Last Friday, Chimes published an op-ed by a student staff writer headlined “Pro-choice at Calvin.”

Within days, the piece drew an outpouring of rancor from pro-lifers and swarms of social media “Likes” from like-minded pro-choicers.

To get it out of the way, I’ll admit here that I found the article’s arguments pretty lacking. But it must also be said that I have no qualms with its publication.

In an effort to avoid this response devolving into a digital duel, I won’t dwell for long on the actual premise of the editorial—that has been done enough already. What I want to do instead is address three things we might learn from this whole episode.

The power of words

Because my purpose here is not to advocate for one stance or another on abortion, I’ll skip the science/sociology/philosophy/theology lesson. I will say, however, that regardless of your perspective on the issue, we can all acknowledge poor arguments when we see them.

I hope we’ll each admit that there are a variety of reasonable arguments in defense of both the pro-life and pro-choice positions. What is amazing to me is that, with a long tradition of reasonable arguments to draw from, this editorial uses, as far as I can tell, none of them.

It seems to me that pro-choicers should be just as frustrated with the piece as pro-lifers, not because they disagree with the general premise, but because the justification was so flimsily articulated as to actually detract credibility from the position rather than gird it. Misused data mixed with a peculiar moral calculus, wrapped in a strawman portrayal of the pro-life position, left me scratching my head. Both arguments in the third paragraph in particular, if taken to even their nearest logical conclusions, are wildly problematic.

But even if strong arguments had been made, the piece and the reaction to it offer a much-needed lesson in the power of words.

In terms of the writer’s words, it probably does not need to be said that stacking irresponsible arguments one on top of the other, especially around such a sensitive topic, does no one any favors. And more specifically, the twisting and misuse of individual words is a dangerous proposition. The most obvious case is the term “anti-choice.” Clearly this is a subtle effort to paint one camp in a less-than-flattering light—what could be worse than being against choice! But it is also an unfair semantic game. It is the exact same thing as pro-lifers referring to their opponents as anti-life instead of pro-choice. Surely, that wouldn’t be a fair treatment. Also, the labels “sexist” and “racist,” and the phrases “social necessity” and “regressive morality” are used a little too flippantly, as they work as rhetorical daggers on a matter that is, quite simply, not that simple.

The weight of words was proven dangerous enough in the article, but, as usual, the commenters were not to be outdone. As was noted in a few comments, some of the responses—mostly from traditionalists—were more fiery, unfounded and ill-considered than anything in the piece itself. It seems even the humble Chimes isn’t without its trolls.

Heir to the many Old Testament proverbs that warn us to watch our words, the modern mantra has been said a million times before and apparently bears repeating: Beware the comment section!

The duties of education and journalism

One of the things that stunned and disappointed me most as I watched the backlash unfold was the negative backlash against Calvin College and the Chimes.

Let’s be clear that the piece in question was an opinion piece by a single student. In no way does it reflect the position of the school or the newspaper.

It stings me when I see and hear such biting scolds as, “Calvin College is jumping off the Christian wagon!” or “The Chimes will print anything these days!” These chides are entirely unwarranted.

For the college as a whole, I feel confident the article doesn’t reflect the school’s dominant view (and, even if it did, that wouldn’t mean it abandoned Christianity!). Only three years removed from my own college days, I assure you far crazier things than “Pro-choice at Calvin” are said and written. Part of education, Christian institution or otherwise, is about forming one’s own ideas. We should not expect—and, I submit, we should not even hope—that all students come out fitting the intellectual, spiritual and social molds of the class of yesteryear.  As long as Christ crucified is the prevailing preaching, I don’t fear for the school’s soul.

And for Chimes, its very duty is to be a platform for discussion, and that includes dissenting views. If Chimes were to print only Synod-sanctioned journalism, it would have become merely propaganda. That’s not what we want for our students. Rather, we want them to be thoughtful, curious, ever-seeking, listening and understanding. We want them to be open-minded, as long as their minds are not open at both ends.

I know journalism is always in danger of falling into a most callous and destructive game. But, if done with proper integrity, it is a most noble endeavor. Keep up the good work, Chimes! I applaud you for the impressive page you’ve put together in the last few years. And, as a former Chimes Op-Ed editor, I would have sent “Pro-choice at Calvin” to print as well.

The calling of thoughtful Christians

Lastly, what do we do here as Christians? More generally, what do we do as decent human beings?

“Pro-choice at Calvin” packs quite a punch for coming in at just under 700 words, but the 140-character pingbacks and dinner table discussions in response will tell far more about the state of the faithful.

The momentary flareup over this article is a microcosm of so many issues that divide the Church, internally and from the world it seeks to reach. Let’s not leave the matter in such a way that, when we look back, we will say we left the Body more isolated and more hypocritical than we found it.

That may not mean utter acceptance, but it certainly means love. It may not mean law, but it certainly means grace.


  1. Jonathan Hielkema

    My article was not designed as an argument for the pro-choice position, merely an exhortation for pro-choice people at Calvin to strengthen their resolve and, vitally, to not capitulate to the lie that abortion is in any way an “evil.” I find that pro-choice people in America are often quick to give away the entire game to anti-choice arguments and then saying “but we still need it until X day in the future when we abortion can go away forever.” That won’t happen, and to think that it will is grossly mistaken. Women will always need to control their bodies, especially when they still live under the iron heel of the capitalist “traditional” family.

