A Tale of Three Protests

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This could be the first weekend of the Trump administration in which the country has not experienced a major protest march of one form or another.  As I write this on Saturday morning, the weekend is still young.  But I doubt that we will let our impulse for social reform get in the way of the Super Bowl.  After all, this is the United States. 🙂

All of these protests–the Women’s March, the March for Life, and the spontaneous gatherings in American airports to protest Trump’s immigration ban–all had one thing in common.  They were, in one way or another, defenses of human dignity.  In this sense, they were inextricably linked.

Protests and marches of this nature have a long history in the United States.  Think about the Stamp Act Riots, the Boston Tea Party, the Whiskey Rebellion, the New York City Draft Riots, women’s suffrage parades and marches, the Bonus Army, the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-Vietnam Movement, Stonewall, labor protests, the movement to stop globalization, the Million Man March, the present-day Tea Party Movement, and Occupy Wall Street.  (And this list only scratches the surface).  We can debate to what extent these historic protests brought real social change, but we cannot argue with the fact that such activity is part of the American tradition of free speech, freedom of assembly, and the defense of human rights and dignity.

The American protest tradition was at its best on Saturday, January 21, 2017, one day after Trump was inaugurated, when women took to the streets in major and minor cities all over the United States.  On the Monday following the women’s march, Press Secretary Sean Spicer said that “a lot of these people were there to protest an issue of concern to them and [were] not against anything.”  I realize that Spicer’s job is to spin events in favor of Donald Trump, but anyone who attended one of these rallies or watched the coverage on television knows that the people present that day were “against” something.  They were against the Trump presidency.  The day was a stunning rebuke to the new administration.

Spicer, however, is correct when he says that women (and some men) came to Washington for a host of different reasons.  As I watched the march unfold on my television screen, it became clear that the movement lacked any focus beyond the fact that everyone opposed Donald Trump.  People were there to unleash their frustrations. Only time will tell if the march translates into real political gain. I have my doubts.

I was saddened to see the organizers of the Women’s March try to separate themselves from women who opposed abortion.  I think it was a missed opportunity to find common ground and show that Trump’s degradation of women transcends the debate over abortion.  I know pro-life women who attended and felt a sense of solidarity.  I also know many who did not attend and who were troubled by this kind of exclusion.

Which leads us to the March for Life on January 28, 2017.

The Pro-Life Movement has a long history in the United States.  As Daniel K. Williams has argued in his excellent book Defenders of the Unborn (you can listen to our podcast interview with him here-Episode 2), the movement was once embedded within the Democratic Party.  Liberals such as Jesse Jackson, Ted Kennedy, Sargent Shriver, Bill Clinton, Paul Simon, Dick Durbin, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, Herbert Humphrey,  Joe Biden, Ed Muskie, Dick Gephardt, Al Gore, Bob Casey, Daniel Berrigan, Jimmy Carter, Thomas Eagleton, John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Mario Cuomo were pro-life politicians.  Many of them, as David Swartz notes in his book Moral Minority: The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism, “flipped to a pro-choice position under party pressure.”

The history of this so-called “flip” is complicated and I would recommend reading Williams’s book (or listen to our interview with him) to understand it in context.  But I think it is fair to say that Democrats of a previous generation saw very little tension between their political convictions and their opposition to abortion.  Democrats have always been concerned about protecting the most vulnerable human beings in American society. This is a core tenet of the modern Democratic Party.

Back in September 2015 I turned to the pages of USA Today  to challenge then presidential candidate Bernie Sanders to say something about reducing abortions in America.  I wrote: “aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.”  I did something similar, albeit in a more indirect way, in a piece I published in the Harrisburg Partiot-News about Hillary Clinton’s failure to reach out to evangelicals on the issue of abortion.

Democrats and Republicans, men and women, convened in Washington  to march for life. The march was not as large as the Women’s March the week before, but it was just as powerful. Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr., a bishop in the largest Black denomination in the United States, was perhaps the most inspiring speaker.  As I wrote about last week, his speech connected the pro-life movement to the Black Lives Matter movement. Jesse Jackson could have delivered the same speech in 1977.  In that year, as Williams notes in Defenders of the Unborn (p.171), Jackson wrote an article for Life News linking his opposition to abortion to his defense of social justice, poverty, and black personhood.

