What Does Donald Trump REALLY Think About Evangelicals?

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Here is a taste of Jane Mayer’s very revealing long-form New Yorker essay on Vice-President Mike Pence:

“Trump thinks Pence is great,” Bannon told me. But, according to a longtime associate, Trump also likes to “let Pence know who’s boss.” A staff member from Trump’s campaign recalls him mocking Pence’s religiosity. He said that, when people met with Trump after stopping by Pence’s office, Trump would ask them, “Did Mike make you pray?” Two sources also recalled Trump needling Pence about his views on abortion and homosexuality. During a meeting with a legal scholar, Trump belittled Pence’s determination to overturn Roe v. Wade. The legal scholar had said that, if the Supreme Court did so, many states would likely legalize abortion on their own. “You see?” Trump asked Pence. “You’ve wasted all this time and energy on it, and it’s not going to end abortion anyway.” When the conversation turned to gay rights, Trump motioned toward Pence and joked, “Don’t ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!”

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of the late David Kuo‘s 2007 book Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction in which he suggested that George W. Bush adviser Karl Rove manipulated evangelicals to support Republican candidates.

Democratic Party Will Fund Pro-Life Candidates

williamsIt makes perfect sense.  The Democrats have long been the party of the weak and vulnerable.  For most of the twentieth century it was the anti-abortion party.  Is the Party’s decision to reject a pro-choice litmus test a return to its roots?  I highly doubt it.  This is a strategy for winning back Congress.  Whatever the case, I applaud the move.

 

Kate Shellnut reports at Christianity Today:

Representative Ben Ray Luján, chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said yesterday that the party has “no litmus test” on abortion and won’t withhold financial backing from pro-life candidates in the 2018 mid-term elections, The Hill reported.

His remarks came a week after the party released a new set of policy plans and goals that push economic concerns and don’t mention abortion at all.

As Luján looks to a “broad coalition” to shift control of the US House of Representatives away from the Republican Party, core supporters within his own party are questioning the move away from a firm pro-choice stance.

Will the potential of luring voters who have avoided the party over the issue of abortion be worth the backlash from the Democratic base, including outspoken abortion-rights advocates?

Read the entire piece here.

I am reminded of this passage from Duke University theologian Stanley Hauerwas:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

Interested in the history of the pro-life movement?  Check out our interview with historian Daniel K. Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Princeton’s Robert George Reflects on the State of United States Society

507cf-georgeRobert George, the conservative Catholic Princeton professor of jurisprudence and political philosophy, assesses the state of the country in an interview with Matthew Bunson of National Catholic Register.  He discusses civility, secular progressives, Donald Trump, republicanism, Ronald Reagan, and Catholicism.

Here is a taste:

What is most needed in American political life at this moment in history?

Courage — the courage to stand up to bullies and refuse to be intimidated.

You did not support the candidacy of Donald Trump for president. What is your assessment of his administration so far?

To say that I did not support the candidacy of Mr. Trump is the understatement of the year. I fiercely opposed it — though I also opposed Mrs. Clinton.

Like it or not, though, Donald Trump was elected president, and our duty as citizens, it seems to me, is to support him when we can and oppose him when we must. My personal policy has been, and will continue to be, to commend President Trump when he does things that are right and criticize him when he does things that are wrong.

I had urged the same stance towards President Obama, whose election and re-election I also fiercely opposed. I commended President Trump for his nomination of Neil Gorsuch, an outstanding jurist and a true constitutionalist, to fill the seat on the Supreme Court that fell vacant with the death of Justice Antonin Scalia. I have also commended him for some other judicial and executive branch appointments.

I have criticized as unnecessary his policy on pausing immigration from certain countries, and I have criticized as weak to the point of meaningless his executive order on religious freedom. Indeed, I characterized it as a betrayal of his promise to reverse Obama era anti-religious-liberty policies.

Donald Trump is not, and usually doesn’t pretend to be, a man of strict or high principles. He regards himself as a pragmatist, and I think that’s a fair self-assessment. Of course, he is famously transactional. He puts everything on the table and makes deals.

As a pragmatist, he doesn’t have a governing philosophy — he’s neither a conservative nor a liberal. On one day he’ll give a speech to some evangelical pastors that makes him sound like a religious conservative, but the next day he’ll lavishly praise Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is waging an all-out war on those who stand up for traditional moral values in Canada.

Would you comment on Trump’s speech to the Poles?

It was a good speech, and my fellow critics of the president ought not to hesitate to acknowledge that fact.

People on the left freaked out about the speech, but let’s face it: They freaked out because it was Donald Trump who gave it. Had Bill Clinton given the same speech, they would have praised it as visionary and statesman-like.

