Thousands have reached out in support of Terri Schindler-Schiavo’s parents. They’re fighting to save a woman, who can’t speak for herself: the perfect corollary (it seems) to anti-abortion arguments. And the vast majority of Terri’s supporters appear to be evangelical Christian, pro-life advocates. But American evangelicals have an image problem. Terri’s case can only make it worse.
Don’t get me wrong. When Terri’s feeding tube was removed, she began a slow, terrible path to death by dehydration and starvation. And in spite of medical opinion, we have no way of really knowing what Terri is going through. But the Religious Right comes across as self-serving on this issue. Do Christians really care about Terri as a person, or is the groundswell of support for this Florida woman just another maneuvering of public sympathy, meant to give momentum to America’s sanctity-of-life movement?
If not, then why is Terri so important in a world where more than 35,000 people starve to death every single day? Is it because she has money (more than $1.2 million from an out-of-court malpractice settlement)? Is it because she is white and American? Is it because she entertains us with the spectacle sideshow of parents and husband battling it out in the courts?
I can’t answer these questions and don’t want to consider what they imply about me and about the people I see in church every Sunday. So here’s my confession:
I don’t know Terri. I can’t empathize with her family or her situation. And I haven’t tried to save a single person from starvation today. Or yesterday. Or the day before. I want to do better.
American evangelicals have an image problem. Terri’s case can only make it worse.