A Modest Proposal: The Pro-Life Movement in an Age of Realignment

With many around the world still trying to figure out the ropes in the new political realm, one statistic keeps coming back to the surface: 81% of white evangelicals who voted in the 2016 presidential election voted for Donald Trump. The reasons for this will keep being teased out (Clinton-fatigue/phobia? Overall decline in religiosity? Fear of diminishing religious freedom?).

Part of the explanation, though, has to include the collapse of the standard narrative that abortion policy is the driving force behind the “evangelical” (to the extent that such a demographic exists) political machine, with only 14% of such voters listing abortion or Supreme Court nominees as the most important factor in their choice.

For many Christians desiring to live out the Gospel (which historically has to include protecting and providing for the unborn), the 2016 election left us with no place to turn, and strengthened the sense that the Republican Party never intended to seek justice in the area of abortion. The fervor with which many of our professed fellow believers supported Republicans likewise appears to have less to do with moral imperatives than tribal loyalty.

Meanwhile, a large share of the general populace still view abortion as morally wrong, and less than 1/3 want it to be legal in any and all circumstances. Of course, abortion is not a stand-alone issue, with poverty, racial bias, social isolation, individualism, and a host of other factors lurking behind every tragic decision to end a life. The Church has a lot of groundwork to lay for the long haul of building a serious and generous pro-life culture, and the ultimate need is spiritual in nature, beyond the reach of argument and policy. Even so, there seems to be a path toward at least a modest consensus toward refusal to continue offering our children on the altar of the sexual revolution.

With that in mind, let me put forth a not-yet-fully-formed proposal.

I can’t find a good formulation of polling data on the subject, but it seems to me that the Republican Party have decided that relatively unregulated business is the primary thing worth preserving. My guess is that this view and its implications for daily life don’t really sit well with most Americans. Of course economic stability is important, but the essence of conservatism is that there are things worth valuing that can’t be so easily monetized.

The Democrats, coming off the heels of a stridently pro-abortion administration, are doubling down on that particular point of policy. DNC-backed candidates are expected to be in lockstep with the Planned Parenthood/NARAL crowd, pushing the minority view of extreme abortion-on-demand. If there was any doubt about the party’s direction, DNC chair Tom Perez recently slammed the door on dissent rather loudly.

So far, so little hope. Let us not forget, though, that among the fractures in our social fabric that the Trump phenomenon has revealed is a strong shift away from the standard left-right understanding of politics. The same is true across much of the developed world (Brexit, Macron v. LePen, and other election dynamics throughout Europe). The political status quo has been destabilized, and the opportunity for significant and lasting realignment is at hand.

Put another way, the false binary inherent in electoral choices (particularly in the U.S.) leads to nonsensical pairing of ideas. Why, for instance, do we require the tax code to favor either wealth and business or individuals and families? Why does seeking to preserve life in the womb require a willingness to support taking it from others by endless war and police brutality? Why does a desire to care for God’s creation have to be lumped in with abortion bloodlust? Lacking logical consistency and, now, ideological support, such false choices are now free do die.

If, then, a majority of Americans have either a moral conviction against or grave misgivings about abortion (or at least its prevalence), why couldn’t the mushy pro-choice consensus erode into a more firmly pro-life consensus with abortion considered independently of its false-pair tagalongs?

From another perspective, the cornerstone of the radical pro-abortion wing of the Democrats is the has long been preserving a woman’s right to maintain her own economic and personal destiny. Would not those holding that viewpoint have a lot more in common with a Republican Party decoupled from any semblance of social conservatism and wholly devoted to the pursuit of self-actualization and profit?

Lo and behold, this week there are rumblings from op-ed pages of no less liberal stalwarts than the New York Times (from a pro-life perspective) and Los Angeles Times (from a Democratic Party perspective) essentially arguing for just that. Such subversion of party orthodoxies, may seem like little more than ploys to capitalize on our political moment to build a more lasting majority for one party or the other, but these are fairly nuanced arguments that suggest a willingness to deal—to allow a moral question to stand aside from purely political trappings.

