Dear International House of Prayer,

I could write an entire series of letters to any fundamentalist Christian sect, but going the extra mile and choosing a name that cross-promotes with a greasy pancake palace will rocket you to the top of my short list. It also doesn't hurt that a friend of mine spent some time in the Kansas City compound. And by spent some time there I mean shaved his head and spent nearly every hour of every day either in worship, prayer, or receiving religious instruction... for months.

I went to visit him one time. IHOP follows most of the usual fundamentalist cues- homophobia, fervent proselytizing, anti-intellectualism, doomsday prep, and that commercial, short-knit, blue/gray, wall-to-wall carpeting. But what stuck out to me the most during my short visit to IHOP's retro-fitted Kansas City strip mall were two stories that my friend told me. The first was his exuberant description of an anti-abortion rally he had recently taken part in. Evidently it involved writing the word "LIFE" on a red piece of duct tape, sticking this tape over your mouth, and then standing as a group in front of an abortion clinic so you could silently shame inbound women with your sad, brown eyes.

Good idea, but you forgot to plug the nose holes.

The second story he shared that stirred me was his announcement that he had not masturbated in two and a half months. I was incredulous as I heard this. It seemed to defy the endurance limits of the human body in an unnatural way- like running a three minute mile or not pooping for a year, but he assured me that it was true. I expressed concerns about his testicular health, and I asked him how and why he had done this. He led me to the common bathroom of his all-male dormitory and pointed me towards the lone shower stall. Sure enough, taped to the outside of the glazed glass door looking in was a picture of Jesus with those sad, brown eyes, posted up over what would otherwise have surely been masturbation central. "It's to discourage us from masturbating," he said nonchalantly, although I suspected that even he realized the whole thing sounded a little odd after the sentence came out of his mouth. "It's been working pretty well," he added. 

"I guess it would," I said. "Either that or it backfires and your personal relationship with Jesus Christ takes a whole different turn."

At the time I didn't really see any connection between these two things. Self-righteous anti-abortion performance art and sexual self-loathing. They were just two especially unsettling observations during a visit full of unsettling observations. But the more I've mulled over the American abortion debate in the years since, the more convinced I become that there is a causal connection between these two facets of Christian fundamentalism.

The puzzling part about fundamentalist Christians' almost universal zeal for overturning Roe vs. Wade is that it isn't in the bible. While many hot-button issues like homosexuality are specifically condemned, the bible has literally nothing to say about abortion. Christian sign-makers wish it would. They like to use one verse in particular to support their argument. 

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." - Jeremiah 1:5

From this verse and a nearly identical one in Psalms, fundamentalist Christians infer that life starts at conception. The only problem here is that the verse doesn't say that God knew this guy AS he was being formed in the womb. The verse says God knew this guy BEFORE he was formed in the womb. And if we briefly consider the all-knowing, timeless nature of the Christian God, it becomes apparent that God must have known this guy roughly infinity years before conception. If God's knowledge of us marks the starting point of human life, then this verse isn't saying that each life begins at conception, it says each life began at the conception of the universe, and in fact well before that. 

As usual, this bible verse, if taken literally, also imposes some ridiculous logical ramifications. Imagine you are moving to Florida and you have to pack up all of the belongings in your house. Your spouse has purchased some cardboard boxes and marked them with a sharpie- some are marked "trash" and the others are marked "Florida." You won't be throwing away anything yourself, but you know that your spouse will be taking all of the boxes marked "trash" directly to the landfill. Would you put anything valuable inside the boxes marked "trash"? In fact, would you place anything at all into the boxes that you knew were going to be thrown away, except for things you were willing to throw away? Would you place all of your most precious objects into one of the boxes marked "trash" and then become irate at your spouse for doing what you knew they were going to do all along? If we admit that God has perfect knowledge of the future and also has control over where, when, and to which mothers these souls he has known since eternity will be born, then it makes zero sense for God to place a soul into the womb of a mother who he knows for a fact will abort that fetus and then for God to get pissy about it as if he didn't know. In fact, God would be just as culpable as the mother. He might not be pulling the trigger himself, but he is deciding which individual gets put into the death chamber. They would essentially be working together like a little death squad duo. God picks the victims; the mother does the dirty work.

The bible doesn't say what pro-lifers want it to about abortion and the truth is, aside from unborn fetuses, neither the bible nor IHOP are all that crazy about life. Anybody who's actually read the bible knows it's pretty much a cover-to-cover snuff film. The bible is explicitly pro-killing-children when they need killin', and God has very few qualms about ghosting a fool at any other stage of life either.

But don't just take my word for it. Let's take a closer look at this book IHOPers thump while telling rape victims that they must give birth to their rapist's child.

1 Samuel 15:3- "Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys." - God.

Revenge, jingoism, religious intolerance, and land grabs? Great reasons for abortion. Fetus is horribly deformed and will lead a miserable existence full of suffering? Think again, would-be murder mom.

