Angela Weszely (00:09):
Hi, thanks so much for joining me today. We're going to be looking more how we can start to have these conversations about abortion without the politics, but modeling ourselves after Jesus. I heard a story not too long ago that solidifies my passion for this. A young woman who doesn't really go to church, she's been hurt by the church, decided that she would try out a church near her college. She happened to go there this Sunday after Roe versus Wade was overturned, and she said that the pastor started the sermon celebrating this political decision. She became so uncomfortable because she kept looking around the crowd at all the women that were there and wondering how many of them would feel shamed by this message, and she literally walked out of the service.
Something about just that brief story that you into someone's experience, it's like I can visualize a young 20-year-old woman walking out of church because I keep hearing, and we're all hearing how much younger generations are alienated by our Christian response to so many social issues. What breaks my heart about this story is that actually God cares deeply for both the woman and the child. He values all people equally, and if this pastor had had a way to talk about that, I think this young woman would've been drawn in because that's not a message that we're hearing anywhere in the culture.
The problem is what we talked about last week. It's so polarized and there are so many stereotypes that even just by using the word pro-life and pro-choice, we put ourselves into a category where people think we're either anti-child or anti-woman. As Christians, we have an opportunity to really step back from that and say, "Jesus, if you were here, how would you be addressing this issue today?" I am more passionate than ever about this because I feel like we're coming to a real boiling point actually with this election cycle that is coming up. This election cycle also coincides with several years where God has been revealing just the level of abuse of power in some churches and the sexual exploitation of women with that.
So it's just this coming together of these issues of saying the church isn't safe for a lot of people, and that's completely the opposite of Jesus. It's completely opposite of what he showed us. We have a real opportunity in this moment to change that, and the way we're going to do that is if we will just stop for a second and think about what we're communicating when we try to say that God ordained one political party or the other, we're talking about parties that were created by people that have a whole host of things attached to them. So as Christians, and I love that a lot more people are talking about this, we may feel homeless politically, if you've heard that phrase, because we're going to have values from Jesus that talk about how we can care for all people equally. That's going to cross over on these different sides.
That's actually a message that I believe our society is dying to hear, that nobody is happy with how polarized we are. If we can really find a way to communicate who God really is, how big his heart really is, we have an opportunity to see people being drawn into the church, not being alienated. But it is a journey, and it does take us unpacking things to start that journey. In my experience, it really starts by just being more observant and asking questions. I will say, this does not come naturally to me. I'll tell you a story while you'll see this, that doesn't come naturally to me, but early on when I was leading a Christian pregnancy organization in Chicago, I went to my 20-year-high school reunion.
Now, what's the first thing people ask us at a reunion? "What do you do?" So I knew that, and I also, because I'd been in this role a couple months, I knew there was some static with people when I would tell them what I did. Unfortunately, I hadn't really asked them why yet, because that's not my nature. When I see static, I tend to just double down and try to persuade people more. So I wrote this elevator speech for my reunion because I thought that I could write it in such a way that it was common ground, that anybody could relate to it regardless of their political affiliation. So the first night of the reunion, my friend came up to me and said, "Oh, hi, what do you do?" I don't think I've seen her since graduation in 20 years, "What do you do?" I said, "Oh, I just started leading a Christian organization. We support women facing unintended pregnancy and we want to see the number of abortions dramatically reduced."
I waited for her to have a response, but I think what actually happened is that she took a step back from me and one of us changed the subject. Now, what I wish I would've done in that moment was say, "Hey, I'm sorry. Did something just happen when I told you what I did? Can you tell me about that?" That would've saved me years of mistakes, and that's actually what I hope that in this community we can all be encouraged to do when we feel that static, it's okay just to stop and ask what's going on. I did not do that. I went on to the next person. Actually this went on over two nights of the reunion. Are you feeling uncomfortable yet? Friday night was my elementary school. Saturday night was my high school reunion. I kept sharing the same answer and getting the same response.
About halfway through Saturday night, the class president came up to me and asked if I would pray for the meal. Now, that may not seem like a big deal. But something happened to me in that moment when she asked me that. I just had flashbacks to high school where I had been so vocal about my faith and not always in a positive way about God's love. I had also been judgmental, and I realized that in this class of 300, she was identifying me as a resident Christian in the room by asking me to pray for the meal. Yet when I had told my friends that as a Christian I was involved in trying to help women who were facing unintended pregnancy, that I was involved in this whole abortion space, I had caused them to have such a negative stereotype that they just changed the subject.
The reason this is so important to me is because so many people in their studies... Will actually put a link to one of these studies in the show notes. This just came out from Barna. So many people say their issue is not with Jesus; their issue is with Christians. That just breaks my heart, and that's what broke my heart over 15 years ago, is that I knew the way Jesus would interact and the abortion issue would've been so loving, so wise, so kind. But that is not the perception that my friends had of me as a Christian. Something just seared itself in my spirit that I started asking God, "How can I have a different response that looks more like you and less like either political party?"
