Gongs, Cymbals, and Pharisees

Much of what I know about love I learned in a ramshackle crisis pregnancy center on the wrong side of the tracks.  For more than five years I volunteered every week at a little crisis pregnancy center.  I helped in the clothing ministry, taught parenting classes, and performed pregnancy tests.  I took my share of phone calls from frightened women -- the ones that start, "I think I'm pregnant.  I just can't have a baby right now.  Please help me."  And I knew that what I said in the next five minutes could literally mean life or death.

I helped start our center's abstinence program.  I would talk to middle- and high-schoolers and individual clients about the benefits of waiting for sex until marriage.  (My kids would joke about how hard it was to have the "chastity lady" for a mom.)  I led seminars to teach parents how to talk to their kids about sex.  And I learned a lot about what works and what doesn't when talking to people about social issues like premarital sex and abortion.

In the Bible, First Corinthians chapter 13 is also known as the "Love Chapter."  If you've attended more than one wedding, it's probably familiar.  It begins:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

I learned very quickly that if love wasn't at the foundation for my reason for doing the work, I may as well head home and catch up on housework.  Because no one will hear me.  So it breaks my heart when I hear Rick Santorum and his supporters wield the social conservative message like a club.  Yes, he might win the argument and maybe even the nomination.  But look at all the hearts he's lost.  I'm horrified when I hear conservative radio hosts mocking "welfare moms" and laughing along with Foster Friess about how girls should just learn to hold an aspirin between their knees as a contraceptive measure.  My greatest fear is that the Santorum campaign could set back the work CPCs have been doing by decades.

Imagine you are a seventeen-year-old girl whose family has attended church regularly your whole life.  You might even be Catholic.  You are afraid you could be pregnant, so you slip across town to the crisis pregnancy center.  You give a fake name.

The pregnancy test results are unmistakably positive.  I can almost read her mind: "If I get an abortion, it will all be over and no one will ever have to know."

What if I counseled her not with love, but with the judgmental superiority of Santorum and his supporters?  Perhaps she should be lectured about how she should have kept her legs closed.  Instead of offering hope, help, and life, perhaps I should mock her, because she was too dumb to consider the ramifications of having sex outside marriage.

Santorum obviously has a strategy here.  I believe it's to go after a highly motivated slice of the conservative electorate whom I call the Pharisee vote.  These are the voters who decided to stay home and not vote for George W. Bush when the drunk driving story hit just before the 2000 election.  For those of you who believe that the Pharisee voters are irrelevant, it is my opinion that they were a factor when Bush, who had been comfortably ahead, ended up losing the popular vote.

By focusing on the Pharisee voters, Rick Santorum just might capture the Republican nomination.  But at what cost?  The Pharisees will crawl over broken glass to vote for a candidate who meets their very high standards.  But they won't be bringing anyone with them.  This does not bode well in a general campaign.

The Republican Establishment is horrified that Rick Santorum focuses so often on what is labeled the "social issues."  But Republicans should not be afraid of discussing issues like abortion and morality, because believe it or not, in my experience most people agree with the conservative stand in these matters.  No, it's not that Santorum talks about abortion and premarital sex.  It's the ice-cold righteousness; it's the judgment delivered without love.

There is a famous quote by Gandhi which states, "I like your Christ; I do not like your Christians.  Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."  I believe a lot of independents and Democrats will look at Rick Santorum and say to us, "I like your conservatism. I do not like your conservatives."  If Republicans wish to win the presidency this year, our candidate needs to not only express our conservative views, but do it in such a way that independents and Democrats will hear the message.  That means it's time to tone down the gongs and cymbals.

Carol Peracchio is a registered nurse.