November 18, 2008

A Conscience Pricked

Yesterday morning I very unexpectedly had my conscience pricked. It was an epiphany, a flash of insight that I suspect will forever alter how I see the world. Perhaps it’s appropriate that this would happen on the third day of the fast as I am trying to focus on prayer.

On this very blog just after election day I posted a short essay, Tears Of Joy, stating how much I supported Obama for president and how joyful I was that we would finally have an alternative to Pres. Bush. I understand now that instead of joy they should have been tears of anguish, tears of sorrow.

Within a few days of posting this essay I also posted a story about the horrors of child abuse. I said I was trying to shed light on this particular instance, that it was evil and needed to be dragged out into the light. Then this morning an Orthodox priest with whom I correspond told me that while the essay was well written he, of course, did not vote for Obama because of his pro life stance, and that he believed his position mirrored that of the Church. I was stunned and realized instantly that he was right. I had not looked at the most important issues. I basically had no idea what I was talking about.

I told the priest that one of my main reasons for voting for Obama was war fatigue. This response was in earnest, and I am greatly troubled at the waste of American lives in a country we will never convert, conquer, or even really understand. It is a tribal society and far removed from our sensibilities. I am appalled at these deaths and the grievous wounds (emotional and physical) the war is leaving on our brightest and best. In my opinion, veterans deserve our highest respect and an acknowledgment of our gratitude for all they have offered and lost on our behalf.

But while focusing on these issues I was ignoring the very real war being raged all around me. I can only plead ignorance. I know/knew in an abstract way that abortion is the American holocaust. That viable beings are killed every single day, and yet the cry of the slain innocents never made it past my ears. How can I hold up a pro-abortion president-elect one day and rail against child abuse the next? I am a hypocrite, I am the chief of sinners, and I am undone. Thankfully our Lord is always at work. I am embarrassed and ashamed by my own hypocrisy.

I wrote a paper about abortion in a college philosophy class. I argued that abortion up until the fetus became a sentient being (defined as capable of feeling pain) was acceptable but not after that point. To inflict such agony was a reprehensible, immoral act. I was looking only at the physical dimension, making a cold sterile assessment. There was no acknowledgment or even real understanding of our true nature. After the class, abortion was pushed to the back burner of my life. I saw both sides of the argument carry out heinous acts in defense of their belief.

Our Lord leaves us no middle ground.

As I thought about this and spoke with my wife I realized that many politicians/people may support abortion but not capital punishment. The opposite view is also held. Are the two mutually exclusive? How could a person support one and not the other? I have qualms about the death penalty for a number of reasons. Ironically, one of which is the possibility of killing an innocent man. Surely some innocents (especially the poor who cannot mount as vigorous a defense as persons of means) have slipped through the cracks and been executed.

I have often thought that is if the value of capital punishment is as a deterrent then execution should be public. Potential offenders could see what awaits them and our society could see itself perform what is for all intents and purposes state sanctioned and state executed murder. Instead, this public punishment is carried out for the most part in private, perhaps because we know it to be wrong. How many lives have we taken as punishment for the loss of another life through murder? Is the death penalty the state playing God, acting as the final arbiter and deciding who lives and who dies? Does this not reek of hypocrisy? Abortion and capital punishment are simple issues made needlessly complex. What does the Church tell us?

Thank you Fr. for being the catalyst of change, for opening my eyes to my blindness, for helping me to see myself as I really am. To those who read these words thank you for your patience as I fumble my way through life. I will strive to be more consistent and to conform myself to the teachings of the Church as established by our Lord. And no more politics.


Philippa said...

This is a very courageous post. May God bless you for your humility.

isabella said...

I understand your reasoning behind voting for Obama, and though it may not have been in line with the Orthodox Church's view I and you may have to do some backtracking and rethinking to do, but when it comes to saving children your courage, integrity sacrifice and success surpasses that of a thousand abortion protesters combined.

