Giving up for Lent

It’s Ash Wednesday. Last night, a flurry of status updates marked the annual Exodus of Christians from Twitter and Facebook. And I was cross.

Give up chocolate, give up TV, give up reading the comments sections below Daily Mail articles, but don’t give up social media.

Because we consume those things, but we don’t consume twitter. Other people’s lives and our interaction with them isn’t a commodity to be cast aside when we deem that they take up too much of our time. It is, or should be, mutually giving, a place where we share something of ourselves, and influence the online culture around us. During Lent, Facebook gets markedly more mean. The self-righteousness with which Christians are happy to say “all that time I’ve been supporting people whose statuses send up warning flags, act as an arbiter in hurtful wall discussions, or just say something kind about the kids of a struggling young mum, that was all a waste – I’m off to do significant and holy things now.” The fragrance of Jesus is notable by its absence, and in its place, profile photos are changed to crosses.

One of my most supportive friends is a lady I know only through twitter. Her child is profoundly disabled, so she gets the frustrations of daily life, the pain, the drugs, the attitude of doctors, and I like to think I understand her too. It’s not an intense friendship, but the constant stream of two-way support and affirmation every day or so makes our lives more bearable. On this, the first housebound day when I know she’s not on twitter to listen, I feel a sense of loss.

Social media is a virtual space, but the human interactions are real. The relationships are real. The impression that people give, when you see them throughout their day, shows a picture of their character that is different from what you’d see in conventional, face-to-face interaction, but is nevertheless a window into their character and aspirations. Through twitter I’ve met friends across the globe, some with whom I share very little in common, and others who have surprised me with our similarity in outlook. It takes the power of storytelling away from corporate mass media, and puts it in the voices of ordinary people.

If anything, we should, in Lent, look to be more present to our online community, pray for it, look to serve it, and be present and authentic in a new way. It’s not a corrupt and oppressive Egypt we’re fleeing for a promised land of digital isolation.

Go on, #praytoendabortion, I dare you.

For the last few days, the hashtag #praytoendabortion has been trending. While I’m definitely pro-informed-choice, though I’d hope I’d be able to choose life if it was me, the fervour with which people have been praying out loud on street corners about this alarms me.

But I believe that God loves everyone He’s made, including pregnant women. But as ever, the world is broken, people are broken, and He’s called the church to be people through whom he can mend things.

I don’t think any woman enjoys making the decision to abort their foetus.

At 27, I’m single, work a part-time job on a temporary contract and have an energy-sapping disability. I’m really not looking to get pregnant. But if I were pregnant, what would my options be, and why might I choose an abortion?

For me, the things that stand in the way of me keeping a foetus, are:

  • The cost of healthcare, supplements etc
  • The impact on my current job, given my short-term contract
  • The stigma of being unmarried and pregnant
  • The impact on my own physical health, given my chronic illness
  • Concerns of the baby’s future if I could not raise it

In addition, if I were to raise my child, I could add in:

  • The need for suitable accommodation, as on my salary I rent a single room
  • The impact on my career and prospects, as I would lose my temporary job
  • The effect on future relationships and strain on family and friends
  • The need for practical support, as raising a child alone is difficult

Hypothetically, I might become pregnant as a result of rape. There’s an easy solution here – it’s for men to stop raping women. Most people would agree it’s potentially traumatic for someone to raise a child that looks like their rapist, so if we want that foetus to be born, we have to provide options like adoption.

I don’t think any woman enjoys making the decision to abort their foetus. But faced with leaving my home, losing my job, becoming more ill, and a lifetime of poverty, the whims of those deciding on what benefits I could claim, social isolation and the constant reminder of rape, I can see why abortion could be the better of my two unpleasant options. There is judgement and prejudice faced by single parent families, by unemployed people, by the poor, and to choose to keep your own child would be to choose that lifestyle for them, as well as you. 

But I can see a church where abortion ends.

I see a church where everybody is welcome, where you go to for support rather than condemnation. A church where older women are there to guide pregnant mums through the ups and downs of pregnancy, where shared meals beat isolation and generous giving covers the cost. A church where to walk in, alone and pregnant, you receive such friendship that you gain a family to call on.

I see a church where unwanted pregnancy doesn’t happen. Where boys and young men are taught to respect and honour the girls and women in their life, and challenge those who don’t. Where there’s no taboo about discussing domestic violence, sexual abuse, or teenage relationships before the child is conceived. Where education doesn’t shy away from discussing contraception, and where youth workers and schools workers can open up the conversation that directs young people to contraceptives that are freely available, because they are trusted. Where there’s always a night pastor to put you safely in a cab home, so you avoid relying on a predator.

I see a church where children and adults are nurtured. If it took a village to raise a child, it could be done by a church. Where girls whose families have rejected them find in the church the birth partners, financial backers, DIY helpers, benefits experts, advocates and peacemakers they need. Where adopted children find the extended family they never had. Where it’s so normal for a Christian family to adopt that a household without adopted children is considered unusual. Where a single mum and her child are right at home, are listened to, and can lead others without fear of stigma. And where a child with additional needs is so loved that their environment doesn’t disable them, and they can learn and grow and dream and laugh, and mothers expecting a child with a disability can see that. Where “I can’t raise this child alone” never has to be a reason to abort.

And I see a church where pregnancy needn’t mean financial instability. Where Christians will fight for the rights of their colleagues, so employers provide adequate maternity leave, adaptable jobs and job shares to fit around parenthood, and a living wage.  Where advocates fight to get adoptive parents and single mums all the benefits they’re entitled to, and pregnant mums, new mums and single mums can work because their church helps with the practicalities. Where Christian households will accommodate a pregnant woman so she can afford a warm, safe, dry home. Where “I can’t afford this baby” never has to be a reason to abort.

To end abortion we have to love the parents and the child, and church members have to expect to act radically and sacrificially. When we pray, God does change things, but by changing us and our attitudes first. I believe there will be a time when abortion for non-medical reasons isn’t needed any more. But that the church has to choose to act so that this can be a reality. Go on, I dare you to pray.