Should We Choose the Economy or the Life of Senior Citizens? Ethicists Respond

I can’t believe we are asking this question right now. It seems like some kind of dystopian movie. Sadly, it is Christians who seem to be taking the lead here.  See our post on R.R. Reno here.

By this point you have all heard about Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick:

Patrick is an evangelical Christian who says his faith influences his political decisions.

I am glad we have Christian ethicists to give us perspective. Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The Washington Post talked to some of them. Here is a taste:

We cannot define people in terms of their age or their perceived usefulness,” Moore said.

Cathleen Kaveny, a professor of law and theology at Boston College, said people are talking about the economy and the coronavirus-directed shutdown in ways that don’t make sense.

“We’re talking about a planned moment of rest. We’re not talking about an uncontrolled crash,” she said. “The economy is important because it allows people to flourish. It isn’t a demigod we sacrifice human beings to.”

Faith, she said, can offer people a bigger framework for how to think about the crisis.

“Faith gives you hope that this can be worked out with time, patience and ingenuity,” she said. It also offers “a sense of finitude of knowledge of science, the sense that we’re fragile.”

On the policy front, Arthur Brooks, who was formerly president of the conservative think tank American Enterprise Institute, said policy analysts will need to find a balance between economic and health concerns, just as they did between national security and the economy after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

“The big question is: Who’s going to win? The economists? Public-health people? And the answer is both and neither,” he said. “The ethical thing to do is how to think about the balance between these policy poles.”

Read the entire piece here.

Editor of *First Things* Magazine: “There are many things more precious than life”

Corona Healthcare

An editor of a magazine or journal sets it ideological course. R.R. Reno, a conservative Catholic, is the editor of First Things. Since it was founded by Richard John Neuhaus in 1990, First Things has been a beacon of the pro-life movement.  So forgive me for being surprised at Reno’s latest article: “Say “No” To Death’s Dominion.”

Here is a taste:

At the press conference on Friday announcing the New York shutdown, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “I want to be able to say to the people of New York—I did everything we could do. And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.” 

This statement reflects a disastrous sentimentalism. Everything for the sake of physical life? What about justice, beauty, and honor? There are many things more precious than life. And yet we have been whipped into such a frenzy in New York that most family members will forgo visiting sick parents. Clergy won’t visit the sick or console those who mourn. The Eucharist itself is now subordinated to the false god of “saving lives.”

I had to read this passage several times (in fact I read the entire piece several times) to make sure I gave Reno’s argument a fair hearing. In the end, I honestly can’t come up with any scenario in which justice, beauty or honor is more important than physical life. In fact, I think this is a false binary. How do you separate justice from the dignity of life–all life? There is beauty in the nature world, but human beings–even those who are sick and elderly and quarantined–create beauty.  It would seem that the practice of respecting the dignity of another person is the highest form of honor.  Do we honor our father and mother by exposing them to an illness that can kill them?

I am not a moral philosopher or a theologian, but everything about this passage strikes me as wrong. I don’t always agree with Reno, but I have always taken him seriously as an Christian thinker. What am I missing? Reno implies that we should visit our sick parents and possibly expose them to coronavirus because showing them love is somehow more important than their lives. He wants us to live-out our Christian vocation in a reckless fashion.

I do, however, resonate with some of Reno’s piece. How long do we leave the elderly in a state of isolation? My 78-year-old parents have been on lock down now for about two weeks. How long do we keep churches closed? These are good questions and it seems like science might be able to help. I am glad to hear scientists and healthcare experts are working on this. I think we need to know more about this disease and its effects before we start pontificating.

And this:

Put simply: Only an irresponsible sentimentalist imagines we can live in a world without triage. We must never do evil that good might come. On this point St. Paul is clear. But we often must decide which good we can and should do, a decision that nearly always requires not doing another good, not binding a different wound, not saving a different life.

There is a demonic side to the sentimentalism of saving lives at any cost. Satan rules a kingdom in which the ultimate power of death is announced morning, noon, and night. But Satan cannot rule directly. God alone has the power of life and death, and thus Satan can only rule indirectly. He must rely on our fear of death.

I am struck by the binary thinking here. Reno says that if churches are closed and people cannot visit their neighbors and engage in face-to-face contact, at least for the time being, then Satan must be at work. When Reno talks about “triage” it sounds a lot like what armies call “collateral damage.” In other words, we need to bomb the hell out of a country because a just war theorist thinks it is the morally correct thing to do, even if it means innocent people will lose their lives. If they die, they die. That’s the price of doing God’s will.

Reno is correct when he says that we live in a society in which we always make indirect decisions about who lives and who dies. But we should never sit back and passively accept the existence of such a society.  Isn’t part of our calling as Christians to try to work toward changing such a world? The Christian faith is paradoxical in this regard. We believe the world is broken. We also believe we must engage in acts of justice as a means of working toward wholeness (shalom). Both are true. But I am afraid in this case Reno leans too heavily on the side of tragedy. As Eric Miller recently wrote, “which of your fellow parishioners, Mr. Reno, are you willing to expose to the virus? Could you tell us their names? Will you be sure to let their families know?” There is something disgusting about using the term “triage” to talk about death in our current moment.

And this:

That older generation that endured the Spanish flu, now long gone, was not ill-informed. People in that era were attended by medical professionals who fully understood the spread of disease and methods of quarantine. Unlike us, however, that generation did not want to live under Satan’s rule, not even for a season. They insisted that man was made for life, not death. They bowed their head before the storm of disease and endured its punishing blows, but they otherwise stood firm and continued to work, worship, and play, insisting that fear of death would not govern their societies or their lives.

Or maybe this generation was just foolish. Reno is engaging in the worst form of nostalgia here. He has turned our ancestors into heroic Christians who stared influenza in the face, endured its “punishing blows,” and did not give death its due. The result of this heroism was 675,000 dead Americans.  Read the historians! I have been posting about the 1918 influenza for a couple of weeks now. There is a reason why, until recently, no one talked about this tragic moment in American history.

We have been self-quarantined now for two weeks. Perhaps the message for the church is patience, not a rush to judgment that leads us to make questionable claims about the dignity of human life.

Thank You (Again) Bob Casey

Casey

I am proud of my U.S. Senator.  Yesterday he broke with his party by voting for legislation that would ban almost all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.  He also broke with his party by voting for a bill that would impose criminal penalties on doctors who fail to aggressively treat babies born after abortions.  While I am on record saying that the overturning of Roe v. Wade is not the best way of reducing abortions in the United States,  I support both pieces of legislation.

