This past weekend I was lucky enough to get the chance to attend the fourth annual Take Root, a reproductive justice conference focused on red states. It was a whirlwind time in Norman, Oklahoma, meeting fellow Midwest and Southern folks who understand the particular difficulties in organizing for RJ in a red state. I especially loved how Take Root –walking the walk and not just talking the talk of reproductive justice (as unfortunately often happens) — put women of color, lower-income folks, and queer people at the forefront of the conversations.
But beyond all the feminist warm and fuzzies that make my heart go all-aflutter, I was particularly struck by one panel “Reproductive Justice Off the Coasts” which featured a bevy of badass activists. And, I was most especially struck by one organization that was represented on the panel – Faith Aloud, an organization that describes itself on its site as “the religious and ethical voice for Reproductive Justice.” It was the Rev. Rebecca Turner that spoke on the panel, and though she only spoke for a few minutes, she said something that hit me hard with truth, because it’s a truth I personally struggle with.
“If you’re doing reproductive justice work and you’re not including people of faith, that’s why you’re losing.”
This was after showing the statistics that overwhelmingly most people in the United States identify as a person of faith (and even more overwhelmingly identify as Christian). And it hit me hard because I struggle with not viewing religion—specifically Christianity, and even more specifically, Catholicism, as an enemy, not an ally.
I grew up in a Catholic family—no scratch that, I grew up in a hella Catholic family. I’m not just talking Catholic school here (though I did that for 13 years). I’m talking statues of the Virgin Mary on every shelf, pastel portraits of cherubim flanking all the walls, my mother flicking holy water she kept in a vial when she thought I was being irreverent. That kind of Catholic. Mega hella super Catholic. So it’s rough for me to acknowledge that such a formative part of my life no longer feels accessible to me, or my work, or my values any longer.
Even before I had my reproductive justice queer feminist awakening, I had struggles in my youth with my Catholic faith. How tithing practices were a struggle for my family of limited financial means to reach. How the Catholic Church would let me be a nun, but not a priest. How my particular Catholic community was overwhelmingly white, rich, and, of course, heteronormative (acceptable standards of which only the first I fell in line with).
But when entering high school and the rabid “pro-life” culture whacked me in the face with violence, and shaming, and fear mongering? Lord, did I not know what to do. I was confused, scared, and later on, after seeing the havoc this culture of “life” wrought on those I knew (and on myself), angry. I told myself I was done with the Catholic Church, with Christianity. No more faux sex-education that presented abstinence as the only option; no more decrying of birth control despite it making absolutely no sense that the Church disapproves of it; no more shaming teen mothers despite them making the “right” choice; no more persecution of queer people; and no more demonizing the women who choose to end a pregnancy.
Catholicism just didn’t, and doesn’t, work for me any more. I use the term “Recovering Catholic” in a humorous way usually, but it also resonates with me on a serious level. My Catholic upbringing deeply hurt me and those around me in so many ways and it’s taken a hell of a lot of time to be okay with myself without the validation or recognition of my former faith.
But, as the Rev. Turner very aptly pointed out—my experience does not speak for all. In fact it speaks only for myself. Which means, despite the fact that I was personally unable to live with both the faith I was born into and reproductive justice in my life? Doesn’t mean I can, or should ignore the importance of faith in many people’s lives who both fight for and are in desperate need of reproductive justice.
We need to work with faith-based communities to bring about reproductive justice, because the people we are trying to bring reproductive justice to are overwhelmingly a part of those communities. And it’s particularly important in red state organizing. And by not including their voice in the conversation, we do our work a terrible injustice. We fight a losing battle because we can’t win without addressing ALL those who need justice.
I’m no longer a person of faith, at least in the traditional sense. But we need to include voices of faith in our work. Otherwise, we can’t really say we’re living up to the tenets of reproductive justice. Otherwise, I can’t say I’m fighting for my community’s needs, and I like to walk the walk—not just talk the talk.