One thing you have to say for President Trump is that he has been fortunate in his enemies. Although he gives them plenty to legitimately criticize him about, they always go overboard and thus discredit themselves with the very people who elected Mr. Trump and may well re-elect him.

His critics on the left almost seem to go out of their way to make the president look like a hero — and even a victim — to millions of ordinary people who are tired of what one notably honest liberal writer, Conor Lynch of Salon.com, described as “the smug style in American liberalism.”

Read the entire interview here.

More Cowbell in the “Swamps of Jersey”

Some context from Backstreets.com:

Check out this rare acoustic version of “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” performed live on Boston’s late, great WBCN-FM on April 9, 1974. Bruce Springsteen introduces his backing musicians (shortly after the “percussion solo” that begins around the 3:50 mark) as follows: “Now on the saxophone we got Clarence Clemons, on the accordion Danny Federici, on the tambourine Mr. Dave Sancious, and on the — let me hear the cowbell! — and on the cowbell, Mr. Garry Tallent!”

Rosalita!

Are Democrats Rethinking “Abortion Orthodoxy?”

 

Charles Camosy, a theologian at Fordham University, thinks we could see some change on this front.

Here is a taste of his piece at Crux:

Stories about how badly the Democratic Party has performed in recent years have been so prevalent they hardly bear mentioning.

The coalition put together by Franklin Roosevelt appears to be on its last legs, hemorrhaging an astonishing 1000 legislative seats since 2008. There are now only four U.S. states with a Democratic governor and legislature. Remarkably, the party has approval ratings comparable to that of Donald Trump.

The explanation for this sorry state of affairs is complex, but a big part of it comes from the enforcement of a coastal moral and political orthodoxy that has dramatically shrunk the party in the Midwest and South. This has been particularly true when it comes to abortion policy.

Indeed, when Democrats had a big tent on the most divisive issue of our time, welcoming the one-in-three members of the party who identify as pro-life, it turns out that they actually won majorities. In 2005, for example, then-DNC chair Governor Howard Dean beautifully executed a 50-state strategy in which the party supported pro-life Democrats who could beat Republicans in battleground districts.

This strategy netted, among other things, the seats necessary to pass the Affordable Care Act, the most important piece of Democratic legislation passed in two generations. Let’s be clear about this remarkable and under-reported fact: without pro-life Democrats, the legislation that has forever changed how American culture thinks about its duty to the most vulnerable would not have passed.

In 2009, however, the 50-state strategy went away, replaced with the simplistic abortion orthodoxy of coastal elites. And with it went the Democratic majority. Tellingly, 88 percent of seats formerly occupied by the pro-life Democrats who supported the ACA are now in Republican hands.

Trump’s stunning victories in formerly blue states in the Midwest, subsequent losses in special elections, and the real threat of losing the ACA have caused some rethinking of abortion orthodoxy in the party.

Democrat James Thompson, for instance, ran for a special election seat in Kansas this past April. He cut Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton by 75 percent, but was unable to get over the hump. In a Think Progress interview, Thompson blamed his loss on pro-life activists who were able to tie him to the current Democratic platform which insists that abortion for any reason-including sex-selection-should not only be legal, but paid for by pro-lifers with their tax dollars.

Read the rest here.  The Atlantic covers this issue here.

As I argued here, a pro-life position on abortion is perfectly compatible with the historic Democratic Party’s commitment to the protection of the most vulnerable members of society.

Watch Bishop Vincent Matthews Jr. of the Church of God in Christ, the largest African American denomination in the country, connects the Pro-Life movement to Black Lives Matter:

 

Pro-Life Feminists

Pro Life Feminists

Over at Religion and Politics, Ellen Duffer asks “Where Do Pro-Life Feminists Belong?” It’s a great piece.  It reminds me a lot of Emma Green’s article at The Atlantic written a few days before the Women’s March on Washington.

I must admit I felt a little uneasy about the title of Duffer’s piece.  (I realize that she may not be responsible for the title).  It seems to imply that pro-life feminists need to be defined by a political affiliation or by a particular side in the culture wars. (Are they Democrats or Republicans?  Liberals or Conservatives?).  Most pro-life feminists I know do not like labels because they see little separation between their feminism and their defense of a culture of life. (And Duffer makes this clear in her piece).  In other words, they do not necessary fit into a category.

Perhaps some of the pro-life feminists who read this blog can help me with this one.  I am guessing that the word “belong” in the title could also have something to do with the loneliness pro-life feminists might feel.  As Duffer points out, they have been marginalized by the larger feminist community.  At the same time, many of them who are part of conservative religious communities have also felt or been isolated.  This certainly seems to be the case with Karen Swallow Prior (see the excerpt below).

Here is a taste of Duffer’s piece:

These younger Christian feminists—including those coming from communities that have been intricately linked to the pro-life movement for decades—are eager to have a conversation about abortion (which 57 percent of Americans believe should be legal in most cases), especially if it means becoming closer to the feminist movement overall.

