Category Archives: Abortion
When it was signed and proclaimed in 1776 by the thirteen American colonies, the Declaration of Independence was more of an aspiration than a statement of social reality. But it committed the United States to the protection of fundamental rights of equality, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, based not on privilege or achievement, not on race or gender, not on age or state of health, but on the gift of a divine creator deemed to be self-evident, revealed in natural law.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Human beings have always found ways of justifying the killing or oppressing of other human beings, but the most common form of such justification is to deny the universality of liberty, equality, or the right to life. For instance, John Locke, one of the great fathers of modern liberty, pointed out that slaves are not persons in the eyes of the law. They may be forms of human life, even human beings, but they are nevertheless not persons. For nearly a century Americans insisted this about black people, that they are not persons about whom such rights are self-evident.
But the Declaration of Independence does not speak in terms of legal persons. It speaks – albeit in the gendered language of another age – about human beings. To pretend that this country was genuinely dedicated to liberty and equality was sometimes an aspiration, but far too often it was simply a display of hypocrisy. Most Americans now accept that.
But far too many still delude themselves with the lie that unborn human beings are not persons. They may be forms of human life, even human beings, as science as unequivocally demonstrated, but they are not persons. Only this explains how (as I recently experienced) American college students can engage in a lengthy discussion about the Holocaust, utterly perplexed about the fact that the Nazis were able to murder sick and handicapped children – German, “Aryan” children – without the German people rising up in opposition. What must Germany have been like, they muse, to let that happen? Not one student mentions abortion in the United States, though I would bet a lot that it crossed the minds of at least a few.
Americans are sometimes stirred when a process of killing they prefer not to think about – a process deemed ordinarily to be humane and painless – turns ugly and heinous. This is taking place as the trial of Dr. Gosnell in Pennsylvania finally becomes mainstream news. Babies older than the legal 24 weeks are being killed! Babies who are born, on whom the ‘harmless’ abortion technology has failed, are having their skulls crushed, their bodies decapitated, their throats slit! Abortion ‘patients’ are dying due to medical malpractice! This is not how Americans do things.
We are not supposed to make such comparisons, but if we are intellectually honest we cannot help but think of how Americans were stirred when hearing stories of black slave children being sold away from their parents, or when Germans thought that Nazi genocide was becoming somewhat excessive. We don’t do things like that. Few reasoned at the level of fundamental assumptions about human life; few considered that the only reason such horrible things are possible is because they take place in the context of a broader legal system that denies basic rights to the victims in question. Jews were segregated and persecuted long before the Nazis started killing them. Black people were brutally enslaved well before they were sold, whipped, raped, or murdered. After all, Jews were different. Black people were not persons.
It is no different with what we call abortion, or even with the sort of post-birth abortion for which Dr. Gosnell is on trial. For those involved in the barbarism others find so troubling, the line can seem quite arbitrary. If we are legally permitted to direct all of our efforts to the death of this baby until it unfortunately emerges from the birth canal of a woman, how can it be so heinous simply t0 sever its neck – a quick snip with the scissors – once it has emerged?
My wife is having an ultrasound today. Our unborn child is about 20 weeks old. She, or he, is a human being, and everyone knows that, because when they talk to us they refer to our baby as a human being. If someone would attack my wife in order to kill our child, that person would be guilty of murder. Yet a doctor like Dr. Gosnell, if given permission by my wife, could murder our child with impunity. It happens thousands of times every day.
Systematic atrocities occur because they are deemed to be legal, exceptions to normal rules of human behavior. They are built upon myths about human beings that are broadly accepted due to ideology or convenience. Although there are usually a few activists who speak up on behalf of the oppressed, most people simply do not question – are not willing to question – society wide group-think. If it is legal, if everyone approves of it, how can it be wrong?
In these cases often the only way to break through is at the level of symbol, image, or story. As Donald McClarey writes,
In the days of the struggle against slavery, a great many people were “personally opposed” to men, women and children being held as chattels, but they would do nothing against the institution. They tried to ignore it, not to think about it, and they jeered at those tiresome abolitionists who kept bringing it up. However, stories would sometimes break through that would force these people to confront the reality of slavery, and many of them found it truly appalling. Kermit Gosnell’s case is forcing a great many people who try not to think about the reality of abortion, to confront the simple fact that an innocent child dies in every abortion. Gosnell is a mirror of what we are becoming as a people over the past four decades of legalized abortion. It is no wonder that the abortion uber alles Mainstream Media attempted to spike this story.
