October 20, 2020

Open Mic at the iMonk Cafe: You Tell Me…Why Does Red Envelope Day Bother Me?

Matt Stokes responds like a reasonable person. Good blogger, Matt. Good.

It’s all over Facebook. All over email forwards. All over Christian discussion sites and blogs. All over evangelicalism and elsewhere.

It’s Red Envelope Day:

Hey everyone, I just was invited to a group on Facebook that I thought would be good to give you the heads up on. It is an event where on March 31 everyone who opposes abortion and wants to let President Obama know about it will send a Red envelope addressed to:

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington , D.C. 20500

On the back you should write:

“This envelope represents one child who died because of an abortion.
It is empty because the life that was taken is now unable to be a part of our world.”

This would be a great way for all your pro-life people out there to let Pres. Obama know that you don’t approve of killing innocent babies.

So, Internet Monk audience….especially those of you who have been around a while…Why does “Red Envelope Day” bother me? (And why does it bother, or not bother, you….if you like.)


  1. Should I feel bad I haven’t been asked? Is it a sign I am not taken seriously as a Christian?

    Not that I would. It’s silly. This is the sort of stunt that only works in the movies. There’s a scene of mail clerks being drowned by red evelopes and then they cut to a scene where the Chief of Staff Says To The President “We’re Really Being Overwhelmed By These Red Envelopes. Maybe We Were Wrong.” And The President Slaps His Forehead And Says “YES! We Were Wrong.”

    Cue eye roll.

  2. bob pinto says

    It doesn’t bother me.

    But a bigger impact is to be that lone voice in your family. To the majority of people abortion is just another birth control method.

    Council, cajole, offer help and, again, you’ll probably be the only one.

  3. Hey imonk,

    i’d rather be a red letter christian (a la Tony Campolo) VS a red envelope christian.

    whaddya think?

  4. Sure beats protesting the weather.

  5. For all who say the envelope money could have gone elsewhere…

    “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

    Maybe symbolism has a place, a point, and a purpose. Even annoying an arrogant, closed-minded, but nevertheless annointed political leader.

    And it ain’t necessarily the recipient of the envelopes who the envelopes’ symbolic meaning is targeting.

    FWIW, humbly

  6. For Ed, who writes: “Jesus said make disciples and teach them, the disciples, not the un-discipled. Like so many other cultural crusades, we put the cart before the horse.”

    So, we ought to strain out the camels but swallow the gnats? We ought to tell the truth only to our own people? We ought to keep our mouths shut when the innocent are dying?

    We need both carts AND horses. They go together. My thinking — naive, perhaps — is that a lot of red envelope people are doing more than red envelopes. Oh, the majority probably will feel good because they’re done their bit. But lots of us (well, lots of them — I’ve not bought my red envelopes (yet)) approach the death of children with a “both/and” mindset.

  7. “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.”

    Taking this passage in its proper context, I don’t think this can be used to support red envelope day.

  8. That Other Jean says

    bob pinto: “To the majority of people, abortion is just another birth control method.”

    Bob, in which country is that? In the US, for those of us who support a woman’s right to choose an abortion, it’s the last, wrenching choice to be made, not just “another birth control method.”

    also: “Council, cajole, offer to help, and again, you’ll probably be the only one.”

    Why do anti-abortion crusaders seem prefer a theatrical gesture like Red Envelope Day to the down-in-the-trenches work of making abortion much less necessary? Even if you’re the only one offering help, you’re still better than no one at all.

  9. Dysmas,

    In response to your question, I will simply reiterate what I said: Yes.

    Others here have said it better, but the legally protected right to an abortion is never going to be overturned, and the quicker those of us opposed to abortion figure that out, the sooner we

  10. ….the sooner we can focus on reaching out to those that face the decision one-on-one. That is where the battle can be won. One person at a time.