My only critique of the event was the way it politicized a great social sin.  The problems with abortion should be addressed in an apolitical way.  The Pro-Life Movement transcends Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Kellyanne Conway, and the Republican Party. Speeches by Conway and Pence gave the march a political flavor that distracted from the day’s message.

Finally, protest swirled on Sunday, January 29, 2017 in the wake of Donald Trump’s executive order banning immigration to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim countries.  Americans arrived at airports by the thousands to defend the human rights of immigrants and refugees who were detained by the Trump administration. They also cried out against the targeting of immigrants from a specific religious group.

The constitutionality of Trump’s executive order can be debated.  After doing a little reading it appears that certain parts of the order seem to be OK.  But after reading it a few times there seems to be no way around the fact that this order discriminates based on religion.  We will need to let the courts decide if such discrimination in cases of immigration is indeed unconstitutional.

Section 5b reads:

Upon the resumption of USRAP admissions, the Secretary of State, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, is further directed to make changes, to the extent permitted by law, to prioritize refugee claims made by individuals on the basis of religious-based persecution, provided that the religion of the individual is a minority religion in the individual’s country of nationality.  Where necessary and appropriate, the Secretaries of State and Homeland Security shall recommend legislation to the President that would assist with such prioritization.

The order states that “minority religions” in these Muslim countries will get priority.  How can this be read as anything but an attempt by Trump (and probably Steve Bannon) to favor Christians (and other non-Muslim faiths) and discriminate against Muslims?

America has been here before.

In 1835, Samuel F.B. Morse, best known in American history for inventing the telegraph, was one of the nation’s foremost opponents of Catholic immigration.  He saw Catholics as a threat to American democracy and wrote about them as both a political and religious movement. In 1911, the Asiatic Exclusion League, an organization with a mission to deny all Asian immigrants access to the United States, described Asians as a people whose “ways are not as our ways” and whose “gods are not our God, and never will be.”  The members of the League argued that Asian men and women “profane this Christian land by erecting here among us their pagan shrines, set up their idols and practice their shocking heathen religious ceremonies.”

The difference between Donald Trump and Morse, the Asiatic Exclusion League, and other attempts in U.S. history to restrict immigration, is that Donald Trump is the President of the United States.  I am not a scholar of immigration history (although I do occasionally teach a class on the subject), but I cannot think of another case in which a POTUS tried to overtly stop immigrants to the United States based on their religious faith.  Some Presidents may have secretly wanted to do this, but they never acted on it in the way that Donald Trump has done.  The closest thing I can think of is the government’s decision in 1939 to turn away 937 European Jews fleeing the Holocaust, but this decision was not overtly framed in a religious way. (I welcome anyone who can think of an example of a POTUS doing this).

American immigration and refugee policy has always been at its best when it respects the human dignity of all men and women, regardless of race, ethnicity or religion.  Those who flooded American airports last Sunday were protesting the failure of the Trump administration to live up to these ideals.

Three protest marches.  Three defenses of human dignity.  Three signs of hope in an imperfect world and an imperfect country.

Where Does Judge Neil Gorsuch Go To Church?

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According to this piece at Religion News Service, Neil Gorsuch, Donald Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court, attends St. John’s Episcopal Church in Boulder, Colorado.

St. John’s is a member of The Episcopal Church of the United States of America and the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado.

Since conservative evangelicals seem to be very happy with Gorsuch, it is worth noting that Gorsuch’s church is far from conservative and evangelical.  The Episcopal Church in America is an LGBT-friendly church that ordained Eugene Robinson, an openly gay bishop. It also supports abortion rights (with some limits).

Not every parish in the Episcopal Church agrees with the official position of the denomination on these issues.  But this does not seem to be the case with St. John’s-Boulder. The church hosted a viewing of a film about Eugene Robinson and took an offering for an LGBT Episcopalian organization.  The church is listed on this website as a gay-friendly church. St. John’s also appears to bless same-sex marriages.

Of course a person can attend a congregation with his family and not embrace the church’s teaching on social issues like gay marriage or abortion.  Perhaps Gorusch falls into this category.  I know many people with very conservative positions on marriage and abortion who attend a liberal Protestant congregation because they appreciate the liturgy and the church community.

