not to have an abortion." And then I heard people say, "I really think you're just pro-birth, you're just there for the child to be born and not afterward."
Now again, anytime when we hear something like this, we want to look inside and say, God, is that true? Because if there's anything that we're doing as Christians that comes anywhere close to those things, that's not the heart of God. That's not how Jesus interacted. And so it was a painful process for me to look at the organization and say, are we really doing these things? And at the time when this started, I was not in a leadership role. I was actually director of development, but I started having the conversation with my colleagues and it was my first experience of seeing some people resonated with it. And some people treated me like I had just said, we're changing the whole mission of the organization. I mean, it was really started to be a little bit tense.
But the board actually asked me to lead the organization and I said to them, I want to really make sure we're focusing equally on the woman and the child if I take this job. And they said, yes, we think we're already doing that. We weren't aware we weren't doing that, which is something we'll talk about that that we don't often see. We get so focused in a mental model.
So these were lovely people on the board, but they didn't really realize what was happening. They had great intentions, the staff did, a lot of people do on both sides of this issue, great intentions, but not really realizing what we were doing, how we were impacting people. So I started on a journey of leading the organization and then saying, Hey, we're going to change how we interact with women. And that is when I discovered that Christians specifically, because the whole team was Christians have a real mental model around this issue that there are only certain ways to talk about it, certain ways to address it. And when I said things that I thought were totally biblical, but they were outside of the parameters of their old mental model, these friends of mine thought I had defected, thought I had switched camps, and I want to stop right here because maybe you felt that as well.
And I really am seeing that since Roe was overturned, as people were posting things on social media, I've had friends say to me, "I didn't know my friend thought that, I'm not sure I can be their friend." And I just want to say that is because we have adopted this mental model that once someone says one thing, one word, sometimes outside of our tribe, I'm using quotation marks here "outside of our tribe", we think, oh, they're completely on the other side. And what I want to just say and for us to be able to sit with in the podcast is there are a lot of different views on abortion. They're very complex and they usually don't fit completely nicely in either camp. So that's part of our first exercise is just starting to listen to other people and actually listen for points of agreement. So from the way I was looking at this, I was sharing Jesus stories or biblical concepts with my team.
For example, let's listen to a woman and listen to what she's going through rather than we had a system we walked her through of information we would give her, and then really persuasion, trying to persuade her to not have an abortion. And even though I was pointing to how Jesus listened and asked questions that violated something inside my friends. And again, that caused so much tension with them that they just couldn't hear me and they thought I was part of the other camp.
Now to be fair, I did this too. So I actually was thinking today as I was recording this podcast, I remember early on going to a leadership training seminar and someone said something that was just a little bit outside of my purview. So I had been raised more on the pro-life side and I heard someone say something that I perceived was... again, at the time my perception of pro-choice, which was don't care at all if people have abortions, which again, that's a wrong perception, but I remember getting angry at that person and thinking they were on the other side.
This is a natural response that we all do, and it's something that we really have to ask God to help us take a breath and help us just say, okay, before I tell this person what I think, because that's what we've been trained to do. I got to tell people what I believe, there's something morally incumbent on me. And I do find this with friends on either side, pro-life or pro-choice, right? We have this moral imperative we feel to tell people what we stand for.
It's good to feel really strongly about this. It's an important topic at the same time that keeps us from listening and from hearing what the other person is actually saying. Because if my friends at that pregnancy center had listened to me, they would know that I was not fully espousing every pro-choice view, but that's what they thought. They would've heard that I was wrestling and I was questioning how we had engaged with people. And again, I was wanting to pull it out of the pro-life, pro-choice discussion and just talk about it. I didn't know how to do that back then because again, there was no framework or lexicon for that. And so it was a really long road for me to begin to be able to have these conversations. I did start with Christians, so for me, that felt a bit safe. That was my tribe.
But I remember going to pastors in Chicago, leading pastors, and again, fumbling around with language, but they actually were a little bit more able, I think, to hear me because they weren't in the work. So that was a really helpful part of my journey as well. And I actually remember I was writing down a theology about this. So my team was thinking I was going off the rails and I got some great advice from someone to write down the theology and talk to my board and even some other pastors. And so I wrote this eight page document I called the Tenants of our Organization, and it was walking through this theology, which is basically twofold.
The first is that God creates all life and he values all people equally. And what this means for us in the abortion conversation is that he values the woman and the child equally. And what happens in the political discourse is that the needs of one gets put over the needs of the other. And I actually remember there was a Supreme Court justice who was saying this when they were hearing the Dobbs v. Jackson case. And this justice said, "The problem with the law is that one of their needs always has to come above the other one, that there's no way to value them both." And actually that just cemented in me. The main difficulty with only having a political response is there is no way to really grapple with the fact that God values them both equally. And what does that mean for us in terms of how we interact?