The legislation failed, but pro-life Casey (D-PA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) both voted in support of the bill.  Doug Jones (D-AL) voted against the bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and in support of the bill protecting babies born alive.

Here is The New York Times:

The first bill, the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, with limited exceptions. Rape victims, for instance, would be required to undergo counseling first. Proponents insist fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks, citing their own review of scientific literature, and a recent article in the Journal of Medical Ethics says “neuroscience cannot definitively rule out fetal pain before 24 weeks.” But medical experts who favor abortion rights say there is no evidence of that.

It fell seven votes short of the necessary 60, failing by a vote of 53 to 44. Two Republicans — Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski — crossed party lines to vote against it. Two Democrats — Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania — voted in favor.

The second, the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” sponsored by Senator Ben Sasse, Republican of Nebraska, would require doctors to “exercise the proper degree of care in the case of a child who survives an abortion or attempted abortion.” Experts say such circumstances are extremely unusual, but the measure would apply to cases in which a baby is not viable outside the womb and doctors induce labor as a means of terminating a pregnancy. The bill would subject physicians to fines and prison time if they failed to comply.

That bill failed, 56 to 44, with Mr. Casey, Mr. Manchin and Mr. Jones joining all 53 Republicans to vote in favor. The three Democrats scheduled to participate in Tuesday night’s presidential debate in South Carolina — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — were absent for both votes.

Read the entire piece here.

The Problem With the “Reluctant” Trump Voter: A Response to Andrew Walker’s *National Review* Essay

trump-evangelicals

Yesterday several readers sent me Andrew T. Walker‘s National Review essay, “Understanding Why Religious Conservatives Would Vote for Trump.” Walker teaches Christian Ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville.

Walker writes in a very irenic tone as he challenges Christian anti-Trumpers to work harder at understanding why so many evangelicals will once again vote for Donald Trump in 2020.  If I understand him correctly, he seems to suggest that if evangelical anti-Trumpers like me or David French or Peter Wehner or Michael Gerson (he mentions none of us by name) would only empathize more deeply with the motivations of evangelical Trump voters they would be less critical of the their fellow Christians who support this corrupt president. Walker calls attention to the “reluctant” Trump voter.

One of the regrets I have about the hardback edition of Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump was my failure to capture diversity within the 81% of white evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.  The postscript I wrote for the recently released paperback edition seeks to correct this lack of nuance. Walker does a nice job of explaining why so many evangelicals, many whom despise Trump, felt the need to vote for the reality television star in 2016 and feel the need to vote for him again in 2020.  This complicates the narrative we often hear from journalists and pundits who have little understanding of evangelical political culture.

As I have noted many times before, I spend a lot of time with evangelicals of the pro-Trump variety.  I attend an evangelical church and know many Trump supporters who attend that church.  My entire extended family voted for Trump.  Fox News forms, shapes, and disciples many members of my family and other pro-Trump evangelicals I know.  I live in central Pennsylvania–Trump country.  I can’t speak for Gerson, Wehner or French, but I do not accept the premise that all anti-Trump evangelicals are out of touch with average evangelical Trump voters.  In fact, I wrote Believe Me precisely BECAUSE I understand the mind of the evangelical Trump voter.  This is why I can say that Walker does a nice job of describing them in this National Review essay.  As a historian, my job is to empathize and understand. I made every effort to do that in Believe Me.  So when I write harsh things about evangelical Trump supporters, it is because I have done the necessary work to make sense of them. In Why Study History I made the case that understanding must always proceed moral critique. In Believe Me–a work of both history and moral critique–I took my own advice.

As I see it, my effort to grasp the logic of pro-Trump evangelical voters has allowed me to argue strongly that their decision to vote for Trump has proven harmful to the church and the country.  The “if you only understood Trump voters you would be less critical” argument does not jibe with me.

Walker writes: “Those who make this calculation [to vote for Trump] are not sell-outs, nor have they forfeited the credibility of their values carte blanche. For blind allegiance does not explain the voting relationship. That religious conservatives are not progressives does.”

I think Walker is correct when he says that most evangelical Christians are religious conservatives who do not agree with the progressive agenda.  (Here Walker seems to be making the common mistake of lumping all Democrats into the “progressive” camp. This rhetorical move is quite common among the Christian Right.  It is in the political interest of the Christian Right to portray all Democrats as socialists, progressives, or members of the so-called “Squad“–people for whom evangelicals should be deeply afraid). But why are evangelical Christians religious conservatives?  Why are they so bound to this particular political ideology?  This is the deeper question I tried to raise and address in Believe Me.

Christianity and conservatism are not the same thing. Christianity and progressivism are not the same thing.  I think Walker would agree with both of these assertions.  As pastor-theologian Tim Keller has reminded us, Christianity cuts across party lines.  In my view, if you take the teachings of Christianity seriously you are going to find some common ground with conservatives, Republicans, the Green Party, democratic socialists, progressives, Democrats, and a host of other political factions, ideologies, and movements.  You are also going to reject certain tenets of these factions, ideologies, and movements.  We need to work harder to get evangelical voters to understand this.

Walker’s essay is framed by an evangelical approach to politics that I do not accept. I don’t know if Walker would see himself as a member of the Christian Right, but his piece is based on the presupposition that the Christian Right playbook, forged in the late 1970s by the Moral Majority, is the best Christian approach to politics. More on this below.

And what about the “reluctant Trump voter?”  Again, I understand why someone would choose Trump over Hillary in 2016.  I also understand why someone would choose Trump over any of the current Democratic candidates in 2020. The Christian Right playbook teaches evangelicals to vote for the president who will appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.  If you care about abortion or religious liberty, you must hold your nose and vote for Trump. But if you choose this route, and follow this playbook, please do not pretend that you are not responsible in some way for all the additional baggage that comes with such a vote–the coarsening of our moral culture, the demonizing of political opponents, the use of evangelical Christianity as a political weapon, the damage to the witness of the Gospel in the world, the racism, the nativism, the separation of children from parents, etc. etc.   That’s on you.  You have empowered Trump to do these things.

Walker writes that “reluctant” Trump voters approach politics with far more complexity and internal tension than journalists claim. He invokes Augustine: “Some religious conservatives may see the world in moral terms–right and wrong; black and white.  But there’s a long moral tradition, as far back as Augustine, that sees our world in shades of gray.”

There is definitely some truth to Walker’s appeal to Augustine here.  As I noted above, the 81% are not all the same.

But I also think Walker is giving these reluctant Trump voters too much credit for their commitment to “complexity.”