  11. Has anyone mentioned “tacky” yet? (In addition to all the other negatives…)

    Makes me feel like the concern is about the red envelope, *not* about actual people who find themselves in difficult situations…

  12. internetelias says

    As for Red Envelope Day, I was invited by email to particiapate. I didn’t. Why would it be surprising that a nation who does not value God…would see millions of abortions done. Abortion in its initial intent was to be done in crisis situations,with the decisions being made by the person, their doctor, and their minister. The problem is not with Roe vs Wade. The problem is with those who so lightly abuse the intent of Roe vs Wade. 1Corinthians 6:12 reminds that just because something is legal…doesn’t mean we are to make use of that law for our own selfish purposes. And just because a thing is legal…doesn’t mean it is RIGHT. If Christians spent as much time sharing the love of God, through example, to the lost..as is we spend ‘talking’ about abortion and homosexuality, both problems would be lessoned immensely!

  13. Ed,

    I agree with you that we will never be able to make abortion illegal (and I’m not sure that we should any way.)

    I have not, nor will not participate in the Red Envelope day. I appreciate Michael and commentors for giving me some reasons to ignore it.

    That said, if there was a group praying outside of an abortion clinic, I would be there. I just wish that there were some groups near me doing that.

    To the Other Jean,

    It might not be planned for women to use abortion as a birth control method, but I’ve read enough antecdotal evidence to show that some women do.

  14. There’s a reason why the constitution has not been amended to prohibit abortion. It’s called democracy and the will of the people. Perhaps we should all send red envelopes to each other instead of the person we elected to lead us…

  15. jeremiah lawson,

    >11) when you don’t like a Supreme Court decision, evangelicals urge you to make a protest to the executive branch. Couldn’t that be compared to complaining to an Air Force cadet about Marine drill seargants?

    well, when that particular air force cadet appoints those marine drill seargants, then yes complaining would actually be a valid response.

    i’m not tryiing to validate the evangelical protest, just explain the line or reasoning used. and comparing president obama to an air force cadet is a rather poor analogy.

  16. I agree with iMonk’s point. But let us not forget that the force of law matters. When things are illegal, people are, as a matter of course, less likely to do them. So if abortion is not available, it would not be used as often as a matter of convenience. So while we clamor for financial support of doctors, adoption, clinics and all these other worthwhile endeavors, there is no shame at all in petitioning to make abortion illegal and in voting on that issue alone.

    Having said that, Red Envelope Day is silly and ultimately useless.

  17. I have a niece who got pregnant, and she didn’t have an abortion.

    She kept the baby, works at a convenience store to support it, and goes to college at night.

    She also prays that she doesn’t get sick, because she has no insurance and she can’t afford to go to the doctor.

    Sure, the emergency room will treat anyone, but is that where you take your baby with a low-grade fever and cough, to hang out for hours and hours?

    Caring more about children after they’re born, not red envelopes, will reduce abortion.

  18. Jeremiah Lawson says

    jeuby, I’m not unaware of the limits of the analogy. The air force cadet appoints the marine drill seargant but the members of the army have to approve the appointments. Checks and balances being what they are focusing on just one branch of government is simply symbolic.

    Last year there were prophecies that Palin was the Esther for our time. Well, arugably Esther chose her audience and occasion to make her case with care … and it would seem like evangelicals could imitate her example. This red envelope campaign focuses on an individual who was voted in by the electoral college. How many targeted political campaigns focus on members of the electoral college specifically? I don’t know but it has been strange hearing people say the electoral college should be abolished while saying we need people who will uphold the Constitution. It’s a weird habit I’ve noticed across partisan lines.

  19. I can’t resist echoing previous comments (particularly Joseph’s) that rightly note the hypocrisy of opposing abortion, rhetorically, while also opposing all manner of improvement to the public health system, including extending health insurance to mothers and babies in poverty. Red Envelope Day might have more substantive appeal if it did more than piously scold; if it, rather, included some support for more spending on health care, for example.
    I realize that public health care is a volatile subject and that the means of improving it can be reasonably debated, but the circumstance of Joseph’s niece is shamefully too common in this country.

  20. JohnB5200 says

    How about if the envelope had this message-

    “This envelope represents one child who died because of an abortion.
    Enclosed is $50,000 that you can give to a woman to help raise the child she decides not to abort.”

    Putting your money where your mouth is a more consistent pro-life message than just protesting.

