My case for Joe Biden

Many have asked me to weigh-in on the election. Let me begin by saying that my choice of a candidate was not difficult.

Donald Trump is immoral. He is a pathological liar. He is a narcissist. He is a racist who empowers White supremacists. He is a misogynist. He disrespects American institutions. His presidency draws on some of the darkest moments of our national past. He has manipulated the Christian faith to advance his own unrighteous ends. I made this case in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and I stand by it.

Trump has poisoned American culture and cannot continue as President of the United States. He is not a leader. He has no interest in bringing the country together. He is incompetent. He is a con-man. He is a rainmaker. Those who vote for him in 2020 are empowering another four years of this mess and, without another election looming over Trump’s head, it is likely to get worse.

For evangelicals concerned about life:

A Columbia University study recently concluded that Trump’s administration is responsible for up to 210,000 COVID-19 deaths. He continues to ignore the pandemic. Doctors and scientists say things are going to get worse unless the president starts taking this pandemic seriously. As Ed Yong recently argued at The Atlantic: “America is about to choose how bad the pandemic will get.” This election is about life. Trump’s handling of the coronavirus is promoting a culture of illness and death.

Black men and women are dying in America. Those who are still alive fear for their lives because racism is embedded in our culture. Donald Trump does not believe in systemic racism and does not want to address it. Trump does not even have the decency to condemn White supremacy at a nationally televised debate. A good economy will not end systemic racism. A plan to give money to Historically Black Colleges and Universities will not end systemic racism. More evangelical conversions will not undo the damage done by centuries of racial oppression, especially if such converts are taught that systemic racism is a Satanic lie that “cultural Marxists” are propagating on the nation.

Donald Trump wants to overturn Obamacare and replace it with his own healthcare plan. So far the public has not seen this plan. I doubt it exists. Meanwhile, the end of Obamacare will undermine the health care of millions of people. This is not a pro-life position. Joe Biden is the pro-life candidate here.

Many conservative evangelicals connect their “pro-life” convictions to their “pro-family” convictions. But Trump separated thousands of children from their parents at the Mexican border. More than 500 of those children have yet to be reunited with their parents. Is this how a “family values” president acts? Moreover, let’s not pretend that our children are not watching his flawed character, hate-filled speeches at rallies, and Twitter feed. Trump’s garbage has come into our homes via our television and computer screens. Finally, Joe Biden has championed policies related to health care, child care, taxes, working parents, family leave, and education that will help struggling American families.

Donald Trump’s views on climate change will eventually lead to more poverty, more death, and a planet that may be uninhabitable sooner than we think. This is a life issue. It many not affect us right now, but people will die in the future if we don’t care for the creation that God has entrusted to us. Narcissists are selfish. They only care about themselves in relation to the moment in which they live. Republican citizens, on the other hand, understand their place in the larger expanse of the human experience–past, present, and future. Biden’s plan for environmental justice and his pledge to rejoin the Paris Agreement will ultimately result in saved lives.

I am always struck by anti-abortion activists who admit that Roe v. Wade will not end abortion in America, but yet still support overturning Roe because it is part of the work of chipping away at laws upholding a women’s right to choose. Someone recently described this to me as “taking the long view.” I understand this argument, but why do we “take the long view” on abortion, but fail to take the long view on climate change?

And speaking of abortion:

Trump gives lip service to abortion. He knew in 2016 that he needed to be pro-life in order to get the GOP nomination. So he became pro-life. Trump executed the Christian Right playbook to perfection. He appointed the right Supreme Court justices, made an appearance at pro-life events, and mentioned abortion in his speeches to evangelical audiences.

In the process, Trump continued to promote the idea that the best way to end abortion in America is to overturn Roe v. Wade. For nearly 50 years, white evangelicals have funneled their money to, and casted their votes for, “pro-life” candidates who promised to reverse this Supreme Court decision. That is nearly a half of a century with no results. As I have argued multiple times here at this blog, and as Christian writer and podcaster Skye Jethani has shown in an excellent video, the pursuit of political power will not end abortion in the United States.

If Christians really want to reduce the number of abortions, they will elect a president who wants to fund health care for women, deal with the systemic racism that keeps many black women in poverty, raise the minimum wage, and address the income gap between White people and people of color. The abortion rate has been dropping consistently since the 1990s. Spend some time on the Guttmacher Institute’s website.

Christian and pro-life voters should urge Joe Biden, if elected, to talk more about how he plans to continue this reduction of abortion. I hope he changes his mind about the Hyde Amendment and goes back to his original position. But if you care about the reduction of abortions, Biden is still the best candidate.

