Pro-Life Activisim and the Weaponizing of Lenten Practice

This last summer, I had the pleasure of meeting pro-choice journalist and author Robin Marty. She was in Sioux Falls for a visit and was supposed to do a book signing at Zandbroz downtown – but there was a mix up and the signing didn’t happen. So Robin and I sat in the back room of the store and talked about writing and abortion politics and living in the Midwest. I learned a lot from that conversation and enjoyed connecting with a fellow feminist author.

Robin is one of the higher profile journalists working on reproductive rights issues today, and she’s developed relationships with several pro-life organizations, interviewing them for her work. This has put her on their radar, and often, for pro-choice activists, that can be a major problem.

For Lent, the faith-based organization Pro-Life Action decided that their Lenten fasting would be far more specific than simply “praying to end abortion.” Instead, they’ve decided to specifically target three major voices in the reproductive rights discussion, praying, condescendingly and publicly, for their conversion. Pro Life Action highlighted three activists: my friend Robin, clinic escort Katie Klabusich, and abortion provider Cheryl Chastain.

Now, you can pray for whatever. I’m not here to say you can't. But I want to challenge the idea that praying for specific political conversions, masked as conversions of faith, is a good use of Lenten practice.

I’m a Baptist. I grew up without Lenten practice, but have learned more and begun to practice it in some ways in adulthood. And what I understand about Lenten discipline is this: it’s about denying yourself something in order to better understand dependence of God. It’s using these forty days leading up to Easter to understand something of the anguish Christ experienced in the lead up to the crucifixion. Lent is supposed to, through fasting and spiritual discipline, draw our eyes toward God, to depend better on Their abundance.

Lent, in my understanding, is not about working to convert others. It is not an evangelistic practice. It is primarily about internal, spiritual disciplines, the reworking of our own hearts. Using it as an evangelistic tool, without the consent and explicitly against the desires of the people targeted is to bastardize and undermine Lenten practice. It is to warp and secularize a specific spiritual practice to make it about a conversion to a political ideal.

Weaponizing Lent in this way is an affront to what our shared Christian faith means. It equates a political position with a spiritual practice, erasing Christians who think abortion should be a right and that reproductive rights are part and parcel of understanding our own humanity.