    Of course it’s an old saw for reactionaries like those who publish at this website to label any argument that they disagree with “irresponsible.” On the contrary, anything other than full support for abortion rights is the wildly irresponsible position, considering the sheer amount of damage it produces. There are a number of other flawed assertions here:

    1. “Anti-choice” is neither subtle nor incorrect as a label for those who call themselves pro-life. Their position is limited entirely to being against the option of legal abortion for pregnant people who need it. That is, therefore, an “anti-choice” position, and I don’t feel that these people are entitled to be mollycoddled by their opponents.

    2. Pro-choice morality is vile and oppressive to those who are in the lower class. It removes the safe and economical abortion option while making sure that black market abortions will continue to be available to the rich. That is not up for dispute. It is sexist, being against women’s welfare. It is also racist, in that it concretely oppresses an exploited class that is overwhelmingly nonwhite. It is pure reactionary ideology that wants nothing other than to punish women for sexual activity that transgresses what “pro-life” people think is acceptable. It is also true that thousands of women perished every year from black-market abortions, and who knows how many of these incidents went unreported?

    3. I am not a liberal who fetishizes choice for choice’s sake. I am a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist who believes that only militant action, backed up with Marxist theory, is able to arm the oppressed classes and overcome patriarchal, capitalist, racist domination. Believe me, I could have written a far more “irresponsible” article given the time and space.

    My foundational commitments and more through (“responsible”) arguments could not fit into 700 words, which is the upper limit provided. My article was meant primarily as a support for pro-choice people at Calvin and those who have had abortions. Those people have responded uniformly positively to my article, so I think it succeeded as a rhetorical intervention, however bourgeois liberals on campus might want to call it “problematic” or “irresponsible.”

    • Griffin

      I appreciate the response. I’ll address your points here. And if you’d like to continue talking, feel free to email.

      1. “Anti-choice” is, in the pro-choice view, correct insofar as it describes people who think abortion should be an option never/rarely/only in some circumstances (there is nearly always a spectrum, no matter the side and no matter the issue). Granted. But is it a good option? Is it fair? Is it helpful to the discussion? I submit it is not, because it alienates and angers one side of the table before the discussion has even begun. (Not to mention, I think it is a misrepresentation of the point the pro-lifers are making.) In the same way, pro-lifers might think it accurate to refer to pro-choice folks as “anti-life” or “pro-death,” but of course you would acknowledge these are neither fair nor helpful. We can call each other names all day long, claiming all the while “But it’s true!” and still we have accomplished nothing.

      Additionally, the norm in journalism is to refer to groups a) the way most commonly used or b) the way they refer to themselves.

      2. You’re right. Abortion is inherently a women’s issue and largely affects exploited classes. The demographics here must not be minimized. But, please also understand the pro-lifer’s perspective: s/he believes abortion is a moral wrong. S/he equates abortion with murder. To the pro-lifer, saying, “Abortion should be illegal” is equivalent to saying, “Murder should be illegal.” We are unlikely to say a law prohibiting murder is bigoted, because we would submit that murder is always wrong, regardless of gender or race or creed. (Note: Most would agree there are types of killing that are not murder; so, again their are exceptions, just as there are in pro-life perspectives on abortion.) Also, reconsider the sentence that begins, “It is pure reactionary ideology that wants nothing other than to punish women…” Is this fair? Don’t they also want — possibly even only want — to protect the fetus, which to many of them is an unborn child created in the image of God?

      3. I do not doubt it.

      In response to un-numbered points:

      4. As you wisely pointed out at the start of your editorial, it is difficult to move people one way or another on this debate, regardless of facts or arguments, however sound. The paramount issue in the debate is not morality or demography or choice; it is when personhood begins. Does it begin at conception? Birth? In between? Sometime after? This is the hinge on which the whole thing turns, but it is rarely even discussed. There is reasonable evidence — scientific and scriptural — used by all parties. But if some consensus, or at least mutual understanding, isn’t reached, it will be hard to find much common ground down the road.

      5. I do not think your position is “irresponsible.” Pro-choice is an entirely legitimate and, often, well-reasoned viewpoint. However, I do think the arguments from your second, third and fourth paragraphs — the “arguments” being referred to above — are flimsy. In hindsight, I wish I had not used the word “irresponsible.” I only wish you had not laid out a weak case when there was a strong case available to you.

      6. You write about the “reactionaries like those who publish at this website.” I hope you won’t take my piece as representative of this website. There are a great many good writers here, of a breadth of political and religious stripes, and writing on a range of topics.


  2. Clinton Wilcox

    I’ve responded to his article at the link below. It’s not just because he used really bad arguments (and I did indicate near the beginning that there *are* good arguments for the pro-choice position), but he’s also being deliberately inflammatory (as you mentioned), and lying — using blatantly false statistics, which are well-known fabrications, in his article (e.g. the “5,000 to 10,000” figure).


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