Tough Question at Starbucks
I had no idea where this conversation was going. She saw that I was reading a Bible and we had a short conversation about what we did for a living. When she learned I was a pastor, she nodded. There’s always an awkward silence-- like the person is watching what she or he says. She told me she used to go to church a lot, but stopped going because it was no longer her priority.
Then she asked a very loaded question. Something that’s very divisive in the Christian community. “So, as a pastor, what do you think about abortion? Where do you stand?” It kind of caught me off guard. I took a long sip of my coffee to buy time to assess the whole situation and play the possible outcomes of my response. I was also trying to figure out if there was a motive behind this question. To buy more time, I asked: “Honestly?”
“Please,” she replied. And I said to myself, oh what the hell. I’ll just be completely honest.
I warned, “You probably won’t like my answer-- or you'll think that it’s a cop out.”
“It’s okay. I just haven't talked to a pastor for a long time, and I want the opinion of one.”
Oh great. No pressure at all.
So, I begin to explain what I really believed in. This is basically what I said : I personally feel that I shouldn’t label myself as a conservative/fundamentalist/evangelcal or liberal/progressive. I honestly believe that it all depends on the issue. I think that some issues require me to be a so-called “evangelical” and other issues make me a so-called “liberal” but those are all labels and labels are not one-size fits all. Being a minority, I’ve been stereotyped and labeled all my life, so maybe that’s where this resistance to being affiliated with one side comes from. But, as to the question of where I stand on abortion, I can only respond: both. I do believe that life begins at conception. I believe that abortion should be the very, very, very, very, very last resort and that life should be protected.
But at the same time, it’s the woman’s body and ultimately her decision. As a pastor, my job is to be love and to love regardless of what the decision is. I don’t believe demonizing those who choose abortion or bombing abortion clinics help the situation or the debate. And it doesn’t help the debate when pro-choice people demonize or belittle the other group either. Name calling leads us nowhere. I love what Mother Teresa said: “Give me the child. I want that child.” I think that’s an action of love, and I think that’s the most important aspect we forget when we debate over issues: love. As cliched as this may sound to you, I choose love. A woman needs a LOT of love when she is confronted with this decision. I don’t think I have enough courage and strength to say: "give me that child," but I know that I can say that there is nothing on this earth, no powers, no depths, no heights, that not even death or life can separate us from God’s love. The only thing I can try to do well is to be the embodiment of God’s love and grace. Let those who want to debate, debate. But that woman is in need. She’s in need whether she goes through with the abortion or not. And I believe that the Church should be there loving her and helping regardless, because God will love her regardless.
And then there was this long awkward silence. Why isn’t she saying anything? I pretended to take a sip of coffee, even though I had already finished it earlier. “…And you?” I asked with uncertainty.
She just smiled and said, “Thank you for your honesty. I don’t know if I agree with you completely, but I believe you're right in saying that the woman needs love and support at the beginning of the process, during the process, and at the end of the process, regardless of her decision.”
“Why did you ask me the question to begin with?” I had to know. No one really asks a stranger that kind of loaded question. Right?
“It’s just that I don’t like the Christians I’ve been running into. It has affirmed my decision of not going to church. Since you're a pastor-- I don’t know-- maybe I can gauge a section of the Christian community with your answer.”
She stayed a bit longer and we talked about all sorts of things including our experiences of church. After about an hour, she said to me, “You know, I can’t promise you much. But this Sunday, I think I’ll try to stop by my old church. It’s been a while since I’ve gone, and I think it might be nice. Thank you for that.”
“Thank you for sharing your story. And when you go to church, say hello to God for me.” (Yes. I’m that corny and stupid.)
By far, that was the sweatiest time I've spent at a coffee shop. But I was really thankful that she was open and honest. It allowed me to be open and honest.
If anything, this conversation affirmed that we can talk about the most divisive issues openly without demonizing or labeling groups of people who think differently from us. I was wary, nervous and scared when she first asked me because of my other experiences being asked a question like that. Usually, I say something and someone hijacks my response and tries to teach me the Way to Salvation. But I’m glad that God was in the midst of our conversation. And I really do hope that she stopped by her church the following Sunday.
Joseph Yoo is pastor of youth and spiritual formation at Valencia United Methodist Church in Valencia, CA. He blogs at Step by Step.