As we were leaving Mass, a friend handed me a note left in her mailbox by an anonymous neighbor. Its first words were “SHAME ON YOU PEOPLE,” certainly a tip-off that it wasn’t an invitation to a picnic. Sue and her husband Larry are devout Catholics, law-abiding and peace loving people. What crime could they have committed to warrant such a nasty note?
Turns out that it was all about a sign on their front lawn. It wasn’t big or graphic. Its message was simple: “Abortion stops a beating heart.” Although claiming to agree “100 percent,” the neighbor (and supposedly others) didn’t like the message being “thrown in [their] faces” and “shove[d] . . . down everyone’s throat.” Proclaiming it in the neighborhood was “[un]reasonable” and “gross.” Twice more the note repeated the shame theme. Good thing that neighbor agreed 100 percent. The note would have been really nasty otherwise.
Recently, a much bigger sign found its way into a much bigger neighborhood. The pro-life organization Life Always paid to display a four-story billboard in the SoHo neighborhood of New York City. It showed a beautiful six-year old black child, above whom was another simple message: “The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb.” The sign caused a firestorm. Pro-abortion Rev. Al Sharpton said the sign “sends a message of racial profiling and discourages a woman’s right to choose.” Planned Parenthood, which in 2010 did 17,000 abortions in New York City alone, called the sign “an offensive and condescending effort to stigmatize and shame African American women . . ..” But two black pastors head Life Always. PP also claimed that the sign seeks to “discredit the work of Planned Parenthood,” a telling statement about PP’s real mission given that the sign does not mention PP. Uncomfortable about the controversy, Lamar Advertising took down the sign.
When the subject is abortion, reactions to a pro-life message are often fierce. Walter Hoye knows that truth only too well. Hoye, age 54, is a black pastor in south Berekley, California. In 2009, Rev. Hoye went to abortion clinics in Oakland to pass out pro-life literature on the sidewalk. He carried a sign: “Jesus loves you and your baby. Let us help you.” He was prosecuted for violating an Oakland ordinance requiring abortion protesters from approaching within eight feet of women, staffers, and escorts entering clinics. Clinic staffers would surround him, block his signs with large pieces of cardboard, and make loud noise to block out his words. At trial the defense produced video evidence that the prosecution conjured up phantom victims. In the end, it didn’t matter. Hoye was sentenced to 30 days in jail.
The battle to rebuild a culture of life is no picnic. It will not be won by a slick slogan or by yet another parish program. It cannot be won with just a small cadre of pro-life warriors. The battle for the culture is a battle for the hearts and minds of people in our homes, schools, workplaces, and parishes. It is often waged house-to-house, face-to-face. And as any war veteran will agree, those close-in battles are the worst. There will be casualties.
That’s what makes us afraid to join the fight: it could be us. Will my spouse and kids roll their eyes at me if I say “no” to the wrong television shows or movies? Will my boyfriend stop liking me if I tell him that I want to wait? Will word spread around the office if I tell a colleague that I’m pro-life or if I challenge a colleague’s pro-abortion views? What if clients see me holding a sign or praying near an abortion clinic? Do I dare vote against a pro-abortion candidate from my lifelong party? What will my pastor say if I pass out pro-life literature? Should I preach about the unborn more than once a year, if that much? Fear can be very real.
As Jesus moved from town to town His popularity grew, and why not. He healed the sick, chased out demons, and fed 9,000 hungry people with just a few loaves and fishes. But He had a more important mission to accomplish. He had to repair a breach caused by Adam’s willful disobedience. That breach could only be fixed by His obeying the Father’s will, wherever that would lead him. Jesus knew just where it would lead Him. The thought made Him sweat blood. Yet He obeyed. He carried the Cross to His death, but not before He was betrayed, denied, unjustly accused, slapped, scourged, whipped, spit on, mocked, and pierced with thorns and nails. How did He overcome the fear of all that? In a word, Love. He loved His people so much that He could endure whatever came His way. Jesus’ love even allowed Him to die for the people who were killing Him. That includes us.
Jesus told us that if we want to be His followers, we must carry the cross of insult and ridicule, rejection and even persecution. Christianity is not for the faint of heart. Ask any martyr. But we can do it if we remember that love overcomes fear. Rev. Hoye did not need to go to jail. The judge offered him a different sentence if he would stay 100 yards from a clinic, about over 37 times the required distance. Love for the unborn and their mothers would not allow him to do so. He chose the Cross. It was his sign of love.
In love we must speak the truth, come what may. Abortion does stop a beating heart. The most dangerous place for an African American is in the womb. In New York City, where about 41 percent of all babies are aborted, the rate for African Americans is about 60 percent. More black babies are killed than see the light of day. But those messages must not just come from signs. The pro-life message must come from each of us. Face to face, heart to heart. Will it be a struggle? Sure, for love does not end fear. But love overcomes fear. Love will help us to speak about the things that need to be heard to those who may not want to hear it. Love will help us to witness in ways that fear would otherwise cause us to reject. We just need to remember what perfect Love did for us. On the Cross. That is our sign.
The only sign that matters.
Paul V. Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on a variety of pro-life topics. He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, where they are raising their six kids.
© Paul V. Esposito 2011. Culture of Life. Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted. Comments? Visit us at http://www.the-culture-of-life.com