I’ve kicked around the idea with friends of writing a “Gospel Federalist” arguing for a more holistic Christian vision of politics. A revolution against broken binaries and tribal temptations seems like a winning strategy in the present moment. With the momentum picking up around groups like the & Campaign, it seems like we aren’t alone.

So this is my humble suggestion for those much more politically inclined and tactically shrewd than myself: take a moment to read the lay of the land and take some bold, creative steps. The ground is shifting, so don’t let allegiance to our old land hold us back. The time may be coming for the politically homeless to set out for a new country we know not yet.

Photo: The White House, Washington, D.C., May 2016.

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Election Reflection: Burned out, but Building up

Much as this election felt like a long national nightmare—and the wreckage in the rearview mirror leaves me nearly in despair—the outcome and its potential future makes the campaign itself seem merely like the end of the beginning.

I’ve generally refrained from talking partisan politics in this space, and I’ve waited until the end of this cycle to avoid any perception of endorsement or campaigning. This year, though, has so squeezed my principles that they’ve nearly collapsed in on themselves. Whatever spark remained of my younger self’s zest for the intrigues of the political process has been thoroughly snuffed. I’ve watched men & women I respect make apologies for the most reprehensible behavior and diabolical ideas (from both ends of the spectrum). I’ve watched the notion that character matters a whit in any area of life go up in smoke. In an eerily sacramental finale, those of us in the Southeast have had to process these events in a haze of literal smoke.

Though neither party nor their “chosen” candidates (the election was not between two candidates so much as between their anti-matter counterparts—#nevertrump vs. #neverhillary) had anything of substance to offer to most Americans, many projected their desires and fears onto them. Of course this is nothing new, but the level to which fear was the only note played by this year’s band astonished even my inner pessimist.

In the weeks leading up to November, my wife & I both read two recent books that effectively capture two prominent perspectives in the present America. Though undertaken for general interest and learning, reading Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me quickly came to reverberate the two basic fears driving opposition to the two parties. In these two books, two very different cultures with problems and responsibilities that are both similar and wholly different cry out to be heard and reckoned with. Both are being spoken to by certain constituencies. Both are being sold a mess of pottage by the governing elite and ignored by the broader upper middle class (Charles Murray’s “broad elite“).

Both Vance & Coates speak as “insider-outsiders” with unashamed fondness for their cultural background (and baggage) even as they have risen into the same elite class so blindsided this year. True to his chosen title of “Elegy”, Vance raises more questions than he attempts to answer; Coates’ refrain is more of a damning, poetic indictment of the destruction of black men, women, & children by the dominant culture. Both, though, lean hard into the conversations that our culture doesn’t want to  have but soon may not be able to live without. Both name the unspeakable loss that comes from watching what you love being stripped away by forces often completely out of your control.

These books also reflected for us an exercise in empathy. We are given a glimpse into a culture that, for many of us, is simply “other”: former coal miners or factory workers wade through unemployment, drug addiction, and family breakdown; young black men navigate recognition of their fraught history and witness friends and brothers being killed by police. Walking in such shoes is not something that comes easily to a modestly well-off, educated suburbanite like me. In this respect, readings like this are another step in my own journey to making peace with the privilege and responsibility inherent (to some level or another) in each of our lives.

Empathy goes a long way toward explaining how hard it’s been to watch this political year unfold. The level of my emotional reaction to Trump’s win surprised me. As I’ve tried to tease that out, I’ve joked with friends that “I didn’t know I had an inner liberal before this year, but I do, and he’s angry.” More truthfully, what’s changed for me is having forged real friendships over the past few years with people with very different stories from mine. Blessed with a life full of ladies (I have two sisters and three daughters; no brothers and no sons), I already had a built in revulsion to the way Trump treats and talks about women and the way Mrs. Clinton has thwarted her husband’s accusers, and no desire to see that kind of behavior rewarded and empowered. Watching Trump’s bumbling bring out some of the worst elements of our culture helped me see that the racism (both tacit and virulent) I thought was dead and gone is a part of daily life for my African American brothers and sisters.