Historically, feminist voices have often been religious, according to Kristin Kobes Du Mez, chair of the history department at Calvin College, and author of A New Gospel for Women: Katharine Bushnell and the Challenge of Christian Feminism. She credits religious women with pushing through the suffrage movement and assisting in the creation of the National Organization for Women. Christian feminism “helped transform” the suffrage movement to a mainstream movement, she said. Cochran agrees, having written at length about the theology of Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Both sides of the abortion debate have, in the past, tried to have an open dialogue. Karen Swallow Prior, a writer and English professor at Liberty University in Virginia once worked with the anti-abortion organization Operation Rescue, and she served as president of Feminists for Life. She was also involved with the Common Ground Network for Life and Choice, which tried to bridge the gap between the pro-life and pro-choice movements in the 1990s. The group held formal conversations between pro-choice advocates and ardent pro-lifers until each side came to some sort of understanding. Finding “common ground” was and continues to be a big part of Swallow Prior’s perspective on abortion. “Most pro-life people and most pro-choice people care about women and children,” she said, and focusing on what benefits woman and children and families provides the foundation for a conversation.

In practical terms, this emphasis has often meant supporting welfare programs meant to reduce the economic burden of child-rearing for women, increasing access to childcare, and, most controversially for some Christians, advocating for sex education and an array of contraception options. But Swallow Prior is uncertain about how attaining policies that appease both sides would go over now. “The political climate today is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” she said. “It is so fractured and filled with animosity and division.” She added, “Vigorous debate and vigorous disagreement is based on at least an acknowledgement of the other. I don’t even think we have that in common anymore, in culture in general.”

Within the Christian feminist movement, these contentious debates are often made more fraught, since many of the women involved are having to relearn decades of religious and social teachings. Micah, who wrote her master’s thesis on women in leadership roles in the Christian Church, now believes, “The Bible has to be read in proper context.” She said, “We see Jesus do some pretty radical things to empower women in a culture that was extremely patriarchal.”

Read the entire piece here.

Barton: God Brings Bad Weather Because of Abortion

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In 17th-century New England, the Puritans set out to forge a “City on a Hill,” a society based upon the teachings of the Bible as they understood them.  They believed that they were a new Israel and thus lived in a covenant relationship with God.  When God was displeased with the people of the Massachusetts Bay Colony he punished them with earthquakes, Indian attacks, bad weather, and a host of other calamities.  Whenever one of these calamities took place, Puritan ministers mounted their pulpits to deliver jeremiads, sermons designed to call the Puritans back to their covenant relationship with God.

David Barton, the GOP activist and culture warrior who uses the past to promote his political agenda, apparently still lives in 17th-century New England.  He believes that the United States exists in a covenant relationship with God not unlike that of the Puritans. On his recent show Wallbuilders Live he went so far as to connect bad weather with abortion.  (This is not unlike his earlier attempt to connect low SAT scores to the removal of Bible reading and prayer in public schools).

Here is what he said:

So we understood and that’s why if you look back on WallBuilders website we have a section in the library of historical documents. We have now 850 actual proclamations that we own that were issued by governors. And they could be Founding Fathers governors like John Hancock, or Sam Adams, or signers of the Declaration like all for Oliver Wolcott, or Samuel Huntington, signers of the Constitution like John- We’ve got their proclamations.

And so often their proclamation says, “Man, we’ve got to have God’s help with the weather. We have to pray, and repent, and fast because something is going on wrong with the weather and our crops need rain.” We understood that.

Well, today 52 percent of Christians think that God does a really lousy job with the weather. Maybe it’s not his choice that is doing it. Maybe it’s our own sin or our own unrighteous policies. Maybe it’s because we love killing unborn kids, 60 million of them. Maybe God says, “I’m not going to bless your land when you’re doing it.”

I believe in God.  I also believe he may have something to do with the weather. I also believe that abortion is a moral problem.  This probably separates me from many of my secular readers.

But I do not claim, like Barton, to have a hotline to the will of God on these matters. In fact, as I argued in Why Study History?, this kind of providentialism is arrogant, idolatrous, and fails to acknowledge the mystery and otherness of God.  To suggest that bad weather is connected to abortion is simply bad theology.  And yes, if the founding fathers made this connection it would still be bad theology.  And yes, it would still be bad theology if David Barton had a primary document that revealed the founders making such a connection.

What also strikes me about this episode of Wallbuilders Live is Barton’s rant on human sinfulness.  He says:

And there’s really three areas that I can quickly point to and pretty much tell whether someone has a basic general understanding, a very broad Biblical teachings. If they have any Biblical literacy at all, even if they themselves are not Christians, it used to be as Tim pointed out, just the culture itself had a pretty good degree of Biblical knowledge and literacy. We understood a lot of Biblical idioms, and phrases, and whatnot, knew where they came from. We knew heroes of the Bible even if people weren’t Christian.

