Radical Discipleship

New 606 contributor Ben Wideman is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State.

Discipleship is a word that gets tossed around a lot in campus ministry. It is at the core of many different organizations on our campus… we even have a campus ministry that was founded at Penn State and now present on more than a dozen campuses across the country called DiscipleMakers. Most of these organizations see discipleship as a sending call to embody a literal biblical call to make non-believers or non-practicing Christians into disciples of Christ (based on the Matthew 28 passage often referred to as the Great Commission).

At the core of my responsibility to the students at Penn State is a radical kind of relational discipleship that looks somewhat different than how my campus ministry colleagues and peers might understand the word. Much of this difference has to do with a posture adjustment in how I move in the world. The traditional understanding of discipleship is that Christians are sent out into a broken and fallen world to save the lost by turning them into disciples. Unfortunately, Christian history is filled with stories of people doing this poorly – perhaps with aggressive (sometimes militant) force, coercion, or manipulation of the people they engage. It is packaged with a black-and-white certainty about who is right and wrong. It also requires determining that Christians are the category of “in”, and everyone else is “out”. This insider mentality also comes with some unfortunate insider traits of being against LGBTQ+ inclusion, indifferent on environmental or racial justice, and intolerant of other faith traditions.

Rather than seeing our campus as a problematic fallen and broken space in need of conversion, I see an opportunity to present a different kind of Jesus follower. My role is to flip the script of what a Christian minister can be. My ministry has to be radically inclusive, welcoming and affirming students regardless of their gender or sexual identity, regardless of their faith tradition (or lack-thereof), and offering them a space to belong even if they have more questions than answers. I was fortunate to have mentors and professors who challenged me to see Christ’s example as a way that was radically inclusive of the outsider, and to challenge the notion that it was the church’s responsibility to be the gatekeeper of that inclusive love. It is with their voices in my head that I move in my work and context.

Recently someone asked me how many students I’ve converted to Christianity during my first five years of work with 3rd Way Collective. I paused for a minute, realizing that my focus has not been on creating new Christians. Quickly my mind went not to those who have converted but to the many people for whom we have helped redeem their faith tradition. Dozens of students came to mind who had been on the verge of giving up their faith because they thought the only way to be a Christian was a fundamentalist one, focused on who gets in to heaven and who will be sent to hell. They were close to rejecting their faith because they had seen church leaders reject their peers who were gay, Muslim, atheist, too liberal, divorced, or any of the other reasons that Christians have condemned the world.

I thought about Gary Cattell, a long-time street preacher, referred to on campus as the “Willard Preacher” for the building he stands in front of day after day. His message is one of condemnation and repentance, urging students to turn from their evil ways, and to reject the trappings of college parties, homosexuality, women’s rights, and substance abuse. Gary is a complicated character, because he has some grains of truth in his ramblings. It is true, after all, that Penn State’s party culture and substance abuse can be highly problematic. But with his scattershot street preaching approach he’s missing the point. He forgets that each person who walks by him is a beloved child of God, in need of love and support in their life regardless of the decisions that they have made. He forgets that being radical in our context is not preaching condemnation, but rather humbly sharing a Gospel message that is more wildly inclusive and welcoming than our minds can even comprehend. There is certainly a need to be reflective on how college students spend their time, but I think this happens best when we take the time to get to know each other and enter into meaningful dialog about our experience.

Rather than preaching, my vision for radical discipleship with college students is two-fold.

The first is to show up and speak up for students who feel marginalized or rejected. Right now on our campus that means getting to know students from underrepresented groups having to do with ethnicity, economic background, gender or sexual identity, or religious identity. We also see an increasing need to be providing spaces for those who feel like their political ideology is underrepresented. Being present with these groups is often met at first with skepticism. After all, Christians are often the ones who are leading the charge in condemning these various groups if they do not conform to a traditional Christian mold. Yet something incredibly transformative occurs when students realize we are not there to change or convert, but to speak up to use some of our privilege to empower and work for meaningful change in our context. These are the sacred spaces where students begin to see how they can thrive instead of simply surviving, and to be part of shaping a better future.