If you aren’t following this story yet, you should. Read the Washington Post’s confession that it let President Obama off the hook when it failed to report that he was lying about his opposition to Illinois legislation that would have protected survivors of failed abortions. Read Megan McArdle’s admission that she – like so many others in the media – didn’t write about the Gosnell trial because its horror was unpleasant and because “most of us tend to be less interested in sick-making stories—if the sick-making was done by ‘our side.’” Read The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf’s recognition that complaints about the story’s lack of coverage are – if anything – understated.
Read the Grand Jury Report, or at least excerpts from it. Read the testimony of staffers who murdered babies because they saw Dr. Gosnell do it and were “only following orders.” Read about Planned Parenthood representative Lisa Snow’s struggle to explain whether her organization would do in the case of born babies who survived failed abortion attempts. Finally, read this scholarly defense of “after birth abortion” – infanticide – in the Journal of Medical Ethics. And remember that most often when babies are killed in this country there is no trial. Such killing is legal. Unborn babies are not persons.
We can keep telling ourselves that unborn children are different. That abortion is different. That somehow the moral weight of this question is not so serious – surely not so serious as were those that faced our forbears in other times and places (forbears we do not hesitate to judge, thinking that surely we would have acted differently). But our hypocrisy as a nation will be all the greater, especially to those who look back on our actions when they are in the dustbin of history.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
There is a distorted version of the two kingdoms doctrine out there that claims that if an issue is political, the church should not address it. The separation between the kingdom of God and earthly politics is absolute. God has given authority over the latter to the state, and the church should not question it.
Now I should say up front that I’m not aware of any major theologian who has actually advocated this version of the two kingdoms doctrine, except perhaps Emmanuel Hirsch. Luther clearly believed that a prince has the obligation to act justly and to protect the preaching of the gospel against fiendish opponents like the pope. He did not hesitate to preach the law or the gospel to earthly magistrates, nor did he hesitate to draw specific conclusions about the implications of the law and the gospel for the way in which those magistrates were to rule. And later Lutheran theologians and jurists if anything only tightened the relationship between state and church. The state was to rule according to God’s law, establishing and protecting the true church, guided by the instruction of pastors.
Many modern two kingdoms advocates, of course, challenge the old assumptions about the necessary ties between church and state, and about the responsibility of the state to enforce the first table of the law (i.e., prohibitions against idolatry, false teaching, blasphemy, etc.). But they do not challenge the idea that the church should preach the whole counsel of God – even when that counsel pertains to politics – so much as they challenge old assumptions about what Scripture actually says about politics. The central factor underlying this shift in emphasis is a clearer understanding of the differences between modern political states and Old Testament Israel. If the present form of Israel and the Davidic kingdom is the kingdom of Christ, manifest in the body of Christ (i.e., the church), then we should not be too hasty in drawing direct lines between the Old Testament civil law and modern politics.
That said, it is important to distinguish between two lines of argument, one legitimate, the other problematic. According to the first, the statement that the church should avoid speaking to matters that are political means that the church has to distinguish between God’s moral law and its application in civil law. For instance, the church should proclaim that the state must protect innocent life, but the church has no right to advocate its own ideas about how to organize a police force, or about how to try and punish murderers. The church must call the state to govern consistent with God’s moral law (and in fulfillment of its obligation to protect the weak), but it may not dictate to the state the myriad of ways in which it might act consistent with that law. This distinction is absolutely necessary if the church is to avoid politicization and preserve its moral authority.
According to the second line of argument, the statement that the church should avoid speaking to matters that are political means that the church cannot speak on matters that are politically controversial. According to this mindset, the church might ordinarily have the right to proclaim that the state should protect the life of the unborn, or that it should prevent a person from violently destroying another person’s property, but in the context of national debates over abortion (i.e., the United States in 2013) or state authorized pogroms against Jews designed for the good of Volk and Fatherland (i.e., Nazi Germany in 1938), the church should remain silent. One would not want to alienate people from the gospel, or to give the wrong impression about one’s motives.