Added to that, I’ve been working since March for a ministry focused on equipping churches to alleviate poverty. You can’t spend your time & energy teaching others to recognize and respect the God-given dignity of all people and then sit idly by when the platforms of those who would strip it from so many of them get mainstreamed into American political life.

What I have in common with all of the rest of my compatriots this year is fear. It is written on so many faces; scribbled as the subtext of every commentary on our fractured politics. Fear, powerful motivator though it may be, is most dangerous when we allow it to define our hope. They are natural opposites, these two, but they always tag together. As Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.” When our fear is properly placed in the Lord (who holds our destinies), our hope is found in him as well. Letting fear reside elsewhere (say, in a Hillary Clinton Presidency) allows hope to attach to utterly untrustworthy objects (such as Donald Trump). All of us struggle to keep this divine perspective, living in quiet terror of losing our spot in life’s queue.

As frustrated as many are with the situation we find ourselves in, I’m forced to wrestle with what a luxury political angst is. Apocalyptic rhetoric has always been a feature of politics in a free society, but (however much it may be justified) it always distracts from the worthwhile endeavors of actually building the communities that build a country. What is worth our time? What will last? What are we willing to give up to gain what is not so easily lost? If each of us (pointing the finger at myself first) spent half the time getting to know and serve our neighbors that we spend digesting national news and wringing our hands, what could be built? The day after the election, a group of us (black and white) sat across the breakfast table from a South Sudanese pastor (whose church is in a refugee camp) talking about the future of his ministry, and our “justifiable” despair at the state of our nation began to look a lot more like petulant self-absorption in the grand view of God’s kingdom.

As 2016 comes to a close and the sorrows of national life mingle with the joys our family and friends have experienced this year, the memory of this apparent annus horribilis may be sweeter than I have capacity to see. Taking time to think and feel and process all that has passed will, I hope allow me to someday tell my children how God is faithful in things big and small, working out His plan despite our penchant to accuse Him of unconcern.

May we all see that, despite the apparent priority of political life, “your life doesn’t change by the man that’s elected” nearly as much as we might think. God is on His throne, and our daily marching orders are still posted as ever.

Photo: Remains of a Forest Fire, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona, October 2016.

At the Turning of the Tide?

You may choose to look the other way, but you can never say again that you did not know.” ~ William Wilberforce

Citizen journalist David Daleiden and his Center for Medical Progress started lobbing weekly grenades into the lap of America’s “safe, legal, and rare” abortion culture in early July. The effects of exposing the ghastly nature of Planned Parenthood’s business have been bracing; footage of PPFA’s insouciant staff tossing out price quotes and lists of body parts over lunch is as damning as the direct images of dismembered children.

I’ve lived my entire life under the laws that permit these crimes against heaven, shaking my head at cowardice and prevarication from “pro-life” politicians, discouraged into complacent resignation. This is the way things are in Babylon.

I’ve written recently (here, here, and here) about the ways God is glorified and the Church is served through marginalization and suffering. Growing accustomed to being down and out in regards to the wider culture seemed (and in many ways still seems) a sensible course. We know God is on our side, but we are supposed to appear as “aliens and strangers” to our fellows.

The exile we’ve been preparing for has been centered on the prospect of diminishing religious freedom, particularly in regards to holding a biblical view of marriage. After the Obergefell v. Hodges ruling, the wagons were circling and no one was expecting the resurgent roar of the pro-life cause.

The Lord’s plan for exiles is not only humbling and purification, though. He also uses them to speak truth to the hearts of kings (i.e. Daniel with Nebuchadnezzar and later Darius), to secure religious freedom (see Ezra), prevent deadly and unjust persecution (Esther), and to lead the remnant to full obedience (Nehemiah). In all of these cases, the people involved were called simply to obedience–the action was brought about by God.