The second part is to create spaces for people to simply be and belong. In our early moments I assumed that 3rd Way Collective was present to preach about a faith-based peace and justice alternative. I realized very quickly that the most helpful way to do this was to create connecting points where anyone was welcome to be present and belong. Our regular events shifted from lecture-based times to unstructured meals around a table at a local restaurant or pub, family dinner table, or student living room. These spaces of belonging do not require students to share a set of beliefs or perspectives; however, they do strive to be accommodating first and foremost to those who are marginalized. In this way we radically shift the historic discipleship narrative from one in which people must first conform in order to connect to one in which people can connect first and decide which aspects of the tradition or community to embrace or reject in their own time.

We still have a lot of work to do. I don’t always know how to reach out to those who continue to feel marginalized, nor do I always fully understand how my own privileged identity (straight, white, middle-class, Christian, male, etc) places its own barriers of belonging. An increasing number of students from politically conservative perspectives are also feeling marginalized, and I’m not sure exactly what to do with that given that they often come from many of those same privileges that I do (cisgender, white, middle-class, Christian, etc). I am also acutely aware that I still hold fear about speaking up and speaking out. I can remember specific times when I did not have the courage to speak up in a public space for a person who was clearly being treated poorly. I decided that it wasn’t my space or time, forgetting that this is precisely how injustice continues on – when people remain silent.

I know for certain that my vision is not perfect, but I think I would rather focus on standing up for those who feel marginalized, and creating spaces for people to belong, than continuing a campus ministry tradition of building spaces for the insiders and rejecting those who already feel like outsiders. It is my hope that our example with 3rd Way Collective can continue to challenge other faith groups to transform how they see their call to discipleship within our student body.  

Measuring Up

New 606 contributor Ben Wideman is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State.

One of the biggest challenges to starting a brand new movement is measuring whether or not that movement is thriving. This is particularly true with movements with a faith element. Faith leaders have long understood that their work is hard to quantify. They intuitively understand that the number of participants may be a helpful indicator that a movement may be doing well; however participation is definitely not the only factor. In fact, there are many examples of unhealthy movements with many participants. The inverse may also be true. A pastor may preach to a large congregation on Sunday but find more meaning, life, and pastoral value in the hours she spends sitting with a family or individual in need on a weekday.

Societal change may be used by some as a marker of whether a movement is thriving. The challenge with this marker for success is that societal change happens slowly, involves many different people and influences, and is typically not attributed to one movement or person.

Over-working may be used by others to demonstrate that a movement is thriving. When there is endless work to be done, perhaps this points to how much of a need there is to be creating a movement. This creates an unhealthy reliance on being busy to show success (something that I have fallen victim to during my first five years with 3rd Way Collective).

As I began my work with 3rd Way Collective, I asked how the church and faith community would be measuring the success of this new campus and community student organization. My Advisory Team suggested that measurements were going to be challenging but that they hoped they would be able to feel if it was working.

Living in to that ambiguous reality has been a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, I know that I am not being judged based on how many students or community members connect with this organization, nor am I being asked to change society with this endeavor. Generally speaking, our first five years have come with a significant amount of affirmation. People have been outspoken in how much of a difference this movement is making in our community and how valuable it is to have a campus pastor committed to faith-based peace and social justice. Even though there have been moments where it doesn’t feel like we have a critical mass of students, we have been affirmed for the network of connections we are building and have built in our first five years.

But I also know that not everyone who supports this work feels the same way. Some folks at University Mennonite Church (our main supporting congregation) wish we spent more time focusing on Christian faith formation. Others wonder if it might be better if we operated and looked more like a traditional campus ministry (such as CRU, InterVarsity, Navigators, Disciplemakers, etc). Some think we are being too overtly peace-focused, while others wish we would focus more on the specific Mennonite denominational identity.

