Our Lady of Praying Through It

I first noticed the sign while driving a trunk full of groceries back to the house. I’d managed a particularly frustrating day at work, as you do, and then braved the rush hour crush of supermarket shoppers in the death-trap Kroger parking lot. The prospect of a relaxed evening—laps full of cats, video games, a thoughtfully prepared dinner—seemed miraculous, and I looked forward to it. But all sublime meditations vanished as I approached the traffic circle, a backlit sign glaring over the hill. A chime of anger throbbed painfully in my skull.

40th ANNIVERSARY OF ROE VS. WADE

HAVE MERCY ON US LORD

I live in a quiet town stippled by acres of corn and soy. We have a few small pizza chains, a farmer’s market, coffee shops, an ice cream stand, and a smattering of other local establishments: liquor stores, a roller skating rink, townie bars, schools, and a preponderance of churches. One such church sits nestled at the entrance to my subdivision. They generally use their street-side sign to advertise innocuous activities such as vacation bible school, potluck dinners, bring-a-friend Sundays, and teen-friendly lock-ins—the town is blissfully bereft of overtly political or religious signage. The advent of Roe’s anniversary, however, seemed to necessitate a targeted strike.

Furious, I mentally catalogued the sign’s myriad array of problems as I drove down the hill toward my house. I wanted to turn around and go back to the store for oaktag and poster board; I wanted to dash out why they were so very wrong in block letters and Magic Markers. I didn’t, of course. I went home, I complained to my husband and to my friends, and I tried to enjoy dinner. As much as I resented that church, they had first amendments rights just like everybody else. It was their property, after all.

Four days later, the sign’s language is still up—and I’m still thinking about it. It exemplifies a facet of religion that is particularly problematic to me: public judgment, and the imposition of a faith-based moral code on the rest of the population. Whether that takes the form of tracts or witnessing or a sign on a hill, many believers find it necessary to branch out beyond their communities and force everyone else to listen. I have to drive by that sign every time I leave the house—there’s no getting away from it. It exists as a passively hostile entity in my very own neighborhood.

Their sign seeks to shame our society for upholding a practice that helps desperate women safely obtain care to live their lives in the manner in which they please. It says that we should afford more protection to the potential of embryos than we should to the women who carry them. It implies that women who seek abortions are sinners in need of mercy, salvation, because they’ve committed a crime in the eyes of some imaginary deity they may or may not believe in. We are not all looking for forgiveness.

 “God’s Mercy” is an untenable notion that fails to solve real-world issues, and thus the sign laments without offering constructive application. Why offer prayers when you can take action? Why not advocate for easy access to affordable birth control of one’s choosing? Why not promote sexual education that offers practical solutions beyond the yawning abyss of abstinence? Why not discourage abortion by making it easier to raise a child in our society? So many religious institutions peddle guilt and shame without understanding that societal changes involving subsidized childcare, universal healthcare, and paid maternity leave would encourage life—everyone’s life.

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