A friend’s photos from the 2017 March for Life revealed a kaleidoscope of Christian imagery. Marchers holding posters with Bible verses of how “I knew you in the womb.” Close-up shots of rosaries dangling from wrists. Representatives of specific church entities—from individual congregations to entire denominations—made themselves present by name, proclaiming their pro-life stance as emanating out of their religious worldview.
But when, just a week after this year’s presidential inauguration, my wife and I showed up at the Chicago Women’s March, across the vast sea of pink hats and posters I found not a single suggestion of Christian imagery, language, or iconography.
In fact, within minutes of arriving I was shaken by a poster with bracingly anti-Christian imagery: a caricature of the Pope, with derisive language scribbled around it. The message was clear: Christians belong in the other camp, at the other march.
After all, the lines had been drawn on election day. 81% of American evangelical Christians had voted for Donald Trump, aligning their religion with his politics. If anything, it seemed that the collective liberal mind represented before me viewed American nativist religion as perhaps the greatest force threatening democracy and pluralism: and the ultimate bulwark against the outsider and oppressed.
At this point, I might have entered into the crowd incognito, a hidden religious believer roaming and chanting among secular liberals. Problem is, I was facing the nettlesome problem of having earlier that morning created a poster with an explicitly Christian message on it.
If I walked out there and raised this poster, it would be the only piece of religious driftwood bobbing along in this tumultuous river of secularity.
I felt suddenly vulnerable. How could I have brought my seven-month old child to this without thinking about the danger to which I’d possibly be exposing him? He was bouncy and happy in his bjorn, clapping with the crowds, but if I raised this poster up, would we find ourselves caught, like deer, in the headlights of rage? Did I in fact have cause to fear something even more than emotional or mere verbal hostility? How could we have not thought this through better?
We ducked into a café where we could abscond ourselves from the crowds, turn our poster downward, and figure out what we were going to do.
And clearly that was to trash the poster—on a side street, quickly, where nobody could see it.
But I couldn’t.
For this is—this is what I am. And even if the politics represented at the march did not coincide with my Christian values on every single point, I did believe they came closest—among the available options in the mainstream dialogue—to representing their truest spirit. We came to this march, after all, to assert our solidarity with the very same segments of society with which these marchers were asserting theirs. We, like everyone around us, had shown up in the name of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged: minorities, immigrants, the inner-city poor, refugees—and, yes, women. Weren’t we in this thing here together? Did I have a place in it?
And isn’t there a bunch of language in the Bible, after all, about these precise forms of cross-identification and cross-solidarity? Feeding the poor, vindicating the oppressed, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, receiving the alien, being mother to the motherless and father to the fatherless, opening one’s home to the stranger, and not simply tolerating but being willing to sacrifice all for one’s enemy?
In fact, the night before the march, I re-read the Good Samaritan parable and re-heard its meaning anew after years of whitewashed Sunday schooling. Far from a story about a bland, generalized sort of altruism, it was a provocation to radical openness to the most viscerally feared and hated Other. To Christ’s audience, that’s precisely what the Samaritan stood for.
My wife and I knew, as we took our final sips of coffee, that we had to step out of the café and raise our banner high.
As we did, our poster flashed the words: “CHRISTIANS FOR LOVE NOT HATE.”
All the marchers before us erupted in a roar of clapping, hoorays, ecstatic shouts of love and support toward us—even a smattering, here and there, of amens. My son began clapping in his bjorn again. A voice from the crowd exclaimed, “Somebody finally said it—hallelujah!” And we entered in and found our place among them.