The Bad Theology of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Crisis pregnancy centers have been the bane of my existence as a woman for many years. In fact, when I do public speaking around abortion issues, crisis pregnancy centers receive my special wrath. That’s because CPCs are sneaky and deceptive while spreading terrible theology about women.

For those who are unaware, a crisis pregnancy center, or CPC, is an anti-abortion religious ministry often masquerading as a women’s health clinic. They’re usually behind any “Pregnant and Scared?” bus advertisement you’ve seen around town. They are often staffed by church volunteers, most of whom have no medical training and who peddle disinformation about STIs, pregnancy, adoption, and abortion.Many people are aware of CPCs and the bullshit they traffic in. However, most people haven’t stopped to consider the underlying theology upon which CPCs operate. For many people with little or no experience of Christianity, CPCs are just another intolerant arm of the Church. But I argue that it is much worse than that. The bad theology behind the religious anti-abortion movement is twice damaging  in that it does a disservice to Christianity while also specifically damaging women spiritually.

Religious anti-abortion culture and thus, CPCs, rest on the assumption that women are not capable moral agents, in other words, that women are unable to make their own decisions about pregnancy. This is what lies behind the idea that women will regret their abortion or that she needs to have a 24-72 hour legally mandated waiting period between her consultation and her procedure, or that it is a good idea to try to intercept women as they enter abortion clinics. Women can’t possibly understand what’s at stake unless someone else more informed tells them.

Religious anti-abortion theology also tends to equate womanhood with motherhood and reduces women to their biological ability to reproduce. Thus, the rejection of motherhood is considered unnatural and as taking something away from men that rightfully belongs to them. This is why we see signs in black neighborhoods accusing black women who abort of genocide. Or why the anti-abortion lobby had to invent “post-abortion syndrome”, a fake mental disorder that can supposedly result in guilt and suicide for a woman who rejects motherhood. Or why protesters at my old clinic used to tell men that they needed to take “their women” out of the clinic to save their “seed” which rightfully belonged to the man.”

So, where did this theology come from? Aristotle, whose philosophies influenced much early theology, believed that women did not have a rational spirit and Augustine concluded that there was absolutely no reason for woman to exist except as womb in which to grow children for men. Both Aristotle and Augustine may have existed long ago but their thought was hugely influential in the Church and I argue that much of our current attitudes toward women as rational beings who can be trusted to make decisions about their reproductive lives, is, in turn, consciously or unconsciously influenced by these biases still sanctioned and active in our churches.

I’m not saying that CPCs keep Aristotle close to hand or that they chat about Augustinian ideas in between potential converts. I’m simply saying that it pays to investigate where ideas come from, how they mutate over time, and continue to show up again and again unless interrogated and confronted. In our culture which, for good or ill, is culturally steeped in Christianity, ancient attitudes about women (which, by the way, Christianity did not invent but which were in turn inherited from classical civilization), still hold some sway. We see them reflected in supposedly secular anti-abortion laws and in religious institutions alike. The only alternative is to confront these ideas  head on and create new theological ways of understanding and honoring the rational spirit that lives in  women.

If you want a more in-depth look at the bad theology behind the the anti-abortion lobby, check out Theology Outside the Clinic or feel free to drop me a line.

 

We Know What Girls Like: Feminist Theology and Sex

*Heads up, friends. This post contains a lot more graphic sexual shit than I usually get into.

 

There is perhaps nothing more illustrative of the male sense of entitlement than its expression of what it believes women desire. This was brought home to me by the following completely unsolicited Facebook message I got today.

Gross Frances
If you’re going to pose as a man of the world, at least understand the difference between Frances and Francis.

 

So, let’s break down the complex psyche that is Frances and what it says about his view of women’s desire:

First of all, Frances knows that I need to be complimented in an extravagantly and overblown way. He knows that all I need is for someone to tell me that I’m a goddess (no, wait, a step ABOVE goddess!) in order to see that he is perceptive and sensitive to my needs. Automatic panty dropper. He’s clearly expecting the underwear (can we stop infantalizing women by calling them “panties”?) to drop because he has illustrated his expectations with the digital equivalent of the dirty old man wink.

