The Common Good

When We Are More Interested in Evangelical Infighting Than Serious Issues of Justice

Image: Handcuffs and stethoscope, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com
Image: Handcuffs and stethoscope, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com

My dad used to tell a joke from the pulpit, back when “damn” was a much stronger word in evangelical/fundamentalist circles than it is now.

It went roughly like this:

“Millions of people die every day from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love, and most of you don’t give a damn, and most of you are probably more worried about the fact that I said ‘damn’ than about the fact that millions of people die daily from preventable causes without ever having heard about Jesus’ love.”

I have a new post up at her.meneuticsChristianity Today’s women’s blog that, quite frankly, I don’t expect too many people to read.

It’s about how it’s perfectly legal in most states to shackle pregnant women while they are in labor.

Here’s just one bit of the piece, from a highly publicized story from a few years back:

When Shawanna Nelson was brought to the hospital, her contractions were two or three minutes apart and very intense. She cried out for pain medication and begged for a cesarean.

Instead, Shawanna was given two Tylenol and kept shackled to her hospital bed—a shackle lashing one hand to an IV pole and another fastening her legs together until the delivery of her nine and a half pound baby—Shawanna herself weighed only about 100 pounds at the time.

She was serving time in an Arkansas prison for identity theft and writing bad checks. She had no history of violence, yet she was accompanied throughout her labor and delivery by an armed guard.

Any woman who has felt even one intense contraction knows that laboring woman is anything but a flight risk. Moreover, those who’ve given birth un-medicated also know that being able to move freely eases pain and prevents injury: as a result of her shackled labor, Shawanna suffered nerve damage and an umbilical hernia that required surgical repair, among other physical problems and in addition to mental trauma. The American Medical Association has called the practice of shackling laboring women “medically hazardous” and “barbaric”—it poses a risk to the health of the mother and to that of her unborn baby.”

Hideous, right? And yet. Maybe we’re all so accustomed to the hideousness we see on TV and on the Internet every day that we just click on by.

And maybe, for some of us, it’s because her name is Shawanna and she’s black that we can’t imagine extending her the same sort of mercy — whatever her crime — that we would extend to our own wives and daughters.

Maybe it’s because the ACLU and Prison Fellowship and Virginia’s conservative Family Foundation all AGREE that this shackling has to stop that there’s no real story of partisan mudslinging, where the conservatives get to pick on the liberals and the liberals on the conservatives.

Because don’t we all love to get to take sides and entrench within them, and pat ourselves on the back for being so much more enlightened than the “other” side? As I wrote last year, in the blogosphere, it can seem like everyone is always talking about what they are against, and, frankly, it often has quite the Pharisaic tone:

  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those bleeding-heart, social-justice-y Sojourners Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those uptight, theology-obsessed Gospel Coalition Christians
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those sling-wearing, tree-hugging crunchy mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those career-driven, daycare-using mamas
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those complacent, suburban-dwelling churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those hipster, new-urbanism loving churchgoers
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those lefty, wealth-redistributing Democrats
  • Lord, I thank you that I am not like those right-wing, poor-people-despising Republicans

Even as I’m writing posts like the one on chaining laboring inmates, I know that they’ll get only a little attention.

And that’s fine. I don’t write what I think will be popular, I write what I think is true and important.

But it does annoy me that when I write posts about ‘biblical’ gender roles or bikinis or modesty or whatever the issue of outrage du jour happens to be, the sparks of interest fly.

It just makes me wonder what many of those most loudly vocal and critical (or adulating and approving) on social media are really interested in: the justice and mercy and truth and righteousness that they claim to be supporting by responding vigorously to whatever foolish thing John Piper or Mark Driscoll or Douglas Wilson has just said or by praising whatever “hot” post has just been penned by whomever is currently judged the paragon of evangelical hip-ness.

Is the appeal of some of these posts — and I include myself as one who has been caught up in this online drama — the adrenaline-pumping thrill of smacking those folks down as we show off our own cleverness in parsing their heinousness by demonstrating how an offhand comment about modesty is a slippery slope to women being held cruelly, legally, and rightly in (mostly symbolic) chains?

I guess it’s just a lot less adrenaline pumping to read about the actual women in actual chains. Who exist. Legally. In these United States.

And sorry for the cranky tone here, but I do find that depressing.

Rachel Marie Stone is the author of Eat with Joy: Redeeming God's Gift of Food (InterVarsity Press, March 2013) and a regular contributor to Christianity Today's her.meneutics blog. She has contributed to Christianity TodayThe Christian CenturyBooks & Culture, Flourish, and The Huffington Post, among other publications. She blogs at RachelMarieStone.com and lives in Malawi, Africa, where she teaches English at Zomba Theological College.

Image: Image: Handcuffs and stethoscope, Kuzma / Shutterstock.com
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