Gorsuch, I might add, is a judge, not a denominational official. Technically, he is not supposed to bring his personal views on these issues–whatever they are–to bear on his legal decisions.  Supreme Court justices in the past have ruled in ways that contradict the teachings of their religious communities.  For example, Sonia Sotomayor is a Catholic but she voted in the majority in the Obergfell v. Hodges case legalizing gay marriage.  On the other hand, this has rarely been the case with conservative Catholic justices such as Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts.

In the end, I wrote this post because it is worth noting that Gorsuch doesn’t seem to have any problems with attending a church with social views like St. John’s.  Perhaps this is something conservative evangelicals might be interested in knowing.

The Mind of the Evangelical Trump Voter

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Over the last several months I have had some good conversations (and some not so good conversations) with a few dozen of the 81% of American evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump. The more I listen to these evangelical Trump supporters the more I realize that they are divided over the new President’s policies regarding trade, job creation, and even Obamacare. While some of them mentioned their support of Trump’s policies on these issues, it was clear that they are secondary.

Here is what unites them:

Abortion:  Trump evangelicals believe that a Trump presidency is their best chance to overturn Roe v. Wade.  So far they are ecstatic about Trump’s support for last Friday’s March for Life and his efforts to end funding for international organizations that perform abortions.  They will no doubt cheer Trump’s forthcoming Supreme Court justice nominee.

These evangelicals limit their understanding of “pro-life” to the issue of abortion.  So, for example, they do not see Trump’s recent executive order banning refugees to be a “life” issue.  Many of them are outraged that protesters are making such a big deal over Trump’s decision to stop the flow of Muslim refugees into the country when thousands and thousands of babies are being killed in the womb each year

Religious Liberty:   Trump evangelicals are thrilled that the President is aware that thousands of Christians being persecuted for their faith around the world. I imagine Christian colleges are, for the most part, breathing a sigh of relief over the fact that they will no longer be discriminated against when it comes to federal and other types of funding.

So far we have heard very little from these evangelicals about extending religious liberties to Muslim refugees. As evangelical  Washington Post columnist and Trump critic Michael Gerson recently wrote, “In the long run, religious liberty is weakened in every case when it is weakened in any case. On this matter, hypocrisy is a form of self-harm.”

Fear:  Evangelicals want their country back.  Trump will not only make America great again, but he will protect them against internal and external threats.  Most Trump evangelicals I talk with love his recent executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries.  Man of them don’t want Muslims in America.  Some of them still think that Barack Obama is a Muslim.  They believe Muslim terrorists pose a threat to their lives, even though they are more likely to be killed by a moving train, flammable clothing, or cows than a Muslim terrorist.

Trump is delivering “big league” for his evangelical voters.  He is keeping his promises. It looks as if the 81% will not be going away anytime soon.

Interpreting Trump’s *60 Minutes* Interview

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Donald Trump on the wall:

Lesley Stahl: So let’s go through very quickly some of the promises you made and tell us if you’re going to do what you said or you’re going to change it in any way. Are you really going to build a wall?

Donald Trump: Yes.

Lesley Stahl: They’re talking about a fence in the Republican Congress, would you accept a fence?

Donald Trump: For certain areas I would, but certain areas, a wall is more appropriate. I’m very good at this, it’s called construction.

Lesley Stahl: So part wall, part fence?

Donald Trump: Yeah, it could be–it could be some fencing.

Lesley Stahl: What about the pledge to deport millions and millions of undocumented immigrants

Interpretation:  The wall has been reduced to a fence.

Donald Trump on the Supreme Court and abortion:

Lesley Stahl: One of the things you’re going to obviously get an opportunity to do, is name someone to the Supreme Court. And I assume you’ll do that quickly? 

Donald Trump: Yes. Very important. 

Lesley Stahl: During the campaign, you said that you would appoint justices who were against abortion rights. Will you appoint– are you looking to appoint a justice who wants to overturn Roe v. Wade? 