But if I start with the question, “Is man inherently good? Does man generally tend to be good?” If you answer that “yes” that means you don’t understand Bible. Because the Bible says, “No, man does not tend to be good. Man will always be wrong. 

He’ll do the wrong thing. History proves that time and time again. When you leave man to his own ways, he doesn’t get better, he gets worse. unless God intervenes and changes his heart and he moves in the right direction.

And that’s a scriptural teaching, Jeremiah 17:9, the heart of man is desperately wicked. Who can know it? Who can predict it? What you can predict is that it will do the wrong thing.

And so you see secular governments across the world end up being oppressive.  They end up killing in the 20th Century, killing hundreds of millions of people in secular governments.

So, the heart of man is not good. If you think man inherently tends to be good…

I actually agree with Barton’s understanding of human nature.  But unlike Barton, I would also apply this belief to the founding fathers.  Last time I checked they were also human beings.  And perhaps their sinfulness explains something about the character of the American founding.

Katelyn Beaty: Trumpcare is Not Pro-Life

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Pro-Life Rally in Dubin in 2011

Katelyn Beaty is the former managing editor at Christianity Today and currently serves the magazine as an editor at large.  She is pro-life, anti-Trump, and anti-Trumpcare.

Over at VOX she explains her position.

Here is a taste:

As an evangelical who opposed Donald Trump’s presidency, I should be used to a certain political homelessness by now. Most days I’m fine with it. I believe Christian faith is strongest when it transcends the talking points of Republicans and Democrats alike.

But on the topic of abortion, the homelessness comes as an existential crisis — and tempts me to check out of politics entirely.

I oppose abortion because it contradicts the Christian teaching that every life is sacred. Whatever life exists in the womb in its earliest forms, abortion certainly ends it. I believe that a life before birth is self-evidently a life and does not become one only after a woman chooses to call it her child.

But I also believe that abortion is a symptom of — not a solution to — a culture that profoundly disregards women. So I am keenly interested in cultural and political solutions that honor women’s choices while also honoring the dignity of unborn persons. With enough goodwill on either side of the political aisle, I believe we can ensure that every child who comes into the world is welcomed and flourishes long after birth.

But given the deep polarization of US politics, I have lost hope that either party’s leaders want common ground on this topic. Not that long ago, pro-life voices were found on both sides of the political aisle. (Pre–Roe v. Wade, most pro-life activists were political liberals, and Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to favor abortion rights.) Despite wildly different views on the free market or the role of federal government, House and Senate leaders could come together to find compromises, such as restricting taxpayer funding for abortions (1976) or banning late-term abortions (2003).

And she concludes:

This is the opportunity before Republican leaders in their moment of power. It is also the growth edge of the pro-life movement in America. Protecting unborn life must mean more than defunding Planned Parenthood and overturning Roe v. Wade. Protecting unborn life must at root mean putting our money where our mouth is: enacting programs and policies that make it easier for millions of women to choose life, from pre- and postnatal care to delivery to high-quality child care and education and beyond.

At the very least, for the AHCA drafters this would mean keeping pregnancy, maternity, and newborn care coverage mandatory; retaining Medicaid expansion; and diverting the money that would have gone to Planned Parenthood to federally qualified community health centers. (I have ethicist Charles Camosy to thank for these suggestions.) Beyond the scope of health care, it could also mean federally backed parental leave, a child allowance, and more robust financial assistance through SNAP, TANF, and the WIC nutrition program.

These solutions are ones many Democrats could get behind in theory — but only if the party welcomes pro-life leaders and resists overalignment with far-left abortion rights groups. Likewise, Republicans must also be willing to expand federal funding when unborn life is on the line, acknowledging that the countries with the lowest abortion rates also, not incidentally, have the lowest rates of child poverty owing to strong federal support programs.

It’s not enough to be against abortion. I am for life that includes but also extends beyond the moment of birth. I believe the pro-child versus pro-woman dichotomy is a false one unduly perpetuated by both extremes of the abortion debate. And I am waiting for politicians on both sides of the aisle to find political solutions that appeal to a wide swath of Americans.

Until then, I am tempted to check out of politics over disillusionment that Democrats or Republicans care about protecting vulnerable members of society. When partisanship reigns, real political solutions die. And when politics is reduced to winning, then many Americans lose — and are left to find the common ground previously abandoned by our country’s leaders.

Read the entire piece here.  Thanks, Katelyn. Keep writing!

Christian School Will Not Let Pregnant Teen Walk With Her Classmates at Graduation

This story has been out there for a few days now, but that doesn’t make it any less awful.