As I see it, evangelicals who vote for Trump do so because they have embraced the Christian Right playbook I mentioned above. I wrote about this playbook extensively in Believe Me.  It has great power over evangelical voters.  Thoughtful evangelicals like Gerson, James Davison Hunter, James K.A. Smith, Ronald Sider, John Inazu and others have offered Christian approaches to politics that do not rely on a playbook focused on the pursuit of power for the purpose of advancing one or two moral issues.  These alternative evangelical approaches to politics are rooted in sound biblical and theological thinking. They are worthy of consideration. But they often get little traction because the Christian Right has been so successful in shaping the evangelical political mind.

I would argue that the “reluctant Trump voter” is essentially operating under the same political playbook as the enthusiastic Trump voter.  If you drill down, there is not much difference between Robert Jeffress or Franklin Graham and the reluctant Trump voter.  Neither show a lot of complexity or “shades of gray” when they think about political and public engagement.  There is one playbook, they learned it from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and they continue to execute it.  And where has this playbook led evangelicals?  Straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

Walker also plays the “Beto O’Rourke card”:

But an event on October 10, 2019 explains the odd-couple relationship of religious conservatives and Donald Trump. That evening, during a CNN townhall on LGBTQ issues, the now-former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke proclaimed that churches failing to toe the line on gay and transgender rights would lose their tax-exempt status in his administration. O’Rourke’s comments represented a high-water mark of a culture that has jettisoned anything resembling a Christian moral ecology. Never mind that O’Rourke’s candidacy is over. It was an Overton Window–shifting moment.

When O’Rourke made these comments I roundly criticized him  O’Rourke’s comments were stupid.  Many of his fellow Democratic candidates also rejected them.

Walker is correct when he claims that O’Rourke’s remarks scared many evangelicals. But he fails to address the deeper issues at work here. Trump and the Christian Right are masters at using extreme examples to frighten evangelicals. They have convinced more rank and file evangelicals that O’Rourke’s comments, and others like them, are representative of those evil “progressives” who are trying to undermine their supposedly Christian nation.  We can’t ignore this kind of fear-mongering.  As I argued in Believe Me, it permeates every dimension of Christian Right politics today.  It is also based on half-truths.  Yes, there are some Democratic politicians who are going after churches, but most of them are not.

Trump’s policies and political rhetoric build upon such extreme, and much celebrated, cases.

Here are two examples of this:.

First, from Believe Me:

Donald Trump himself, during his 2016 campaign, [claimed] that crime was rising when it was actually falling.  He attempted to portray refugees and undocumented immigrants as threats to the American public even though the chances that an American will die at the hands of a refugee terrorist is about one in 3.6. million; the chance of being murdered by an undocumented immigrant is one in 10.9 million per year.  One is more likely to die from walking across a railroad track or having one’s clothes spontaneously catch on fire.  Yet Trump managed to convince Americans that immigrants are “imminent threats” to their safety.”

Second, let’s take Trump’s recent “guidance” on school prayer.  On January 16, 2020, Trump made a public defense of prayer in public schools.  As I wrote at the time, this proclamation changed nothing.  Students have always had the right to pray in school.  The real reason for Trump’s proclamation on prayer was political–he wants evangelical votes in 2020.

Indeed, some evangelical leaders believe that the forces of secularization are trying to remove prayer and other Christian organizations from public schools.  But is this really happening at a significant rate?  While there have been some cases in which a school district has failed to uphold the Supreme Court’s protections over prayer in schools, these cases have gained national headlines because the Christian Right and Fox News have made a big deal about them.  I wonder if these cases are representative of what is actually happening in most public schools today.

Yesterday I was talking to a student who works with a well-known evangelical youth organization that has a strong presence at public high schools.  This student told me that the local school district actually supports the work of this organization.  Similarly, my children were involved in prayer-groups and Christian organizations in their public schools that received no resistance from district administrators.

Again, I ask, are school districts really trying to stop students from praying?  And even if the answer to this question is an unqualified “yes,” is an embrace of Donald Trump really worth it in the long run?  To answer such a question, it seems one would need to think in a complex and nuanced way about the matter. Any attempt to diagnose this problem would need to recognize shades of gray.  An evangelical concerned about religious liberty might benefit from knowing more about serious legislation like “Fairness for All” or proposals such as “Confident Pluralism,” both thoughtful Christian responses to the place of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. But the Christian Right playbook offers no such nuance or complexity.  There is only one way of doing politics and any consideration of a Christian approach to politics that is not driven by fear, power, and nostalgia is off the table.  Why should evangelicals consider complexity and nuance when there are culture war battles to be won? Evangelicals may find Trump’s character and policies to be disgusting, but if he is going to help them win these battles, then he deserves their support.

And now let’s turn to abortion.  Walker writes about his friend Steve:

Steve is a white evangelical in his forties, a middle-school teacher, the father of two daughters, and a deacon at his Southern Baptist church. These are identities that media narratives depict as culprits for Trump’s ascension: White, male, Christian, middle-class, husband, father. He’s the token “white evangelical” that the media depicts as red-state reprobates.

But there is more to Steve. Steve serves the homeless, sees diversity as a pillar of God’s creation, and helped an Iraqi refugee family resettle in his own hometown. I daresay he cares more about justice in real life than those who preen about it on Twitter.

Steve voted for Trump, and will again. Why? For one, he thinks abortion is America’s Holocaust, and will not support any party that supports abortion on demand. Whatever Trump’s eccentricities are, Steve won’t vote for a progressive, even if the media tells him that to do so would save America and its institutions. For Steve, saving abstractions like “America” and its “institutions” can make America a lot less worthy of survival if abortion on demand continues apace. To the average religious conservative, in fact, saving America means saving it from the scourge of abortion.

Like Steve, I am pro-life.  I think abortion is a serious moral problem.  In Believe Me I call it a “horrific practice.” We need to be working hard to reduce the number of abortions that take place in the United States–even working to eliminate the practice entirely.  But when it comes to politics, Steve embraces a Christian Right political playbook that has taught him the only way of dealing with abortion is to overturn Roe v. Wade. Steve cares about social justice and the poor, and probably believes that the church or other non-profit organizations should have some role in helping pregnant mothers carry their babies to term, but when it comes to politics he believes that the election of a candidate who promises to appoint pro-life justices is the best way of ending abortion.

Steve knows that there are other ways of reducing abortions.  He may even know that overturning Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America. But rather than acting with some degree of realism on this issue, or trying to think of ways of reducing abortions that do not rely heavily on electoral politics, Steve shows very little nuance or complexity in his thinking about the best way to tackle this moral issue.  Instead he follows the Christian Right playbook and it leads him, again, straight into the hands of Donald Trump.