Donald Trump: So look, here’s what’s going to happen.  I’m pro-life. The judges will be pro-life. They’ll be very— 

Lesley Stahl: But what about overturning this law– 

Donald Trump: Well, there are a couple of things. They’ll be prolife, they’ll be— in terms of the whole gun situation, we know the Second Amendment and everybody’s talking about the Second Amendment and they’re trying to dice it up and change it, they’re going to be very pro-Second Amendment. But having to do with abortion if it ever were overturned, it would go back to the estates. So it would go back to the states and– 

Lesley Stahl: Yeah, but then some women won’t be able to get an abortion? 

Donald Trump: No, it’ll go back to the states. 

Lesley Stahl: By state— no some. 

Donald Trump: Yeah, well, they’ll perhaps have to go, they’ll have  to go to another state. 

Lesley Stahl: And that’s OK? 

Donald Trump: Well, we’ll see what happens. It’s got a long way to go, just so you understand. 

Interpretation:  Trump is not opposed to abortion on principle.  In his answer to Stahl he presents this as an issue of federalism.  Women will still have the opportunity to get an abortion–they will just need to go to a state that allows them.  This is NOT the way the Christian Right thinks about abortion.Donald Trump on “locking-up” Hillary Clinton:

Lesley Stahl: Are you going to ask for a special prosecutor to investigate Hillary Clinton over her emails? And are you, as you had said to her face, going to try and put her in jail?

Donald Trump: Well, I’ll tell you what I’m going to do, I’m going to think about it. Um, I feel that I want to focus on jobs, I want to focus on healthcare, I want to focus on the border and immigration and doing a really great immigration bill. We want to have a great immigration bill. And I want to focus on all of these other things that we’ve been talking about.

Lesley Stahl: You– you know, you–

Donald Trump: And get the country straightened away.

Lesley Stahl: You called her “crooked Hillary,” said you wanted to get in jail, your people in your audiences kept saying, “Lock em’ up.”

Donald Trump: Yeah. She did–

Lesley Stahl: Do you

Donald Trump: She did some bad things, I mean she did some bad things–

Lesley Stahl: I know, but a special prosecutor? You think you might…

Donald Trump: I don’t want to hurt them. I don’t want to hurt them. They’re, they’re good people. I don’t want to hurt them. And I will give you a very, very good and definitive answer the next time we do 60 Minutes together.

Interpretation:  Despite the wild chants of his followers, Trump does not look like he will “lock-up” Hillary.

Donald Trump on marriage equality:

Lesley Stahl: Well, I guess the issue for them is marriage equality. Do you support marriage equality?

Donald Trump: It–it’s irrelevant because it was already settled. It’s law. It was settled in the Supreme Court. I mean it’s done.

Lesley Stahl: So even if you appoint a judge that–

Donald Trump: It’s done. It— you have–these cases have gone to the Supreme Court. They’ve been settled. And, I’m fine with that.

Interpretation:  Trump claims to overturn Roe v. Wade, but he will not appoint judges who will overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.

So much for the romance between the Christian Right and Donald Trump.  Oh, and by the way, he has appointed a strategy chief who is no fans of Jews.  So much for religious liberty.

It is also worth noting that Trump condemned racial violence in this interview. This is a step in the right direction.  But Trump has a lot more work to do on this front.  Incidents of racism have been cropping up all over the country.  I don’t blame Trump for racism, but I do blame Trump for making racism acceptable and empowering and inspiring the racists. If he really wants to bring the nation together he needs to address the culture he has created.

Douthat:”Today’s conservatism has far more to gain from the defeat of Donald Trump”

douthatHere is conservative intellectual and New York Times columnist Ross Douthat trying to put a positive spin on what looks like a Hillary Clinton victory:

It is a hard thing to accept that some elections should be lost, especially in a country as divided over basic moral premises as our own. But just as the pro-life movement ultimately won real gains — in lives saved, laws altered, abortion rates reduced — by accepting the legitimacy of the republic even as it deplored the killing of the unborn, so today’s conservatism has far more to gain from the defeat of Donald Trump, and the chance to oppose Clintonian progressivism unencumbered by his authoritarianism, bigotry, misogyny and incompetence, than it does from answering the progressive drift toward Caesarism with a populist Elagabalus.

Not because it is guaranteed long-term victory in that scenario or any other. But because the deepest conservative insight is that justice depends on order as much as order depends on justice. So when Loki or the Joker or some still-darker Person promises the righting of some grave wrong, the defeat of your hated enemies, if you will only take a chance on chaos and misrule, the wise and courageous response is to tell them to go to hell.