Now I’m sure that there are some readers who will think that I have just violated Godwin’s Law, the law which warns against bringing up the Nazis in an ethical, political, or theological debate. Some people chided me in recent weeks for my bringing up the Nazis and the Holocaust on this blog at all. And to be sure, we should be very, very careful about how we use such history, or the lessons we attempt to draw from it.
But this history is relevant here for a very important reason. The German church often attempted to justify its silence before Hitler precisely on the basis of its two kingdoms doctrine. Anyone arguing that the church should maintain the two kingdoms doctrine needs to explain why this happened and why it was wrong. As a scholar writing my dissertation on the two kingdoms doctrine and associate teaching a course on the Holocaust, I have particular reasons to address the issue. In the next few weeks, therefore, you should expect more articles from me wrestling with the use of the two kingdoms under Hitler. If you don’t like them, you are warned. You don’t have to read them.
For now I want simply to emphasize that the two kingdoms doctrine teaches not that the church should avoid matters of public or political controversy, but that the church should limit its proclamation to what the word of God actually teaches. The two kingdoms doctrine warns not against the church speaking about politics, but against the church moving beyond the word in the name of politics. And I want to emphasize that those who say the church should refrain from addressing any issue that has been deemed by others to be political are not freeing the church from politicization. On the contrary, they are subjecting it to the very politicization they claim to fear. For if the church’s proclamation of God’s word can be muzzled by a regime or a democratic constituency, the church can be manipulated by that constituency. The kingdom of Christ has been made subject to the political kingdom.
Calvin warns repeatedly against this mindset in his commentaries on the prophets. Here I simply want to quote from his commentary on Micah:
Since then the prophets were the organs of the Holy Spirit, whoever attempted to silence them usurped to himself an authority over God himself, and in a manner tried to make captive his Spirit. For what power can belong to the Spirit, except he be at liberty to reprove the vices of men, and condemn whatever is opposed to God’s justice? When this is taken away, there is no more any jurisdiction left to the Holy Spirit. (Commentary on Micah 2:7)
We now see that the word of God is not bound, but that it puts forth its power against the highest as well as the lowest; for it is the Spirit’s office to arraign the whole world, and not a part only. ‘When the Spirit shall come,’ says Christ, ‘it will convince the world.’ He speaks not there of the common people only, but of the whole world, of which princes and magistrates form a prominent part. Let us then know, that though we ought to show respect to judges (as the Lord has honored them with dignified titles, calling them his vicegerents and also gods), yet the mouths of prophets ought not to be closed; but they ought, without making any difference, to correct whatever is deserving of reproof, and not to spare even the chief men themselves. (Commentary on Micah 3:10)
If the two kingdoms are genuinely to be distinguished, the ministers of Christ must be free to proclaim his word.
My friend and colleague Jimmy McCarty writes a very insightful piece on why Christians with identical theological beliefs come to some very different political positions, and why quite often lived experience, and specifically race, is the reason. Jimmy has been deeply involved in churches and social circles across the political spectrum, and he tends to understand the people he is describing. He writes,
As much as many want to deny it, race greatly influences the ways that people experience life in America. Of course, it is not only race which leads to these political differences (inner-city LA is quite different from Tacoma and its suburbs in a variety of ways), but race is a strong contributing factor to these differences.
Indeed, the Pew Research Center has demonstrated that race is a consistent factor in how abortion is viewed politically and morally, even among Protestants. White Protestants view it as morally wrong and believe it should be made illegal at significantly greater percentages than black Protestants. Based on the voting patters of white Protestants, especially Evangelicals, and black Protestants, it is safe to assume that these racial disparities continue across a range of political issues.
There are a variety of reasons for these disparities, but one (in the case of abortion) is surely the history of black women not being able to control their bodies throughout slavery and Jim Crow. It should be no surprise, and is totally understandable, that many black women in America don’t trust others (especially white men) to determine in advance what should be done with their bodies. White men have raped, killed, abused, and degraded their bodies for centuries, and many black women have not forgotten it even as most white people have.
In short, race impacts the experience of every American Christian. And these experiences directly influence the politics of many of the Christians in our churches. There is no straightforward way to translate the vast majority of Christian beliefs into political policy and to hold any political position as a sign of theological orthodoxy, as is increasingly becoming the case among many white Evangelicals, is a grave mistake. And, though many would not say it in this way, there are many Christians who write off a significant portion of other Christians who are racially different than them because of their politics.