I wish more evangelical Trump voters would see the world in shades of gray, especially in the way they do politics. I wish they were not bound by such a reductionist, “black and white,” political vision.

Bernie Sanders Seems to Reject the Very Idea of a Pro-Life Democrat

John Gehring, the Catholic Director of Faith in Public Life, recently shared this video on his Twitter feed:

And then Gehring tweeted:

And Pelosi:

A lot to think about here. I think Jimmy Carter is right.

Could Any of the Democratic Candidates Echo Trump’s Words on the Dignity of Human Life in the Womb?

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Bernie Sanders at Liberty University in September 2015

At the National March for Life, Donald Trump said

All of us here understand an eternal truth: Every child is a precious and sacred gift from God.  Together, we must protect, cherish, and defend the dignity and the sanctity of every human life…when we see the image of the baby in the womb, we glimpse the majesty of God’s creation…When we watch a child grow, we see the splendor that radiates from each human soul.  One life changes the world.

I have written several posts at this blog about Trump’s speech at the March for Life.  He has speech writers who know how to put the right words in his mouth at events like this.  I still believe that his appearance at the March for Life was harmful to the pro-life cause.

Do any of the Democratic candidates on the stage last night in Manchester, New Hampshire believe what Trump said in the above excerpt? And if they did agree with what Trump said about the dignity of human life, would they be willing to say something like this, regardless of their position on Roe v. Wade or a women’s right to choose, before a nationally televised audience?  Would they be willing to say that abortion is a moral problem?

Here is a taste of religion writer Terry Mattingly’s recent column:

While commentators stressed that Trump attended the march to please his conservative evangelical base, this massive event in Washington, D.C., draws a complex crowd that is hard to label. It includes, for example, Catholics and evangelicals from groups that have been critical of Trump’s personal life and ethics, as well as his stands on immigration, the death penalty and related issues.

Videos of this year’s march showed many signs praising the president, but also signs critical of his bruising brand of politics.

A Facebook post by a Catholic priest — Father Jeffrey Dauses of the Diocese of Baltimore — captured this tension. Telling pro-lifers to “wake up,” Dauses attacked what he called Trump’s “callous disregard for the poor, for immigrants and refugees, for women … This man is not pro-life. He is pro-himself.”

Meanwhile, Buttigieg — an openly gay Episcopalian — did something even more daring when he appeared at a Fox News town hall in Iowa. One of the toughest questions he faced came from the leader of a network of Democrats opposed to abortion.

“Do you want the support of pro-life Democrats?” asked Kristen Day, president of Democrats for Life. “Would you support more moderate platform language in the Democratic Party to ensure that the party of diversity and inclusion really does include everybody?”

Some previous platforms, she noted, affirmed that all Democrats were welcome — even if their beliefs clashed with the party’s pro-abortion-rights orthodoxy. Now, Day added, the “platform contains language that basically says that we don’t belong, we have no part in the party because it says abortion should be legal up to nine months.”

Buttigieg refused to compromise, even though he has repeatedly stressed his credentials as a moderate Democrat striving to woo #NeverTrump Republicans and religious believers who abandoned his party in 2016.

Read the entire piece here.

As I have argued, moderate Democratic candidates like Biden, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar have a great chance of stealing evangelical votes from Trump in 2020, but they will need to change the way they talk about abortion.  Elizabeth Warren is a Methodist, a church that still upholds a pro-life position. But I don’t see her moving in this direction.

I once tried to get Bernie Sanders to budge on abortion. Here is what I wrote about him back in September 2015:

I watched Bernie Sanders’s speech in Columbia, South Carolina on a recent night. I thought it was great. The economic populist in me was cheering. When Sanders talks about income inequality he is hitting a nerve. Sanders may not win the nomination, but he will be around long enough to make life miserable for Hillary Clinton and the other Democratic candidates running for president of the United States.

Sanders, the progressive Vermont senator, will be speaking at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia on September 14. Liberty, the school founded by the Reverend Jerry Falwell, has long been a defender of conservative values. In the past it has not only championed Christian morality, but it has promoted free markets and limited government. Sanders may be the most progressive person who has ever spoken — if not set foot — on the Lynchburg campus.

I am glad that Sanders is coming to Liberty. The university deserves accolades for inviting him to speak. Our democracy only works when we stop the shouting matches and start listening to the views of those with whom we differ before we condemn them.

I don’t know what motivated Liberty University to invite Sanders. The cynical side of me says that the Liberty leadership wants him to speak so that they can point out the wrongness of his progressive views. I am sure Sanders’s visit will be discussed at length in Liberty classrooms, giving professors plenty of opportunities to debunk his ideas.

The hopeful side of me says that Liberty is trying to move beyond its reputation as a bastion of the Christian Right and is looking to find at least some common ground with those on the Left.

At the end of his speech in Columbia, Sanders did an interview with CSPAN. Scott Scully asked Sanders about his upcoming visit to Lynchburg. Sanders said that he hoped to find some common ground with Liberty on matters related to wealth inequality, childhood poverty and health care.

I hope the students, faculty and administrators at Liberty listen carefully to Sanders. Inequality, poverty and health care are moral issues. They are things that all Christians should be concerned about. Perhaps Sanders might inspire some of the Liberty faithful to extend their religious outreach to areas that have not historically been part of the Christian Right’s moral agenda.

But let me suggest another possible topic of conversation that might take place on September 14th. It is a conversation that is unlikely to happen, but it should. I would love to see a Liberty student ask Sanders something about abortion.

Sanders often talks about “protecting the most vulnerable Americans.” It is one of the lynchpins of his campaign. For Sanders, this means protecting senior citizens and children in poverty by strengthening government programs such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social safety nets. People might differ with Sanders’s approach to protecting these “most vulnerable Americans,” but few would argue that senior citizens and children are not vulnerable and do not need protecting.

In his speech in Columbia, Sanders said with much passion and force:

“It is not acceptable that billionaires grow richer while kids in this country go hungry. If we are a moral people, we stand with the most vulnerable people, the most defenseless people, in our society. To turn our backs on the children while billionaires get richer is not what this country is supposed to be about.”

Preach it Bernie!

But how can a progressive Democrat concerned about defending the most vulnerable members of society fail to say anything about abortion? Whatever one thinks about the recently released Planned Parenthood videos, one thing seems clear:  aborted fetuses are alive, they are vulnerable and they need protection.

If Democrats like Sanders are concerned about the dignity of human life — all human life — they will protect these helpless babies and work to reduce the number of abortions in America.

Such a position seems perfectly consistent with the progressive morality Sanders is preaching.