Some will say that it doesn’t really matter if abortions are in decline because it is still immoral for a Christian to vote for a nominee of a party that supports the ending of a baby’s life in the womb. Ramesh Ponnuru & Robert George recently made this argument in a piece at The National Review. I agree with much of their article. Abortion is a moral atrocity. But they offer no realistic or pragmatic solution for ending the practice. Ponnuru and George want us to vote our conscience. It is an argument rooted in moral purity.

I am a realist on this issue. In an imperfect world, politics is about achieving things that are possible. Abortion has been part of American life from the beginning and our culture has inherited this immoral practice. We thus must do everything possible to reduce the number of abortions in America. But purity of conviction is not going to accomplish this. While we take our moral stand and wait for the Supreme Court to act, babies will continue to die in the womb. Without a change of strategy, more poor women of color, and families who don’t believe they can afford another baby, will continue to choose abortion as an alternative. We need to create a world in which abortion is not the default option for an unwanted pregnancy.

In Believe Me, I quoted theologians Stanley Hauerwas and Jonathan Tran:

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 of 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 Marion icons or baptizing new members or tithing money, will not count as political.

We must accept the fact that legalized abortion is not going away. Pro-lifers will never have complete victory. This is why we should support candidates who are dealing with the social, cultural, and economic issues that lead women and families to consider abortions. Ironically, Joe Biden, a representative of a pro-choice party, is that candidate. Donald Trump, who has the support of the Christian Right, is not.

Finally, what should we think about potential threats to religious liberty in a Biden campaign? If Biden is elected, I will work to push the new president to consider what John Inazu describes as a “confident pluralism.” Inazu asks Americans to work at living together with people of different ideological commitments. This will require creative thinking about how to find common ground without abandoning our deeply held beliefs. Confident pluralism requires mutual respect and a willingness to tend to our democratic life. One example of such creative thinking is the legislative bill known as “Fairness for All.” We need to create a culture that takes such bills seriously as a way of moving forward.

There is a good chance that a Biden administration may threaten the deeply-held convictions of religious institutions. But the Supreme Court has a strong track record of upholding religious liberty. As conservative writer and former religious liberty lawyer David French said in a debate with court evangelical Eric Metaxas:

[On] Religious liberty things have been fine. But I’ve got news for you, they have been fine for a long time. There is a fifteen case winning-streak on religious liberty at the Supreme Court of the United States dating back to the Obama administration….Most of those cases are won by 7-2, 6-3, no matter what screaming voices on Fox News will tell you, your religious liberty does not hang in the balance.

And if we do lose, we should take John Piper’s advice to pastors seriously:

May I suggest to pastors that in the quietness of your study you do this? Imagine that America collapses. First anarchy, then tyranny — from the right or the left. Imagine that religious freedom is gone. What remains for Christians is fines, prison, exile, and martyrdom. Then ask yourself this: Has my preaching been developing real, radical Christians? Christians who can sing on the scaffold, “Let goods and kindred go; This mortal life also; The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”

That is the crux of my case. I delivered my sealed ballot today. I checked the box for Biden-Harris.

I like how Christian theologian John Stackhouse puts it in his book Making the Best of It: Following Christ in the Real World.

Sometimes, then, some of us must improvise. As Bonhoeffer reminds us, in certain extreme situations we cannot settle for living ‘correctly’ according to some neat ethical calculus we have devised and congratulating ourselves for our integrity…We are responsible to care for the earth and to love our neighbor as best we can, and if we think we can do that better in an unusual way that leaves us vulnerable to second-guessing and maybe even to error, we nonetheless should do it. For what is the alternative? It is to shrink back from this possibility and settle for the safety of the rule book, the comfort of the clear but circumscribed conscience. Most of the time, then, we know what to do and must simply do it. Sometimes, however, the politician has to hold his nose and made a deal…So we hold on to God’s hand, and each other’s, and make the best of it.”

I’m holding on to God’s hand.

Southern Baptist seminary president Al Mohler makes it official. He voted for Trump

We have written before about Al Mohler‘s support for Donald Trump. Just to be clear, Mohler is not arguing, like some evangelicals, that Christians should not vote for Biden. He is arguing that Christian should vote for Donald Trump.

Here is the crux of his recent piece:

  1. Trump or Biden might die and Mike Pence is a better option than Kamala Harris. Mohler writes, “I do not have to blink in deciding between the prospect of a President Mike Pence versus a President Kamala Harris.”
  2. Trump lacks basic moral character, but so does Biden.
  3. Mohler would prefer to have Biden as a neighbor, but he is not voting for a neighbor.
  4. Mohler believes that “love is to be the animating motivation for political action.” Love, he writes, “leads to policies that have good moral effects.”
  5. The Democrats embrace a “culture of death” because of their position on abortion.
  6. Mohler did not vote for Trump in 2016, but he will in 2020 because Trump has delivered on his pro-life promises (read: abortion). He goes as far to say that “Donald Trump has been the most effective and consequential pro-life president of the modern age.”
  7. Religious liberty is under threat
  8. The group “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden” is “insanity.”
  9. Not voting for Donald Trump is the same thing as voting for Joe Biden
  10. Black people have the right to vote for Democrats, but he does not share their values.

Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and former member of the Obama White House, responds:

By the way, if you want to understand the “historical reasons” Wear is talking about here I would encourage you to read Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. (I know, I know, this is blatant self-promotion. But give me a break–I may only have one more week of relevance with this book! 🙂 )

Are you voting for Trump because of abortion? Do you refuse to vote for Biden because of abortion? If so, please watch this video.

Every day I hear from evangelical Christians who despise Donald Trump for what he has done to our country, but will still vote for him in November because he claims to oppose abortion.

I also hear regularly from evangelical Christians who refuse to vote for Trump, but also refuse to vote for Biden because he is pro-choice.

If you are in either of these camps, I encourage you to watch this video.

Here is Phil Vischer (of Veggie Tales fame) and Skye Jethani of the Holy Post Podcast.

Is Donald Trump “the greatest defender of life, family, and religious liberty to take the White House in decades?

Court evangelical Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, recently tweeted:

Is Trump really a president who values life? I assume that Perkins is referring to abortion here. But there is not a single baby in the womb who has been saved because of a Trump policy or appointment. In fact, as conservative writer David French has noted, “unlike George W. Bush–who signed into law a born-alive infant protection bill and a partial-birth abortion ban–Trump has not signed a single significant piece of pro-life legislation.” His piece “Do Pro-Lifers Who Reject Trump Have ‘Blood on their Hands’?” is worth reading in full.

If we expand “pro-life” beyond abortion, Trump seems to have very little regard for life. More than 200,000 people have died from COVID-19. Trump is not responsible for all of their deaths, but we cannot ignore his failure to act swiftly and quickly to protect the American people. When it comes to protecting life Trump is woefully inadequate. Here is Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed b y their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

On November 3, 2020, we get the opportunity to rebuke Trump for failing to protect our right to life. His presidency has been “destructive” on this front. His failure to act early on the virus, his refusal to listen to scientific experts, and his mocking of masks and social distancing, has not kept us safe.

And as long as we are talking about life, what about Trump’s refusal to acknowledge America’s race problem? Instead of addressing the systemic racism that is getting Black men and women killed, Trump has ignored the lives of African Americans, preferring instead to emphasize law and order. Is this a president who values life?

Perkins also thinks Trump is good for families. Let’s remember that the Trump administration has separated thousands and thousands of children from their parents. But I guess these families don’t matter because they are not Americans.

One could also ask whether parents want their children watching a president on television and the Internet who demonizes his enemies, lies endlessly, sleeps with porn stars and talks about grabbing women’s body parties, disparages women, etc., etc., etc. Is Trump really pro-family, Tony? Do you want your grandkids watching this president? I know he is not a “pastor-in-chief,” but don’t you want your president to be a person of character–a role model to children and families? Please tell me how you reconcile the Trump presidency with your so-called “family values.”

Finally, Trump gives lip service to religious liberty, but he has done very little to advance it beyond speeches. Contrary to popular opinion, Trump did not remove the Johnson Amendment. His religious liberty commitments come down to “guidance letters” to protect prayer in public schools. Some of his followers actually believe he overturned Engle v. Vitale, the Supreme Court ruling that removed mandatory prayer from public schools. He did not. Trump doesn’t care about religious liberty. Evangelicals are getting played.

Don’t be fooled by Donald Trump. He does not care about life, the family, or religious liberty.

Former VP of Ohio Right to Life says evangelical movement has “sold its soul”

I continue to hear from people who despise Donald Trump, but will vote for him anyway because he is anti-abortion. Stephanie Ranade Krider was the vice president and executive director of Ohio Right to Life. She recently resigned.

It’s hard to find a more anti-abortion advocate than the director of a state right to life organization. Here is Krider in The Washington Post in a piece titled “I’m a pro-life evangelical. In supporting Trump, my movement sold its soul.”

The prospect of a Justice Barrett is cause for excitement, and this legal milestone — the chance to overturn Roe — is something I’ve hoped for and worked toward for more than a decade. Yet I feel deep unease at how we arrived at this moment. Pro-life evangelicals threw their support behind Trump in 2016 aiming for precisely this outcome, but I fear it has been to our detriment. Aligning our movement with Trumpism has reduced our commitments to a single goal: outlawing abortion at any cost, putting our reputation (but not his) on the line. 

