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This is How We Do It

November 11, 2008

I’m about to state the obvious: Black America has tons of problems right now. But what might not be so obvious is how to tackle them, not to bring temporary relief, but to affect lasting transformation.

When the business world has problems (and it has plenty at the moment), it often turns to ‘best practices’ principles for inspiration on how to boost profits, manage rising costs, change an organization’s internal culture, or increase diversity among its vendors. Best practices are those activities that have, over time, consistently proven to acheive a desired result. They are valuable because they work regardless of company size or budget, and because they work over time-they’re not just quick fixes. The Black community can learn from the idea of best practices, particularly when it comes to some of the more deeply-rooted and controversial issues like abortion, sexuality, and family disintegration.

I have a good friend who demonstrates well how to really see change in these areas. Her name is Angela Minter and she is the founder and director of Sisters for Life, a powerful ministry in Kentucky. These are just a couple ‘best practices’ I think those of us who work in any area of social justice in the Black community can use as we try to make a difference in our corner of the world:

1. Angela prays. Alot. Passionately. Confidently. She is committed to the belief that prayer works. When she prays, she knows she is dialoguing with God. She understands that prayer is the Christian’s opportunity to partner with God to bring His will to the earth. She prays the Word of God, meaning, her requests are things that the Bible says we should pray for. She prays for mothers to allow their unborn babies to live; she prays for fathers’ hearts to turn toward their children; she prays for the plan of God to be realized in the lives of children whose lives hang in the balance because their mom is trying to decide what to do about her pregnancy; and she prays for women who come out of the clinic who’ve decided to allow their child’s life to be taken. Angela also prays fully expecting God to answer. And I’d say her expectation has been rewarded-within the one year she’s been praying in front of the abortion clinic in Louisville, 85 women have turned away from abortion, and chosen to let their children live.

2. Angela responds. She gets involved. If a woman decides to keep her baby, Angela doesn’t just say ‘thanks’, and move on. She takes that woman to the pregnancy resource center down the street, sits with her while she gets her first look at her baby with an ultrasound, and then gets to work on needs the mom may have. For instance, if a young girl is being put out of her home by her parents because she wouldn’t have an abortion, Angela works with The LIfehouse in Louisville to find that mom a place to live. I love the fact that Angela is not just a pie-in-the-sky pray-er, but she is a true warrior with banged-up armor and heat-of-the-battle sweat dripping from her body. She is a great example of faith and works in action.

3. Angela recruits. She is not satisfied with her community involvement. She wants others to get busy, too. On her weekly radio broadcast, she routinely implores listeners to get involved with community issues. She informs them and then challenges them to move out of their comfort zones and be a world changer. Light and salt-I love it.

Want to see real, life-altering change? Pray. Respond. Recruit.

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More Necessary Conversation

October 16, 2008

As I mentioned in the previous post, I recently attended the Care Net conference in Atlanta. Care Net’s Director of Urban Center Development invited me to participate in a special “summit” held specifically for Black pastors, their wives, and people active in the pro-life movement. We were there to talk about the need for the pastors to speak out regarding the affect of abortion on the Black community, and to see how we can come alongside them as they begin the conversation in their own churches. This seems logical. The flaws in the Black church notwithstanding, most people will still admit the huge influence clergy wield in our communities, so it makes sense to seek their help in reaching our people. But unfortunately, this is not an easy sell. That’s what has me scratching my head, and writing this post.

Since when should anyone have to persuade and convince pastors to speak out against a behavior clearly not condoned by scripture and so obviously wreaking havoc on our families?  Isn’t that part and parcel of what pastors do? They are supposed to be the reliable truth-tellers of our culture, drawing men and women not to a political party, ideology, or {gasp} themselves, but to the unchanging, life-transforming power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have historically looked to them as procalimers of the Word of God, and as attentive, caring undershepherds who steer their flocks off the wide way onto the narrow. But things have changed.

