During my first stint in seminary, I visited a Crisis Pregnancy Center to write a paper for a class on health and spirituality.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. When I arrived, the director and I met for a short while to talk about what the center could offer women who might be pregnant. I listened carefully. She was excited to share about the resources and opportunities they could provide. She spoke about donated diapers, baby clothes, equipment, parenting classes and a maternity clothes closet.
We toured the small facility, and then I was invited to sit in a “client interview” because a young woman had just arrived for a first visit. The director spoke with the young woman and took her through an intake process which included her status as a Christian. She was asked if she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as her Savior. The young woman seemed a bit stunned but recovered quickly and said she thought she did believe. After asking many questions, the director left the room without asking if the woman believed she might be pregnant. She only asked if she was sexually active. Then the young woman’s signature was required in order to receive a pregnancy test.
The young woman and I chatted some with the director out of the room. She told me she was very fearful that she was pregnant. Her menstrual cycle was late. She was afraid to tell her parents who already had kicked her out of their home, and she could not afford to buy a pregnancy test. She had heard she could get a free test at the Crisis Pregnancy Center and had gotten a ride from a friend so she could find out if she was pregnant. She told me about her boyfriend. She wasn’t sure he would support her and a child. She assumed he would be angry.
A test and instructions were provided when the director returned. The test results were to be seen by the director only.
“She agreed, obviously in torment, and mumbled agreement to the questions as the director led the prayer.”
In the meantime, a plan of salvation was offered to the young woman. Would she like to pray? She agreed, obviously in torment, and mumbled agreement to the questions as the director led the prayer.
Finally, the young woman was informed that her test was negative. She was counseled to abstain from sex so she would not become pregnant in the future or get an STD, and she was allowed to leave, relieved but ashamed.
Once I believed, like so many evangelicals, that God is on the side of those who are pro-life. At the Crisis Pregnancy Center, I had the opportunity to observe firsthand what it was like to be a woman in this situation. I already had doubts.
I, unlike the young woman in crisis, was white, wealthy enough to go to seminary at 24 and had access to birth control through my OBGYN because I had access to health care. When I had my first child at 26, I planned with my spouse and chose to become pregnant. We could support the child financially and emotionally, and our parents were excited to become grandparents. My church threw a huge baby shower where I received many beautiful gifts. After the baby was born, people delivered homemade food that lasted us a week. When I returned to my church, after maternity leave, adults cared for my child in the nursery. I, unlike the young woman at the crisis pregnancy center, had support, money, a home, an education and a life free from abuse.
“She didn’t know how to believe in this Jesus who made her afraid and less than.”
My paper was not kind to the Crisis Pregnancy Center. I supposed the center had caused harm to this young woman who only needed a small amount of support, comfort, an $8 pregnancy test and contraceptives. Instead, she got judgment, shame and a lesson in Christianity that told her she didn’t stand a chance to “get into heaven.” She didn’t know how to believe in this Jesus who made her afraid and less than.
Honestly, I don’t know how to believe in this Jesus either.
Jesus loves me, this I know. Yes, Jesus loves me. But does Jesus only love me for my body’s ability to birth a child? Does Jesus only love me if I’m sexually “pure?” Does Jesus only love me if I teach other women that God sent God’s own Son to die because they are so horribly sinful? They don’t deserve the love of God, but does Jesus still love them somehow?
This isn’t love.
In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus drives out those who are at the tables in the temple courtyard by turning the tables over: “Jesus said to them, my house will be called a house of prayer; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
The Jesus I believe in would have turned over tables in this Crisis Pregnancy Center as he did in the temple. He would have been angry at the treatment young women receive. Angry that they are shamed and coerced.
Jesus says it is those who gather here who cause harm and steal. You comfortably hide under the banner of God, yet you are thieves. In the Gospel of Luke and elsewhere, thieves or robbers are defined for us in the parable of the Good Samaritan. They beat up, rob and leave the traveler for dead on the side of the road.
We are to see the temple and the people it represents as working against God’s purposes. Luke also gives us insight into what the temple should be, a house of prayer where prayers are not just spoken but heard by God. A place of safety.
“The Crisis Pregnancy Center robbed this young woman of her dignity.”
The Crisis Pregnancy Center robbed this young woman of her dignity. Made her wait, coerced her prayer and shamed her conduct. They beat up her sense of self — telling her she couldn’t make good decisions and care for her own body. Then they sent her away without any tools to help her heal or thrive. She was left with only a lack of trust for priests and Christians who only preach piety and completely miss the suffering of the traveler who is their neighbor.
Women are suffering. We have a choice to believe and serve a God who hears our prayers, our suffering, and who acts. Jesus turns over the tables to reveal what we should have seen all along — our responsibility to see women as human beings with value and goodness.
The good news is the kin’dom of God is a place of safety for women even though we often have failed to make it so. Beloved, give up your thievery, turn over some tables to make room for the teachings of Jesus and follow his command to love.
Julia Goldie Day is ordained through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and lives in Memphis, Tenn. She is a painter and proud mother to Jasper, Barak and Jillian. Learn more about her at her website.
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