So again, like I was saying, God pans back and he sees the woman, he sees the child. He pants back, he sees the man who's involved, he sees the families, he sees the systems that they're involved in. He sees all of this and his heart is for all. And so that was what I started writing down from scripture. How could we start to talk about abortion from that place? Because at the time, my organization used language from the pro-life side that made it sound like they valued the child more than the woman. And so that's what I was saying, like we can't use this language because it's not actually faithful to the gospel. And you know what? To be fair, I would've said this if we were coming from a pro-choice background because that is the language on that side as well. It can be interpreted to think that they care for one over the other as well.
So I started writing the theology about what's it mean to value the woman and the child equally. And then I started writing this theology of grace as God's path for transformation. And this was from my own story where I knew what it was like to live under so much condemnation myself in legalism and the freedom I had found understanding the grace and the love of the Father and how that had changed me. And this was actually before Brene Brown started releasing her research on shame, which I feel just confirms God's brilliance in setting up grace first. And she talks about this, that none of us change as a result of shame, which says, I'm not worthy or there's something wrong with me. We only change when we know we're accepted and we can grow and develop.
And that's what it means to be in God's kingdom or to be in God's rule and reign, right? Is that he accepts us through his grace. And so I started writing this down and I was sending it actually to Dr. Erwin Lutzer who at the time was the pastor of the Moody Church, which is the church that had started our organization. And that was just a really safe place, if I'm honest, for me to start wrestling with this. And I say this because we all need the safe places.
So I had to take a step back, even from my team and actually from some of the organizations in Chicago who had questions about our view and what we were doing, and I had to have some space and my board with much grace gave me that space. Because I had to find where was it safe for me to start unpacking this to know that I was probably going to say some things wrong and I was probably going to alienate some people. And I just want to normalize that even as we go along, I might have said some things already in these 20 minutes that offend you. I hope not, but I hope that you'll stick with this and know that my intention is to really seek after God's heart and to try and get my mindset to align with that and then to get my language to align with that.
But I do know that for a lot of us, our intention, our heart is what comes first. We have the heart to want to engage differently, but we may not feel comfortable with our language or maybe feel like we don't understand anything. So we want this podcast community to be that safe place that I also needed when I was wrestling through. What do I really think? What do I think that scriptures teach? If Jesus were here, how would he be interacting with this? And wrestling through that and knowing that I had safe people to talk to that would clarify things with me, not just shut me down. That was so important.
I remember going back and forth on email, like what exactly do you mean by this? And having someone give me the benefit of the doubt. That I really was trying to get out of the divisive, but it was maybe going to take a while. It was going to maybe take some stumbles. So that was a huge part of my journey is then using that theology to help folks on my team kind of have the same paradigm aha moments that I was having personally.
One of them, I actually remember I was walking through the office hallway one day and parts of Psalm 139 kind of randomly started coming through my mind. It wasn't like I'd heard a sermon about it, it just started coming through my mind where it talks about God knitting us together in our mother's womb. I'm recording this the day after Mother's Day. God ordaining all of our days, all the plans he has for us.
And I was just kind of having that scripture flow through my mind and I did sense the spirit whispered to me, not an audible voice, but the sense I had was God saying, "You know, that scripture is just as much about the woman as it is about the child." And that's what I mean. I needed God to actually reframe how I looked at that verse because I had grown up hearing that verse in church and they always talked about God's value for the child. And so this is what I mean when I said God pans out. He panned out of that verse and said, "Hey, a lot of Christians have been leaving half of this truth out when they apply this verse to the abortion debate because it is about both of them." And that was the theological experience than I watched as my team who just months earlier had thought I was going off the rails.
Several of them were able to say, "Oh, I have this aha moment, oh, that makes sense." And then come on the journey as well to rethink our language because people were really tied to language it's almost like it signals something we believe in, but we unpacked why again, language is only important as it's understood. And so we shifted our language and they came along with us and then we used this same training to go back to our partner churches like the Moody Church and other wonderful churches in Chicago. And they started having this aha experience. And that's when I really felt a passion to say, oh wow, maybe Christians could engage with this.
We could engage around this theology. We used a lot of research with the women that we had been serving to just to create empathy and understanding and to watch Christians have this aha moment really is what created this passion in me to do what I do, to want to have that, that have these conversations.