You have nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to speaking for those who can't speak for themselves.
I think you are the only person in the Catholic or Orthodox blogosphere who has the guts to tell stories like the one in your post "Love the Little Children". I cried when I read it and I hope someday, somehow, sometime in the future, this child will get to read it and know that at least one person had the courage to break the taboo we have in this country about the violence being done to real live children, who must carry the sometimes visible and more painful invisible scars of violence done to them.
The courage to tell enough of your own story is a small step in breaking the silence about the "hidden holocaust", America's and even the Church's dirty little secret that does as much damage to children as abortion.

While abortion gets all the attention, I think it's an easy way to soothe our conscious, and it is even used as a cop out to feel you have done "your duty" for the protection of children.

Vote for the right candidate, protest in front of a clinic, write letters, write voters guides and then sit back in a kind of smugness, that whatever happens, you have done everything you can.
to "save the innocent children"

In reading your post yesterday, I kept thinking, where were those who HAD TO HAVE KNOWN that something was horrible behind the closed doors of that family; and who could have looked that almost two year old in the eye and let him go back to the same dark chamber of horror day after day?
I know many people who were abused as children and down to the last one they can list and name names of other adults who knew exactly what was happening to them, yet did nothing...
not "suspect", but KNEW, yet somehow must have been able to rationalize in their mind why it was OK for them to not act, to step in to save this child.
And these bystanders are not monsters; they are relatives who loved and maybe even tried to compensate for what the child went through at home, but yet sent them right back into the fray. The list is long of relatives, friends from church, even priests and pastors who turned a blind eye.

Does it ever cross the mind of the militant pro-lifers that hundreds, if not thousands of children are being abused daily, not to mention the adults who have grown up and carry these scars look at all this outpouring of concern for the unborn and wonder WHY NO ONE SPOKE UP, AND STILL WON'T SPEAK UP FOR THEM?

It's not a far fetched scenario I am making up.
I personally know those who are plagued by the confusion, anger and the feeling of those who feel that somehow they must have deserved what they got because even when they finally got the courage to tell their story they were called liars, told to be quiet, don't rock the boat, or the worst: "get over it; it was years ago. Some of these things were spoken by the same people who claim they would lay down their life to prevent one abortion. Some of these things are being said right at this very moment in courts and churches to those who have sacrificed the tortured peace they lived with for years and broke the code of silence that would have allowed this abuse to go on, unchecked to the next generation of children growing up in these churches. And for most it them, the cost of their sacrifice puts to shame what the majority of people give/do/ risk to "save the children, the ones who can't speak for themselves".

YOU DO SO MUCH by breaking the taboo and putting these stories right in our faces, breaking the silence and NOT ALLOWING US THE LUXERY OF TURNING OUR GAZE AWAY FROM WHAT WE DON'T WANT TO SEE, TO KNOW, AND SURE AS HELL DON'T WANT TO RISK GETTING "UNCLE JOE, OR FATHER JOHN ARRESTED". Let the social workers, the police, the "government"(gee, isn't that everyone of us by extension?) handle it.

And to those who grew up as "children of wrath" (btw, you couldn't have put it more accurately), they deserved the same outcry, protest, energy and commitment from those of us claiming to be pro-life;
And those people who knew and did nothing, rationalizing that "children are resilient" and get over this "stuff", but the abuser's life would be ruined if you would have stepped in, broke the cycle of are as guilty of cooperating with evil as you would be if you stood next to the abortion doctor and handed him his instruments of murder.

btw, I did get your email and thank you.

Fr. James Early said...


You seem very angry.

Not every pro-life advocate is indifferent to abused children. Certainly, as Orthodox Christians, we must be concerned for the lives of all people, from the unborn to the elderly. We must never neglect to do what we can for any of them when it is in our power to do so.

Few Orthodox Christians that I know would argue that we should fight against abortion and neglect young children (or anyone for that matter).

s-p said...

