One of the obstacles to effective reporting, scholarship, and political conversation about the Religious Right, is the Manichean false framing of the religious vs. the secular when it comes to matters of separation of church and state, and such issues as LGTB and reproductive rights. This most often takes the form of pitting conservative Christianity vs. non-religion, or even anti-religion. Of course, the framing fails, whether it is used by conservative Christian or non-religious partisans, because most people are neither one of those. And while there are times when such dualism is a useful kind of discussion, it is too often applied to situations where it is not only grossly inadequate, but a distortion of the matters at hand that make honest discussion and evaluation of the facts difficult if not impossible.
That's why I was glad to see MSNBCfeature a discussion of abortion and religion with a prochoice minister on the staff of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. It is notable in part because it is so rare, and underscores the cramped and frequently distorted nature of our national conversation.
Here is some of what The Rev. Matthew Westfox, a guest on the Melissa Harris Perry Show, had to say:
As both a person of faith and an advocate for reproductive freedoms, I often find myself talking about the connection between religion, spirituality, and reproductive justice. We talk about religious questions raised by patients and clients, and we talk about how to use religious language in reproductive justice activism. Yet one group seems to be left almost completely out of these conversations--abortion providers: The doctors, nurses, office managers, custodians, counselors and all the others who keep clinics open in the face of harassment and violence.
One doctor started his career as a minister, and sees his work in the clinic today as a way of serving God's people, but he rarely talks about it in those terms. A nurse I spoke to says a prayer for her safety and that of her coworkers every day before leaving for work. An office manager told a colleague of mine that she braces herself every time she checks the mail, wondering how many hate letters she'll come across, and wants a sacred community to turn to for support. One clinic counselor said she misses the rituals and music of her faith community, and often thinks about trying to find a church, but worries about being judged or shunned when small talk leads to questions about where she works.
This is not to say that every clinic worker leads a spiritual life, or craves the acceptance of a synagogue, church, or other faith community, and it is certainly not to say that they should. Just as we can't let any one story stand in for all of those who seek abortions, nor can any one story encompass the experiences of all clinic staff. We must avoid the pull to create meta-narratives, and clinic workers who have or desire a personal spiritual connection or a faith community are only one segment of that larger population.
But when so often the only image we have of abortion providers is painted by those who seek to demonize them, and to use faith to do so, understanding the role that spirituality and faith play in the lives of some of those who do this work is deeply important. Particularly when so many feel their work means they will not find welcome in the houses of worship.
Given that the domestic terrorists who threaten clinic workers so often coach their actions in the garb of faith, it seems imperative to me that faith communities welcome clinic workers with open arms, and lead the charge in helping to break down the stigma around this needed work.
The simple fact is, that abortion clinic workers are one of the only groups of civilians in our country who face constant possibility of violence or death simply because others disagree with the work that they do. No other work asks those involved to walk by angry protesters who call them murderers or worse as they walk into their offices. No other group of workers so consistently face slashed tires and broken car windows, harassment of children and family members, public shaming and stigma, all under the umbrella of the ever present threat of violence from the numerous assassinations, arsons, and bombings that clinics and clinic workers have endured.