I have a friend who attends quite a few pro-life rallies. She believes deeply in the sanctity of life and so she holds placards on street corners, at the state capitol, and sometimes she travels to Washington D.C. so her voice can be heard on behalf of unborn children. There are many people who do this, and their passion and zeal is undeniable. They are willing to go to great lengths to get people’s attention about the horrors of abortion for both the fetus and the mother, and they don’t shy away from the graphic images that make an effective accompaniment to their arguments for the sanctity of life. I admire their commitment to advocate for those who do not have a voice and cannot speak for themselves. However, I have a tiny problem with my friend’s rallies and placards. Maybe the best way to describe it is to tell a couple of stories pulled straight from the pages of our hometown newspaper:
On March 25th, a toddler was found dead in a car that had been stopped for erratic driving in Tulsa. Zamontay Green, 19 months old, had been dead for hours and abused over a period of time, court records show. He had subdural hemorrhage, abdominal trauma, broken ribs, multiple bruises – including loop marks around his legs, which indicates he had been whipped with a type of rope. Jazmin Williams and Mica Shoate, both 22, have been charged with child-abuse murder, permitting child abuse, and child neglect. they were taking care of the boy while his mother was staying in Arkansas, records show.
Felicia Dawn Potter, 21, was charged with child neglect on March 19 on accusations that she exposed a 2-year-old girl in her care to unsafe and unsanitary living conditions. Court filings allege she exposed the child to “marijuana, human vomit, human feces, used tampons and/or rotting trash and food.”
These, my friends, are not good stories. But neither are they unusual, isolated incidents. If you want to read a smattering of other tales that will turn your stomach, you can find them here. Okay, I know this is not a post you’re probably wanting to finish at this point, but please do. Humor me, okay? Here is why I have a problem with the very loud and pervasive conversation about the sanctity of life: I think our passions often wane when the child exits the womb. Somehow, once we’ve successfully convinced a woman not to have an abortion, then it becomes her responsibility to make it work from there – even if she’s single, uneducated, unemployed, and without a healthy family or community structure in place to help give support. So, who suffers in this scenario? Children, of course. The ones that we advocate for while they are still in the womb.
Where are the passionate souls who will charge Capitol Hill on behalf of children – now born – who are victims of child abuse? Who holds up placards for children who languish in state custody? Where are those who will march around to decry the lack of foster homes for children who, through no fault of their own, have no home?
“That’s not my responsibility,” is the unspoken justification that most of us hold out. “It isn’t my problem that mothers use drugs or allow their boyfriends to abuse their children.” “If these people can’t take care of their children, they shouldn’t have them.”
Well, it’s too late. There are approximately 8,300 children who are in state custody in Oklahoma, and over 400,000 nationwide. Some of them await adoption, many are being bounced from one foster care home to another, and far too many are living in shelters waiting for adequate and safe foster homes to be found for them. In fiscal year 2011, our underpaid and overworked DHS employees took 9,344 calls alleging abuse or neglect of a child in Tulsa County alone and completed 3,096 investigations. 1,023 of those cases were confirmed abuse or neglect. Wait, let me restate: 1,023 children were confirmed to be abused or neglected. That’s in one county in this state. Multiply that across this great nation and you have a crisis of tragedy involving the most vulnerable among us.
If you’re still hanging with me, (and if you are, thanks so much) I’m going to explain the photo.When Child Protective Services (DHS workers) are called to a home to remove the child from an abusive or unsafe situation, they give them a black trash bag and let them pack a few things before they take them to a shelter to await a foster care placement. A trash bag. On Saturday, a group of people who are generally appalled by all of this gathered at our city’s child welfare shelter, The Laura Dester Shelter. We brought suitcases to donate because we understand the state DHS is underfunded and can’t supply them for the children. And then we walked around the shelter and carried our suitcases to represent that we want to speak out for these children who cannot speak for themselves. The event is called Walk a Mile In My Shoes.
So here is the challenge: Can we believe in the sanctity of every life? The born child. The single mother. The deadbeat dad. Are there only certain lives that are precious to God? Or is every life – whether we deem it worthy or not – a life that God wants to save? And if God believes that life is worthy of saving, then perhaps I should too. Next year when we attend Walk a Mile, I’m carrying a placard.