In general I agree with Jimmy, as he knows. (Indeed, kudos to Jimmy on his embrace of the two kingdoms doctrine!) There is indeed “no straightforward way to translate the vast majority of Christian beliefs into political policy.” On the other hand, does Jimmy go too far when he says that “to hold any political position as a sign of theological orthodoxy … is a grave mistake”? To be sure, orthodox Christians fell on both sides of the antebellum debates over slavery, and they also fell on both sides of the battle over civil rights for African Americans. There were orthodox Christians, such as Confessing Church founder Martin Niemoller, who voted for Hitler. There are no doubt orthodox Christians on both sides of the abortion debate too. And I wholeheartedly agree with Jimmy that we should be much more careful about judging the faith of others on the basis of their political commitments. But that doesn’t mean that on any of those political issues there wasn’t a basic orthodox Christian position.
I’m currently working on a lecture and paper on the response of the German church to the Holocaust, and it seems to me that there must be lines, there must be principles, that Christians simply will not compromise. Otherwise we simply give credibility to those who, like the “German Christian” movement, want to claim the compatibility of Christianity with blatantly evil politics. Granted, most political debates are not like this. But what if one line that we cannot cross, one principle that we cannot yield, is the obligation of the state to protect innocent life? What if those Evangelical Christians (whether white or, as in the case of the elders of my church, black) who make the pro-life position the Christian position, are right?
In Generous Justice, Tim Keller describes what he thinks Christian engagement in the public square should look like:
I propose that Christians’ work for justice should be characterized by both humble cooperation and respectful provocation.
Christian believers have many temptations to be neither humble nor cooperative with others. Believers have many of the criteria for a righteous and just life laid out in the Bible. How easy it would be to disdain all non-Christian accounts of justice as being useless, just as many secular people dismiss religious belief.
However, Christians’ own theology should lead them to appreciate the competing views of justice that Sandel outlines [in his book, Justice: What's the Right Thing to Do?] in our society because they know from the Bible that they are all partly right. (158)
As John Calvin often wrote, truth comes from God’s Spirit and should be accepted as such wherever it is found. Older Reformed theologians generally talked about this principle in terms of general revelation or natural law. Contemporary Reformed theologians often prefer the term common grace. Yet the principle is one that has been obscured by forty years of culture war – forty years of the breakdown of public trust. As one gay friend described to me in a refreshingly open and honest conversation about same-sex marriage, there is zero trust in much of the gay community towards conservative Christians right now. The same, obviously, is true in reverse.
In these circumstances we need to work all the harder to build trust and find common ground with our neighbors in the public square. Why? To show that we love them, that like our Father in heaven, we seek to do good to both the just and the unjust. One way of doing this is reminding ourselves that even those we regard as our most intractable foes – pro-choice activists, fervent secularists, etc. – have insights on life and politics from which we can learn, and which we need. As Keller writes,
The implication of James 1:17 is that God scatters gifts of wisdom, goodness, justice, and beauty across all the human race, regardless of people’s beliefs. Christians see all skill in science, scholarship, crafts, government, art, and jurisprudence as being from God. This grace is called common because it is given to all, not just those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ, yet this grace ‘provides the basis for Christians to cooperate with, and learn from, non-Christians,’ as theologian Richard Mouw points out. In short, the Bible warns us not to think that only Bible-believing people care about justice or are willing to sacrifice in order to bring it about. (160-161)
For those caught up in the culture wars, I might add that the Bible warns us not to think that only Republicans or conservatives care about justice and are willing to die for it.
The point is not that we should avoid disagreements or that we should compromise our fundamental commitments. Heaven forbid. The point, rather, is that we need to work hard to conduct our disagreements, to wage our political campaigns, and to convert our cultural opponents with a spirit of love and respect – to allure them rather than to defeat them. Such love and respect involves the recognition of truth wherever it appears alongside the sort of honesty that allows us to communicate our deepest concerns. It also requires, I believe, the acceptance of the particular political virtues on which our governmental system depends – equal regard, commitment to deliberative processes, and a willingness to compromise within the constraints of basic justice and morality.