  21. Joseph and Jon – it is not hypocrisy. I’ll give a longer reply later, but it’s just not the same situation.

  22. Does any one know, by the way, who’s behind Red Envelope Day?
    Maybe I’m cynical, but I think it’s too often true that such orchestrated events (e.g., calling the Senate on a particular day to make sure the phone lines get tied up, then releasing a press release to tout it) are actually designed not to change hearts for Christ but to remind Wash DC of the raw political power of, say, a Dobson, a Falwell, or a Robertson. As in, “Look at all the people who obey me. And if you mess with me, I’ll tell them not to vote for you.”

  23. Joseph’s niece’s situation is rough, but more government spending is not the answer. Increased government spending would actually hurt this young woman’s job prospects in the long run, as her business and her customers would be squeezed by the tax increase.

    Pro-lifers should support charities and churches with their time and their money (there is never anything wrong with writing a check), but to suggest that it’s hypocrisy to oppose Roe while also opposing increased federal intrusion into health care is just off the mark. I do agree that pro-lifers should do more work to offer care for those in need, but that’s a problem for the Church, not the State.

  24. It is annoying because it is so futile.

    A major problem with the abortion debate in this country is the refusal from those on both sides to consider that there may be common ground. Those who are pro-choice need to be able to concede that at some point (said point being a dynamic subject of debate, but nonetheless), we’re talking about a human being. And pro-life folks need to concede that there may be reasons to have an abortion, and a fertilized egg of eight divisions is substantially different from a fetus of 16 weeks gestational age.

    The real common ground, which it seems like both sides conveniently ignore, although it is getting more play than ever before, is that we can ALL work together to reduce abortions. We can do this by caring more about the mother and the child AFTER the child is born (no mother should have to anguish over what to do with an infant with a 103 fever because they are uninsured).

    Factual, age-appropriate reproductive education, to which so many evangelicals are so opposed, would also be a step in the right direction as far as teen pregnancy. As the mother of three teenagers, I can say with some confidence that information about sexuality is NOT what makes teens want to have sex; being a teen is what makes teens want to have sex.

  25. Matt, I feared I get into a health care debate; my point was that, while it sounds good to say that the churches need to do more for mother and babies in poverty, they obviously are not doing enough. Otherwise, why so many like Joseph’s neice? Nor should churches, in my view, be solely burdened with such care, any more than they should care for all the poor and infirm, everywhere. The State has a legitimate role to play in these areas. The extent of that role makes for good public policy debate.
    I grow weary of Christians (almost always men) who rhetorically decry abortion, yet, for purely ideological reasons, actively oppose any government role in improving the life of a woman who chose to have her child. A welfare check may be ‘intrusion’ to you; to a poor mother it might be the kind of welcome ‘instrusion’ that enables her to feed her child. Same for a public health clinic.
    It seems to me that many Christians believe women have abortions simply so that they can keep on wildly fornicating. Rather, many women have them for economic reasons. No reason is a good one, I suppose, but we can and should do something as a society about the economic reasons.

  26. Memphis Aggie says

    So not every protest is to your taste, nor mine. It’s still a modestly worthwhile if futile gesture, like a label ribbon. It doesn’t necessarily preclude doing something more substantial.

  27. But that intrusion costs money! It’s money that I cannot give to my church or to World Vision or Samaritan’s Purse. When the state takes on the physical care of society, the church cannot. And the church’s mission is therefore reduced.

  28. M Aggie, it doesn’t necessarily preclude doing more, but if it does so at all, why bother? It’s an impersonal gesture, meant at most, perhaps, to alleviate the conscience.
    So why not, instead, encourage people to write to the president, or to their congressman or to a state legislator? Give them the addresses, maybe even the stamps, but not the words to write. Surely if you believe abortion must be stopped, you can articulate it in a nonrobotic way. Such a letter will carry more weight. Learn from your newspaper, which likely will print a personal, thoughtful letter to the editor, but will reject every time this sort of mass mailing, which everyone recognizes as corporate gimmickry.
    Good grief. On the topic of abortion, of all things, shouldn’t we reject these impersonal methods and speak from the heart?

  29. One of my main reasons for supporting universal, single-payer, health care is not Christian at all: $$$.

    If I spend $3 on health care, $1 of that goes to the insurance company to pay for forms and appeals and employing people whose compensation is based on finding ways to deny coverage.

    We spend more for less health care than most any other developed nation. As a fiscal conservative, I think we need to look at effectiveness and efficiency and not be bound by political theory and positions.