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It is clear that we will never please every supporter, nor will we meet the expectations of every student or community member. Given that reality, I have found that I need to come up with my own measures to feel as if this movement is thriving.

One of my Advisory Team members suggested several months ago that the challenge we face is that when justice work is being done in our community, we hear fewer stories of hurting students and individuals. Put frankly, the fruit of our work ends up being that less people are in pain, which is very hard to assess or measure. But while this is challenging on a macro level, we have been blessed with many personal stories of the ways we’ve made a difference in student’s lives.

A few years ago an African American student thanked me for being willing to show up at #BlackLivesMatter events and other events focusing on racial justice. He admitted that while he had only been a Penn State student for a few years, he was noticing an increase in collaboration around justice issues and thought it had something to do with my willingness to simply show up in many different places. I lamented to him that we still had a long way to go to achieve racial justice in our community, but he pushed back and said that simply hearing a privileged community member (myself) say that was a sign that things were moving in the right direction.

Around the same time a student reached out to me to thank me for being a presence on our campus. She admitted that she had spent the first few years as a student on our campus pretending that she was not a Christian. She had noticed that the Christian organizations were generally more fundamentalist and conservative, and her passion for environmental justice and LGBTQ+ inclusion meant that she hid her faith identity from her classmates. Having 3rd Way Collective around allowed her to see that there were other people who were both people of faith and people who cared about justice issues. She had decided to re-embrace her faith identity because of watching our organization move about our community. (Also see my blog post about the unexpected ripples in our work with the LGBTQ+ community)

A student from the Jewish tradition met me for coffee a few months later to thank me for our presence. She had been frustrated with the way that the Jewish community was standing for justice in our community – especially around Israel/Palestine, and gender identity. She felt like 3rd Way Collective was making it possible for Jewish organizations to see an alternative to the way that they had always been doing campus ministry, and within a few years her Jewish organization had created a social justice position to specifically work at being a better justice-minded presence on our campus.

A few years later I had the honor of hearing a student share that our organization was one of the reasons that they had chosen not to complete suicide as a closeted LGBTQ+ person. They saw our presence as one of the factors that allowed them to more fully embrace their own identity, and move about the campus.  

More recently we helped Muslim students continue their Free Pizza Friday initiative – a way of breaking down Islamaphobia by handing out free pizza once a month. They had run out of money to continue this powerful witness on our campus, but connecting with 3rd Way Collective gave them a different kind of network of support. Their student leaders have thanked us for standing in solidarity with them during this time of increased religious tension and offering them an example of Christians who are willing to work with Muslim students rather than belittle or try and convert them.

A recent student officer shared with me that she had basically given up on organized religion. She had decided that her church was the outdoors and to find God she simply went on a hike. She had started to wonder if perhaps she was not a Christian because of how differently she understood her faith and what was important to her. It was only in connecting to 3rd Way Collective that she realized that her faith identity did not have to be tied to a particular traditional experience of faith.

These stories are all bright moments of light when I become discouraged that we are not making enough impact on campus, don’t have a big enough group of active students, or aren’t making enough of a difference in our community. They provide me with real-life stories where our presence is changing the lives of individuals in a real and meaningful way. In the absence of a clear metric for success, these personal stories become the way that I know that this work is important and valuable, and must be continued.

Updates in Hate Scholarship: How Talk Matters

606 contributor Rebecca Barrett-Fox is a scholar of hate, religion, and sexuality. 

In 2009, Republican politicians and commentators threw a fit over a Department of Homeland Security report that noted that we were witnessing a rise in hate activity, domestic extremism, and domestic terrorism. Conservatives didn’t like the fact that some of their core beliefs–mistrust of the federal government, strong adherence to conservative Christianity, militarism–were seen as possible causes of concern. They won the battle over how the government would talk about extremism, and the report was yanked. But they insistence that they were persecuted has cost us many lives and contributed, emboldened by Trumpism, to more extremist behaviors.