There are certainly lines we will not be able to cross. We cannot support the state’s refusal to protect innocent life nor can we endorse its moral affirmation of same-sex marriage. But even in a society in which the state stubbornly pursues such policies, we can maintain the sort of social and political commitment to our fellow citizens that makes trust possible, whether by helping to carry the enormous burdens faced by single mothers or by seeking to alleviate the fears of tyranny among those committed to the sexual revolution, whether by supporting legal recognition (and its consequent privileges and benefits) of non-marital relationships or by demonstrating to gays and lesbians our unshakeable and sincere commitment to their equality under the law.
My own experience suggests that this approach is conducive of the sort of trust that enables us to communicate the love of Christ to those with whom we profoundly disagree, as well as to those who, sometimes with good reason, feel severely threatened by us. In short, it helps us actually to communicate the gospel such that the message received is the same as the message proclaimed. And that, after all, is our fundamental task.
Every election cycle the controversy hits the news again. A Catholic bishop publicly declares that he will not serve communion to a politician who supports laws that allow abortion. Most recently (HT: Aquila Report) Bishop Michael Sheridan of the Diocese of Colorado Springs has declared that he will not serve the body and blood of the Lord to Vice-President Joseph Biden, a very devout, consistently practicing Roman Catholic.
The Catholic bishops are unified on the issue of abortion like they are unified on no other political issue. And pro-choice Catholic politicians generally affirm this teaching, as Vice-President Biden did in the debate with fellow Catholic Paul Ryan when he declared,
With regard to — with regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as a — what we call de fide [dogmatic teaching]. Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life.
But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.
I — I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court — I’m not going to interfere with that.
The distinction to which Biden is appealing is a distinction between a sin and a crime, or between the truth which he affirms that abortion is murder, and the moral obligation of the state to punish murder as a crime. It is the same distinction that most Christians make when they say that sexual immorality is wrong but that it should not be punished by the state, or that worshiping a false god is a sin that should nevertheless be protected as a right by the state because of the principle of religious liberty.
Contrary to what conservatives sometimes claim therefore, there is nothing inherently contradictory about Biden’s distinction. The question, however, is whether the state has the prerogative not to punish murder, or not to protect a human being’s right to life. To put it another way, is it ever moral for a state to make murder – the killing of an innocent – legal? Or is the right to life so foundational to the very purpose of the state as established by God that a magistrate or legislator cannot abandon his or her obligation to protect that right without sinning?
Note that the question is not ultimately about how sinful the practice in view is. Idolatry is generally portrayed in Scripture as the gravest sin of all, and yet few Christians believe the state should prohibit idolatry. The reason for this is that most Christians believe (though this was not always the case) that the state should be particularly concerned to prevent injustice against human beings rather than impiety against God. The state’s obligation to secure the most basic level of justice, however, they believe to be non-negotiable.
In any case, the Roman Catholic Church has made its position on abortion quite clear, and it has affirmed its judgment that politicians who support laws legalizing murder may not receive communion. In 1974 the Vatican Declaration on Abortion declared:
A Christian can never conform to a law which is in itself immoral, and such is the case of a law which would admit in principle the licitness of abortion. Nor can a Christian take part in a propaganda campaign in favor of such a law, or vote for it. Moreover, he may not collaborate in its application.
More recently, in 2004, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) sent a memorandum to the American clergy which declared that unlike other moral and political issues matters pertaining to the right to life of innocents are non-negotiable for Catholics, and that Catholics who support the legality or practice of abortion must be denied the right to communion. On some issues, Ratzinger acknowledged, there is a distinction between principle and policy. Not so on this issue:
For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.
Ratzinger went on to apply the issue specifically to Catholic politicians who vote pro-choice:
Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest (understood, in the case of a Catholic politician, as his consistently campaigning and voting for permissive abortion and euthanasia laws), his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.
It is on the basis of instruction like this that many Catholic bishops have denied various politicians communion, including Vice-President Biden.
But what about Catholic voters? Does this mean that the church should excommunicate anyone who votes for a pro-choice candidate? Ratzinger clarified that there is a difference between voting for a candidate who happens to be pro-choice and voting for a candidate for the reason that he or she is pro-choice.
A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of proportionate reasons.
It is obvious from Catholic history that Ratzinger’s purpose here is not to pander to the Christian Right or to American conservatism. The concern is clearly to place the church in opposition to an evil so grave that it may never be tolerated. For that, I think, the Catholic Church should be lauded. There are some principles of moral obedience binding on a disciple of Christ that simply cannot be compromised, even if (or especially if) that disciple is a civil magistrate
In its recent article on abortion politics in the United States The Economist offers the following set of maps in order to demonstrate the momentum of the pro-life cause in America.