    Those small businesses who would struggle with the intrusion of universal health care into their financials might find the bottom line improves.

    I think universal health care would be an economic stimulus beyond belief. Taking health care out of the employment decision would remove a great amount of friction in the system.

    But mostly I think we ought to do it because basing life-and-death health care decisions on income or where someone works is not how we are commanded to treat the least of these.

    When did England implement universal heath care? After WWII, when they could not afford it but knew every citizen was owed a decent level of care.

  30. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Caring more about children after they’re born, not red envelopes, will reduce abortion. — Joseph

    But that’s too much like WORK! When Symbolic Gestures (TM) give us doublepluswarmfeelies for FREE!

    I don’t know but it has been strange hearing people say the electoral college should be abolished while saying we need people who will uphold the Constitution. It’s a weird habit I’ve noticed across partisan lines. — Jeremiah Lawson

    And all comes down to “I’m going to Personally Benefit from This.”

    Kyle: “But Dad, isn’t that Fascism?”
    Kyle’s Dad: “No it isn’t son. Because we don’t call it Fascism. Do you understand?”
    Kyle: “Do you?”
    Kyle’s Dad: “Look at this expensive new house we have…” (given to them by what’s effectively the new regime)
    South Park, “Sexual Harassment Panda”

    …not to change hearts for Christ but to remind Wash DC of the raw political power of, say, a Dobson, a Falwell, or a Robertson. As in, “Look at all the people who obey me. And if you mess with me, I’ll tell them not to vote for you.” — Jon

    Which “raw political power” will last only until the pols have a(nother) guaranteed source of re-election votes in their pocket and don’t need them any more. (“…and don’t let the door hit you on the way out. Stupid God Squad; we don’t need you any more.”)

  31. Joseph,

    The mind boggles at your grasp of economics related to healthcare. You write: “We spend more for less health care than most any other developed nation.”

    Honestly, to someone who writes something as unaware as I cannot even fashion a response. However, I find it ironic that you would call yourself a fiscal conservative.

    Finally, can anyone name any organization or institution which is as inefficient, bloated, or ham-fisted as our federal monstrosity? Our government does perhaps only one thing well: prosecute wars.

    We may indeed spend $1.30 for every $1.00 in medical claims filed (actually closer to the real figures than Joseph’s 3-to-1 figure). But can you imagine that actually getting better under Uncle Sam? You think insurance company bureaucrats are mindless drones. Imagine doubling the number, reducing the collective IQ, and removing any incentive to perform. There you have a government monopoly. In fact, it would look as refreshingly encouraging as the Dept of Education or Energy.


    Embracing single-payer Kool-Aid for economic reasons is ignorance of a sweeping sort.

  32. Dysmas, does embracing the ancient gospel also mean embracing every ancient way of doing things? What, in a nutshell, do you propose? And I, for one, will find your comment more compelling if you say more than just leave it to the beneficient ‘invisible hand’ of the free market. (Try to work the Red Envelope question into your answer to keep us from completely running off the rail :})

  33. Dysmas writes:
    “We may indeed spend $1.30 for every $1.00 in medical claims filed (actually closer to the real figures than Joseph’s 3-to-1 figure). But can you imagine that actually getting better under Uncle Sam?”

    Not sure how we got so far afield from the original topic, but actually, yes. Medicare has an overhead of somthing like 5-10%, considerably better than the private insurers from what I’ve heard.

    As to the red envelope silliness, my main objection, as others have stated in various ways, is that actions like this are not the gospel, either in word or deed. It’s majoring in the minors. Larry Norman’s lyrics come to mind: “Stop marching for peace and start marching for Jesus, and peace will take care of itself.” Now there’s one musician I really miss.
    Peace all.

  34. Jeremiah Lawson says

    “Finally, can anyone name any organization or institution which is as inefficient, bloated, or ham-fisted as our federal monstrosity? Our government does perhaps only one thing well: prosecute wars.”

    Dysmas, I could nominate a church or two.

    Headless Unicorn Guy, yep.

  35. “Finally, can anyone name any organization or institution which is as inefficient, bloated, or ham-fisted as our federal monstrosity?”

    I can make a list of such organizations and institutions, every time I read the financial news and see which ones are begging the government this week for a handout/bailout/etc.

