Better to pray for than to holler at our enemies

Posted: Jan 15, 2004 12:00 AM

Who are our conservative heroes? Do we prefer determined perseverance to the spectacular moment of defiance? Next week, as we pay attention to abortion upon the 31st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, some examples of consistent courage are right in front of us.

My heroines today are the week-in, week-out volunteer counselors at crisis pregnancy centers who patiently show women that their lives are not over if they refuse to snuff out small lives. My historical heroines are women like Helen Mercy Woods. For decades in Chicago, she ran a Refuge for Erring Women (19th century America was not big on euphemisms) who were pregnant and unmarried. She gave no grandiose speeches, but offered a grand defense against abortion through the provision of compassionate alternatives.

The need for persevering compassion also connects with the current debate about a constitutional amendment in defense of marriage. Yes, we need one, but it's even more important to come alongside troubled couples in our churches: When many have rampant adultery and divorce, and we accept that with only a shake of the head; aren't church leaders wide open to charges of hypocrisy?

Church leaders are like parents in some respects. When a son who needs discipline says, "Leave me alone," a dad needs to respond, "No, I won't leave you alone." Church leaders also need to tell prospective members: If you get involved in adultery, if you want an unbiblical divorce, we won't leave you alone. Our calling is to help you return to trusting in God and enjoying the rightful pleasures He gives us.

Saying such things requires some quiet heroism. It's easier to give speeches than to engage in tough counseling, but if we're not willing to push hard for sexual fidelity among people in their 30s and 40s and 50s, we shouldn't be pushing for it among teens and 20s with raging hormones.

"Charity begins in the home," we say. So does heroism. "You don't start at the top." During a quarter-century of well-intentioned political efforts, many of us have over-emphasized politics without building the needed base of biblical churches, education and mercy. Some of us have engaged in spam rhetoric, alienating 100 people with over-the-top screaming so as to gain one follower filled with grievances. We've often gravitated to symbols and cymbals, rather than quiet heroism.

One of the best essays I've ever read, Robert Coles' "The Inexplicable Prayers of Ruby Bridges," describes a little girl who desegregated a New Orleans elementary school in 1960, walking in and out every day between federal marshals. Coles writes about the daily greeting party of 50 to 75 adults at that school: "They called her this, and they called her that. They brandished their fists. They told her she was going to die and they were going to kill her." Ruby Bridges was a tiny heroine for going to school each day.

But she was more than that, Coles found out. Told that Ruby seemed to talk to the people verbally assaulting her, Coles asked what she was saying. Ruby replied:

"I wasn't talking to them. I was just saying a prayer for them."

Coles: "Ruby, you pray for the people there?"

"Oh yes."



"Why do you do that?"

"Because they need praying for."

How many of us do what this little girl did, walking in and out, surrounded by hostility, not just once, but day after day? And how many of us pray for, rather than holler at, those who hate us?

It's fine to orate and attend rallies with people who think like us, but if more of us were like Ruby Bridges -- or like the pro-life volunteers who wrestle with the consciences of unmarried pregnant women, praying throughout the night that they will receive a blessing at dawn -- America would be a stronger and more compassionate country.