At its core, the pro-life movement is about extending the protection of the law to unborn children. But prolifers should still care about winning over the hearts and minds of those who don’t share this commitment, not least because broad sympathy for the pro-life cause will help us advance and sustain pro-life laws.
A new initiative in the Catholic Church may hold lessons for prolifers in how to win over hearts and minds. This week, Catholic bishops around the world are beginning their preparation for the 2023 international Synod of Bishops entitled “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission.” Thus, its nickname: the “synod on synodality.”
The central notion of synodality is that what we do as a Church, we do together. That is:
- Communion, not Sectarianism: People with unresponsive pastors (or priests with unresponsive bishops) can’t just go their own way. Somehow, we must learn to work with each other and not apart from or against each other.
- Participation, not Clericalism: The Church is not just a bunch of priests and religious and professional church people doing Catholic stuff so that no one else has to. All the laity, and especially the marginalized, have the responsibility of participating in the life of the Church, and therefore they have the right to do so.
- Mission, not Self-Absorption: The Church’s job is not to make her members comfortable or get them what they want, but to serve her Lord and bring him to people outside her walls.
There are lessons here for prolifers who want to expand the pool of people who are sympathetic with our cause or at least cautiously open to it. The first parallels the principal of communion: We’ve got to find ways to cooperate with each other within the pro-life movement. While we may often disappoint each other (e.g., in how strict, lax, or inept we are in advancing the movement), if we spend too much time quarreling, the only message we’ll be broadcasting is that we’re quarrelsome people.
A similar generosity will be required on the edges of the pro-life movement, paralleling the synodal principal of participation. While we win some converts in a moment when they learn of or see firsthand the horrors of abortion, I think more people will be won over as I was won over: by gentle example and patient perseverance. If the pro-life movement is going to attract a broad population, it will need low barriers to entry, even if that means our sympathizers will not have fully mature positions or be committed in every way to the cause.
Third, in parallel with the synodal principal of mission, prolifers need to prioritize the success of the movement, and not their own achievement. If we dilute our commitment with mixed motives—say, the satisfaction of a snarky retort to our pro-choice neighbor, or the self-righteousness of denouncing others for their baby-killing ways—we will to that extent diminish our own movement. It shouldn’t be about us; it should be about the babies and their mothers.
I know that I’m asking a lot. Even Jesus’ first disciples didn’t get it. He’d told them in many ways that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” But still, James and John try to out-rival their companions—and worse, when the other ten learn of it, they make their folly known by growing indignant at the thought that James and John might overtake them (Mark 10:35-45).
Let it not be so among prolifers. While preserving our loyalty to the pro-life cause, let us set aside our rivalry with each other and with pro-choicers; let us champion reconciliation rather than resentment. Let us help others believe that they can join us, and that we can be pro-life together.
I appreciate the brief description of the “Synod on Synodality” and I think it is an excellent idea to apply its principles to the pro-life movement.
Re: participation, I applauded that after the Vatican II Council when I was knee deep in anti-hunger and anti Viet Nam War. But now with abortion, we lowly parishioners are left ‘on our own’. Little participation and support, hardly a word from the pulpit. I am leading and begging the clergy to follow me? How sad. I don’t think that is what John the 23rd meant.