Last week I explained why I sometimes wear a clerical (“Roman”) collar at public events, explaining that it’s one of the few universally recognized public symbols of religious leadership, and it’s important sometimes for the public to see that religions are involved in social-justice issues–that religion is not a private one-day-a-week affair, and justice is at the heart of many of our faith traditions.
After writing that column, another experience came to mind that I’d like to share with you. It happened at a family-planning clinic in Milwaukee where there were people demonstrating against abortion and people demonstrating for choice. The demonstrations had been going on for days, and there was taunting my members of both sides. There was a concern that a fight might erupt, and I was asked to help make a peaceful line between two particularly “hot” opposing groups. (The line included a number of Quakers, who had signs pinned on them that read: “I am a Quaker. In case of emergency, please be quiet.”) We didn’t say anything (we had been asked not to engage in debates); we just stood there holding hands, hoping to be a peaceful presence between the two groups. But one of the “pro-life” people there thought I was on her side–because of the Roman collar, I’m sure. She tried to engage me in conversation, but I thought she was trying to provoke an argument, so I didn’t answer her at first. Finally I realized she wasn’t trying to be argumentative, so I said, “I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to be rude, but I’m on the pro-choice side, and I thought you were trying to start an argument.” She looked rather surprised at first–it hadn’t occurred to here that someone she thought was a priest could be pro-choice. But then the humor of the situation overwhelmed us, and we both laughed. Something very human happened at that moment; it broke apart the sides we were on, and we were able to part on friendly terms.
It was one of the few times that I was able to have anything resembling a friendly conversation with someone who was passionately on the other side of a divisive issue like this. I will remember it always, as it gives me just the tiniest bit of hope that friends and family now terribly divided … may eventually be able to come together again. I do hope so.
peace and unrest