Rather than the pastors leading the way in identifying and dealing with sin, they are at the back of the pack, dragging their feet while abortion, domestic violence, and all kinds of sexual sin spread through our community like undiagnosed cancer. Rather than ‘movements’ bringing issues to them, begging for support and involvement, pastors should be inciting a holy revolution against the encroachment of the world’s philosophies and empty rhetoric into our places of worship, and into our bodily temples where the Spirit of the Lord Himself resides. We desperately need our pastors to function again in their sacred calling. Tell us to stop sleeping with each other’s husbands, wives, and children. Tell the young people that they actually can live a holy life without being dominated by unbridled lust and desire for physical pleasure. Pull the men aside and tell them their responsiblility to be protectors, providers, and priests in their home. Absolutely insist that worship leaders and choir directors not be active, unapologetic homosexuals. Counsel the young women about the awesome privilege it is to bear children, and help them see that taking the life of their child is not the answer to what’s really ailing them. But don’t stop with the telling. We also need Black pastors to show with their lives the truth, beauty, and worth of living a life committed to the Person and teachings of Jesus.  

This conversation about sin isn’t just for the pew, it’s for the pulpit first becuase sin not uprooted in the pulpit will run wild in the pews. Sin deceives us and distorts our perspectives so that what should be summarily put down is unashamedly lifted up. The church is silent on abortion and other problems because our pastors are silent. If we can restore the voice of our spiritual gatekeepers, sin will silence us no more.

A Necessary Conversation

October 9, 2008

I just returned from Atlanta where I attended this year’s CareNet conference. Part of the conference this year was a special summit to address the abortion problem in the Black community. Seven pastors and a couple people active in the Black pro-life cause attended. The purpose of this summit was to begin to impress upon pastors the vital importance and urgency of their voice being heard within our community, to help bring visibility and credibility to the message of life. I’m pretty familiar with abortion statistics, issues, affects, causes, and proposed solutions. But I heard something very early in the conference which took my breath away.

During the first session of the summit, a pastor from Alabama made this comment, “It’s fine to talk to people about their abortions, and the impact it has had on them, and to encourage them to seek healing. But we really need to talk to people about their sin.” He ended his introduction of himself with this statement and sat down. No one else commented on what he said, and it was never mentioned during any of the other sessions. But this observation kept me awake that first night I spent in Atlanta.

Sin….seems like it would be obvious. It’s true that not every abortion stems from a sinful behavior. In fact, the number of married women having abortions seems to be on the rise. But in the Black community, 88.6% of abortions are had by unmarried women (CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, issued 11/07). So sin is definitely an issue. With all the talk about ‘unintended pregnancy’ and ‘crisis pregnancy’, it’s easy to forget that there are problematic, [see, I’m using a euphemism for sin right now] behaviors underlying the pregnancies and abortions. The language of our day has been tweaked and massaged just enough to obscure what’s really happening. How would it sound if we started saying, “we’d like to decrease and prevent sinful sexual behavior, which would lead to less out of wedlock pregnancies.” NOW, Banned Parenthood, and their chohorts would jump up and down screaming faster than we can say ‘contraception’.

It even looked funny to see ‘out of wedlock’ in print, didn’t it? No one says that anymore. Language has a huge impact on how we diagnose, and prescribe solutions for, problems of our day. Seems like when we said things like out of wedlock, people were more cognizant of the consequences of their behavior. It reminded us that there was a child being brought into the world without the benefit of a marriage. And we readily understood the legal and moral implications of that reality. As it is now, if someone has an ‘unintended’ pregnancy, it just means they didn’t plan well. The sex was intended, but not the pregnancy. So to fix the problem, you get help planning better, i.e. pills, condoms or something else. By the way, nowadays, if you don’t plan up front, no worries because you can deal with that ’emergency’ with special contraception that will make the uterine environment inhospitable to the already-formed embryo so that it doesn’t survive.

So where does sin come in? Bringing sin back into our conversation, especially among Christians and other faith communities, wakes us up to the fact that sexual sin violates God’s intent and design for sex, and that the pregnancy is really the least of our problems. We’ve gone crossways of a holy God, who cares deeply about our lives, and who cares enough to establish consequences for sin. It keeps us aware that our problems lie in our souls, not our inability to organize and plan. It re-injects the ideas of responsibility, accountability, morality, love, and consequence back into a dialogue that has gotten off course. Talking about sin will change how we feel about those who get caught in its trap (we’ve all sinned and come short, right?), and which remedies we promote to help the situation. It will motivate us to desire and work for inner healing, strength and faith for women and families, rather than the short-sighted quick fixes being advocated now. Sin is what’s gotten us here, and dealing with sin is what will get us out.