It would also make for a great conversation at Liberty University.

And, perhaps most importantly for Sanders, it might make Christians like me — people who are serious about economic inequality and excited about the Sanders candidacy — to translate that enthusiasm into a vote.

Former Christian Right Leader: “Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends”

SchenkDuring the 1980s and 1990s, evangelical minister Rob Schenk was at the forefront of many Christian Right initiatives. But over the last decade or so, Schenk has come to grips with the spiritual bankruptcy of the movement he once helped to lead.  He is the subject of the Emmy Award-winning documentary “The Armor of Light.” and the author of Costly Grace: An Evangelical Minister’s Rediscovery of Faith, Hope, and Love.

Schenk is a March for Life veteran.  But this year he decided not skip the event.  Why?  Schenk explains in his recent piece at Sojourners.  Here is a taste:

With the campaign of Donald Trump, the movement I once devoted my life to was swallowed up by a political leviathan. In Trump’s craven pursuit of power, prestige, and the adulation of the crowds, the once poster boy for a lifestyle of pleasure-seeking and self-absorption that required legalized abortion for its own preservation, offered a deal to pro-lifers: Sell out to me and I’ll sell out to you. You’ll get everything you want if you give me everything I want.

Many pro-life leaders I know entered into this Faustian pact — and that’s why they giddily cheered Trump when he took the stage at Washington’s annual March for Life. Joining him on site was one figure who, back in my day, was rarely seen at a pro-life event: Franklin Graham. I remember when my colleagues and I were furious with Graham and other national evangelical celebrities who couldn’t have cared less about the child in the womb. But at the march, Graham was feted as a hero only because of his sponsorship of Trump.

In the end, though, what really grieved me was how little this will do for the desperate women and children — born and unborn — and for the quiet, unassuming helpers who stand with them. At the same time, it will only advance Trump’s cruel agenda that includes separating families at the southern border, deporting people who have only known the U.S. as their home, cutting back social programs for the poor, and, now, interrogating pregnant women seeking tourist visas. It will also give Trump a false moral cover for his exposure during his impeachment trial. Trump’s shameless exploitation of the pro-life movement, his crass transactional abuse of the sacred, and his quid-pro-quo terms for the movement’s leaders (Give-me-religious-cover-and-I’ll-give-you-your-judges) will continue to cheapen and contaminate what was once pure, holy, and human.

Trump has used the March for Life for his own ends. The pro-life leaders who ceded the stage to him did a supreme disservice to the people for whom that stage was built. If life really is sacred, then everything around it should be kept sacrosanct.

Read the entire piece here.

Court Evangelical Tony Perkins Tells Historian Tommy Kidd That He Will Need to “Give an Account” for Turning People Away from Trump

It begins at the 1:00:30 mark:

Todd Starnes:

There are still a lot of never-Trumpers out there.  I just don’t get these folks. There’s a guy named Thomas Kidd. The Ethics and Religious Commission–he’s one of their fellows.  They are part of the Southern Baptist Convention.  He put out a tweet yesterday.  He said: Hopefully it will be good for Trump personally to attend the March for Life.  It isn’t good symbolically for the pro-life movement to be associated with him.’  What do you make of that?”

Tony Perkins:

I don’t get it either, Todd.  I am at a loss…I’m having this discussion with, not a lot of people, cause most people who are honest will think through this process [and] look at what this administration has done.  The evidence is irrefutable….If people can’t see that and say, alright, I was wrong, this president has been doing this, I may not like his personality, I may not like his tweets, but I have to be honest, his policies are pro-life, they’re pro religious freedom–it’s everything that people in the Christian community who have been involved in this process have looked for for years.  It might not have come in the same package or the one that we desired, but it’s getting done, and so I have to admit it. They’re unwilling to do that and quite frankly, they will have to give an account for that some day–not before me, they’ll have to give an account for trying to turn people the wrong way when it comes to this administration (Italics mine).

Tommy Kidd can defend himself, but let me say a few things here.

Perkins’s comments make perfect sense.  Why?  Because he operates with a political playbook informed by the pursuit of political power and a nostalgia for a Christian founding.  The Christian Right rarely interrogates this playbook. Many of those who have interrogated it, and brought it into the light of scriptural teaching, have trashed it. So let’s be clear–when Perkins says Trump is doing  “everything that people in the Christian community…have looked for for years,” he is referring to Trump’s willingness to execute this playbook.  I would actually change Perkins’s quote to better reflect historical reality: Trump is doing everything that people on the Christian Right–a political movement that emerged in the late 1970s as a bulwark against cultural, racial, and demographic change in America–have looked for for years.  If you follow this playbook, then Trump is the greatest Christian president of all time.  He is indeed making America great again and he deserves everyone’s support.

In Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump, I tried to show that this playbook is deeply flawed.  Fear, to quote Marilynne Robinson, is not a Christian habit of mind.  Granted, we are all afraid.  I fear what will happen to America and the church if Trump gets re-elected.  But I am not proud of the fact that I am afraid. I see it as a character flaw and a weakness in my Christian life.  The Bible tells us to “fear not.”  To dwell in fear is a sinful practice.  So I need to work harder, with the Spirit’s help, at replacing fear with Christian hope.  Tony Perkins and others are not only afraid, but they are building an entire political philosophy–the playbook I mentioned above–on fear.  Many of these fears, I might add, are not based on solid evidence. I write about this extensively in Believe Me.

And let’s talk about abortion.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am pro-life. I am supportive of the March for Life and have often thought of one day marching myself.  I also completely affirm Tommy Kidd and others who have said Trump is bad for the pro-life movement. Perkins says that “most people who are honest will think through this process.”  I try to be honest about my pro-life convictions.  And during the course of writing Believe Me I actually took some time to “think through” some of these issues. 🙂  I concluded that it is possible to be pro-life and not subscribe to the playbook of Tony Perkins and the Christian Right.  I am not going to go into detail here again about how that is possible, but I tried to make a clear case in Believe Me.

Will I have to give an account for what I have written?  Yes.  Will Tommy Kidd have to give an account?  Absolutely.  We all will. And that includes Tony Perkins and the rest of the court evangelicals.  They will need to give an account for their failure to speak truth to power.  They will need to give an account for empowering such an immoral president.  They will need to give an account for their decision to trade their Christian witness for a mess of political pottage and some federal judges.  They will need to give an account for all the young people leaving the church because of the hypocrisy that they see.  (And don’t tell me these young people don’t exist–I talk to them virtually every day).  They will need to give an account for how they have turned American evangelicalism into a laughing-stock among Christians around the world.

Yes, we will all need to one day give an account one day.