While I do not at all wish to undo or somehow come off like I am denigrating or somehow minimizing your epiphany, and while I am pro-life, a former foster parent of over 60 kids, a treatment center director etc., I think leadership of a secular nation (and we are, no matter what the Christian right says) is far more complex than a single issue, even one as serious as abortion. We cannot stack up lives against lives (soldiers vs. fetuses), moral injustices against ethical laspes, and degrees of "Christian morality" against secular expediencies and vote according to a single issue that is part of a particular party's platform in my opinion. We vote for the lesser of two or more evils and in voting we vote for some evil and some good on either side. There are far more injustices than abortion and war that will be potentially influenced by those we voted into office. Are we to subsume all other injustice to one issue? Why... who decided that for the American Church members? What makes this country great is not even the president's personal morals can over ride the entirety of the legislative and juridical powers of the government permanently. Orthodox Christians of all people should know history is not made in 4 years but hundreds. I own icons that are older than our country, and it took almost the age of our country for the iconoclast controversy to permit them to be made and used without fear and condemnation despite an ecumenical council's decree. I do not believe there was or ever will be an "Orthodox vote" in American politics. We vote our conciences insofar as they are informed at the time, and in the end we trust in the Lord, not chariots and horses. And we pray for our leader whether we voted for him or not...

DebD said...

Like Philippa, I applaud your courage and honesty. I appreciate your words as your struggle through this very complex issue.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that this would happen on the third day of the fast as I am trying to focus on prayer. I had the same "ah-ha!" moment yesterday too. Only 3-4 days in and its already a struggle.

Anonymous said...

Brother, I had to ponder this a few days. Your ability to open yourself for all to see is truly a source for other to consider their own thoughts and thought patterns.

I have always been, well, not always a Pro-life person. In my thoughts, abortion is the single most despicable thing man has done. On one hand I do not blame individuals as much as I blame society itself. The indifference of most people has resigned our society to operate in such a way as to forget or at least ignore the moral fiber of the "greatest generation." That generation who served in WW1 and WW2. That was the last generation, I believe, that had unwavering moral expectations. To do the right thing, no matter how difficult.

Bang, the 60's arrive and our moral society began to visibly crumble. Now the "free lovers" of the 60s are now teaching our children in college. How we have declined!

The decline continues with the decreased use of the death penalty. Yes, I believe God gives the government authority to punish individuals for their crimes. Including the death penalty. I do not take this likely. Many site the use of corporal punishment in the Old Testament, but I believe an even stronger point is in Romans 13:4
For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.
It is in this chapter the Apostle Paul generates the strongest word for placing that authority in the hands of the government and not individuals. Paul said the ruler (or President)does not carry the sword in vain. Corporal Punishment is just that, punishment. It should be swift, non-torturous and exact.

Vengeance is mine saith the Lord. Why does He say that? I believe it's because only God can deliver the exact amount of vengeance. We, on the other hand, are only capable of delivering 100% of vengeance, not measured but full. That is why corporal punishment (and other forms of punishment) is through the court system. The courts have certain precedence of history, not emotion.

Thou shalt not kill. The word kill means murder. I consider abortion murder, I do not consider corporal punishment murder, but punishment for an act.

Changed Like Saul

Ian said...

These are tough issues, and as has been commented here, thank you for your courageous post. Voting is a tough issue at the best of times. I must say I do get a bit confused about such issues, and whether or not we should fight these issues at a state or personal level [if we were not to vote for anyone with different opinions we could not vote...and as voting is compulsory here I'd be paying fines...], but they are my own struggles and not needed to be stated here [although, Fr. James Early, I would appreciate any advice you may give in this respect].

God bless and ny prayers.

Fr. James Early said...


Feel free to email me at fatherjames7 at yahoo dot com. It may be Friday before I can get back to you, becuase I have come down with some kind of bug today and feel like rubbish.