It’s a powerful comparison, and it is one that is supported by the details. As the article notes,
According to the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy group, in 2011 state legislatures enacted 92 provisions restricting access to abortion services—nearly three times the previous record of 34, in 2005. That trend has continued this year. The proposed restrictions take a variety of forms. Six states have enacted laws allocating funding for services designed to discourage women from having abortions. Three states have banned all abortions after 20 weeks. Four states have banned the health exchanges to be created under Obamacare from financing abortions. Three states have banned doctors from prescribing abortifacient medicine remotely, as is often done in rural areas; such prescriptions now account for roughly one in five non-hospital abortions in America. Last year, Virginia enacted a law requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building, parking and record-keeping requirements as hospitals.
The renovation costs imposed by that law may drive many of the state’s 20 or so abortion clinics out of business. Not only may Mississippi soon outlaw abortion, in effect, but Tennessee’s admitting-rights’ law forced a clinic to close in August. A three-judge panel has upheld the decision by the state of Texas to end state funding for Planned Parenthood because it performs abortions (not in Texas, but elsewhere in the country) and advocates abortion rights
Of course, many of these gains are very incremental, and some of them face court challenges. The Democratic Party is more committed to abortion-on-demand than ever before, and in certain left-leaning states it is unlikely that abortion will ever be restricted in a meaningful way.
But the overall trend is clear, and at least on the state level, the Republican Party is delivering results to its pro-life constituency. Rather than be discouraged about the direction in which America is headed, those concerned about the tragic injustice of abortion should be heartened.
Regular readers of this blog know that I am loath to identify a Christian (or Reformed) perspective on politics with any particular political party or candidate. Indeed, I seek to avoid manifest partisanship even in my own writing. There are many Christians who support both major American political parties, and Christians who find their views aligning perfectly and without exception with one party or the other are probably not thinking very much, or with very much theological insight.
All that said, however, the trajectory of the Democratic Party on abortion continues to make it very hard for many Christians to see how any Christian could support or be involved with the Democratic Party. The conservative Weekly Standard reports:
The 2012 Democratic party will officially adopt an extreme position on the issue of abortion on Tuesday. According to a copy of the party platform, which was released online just before midnight on Monday, “The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her pregnancy, including a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay.”
That last part–”regardless of ability to pay”–is an endorsement of taxpayer-funded abortions, a policy that President Obama has personally endorsed. Obama wants Medicaid to pay directly for elective abortions, and Obamacare will allow beneficiaries to use federal subsidies to purchase health care plans that cover elective abortions….
The article goes on to point out that according to one poll 72% of Americans oppose the use of taxpayer dollars to fund abortion. It goes on,
The 2012 Democratic party also endorses an unrestricted right to abortion-on-demand. According to the platform, on the issue of abortion “there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way.” In 2003, Obama was asked if he was pro-choice on abortion “in all situations including the late-term thing.” Obama replied: “I’m pro-choice.”
The Democratic Party was not always so emphatically “pro-choice.” In 2000 and 2004 the party platform declared, consistent with the rhetoric of former President Bill Clinton, that its goal was to make abortion “rare.” That language was dropped in 2008 and was not reinserted in 2012.
A few months ago Christianity Today pointed out that the portion of Democrats in Congress who are pro-life has been steadily diminishing.
Democrats with conservative positions on social issues such as abortion continue to disappear from Congress. Half as many pro-life Democrats sit in Congress today than two years ago, and—thanks to redistricting and retirements—in six months the number may be cut in half again….
“Holding a pro-life stance is toxic in a Democratic primary in most parts of the country,” said Matthew Wilson, a professor of political science at Southern Methodist University. “It can be pretty tempting just to give up.”
Of course, there are still some pro-life Democratic politicians, and even more pro-life Democratic voters. But as the number of the former shrinks, the latter need to ask themselves whether their pro-life convictions hold any influence over their political allegiance. And insofar as Christian teaching requires that Christians be pro-life (which I believe it does), Christians who support the Democratic Party need to ask themselves the same thing about their Christian convictions.