How we talk about hate is important. If you want to learn more about why, check out these two academic articles. (And if you don’t have access to them through your library, let me know and I’ll find a way to get them to you.)

After terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, police, community groups, and faith organizations can work together in shaping a story to reduce the likelihood of retaliatory hate acts. That’s the takeaway from Sadique, K., Tangen, J. & Perowne, A., ‘The importance of narrative in responding to hate incidents following ‘trigger’ events‘ (2018), Tell MAMA

For decades, the Pacific Northwest has served as an imaginary geography for hate groups–some of whom have had the specific goal of creating a white ethnostate there. The internet has allowed a different geography of hate to be created, one where the physical reality of the border matters less. That’s the gist of “Networks of Hate: The Alt-Right, ‘Troll Culture,’ and the Cultural Geography of Social Movement Spaces Online” by Edwin Hodge and Helga Hallgrimsdottir and published in Journal of Borderland Studies.

 

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Above, one of the many maps showing a post-racial civil war America, as envisioned by white power movement participants. 

The Church and Baseball

New 606 contributor Ben Wideman is the campus pastor for 3rd Way Collective at Penn State.

The other day someone remarked to me that they admired how justice-minded I was as a person. I was humbled to be thought of in that way, but admitted I have many areas I still need to be working with. These include some subtle things that could be adjusted in small ways, like the environmental impact of the food that I eat, the amount of fossil fuel I burn for various reasons, or the ways I grudgingly participate in our capitalism-driven society. Then there are other things that I know I am complicit in yet I feel trapped within a system too big to change like our country’s prison- and military-industrial complex, ongoing white supremacy, or the frustration of our political climate. But perhaps the two things that stand out to me the most are large systems that I continue to stay connected and committed to, despite my reservations.

Major League Baseball (MLB), and the American (and Canadian) Christian Church.

Both of these are organizations that I deeply love, have passion for, and have benefitted from. Both have provided me with joy I cannot easily put into words. I’ve been connected to both for most of my life – certainly all of my conscious adult life. They both contain sub-classifications that I feel even more deeply connected to (baseball’s Toronto Blue Jays and Mennonite Church USA), as well as leading individuals who I am both proud to align myself with, and inspired on a regular basis by their presence in the world. I’m energized and excited by both, despite them sharing a reputation of being boring, out of touch, irrelevant to a growing number of young people, and resistant to change.

They are also both extremely problematic, unjust, and deeply set in their ways. They both have a tendency to internally police themselves, often to their own detriment and demise. Both could be easily categorized as homophobic, oppressive, power-hungry, male-dominated, environmentally irreverent, and fiscally manipulative. They are both guilty of holding and wielding power, wealth, and social influence. My friends and family members include both the individuals who are passionately loyal to these organizations, and others who have systematically rejected one or the other. At various moments in my life, I too have wondered whether I’d be better off without being connected to either one of them.

Both also have the capacity to hold multiple truths in the same space. They have a historic precedent to lag behind progress being made in society, yet individuals from both spaces have led movements for social change. Despite Major League Baseball’s racist past, Jackie Robinson and other players like Larry Doby, Bill White, and Roberto Clemente rose to prominence as people who were not afraid to push back against racial injustice. Others have pushed for labor rights, gender inclusion, and better economic policies. Likewise, though the Church has also been a place of power abuse, there have been many courageous voices who has spoken out against racism, classism, gender bias, wealth, environmental injustice, and so much more. Many current voices within the church have worked tirelessly to create a better future, and reform a heavy past. Austen Hartke, Nadia Bolz-Weber, Austin Channing Brown, Mark Van Steenwyk, Drew Hart, as well as the late Rachel Held Evans quickly come to mind.