So when we think about having these conversations, you may be thinking right now, "Geez, Angie, after sharing that story. I'm never going to have one of this conversation, because I know that it feels so scary." But I've actually discovered ways and some tools where we can have these conversations and they can turn out completely differently. One of those first tools is just to be more of a listener and to be observant. Like I said in that story, if I had just been more attentive to what was going on with my friend or my friends and stopped any one of them in the middle and ask them, I could have found out what was going on.
So that's just a huge place where nobody's doing that in culture, right? We're just throwing things on social media, "I believe this way," and I actually heard from people after Roe versus Wade was overturned their response to friends posting things on social media, and this is on both sides, their response was, "Oh, now I can't talk to them." So again, we think it's helpful to just say what we think about a certain issue, in this case, abortion, but that can actually shut down conversation because this is a very complex issue. Jesus would have a lot to say and be involved in this, and we often can't cover that in 140 characters.
So really being mindful and listening to people is one of the best things we can do in this conversation. I've actually found, and we talk about this in some of our courses, that a question from us can open up whole new avenue of conversations. For example, asking the question, "Hey, I'm rethinking how Christians respond to abortion. What's been your experience? What messages have you heard from the church?" You can even tell people, "I'm not going to say what I believe or how I vote. I just want to hear what's been your experience with the church or what are messages you've received from the church about abortion?" I have heard stories back of miraculous things happening as a result of that one question.
One man was 60 years old and we put that question to one of his siblings, who answered him and said, "Well, I never told you this, but 30 years ago my partner had an abortion." I mean, imagine the secrecy and the silence that's been happening in that family that with one question was opened up. So much healing can come from that place, and so much reframing of how we think about this. So much of our thought process has been shaped by a political platform or what we're told to think about this, as opposed to listening to stories, as opposed to hearing how people have actually been impacted by this.
One place I remember hearing stories from me was we were listening to research that had been conducted with women that our organization served, and all these women had faced unintended pregnancy. Interestingly enough, they had made different decisions, whether placing for adoption or carrying the pregnancy to term or choosing an abortion. But the theme over and over of every one of those women was intense panic, isolation, and shame. I actually can remember verbatim one woman saying, "I felt so stupid. That's what I thought every woman think of me, that I was stupid or dumb."
When we start to understand what that means for someone in struggle, that changes the way we talk about it. When we also realize that statistically one in four women will have an abortion before age 40. It causes us to think about all the people who are hearing us, who have had this experience but have never told us. One of the most beautiful things that happens as people walk through our courses or even as I've been able to teach this live with people, is that almost instantly, when we start reframing abortion from this lens of, "God values all people equally and grace is the way we're going to talk about this because it's this path for transformation for any of us."
After that message goes out, invariably, what happens is that someone says, "Hey, that was me, and I've never told anybody this or I've never told anybody in this church before, but that was me." That is how God is confirming to me that when we just zip it with a political language and we start to reframe this and we put a message out there of God's heart and his grace that just somehow unlocked people to feel free to share their stories.
I actually think that's one of the things that's going to make such a big difference in the church, and we're wanting in this podcast for this to be a place and a community where people who've had this lived experience can talk about it. I actually remember sitting with facilitating a live event in Phoenix, and people were broken up by table, and I asked them to talk about... I can't remember what I asked them to talk about.
Maybe, I said, "What's your vision of how Christians could engage differently in this issue?" It was a very open-ended question. I happened to be sitting at a table, and I overheard another table; there was a young woman there; she's about 20. She was there with an older woman, they were from her church, and there were like two or three male pastors sitting there. I watched this young woman say to them, "I attended this same church my whole life. I'm still at the same church. I've been there my whole life. But a year ago I got pregnant and I didn't tell anyone from the church that this was going on. I had an abortion completely on my own, completely in silence. I'm here. I want to bring ProGrace to my church because I don't want anyone else to ever have this experience."
Statistically, that young woman's not alone, 4 in 10 women who have abortions are regular churchgoers at the time, but only 16% of them talk to their church before making this decision. It causes us to ask the question, "What are we saying? How are we having this conversation that so alienates people?" Well, the first thing is that when we frame it in political terms in our church right away, that comes with it a whole host of stereotypes. This is on both sides, whether churches identify as pro-life or pro-choice, by using those words, we just align ourselves with a whole host of stereotypes that most people don't actually agree with.
I know most people I talk to are a bit more in the middle. But when you say those words, we get assigned the extremes of all those stereotypes, and we get assigned politically what those political parties have done. So one example of this is that I heard a story from a young woman in Phoenix. Her mom is actually part of a staff team at a church and they were preparing to go through ProGrace.