  36. Take my stats up with the World Health Organization.

    Their last study showed we’re 37th in the world in the quality of our care, just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba, but 2nd in health care spending as a percent of GNP.

    What does this have to do with Red Envelopes? Plenty. Red Envelopes are a more or less useless tool for bringing forth the Kingdom of God but embraced by many Christians, while more secular nations put our treatment of the poor to shame — ironically getting closer to the message of Jesus.

  37. John from Down Under says

    It may be a little late to post this, but the abortion issue came to the fore here in Australia last month when a pastor issued a media release
    to say that the worse bushfires in our history were a result of legalizing abortion in the state of Victoria where the bushfires took place. (More than 205 dead and counting, two country towns burned to the ground, 40 meter high fire wall propelled by 100 km/h wind, people incinerated in their cars trying to flee) He did not call it God’s judgment but the removal of his conditional protection


  38. I agree that this Red Envelope campaign is useless, just like the plethora of online petitions, pre-worded letters, etc. that we’re all urged to sign or send from time to time. Does anyone really look at these things? I have to believe that a heartfelt, carefully worded letter crafted on your own, sent in a plain white envelope, would be a much better way to let the President know how you feel.

    Joseph: Take my stats up with the World Health Organization. I wouldn’t buy the WHO’s take on our low ranking. Really, just ahead of Slovenia and Cuba? As an RN who has worked for 25 years here in the states as well as in overseas medical missions, I can unequivocally say that the health care provided in our country is superior. The WHO’s rankings are filled with political bias and numbers games. This isn’t the place for it, but do a little research into the WHO and how they determined placement. (Try reading this: http://www.cato.org/pubs/bp/bp101.pdf)

  39. If we inside talking about how strange we can be as evangelicals it’s self examination and mostly healthy (silly, condescending civics lessons aside). God knows that we need the examination about our silliness, our self absorbed focus and our refusal to realize how much the world has changed. No problem with me in rigorous self examination and self criticism.
    If on the other hand we are on the outside throwing rocks at those silly evangelicals then we are smarmy, self righteous pharisees judging others of the sins we are most guilty of. Be careful about throwing rocks out of the windows of your glass houses.
    Shooting at the hypocrisy of liberals is ridiculously easy and utterly beside the point. Don’t get me started on the Catholics. 🙂 Everyone can profit from a little exam.
    My point? There is a easy path to “other” the people we disagree with as a way of dehumanizing them and their point of view. Evangelicals have done it all too often. Be careful that you don’t also succumb. Self examination is a good antidote to the self righteous.

  40. First time to this site. Very interesting.

    As for Red Envelope-gate . . . [mod edit]. The people participating in this little civic exercise aren’t under the delusion that they are going to change the laws on abortion, but there is no harm in it either. It’s a petition for crying out loud. I suppose writing a letter to the editor or to your Congressman is just as pathetic and pointless. Or posting on this blog . . .

    You’re right JonB5200, we have no right to take any minor kind of stand against abortion unless we’ve ponyed up $50K to raise someone’s unaborted kid.

    And yes, K Bryan, those Red Envelopers have unwittingly defunded crisis pregnancy centers because the cost of the postage for the petition could have gone to a crisis pregnancy center. Better yet, we are doing the same thing everytime the family orders take out at Burger King because, you know, we could have saved money by making peanut butter sandwich for the kids and sent the difference to the local pregnancy center. Or to JonB5200’s $50k fund . . .

    And no, I didn’t participate in the [mod edit] petition.

  41. Greg Boyd tells a story about a woman who takes in a pregnant teen who is turned out by her “Christian” family. She agrees to support the girl no matter what her decision (keep the baby or abort). The girl decides to keep the child. The woman helps her with the child, taking the teen into her home and helping her to go to college. Even when a)it costs her the friendship of the girl’s parents and b) she has to get a second mortgage to help pay for the girl’s college education.

    Red Envelopes don’t do squat when it comes to solving the problem: people make mistakes, how do we communicate the grace and love of God to a country that is in the majority lost. Letting the love of God show through us will do much more to solve our abortion epidemic than sending Red Envelopes or standing outside of clinics and harassing those who are seeing help. A much more radical ides would be for those who are pro-life to stand outside a clinic and offer to help those who are seeking an abortion regardless of what their final decision is. Standing by a frightened teen or a scared rape victim or even a promiscuous woman who is getting an abortion instead of birth control will further the Kingdom of God more than all of the vigils put together. Maybe instaed of praying we should be loving the people who need it.