Now, just in case I’m thinking that this is all too good to be true, he tells me his physical stats and expresses his astonishment (and what he presumes to be mine) that he is Sill Single by capitalizing the first letter of both words. Great! So, so far, a total old man stranger thinks I am a goddess and that I, of course, want to bone his 6’1″ frame. But wait! Lest I think he is too creepy (something lots of bitches do because they can’t take a joke/compliment/straight talk) he wants to humanize himself. He wants to hide the creep factor behind a curtain of his HOBBIES and INTERESTS which include such man-about-town divertissments as scuba diving, rollerblading, SEX (it’s like he has creep Tourette’s), and travel. I am also meant to be impressed that he smokes cigars because chicks dig men who do things that poor people think rich people do. He is truly a well-rounded gentleman and he accentuates this by asking (with the obvious assurance that it is totally okay to do this) that I send him photos by email or text. He ends with a rather disingenuous request to know all about my “Hobbies and Interests” because he needs to pretend that I am a human for my sake.

In case you’re wondering, his assumptions and general technique are not unique. This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered these kinds of messages and it certainly won’t be the last. The words may differ but they all contain the same basic assumptions: that women are thirsty for outrageous compliments they are too blind to see through from old men masquerading as international playboys. We want a little naughtiness (such as a leering text wink) but we also want to be on a pedestal. It hardly needs to be said that we also need the guy to cajole us out of sexually explicit photos but secretly, we love it. We just can’t say that because we’re ladies.

Sadly, all Frances got for his effort was a series of dick picks.

So, what do women actually want? As much as we are stereotyped as being inscrutable in this regard, it is actually quite simple. Ask a fucking woman.  I mean, we spent our high school years being dry humped by guys who think sex is done when they are. Some of us still endure the relentless poundings men assume we enjoy because some actor in a porn he once saw screamed with pleasure while having absolutely none of her needs attended to. We are absolutely down for a little change up but, sadly, many women don’t even realize this is an option until they are asked. Many men have never even considered it because, whether they are good men or not, the sexual world has always revolved around them. Check out any “women’s” section of a porn site (I know you look at porn, so let’s move on). Here you can watch “lesbians” in implausible lingerie fellate dildos while staring smolderingly at the camera, or you can watch “daddy” clips (fucking eww). The women’s sections don’t reflect what (most) women want. They are androcentric fantasy projections. All this, we’re told, is curated for us. Not that they’ve sought advice or input from actual women or the woman-run companies that produce actual porn for women. They just know chicks love it. Why would you ask an actual woman? Guys totally know about sex!

Funny thing is, this concept doesn’t play both ways. As I said earlier, I sent Frances some dick pics in response to his request for photos (after all, he didn’t specify they were to be photos of me) and I know how this will end. It will be just like every other incident in which I’ve sent dick picks to a dudebro. He’ll be incredibly offended that I assumed what he’d like and no, he won’t see the irony in that.

Frances, let me tell you what I want. I’m a big fan of feminist theology in relationships and in the bedroom. And, in case you don’t know how that squares up, let me tell you that it is the exact opposite of your worldview. A feminist theological view of sexuality prizes the following things: mutuality and consent, female pleasure and, wait for it…the full personhood of women. That means that sex and relationships become a truly holy thing in which both people are aware of each other’s needs, boundaries, and, you know, status as a human. Part of this includes talking about what we like in bed, not assuming that your girl has a clitoris in her mouth. It means understanding how vital our sexuality is to our basic sense of humanity.

***

I am sometimes overwhelmed by the Franceses of the world. I have my ideals, I’m passionate about what I speak and write about but what do we really need to do to incorporate our feminist theology into our institutional theologies of sexuality? How do we address this when so many institutionalized churches reject the very idea of women as human? Honestly, I don’t know. I have literally no idea how to counter the Franceses of the world except with a steady barrage of dick pics. But maybe there’s something to that. Although it can feel tiresome and fruitless, perhaps all we can do is hold up a mirror to our churches and our society while in our own lives mirroring what a healthy sexuality can look like.