The Church and MLB contain their own origin stories that contain questions about their historical fact. Participants in both groups make sense of the origin stories in their own way, choosing which elements of the history to reject, which elements to hold dear, and which elements to simply hold in faith that despite layers of complexity there is something important about remembering and returning to those stories. Legend, myth, and the supernatural are found in both spaces, and generations that follow have chosen different ways to tell these stories, and which stories to hold up as “true”. The experience of participating in both a baseball game and a church service feels familiar changes little over time, however different generations would probably find the technology present in both spaces to be unfamiliar and surprising.

The Church and Major League Baseball have been a safe-haven for those in need of a space or identity to belong, yet they have also been quick to reject those who do not conform to certain standards. They have provided employment and community for many, and have also been quick to dismiss people from these spaces and roles. They have both added to the fabric and vibrancy of neighborhoods, and have crushed and wiped out others in their wake. They share a capacity to make people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves, and also to alienate and isolate. Each contains the same wealth inequality that much of the world suffers from – those at the top are exponentially more wealthy than those at the bottom.

Being a fan of baseball, or a part of a local church, provides the participant to experience a wide range of emotions – both positive and negative. The both provide ways to experience familiarity, liturgy, and structure, and to also be surprised by the unexpected. Participants describe both as mystical or spiritual experiences, while also admitting that there are times where they do not experience that but are left drained and fatigued. Both encourage positive and negative aspects of tribalism, and those groups include people pushing and resistant to change.

I see both as microcosms for the broader human experience. Both are large enough to contain many positive and negative qualities and their collective value is determined by the the people who exist within their members. Their potential for good is not guaranteed, but instead depends on individuals choosing to make just decisions from within, and raising their voices when this does not occur.

At this point of my life I have committed to being a member of the larger Christian Church through my denomination (Mennonite) and local church here in State College at University Mennonite (as a minister this commitment is one that is somewhat deeper than a typical member). I have also chosen to remain committed to the experience of being a fan of the Toronto Blue Jays, and Major League Baseball. I have reservations with both of those commitments, but I recognize that at this moment in time I have some (perhaps more) capacity to push these organizations toward change when I am inside them than if I was on the outside looking in. I am also deeply aware that we need outsiders who are also pushing toward justice and change from outside the membership parameters. I know that this is especially true of those who have been marginalized and pushed out of these groups. As an insider I must recognize the privilege I have to belong to both, and allow that to influence my decisions as I move about these two worlds.

There may be a time of my life where I step away from one or both of these organizations. I may also spend the rest of my life holding this commitment I have at this moment. But my choice to belong helps me take stock in other aspects of my life where I am in, or outside of, an organization. I also hope that this awareness of being part of just/unjust organizations can offer me some humility that I am not perfect and empathy toward others before judging them because of unjust behaviors I may not approve of.

Major League Baseball and The Church. Both will continue to shape and influence how I interact and move about the world, whether I am inside or outside looking in.

Non-Violent Approaches to Atonement

Today, I’m following up to a question I was recently asked: If penal substitutionary atonement isn’t the only way for Christians to understand salvation, what else is there?

606 isn’t a theology blog, and I’m not a theologian or a church historian, so I approach this slowly and with a partial answer, focusing on two doctrines that better (I think) align with the peace and reconciliation work of the church (and thus ignoring ransom, satisfaction, moral government, and substitutionary theorie). The two views I share below are derived from Western theologies–I simply don’t know enough about the insights of African, African American, indigenous, Asian, and Latin American theologians on the matter. I welcome more contributions to the topic, so if you have found a soteriology (a doctrine of salvation) that you think is edifying, please share it.

What I share here is a very brief summary of two popular doctrines, simply to introduce them as concepts and remind readers that there are other ways of thinking about Jesus’ death that don’t require a valorization of violence.

Moral Influence (also called the Example Theory or the Socinian view, after a group of Polish unitarian Christians who adopted it): Jesus’ death is meant to show us God’s love and, in doing so, encourage us to love each other more. The focus isn’t on restoring a relationship between people and God but on helping us to act right in this life–“For you have been called for this purpose,” 1 Peter 2:21 states, “since Christian also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow His steps.”  This view was first articulated by the medieval theologian Peter Abelard (yes, that Abelard) and continues to be popular among Unitarians.

