Thursday, November 15, 2012

Messy and Complicated

By Rev. Darcy Baxter
President Obama during a 2009 visit with First Lady Michelle Obama to a women's clinic in Accra, Ghana.

“Messy and complicated.”
In his election night speech, this is how President Obama described the democratic process of the United States. When you have a country as diverse as ours, a political process must be messy. We have to hash things out. In fact, such messiness is a mark of our liberty. And, as President Obama reminds us, people are risking their lives just for the chance to argue like we argue in the United States. People risk their lives for this messiness.

President Obama’s election night speech resonated with me because it came eerily close to expressing what has become a personal slogan for me.

“Life is hard. Things get messy. I will be there for you through it all.”

As a pastor, these kinds of words have passed over my lips many times. Counseling hundreds and hundreds of women regarding unintended pregnancies; serving as a hospital chaplain on a neo-natal intensive care unit-- these experiences have allowed me to grow in humility. These experiences make me reluctant to speak with the arrogance and hard-heartedness I hear from so many of our leaders and politicians.

In Melissa Harris-Perry’s first post-election show, she opens with a segment called “The Process President.” Harris-Perry argues that Obama has a deep and abiding faith in the processes of democracy. While some leaders focus on desired outcomes, working backwards to figure out the process to achieve those outcomes, Obama focuses on the means, believing good process will yield good outcomes. For Obama, the means are the ends. A process that proceeds with integrity, accountability, and transparency will (eventually and messily) yield just results.

If Obama is a Process President, you could call me a Process Pastor. For me I not only look for ways of doing things that have integrity, accountability, and transparency, but also ways that demonstrate compassion, curiosity, and caring. Spending so much time with people in moments of vulnerability has taken away from me the luxury of believing I know the best outcomes for another’s life.

Too often, I find myself asking why so many of our leaders believe they know the best outcomes, so much so that their means of achieving such outcomes are callous and cruel. In particular, why is it so many of our leaders feel entitled to determine what women deserve and when? For too long, we the people have tolerated a dehumanizing debate—a brutal process-- about when to offer compassion and care to a woman and her family versus when to offer punishment and judgment.

The answer for me is simple, though not at all easy: we should ALWAYS offer compassion and care. Religious teachings are intended to make us flawed and fallible human beings wrestle with the messiness of life. Moral teachings pass along wisdom gathered through the generations of how to survive a world that does not make sense, where we suffer in so many ways.

My religious tradition teaches that God calls on us to be in direct and caring relationships with those who have suffered the most in this world. We are to bear witness and listen, mindful to not let our arrogance and hubris lead us astray. We are called to speak the truth in love, to walk in a manner worthy of our faith, with all humility and gentleness.

From the Gospel of Matthew: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ The righteous are those who fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, clothed those without clothes, offered sheltered to a stranger in need, tended to the sick, and visited the imprisoned.

Such teachings are simple, but not easy. They often push us out of our comfort zone. They compel us to offer compassion and care beyond what we ever thought we could.

Life is hard. Things get messy. I will be there for you through it all.

It is because of my experiences as a minister and counselor, it is because of my faith that I believe a woman dealing with an unintended pregnancy must have everything she needs to follow her conscience, particularly health insurance that covers the appropriate medical care. I believe a woman should be supported in going through a compassionate and just process of decision-making.

Almost immediately after abortion was made legal in this country, politicians created policies to deny coverage for abortion for women enrolled in government insurance programs like Medicaid, which provides care to low-income women. Policies like these mean that if you are a low-income woman, you often do not get the abortion-care you have decided you need. The outcome has been determined for you—you were denied a just and caring process.

We must safeguard women’s precious and holy decision-making from arrogance and hard-heartedness. My faith tradition teaches that we are all created in the image of God. I pray that our communities and law-makers may be compassionate and humble, that we honor the image of God in us all, doing all we can to make sure a woman has all she needs to live out her conscience.

Let us move us Forward. Forward towards compassion and care, humility and wisdom, strength and courage. Let us stop denying a woman the abortion-care she has determined she needs simply because of the type of insurance she has. Insurance coverage should provide a full range of legal medical procedures, including abortion, so a woman can make the best decision for her circumstances. Let us ensure that every woman decides for herself whether to choose adoption, end a pregnancy, or raise a child. Let us commit ourselves to processes of compassion, care, and integrity.

Let us say: “Life is hard. Things get messy. We will be there for you through it all.” 

Photo: via the Flickr photostream of US Army Africa

Rev. Darcy Baxter currently serves a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Hayward, CA, directing their family ministries program. A long-time reproductive justice activist, she is currently a member of the Center for American Progress' Faith and Reproductive Justice Leadership Institute and a Regional Organizer for the California Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. To learn more, visit

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