Controversy over two incredibly hot-button issues has spread over the Internet in the past few days, in one instance pertaining to the remarks of a prominent Republican senate candidate (and graduate of Covenant Seminary, the official seminary of the Presbyterian Church in America), and in another (less known) incident pertaining to the remarks of a prominent Reformed theologian. While in many ways the two instances are quite different, the controversies associated with each highlights a deeper reason for contention within Reformed and Evangelical circles: disagreement about where the line is between a moral stance that cannot be compromised and a prudential concession necessary in service of a higher good.
The first instance, the remarks of Missouri Congressman Todd Akin regarding “legitimate rape,” arises out of a longstanding tension within the pro-life movement. Should pro-life activists in general, and the Republican Party in particular, advocate the abolition of all abortions without exception, or does it make sense for Republicans to press instead for a policy that would ban all abortions except in cases of rape or incest? Should those in politics press for the gold standard of justice, at the expense perhaps of failure, or should they press for something less than perfect, though something ultimately achievable and far better than the status quo?
The second instance involves the suggestion of a Reformed theologian that a Christian might conceivably grant a place for civil unions to protect certain economic or civil rights, while adamantly opposing same-sex marriage or any dilution of the traditional institution of marriage. Should those concerned to defend traditional marriage, in other words, insist on the gold standard of no government recognition of homosexual relationships, at the risk of losing the whole struggle by virtue of alienating moderates, or should they concede the possibility of an institutional arrangement that is less than ideal in order to preserve what is most important, the sanctity of marriage?
There are some who are aghast at any suggestion that these are even open questions. Abortion is clearly unjust, and so we should only ever advocate policies that would ban it 100% of the time (except perhaps when it is necessary to save the life of the mother and the child would die anyway). Homosexuality is clearly evil and destructive, so we should never tolerate policies that even acknowledge the existence of homosexual relationships. To compromise on policy, for such people, is necessarily to compromise on principle.
Of course, there are others who find this mindset fearfully naive. Is it really the case that it is better not to win any ground at all on the abortion issue, then to achieve the passage of an abortion law that eliminates almost all abortion, while leaving certain unfortunate loopholes? Is it really true that it is better to lose the battle over marriage entirely than to have civil unions that grant certain economic or legal benefits to persons who are not married? What if those civil unions recognize partnerships regardless of whether they are sexual or not? What if they recognize close bonds between fathers and sons, or between two sisters, or even between roommates and friends who have no sexual relationship?
Then, of course, there are those who are sure in their opposition to homosexuality and to abortion, who even have strong opinions regarding the appropriate way for government to respond to these problems, and yet who acknowledge that however clear the moral principles may be, good Christians are bound to disagree regarding the various policy proposals available. In short, they recognize that policy is not the same thing as morality (though they are inextricably related), and that good Christians who agree on basic moral principles might legitimately disagree on the way in which those moral principles should be advanced or preserved in concrete policy.
Let me offer a simple example. In the antebellum South there was no support for the complete abolition of slavery. Even those who desired the abolition of slavery recognized that it was impossible because of economic constraints as well as of widespread public opinion. Nevertheless, in the early 19th Century various proposals were introduced calling for the gradual abolition of slavery, or for better laws preventing the abuse of slaves by their masters. Should Christians opposed to racial slavery have opposed these “gradual” laws because they were not perfect? Or should they have supported them because they made the situation better than it might otherwise be?
The problem with opposing compromises of this sort is that it often polarizes political debate to the point that makes genuine progress impossible. If the only options are abortion-on-demand or no abortion, this country is sure to remain committed to the former option. But if increased restrictions on abortion is a possible option, then we might move the debate in the right direction. Of course, the argument for civil unions is a bit different. It is hard to argue that civil unions move the homosexuality debate in the right direction, and at best adopting civil unions serves to prevent something worse from occurring. But it may well be the case that the vast majority of Americans would support preserving the traditional character of marriage if civil unions are made available to various other kinds of partnerships, including but not restricted to sexual relationships.
But my main point is that all of these decisions are about strategy and prudence, not principle. And it would be inappropriate for me to bind the conscience of another Christian (or of the church) in areas of prudence and wisdom. I may think my fellow Christian who insists on making the Republican Party platform reject all abortions without exception is naive politically, but I can hardly accuse him of being unfaithful to Christ if his conscience dictates his position. On the other hand, I may think my fellow Christian who is open to the establishment of civil unions is misguided about the implications of such an establishment, but if he is clear in his opposition to homosexuality and in his support for traditional marriage, yet maintains his support for civil unions for various economic or related reasons, I can hardly judge his position as being out of line with fidelity to Christianity.