So she told them this story, and that was that her daughter doesn't go to church very often because she carries a lot of hurt from the church. But one Sunday she decided to try a new church that was near her college, and it happened to be the Sunday after Roe versus Wade was overturned. She said the pastor started out his sermon celebrating that decision and speaking very politically about it.
All she could think about were the women in that congregation who would feel shame by the way he was talking about this when she walked out of church. There's something about just hearing that brief story for me that she walked out of church that I thought, "How many people are walking out of church because of the way we address this and other social issues, and the fact that we address them more like society and in a polarized way rather than having a creative Jesus-centered way to talk about it?"
Because actually, if the pastor had gotten up and said, "We know this is happening in culture, here's where we stand: we think God values all people equally, and this is a community of grace because Jesus leads with grace. That's how any of us are transformed and live this life. So we want to say, wherever you're at in your journey with this decision, the door is wide open for you."
What if they actually had a place to talk about this? That could have drawn that young woman in even more, because that's not something she's hearing, even in society. It's not something she's seeing in social media. There's really not a place where people are having this conversation. That's why I still have hope that the church can be the place. As I say that, my hope is tempered oftentimes with being discouraged. There is a lot happening right now in the church where God is revealing systemic abuse of power. Oftentimes that leads to exploitation of women and my heart breaks every time something new is revealed.
With that, I do sense God saying he's doing a new thing and that actually the way that this has played out in churches, with women being exploited in this way is tied to why we've been so silent on this abortion issue while he's been so hypocritical, and that God is doing this really widespread new thing and that he's bringing up a new way for us to engage. So that's what actually gives me the courage, keep talking about this, even though it has been over 15 years, is that I've not lived through a time like this where the church is so ready to be able to have new conversations.
One thing too I will say that we can start to engage in is we can start thinking about how we actually would support both women and children. How can we actually think about, "What it would mean for our church to do that?" This is a place where we can build common ground because when you go out in the community, whether someone is pro-life or pro-choice, what you'll hear is this common thread of meeting the needs of people in struggle. So when we start framing this as both people and asking how we can meet their needs, we can find common ground. One of the most challenging conversations that I had with this was, I remember it was maybe a couple years into my work at the Christian pregnancy organization, and we had already shifted our practices. So we were using a counseling-based model.
We had trained everyone in this theology about value for both people and what it means to lead with grace. So we felt really confident about our programs and we were going in the community to try and build bridges with people who were pro-life and pro-choice, right? People who could refer to us; people who could just spread the word about what we were doing. One of my friends was a pastor and she said, "Oh, one of my congregants worked for Planned Parenthood. Would you like to have a conversation?" I thought, "Yeah," and I'll be honest, first off, I was like, "One of your congregants worked for Planned Parenthood?" That didn't even sit well with my concept of what it meant to be a Christian. But thankfully I was far enough in my journey that I was like, "I'm going to go and listen."
So I did. I listened, and I listened as this woman talked about her work as a foster parent. Again, this stereotype we have of either side, you're either anti-child or anti-woman. Here's this woman telling me how much she values children, that she is a foster parent. Then she talked about the fact that she would deliver babies and that she would be so disturbed when the parents were distracted, they were on their phone, and they were out in the hall. She said, "I'm going to stand here and hold this baby until someone pays attention." Now this conversation happened over 10 years ago, and I can actually visualize her saying those words because that was a moment where my stereotypes were shattered, because I had been raised to think that people who were pro-choice didn't care about children.
It shattered my stereotype and it caused me to think, "Wait a second, if it's not true, that pro-life people don't care about women," because I had already been wrestling with that and I have to deal with this other stereotype as well. Just having this conversation with this woman, two things happened. One is, I started to see how much we had in common. I so resonated with her when she talked about what women were experiencing when they were facing an unintended pregnancy because we were seeing the same thing in our organization, and we met at this place of empathy, and I realized we care the same about what women are going through now. We may be on different pathways of what we think the answer is, and we can actually disagree on that.
That's something we seem to have lost the ability to do in our culture. We can disagree on where we stand on that, but we can come together on the 90% of things that we have common ground around. 90% of the things that she said I agreed with. I believe, again, I'm not asking questions, so I didn't ask her, "Do you agree with 90% of what I'm saying?" But based on that feedback, I think she would say the same thing. We agreed on 90% of the things. But the other thing I remember about that conversation was fear. So I first heard it from her. We walked in and she said, "Hey, before I have this conversation with you, are you wearing a wire?"