Heritage Academy, a Christian school in Hagerstown, Maryland, will not allow senior student Maddie Runkles to walk with her classmates at graduation on June 2.  According to the administrator of the school, David Hobbs, Runkles “is being disciplined, not because she’s pregnant, but because she was immoral.”

Here is the official statement:

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Several things strike me about this letter, but I will mention four here:

  • Hobbs says that he does not want the “Heritage family” to see the members of the Board as “harsh, cruel, hard-hearted men.”  Interesting.  I wonder if Maddie Runkles would be walking with her class at graduation on June 2 if there were some women on the Board.  And yes, the action of the board IS “harsh, cruel, and hard-hearted.”
  • Hobbs is concerned that “God is glorified in a dignified manner” on the night of graduation.  OK.  And God will not be glorified if Maddie Runkles walks?  The Christian God is a God of forgiveness and grace.
  • Notice the school logo: “Knowledge, Patriotism, Bible Truth.”  This school clearly falls into the Christian nationalist camp.  I wonder if Hobbs thinks Maddie Runkles’s behavior is both sinful and un-American.
  • The reference to three “compromises” is fleshed out more fully in the CBS News video below.  Apparently Hobbs had to fight-off parents and members of the Heritage community who wanted Runkles expelled for her transgressions.

Maddie Runkles needs Christian love and support right now.  Like Hobbs, I am glad that she has decided to keep her baby.  I commend her for making a decision for life.  But I also worry about how long she will identify with a Christian community.  Incidents like this tend to turn young people away from the faith pretty quickly.

 

Was Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life?

According to this Saturday Night Live sketch, Susan B. Anthony believed “abortion is murder.”

But historian Daniel K. Williams, author of Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wadewarns pro-life and pro-choice advocates to think twice before invoking Anthony.

Here is a taste of his First Things piece “Susan B. Anthony’s Contested Legacy“:

Pro-lifers’ appropriation of Susan B. Anthony has resulted in a distortion of historical facts. Claiming Anthony for either side in the modern abortion debate is highly anachronistic. As a historian, I think that it’s important to understand the past on its own terms without trying to make figures from the past fit the contours of modern debates. Efforts to try to make Susan B. Anthony fit the mold of a modern pro-lifer are certainly misguided.

At the same time, I think it may be worth citing the late-nineteenth-century feminists in order to question modern pro-choice feminists’ insistence that reproductive rights are an essential, nonnegotiable part of feminism. If Anthony and her late-nineteenth-century feminist colleagues were not pro-life activists, they were not advocates of abortion rights or sexual license, either.

Read the entire piece here.

You can also listen to Williams discuss Defenders of the Unborn in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Some Historical Context on the Democratic Party’s Debate on Abortion

WilliamsThe articles on the Democratic Party’s abortion problem continue to appear.  Check out Graham Vyse’s “Why Democrats Are Debating Abortion Yet Again.”  I also recommend Clare Foran’s “Is There Any Room in the ‘Big Tent’ for Pro-Life Democrats?

Once again, if you want some historical context I encourage you to read Daniel K. Williams, Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement before Roe v. Wade.  (Or listen to our interview with Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast).

Here is a pertinent passage (p.247-249) from Williams’s Epilogue

Many pro-lifers were reluctant to leave the party of Franklin Roosevelt, but a larger cultural shift in both the party and the nation made it impossible for them to remain loyal Democrats.  Until the 1960s, both parties had championed the male-headed, two-parent family as a social ideal, and that idea had undergirded Catholics’ loyalty to the Democratic Party.  For three decades following the creation of the New Deal, most liberal Democrats had grounded their calls for social welfare programs and economic uplift in the principle of helping the male-headed household–a concept closely accorded with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the family unit was the foundation of society.  But in the late 1960s and 1970s, liberal Democrats exchanged this family-centered ideal for a new rights-based ethic grounded in individual autonomy and social equality, thus alienating many theologically conservative Catholics, including the pro-lifers who viewed the defense of fetal rights as a liberal campaign and who had hoped to ally with Democrats…

At first, pro-lifers tried to meet liberals on their own ground by defending the rights of the fetus in language that seemed indistinguishable from the constitutional rights claims that women, gays and African Americans were making, while eschewing references to the larger ethic of sexual responsibility and the family-centered ideal that might have branded their campaign as a throwback to an earlier era.  Yet in the end, despite their approbation of rights-based liberalism, their campaign failed to win the support of liberals who realized that fetal rights were incompatible with the values of bodily autonomy and gender equality.