What we need to be clear on, as Christians, is that often our disagreements are about policy or politics, strategy or circumstances, and not about theology or fidelity to Christ. We need to be careful not to judge one another when this is the case.
The general public has some sense of the physical and emotional trauma that women who have abortions go through. For many this trauma helps to fuel the pro-life cause, undermining the assumption of its opponents that pro-life activists are only concerned about unborn babies. For a large number of those in the pro-choice movement the trauma a woman endures as a result of abortion is insignificant compared to what such women would endure if they had to carry their babies to term. Some think it part of their task, in the name of supporting women in difficult circumstances, to try and minimize the long-term fallout that taking the life of a child often brings with it.
What is usually entirely ignored is the role and experience of the father of the child. This free pass for the father begins in the very act of sex itself, thanks to the sexual revolution. Despite the aims of the feminists, the inseparable relation of sex to marriage was designed in significant part to protect women from irresponsible men and from having to take care of children by themselves. Separating sex from marriage may seem liberating for women but they are still bound by their basic biology. Birth control fails and women suffer the consequences, while men still have a second chance to run and hide.
Most people act as if men are insignificant in the abortion process as well. A woman can choose to kill the unborn baby within her womb even if the father of that child desperately wants to keep him or her. There are all sorts of support networks available to help pregnant women, but less attention is given to men. In many ways this makes sense, of course. The men are often gone, and they often have no desire to take responsibility for what they have done.
But according to a recent article in Salvo Magazine, abortion is a lot harder on men than is often appreciated. Little research has been done on this, but the little that has been done suggests that men endure trauma after having supported or allowed abortions in a manner similar to, though distinct from the way in which women do. Commenting on one informal study dating to the early 1980s, Terrell Clemmons writes,
Two major themes stood out. The first was “the deep involvement of the men.” Eighty-four percent felt that they had been a full partner in resolving the pregnancy, but few were at peace with the resolution. The second was the men’s anxiety and high level of personal distress. “An overwhelming proportion of them had thoughts about the fetus, had dreamed about the child that would not be and anticipated misgivings after the abortion,” Shostak found. “Ninety-eight percent said that if they could help it, they would never, ever find themselves in this situation again.”
Now a more recent study in 2010 has confirmed these findings.
A recent study by C. T. Coyle and V. M. Rue, published in The Journal of Pastoral Counseling in 2010, confirms Shostak’s findings. “Male participants were found to demonstrate clinical levels of anxiety, higher than normative anger scores, and greater levels of grief than men who experienced involuntary pregnancy loss,” the authors wrote. “Some men will appear to be angry,” Coyle noted, “when, in fact, other underlying emotions such as grief and helplessness are the real source of their suffering.” The primary meaning ascribed by the men to abortion was “profound loss.”
For many men, Clemmons suggests, the abortion of their child strikes at something inherent to the way in which they are wired, the paternal instinct to protect one’s child from harm and danger.
Men are often defined by their ability to: [experience] pleasure, procreate, provide, protect and perform.” Abortion represents a failure on his part to protect his child and its mother. It undermines his very manhood—of course he will go into distress. Furthermore, the loss reverberates and magnifies over time because the abortion forever extinguished his opportunity to protect, provide for, and take pleasure in that child. Abortion loss encompasses more than just the loss of the child. Abortion exacts a loss of manhood.
The reality is, abortion is an unspeakable tragedy for all involved, and we should not even need research or surveys in order to prove this. Most people understand it intuitively, and the American public has an increasingly negative visceral reaction to the killing of the unborn. I hope this progress continues: Legally, politically, and even economically and demographically the ground under abortion-on-demand is getting shakier each year. It is not out of the question for this country significantly to restrict abortion in the coming decades.
To be sure, if abortion is really to be stopped, an important part of the sexual revolution itself must be turned back (the separation of sex from marriage). That will probably be a much tougher struggle than the legal struggle against abortion. We live among a people that are increasingly plagued with the pain and hurt of rampant sexual immorality and irresponsibility, a pain that is only exacerbated by the widespread experience of personal complicity in the murder of innocent children. When we pray for the peace of our city, we should pray about this as well.