 

What Will Evangelicals Do Without Starbucks?

Starbucks

Evangelicals love to drink coffee.  Some of the larger megachurches have coffee bars and cafes.  Back in 2007 or 2008, I wrote a piece about evangelicals drinking coffee during the church service.  Back then I felt optimistic that the piece might convince people to stop raising one hand in worship God while sipping a mocha with the other hand.  But I am afraid I lost that battle.  Today  the number of fluid ounces of coffee consumed in the sanctuary far exceeds the monthly intake of sacramental wine (ahem, grape juice).

I wonder how many pro-life evangelicals know that Starbucks supports Planned Parenthood?  Julie Zauzmer reports at The Washington Post:

The Rev. Bjorn Lundberg will escort busloads of his parishioners to Washington on Friday for this year’s March for Life. They won’t be stopping at Starbucks on the way.

The coffee giant is not aligned with their cause, Lundberg says. As a Catholic priest who leads a 9,500-member parish in Winchester, Va., he stopped patronizing Starbucks when he learned the chain matches its employees’ charitable donations, including to Planned Parenthood and other nonprofit groups that support abortion access.

“You’re talking about material cooperation,” the priest said. “If someone says, ‘I want to buy a refreshment from this restaurant’ and the restaurant very publicly supports some kind of abortion thing, then I am cooperating.”

Molly Spence, a Starbucks spokeswoman, confirmed that Starbucks matches employees’ donations to most nonprofits and called that “a far cry” from promoting abortion.

Read the rest here.

If only Chik-fil-A had good coffee!  🙂

The Court Evangelical Anti-Abortion Playbook

Abortion

Court evangelical Ralph Reed’s recent tweet says so much about how the Christian Right thinks about politics:

Earlier today Adam Schiff offered ten convincing reasons why Donald Trump “put himself first” in the Ukraine scandal.  Donald Trump always puts himself first.  To suggest, as Ralph Reed does, that “protecting the unborn” is one of Trump’s “top priorities” is not supported by the facts. Trump talks about “protecting the unborn” because it is politically expedient.  Throughout his entire public life, Trump’s views on abortion have changed with the political winds.  He did not become pro-life on abortion until he ran for president.  You don’t get pro-life bona fides by showing up at the March for Life.

There is little evidence that Trump cares about human dignity after the baby leaves the womb.  His policies on immigration, health care, guns, and the environment do not suggest a commitment to life.

I am often asked how the Christian Right can support a president of such immoral character and still sleep at night.  The answer is abortion. The Christian Right privileges abortion over all other issues.  It makes perfect sense that Reed thinks abortion is the primary reason conservative evangelicals should vote for Trump in 2020.  Reed is a political operative.  He knows his audience.

Of course it is certainly possible that a person could be pro-life on abortion, and even attend Saturday’s March on Life, and still conclude that Trump does not deserve the support of pro-life & evangelical voters. I know of several anti-Trump evangelicals who will be marching for life in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Others might believe that Trump’s appointment of pro-life Supreme Court justices is a good thing, but not good enough to tolerate the rest of Trump’s immoral administration, both in terms of policy and presidential character.

Someone else might argue that overturning Roe v. Wade will do little to end abortion in America. They might wonder why millions and millions of dollars are spent on electing the right political candidates when the money could be used to reduce the number of abortions in ways that do not require the unsavory Christian Right pursuit of political power.

Reed knows only one political playbook.  It is the one he helped write.  It has proven to be a very effective.  In 2016, it led the Christian Right into bed with Donald Trump.  For at least a generation or two, evangelical Christianity will be associated less with its Gospel witness and acts of justice in the world and more with the corrupt and immoral presidency of Donald Trump.  It is too early to tell how this will change evangelical Christianity, but I guarantee future historians will explain it to us.

An Important Piece on Abortion That Will Irritate Both Sides of the Debate

abortion

Sometimes irritating the extremes is a good thing.  Here is Michael Sean Winters at the National Catholic Reporter on the eve of the March for Life:

Friday, tens of thousands of people, mostly Catholics, will stream into our nation’s capital for the annual March for Life. It is a grim irony, and implacable evidence, of the strange times in which we live that the pro-life movement simultaneously has never been closer to its stated goal of overturning the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion a constitutional right and never more threatened in its moral integrity and political efficacy. Regrettably, the Catholic left, with notable exceptions, appears largely unequal to the moment as well.

I question the moral integrity and political efficacy of the mainstream pro-life movement for a simple reason: By lashing themselves to President Donald Trump, they have morally and indelibly compromised their cause. The Susan B. Anthony List announced it will launch a $52 million campaign to reelect the president and help the Republican Party hold on to its majority in the U.S. Senate. Marjorie Dannenfelser, the group’s president, did not voice any concern about the unborn children waiting with their pregnant moms at the border, denied entry by a racist president who has turned his back on our nation’s proud history of welcoming immigrants. She did not explain how the president’s denial of climate change has retarded efforts needed to help the thousands of pregnant women in Bangladesh who are experiencing higher rates of miscarriages due to climate change. Nor did she explain why she thinks the theme of this year’s march — “Life Empowers: Pro-Life is Pro-Woman” — is a thought that can be entrusted to a man whose misogyny is legendary. 

And here is a taste of Winters’s critique of the Catholic left:

One friend told me that I would never be in a position of having to decide to procure an abortion or not, so I really had no business telling any woman what to do. Of course, I welcomed the conviction of Gen. Ratko Mladic for war crimes, even though I am not a Bosnian and have never been a general. I am not a burglar and have never been burgled, but I am opposed to burglary. In those instances when a woman friend has contemplated having an abortion, I have done what I can to be supportive. That is simple decency. Being supportive is a moral good. Having an abortion is not.

The introduction of distinctions and nuances clarify, they do not confuse, the moral stakes. No less an authority than St. Thomas Aquinas treated abortion as manslaughter not murder, a kind of recognition of the increasing moral claims as a person advances along the continuum of development from cell to zygote to embryo to child. He never said it was morally permissible. On the other hand, pro-choice activists are quick to insist that the preborn child is a part of the woman’s body, which is undoubtedly true. Yet, is there no moral significance in the fact that the preborn child is the only part of a woman’s body that has a different DNA? Indeed, they tend to simply avoid the possibility that there is any moral significance to the sonograms they see on refrigerators. It is the same kind of denial of what science increasingly demonstrates that we witness with climate change deniers.