Once autonomy and equality became liberal Democrats’ primary concerns, it was only a matter of time before many devout Catholic pro-lifers who had long been loyal Democrats faced a stark choice.  Would they swallow their reservations about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion in order to further other goals?  Or would they abandon their other political convictions and work with the Republicans?…

While most pro-life activists decided that they could not countenance the national Democratic Party’s stance on abortion, many were nevertheless happy to work with individual Democratic politicians who embraced the pro-life label and were willing to endorse the HLA [Human Life Amendment]. This was an especially popular strategy for pro-life liberals in the mid-1980s, when they still thought they had a chance to regain influence in the party.  Democrats for Life refused to endorse the Democrats’ presidential tickets (since those always featured pro-choice candidates), but nevertheless worked for pro-life Democratic candidates at the local level and attempt to elect pro-life delegates to the Democratic National Convention.  Yet the chilly reception that these conventions gave to Democratic politicians who refused to toe the party line on abortion rights only served to confirm pro-lifers’ growing suspicions of the party.  When the organizers of the 1992 Democratic National Convention refused to Pennsylvania’s Catholic Democratic governor Bob Casey a speaking slot to present a defense of his pro-life views, the snub confirmed many pro-lifers’ belief that the Democratic Party wanted nothing to do with their cause…

A Strange Week on the Abortion and Contraception Front

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Over at Christianity Today, Kate Shellnut reports on some interesting developments this week in the world of abortion politics.

It turns out that the country’s most well-known progressive is defending a pro-life candidate for mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.  At the same time, the Trump Justice Department is still defending the Obamacare contraception mandate.

Here is a taste of Shellnut’s piece:

Despite Trump pledging to dismantle Obamacare and to defend religious groups against “bullying” by the federal government, his administration has opted to still stand by the birth control requirement in court.

The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department requested on Monday that a federal appeals court continue to negotiate with Christian schools like East Texas Baptist University, Houston Baptist University, and Westminster Theological Seminary for another two months, rather than dropping their case and allowing the schools to continue to not offer contraception coverage per a lower court decision.

The colleges are among many evangelical and Catholic groups—most notably the Little Sisters of the Poor—who challenged the Obamacare requirement that employers’ heath plans include emergency contraception, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and other birth control. Some believe that certain methods prevent implantation of an embryo, and others object to all artificial birth control. While exemptions for schools and nonprofits allow them to delegate employee coverage to a third party, theses organizations are requesting the full religious exemption that churches qualify for.

Becket, the religious liberty defense firm representing the two Baptist schools, issued a filing last Thursday requesting the Justice Department drop the cases given the new White House administration’s stance…

While the Trump administration takes an unexpected course on the birth control mandate case, one-time presidential candidate and Vermont senator Bernie Sanders recently made headlines with a twist of his own. The pro-choice Independent supported a pro-life Democrat in Nebraska, spurring debate over abortion’s place in the party’s platform.

Sanders (himself a secular Jew) campaigned for Omaha mayoral candidate Heath Mello, who is Catholic and pro-life. Sanders defended his decision, saying, “You just can’t exclude people who disagree with us on one issue.”

NARAL Pro-Choice leadership and the Democratic National Committee chairman disagreed, arguing that abortion policy is a fundamental, “non negotiable” part of Democratic identity.

Read the entire article here.

 

Mark Silk: GOP is Not the Only Party That Makes Abortion a Litmus Test

Bernie

Over at his blog Spiritual Politics, Mark Silk chides the Democratic Party for get so bothered by the fact that Bernie Sanders backed a pro-life Democratwho is running mayor of Omaha, Nebraska.

“Abortion access is not a ‘single issue’ or a ‘social issue,’” said NARAL Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue in a statement. “It is a proxy for women to have control over our lives, our family’s lives, our economic well-being, our dignity, and human rights.”

Let’s stop right there.

For many Americans, abortion is no such proxy. They support equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage and a human right to health care and doing away with the death penalty. They believe in climate change and want there to be a serious effort to combat it.

Mello, like a lot of his fellow Catholics, is one of them.

Nevertheless, after NARAL issued its condemnation, the liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement. The Democratic National Committee began waffling.

But Bernie Sanders, the Independent who is now the Democratic Party’s biggest star, did not hesitate to show up at a rally for Mello in Omaha. And on Face the Nation yesterday, he stuck to his guns:

If you have a rally in which you have the labor movement and the environmentalists and Native Americans and the African-American community and the Latino community coming together, saying, we want this guy to become our next mayor, should I reject going there to Omaha? I don’t think so.

I don’t think so either.

After John Kerry narrowly lost the 2004 election, the new Democratic National Committee chair, Sanders’ fellow Vermonter Howard Dean, decided over the objections of the D.C. Democratic establishment to pursue a 50-state strategy. That involved recruiting candidates who were, yes, pro-life.

In 2006, the Democrats recaptured both houses of Congress.

You can be seriously pro-choice and embrace that approach again. Or you can mirror the Republican base and sacrifice all your other values on the altar of abortion.