A New Look at an Old Problem

September 22, 2008

Last Friday I attended a health disparities forum at Sinclair Community College. Apparently the Ohio Office of Minority Health and Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County are collabortating to address health disparities at state and local levels. Good idea. I just hope that they acknowledge all the health disparities that exist, and work to address each of them. Traditionally, health disparities are considered to be those health conditions or diseases which disproportionately affect minorities and other disenfranchised groups. So that usually means heart disease, cancer, stroke, things like that. But what about abortion, infant mortality, domestic violence against pregnant women? These are not medical conditions in the truest sense of the word, but they are health-related, and each of them is having serious affects on and within the African-American population.

Nationally, African-American women represent about 13% of the total female population, but we have 35.5% of the abortions. Our babies die at a rate twice that of white infants, despite the implementation of programs and policies to address the situation. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Black pregnant women are seven times more likely to be victims of homicide than a white woman who’s pregnant. And that rate skyrockets for African-American women ages 25-29: they are 29 times more likely to be murdered while pregnant than white mothers in the same age group. These numbers might surprise you if you get most of your ‘news’ and information from mass and prime-time media. Laci Petersen and Maria Lauterbach are two recent high-profile cases of white women who were killed by men while pregnant. But what about LaToyia, Jimella, and Dawna ? Our stories so often are not told, or told so sparingly that we become desensitized to how these issues are affecting us.

Abortion, black infant mortality, maternal domestic violence, low infant birthweight…these are all health disparities that need to move into the mainstream. Even more importantly, they need to be fixed. Our women are suffering and dying, and so are our babies. Get informed about these issues, then please find an organization where you live that works to address these health issues. Better yet, become your own organization. Start talking to your sisterfriends, your aunts, your cousins, and all the Black women in your life. If she’s smoking while she’s pregnant, hound her until she stops. If she’s headed to Banned Parenthood, or some other abortuary to take the life of her child, take her to your church, your job, your family reunion, wherever, to help her find someone who will assist her with the pregnancy, and after the baby’s born. If she gives birth to a premature baby, go to the hospital and talk to, rock, sing to, pray for, and speak life over that baby. In other words, WAKE UP, then STEP UP. If we don’t handle this, no one else will. Believe that.

Read Carefully, then Act Thoughtfully

September 15, 2008

In the past couple days, I’ve received emails from different groups asking for their constituents to write to the American Psychological Association (APA) requesting a more scientific, comprehensive report than the one they issued August 18, regarding mental health effects on post-abortive women. The APA’s report claims to: “.. collect[ing], examine[ing], and summarize[ing] the scientific research addressing the mental health factors associated with abortion, including the psychological responses following abortion.”  Groups like the Family Research Council, and pro-life groups, say the APA report is biased because it doesn’t include certain types of studies in its review, which necessarily skews the outcome and any conclusions drawn from the review. For several years now, people for and against abortion have argued over whether women who have abortions experience negative psychological, emotional, and/or physical consequences as a result of the abortion. It reminds me of something my uncle said to me during a moot court competition I was in during law school. He said, “How can you tell who wins? It seems like it’s just lies on one side, and when the other side gets up then there’s lies on the other side.”  Some studies seem to show that post abortive women experience nothing more than the equivalent of an emotional hiccup, while other studies seem to suggest that the life of almost every woman who’s had an abortion will go into an unstoppable tailspin. Even for someone like me, who is familiar with the abortion issue, it can sometimes be hard to discern what’s really happening, and what the proper response should be.

It seems if we really want to understand how to read and understand scientific studies, and the conclusions given by the researchers, we need to do several things. First, be aware of how the researcher(s) define the scope of the research. The answer given will depend on the question asked, right?  Here’s what the APA task force defined as the scope of its review:  To keep its task manageable, the TFMHA [APA Task Force on Mental Health and Abortion] limited its review and evaluation to the empirical literature on the implications of induced or intentional termination of pregnancy for women’s mental health.”  The task force then further qualifies the phrase ‘mental health’ (this quote is long, but I want to give the full context):

 We also limited our review to studies examining the implications of induced abortion for mental health outcomes. Other outcomes potentially related to abortion (either as antecedents or consequences), such as education, income, occupational status, marital status, and physical health, are beyond the scope of this report. We conceptualized mental health broadly, relying on the World Health Organization (WHO) definition of mental health as a “state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (World Health Organization [W]HO], 2007). This report thus considers a wide array of outcomes related to mental health, including measures of psychological well-being (e.g., self-esteem, life satisfaction), emotions (e.g., relief, sadness), problem behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, child abuse), and measures of severe psychopathology.

