When I first became a PCC counselor, it wasn't unusual for me to meet with women who had children in state custody or who were battling drug, alcohol, or other addictions. It seemed as though the majority of my clients were on multiple forms of state assistance, and sometimes I saw women who could almost certainly be considered mentally unstable.
Because I started volunteering at the young and inexperienced age of 21, it never occurred to me that I was sinning when I lumped all of these clients into one large category of other. It wasn't until I found myself on the opposite end of the counseling table, being treated by someone who most definitely considered me an other, that I realized how important it is that we heed the Bible's admonition to "not show partiality to any man" (Job 32:21).
Several years after full-time motherhood and a cross-country move pulled me away from my volunteer work, I found myself at the front desk of another pregnancy center. My period was several weeks late. Since I was thinking about eventually volunteering at that particular center, I decided to get my test done there instead of buying an over-the-counter home pregnancy test.
My mission was twofold. Not only did I want to find out if I was pregnant; I also wanted to see what that particular center was like. I assumed that I could get the best feel for its atmosphere if I didn't tell anyone that I was a former PCC volunteer or that my husband had been on the PCC board of directors before we moved or that we were a devoted Christian couple in full-time pastoral ministry. So I showed up in my sweats and T-shirt and started to fill out the intake form.
I soon began to worry that perhaps I had been too "undercover." As I stared at the questions that asked about my education and my family's income level, I felt my blood pressure rising. I knew that these statistics could be helpful for PCC workers. Even though I had given dozens of clients similar forms only a few years earlier, I found myself slightly perturbed that anyone would ask about something as private as my socioeconomic status.
I know what they're doing, I thought to myself. They're trying to figure out if I'm one of the others. When I got to the questions about my religious life, I wrote the name of the church that had recently hired my husband as the youth pastor. The next question asked how often I attended. I circled weekly, wondering if that would be enough to convince my counselor that I was a genuine believer.
Unfortunately, the counselor I saw that day had been just as pre-programmed as I had to see her clients as part of that separate category of women: women who probably lied about how often they went to church, women who slept around and were likely in abusive relationships. When my husband stood up to accompany me to the counseling room, she looked at me defensively and asked, "Do you want him to come?"
I explained that he was my husband and that I most definitely wanted him to come. For the next half an hour, I answered one question about my last menstrual cycle and then sat back while my counselor asked me about my religious beliefs.
"So you say you attend Harbor Baptist Church?"
"And you go regularly?"
"And you consider yourself a Christian?"
"Would you say you have a close relationship with the Lord?"
Apparently still unconvinced that I was even saved, my counselor continued to prod until my husband finally told her that he was a pastor, that we both had years of volunteer experience at a PCC in another state, that we had moved here in order to get missionary training, and that one of our long-term goals in life included opening up a maternity home.
The surprised look on my counselor's face was humorous; the speed at which her attitude changed was not.
Now fully convinced that my husband and I were like her, and not one of them, my counselor proceeded to tell us about the difficult clients she saw, even breaking confidentiality by pointing out someone in the hall who had recently relapsed into drug use.
Of course, I was appalled at her judgmental attitude, and I was still uncomfortable for having been treated like an other for over half an hour. But after we got the results from my test (which came back negative) and went home, I began to feel even more uncomfortable.
How often had I been just as guilty of treating the clients I saw as a PCC volunteer as if I expected nothing more from them than to live off welfare, all the while wondering if the state would take away their children? How quickly did my attitude change when I finally saw a client who was "just like me," and, even then, how long did it take her to convince me that she wasn't a drug-pushing, alcohol-abusing, child-neglecting mother? Had it done my clients more harm than good when I very rarely took their confession to be Christians at face value and had to prod to see if there truly was genuine faith or not?
In the counseling room, very few things sour the aroma of Christ like a prejudiced attitude. I realize now that when I was a PCC volunteer I acted less like Christ, who ate with the tax collectors and dined with the prostitutes, and more like the Pharisees, who thanked God every day that they weren't like the pagan Gentiles.
When you work at a PCC, you definitely will brush shoulders with clients who are poor, uneducated, and spiritually immature. Some of your clients will be entrenched in a variety of sins and addictions. If you work under the assumption, however, that all of your clients will more or less fall into this general stereotype or that you are somehow on a spiritual and socioeconomic plane above those you serve, "have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?" (James 2:4).
If you take your socioeconomic or spiritual prejudices into the counseling room, you risk offending your clients and tarnishing your center's witness. Beyond that, you might miss building a mutually trusting relationship with someone whom God wanted to use to bless, enrich, and encourage your own life, but someone you saw only as a statistic or a stereotype.
Every time we enter the doors of our pregnancy centers, we must choose not to jump to conclusions about our clients but rather take on the attitude of Christ Jesus, who was a friend of sinners before He became the Savior of the world.