Read the entire post here.  Robert David Sullivan, the editor of America, makes a similar argument.

Is the Democratic Party Divided Over Abortion Rights?

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The late Pennsylvania governor Bob Casey was reportedly denied a speaking slot at the 1992 Democratic Convention because he wanted to give a pro-life speech

What should the Democratic Party do with its pro-life members?  Over at The Atlantic, Clare Foran reports that the politics of abortion threaten to divide the party.

Here is a taste:

Ahead of an event on Thursday where Bernie Sanders, the independent Vermont senator who remains the left’s most popular figure, was slated to appear with Representative Keith Ellison, the Democratic National Committee’s deputy chair, and Heath Mello, an Omaha, Nebraska Democratic mayoral candidate, NARAL Pro-Choice America, an organization that endorsed Hillary Clinton in the presidential primary, harshly criticized the DNC for what it called the party’s “embrace” of “an anti-choice candidate.”

The statement followed a report in The Wall Street Journal that Mello once supported legislation “requiring women to look at ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.” The liberal website Daily Kos withdrew its endorsement of Mello over the report.

On Thursday, Mello told The Huffington Post, however, that he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care,” if elected. Jane Kleeb, the chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party and board member of Our Revolution, a group that emerged out of the embers of the Sanders campaign, said in an interview that The Wall Street Journal and NARAL had “mischaracterized” Mello’s legislative record.

“Heath is a strong progressive Democrat, and he is pro-life, and you can be both things,” Kleeb said, adding: “What Heath did actually was stop a bill to make ultrasounds mandatory by getting Republicans in our legislature to agree to make them voluntary.”

Mello’s vow did not satisfy NARAL, however. “It’s not enough to issue a statement for political expediency when your record is full of anti-choice votes,” Ilyse Hogue, the organization’s president, said in a follow-up statement. “The Democratic Party’s support of any candidate who does not support the basic rights and freedoms of women is disappointing and politically stupid.”

Read the entire piece here.

I did not think the pro-life faction of the Democratic Party was that strong. Or at least I have not heard the divisions in the Party framed this way recently.  I assumed that pro-life Democrats lost all power in the Party sometimes shortly after the election of Bill Clinton.

If you want some perspective on how the Democrats became a pro-choice party I recommend Daniel K. Williams’s book  Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade (Oxford 2016).  Before you go out and buy the book you may want to hear Williams talk about the history of the pro-life movement in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

As I have argued, particularly in a piece I published a couple of years ago in USA Today, the modern Democratic Party should really be the party of life.

Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran on Christian Support for Trump

9143b-hauerwasStanley Hauerwas, considered by many to be one of the turn of the twenty-first century’s greatest theologians, has written an essay with Baylor theologian Jonathan Tran which, as far as I can tell, is his most thorough treatment of his views on the role of Christians in the age of Trump.

Here are a few snippets from their piece at the Religion and Ethics page of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation website:

On the failure of the Christian political imagination:

To us the most troubling thing was not that Christians voted for Trump when they had plenty of reasons and ways not to do so. While regrettable, that mistake follows a more basic one. We are most troubled by the ongoing belief Christians hold that the nation-state, not the church, is the arbiter of Christian political action. This belief obligates Christians to modes of statecraft in order to fulfil their moral commitments. In order to play at statecraft – again, for one’s “vote to count” – Christians will have to prioritize those commitments that will survive the state’s political processes over those that will not.

On abortion:

Take for instance the political issue of abortion, which some Christians cited as their reason for voting for candidate Trump. When Christians think that the struggle against abortion can only be pursued through voting for candidates with certain judicial philosophies, then serving at domestic abuse shelters or teaching students at local high schools or sharing wealth with expectant but under-resourced families or speaking of God’s grace in terms of “adoption” or politically organizing for improved education or rezoning municipalities for childcare or creating “Parent’s Night Out” programs at local churches or mentoring young mothers or teaching youth about chastity and dating or mobilizing religious pressure on medical service providers or apprenticing men into fatherhood or thinking of singleness as a vocation or feasting on something called “communion” or rendering to God what is God’s or participating with the saints through Marian icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

On populism:

The nationalism of senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon and the so-called “Alt-Right” presents itself as a compassionate friend to those dispossessed by capitalism, bemoaning the loss of virtue and character and intoning a crisis of Western civilization. But when its antidote to global capitalism turns out to be the establishment of a 1950s version of Judaeo-Christian Victorian society without the recognition of that culture’s stewardship of capitalism or America’s guiding role in its operations, then its nationalism turns out to be only that, nationalism, and of the most nostalgic kind: to make America white again. The end result will be a nationalist-because-anti-globalist agenda that can achieve little more than a protectionist version of capitalism and a pseudo-intellectual endorsement of white supremacist activity. Not particularly original, but highly dangerous.