Read the entire column here.

What Would It Take for Anti-Trump Evangelicals to Vote for Hillary Clinton?

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A lot.

Some evangelicals will never vote for Hillary Clinton.  She is connected to Barack Obama. She supports a women’s right to choose.  She promises to appoint Supreme Court justices that will undermine religious liberty. She is married to Bill Clinton, a man who cheated on her in the White House and was impeached.  She lied about the e-mail server.

In any other election, most evangelicals would vote for the GOP candidate.  Never Hillary.

But this election is different.  In this election a significant portion of evangelicals believe that the GOP candidate is not qualified to be president.

We don’t really know the size of the never-Trump evangelical coalition.  One survey has found that 65% of white evangelicals are voting for Trump and 16% back Clinton.  That leaves about 20% of white evangelicals who have either not yet made up their mind, will vote for a third-party candidate, or will not vote in the presidential election.  This 20% is led by group of outspoken evangelicals such as Southern Baptist Russell Moore and Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse.

Can these anti-Trump evangelical conservatives be convinced to vote for Clinton?

If Clinton were to make an appeal to this demographic she would need to address two main issues: abortion and religious liberty.

On abortion, it goes without saying that President Hillary Clinton is not going to be working to overthrow Roe v. Wade.  Nor will she appoint Supreme Court justices who will do so. But what if she would propose, policy wonk that she is, a systematic plan to limit the number of abortion in the United States?  I am not talking about returning to the old pro-choice Democratic mantra of “safe, legal, and rare.”  Evangelicals will need more than a catchphrase.  They will need to hear Clinton connect her public policy pronouncements with a specific a plan to reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Some evangelicals would possibly vote for Clinton if she spoke out more forcefully about the controversial Planned Parenthood videos released in 2015.  When these videos appeared she called them “disturbing.”  Since then her comments about Planned Parenthood have been nothing but positive.  Actually, Trump has been more nuanced on this issue than Clinton.

We know, for example, that Clinton has worked hard in her career to reduce teenage pregnancies.  She might get more evangelical votes from the never-Trump crowd if she would connect this work more directly to the reduction of abortions.  This might also bring her closer to the position of her own church.

Clinton has said very little about abortion on the trail.  When asked about abortion at the third debate she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions.  Many evangelicals were turned off by this.

Clinton has also been very quiet on matters of religious liberty.  Yes, she pays lip service to religious liberty when Trump makes comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, but she has not addressed some of the religious issues facing many evangelicals.  This is especially the case with marriage.

Granted, evangelicals should not expect Clinton to defend traditional marriage or set out to overturn Obergfell v. Hodges.  (I might add here that evangelicals should not expect this from Trump either).  But is she willing to support some form of principled or “confident” pluralism?  Some evangelicals of the never-Trump variety would be very happy to live in a society in which those who believe marriage is only between a man and a woman, and those who do not believe this, can live together despite their differences.

The recent attempts in California to cut financial aid for students at faith-based colleges that uphold traditional views of marriage is one example of a threat to religious liberty that has many evangelicals concerned.  So does the earlier Gordon College case and the recent news about the Society of Biblical Literature considering banning InterVarsity Press from their national conference book exhibit.

Or perhaps none of this matters.  Why would Hillary Clinton address these issues when she probably doesn’t need the votes of the anti-Trump evangelicals to win the election?

Pro-Life Family Physician: Trump Is Not Our Man

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Matthew Loftus is a family doctor who works at hospital for women and children in South Sudan.  He is pro-life and believes that Donald Trump will do more to harm the pro-life movement than Hillary Clinton.

Here is a piece he published today at the conservative The Federalist:

If Hillary Clinton is taking shots at the culture of life from the outside, Donald Trump is a rot poisoning us from the inside. Any time he has spoken about abortion (which is not often, indicating how unimportant the cause is to him), he has only managed to embarrass the pro-life cause by associating himself with it. Some have suggested that Trump will be held in check or redirected by the “good people” he has surrounded himself with. But he has only managed to corrupt and debase those associated with him. He talks about “the evangelicals” like a pimp who owns them. In turn, far too many pro-lifers have acted like the Biblical character of Oholibah, who prostituted herself to pagan political powers in exchange for protection.

