Marching on the Margins

IN THE CHECKOUT LINES at the grocery store down the hill, the owners have put the women’s magazines at eye level, where their headlines, almost always sexual, will entice the impulse buyer. In bright big letters at the top of one I saw yesterday was the headline “10 Dates Before Sex!?” for an article on “Secrets of love that lasts.”

As the punctuation indicates, you are supposed to believe that this is a surprising and very difficult requirement, though it amounts, at one date a week, to moving in a little over two months from meeting a stranger to sharing with him your body, if not your soul. This the magazine promises will make him love you more, which I suppose may sometimes be true, though it probably will not make him love you for very long.

I assume this magazine, and the ten or twenty magazines just like it, whose circulation is in the tens of millions, know what their readers want. There is something ineffably sad in their ideal young woman’s desire to have a free sex life and yet have a man love her and stay with her, and in the breezy, carefree, willfully open way she tries to talk about it.

That millions of these young women really do exist, I think, helps explains the great demand for abortion in America, and perhaps England as well. If you have sex, you are going to have babies. (Even oral contraceptives sometimes fail.) If you want to have sex and you do not want to have babies, you must have abortion.

If you do not want abortion and you do not want to have babies, you must give up sex. The women who read magazines with headlines like “10 Dates Before Sex!?” are not going to give it up, not least because they believe it will lead to “love that lasts.” Nor are the men who want sex and do not care if their partners (even the word “girlfriends” may suggest more commitment than they have) must have abortions to let them have it.

This is the reason that in dealing with these women the rhetoric of choice concerns not the choice to have sex but the choice of whether to kill the product thereof. These are people for whom having sex is no more a choice than breathing.

The truly marginalized

I wrote last month before going to the annual pro-life march in Washington, D.C., and write having come back from it. I suppose this is why the title struck me so. The picture, displayed along the route of the march, of a perfectly formed hand, ripped from the arm and half the size of an American dime, stays with you.

We (our two eldest children and I) went on a bus organized by a local pro-life group. Our trip took about five hours each way, but many people from New England and the midwest leave at 4:00 a.m. or earlier to arrive at noon for the beginning of the march, and then go home right afterwards.

It is a strange thing to do, in one way, or at least unfashionable. You can bring a suburban party to an embarrassed silence by saying that you do such things. It is not done, to march for the unborn. I know of some famous Evangelical Episcopal parishes whose rectors have discouraged their people from forming a chapter of the Episcopal pro-life organization NOEL, because it would “divide the parish” or “distract us from mission.” (There are, of course, exceptions.)

From what I could tell from dress and speech, most of the people marching last Monday were, in American terms, lower middle class – shop clerks and factory workers and secretaries – and either Catholics or conservative Evangelicals. This group, the religious lower middle class, is perhaps the most socially and culturally marginalized group in America.

They were marching because they recognized the killing of the unborn as a violation of the natural law and the Christian revelation, two realities not often (if ever) recognized at centres of elite religious culture like the Episcopal Church Center in New York. In a way that would not have surprised St Paul, one can hear better theology from these people than from the presiding bishop and his peers.

Bp Griswold is more intelligent, more learned, and more articulate, but less knowledgeable. He will talk, in a sophisticated-sounding way, of “pluriform truths,” and there is something to the idea, but his use of it involves the refusal of certain realities that Barney the truckdriver and Mabel the housewife see.

They are better theologians than our far better educated bishops because they see what is there, for example that the evacuation of a fruitful womb is a sin and not a method of self-actualization or an act of liberation.

Listening to the marginalized

An Episcopalian is always being told about our responsibility to the marginalized and the need to listen to their voices, but you will not find people like those marching asked to join Episcopal committees where their voices might be heard. The approved list of marginalized groups does not include such people. That list includes racial minorities, the poor, and homosexuals, not the lower middle class.

But even that list has a further qualification. To have a voice that “needs to be heard,” one must not only belong to an approved group but hold the approved opinions. The average liberal Episcopalian does not really care to hear the voices of black people, for example. He wants to hear the voices of black people who agree with him and who fit his idea of what a black person should be and do and say and think.

Think of the liberal reaction to the African bishops at the Lambeth Conference (see the March 1999 “Letter” for an example of episcopal racism, as far as I know unrebuked by the bishop’s liberal peers). Or, on the matter at hand, of the fact that the majority of black people in American are pro-life. Theirs is not a voice that “needs to be heard,” because they do not say what is wanted to be heard.

David Mills, a senior editor of Touchstone, is editor of The Pilgrim’s Guide: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Witness (Eerdmans).