Whenever God moves, among the surest signs it is His own doing is that the faithful are as surprised by Him (though joyfully so) as His enemies. The Lord is on His throne as ever, and He delights in such reversals that protect the innocent, reveal the guilty, and bring Him glory.

All this is in His perfect timing, for these issues are not at all unrelated. The degeneration of marriage and the devaluing of children go hand in hand; at the end of this cultural project, we have been forced to reconsider the beginning. The sexual relationship God ordained in marriage to join man and wife as one flesh often, in due course, literally produces one flesh anew through the bearing of children. Fruitfulness is part of the created design for marriage. When we hate the children we create, it is only natural for this chosen fruitlessness to progress to a state of inherent fruitlessness. Ultrasound

Daleiden’s perseverant courage has reminded me of the boldness and persistence a righteous cause should call forth in us. Seeing in cold light the evil of this selfish practice brings me to mourn again for the bloodguilt of my people in celebrating it. Having walked through three pregnancies together, my wife and I appreciate the gravity of abortion in ways we couldn’t when we were younger. To see the familiar features of little children brutally snatched from the womb and cut to pieces sparks a fire to fight for their lives. 

For many of us, being “pro-life” has been a part of our identity, but this is the shot in the arm we needed to press the battle to its end. For those who have silently nurtured doubts about the morality of abortion, these videos are confirming their worst suspicions. God’s creation speaks His truth; these are not “clumps of cells” but image bearers of the Most High. There are no reasonable doubts. We are called to care for orphans and widows, and who is more fatherless than a child scheduled for dilation and extraction?

For those who have supported abortion in carefree ignorance, there can be no more simple excuses. To defend Planned Parenthood has always been to celebrate horrendous sin, but no euphemisms remain to hide behind. Sin, as always, has overreached. The complacency and triumphalism of these profiteers of murder gives the lie to every sly evasion. Lives are being ended, and those doing the killing know it full well.

A wave is cresting. This can be a “Selma moment” in the march to secure right to life for the unborn. The cameras are rolling and the world cannot unsee what it is seeing; to oppose the movement now is to stand with the entrenched power of visceral evil. I don’t want to live in a place that lets this continue anymore.

The time to press hard is here, and pursuit to the end leaves us no room to “go wobbly” on the hill we are charging. We don’t fight a vague, sinister force but a corporate conglomerate, an “Abortion, Inc.” Moral questions are being plainly directed at Planned Parenthood, which controls 40% of the national market in this death-dealing. Removing the half of their funding that comes on the backs of taxpayers is a no-brainer. If this round is lost because of lackluster zeal, the shame is ours.

The goal, of course, is the end of abortion for good. Opposition will not always be so easy as it is now, with walls divinely crumbling before us. What we hope is that the demise of Planned Parenthood sparks opportunities to change hearts across the board.

Perhaps, the Lord has allowed the cultural position of the Church to be weakened for such a time as this. These undefended children can no longer be seen as pawns in a political game. The power play is coming from those who would wield the state against the innocent, not the other way around. Over time, as more see this as a moral issue than a partisan ax to grind, abortion will fade from the political scene. But this will only increase the need for the Church to love and care for the victims of crimes, poor choices, and sinful deception. To take abortion off the table will bring children from difficult situations, and opportunities to nurture them and their parents alike.

Obstruction and misdirection continue. Satan does not relinquish strongholds but by the power of God, and he is ferocious in a corner. Let us not grow weary in this good aim or be distracted by the smokescreens of the enemy.

We are all sinners, but that does not justify the taking of innocent life to hide sin’s consequences.

Those who have and perform abortions need the Gospel, but that begins with repentance from sin.

Abortion is a consequence of other sins, both individual and institutional, but we must stop punishing the victims in order to show real mercy to the guilty.

Stop. Killing. Babies. Then we can talk about all the rest.