The most pro-life argument for Donald Trump revolves around his promise to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices, who would at some point find some way to overturn Roe v. Wade. But in the words of Leon Wolf, “If you believe that Trump has actual pro-life principles or that he will honor any sort of pledge to only appoint pro-life justices, then you have to be one of the most monumental suckers who has ever lived.” Trump’s promises to the pro-life movement are as worthless as a Trump University degree or one of his previous marriage contracts. There is simply no pro-life case for Trump.

But even in the best-case scenario, where Trump does win and does appoint a Supreme Court justice or two that’s favorable to the pro-life cause, his foolish antics will undoubtedly punish down-ballot Republicans in the next few election cycles (assuming that they aren’t battered hard enough this November). With Trump as the de facto standard bearer for the pro-life movement, any anti-abortion measures will have to overcome the gravitational force of his sleaziness to get anywhere. Despite claims that Trump would be a life preserver for the pro-life movement, he is a millstone around our neck. The only way to survive is to let go and keep swimming.

Read the entire piece here.

What Pence Could Have Said in the VP Debate When Asked About Faith and Policy

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Evangelical Protestants don’t struggle with how to apply their faith to matters of public policy.  Or at least they don’t talk about such struggles.  Evangelicalism is a religion of certainty–a lot of black and white, not much gray.

Catholics are pretty certain about things too.  But they also tend to feel more comfortable with mystery and struggle.

I am probably doing some pigeonholing here.  But I thought about this during Tuesday night’s Vice-Presidential debate when the candidates–Tim Kaine and Mike Pence–were asked, “Can you discuss in detail a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position?”

As Mark Silk notes at Religion News Service, Kaine answered the question, but Pence did not.  I am not sure if Pence’s evangelical faith and/or Kaine’s Catholic faith were behind their responses to the question, but it was interesting to see how they both approached the question.

Here is a taste of Silk’s post

Democrat Tim Kaine, first up, answered the question by talking about his struggle as governor of Virginia to carry out the death penalty, which he opposes in line with his Roman Catholicism.

“It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forward,” he said, “but in circumstances where I didn’t feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did.”

Republican Mike Pence, by contrast, veered away from the question: “And with regard to when I struggle, I appreciate, and — and — and — I have a great deal of respect for Senator Kaine’s sincere faith. I truly do.”

He then proceeded into a discourse on his opposition to abortion, a mainstay of his evangelical faith. He never got around to saying anything about when he struggles.

Which was a shame, given what happened last year with Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act. That act, you’ll recall, allowed businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples — albeit Pence, as governor, insisted it was only about guaranteeing religious liberty.

Read the entire post here.

Perhaps Conservative Evangelicals Need to Consider What it Means to be Pro-Life

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Timothy Gloege is a historian based in Grand Rapids, Michigan and the author of Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business and the Making of Modern Evangelicalism.  You may recall that Gloege made a visit to the Author’s Corner back in June 2015.

Over at The Twelve, a blog dedicated to Reformed thinking about the world, Gloege challenges conservative evangelicals to rethink what it means to be “pro-life” when it comes to the issue of abortion.

Here is a taste:

So, here’s my question, and I want you to answer it honestly. What matters more to you: making abortion illegal or reducing the number of procedures that occur each year?

Or let me put it another way. Which is the better society: one in which abortions are illegal and punished when they occur (because they will), or one in which the surgical procedure is legal, but largely unnecessary?

This is more than a rhetorical question. We already know how to decrease the abortion rate: make contraception easy to access. This is low-hanging fruit folks; other fellow pro-life evangelicals have pointed it out.

But there’s another thing we could try. Several studies have noted that the majority of women seeking abortions earn less than the poverty level (that’s about $16,000 annually for a family of two). In fact, while the abortion rate has dropped at other income levels, it has increased among those in poverty.

Correlation may not equal causation, but poverty reduction is a pro-life strategy worth exploring. So why aren’t pro-life advocates the loudest, fiercest advocates for anti-poverty programs in America?

We could easily go further. Why not advocate for a basic income (something arch-conservative economist Milton Freedman suggested years ago)? And throw in a few condoms. It’s a pro-life platform for the masses!

