The “prayers of the people” is a routine component of most protestant church services. Each week, a volunteer delivers these prayers to the congregation, adapting to incorporate pertinent current affairs and names of downtrodden individuals upon request.
These were delivered as usual at my downtown Ottawa church on Sunday – and I was entirely comfortable participating. That is until a special prayer was added to acknowledge the forthcoming March for Life on Parliament Hill: a deeply controversial annual event where draconian faith-based activists from across the country pour into the capital to spread ‘the word’ that abortion is a sin.
Given my impoverished and staunchly religious upbringing in the Anglican Church, I was raised to be fearful and skeptical of ‘the Other’: racial minorities, queer communities, or any marginal identity outside the white, Anglo-Saxon ‘norm’.
Through the subversive behavioural lens of my sheltered family, women were the second sex, there are merely two genders (trans* identity was beyond our realm of comprehension), and to be queer was utterly out of the question. My struggles with mental illness were to be kept quiet, also. It was of the utmost importance for us to be perceived as “normal.” Never did the topic come up, but it was inferred that abortion fell into this avoided “abnormal” category also.
I credit feminist theory for rescuing me from the confines of an otherwise regrettably bigoted, close-minded life. Fortunately for me, I registered for a gender studies course during my undergrad and fell in love immediately; eventually switching programs. Therein, I was exposed to the realities of social hierarchies, systems of power and privilege, what it means to be oppressed, and met a great deal of people (women, mostly) from diverse backgrounds who taught me more about the world than I’d ever come close to understanding. Furthermore, my activism in the Ottawa community has only deepened this appetite and become an intrinsic part of my identity.
I did not attend church for most of my life with the exception of childhood, and only until a major death in my family did I really start praying again. Only in my late twenties have did I catch myself semi-regularly and half-heartedly attending a service most weeks in my neighbourhood. This has gradually evolved into a weekly necessity.
Upon attempting to re-open the abortion debate in the House of Commons last year, former MP Stephen Woodworth’s Motion 312 was struck down almost unanimously, even by our right-wing Prime Minister at the time. Clearly, there is little to no desire on the federal level to open this exceptionally divisive issue said to have been put to rest under Trudeau Senior’s reign in the late 1960s.
Still, Woodworth is not alone. This Thursday, thousands of evangelists from all walks of life will inundate the Parliamentary lawn and fill our streets (including many members and the full clergy of my church). They will be carrying posters and placards of terminated fetuses, praying together, and hoping to stoke the fires of public policy to re-open this dialogue. I was invited by my church to be one of them, and respectfully declined.
Instead, as I did last year, I will carry a sign that reads “Christian and Pro-Choice” to underscore the fact that negotiating these ordinarily polarizing identities is entirely feasible. My pastor himself once told me that if I didn’t feel comfortable praying to the “Father, Son and Holy Spirit” during service, I was welcome to say “Mother, Daughter and Holy Spirit” and address “Her” and “She” rather than “Him” or “He.”
When a friend approached me to talk her through her abortion several years ago, it was feminist discourse that empowered me to reassure her that this is her right, both legally and personally, as someone with reproductive organs. Thanks to the work of activists such as the Radical Handmaids, Abortion Access Now PEI (who succeeded this year in finally bringing abortion access to PEI) and second-wavers such as Gloria Steinem, we are entitled to free reign over our bodies.
While patriarchy is deeply entrenched in biblical teachings and much of Christianity globally, language is merely semantic and entirely malleable. I would argue that it is perfectly acceptable to dismantle these archaic customs in the interest of aligning one’s faith to one’s identity and personal politics.
From residential schools to the demonization of the queer community, the church has done so much to misinterpret Christ’s intentions in Canada. Not least of which, shaming those born with reproductive organs that choose to exercise their legal right to agency and autonomy over their bodies.
It is so easy to see that Jesus was a feminist. What a shame so few Christians can see this.