Gandhi supposedly once said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” For many people today this is still true.
As more states across the country pass horrific anti-abortion laws, many conservative Christians are rushing to the defense, claiming these laws aren’t about hurting women but are only intended to reduce abortions. Centuries of painful patriarchal history and countless studies have countered these claims by showing some of the best ways to actually reduce abortion is not to restrict access but to ensure all women have access to healthcare, contraceptives, and sex education (things many Conservative Christians oppose). The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a new report stating the national abortion rate declined 26 percent over the last decade, hitting the lowest level that the government has on record. The report highlights a big driver of this decline is the increased access to contraceptives, especially when the Affordable Care Act began mandating in 2010 that insurers cover birth control.
We also know from our history and countless more studies that restricting access to abortions often only pushes poor women into dangerous illegal “back-alley” abortions while wealthier women (even many conservative Christians) continue to have safe abortions elsewhere. During an MSNBC town hall Elizabeth Warren had this to say about the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortions:
Understand this, women of means will still have access to abortions. Who won’t will be poor women. It will be working women and women who can’t afford to take off three days from work, and very young women. It will be women who have been raped and women who have been molested by someone in their own family.
Outlawing abortions does nothing to change the circumstances in which people seek abortions. It does nothing to prevent rape, incest, patriarchy, poverty, or the human right to want to have freedom over one’s body and future.
In order to get to the roots of this debate you have to understand the concept of “intent vs impact.” Most people often have good intentions: to be a moral person, not to hurt people, not to be racist, to treat everyone fairly, etc. But thanks to systems of oppression we’re all born into that are often out of our control (such as patriarchy and white supremacy), our high levels of disconnect blind us from many outcomes of our actions. Because of forces like racial segregation and propaganda news sources, our intentions do not always match the impact of our actions. This is an inevitability lived on some level by everyone in this world. Regardless of our level of personal responsibility for social injustice, if we truly care about our intentions and care about being good people, Christians, or community members, it is our responsibility to understand the true impact of our decisions, the organizations and policies we support, the things we buy, the votes we cast, and how we educate our children. It is our responsibility as members of a society to understand if our intent matches our impact, and if not, to change our behaviors and speak out.
Many conservative Christians argue that their goals of opposing equality for LGBTQ members, restricting access to abortions, and voting for openly racist/conservatively religious politicians is not to hurt people but to support things like saving unborn life and exercising their freedom of religion. Yet the impact of many of these actions, despite any good intention, is harmful to many people. Below is a list of some of the actions and harm we’re seeing today from conservative Christians. Just to be clear, not every conservative Christian church, congregation, and member supports every issue below. But enough do to make the impact harmful to others.
- Teaching that Muslim, Jewish, and LGBTQ communities are a sin or an offense to God. These lessons are often internalized in conservative Christians creating a life-long subconscious bias that can lead to anything from microaggressions, xenophobia, dehumanization, bullying, violence, loss of livelihoods, hate crimes, and death.
- Promoting patriarchy and subservient roles for women and LGBTQ folks in homes, workplaces, and churches, such as banning women and gay clergy.
- Fighting to deny LGBTQ members the ability to legally marry, which not only dehumanizes them, causing personal trauma and increased societal oppression, but also denies them important legal protections such as eligibility for federal tax and employee benefits, immigration status, inheritance, making medical decisions for incapacitated loved ones, and even being with a dying loved one during non-visiting hours.
- Fighting for the right for businesses, schools, churches, military, and even foster care and adoption services to be able to discriminate against LGBTQ and non-Christian members in the name of religious freedom. In January 2019, the Trump administration granted South Carolina foster agencies the right to reject gay and Jewish foster parents.
- Fighting for the right of employers to deny free birth control coverage as part of their health insurance plans, mandated by the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010, in the name of religious freedom. Again contraceptives are one of the most effective ways to reduce abortion. In 2017, conservative Christian groups successfully lobbied the Trump administration to overturn the Obama-era ACA requirement that guaranteed contraception coverage to 62 million women.
- Denying women, especially poor women, access to healthcare by attacking Planned Parenthood for offering abortion services, despite the fact that abortion services in 2011 made up only 3 percent of its services. Planned Parenthood’s other services include cancer screening, general healthcare for poor women, and providing contraceptives, which, again, happens to be one of the most effective ways to reduce abortion.
- Denying 10s to 100s of millions in international aid to global health projects and organizations that either conduct abortions or advocate for abortion rights, forcing global nonprofits to choose between advocating for their patients’ rights and the human impact of losing millions in funding for health services in some of the most marginalized communities of the world.
- Half a century of ignoring, downplaying, covering up, thousands of Catholic priests molesting and raping tens of thousands of kids globally. Although the Catholic Church may be the worst abuser, they’re not the only one. Recently over 250 people in Southern Baptist churches have been charged with molesting over 700 people in the last two decades. A 2015 investigation found a UK Methodist church committed almost a 1,000 sexual abuse incidents over last few decades. Thomas Doyle, a Catholic priest who helped uncover abuse in the Catholic Church back in the 1980s, cautioned, “clergy sex abuse is a scourge that knows no bounds of theology, denomination, or institutional structure.”
- Electing politicians that enact policies that hurt the most marginalized people in this country from asylum seekers and their children, to war refugees, to people with disabilities, to sick people, to the homeless, to rape victims, to victims of police brutality, etc., mainly because these conservative Christian politicians support restricting abortion and denying LGBTQ people basic rights despite the fact that many of these same politicians have had abortions and gay sex.
As human beings we are capable of holding multiple narratives about the same phenomenon. It’s possible to recognize that religion helps people and brings hope, joy, peace, to many people. And it’s also possible to recognize that at the same time religion hurts people and takes away hope, joy, and peace from many people. The goal here isn’t to stop people from enjoying religion but to find a way for people to worship without hurting others. I think that’s a fair ask of our religious institutions. And I think a fair ask of our government is to deny any religious institution that can’t commit to not hurting people its federal tax exemption. That exemption should only cover organizations that do no harm, despite their intent.
It’s hard for me to imagine God saying on someone’s judgment day, “You supported the suffering of a lot of people, but you weren’t aware of it and had good intentions so all’s good!” It is our responsibility as a members of the human race to understand how our actions affect others. If your religious institution is trying to hide these realities from you, it might be time to speak up, find a new congregation, or a new religious institution.
And if anyone can’t get past the dogma part of religion that urges people to blindly follow ideas that God supposedly said, please spend some time studying the origins of any Abrahamic religion’s dogma and how religious books, from the Bible to the Koran, were written with handpicked stories passed down through generations—sometimes picked from less-than-holy men in power for sometimes less-than-holy reasons. These facts don’t make any religion less significant or less capable of bringing people peace. But knowing your religion’s origin does make it hard to say things like God definitely 100 percent wants me to discriminate. Knowing things like child molestation and rape were left out of God’s Ten Commandments, while coveting another man’s wife made it, should at least give you some wiggle room to recognize not every biblical word is God’s word, and its possible to ignore the few parts of a religion telling you to hurt others. If God gave us our ability to think critically, I don’t think God intended for us not to use it.
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