Bishop Anthony B. Taylor, January 23, 2010
Can you imagine my astonishment upon learning that here in Arkansas we celebrate Robert E. Lee's birthday this weekend, in addition to that of Dr. Martin Luther King's? Why in the world would we ever want to do that? Can you imagine how many lives were lost because he took up arms against the United States in a Civil War on the side of those who sought to keep millions of people in bondage?
Part of Dr. King's true greatness lies in the fact that he used non-violent means to confront the very evils that General Lee had fought so hard to preserve! His only weapons were faith, hope and love -- in the form of marches, boycotts, civil disobedience and eloquent speeches. General Lee may have had many good qualities and can only be judged in the context of the world he lived in, but the bottom line is that his efforts served to promote the culture of death while Dr. King promoted the culture of life -- which is what we are gathered here to do today, especially regarding the evil of abortion which was still illegal when I was in high school and so that's what I'd like to talk about today.
When I was in high school I remember there was a girl who disappeared -- except we all knew where she was. She had gone to live with relatives in Kansas because she was pregnant out of wedlock. My impression is that she went there willingly and gave her baby up for adoption willingly -- but I don't know for sure. In those days, girls pregnant out of wedlock were often treated very badly, shamed even by their own families and this often left them scarred for life. In any event, once the baby was born and adopted, she returned as if nothing had happened -- but of course it had! She was changed. She had given that baby life and had entrusted him to adoptive parents who could give him a future. She did the right thing, the courageous thing, in a very hard situation and we all knew it, so why didn't we stop people from talking about her?
There were other girls in my high school who got pregnant and went to Kansas for another reason -- there was a "doctor" there who would do abortions. I graduated in 1972, a year before Roe v. Wade. They did so in part because they too wanted to spare themselves and their families embarrassment, but of course there was no keeping a secret in a town like ours. We knew who those girls were -- some, in fact, were from prominent families. In some cases, the misogyny these girls faced felt overwhelming and never having been in their shoes, I can only imagine the terror they felt, but I am quite aware that abortion is an evil begotten in the evil of misogyny -- but sadly, the "choice" offered (often by a girl's own family) when she feels she has no other choice than to kill her baby is no true choice at all, and simply reinforces the very same misogyny that brought it into being. In any event, once their baby was aborted, they returned as if nothing had happened -- but of course it had. They too were changed -- deformed. They had done the wrong thing and they knew it. And now they had a wound in their soul that just would not heal. We knew this too, but didn't know what to say. After all, it was supposed to be a big secret. Moreover, what they had done was still illegal.
For me as a high school student, both of these events were epiphanies, events that put everything else in a different light. I don't think less of the girl who went to Kansas to have her baby because of the all-too-human predicament she found herself in. Quite the contrary, I admire her and her parents all the more for choosing life in the face of difficult circumstances, including gossip. But the story of the girls who went to Kansas for abortions was for me an epiphany too, a sad epiphany, because of the sad truth that it reveals especially about their parents, who were in fact the ones who pushed these girls to kill the babies that were, by the way, their grandchildren.
There are three major epiphanies of Jesus which we celebrate on the first three Sundays of the calendar year: the visit of the Magi, his baptism by John the Baptist and in today's Gospel, changing water into wine at the wedding in Cana. Through these epiphanies, God reveals secrets that put Jesus in a whole new light: He is our king and Savior, the Son of God send by the Father to establish his kingdom and bring us abundant life.
This week is the 37th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The prevalence of abortion is a horrific epiphany that gives us a glimpse into the mortally ill state of our nation's soul -- more than 4,600 people killed intentionally each day. Frightened women deserve our compassion and help, not encouragement to kill wrapped in fancy words about choice and personal autonomy.
Prior to 1973 we lived in a country that protected children with laws prohibiting abortion -- giving people legal incentives to do the right thing, despite whatever predicament they were in. But now our laws give people incentives to do the wrong thing. Most of those who get abortions do not intend murder, they're just scared and it's easy to be seduced into thinking that since it's legal it can't be all that bad. But it is. Every abortion leaves one dead and one wounded: both are victims. The child is dead and the mother has been violated, scarred for life.
But one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen is the way God can make remorse redemptive. I am touched to the heart whenever I see women who have been there and chosen death now reach out with comfort and acceptance to girls who today are now in the same predicament they once faced, often sharing their deepest and most painful secrets in an effort to help them choose life. This self-sacrificing help is an epiphany too, a beautiful glimpse into a heart that has begun to heal and grow. One more miracle of redemption, the victory of life over sin and death. Longinus, the soldier whose lance pierced the side of Jesus on the cross, went on to repent and become a saint. Many of those who today have participated in the killing of the innocent have also repented and are now on the road to becoming saints as well. And for them we rejoice!
What about us? That girl in my class was fortunate to have parents who supported her and an aunt in Kansas who took her in and helped her give life when all she could see was darkness. How we respond to those in need is very revealing, both on the individual level and in the decisions of our government -- for instance now, how important it is to do all in our power to make sure that our much needed health care reform exclude government or employer mandated funding for abortion and that it include conscience protection for health care providers, plans and employers. Genuine health care reform must be affordable and must protect the life, dignity, conscience and health of all, especially the poor and vulnerable -- including immigrants. And I very much encourage you to contact our legislators and let them know that your support depends on the bill not advancing a pro-abortion agenda in any way.
Our nation's effort at health care reform is itself an epiphany of sorts because it reveals the state of our nation's soul, whether we are aligned with the
culture of life like Dr. King or aligned with the culture of death, like General Lee.