Christus Victor (Christ the Victor): Jesus literally defeats death by resurrecting from the grave, then ascending to heaven. Christians share in this victory–not because Jesus’ suffering was due to our sins but because Jesus’ resurrection includes us. As 1 Corinthians 15:55-57 says, quoting Isaiah 25,

“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

While many evangelicals are skeptical of the Christ the Victor model, it is central to Orthodoxy.

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Above, Arthur Robins’ Jesus Christ Cross CrucifiedFor those who question violent atonement, the suffering of someone dying by state-inflicted torture isn’t a path to salvation.

Womanist and feminist theologians have tremendous insights into how we understand Jesus’ death, including calling into question the notion (so embedded in the white evangelical tradition) that Jesus’ death was required for human salvation, that it was a “happy exchange” (in Martin Luther’s words) in which Jesus took on human sin so humans could be redeemed. This evangelical vision, which requires reading Jesus into the Hebrew Scriptures, makes suffering and death inevitable and redemptive and obedience to them as noble–messages that have helped keep women and people of color locked into oppressive relationships. In a future post, I’ll get back to their contributions to new understandings of the execution of Jesus.

For me, leaving penal substitutionary atonement–the idea that Jesus has to die in order to settle a debt that I owe to God because of the sin that is inherent in my nature–behind meant I could more clearly understand Jesus’ life and ministry, because I was no longer reading it to explain justify a complicated, transactional, abuse-justifying theology. In response, I was better able to see Jesus in his own culture, social, political, and historical moment: that his ministry of reconciliation, healing, and justice was enough to get him killed. That it threatened to bring dangerous Roman attention to an already-oppressed Jewish community–which shows the ways that one oppression can lead to another. That what preceded his execution wasn’t Isaiah 53 but Matthew 21: 12-17. That Jesus died for our debts, not our sins.

For me, there were consequences in adopting this new theology, and all of them brought me closer, I think, to the heart of the gospel: reconciliation and healing, as modeled in Jesus’ life. Penal substitutionary atonement makes a lot of lazy Christians as adherents often interpret any demand on their behavior as an effort to undermine the meaning of Jesus’ death. The theology spiritualizes what is not spiritual–real human suffering, in this case, at the hands of state power–so that it can’t be acted upon. I don’t have time for it. If Christians are to be “about my Father’s business,” then I don’t think that penal substitutionary atonement can be what we’re about because it doesn’t get us acting like Jesus.

Rebecca

PA-IPL Bike Trip Day 6

New 606 contributor Ben Wideman reflections on a recent bike ride to promote climate action.

Something is shifting in Washington DC.

Four years ago I rode in my first PA-IPL Bike Trip from State College to DC. At that time our Hill visits were almost guaranteed to go one of two ways. If it was a Democrat they would thank us for our time but admit that anything having to do with climate change was challenging due to partisan divide. Republicans would admire our efforts to ride our bikes so far, but almost always deny that the climate was changing.

Despite the ongoing (and on many issues increasing) polarization of the two parties, there is increasing awareness among elected officials of both parties that climate change is real and engaged.

There is still major division on the path forward. There are still trigger words that some elected officials refuse to use. There is still a difference in the urgency of this problem, but few people are left who outright deny that the planet is warming.

Our ride included 7 riders who had journeyed from Philadelphia to DC, and 8 riders who had traveled from State College to DC. Together (with the assistance of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light’s incredible staff team of Cricket Hunter and Alison Cornish) we were able to visit the offices of all 18 Representatives and 2 Senators.

Several times during our hill visits we heard staffers share that Republicans are coming around and admitting that they made a mistake denying that humans have been a cause of the changing climate. There were times when younger staff members would admit that they were personally concerned about climate change, even if it wasn’t something that was as urgent for their boss. It feels like we’re watching a generational shift happen in a short moment in time.