This gives the impression that the task force will be considering the results of studies that show evidence of a wide range of mental health conditions related to abortion experience, right? But read a little further, and it becomes clear what they are really concentrating on:

In considering the mental health implications of abortion, it is crucial to distinguish between clinically significant mental disorders, such as major depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or posttraumatic stress disorder, and a normal range of negative emotions or feelings one might experience following a difficult decision, such as feelings of regret, sadness, or dysphoria. While the latter feelings may be significant, by themselves they do not constitute psychopathology. In this report, we use the term mental health problems to refer to clinically significant disorders assessed with valid and reliable measures or physician diagnosis. We use the term negative psychological experiences or reactions to refer to negative behaviors (e.g., substance use) and emotions (e.g., guilt, regret, sadness), and the term psychological well-being to refer to positive outcomes, such as self- esteem and life satisfaction.

 

Why is it important to notice this distinction the task force is making? Because much of the published literature about womens’ experiences following abortion is framed in terms of emotional symptomology, i.e. feelings of regret, sadness, and the like. So what the task force is saying is that they limited their review to studies that addressed certain types of mental health issues as they relate to abortion. This becomes crystal clear when the task force discusses the questions posed and answered by their review:

How prevalent are mental health problems among women in the United States who have had an abortion? This question focuses attention on the extent to which abortion poses a threat to women’s mental health, i.e., is associated with a clinically significant mental disorder (see Wilmoth et al., 1992 for a discussion of this issue).

Very quickly and smoothly, the task force equates mental health, in the broadest sense, with a very specific category of mental condition-a clinically significant mental disorder, which they have defined in the quote above as ‘mental health problems’. So there it is. Basically, the task force is saying, ‘in order for us to conclude that abortion affects a woman’s mental health, she must have been diagnosed by a physician, or have been assessed by a ‘valid and reliable measure’.  Which perfectly sets them up to draw the following conclusion:

…the prevalence of mental health problems observed among women in the United States who had a single, legal, first- trimester abortion for nontherapeutic reasons appeared to be consistent with normative rates of comparable mental health problems in the general population of women in the United States.
 
In other words, abortion is not related to higher incidences of mental health problems compared to women who have not had abortions. The task force’s conclusion, and method of arriving at that conclusion, have particularly significant implications for the African-American population.  The fact that African-Americans, including women, do not tend to seek help for what the task force is defining as mental health problems, i.e., depression, anxiety disorders, etc., means that these women are likely not included in very many of these studies reviewed by the APA. Therefore, the conclusion drawn by the APA doesn’t necessarily apply in any meaningful way to African-American women. But by the same token, neither do studies that conclude that mental health is affected by abortion, to the extent that they suffer from the same lack of inclusiveness.

But what about common sense? What about physicians who do treat African-American women? Should we believe them? Dr. Karen Stevenson, an African-American psychiatrist who has treated African-American women, says, “I have encountered tortured women who were struggling with depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, and drug and alcohol abuse who have had encounters with this thing called ‘the women’s right to choose.’ I’ve seen women touched by the horror of abortion, yet during my training, this issue was never discussed by my professor as a possible contributor to the person’s present state of emotional turmoil.” Hmm…depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety…? Those sound like mental health problems to me, even based on the APA’s definition.

