[Today’s guest post is by Nick Reynosa.]
While giving a lecture, the renowned historian David McCullough made an interesting observation: “history is not about the past.” He went on to elaborate:
If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past. Washington, Jefferson, John Adams, and their contemporaries didn’t walk about saying, “Isn’t this fascinating living in the past! Aren’t we picturesque in our funny clothes?” They lived in the present. The difference is it was their present, not ours. They were caught up in the living moment exactly as we are, and with no more certainty of how things would turn out than we have.
Living in the present as a pro-lifer, it is easy for us for us to get caught of the concerns of now: changing public opinion, passing incremental legislation, and more immediate concerns like losing the respect of a friend who recently found out you’re pro-life, or being slandered as a sexist or a fascist while tabling for a pro-life organization at your university.
But what if, as a pro-lifer, you had the ability to see into the future: a world without state-sanctioned abortion? Would you be less inclined to walk on eggshells, and more willing to condemn abortion as the act of violence that it is?
Living in the present as a pro-lifer, of course our bold comments will invite controversy. But take the broader view; issues once considered “controversial” include the “right” of slaveholders to buy and sell human beings, women’s right to vote, race-segregated water fountains, and LGBT rights. The first three are now utterly uncontroversial, and the fourth is gaining momentum. But of course, activists on each of these issues were wildly controversial in their presents.
History has clear winners and losers. History does not judge the statements “I have a dream” and “segregation now, segregation tomorrow and segregation forever” as equally valid statements for consideration. Nor does it grant unto them unto them the same amount of respect.
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, how will abortion be viewed 100 years from now? How will be these two sides be judged? If pro-choicers win, they will be seen as a champion of women’s rights; but if they lose, they will be seen as shockingly inhumane. If pro-lifers win we will be seen as courageously speaking out; if we lose, we will be seen as a reactionary cranks who were ignorant about the needs of women.
We are pro-life because we recognize the horror of abortion. If we are victorious, history will validate our reasoning. But in the present there remains a great deal of uncertainty of our outcome. In the face of this uncertainty, under pressure to take sides and make decisions that have major social ramifications, it easy to see how the temptation arises to find some middle position, to sidestep any controversy, and to be moderate when faced with extremism.
But let us take comfort in the fact that we are not the first people to be faced with these tough choices. Every social movement was lived in the present; activists across the centuries have shared the same uncertainties, faced the same decisions, and dealt with the significant costs (in many cases, far more extreme costs than those we face).
|Above: The Liberator masthead, foregoing
subtlety, depicted a slave market
Famous abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison founded The Liberator in 1831; more than three years later, the paper had just 500 regular white readers in a country of more than 10,800,000 white Americans. Did his future seem uncertain? Yes. Did he lose friends and make enemies? Absolutely. Was he called names? Of course. As Garrison put it, looking back in 1865:
The original disturber of the peace, nothing was left undone at the beginning, and up to the hour of the late rebellion, by Southern slaveholding villany on the one hand, and Northern pro-slavery malice on the other, to represent it as too vile a sheet to be countenanced … Never had a journal to look such opposition in the face—never was one so constantly belied and caricatured. If it had advocated all the crimes forbidden by the moral law of God and the statutes of the State, instead of vindicating the sacred claims of oppressed and bleeding humanity, it could not have been more vehemently denounced or more indignantly repudiated.
But as he lived in the present, he kept an eye on the future. Early on he had proclaimed:
[U]rge me not to use moderation in a cause like the present. I am in earnest—I will not equivocate—I will not excuse—I will not retreat a single inch—and I will be heard. …
It is pretended that I am retarding the cause of emancipation by the coarseness of my invective and the precipitancy of my measures. The charge is not true. On this question my influence … shall be felt in coming years—not perniciously, but beneficially—not as a curse, but as a blessing. And posterity will bear testimony that I was right.
There is always a cost to speaking boldly. But let us be inspired by the movements that came before us. It will not be easy, but it is worth it in the end. The pro-life movement exists to save future generations, and it is they who shall judge us.