Newsflash: Christians Make Themselves Look Petty. Again.

This story grabbed my attention:

The Southern Baptist Convention’s publishing wing is recalling the pink Bibles it was selling to help fund breast cancer research.

Why, you ask? Some of the money might have gone to breast cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood, which is pretty much an end-of-days scenario for pro-life groups given the organization’s clinics also provide abortions. …

The Tennessean reports that the pink copies of the Holman Christian Standard Bible, dubbed the “Here’s Hope Breast Cancer Bible,” went on sale at Wal-Mart and other major retailers in October, with $1 for every copy sold going to the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

That was all well and good until last week, when an outcry in the conservative blogosphere led to the publisher, LifeWay Christian Resources, receiving several dozen complaints about what pro-life advocates saw as an unacceptable link to Planned Parenthood. “The sign might as well read, ‘Buy a Bible and support abortion!” read one complaint on the pro-life blog Bound4Life.

Good grief. Is there anything so damaging to our witness as creating this kind of publicity?

I want to say this very clearly: Planned Parenthood is not evil. Yes, Planned Parenthood provides abortions. Yes, I think that’s wrong. But here’s what else Planned Parenthood provides:

  • Contraception
  • Vasectomies
  • Tubal sterilization
  • STD testing, including HIV
  • Pap tests
  • HPV vaccinations
  • Breast exams
  • Other cancer screening
  • Pregnancy tests
  • Prenatal consultation

This data taken from the Planned Parenthood website, which says it prevents 630,000 unwanted pregnancies each year. Not terminates. Prevents. Abortions make up 3 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services. The organization says that in 2009 it performed about 332,000 abortions.

In case you missed it, here’s that math again: Performed 332,000 abortions. Prevented 630,000 unwanted pregnancies. According to this study, 40 percent of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. Which means Planned Parenthood can be estimated to prevent about 252,000 abortions each year. 

Now, does that make the termination of 332,000 lives each year OK? Absolutely not. That’s a huge number of people who have lost their right to life. But abortion is a very small part of Planned Parenthood’s business; not only that, the vast majority of Planned Parenthood’s business is something Christians should wholeheartedly support. Why?

Well, guess who receives their services: The poor. Seventy-five percent of their clientele are at 150 percent of the poverty level or below. The federally defined poverty levels in 2011 look like this (with 150 percent in parentheses):

  • Family of one: $10,890 ($16,335)
  • Family of two: $14,710 ($22,065)
  • Family of three: $18,530 ($27,795)
  • Family of four: $22,350 ($33,525)
That’s not a lot of money. Having worked in journalism, a notoriously low-paying field, I’ve never been at the 150 percent levels listed there. If you’re a single mother pregnant with your first child, you are most assuredly not receiving health care if your job only earns you $16,000 annually.

Which means the services Planned Parenthood provides – education, contraception, cancer and HIV screening – are incredibly important. They are given to those least likely to afford them and, unfortunately, most likely to need them. If Planned Parenthood dried up and blew away tomorrow, someone else would still perform those abortions. But who else would invest so much effort into preventing them?

This is my frustration with the poison that has infected the Christian discussion of abortion. We focus so much on the wrongness of the action, we forget to focus on the best ways to prevent it. We become one-issue voters, rejecting any candidate who says he or she believes in a woman’s personal right to get an abortion – even if that candidate shares our goals for reducing the number of abortions to zero. Why? If his ideas for reducing unplanned pregnancies are better, shouldn’t we vote for him anyway? The point, as I see it, is to have fewer abortions, regardless of how that happens.

This poison has spread to our political system, where the party that caters heavily to the Christian right has turned the funding of Planned Parenthood into a talking point to acquire votes. Is that all abortion is now? A talking point? A way to line up the Christian sheep so they’ll vote the “right” way at the ballot box? If Planned Parenthood can be used to gin up opposition  from Christians to a law that will alleviate the suffering of millions of uninsured people currently unhelped by the church or any other private nonprofit organization, then we have truly lost our way.

But let’s set aside all the good Planned Parenthood does. Let’s assume the only two things it does are breast screenings and abortions, and that abortions make up 95 percent of its business, instead of just 3 percent. Would that make it wrong to partner with Planned Parenthood to help poor women get screened for breast cancer?

Lifeway thinks so:

“Though we have assurances that Komen’s funds are used only for breast cancer screening and awareness, it is not in keeping with LifeWay’s core values to have even an indirect relationship with Planned Parenthood,” the publisher’s president, Thomas Rainer, said in a statement explaining the recall and plans to halt production of additional copies.

Would Jesus have said that? Would the man who said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor, but sick people do,” turn up his nose at such a proposition?

Could we see Jesus making a statement like this?

“Though I have assurances that this food will only be used for nourishment and not to support her current occupation, it is not in keeping with my core values to have even an indirect relationship with prostitutes,” Jesus said in a statement explaining his decision to stop dining with prostitutes and tax collectors.

If not, then perhaps we need to rethink our how we oppose abortion. I’m pretty sure the usual methods of ostracism, shame and pettiness aren’t terribly effective anymore.

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