I was stunned. I would never have thought of doing that, but I realized these things were happening at that time. People were doing sting operations, and I said, "No, I'm not wearing a wire." She said, "Are you recording this? I need to have your word that no one will hear about this conversation." She said this because she was actually afraid for her family. There were people who were protesting to the point that she was concerned about her safety. I realized how much fear just stifles this conversation, and how are we ever going to be able to have common ground when we're so afraid?
The other place I saw fear was in myself. Again, this is just my journey with God and I was trying to figure this out before I recorded the podcast. I don't quite have it figured out. I'm going to share it with all of us anyway, and maybe in later episodes I'll be able to figure it out. But I was really afraid going into that meeting, and I was just in constant prayer, silent prayer with God. But a lot of it was like, "God, help me. God, keep revealing truth. Am I going to go where?" Where did I think I was going to go? I don't know. But something about walking into a conversation was someone that I perceived was so different than me caused me to be afraid about my own views.
Just, again, I can't fully unpack it, but there's something here about the abortion issue. It's like tied to how we view ourselves as a Christian. Like, "If I'm a Christian, I believe this way about it." Now I'm not trying to dissuade deep beliefs about abortion. I have deep beliefs about abortion. I feel really strongly about it. I think it's a really important issue. I think we need to be caring for women and children much better than we do in society, okay.
That hasn't changed at all. But I was afraid somehow I would go off track. I was afraid that if I listen to someone else's story, I might start to believe something wrong. Now, what do I mean by that? Again, I think we have such a narrow definition because it's been framed by a binary, a political binary, where you have to pick one over the other. We're afraid if we're not fully towing the party line on one side, we're going to fall over to the other side.
But what my experience has been in this journey is that the more I listen to people's stories, the more I look to God, and the more I'm like, "Lord, this is breaking my heart, this story. What do you want to do? How do you want to enlarge my heart and my passion for the church being a safe place and to talk more about this, not less?" My passion has only grown by hearing those stories. So I think we've... No, I don't think, I know we've put God in a box instead of looking at him and how big he is and how he has supernatural answers to things that we can't even fathom, that he has so much more for us. Instead, we've abdicated that responsibility to get an answer from him to political position. We can see the fallout of that happening in our culture.
I think part of this big thing that God is doing, it's reorienting our minds and our hearts. Are we going to look to him, or are we going to look to a political party? Even what we're looking about with the abuse of power, are we going to continue in silence with these issues where people are being exploited in our churches or where we're not safe for people who are in struggle, or are we going to take his grace seriously and say it's grace for all of us that we can open our eyes and start to have this conversation? The really cool thing is that we don't have to have this all figured out before we start to have conversations. Obviously, because I'm sitting here trying to unpack for you what I believe, but knowing that I can keep having the conversation.
I actually have the hope that I will keep going through this podcast for me to be able to open up about my journey in the hopes that you'll open up about your journey. I really think we can learn from each other because as we keep having the conversation and as we stay firm in the belief that God is love, that God is wisdom, that God is grace. If that's our anchor, we can safely ask questions and navigate this and know that he's going to show us more of himself. We're going to have more of him, not less as we have these conversations.
My real prayer is that we will just be reflecting who he is. That's the real prayer of these conversations that within our churches and as we go out into the community, it's actually the love and grace of Jesus that will be seen because that's what changed me. I haven't even started to unpack my legalistic upbringing, which we don't have time for today, but I was the legalist with a capital L. It almost did me in. I just went through a phase where I just lost it because I knew I could never live up to God's standard, and that's actually where he met me and said, "Yep, that's right. You can't. Hey, look how much I love you where you're in this place."
Even in that, even in my legalistic breakdown, I probably was afraid that if I opened up, I would believe the wrong thing. But God showed me more of himself, more of his grace. My view of him is so much bigger now than it was in high school, when I was trying to be vocal about my faith and tell people what they should and shouldn't do. My passion to talk about Jesus is greater now. I was doing that back then because I felt like I had to be a good Christian. But now I'm here on a podcast with all of you, not really planning on saying all this, but speaking about him because it's his goodness and his grace that meets me when I've messed up the most, when I'm the most tired, when I'm the most confused. It's that grace of who he is that keeps me going.
Actually, I'll close with this, and I didn't even do a good job of handling this when this happened. But it just happened over the weekend that someone very close to me said, "You've been through so much. I really can't believe that you're still going to church." To me, I was like, "Of course, I'm still going to church because God is good." But it was interesting for this person, they just see all of the things we're seeing now about the church.
I see in the church, the possibility we have to reflect Jesus. He's the one who built the church. For those of us who are tired of things that are happening, as we come together in a community, we can actually see God change the church. That's the ultimate dream. So I'm glad you're still in this journey, in this conversation, whatever your experience has been with the church or with Christians. I hope that this has been a safe place to explore this, and I really look forward to talking with you next time.