What’s in a name?
Let’s start with two names you may or may not know. Fred Phelps. Kermit Gosnell. Phelps is the founding pastor of Westboro Baptist Church, the church well known for picketing the funerals of men and women who have died in combat and championing the view that God spends most of His time hating. Gosnell is the doctor on trial in Philadelphia for running an illegal clinic specializing in late term abortions. Horrific stories of his butchery have come out as this goes through trial. What do these men have in common?
Phelps is the worst-case nightmare of Christians. Every time he and his cohorts say or do anything it makes most of us wince and jump to distance ourselves from him. It also makes anti-Christian secularists giddy with delight as they can cheerfully attempt to put us all in the same boat he is rowing.
Gosnell has become the worst-case nightmare of those who are pro-choice. To nobody’s surprise a plethora of pro-choice advocates are bending over backwards to be sure that we all know they don’t support or condone his actions. At the same time, pro-life forces are declaring him to be the poster child of pro-choice evils.
At the present time Gosnell is more in the news than Phelps. There are rampant accusations of a cover-up by evil pro-choicers in the media. As such Gosnell gets to be a poster child for the champions of “the media is biased” too. Since Philadelphia and PA are largely Democratic he is also said by some to represent a government cover-up too. It would not surprise me that some are diligently searching for a way to link Gosnell to President Obama as I write this. Gosnell’s name has, like Phelps’, become a club to pound those with whom you disagree. Let’s look at some facts.
– Gosnell seems to be more of a butcher than a doctor, with apologies to actual butchers. Nobody condones what he has done.
– The local and state governments are guilty of egregious failure in the oversight of his work, not a cover-up.
– The problem for pro-choice folks is that there is overlap between what he did and what they say; he took their positions to horrifying extremes the same way Phelps does with Christian beliefs.
– If you think there is a media cover-up you haven’t been paying attention. There are pro-choice commentaries on this case going back at least two years. True, much of the mainstream media has not quickly picked up on this but the reasons why are much more complicated.
– Names have great power. This is why pro-choice folks try to name the other side “anti-choice” and pro-lifers like to call the other side “pro-death. Gosnell as a doctor will face justice and I pray he will get what he deserves. But I suspect his name, like Phelps’, will continue to be a weapon.
So I would like to close with some questions for you and I’d like to hear your answers.
1. Do my pro-choice friends truly have no qualms whatsoever about terminating life? On what basis do you pick a date or event, including birth, to say that “up to here it is OK but past this it is wrong.”
2. Do my pro-life friends truly believe that more restrictive laws on legal abortions will make illegal clinics like Gosnell’s less likely rather than more likely? If so, can you explain to me how that can be?
3. Why do you think the “mainstream media” came late to this story? I have my theory; I’d like to hear yours
4. What is the best way for pro-life and pro-choice to confront each other with grace? Or should we throw grace out the window and have at it?
This debate is emotional and both sides feel their positions deeply. But to me, one thing is clear. Grace demands that we not use names like Gosnell and Phelps as weapons in complex and important debates. If our arguments are strong, we won’t need to.