Seriously, why not? What are the risks?

Are we afraid anti-poverty programs will create dependent people? Afraid it will be too expensive? Afraid free birth control will lead to increased sexual activity outside of a committed relationship? We can argue about all that if you want. But let’s hold off.

Just remember: we are talking about reducing abortions. And abortion, you regularly tell me, is no different from murdering innocent children.

Think about that for a second.

Now tell me: do you really believe what you say? If so, isn’t preventing a holocaust worth a compromise in social or economic policy? Shouldn’t we be willing to pay any price?

Read the entire post here.

 

Readers Respond: Evangelicals and the Supreme Court

Dobson and TrumpHere is a response to my very recent post “Evangelicals Hopes for a Conservative Supreme Court Rest in the Hands of Someone Nearly Incapable of Telling the Truth.”

Voting on prospective Supreme Court nominees is a bit of a Hail Mary pass in several ways. First, as you note, there’s the question of will the president come through? (Conservatives weren’t too thrilled with Harriet Meiers, eg, and if the appointment had come earlier in the Bush administration, they may have gotten her.)

Second, will the justices actually deliver what conservatives want? Chief Justice Roberts is persona non grata with conservatives ever since the ACA decision. Scalia authored Smith, which has caused all kinds of headaches.

The record on abortion and homosexuality is even dodgier. Roe v Wade was authored by a Republican appointee, and 5 of the 7 justices in the majority were appointed by Republicans. Lawrence, which struck down state laws enforcing moral norms, was also authored by a Republican appointee, and 4 of the 6 justices voting in the majority were appointed by Republicans. Obergefell also was authored by a Republican appointee.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a rational choice to vote for whoever the Republican candidate is, in the hopes that he or she might appoint satisfactory judges (and in the fear a Democrat won’t–though 100% of Clinton’s and Obama’s appointees voted in the majority on Hosanna-Tabor, the most critical religious freedom case in a generation).

But, given the spotty track record, the idea that it is mandatory or obligatory for Christians to do so seems questionable in the extreme. Especially so when so many other things about the candidates are decidedly not equal.

-John Haas

Pope Francis Continues to Defy Political Categories

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Back in September when Pope Francis visited the United States I wrote a piece for Fox News titled “Pope Francis is neither liberal nor conservative, Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic.”  Here is a taste of what I argued:

Pundits and commentators insist on trying to comprehend Francis’s message in political terms.  This is a wrongheaded approach. The Pope is not liberal or conservative.  He is not a Democrat or Republican.  He is a Catholic. And whatever he says about politics, culture, or the economy stems from this identity.

Our propensity for trying to place the Pope in a political box says more about our culture than it does about the social views of the Catholic Church. Francis’s visit has called attention to the tired, unimaginative, and intellectually stale way that we Americans think about public life. Americans are captive to ideological categories like “Left: and “Right.” They are captive to political parties that allow little original thought that does not conform to rigid and limited platforms. 

Pope Francis continues to defy categories.  On February 17th he will hold a mass at the Mexico-Texas border for the purpose of showing his solidarity with immigrants.

Yesterday, in a historic meeting in Cuba with Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill,  Pope Francis joined the Patriarch in issuing a declaration of unity that defended religious liberty for those cast to the “margins of public life” by “aggressive secularist ideology.” It condemned “unrelenting consumerism” and its negative effects on the poor and the planet.  It proclaimed marriage as a “faithful love between a man and a woman” and lamented “other forms of cohabitation” that have “been placed on the same level as this union.” And it called on people to “respect the inalienable right to life” and the “millions” who are denied the very right to be born into the world.”

Could Francis support any candidate in the current race for the presidency?  I don’t see how it would be possible.  None of the candidates–Democrat or Republican– could affirm all of Catholic social teaching.

Robert George: The Princeton Professor and Intellectual Advising the GOP Presidential Candidates

Melinda Henneberger has written an excellent feature for Bloomberg Politics on Robert George, one of the great Christian and conservative intellectuals in the United States today.  What I especially appreciate about this article is its fairness. 