Also, forum and message boards on websites that offer help for post-abortive women are full of entries from Black women who are, in their own words, describing their turmoil since their abortion(s). I’m sorry, but I don’t need the APA to tell me that women of all ethnicities are suffering because of abortions. But if they are going to publish reports, and trade on the assumed credibility given them by the general public, I do need them to act with integrity and not try to mislead people about a legitimate health issue. So what do we do? Should we jump on the bandwagon and send letters to the APA, insisting they conduct another review? Should we just chalk it up to another liberal organization trying to force reality to conform to its views? Should we forget the whole thing? I suggest we: 1) read reports like the APA’s for yourself, and in their entirety; 2) consider what action will have the greatest impact on the situation, and what the objective of the action is. With this APA report, is asking them to issue a new report really going to make the biggest impact? They are a private professional organization with voluntary membership. Maybe finding out who the task force members are and trying to deal with them directly is better? Or what about simply discrediting the report by writing to newspapers (yes, many of them are controlled by the same type of people who run the APA, but sometimes a newspaper editor’s desire for at least the appearance of editorial diversity and objectivity will win the day); writing to bloggers; telling anyone who will listen? We’ve got to become smarter, more savvy with how we approach these types of situations. Read. Think. Then Act.

Surprised by Conception

September 11, 2008

I love it when things happen that could only be attributed to God. My discovery of the startling book Conception is one of those things. I found it while visiting the library with my sons, and waiting for them to find what they were looking for. As someone who works to preserve the life of children, women, and families, I was naturally intrigued by the title. But I had no idea what awaited me inside the covers of this book.

Conception tells the story of a Black 15-year old girl living in Chicago who discovers she is pregnant. It’s odd that she’s surprised by this since she knows she is having sex, and she knows she is not using contraception. But her surprise realistically reflects the experiences of young girls and women who are not taking steps to avoid pregnancy-they’re not abstinent, and they’re not using contraception-but are shocked when they become pregnant. Shivana Montgomery though, is not only pregnant, she’s pregnant by a 40-something married man whose children she babysits. Her mother is abusive and unable to really bond with Shivana because of her own issues. Conception takes the reader through Shivana’s internal turmoil as she tries to decide what to do about her baby.

The author, Kalisha Buckhanon, uses several very powerful statements and imagery that speak to how young Black adults, and those becoming ‘adults’ too soon, feel about pregnancy, relationships, sex, education, and themselves. One very striking example is when Shivana goes to a Planned Parenthood-type clinic to get birth control pills before she finds out she’s pregnant. The clinic ‘counselor’, Rebecca, comes out to stave off a ruckus that’s erupted among the girls because they don’t want to get the Norplant implant for birth control:

 ‘Hold on everyone’, Rebecca said, with her arms spread out over us and her long, slender white hands sprawled wide to display the ice-blue rock on her wedding finger. ‘You can always go home and think about this. But keep in mind, there are risks with all contraceptives, even the pill.’

The mention of the counselor’s color, as well as the ring on her finger, eloquently speaks volumes about Shivana’s impression that maybe this woman doesn’t deserve to judge her, and isn’t qualified to really help her, because she’s white and about to be married. What could she possibly know about Shivana’s world of unattached sex, unreliable men, and abuse? It hurts to admit, but anyone who’s even halfway looking and seeing, realizes that our young Black people show similar mindsets. Case in point-I heard a woman talk about how she tried to talk to her youth Sunday school class about marriage, and one of the young men spoke up and said, “Marriage is for white people.” Oops, there it is. How have they come to believe this? Surely their personal experience has alot to do with it. But could it also be the message they receive from some who say they’re interested in their health and well-being? The Planned Parenthood worker who shoves birth control pills at them without one word about the possibility that they could be married someday, and will they want to have left part of themselves with every Tyrone, Jesse, and Romeo when they commit to their new husband? And what happens when Black Christians give the same message-just protect yourself now-with no mention of God’s plan for sex in marriage?

Shivana goes back and forth between having the baby and aborting it. Sometimes she sounds very much like the 15-year old that she is-selfish, irrational, and scared. And other times she sounds mature beyond her years. This book will give you a good sense of the stark reality too many of our young people face, and hopefully cause you to consider how we can begin to make things different. No, I’m not going to tell you how the book ends, but I bet if you know any young Black folk, you’ll feel like you’ve had a chance to peek inside their world.

Getting Started

September 9, 2008

This is a brand new blog where I’ll talk about life in the African-American community, particularly those issues that seem to be draining us and robbing us of the vibrant life we used to have-like sex, abortion, our churches’ role in our lives, our children, teens, and families, secrets we’re keeping as a people, and lots of other topics.  You might not always agree with me, and that’s ok. But the first step to bringing a change is to talk. So let’s do it.