  42. This discussion shows some of the sad predictability that this specific kind of action engenders. No one on here supports “killing innocent babies,” yet here we have a comment thread with all the usual simmering tensions. Here’s why. Watch carefully.

    Let’s say that tomorrow I announce to my fellow teachers and staff that everyone who loves Jesus should wear blue next week to “make a statement.”

    Now here we go. Division. Argument. Exceptions, etc. And all of it growing out of “Do you love Jesus enough to wear blue?” A condition I made up, that has nothing to do with loving Jesus.

    It’s this kind of meaningless symbolism that causes division and argument for no reason. The whole plan is an artificial loyalty test. Satan must have a good laugh at what we do with these things. “Do you REALLY REALLY REALLY love Jesus? Why is your shirt only LIGHT BLUE then?”


  43. I wish the money spent on all those fancy envelopes and postage was going towards adopting orphans and foster children instead.

    What an amazing stand would it be if Christians stood up and adopted all of the orphans. We’d truly send the message that not only is abortion wrong, but that the so-called “unwanted” little ones are wanted and will have homes and loving families.

  44. Mike,

    I know you were being sarcastic in your Burger King paragraph, but ironically, doing those little things really WOULD be more helpful than the envelopes. I guess someone could turn it around and say that if doing those little things seems like too much effort (and I admit, I’m not doing them), abortion just isn’t that important to those people. I mean, seriously.. a real pro-lifer would do anything they could to help, especially if it just meant skipping participation in the latest conservatrend, or eating more pb&j sandwiches. To say that’s asking too much really shows how much value ones places on a baby.

  45. I know I’m late to the party and these thoughts will largely go unread, but here goes anyway.

    I find the cynicism that predominates these comments downright discouraging.

    Why is it that sending an envelope and doing something active to fight abortion are mutually exclusive?

    Working full time in the pro-life movement, I have been greatly moved by the number of people who have been incredibly grateful for the one small thing they were asked to do that really got them involved in pro-life work.

    I know people who were pro-life their entire lives and did nothing about it, until someone invited them to a picket at an abortion clinic. Or asked them to come pray. Or invited them to attend a city council meeting opposing a new abortion clinic.

    Any of those things in and of themselves are as meaningless as everyone here wants the red envelope campaign to be. But you have no idea for whom this might be the gateway into active, passionate work on behalf of the unborn.

    What’s more, you have no idea how many of these envelopes are being sent by people who are currently doing active, passionate work for the unborn.

    I’ll tell you this much, pretty much every person I know who is doing exactly that has sent an envelope.

    Not because we think it will be the magic button that stops all abortions, not because we’re idiots who don’t understand that stopping abortion isn’t within the direct purview of the president, but because it’s something. It’s an outlet. It’s a way of expressing the outrage and grief we feel over the 3,500 dead babies that lie in dumpsters and drains every single day in the United States.

    And if you can’t allow people an outlet for that kind of emotion, if you’re going to begrudge them the $1.42 they’re going to spend on this gesture, if all you can offer is carping and cynicism, then I don’t know how to even begin to explain to you what this campaign means.

    Everyone who’s suggested better things to do than sending red envelope: Great. Do it. Don’t talk about it on a blog, don’t tell other people what they should be doing instead, just go do it.

    If the Holy Spirit hasn’t laid it on your heart to send a red envelope to the president, by all means don’t do it. But don’t be that guy telling everyone else why their idea sucks.

    Be the guy pursuing the idea that works.

  46. Flatrocker says

    Thanks for saying what needed to be said. You weren’t early and you weren’t late – just about right on time actually.

    It’s not a bantering game.


  47. Navy Chaplain says

    I find faddish stuff like this similiar to Facebook causes. Maybe good intent, but at the end of the day doesn’t really do much.

  48. Doesn’t do much….Well, apparently it does a lot. It separates the real pro-lifers from the pretenders.

    I mean, if you don’t love Jesus enough to wear a blue t-shirt on Thursday, what kind of Christian are you?