George has provided advice on moral issues to Ted Cruz (his former student), Ben Carson, Jeb Bush, and others.  Unfortunately, apart from abortion and gay marriage, I don’t hear much of George’s nuanced views when I listen to these candidates.  George is pro-life, pro-traditional marriage, and one of our foremost advocates for the application of natural law to moral and political issues.  He also hangs out with Cornell West, sees no difference between his views and the views of Pope Francis, thinks poverty is one of the most pressing moral issues of our day, and wishes he could go back to voting as a Democrat.

(He also went to Swarthmore with Way of Improvement Leads Home reader and friend Fred Jordan.  I think they may have even been roommates).

Intrigued?  Then check out Henneberger’s piece.  Here is a small taste:
Among the candidates, his closest relationship may be with Cruz, who was one of his students at Princeton. But starting early next month, George is planning to do a series of hour-long interviews with presidential candidates on moral and constitutional questions on the Catholic cable channel EWTN, which is one reason why he won’t be endorsing any candidate. “My object is to drill down, and find out how their minds work,” even when he’s helped some of those minds think through various issues.
Planned Parenthood, at the center of America’s politics since the release of videos purporting to show employees negotiating over fetal organs, is one matter candidates call him about. “I’ve argued that you cannot try to fund good and honorable activities or services for Planned Parenthood while blocking the bad stuff it does, like abortions, because of the fungibility of money, and that what we need is a complete de-funding of Planned Parenthood, together with mechanisms for providing desirable services to women. So that might be the kind of issue I’d talk to Rick Santorum or anyone else about.”
He doesn’t supply them with rhetorical ammunition, he says, or the exact answer. “What I try to help these guys think through is: What’s the truth of the matter? What should our response be?”
And on Planned Parenthood or any other issue, George doesn’t always say what conservatives want to hear. For example, he feels the makers of the Planned Parenthood sting videos were wrong in one respect: “I defend the videos, and I think the videos tell us the truth about Planned Parenthood, but it’s wrong to lie about who you are to gain access to get to people.”

Conservatives: Relax, the Pope is Not Done Yet

Some conservatives are unhappy with the Pope today.  They wish he would have said more about marriage and abortion in yesterday’s speech to Congress.


Of course the Pope did allude to abortion with this line:  “The Golden Rule also reminds us of our responsibility to protect and defend human life at every state of development.”

And  some might interpret this statement as a plug for traditional marriage: “Yet I cannot hide my concern for the family, which is threatened, perhaps as never before, from within and without. Fundamental relationships are being called into question, as is the very basis of marriage and family….”

But the Pope is not done yet with the United States.  He still has more speeches to make and some of them will be devoted to the family.  I think everyone needs to wait until the visit is over before we can honestly assess it.  Some of us historians might even say we need a few years, or even longer, to fully evaluate the significance of Francis’s visit.

Stay tuned.

Who Scored Big Last Night With Conservative Evangelicals?

Some of you remember the first Republican presidential debate when Megyn Kelly from Fox News asked the candidates (it was actually a question from a viewer on Facebook) if any of them had “received a word from God” about how they would conduct their presidency should they be elected in November 2016.

God was invoked constantly in the Fox News debate.  But God was rarely mentioned in last night’s GOP debate.  Unlike Kelly and the folks at Fox, Jake Tapper and his fellow questioners at CNN did not find the topic particularly interesting.

And for whatever reason, the candidates themselves rarely invoked God in their answers.  John Kasich did try to make an appeal to the “Judeo-Christian” heritage of Western Civilization, but he got no traction.   Tapper quickly moved on to another line of questioning.  Huckabee got some time to discuss Kim Davis, but it didn’t last long.

Going into the debate, many political pundits predicted that Huckabee, Cruz, Carson, and Kasich would make strong efforts to secure the votes of evangelicals.  But without any questions related to God or the Bible, it was difficult for these candidates to show their true religious colors.

Having said that,  there was one moment when the candidates did have the opportunity to connect with evangelical GOP voters.  It came during the discussion of the “defunding” of Planned Parenthood.  Nearly all the candidates (or at least those who were asked) want to stop funding the organization that was at the center of a series of disturbing videos about the selling of infant body parts. But it was Carly Fiorina, a candidate who is not particularly known for being a darling of the Christian Right, who seized the day:

Whatever you think of what Fiorina said or the accuracy of what she said, this was a brilliant political move.  Fiorina may be around for a while.