Race, Abortion, and Politics: Is there ever a Christian political position?

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?


About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on February 1, 2013, in Abortion, African Americans, Black Church, pro-life, Racism, Two Kingdoms and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Race, Abortion, and Politics: Is there ever a Christian political position?.

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