A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE
By NANCY PATRICK
I faithfully watch a PBS series entitled Call the Midwife. Nonnatus House, the setting,
serves as the residence for several nuns and nurses who provide midwifery as well as basic medical care for London’s poverty-ridden East End, beginning shortly after WWII. The convent’s leader and main nurse is Sister Julienne.
Sister Julienne represents the kind of woman to whom I have always aspired. She
faces the most morally and socially ambivalent situations any changing society can
encounter, yet she embraces these situations with grace, love, compassion, and sympathy
as she leads her young sisters as well as the secular nurses to a ministry that far exceeds
anything they could have imagined.
I have always felt drawn to those less fortunate than I am. This calling has led me to
question the reasons why so many people enter the social and political frays regarding
situations that do not directly affect their lives but the individual lives of those
experiencing the difficulty (e.g, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, racial relationships, and religious liberty). I realize that society requires a certain degree of cooperation and compromise for us to live together lawfully and peacefully, and I have no problem with that. In fact, I enjoy the peace and safety that results from law and order.
Understanding that not everyone shares the same beliefs regarding sexuality, I
sometimes ponder why so many people worry, fret, or even agonize about others whose
sexuality differs from their own. June, Pride Month in the LGBTQ community, saw an
increase in attacks on same sex couples. These vicious attacks should appall and sadden everyone. Surely, people who oppose others’ lifestyles could do so with peaceful counter-
demonstrations rather than aggression and anger.
Recent decades have revealed another sexual controversy with the transgender
issue. Admittedly, some people have a hard time understanding the biology and psychology of the transgender person. Gender dysphoria results when a person’s body gender does not match the mental gender. This concept may seem complex and confusing to those who do not share this perplexing sexual dichotomy, but pronouncing judgment on someone who does presumes an unfounded knowledge and discernment.
Realizing the social obstacles a non-heterosexual or transgender person faces convinces me that these people do not pursue their sexuality with a cavalier attitude. Their
desire for liberty, freedom, and self-actualization inspires their courage to face difficult
challenges from unsympathetic neighbors.
Another situation currently in the courts again (in spite of the 1973 Supreme Court
ruling in Roe v. Wade) relates to a woman’s right to obtain legal abortions. Challenges to
the ruling have continued throughout the four decades since abortion became legal. The
essence of the abortion issue relates to a woman’s right to control her own reproductive
Many disagree, seeing abortion as a social-spiritual-moral problem; regardless of
one’s stance, anyone who finds herself in this position will deal with the consequences of
her choice forever. I do not know a single person who promotes abortion; however, I know many people who believe a woman has the right to control her body. That stance is pro-choice, not pro-abortion as many like to claim. The decision to have or not have a child directly affects a small circle of people who should retain the right to make that decision.
The women I know who have terminated pregnancies have weighed many factors
regarding their choice. Not one woman I know has made her decision lightly, but she owns that right and the consequences of it. The decision belongs to those involved, not to those ready to pronounce judgment.
Although not as controversial now as several decades ago, interracial relationships
still cause some raised eyebrows and whispered comments. As with the other issues, choice of friends, partners, or spouses belongs to the individuals involved; however, many folks feel compelled to offer advice or admonition regarding others’ behavior.
Whether or not interracial relationships result in more difficulty for a family than
same race relationships is a family matter. Outsiders can offer support, understanding,
friendship, and acceptance. If more difficulty does result for the family, then they will
appreciate and treasure the proffered friendship even more.
Another important aspect of life relates to religious freedom. America offers its
citizens complete religious liberty. We have the right to believe or disbelieve precepts of
many world religions. In spite of this right, some people, though well intentioned, try to
convert others to their own belief system. Sharing one’s faith with a friend often stems
from love or even that faith’s tenet of evangelism; however, once shared, additional
persuasion appears intrusive.
Life is complicated at best, but inserting ourselves into the private affairs of others
makes for messy and often painful circumstances. We can make life simpler if we tend to
our own affairs and respect others enough to let them tend to theirs. Citizens have an
obligation to obey the law; however, we do not have the right to monitor the moral choices of others.
The late Browning Ware, former pastor of First Baptist Austin, wrote for the Austin
American-Statesman one of the most poignant columns I have ever read, entitled “Not the Answer but the Answerer.” He begins by listing several of life’s perplexities for which he thought he had all the answers. He includes parenting, divorce, death of a child, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abortion.
He concludes that having a pat answer does not satisfy a sufferer’s quest. Rather, he
draws the conclusion that God may or may not provide an answer, but He offers His
presence with us throughout our specific journeys.
Allowing others to practice their faith and live their lives without interference gives
us the freedom to do the same. As we journey life’s complexities together, we can help each other by offering a hand rather than an answer.
Nancy Patrick is a retired teacher who lives in Abilene and enjoys writing.