The last piece I will say that's encouraging and we will unpack later in the podcast is we started having conversations after we had them within the Christian community. We started having it outside the Christian community. And I was actually really sad by how many people thought our organization would do those things I talked about earlier, manipulate women or not serve them in a professional way. And so to begin to go out in the community and have those conversations was incredibly scary. And I made a lot of mistakes and really important to where I stand now because I got to talk to people who had been raised totally different than me or had a different experience and I got to hear why they had the views they do on abortion.
I remember sitting with one person who was in a leadership position at an organization very different from ours, and she had a different view on this. Everybody would say, oh, she's from a different side if we're putting people on sides at the time. Now I consider myself not to have a side, but at the time I was working through things and I was more on one side, but I remember being taken a back by the fact that we agreed on 90% of things.
I so respected her passion for women and what they were going through and her passion for children to have what they needed after they came into the world. And I found that we had all these points of agreement and my stereotypes of her and people in her, quote, unquote, "camp" started to melt away. And I started realizing we have so much in common. Now, she and I today may have some differences on how to interpret scripture on actually some finer points of this, but we could work together to bring positive impact to the lives of so many women and children if we could put down our labels and work together. And she was actually a Christian, this particular woman.
But even when I was out in the community with people who weren't of faith, it was healing. And you know what? It was healing for them as well because they would say, "This is not the experience I've had with Christians, of someone coming in listening to me and asking my view on this. The experience I've had is of Christians being angry and telling me what I should believe." And again, I just thought, oh man, how could we better reflect Jesus if we were to take a more humble posture of listening and go through this journey?
So that being said, I'll wrap up today by just saying sometimes these conversations can feel scary because we feel like we are going to go, quote, unquote, "off the rails." And I just want to say that God is God and he is big. And as I've walked through this, my view of him has only gotten bigger. Just his heart, how much he cares. He just cares so deeply for the woman, for the child, for the man who's involved, for the families who are involved, for the church community who's involved. This is a really important issue.
We're talking about families and life and incredibly important issues. And so we can have the courage to know that we're not going to go outside of his plan and his direction by stopping and asking questions. We're actually going to discover more of him. And I think if I go back to my experience with my Christian colleagues, they were worried I was going to see less of God. They were worried I was going to have a viewpoint that made him smaller or tolerated some things he didn't tolerate. And instead, I find that I'm more passionate about engaging with this issue and bringing him into the conversation and having the church be a safe place where we can positively impact the lives of so many. That I can say with confidence to this community, we can dive in without any fear of that.
And I'd also like to say if you are not a person of faith or you're at a different place on your faith journey, you're also welcome to the community. We want to do a lot of listening and we want to listen because we want to make sure we are interacting with Jesus. We're modeling ourselves after him, we're acting like him, and then we're communicating that into our communities. And so welcome for you as well. We'd love to have dialogue with you.
As I wrap up to talk about just the vision of where this all is headed, why I lead ProGrace, why I do this podcast is I envision a day when Christians think, talk and engage around abortion in a way modeled after Jesus. And it doesn't look like either political party, it's a new thing. We're creating a new thing because I believe when we do that, then Christians will be a safe community. We can change the reputation of the church.
Right now, like I said, only 7% of people approach a church before making an abortion decision. We could flip that statistic. We could be the safe place where people come because they know they're going to be welcomed with grace. We're going to value them, we're going to see them. People can come into a community, actually, that's the place where they can oftentimes get what they need.
So we will unpack this later in the podcast, but the problem with just saying what's that woman going to decide right now is that we're missing what's going on for her, why she feels like abortion is her only option. There are a lot of things going on that if people are part of a community, they can oftentimes see another option that might be the one they really want to take, but they're just in such a place of isolation, they can't see it.
So when the church can become this safe community, we can change the reputation more people can be drawn in. That's actually when God can create pathways of hope. And what's so interesting is it has to start with us. So again, so many times Christians are like, "What can we do to change those people?" But the fact is, if we look at ourselves first, how can we become the safe community? When we are that safe community, that's actually when God can bring such beautiful outcomes for all the people who are in our community. So it's like a counterintuitive way that the kingdom works, right? We focus on ourselves and being the place that can be the hands and feet of Jesus, and that's when he can create pathways of hope.
So thank you so much for being part of this, and I look forward to continuing this conversation with you. Thank you so much for joining me today. I hope you've been inspired to see Jesus and to be part of a community where you feel at home.
Join our email subscriber list to receive updates on how together we can change the Christian response to abortion. The only way we'll do that is through God's grace, which is beyond measure. I am so grateful for that. And so until next time, I am Angela Weszely on the Grace Journey with you. ProGrace on Abortion: Real Talk, No Politics is a production of ProGrace International.