Exodus 11:5- "Every firstborn son in Egypt will die, from the firstborn son of Pharaoh, who sits on the throne, to the firstborn son of the female slave, who is at her hand mill, and all the firstborn of the cattle as well." - God.

Freeing your chosen people by killing children who had nothing to do with their enslavement? Moral. Taking the morning after pill? Immoral.

2 Kings 2:23-24- "From there Elisha went up to Bethel. As he was walking along the road, some boys came out of the town and jeered at him. 'Get out of here, baldy!' they said. 'Get out of here, baldy!' He turned around, looked at them and called down a curse on them in the name of the Lord. Then two bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the boys." - God.

Terminating the life of a zygote because you're 15 and in no position to raise a child? Sin. Disfiguring / maiming / killing 42 boys because some of them laughed at your receding hairline? Justice.

Deuteronomy 21:18-21 "If someone has a stubborn and rebellious son who does not obey his father and mother and will not listen to them when they discipline him,  his father and mother shall take hold of him and bring him to the elders at the gate of his town. They shall say to the elders, 'This son of ours is stubborn and rebellious. He will not obey us. He is a glutton and a drunkard.' Then all the men of his town are to stone him to death. You must purge the evil from among you. All Israel will hear of it and be afraid." - God.

I really thought the last part of that verse was going to be, "Then all the men of his town are to sit him down and tell him to get his shit together, or else he'll be sent to a boarding school." But no, death was evidently the solution of choice back then. The bible permits parents to abort unwanted children long after birth, and while I don't entirely disagree with the logic here, this is not the book to be waving around at a pro-life rally.

But that's the old testament. Maybe IHOP doesn't really buy into all of that old-fashioned doom and gloom stuff that forms the foundation of the religion they claim to espouse. Fair enough, but IHOP itself isn't much better.

They fight tooth and nail for a zygote's right to be born, but what happens after the baby is born? All of a sudden IHOP just sort of... loses interest. I haven't seen them protesting against the recent passage of a farm bill that cut funding for food stamps that many poor mothers need to feed the child they were convinced not to abort. I don't see IHOP throwing the same energy into campaigning for school lunch programs, or raising the minimum wage, or better child care services, or equal pay for women. And when the child that wasn't aborted turns eighteen, will IHOP be protesting US foreign entanglements and overseas military actions that have claimed thousands upon thousands of lives? Where's the self-righteous fury over the thirty-thousand gun deaths every year? And if our would-be abortee goes down the wrong path in life and ends up shooting a gas station attendant during an armed robbery, will IHOP be there for him then as well, wearing little pieces of red duct tape on their mouths to demonstrate against the death penalty?

Or what if our little former zygote tuns out to be a homosexual? Will IHOP be fighting for his rights then? Or will prominent members of the International House of Prayer be in Uganda, campaigning for the government to introduce legislation that would make homosexuality a crime, in some cases punishable by death? Oh that's right. IHOP was doing the latter.

So if the bible doesn't mention abortion, and both the bible and evangelicals have no problem with non-fetus people being killed for any number of reasons, ranging from patriotic duty to homosexuality, then why the abortion hang-up? Why do fundamentalists care so much about zygotes?

The answer is that they don't. They've co-opted the unborn in an attempt to push their puritan worldview onto society at large. It's about sex, and it's about slut shaming. They can't stop you from having sex out of wedlock or enjoying your body like a filthy heathen, but they can use the flimsy pro-life argument to make you pay for it.

This little guy has a right to live... long enough to punish you for being such a filthy slut; then we can kill it later if it turns out to be a homosexual.

Fundamentalist Christian evangelicals love fetuses because pregnancy is a punishment for having sex outside of a committed relationship, and nothing makes them angrier than seeing someone get away with intercourse scot-free. Sure you could always put the baby up for adoption, but at least you'll still have been dreadfully uncomfortable for nine months and gone through the excruciating pain of childbirth. It's a world of consequence-free sex they fear, not the death of babies. That's why Evangelicals also fight to shut down sex ed classes and silence the teaching of contraceptives use, which would help prevent the abortions they claim to care so much about. They love the hell out of your little fetus until the moment it comes out of the womb and condemns you to years of sleepless nights and diaper changes. At that point the baby has served its punitive purpose and the pro-lifers quickly lose interest.

It's not just abortion they're against, it's any relief of a consequence of an activity they consider immoral. Go ahead and ask them about the recent breakthroughs in AIDS/HIV treatments. You'll notice a marked absence of excitement and a dull, wistful look in their eyes that seems to whisper, "But then how's God going to kill the dope fiends, anal-sex pervs, and homo-fags?"

IHOP isn't pro-life, they're pro-eternal-life, and the only way to get state and federal authorities to help you impose your puritan religious views onto others is to pretend that you are really, really stoked about zygote rights.

If pious anuses puckered up that tight were able to accommodate the request, I'd tell you to shove that red duct tape right up your sanctimonious asses.

Sebastian Braff


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