As a Catholic Christian, the only privileged hermeneutic belongs to the witness of the Scriptures and to the magisterium. I do not like it when pro-life activists cite scriptural verses as proof texts. Jeremiah 1:5 begins, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” and Psalm 139 echoes the idea, but proof texts are never convincing. The fact that one side of an argument is not convincing does not, ipso facto, make the other side cogent.

Read the entire piece here.

So you want some historical context on abortion in America?  Listen to our interview with historian Daniel Williams in Episode 2 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

Ronald Sider on Abortion

sider_horz

Ronald Sider is a veteran of the evangelical left.  He is a longtime professor of theology at Palmer Theological Seminary (formerly Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary) and the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action.  He is best known for his 1977 book Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.  I am also a fan of his book The Scandal of Evangelical Politics.

Ron will not remember this, but we first met in the late 1990s when he spoke at The Stony Brook School, an evangelical boarding school on Long Island.  Later, he asked me to present a paper on the recent history of evangelical political engagement at a Catholic-Evangelical dialogue on faith and politics at Georgetown University  That piece was eventually published as “A Brief History of Modern Evangelical Social Engagement” in Catholics and Evangelicals for the Common Good: A Dialogue in a Historic Convergence.

In a recent blog post, Sider chides his fellow Democrats for failing to take seriously the reduction of abortion in the United States.  Here is a taste:

Even if you think (as I do) that on a majority of issues, Democratic proposals (e.g.,  on racial and and economic justice, healthcare, taxes, climate change) are closer to a biblical vision than that of Republicans, still the ever increasing refusal of Democrats to take seriously the pro-life concerns of Christians and others is a problem.

Former President Bill Clinton told a good friend of mine that the reason his wife Hillary Clinton lost Pennsylvania (and therefore the presidency) was because of her radical stand on abortion. In 2008 when she ran for the Democratic nomination, she said abortion should be” legal, safe and rare”. In 2016, she no longer said it should be rare. The head of the Democratic National Committee recently told another good friend of mine that in  his circles, one did not dare even  use the word  “reduction” when talking about abortion.

For years a number of congressional Democrats supported the Hyde amendment which prevented government using our tax dollars to fund abortions. That action respected the beliefs of pro-life people. But Democrats no longer support that provision.

There  used to be dozens of  pro-life Democrats in the US Congress who supported  some restrictions on abortion. Today only five are left.

The powerful, well-funded national association of Democratic state attorneys-general has recently announced that they will refuse to endorse anyone who does not support abortion and favor expanding abortion services. In the first national debate for Democratic candidates for president, one questioner asked if there was any circumstance where abortion should be restricted. Not a single Democratic candidate named any restriction.

This rigidity is politically foolish. The Gallup Paul repeatedly has shown that about 25% of Americans think abortion should never be legal.  25% think it should be legal in every situation. And about 50% think abortion should be legal ONLY in certain circumstances. 

One would think the Democrats would ponder the fact that Democrats very recently won the race to be governor in two very conservative states ( West Virginia and Louisiana) where Donald Trump won by  huge margins in 2016. And both successful Democratic governors endorsed a pro-life agenda that would place some restrictions on abortion.

Former Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is right; “There are very principled people who are Democrats, who feel very strongly about this issue  [abortion] for religious reasons and when you say you’re not welcome in our party I think it is exclusionary”(New York Times, Nov. 18, p. A11). 

And politically stupid!

Read the entire piece here.

Sider echoes (or maybe I echoed him!) my argument about Hillary Clinton in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump.  In that book I called for a reduction in the number of abortions in America, but I also argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is probably not the best way of doing this.

Fox News Tackles My “Thoughts and Prayers” *Washington Post* Piece

Here is last night’s Shannon Bream show on Fox.   Fast forward to the 36:40 mark to see court evangelical Robert Jeffress and radio host Ethan Bearman discuss my recent Washington Post article on the connection between abortion and gun control.

I still want Jeffress to turn to his Twitter feed and his media outlets and propose serious gun reforms as an extension of his commitment to human dignity and life.

ADDENDUM:

It looks like Fox News removed the video. I think you might be able to see it on Jeffress’s Twitter feed:

 

“A principled stance against abortion makes sense only within a matrix that ties together the economic and social ordering of society”

LifeAll pro-lifers need to read John Medaille’s piece at the Front Porch Republic.  Here is a taste:

The most inflammatory debates about abortion concern pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or those which endanger the life of the mother. But as serious as these cases are, they are a tiny portion of the abortion market (and it is a market, a business), and if it were limited to that, it would be a very limited market indeed. The wider market has other causes. According to the Guttmacher Institute, “75% of abortion patients in 2014 were poor or low-income. Twenty-six percent of patients had incomes of 100–199% of the federal poverty level, and 49% had incomes of less than 100% of the federal poverty level ($15,730 for a family of two.)” That would seem to make it an economic issue, and of course that is a large part of the problem, but not the whole problem. The Institute goes on to say, “The three most common reasons—each cited by three-fourths of patients—were concern for or responsibility to other individuals; the inability to afford raising a child; and the belief that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents.”

Again, this would seem to make it an economic problem. But I am going to make a leap here and assert that behind the economic problem lay a cultural problem, or rather three interrelated cultural problems: individualism, hedonism, and capitalism. Individualism means that we have only such responsibilities as we choose to have. But this works against women; men can easily walk away from their natural responsibilities without penalty, but women cannot. “Saddled” with children, she is no longer an “individual,” but a little community, and one that depends on support from the wider community, support that is frequently not forthcoming. In the same way, hedonism is also not an equal opportunity employer; it favors the male of the species. When men are encouraged to take their pleasures when they want and leave them when they will, contraception and abortion work as defense mechanisms.

And behind these two stands capitalism, their greatest champion and defender. For the logic of mass production flourishes best in a culture of consumerism—that is, hedonism—and it sends us messages 24/7 encouraging and normalizing the idea that we are what we consume. When a sandwich company can get away with screaming at us (literally), “I do what the ____ I like,” you know that they are not selling sandwiches, but a particular lifestyle and frame of mind, one which is destructive of community and family life by being supportive of individualism and hedonism. And capitalists feel no obligation to support the family through wages, but only to pay the lowest possible rate for labor, even if they have to go to Bangladesh to do it.

Hence the “pro-life” movement, by tying itself to the Republican Party, ties itself to the aggressive support of capitalism and to the party least likely to impose any controls or obligations on the system. Like the Fox channels, they have bracketed off the moral and cultural issues, so that they support with one hand what they oppose with the other. They oppose the culture of abortion while supporting the culture that practically demands it. This cultural/political schizophrenia lends credence to the caricature of the “pro-life” movement as supportive of pregnancy and birth but not of motherhood. After giving birth, she should get a job like everybody else and not be a drag on the body politic. The movement can help elect the slimiest president possible under the naïve belief that he will lift us from the slime. Understood this way, it is really no surprise that the most radical expression of the anti-abortion movement occurs in states like Alabama, a state with the lowest levels of support for mothers and the highest level of support for big business, a state that is ranked near the bottom in public support for healthcare, education, infrastructure, and many other things.

