Activism and The Bitterness Trap: Doing a Good Job With Good Spirit

I once knew a US Military combat veteran of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts. He was a believer, a bit gruff, a faithful husband, a good father and grandfather, and a bit racist against Asians. Think of Clint Eastwood’s character from Gran Torino.

This man had become hardened and calloused from his many personal experiences. He was a solid man in most respects, but when it came to an entire massive people group (really several people groups), he had bitterness and prejudice in his heart. A mix of wartime propaganda aimed at demonizing “the enemy” along with being in a great deal of combat with a specific ethnicity added up to bitterness and prejudice. His experiences made that sinful attitude understandable, though those excuses far from justified his prejudice. His views and attitude were still sinful.

Frequently the men and women “on the front lines” of the fight against abortion can slowly develop a similar sort of coldness, callousness, and bitterness. Especially the few that are very active; the regular, day to day, full-time activists. I want to be very clear. I am thankful for their work, and I share in that method of direct action to a lesser degree. I am not talking about everyone or even the majority of anti-abortion activists. I am speaking about a real problem that I believe most of us, if we’re honest, can understand.

If an abortion abolitionist does activism 365 days out of the year, it is likely that he will have negative reactions 365 days out of the year. If he speaks to 50 pastors a year about getting involved in the fight, it is not unheard of to get 50 bad responses. The abolitionist is regularly scorned, lied about, spit on, cursed, hated, and sometimes physically assaulted. Some abolitionists do this sort of direct activist work every week or multiple times a week. This wears on people. This hurts people. This is not a job for the weak or lazy. Abortion ministry is mostly thankless; it is isolating, spiritually oppressive at times, physically dangerous, exhausting, and (for me at least) very depressing. I do it, but I hate it. I hate that it is necessary.

Now, consider being in those situations for dozens, and then hundreds, and then thousands of hours. Eventually, the abolitionist may start to cut corners in how he speaks. Maybe he will grow more and more combative and impatient. He may deliver the same message with the same attitude to everyone he comes across because most of those he comes across are the same. Instead of viewing people as individuals, the hardened veteran activist sees everyone as the same. He views each one as if they’re that angry scoffer at Planned Parenthood. He views everyone like an enemy. His tone is, by default, aggressive, combative, angry, and hardened.

Frankly, I think this is understandable. I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of abuse from the masses for days and days. I have done this work. But, like the old, gray-haired, racist, military veteran, this attitude is sinful. His hardened and maybe even angry heart is sinful. His activism work, though urgent and vital, does not display the Fruits of the Spirit, but rather an attitude of a man that assumes the worst in everyone and does not have the patience to treat people as individuals, but instead treats everyone as a part of the collectivist problem. Galatians 6:9 tells us to “not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” Not only are we not to cease doing good, but our weariness should also not affect our hearts and attitudes when communicating with those we are seeking to love. Fatigue is so understandable, but we must be on guard against it. Just because you are still going through the Christian activist motions does not mean you have not grown weary. How you demonstrate the Law/Word of God is also an indicator of whether or not you have become weary of doing good. Stay faithful, brothers and sister, because the harvest will be plentiful in God’s own time; not ours.

A few years ago, I was standing outside a prochoice UMC building with graphic abortion image signs. A friend of mine had just gotten assaulted by one of the congregants at this so-called church. I yelled out at an older man that he and his church supports murder and will be judged by God. That older man turned around, looked me straight in the eyes, and told me I was wrong. He did not support murder, and he was deeply grieved by the direction his church had taken regarding the preborn.

I have to admit, that man was far more charitable than I was. For the next hour or so he stood right next to me holding one of my signs and passing out literature to his own church. There is undoubtedly valid criticism of attending a denomination that is pro-choice even if you are personally opposed to abortion, however, the way I assumed the heart of this man and the way I spoke to him was wrong. I felt a great deal of shame after that encounter, and so I should have.

Maybe you have done the same thing. Perhaps someone you know displays this kind of graceless combativeness. Perhaps this person is you on a particularly bad day. Either way, it is all sin. All of the hours holding signs, street preaching, and handing out tracks, or other activist work, debate, even social media interaction, does not make up for a heart that is hard, cold, and bitter. Your much experience also does not place you above correction. Do not stop doing the work, but do the work in such a way that displays both the love of God and the severity of the sin you confront. There is a laundry list of reasons and excuses for speaking quickly and combatively as a default communication pattern, but there is not one Biblical justification. There is a time and place for harsh rebukes, combativeness, and so on. Those times will undoubtedly come, and often in abundance, when you do this sort of much-needed work. There is a time for harshness, indeed, but if your default is aggression, consider the character of Christ and the fruits of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other (Gal. 5:22–26).

Originally published on Jan 18, 2019 at The American Vision.

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