On lying:

Much has been made of President Trump’s shaky hold on the truth. When everything disagreeable is “fake news” then reality goes out the window. One approach to this state of affairs is to get the media to pile on as much discrediting evidence as possible with the expectation that Trump will be found to be caught in a lie. While this strategy has worthwhile benefits, we think it also has serious limitations, not least of which is that it positions the media politically in an endless troll/counter-troll game that will over time erode the public trust that is the source of its authority. The strategy also presumes that Trump is capable of lying. The way he presents himself makes us unsure that he is. Lying first requires an ability to distinguish truth from fantasy, an initial capacity to differentiate how things are from how one wants them to be. For anyone who has given himself to self-deception as constantly and continuously as Trump seems to, no amount of evidence will matter.

On sanctuary churches:

Acting as the church hospitable, Christians welcome those fleeing poverty, violence and oppression. As the powers threaten this hospitality because it challenges unjust political orders, the church militant responds with the grace and truth expressed in the sanctuary statement, against the grain of a crucifying world and with the grain of the universe. Upending oppressive arrangements, the church as sanctuary, a true international, attests to the absurdity of borders when millions starve and the thievery of states in a world given as gift.

On fear:

Shockingly there remain to this day Christians who support Trump’s anti-migration policies because they believe his policies will “keep us safe.” Surely one could not wish for a more misleading understanding of what it means to be Christian. Christians worship at the church of martyrs; they seek fellowship with the crucified Lord. Being a Christian is not about being safe, but about challenging the status quo in ways that cannot help but put you in danger. Thinking it possible to be safe in a world where Christians are sent out like sheep among wolves is about as unfortunate an idea as thinking that war is necessary to secure peace. We can only guess that those Christians who voted for Trump because of his willingness to use questionable tactics to keep them safe have forgotten what it means to be Christian.

Read the entire piece here.

Teaching Abortion

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Rose Holz is associate director of the Women’s & Gender Studies program and director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  She also teaches a course on the history of sexuality.

And if her piece at the website of The American Historian is any indication (and I think it is), she is a great history teacher.

Here is a taste of her “Why the Classroom Is a Sacred Place for Me and Why I’ll Keep Venturing Out into ‘No-Man’s land’…Even during These Abortion Wars”:

Of course, I’ve always prided myself in teaching in a way that allows for diversity of opinion. The classroom, as I see it, is not a place where I impose my views. It is a place for the free exchange of ideas even—no, especially—if they differ from my own. Otherwise, how else are we going to learn? Otherwise, how else are we going to get to know each other—maybe even like each other—even if sometimes we hold radically different views? And of course again, I would be lying if I didn’t mention just how many times I’ve miserably failed in this regard. But I’m also happy to report how over the years I’ve managed to achieve a few moments of success, in particular when facilitating conversations about abortion.

The cornerstone to my approach is Leslie Reagan’s When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867–1973. If you haven’t read it, you should. It is, hands down, the best book on the subject, and students are fascinated to discover just how little they know about an issue everybody talks and has a strong opinion about, despite how little most people know about its history. Thus, each semester Reagan’s book is required and each semester students must do a take-home exam. We then spend two days discussing what we’ve learned.

But first I lay down a few ground rules. When writing their exams, I tell the students that they are to keep their politics out of their answers. As I explain, “I don’t care if you’re pro-choice or pro-life. Your job is to stick with learning about what happened in the past.” Easier said than done, however, particularly once the conversation begins. Thus the creation last spring of another helpful ground rule. Sensing how high the students’ emotions were running already, I came to class on our first abortion discussion day armed with a Zip-lock food storage container and little slips of white paper. “Write your position on abortion down here, on this little piece of paper,” I told them. “And if it makes you feel better, feel free to surround your position with exclamation points, as many exclamation points as you feel the need to announce.” But then, as I further instructed them, “you are to put that little piece of paper into this Zip-lock box. And this Zip-lock box is going to sit up front—with me and all my stuff—for the duration of the class.”

It worked like a charm.

This is not to say that When Abortion Was a CrimeWhen Abortion Was a Crime lacks a political message; it is clearly pro-choice, a conclusion I let the students discover on their own. And most do. But this prompts another interesting question for us to debate: how would a solidly researched historical account of the same subject read if the author were pro-life? Very quickly we then find ourselves eyeball deep in my favorite historical themes about subjectivity, objectivity, historiography, and evidence. Yes, these days, especially about evidence.

The subject of abortion rarely comes up in my courses.  But if I had the opportunity to teach it I would definitely follow Holz’s lead.

Read the entire piece here.

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. A recent post by a immigration lawyers Melbourne team have illustrated this quite well, it’s worth a look.

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.