On our ride we heard more community members from Pennsylvania’s “red” districts talk about the way they are experiencing a different climate – either from the difficulty farmers are having this spring to get the crops into the ground, or the increasing change in the animals, plants, or tree pollen. We rode our bikes beside fields flooded with too much water, and heard that a local fly fishing shop was shifting the flies they sold because insects are emerging at different times than they used to. People who live in rural America are more intimately tuned in to how the climate is shifting.

One of my fellow cyclists shared that it feels as though the people fighting against climate change have been slowly walking toward solutions for many years – still moving forward, but painfully slowly at times. Now it feels like we’re on roller skates… still not moving as quickly as we should, but much faster than before.

There are still so many challenges in politics. Many people are still marginalized, underrepresented, or underserved. Progress on climate change does not equate to progress in all areas, nor does a decrease in political division on one topic have a trickle down effect to others.

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Still, there were some small signs of hope for me. Two years ago Pennsylvania had zero women among their 18 Congresspeople and 2 Senators. This year there are four. Two years ago there was so much gridlock that no one we visited felt any optimism at all that any policies could be implemented. There are still many challenges, but generally speaking optimism seemed higher than before. A Democratic majority in the House means that they have been able to keep a stronger hold on some environmental policy that the White House is trying to undermine.

Wednesday’s experience in Washington DC gives me more hope than I’ve had during the past few years of being present with my state’s elected officials. I know that change will come only when our communities raise their voices even louder, but it is exciting to see that some of those voices are shifting the culture of our national politics.

I will continue to ride my bicycle – for the planet, for future generations, for the moral imperative that we are facing. I hope you ride with me.

Can we make maternal death, infant mortality, and domestic violence pro-life causes?

Texas is considering legislation that would allow the death penalty for women who undergo abortions. Alabama, Georgia, Ohio, Missouri, Mississippi, Lousiana, Florida, West Virginia, Illinois, Minnesota, Maryland, and Kentucky h ave all passed or are considering severe restrictions on the procedure.

What do they have in common?

Overwhelmingly, states with greater restrictions on abortion also have worse rates of infant mortality. 

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Above, a map from the CDC showing data on infant mortality in 2016. The darker blue the state, the higher the infant mortality rate. 

And maternal death.

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Oh, and they also have higher teen pregnancy rates.

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Above, a map from the CDC showing teen pregnancy rates by state. The darker red the state, the higher the teen pregnancy rate. 

And higher STD rates.

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Above, a map showing STD rates by state. 

And higher rates of unwed motherhood.

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And higher divorce rates.

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And rates of domestic violence.

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On all kinds of measures, progressive states produce better outcomes for people. With very few exceptions (Utah), states, with more liberal politics achieve the ends that social conservatives say they want: fewer teen pregnancies, less teen sex, better marriages.

If we know what produces better outcomes for people–including lowered abortion rates–then why don’t conservative state lawmakers choose those policies?

I think it’s fair to trust that when people choose actions with predictable outcomes, they are  making those choices because they want those outcomes. When conservative lawmakers choose policies that result in harm to women and children, they are doing this because they want to harm women and children.

If you are an abortion rights advocate, that probably feels like an obvious statement, as you see evidence of a “war on women” in a new state legislature every day.

But I want to turn the conversation away from abortion for a moment, because these issues–domestic violence, divorce, maternal death, etc.–, while they intersect with abortion, aren’t only about abortion. And I’m hopeful that if people who consider themselves pro-life consider the patterns in states with anti-abortion policies, they will shift their energy away from curtailing abortion rights and toward doing the work that will actually end abortion. That work is also work that reduces unwanted pregnancies, STI and STD rates, divorce rates, and family violence rates. If pro-lifers can be convinced to buy into these causes as pro-life causes, there may be actual improvement in lives of people living in conservative states.

Rebecca