Under the leadership of Bishop David Ricken, our mission in the Diocese of Green Bay is to foster households and communities of discipleship that discover, follow, worship and share Jesus. As we reflect on what this means, we are challenged not to let these words become church jargon, but to allow them to inform our approach to life.
This challenge of discipleship came to mind recently as the abortion debate in our country has renewed. Last month, several states passed laws that restrict abortion. These laws come as other states have passed or are considering laws that expand access to abortion. As the debate heats up, we are seeing the clear fractures that exist in American society, especially on social media. In the midst of the yelling and shouting, it can be easy to want to give up. But, if we want to be disciples of Christ, instead of walking away, we ought to be asking, “What does following Jesus mean in this situation?” When we do so, we see the issue reframed in a few important ways.
First, Jesus focused on people, not issues. In doing so, he affirmed the dignity of each person, whether a sinner or a saint. If we are going to affirm the dignity of each person, it starts by stating clearly that abortion is the taking of a human life and can never be justified. At the same time, we must defend the dignity of mothers by providing the support and resources they need to care for their children.
As Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, said, “Every single human life has value. The trend of states passing pro-life legislation is a very encouraging move toward ensuring that our society cherishes unborn children and their most basic right to life. … As we celebrate these pro-life legislative victories, we reiterate our commitment to supporting all mothers with the care and resources they need. The church stands ready to help and welcome them.”
But it’s not only the children and mothers whose dignity we uphold, it’s also the people who oppose us on this issue. Often we paint our counterparts with broad brush strokes, creating caricatures in order to win arguments. In doing so, we tend to overlook the real people behind these arguments; real people with complex histories and motivations behind the positions they hold. Looking at Jesus as our model, are we willing to take the time to listen to a person’s story and understand where they are coming from or are we simply interested in assigning a label to them (pro-life or pro-choice)?
A second way that Jesus reframes our outlook is by reminding us to celebrate our progress rather than focusing solely on the end goal. Even Jesus didn’t convert every person he encountered, but throughout the Gospels we are reminded of the many people who did respond to his call: Zaccheus, the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery, the Prodigal Son. Jesus reminds us that every person who turns their life towards him is worthy of a celebration.
In our diocese, we have witnessed many positive outcomes with respect to life. Each year, hundreds of young people attend the March for Life in Washington D.C. Over the past several years, both abortion clinics in our diocese have closed. Across the state, abortions have continued to decline. While none of these positives have led to the complete end to abortion in our diocese, the progress being made is worth celebrating.
Finally, following Christ challenges us to be consistent in supporting life in all its stages and at all times. We must commit ourselves to ensuring that every person is treated as the image of God. While abortion involves the direct taking of life, we undermine our own credibility if we oppose abortion, but ignore the plight of migrants; or refuse to ensure people are able to meet their basic needs; or sow the seeds of discrimination through hateful words and actions. Likewise, we undermine our credibility when we support migrants, the poor and victims of racism, but neglect the unborn when their lives are taken. Christ challenges us to walk with people through all stages and facets of life, truly from conception to natural death.
So, the next time you find yourself in a debate about the issue of abortion, whether in real life or on social media, take some time to place yourself at the feet of Jesus, and learn from his example. This is what it means to be a disciple for life.
Tremblay is Marriage and Life Ministries director for the Diocese of Green Bay. Weiss serves as Living Justice Advocate for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay.