By Cameron Roxburgh
The van ride home went by quickly. I don’t remember all of the conversation with my friends, but most of the first hundred miles was about our coffee with Henry Morgentaler. Did that really just happen?
Prayer had been key. Listening to the Spirit paid off. Our willingness to listen to Henry—and yet not having to agree on everything—actually brought an increased receptivity from him to listen as well. We had spent several intense hours with Canada’s abortion doctor and came away convinced that God had been at work. How else would you explain Henry’s seemingly over-the-top desire to keep connected?
Where would God take this? I was not sure about the destination, but I was convinced that I wanted to trust Him and be part of the journey. I wanted to hear anything He might have to say to me about my new acquaintance.
I do not remember the precise timing of the encounters that followed, but within a matter of months, a number of key events deepened my perspective on what it means to join God on mission. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation aired a program on the life of Henry Morgentaler. Miss it? No chance! I wanted to learn about his life and what it was that propelled him into a conversation with a pastor.
The program sketched the development of the abortion movement in Canada, the battle to change the laws, the times Morgentaler was in and out of jail, and the great lengths he went to in promoting this cause. What gripped me most me were the scenes of him standing outside Dachau concentration camp with tears running down his face, mourning the loss of his family because of an unwanted child.
Henry went to great lengths to make his case that he was not the bad man that so many considered him to be, but rather one intent on ridding the world of any more Hitlers.
Intrigued by the program and my growing knowledge of his three marriages, kids, interests (ping pong was his huge hobby—more on that later), I went to the local bookstore and bought the best biography on Henry I could find. I devoured it. I was cut to the heart by the pain in this man, but also began to get angry at the decisions that he had made, in regards to abortion and a secular lifestyle. Henry was a tortured soul.
One day, while studying at my desk and listening to the news, I heard an interview with Henry on the radio. Someone had taken a shot through the front window of an abortion clinic and brought about further hard feelings between abortionists and Christians. Henry did not mince words in calling Christians “lunatics,” making many disparaging remarks about “those religious fanatics.” He stated that the world would be a better place without such people.
His remarks seemed unfair to me, so I picked up the phone and called him. “Henry, what was that all about? You know full well that what was done to the clinic was not done by someone whose life is about following Jesus, but by a fanatic calling themselves a Christian. Not all Christians are like that, and I don’t appreciate you making these kinds of blanket statements that paint me and others in a bad light. Not fair!” Needless to say, I was upset.
His response, well—I kept being surprised by this crazy developing friendship. “Of course,” he said. “You are correct. I am sorry. The comments were out of line and the actions of a few should not tarnish the reputation of all Christians. I will be more careful.”
Yet another missional lesson. When we believe that God is leading the way into the “neighbourhood,” we never need to fear telling the truth and speaking out against what others are saying or doing. The words I had used burst his bubble of bravado, and again garnered a new level of respect between us.
So I pushed my luck and went further. “Henry, once again I am sorry that some so-called followers of Christ have done such deeds. That is not how Jesus, a fellow Jew, would have acted. We Christians are getting a bad name and I would like you to help in restoring of the reputation of Christians when it comes to how you perceive them. You have found me to be a normal human being—and one that deeply wants to follow the way of Jesus in the world. I have not treated you in any way but with respect as a human in spite of our deep differences.”
Missional lesson again. One of the ways to develop relationships is to ask for help. Put yourself in a position of being in need and dependent on the other. It goes a long way to developing a sense of mutuality. Far too often, we think we have to be in a position of privilege and power to share the good news, always coming to the rescue of others. It never hurts to be vulnerable. By sharing our weaknesses, we can develop a true relationships of equality instead of charity.
Over the next number of months, Henry and I corresponded through email. I am not sure if he ever followed through on the promise to be fair in his assessment of Christians, but I was about to discover far more about the man than I ever thought possible. I needed to go to Toronto, and had remembered his invitation to call when I would next be in town. I picked up the phone. After a few minutes of conversation, it looked as if our friendship had grown from coffee and emails, to lunch together at a Japanese restaurant in his neighbourhood… and he was going to buy. The deal was getting better all the time!