A principled stance against abortion makes sense only within a matrix that ties together the economic and social ordering of society. Apart from a social order that welcomes children and an economic order that supports families, the prohibition of abortion appears to be just an arbitrary denominational stricture, like fasting on Fridays or wearing a yarmulke. This lends credence to the charge that we are merely trying to enforce our religion on others. By treating it as a “single-issue” that overrides all other issues, the pro-life movement divorced the issue from the moral matrix which harmonizes it, thus making it appear self-contradictory. We have bracketed the issue from the very things that make it part of an intelligible whole. What Fox does in the name of profits, we do in the name of power.

Read the entire piece here.

HT: John Haas

Kristen Gillibrand’s Wacky Pro-Choice Theology

Gillibrand

Recently New York Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Kristen Gillibrand claimed that laws against abortion are “against Christian faith?”  This should raise a host of red flags for people who know something about Christianity.  Most American evangelicals, who the last time I checked were Christians, oppose abortion.  Roman Catholics also oppose abortion.  The Orthodox Church also opposes the practice.  So do many mainline Protestants.

So why does Gillibrand believe that a pro-life position on abortion is anti-Christian?  She claims that Christianity teaches “free will” and, as a result, laws preventing a women’s choice to abort a baby are not Christian.

Wow.  I just read a draft of this post to my eighteen-year-old daughter and she gave me a puzzled look before saying, “Wait, that’s not how it works.”

Most of the Christian bodies I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post also believe in free will.  Yet they oppose the practice of abortion because a person’s free will is always understood in the context of other principles–like the common good, the preservation of life, and duties to others, including the unborn.  When one becomes a Christian they are called to deny self for the life of others.  There are times when individual choice must be subordinated to larger moral issues.

Please note that this post is not an endorsement of the Alabama bill.  I have argued that overturning Roe v. Wade is not the best way to reduce the number of abortions.  Rather, this post is a plea to politicians to stop doing theology.

Why Jews and Muslims Might Claim a Religious Liberty Exemption to the Alabama Abortion Bill

Abortion Alabama

Steven Waldman, author of a new book titled Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedommakes a fascinating argument in a recent op-ed at Newsweek.  What happens when a pro-life position on abortion clashes with religious liberty?  Jews believe life begins at birth, not conception.  Muslims believe that life begins around the fourth month of gestation.  Are these deeply-held religious beliefs?

On the Christian Right, where anti-abortion legislation and religious liberty drive the political agenda of its members, heads are exploding.  What happens when religious liberty clashes with anti-abortion laws?

Here is a taste of Waldman’s piece “Alabama Abortion Law: Should Jewish and Muslim Doctors and Women Get Exemptions For Religious Freedom?:

There may be a strange, implied loophole in the Alabama anti-abortion law—that abortions can be performed … if the doctor is Jewish or Muslim.

Here’s the logic.  We are in a moment of history when the courts are leaning in the direction of providing religious exemptions to secular laws. This was the thrust of the Sisters of the Poor case, when a group of nuns said they should be exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s requirement for contraception coverage. They argued that the rule violated their religious beliefs so they shouldn’t have to participate. The “Bakers of Conscience” have made a similar argument—that they should be allowed to avoid making a cake for a same-sex wedding without being prosecuted under anti-discrimination laws—because their beliefs are grounded in religion.

The drafters of the law were at least partly motivated by their faith. “When God creates the miracle of life inside a woman’s womb, it is not our place as human beings to extinguish that life,”  said Clyde Chambliss, a sponsor of the bill.

So the question becomes: does the law infringe on the religious beliefs of the woman or the doctor?

Though there are many interpretations in the Jewish tradition, the most common is that life begins at birth, not conception. Reform Rabbis have decreed that abortion is permitted if there is a  “strong preponderance of medical opinion that the child will be born imperfect physically, and even mentally.” If you’re a Jewish woman, you could argue that this law forces you to abide by a different definition of life (with roots in Roman Catholicism). 

If you’re a Jewish doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic oath—to perform medically appropriate procedures without discrimination—then it may be your religious belief that you have a duty to provide a Biblically-sanctioned abortion. By blocking you from offering that service, the law is forcing you to violate your Hippocratic oath and the guidance from your religion.

Read the rest here.

Alabama Governor Signs Anti-Abortion Bill One Day and Plans to Execute Someone on the Next Day

Alabama Governor

Alabama Governor Kay Ivey

Today I had a long conversation with New York Times reporter Adeel Hassan.  He was trying to figure out how Alabama could execute a convicted murderer on the day after the state passed a very extreme abortion law.  Here is his report:

A scholar of evangelical Christianity said that most evangelicals in Alabama probably feel no tension between support for the death penalty and opposition to abortion.

“Most conservative evangelicals wouldn’t think twice about executing someone and then going to a pro-life march the next day,” said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College. He said their views have often been shaped by the political battles that have raged over social issues in recent decades, so that, for example, they also tend to oppose spending tax money on government programs that might reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

Progressive evangelicals see the issues differently, Mr. Fea said, but “they are a minority in the state of Alabama and most of the evangelical South.”

Read the entire piece here.

Pennsylvania’s Pro-Life Evangelicals Call for Clean Air in the Commonwealth

Fracking

Rev. Mitchell Hescox is the CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.  He lives in New Freedom, Pennsylvania.  In his recent piece at The York Daily Record, Hescox argues that pro-life evangelicals should be concerned about the bad air emanating from fracking sites and natural gas facilities in Pennsylvania.  Here is a taste of his piece:

As pro-life evangelicals, we have a special concern for the unborn.  We want children to be born healthy and unhindered by the ravages of pollution.  The Bible calls us to “Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  Rescue the weak and the needy” (Psalm 82: 3-4 NIV).  Certainly, preborn and new-born children are the most vulnerable among us. They deserve a quality of life that can only be assured when we uphold both our Christian beliefs and our Commonwealth’s Constitution:

The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.

We’re not alone.  This year over 15,000 pro-life Pennsylvania Christians wrote to Governor Wolf and asked him to create sensible fugitive methane standards. Another 5,000 Pennsylvania pro-life Christians added their comments against the EPA’s ill-fated attempt to cancel new source methane standards nationally.

Read the entire piece here.