Pro-lifers like to think the best of activists who protest in front of abortion clinics. But activists don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt always. As Petula Dvorak of The Washington Post wrote, some anti-abortion activists are harassing and threatening the landlord of a well-known if notorious abortion clinic:
[Todd Stave’s] tormentors crossed the line last fall when a big group showed up at his daughter’s middle school on the first day of classes and again at back-to-school night. They had signs displaying his name and contact information as well as those gory images of the fetuses.
“What parent wants to have that conversation with an 11-year-old on the first day of school?” he fumed.
Soon after that, the harassing calls started coming to his home. By the dozens, at all hours.
As you might expect, Stave did not take the harassment and threats standing down. He enlisted friends and they are fighting back, turning the tables on their tormentors:
Friends asked him how they could help. He began to take down the names and phone numbers of people who made unwanted calls. And he gave the information to his friends and asked them to call these folks back.
“In a very calm, very respectful voice, they said that the Stave family thanks you for your prayers,” he said. “They cannot terminate the lease, and they do not want to. They support women’s rights.”
This started with a dozen or so friends, and then it grew. Soon, more than a thousand volunteers were dialing.
Call Stave and friends’ tactics disproportionate to the offense he commits as the landlord of an abortion clinic. But recognize they are practicing the same thing as those of pro-lifers: the politics of resentment. Pro-lifers resent the abortion clinic landlord and resort to extreme, dehumanizing tactics; the abortion clinic landlord resents the pro-lifers and responds in kind. As Niebuhr wrote, it’s an unending cycle.
But there is a better way. As the late Christopher Lasch wrote in arguably his greatest chapter in his long, distinguished career, it is called the spiritual discipline against resentment. As Lasch described the concept,
[s]elf-righteousness and resentment, as Niebuhr understood the latter term, went hand in hand. Victims of injustice, whose suffering entitled them to resent it, had all the more reason to renounce resentment, lest it confer the sense of moral superiority that allegedly excused them from retaliating against injustice with injustice of their own. In order to undermine their oppressors’ claim to moral superiority, they had to avoid such claims on their own behalf. They had to renounce the privileged status of victims. They needed “repentance” no less that their oppressors. They needed to recognize, in other words, that ‘the evil in the foe is also in the self.’ ‘The discovery of elements of common human frailty in the foe,’ Niebuhr argued, … ‘creates attitudes which transcend social conflict and thus mitigate its cruelties.’ The ‘profound and ultimate unities’ Niebuhr hoped to awaken rested on a sense of sin, not on the assumption that all people ultimately had the same interests and that intelligent awareness of this harmony of interest would prevent social conflict.
Pro-life activists, indeed activists of any stripe, could benefit from reading and meditating on Lasch’s wise words or those of the man that inspired them.