I watched all of this unfold from the front lines. Until recently, I served as executive director of Ohio Right to Life. When I started there in a part-time role in 2009, I was grateful for the opportunity to change hearts, minds and laws to recognize the humanity of the unborn and the vulnerable. I advised candidates for elected office, advocated for legal protections for unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome, and lobbied successfully to gain state funding for pregnancy help centers and to end late-term abortions in Ohio.

I’ve spent my career fighting for a cause I believe in, one in which I could live out my faith as a Christian. Over the past decade, our state saw a 25 percent decrease in the number of abortions, consistent with the broader nationwide decline in abortions over the past 30 years. But as the cause became increasingly tied to Trump, it transformed into something with which I could no longer identify. Every major pro-life organization has endorsed Trump’s reelection. Protecting innocent life is a cause that’s deeply steeped in morality, but with this political choice, the movement has shown itself to be too willing to trade moral character for power.

Read the rest here.

An 88-year-old evangelical woman will cast her first vote for a Democrat in November

Yesterday I received this note from a reader. Agree or disagree, it is worth reading. I know there are a lot of evangelicals who will resonate with this.

I’ve often heard that posting things on Facebook isn’t real activism and that people are never changed by what they read there. I have a great story that suggests that’s not true. My 88-year-young mother is a life-long, die hard Republican. She has NEVER voted for a Democrat, ever. As a devout, sincere conservative Evangelical Christian, she voted for Trump in 2016 because the leadership voices within that community told her she should, and she trusted them. She had almost immediate buyer’s remorse when Trump was elected and she saw what he was really like. She has since registered as an Independent and began educating herself politically by reading, watching YouTube videos, news of various stripes (she had never been a Fox News watcher nor very politically involved) and by thinking for herself.

For my mom, the thing that was always a firm barrier to voting for a Democrat was the issue of abortion. We had discussed how there were a spectrum of positions one rarely hears about, from self-described “pro-life” Democrats, to people who believe that abortion is undesirable, while yet wanting to support women and their choices. Within this latter group many want to focus on reducing the total number of abortions and to support policies that aim toward this end, but do not believe that simply criminalizing abortion is the answer. They want to work toward having a more compassionate society overall, understanding pragmatically how criminalizing abortion would have negative unintended consequences and might even invite organized crime, much as Prohibition did. In the last few weeks my mother and I had some heart-felt and thoughtful discussions about these issues in a way it is often difficult to talk about this polarized, hot-button topic.

Surprisingly, this week my mother announced she has decided to vote for Biden! This was a seismic shift. But she showed me a viral Facebook post that “helped cement her decision” to give her vote to Biden instead of voting for Trump again or abstaining because of the abortion issue. When I mentioned this story in a comment here recently, a couple of people said her story and the post she read that made sense to her might be helpful to other people they knew too. So I have included it below. Note that this piece is written by an Evangelical Christian to others who are also Evangelicals or conservative Christians, but it addresses their concerns about abortion and morality with empathy and from within a frame of reference they fully understand and respect. So well written, respectful and thoughtful Facebook posts really can make a difference. It’s nice to know there is some good news out there!

Here is the Facebook post that convinced this woman’s mother to vote for Biden. It is written by a woman named Jennifer Abel:

I have felt a heaviness in my soul lately.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve felt it. A weight. The heaviness. So this morning—when a block of time unexpectedly opened in my schedule, I closed myself in my room, read some of John’s gospel, opened my journal, and prayed, “OK, God. What is it? My heart feels heavy. I need to write. But I don’t have words. What is this feeling?”

And I began to write—Heartbreak. It’s heartbreak. And disillusionment. I’ve been here before—so many times before since 2016. And here I am again.

I keep seeing Christians say they can’t vote for Joe Biden because of his stance on abortion. I’ve seen Christians proudly state they are single-voter issues – it all comes down to abortion. So they’ll vote for Trump. Because he promises to appoint Supreme Court Justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. That’s the one and only thing that matters.

But why? Why is that the one and only thing that matters?

Is that the one and only thing that matters to Jesus? Reading through the Bible, I would say unequivocally “NO.” What does the Bible say directly about abortion? And I ask this from my pro-life heart. The Bible has FAR, FAR more to say about pride, about abusing power to mistreat the poor, about lying, about treating others with hatred, about humility, about seeking forgiveness, about faithfulness — about ALL of that than it does about abortion.

So, Christians, why are you so willing to toss all of those morals aside? Why are you so willing to turn a blind eye to so many behaviors that are completely, blatantly in opposition to the heart and character of Christ?

When I read about Joe Biden’s stance on abortion, I see a man who has wrestled with his faith. I see a man whose heart wants no abortions and who has struggled throughout his years in public service to determine the best way to accomplish that. Is it by making abortion illegal? (At one point, he said “yes.”) Is it by prohibiting government funding of abortion? (At one point, he said “yes.”) Or is it by supporting public policies that make abortion rates decline? (This seems to be where he’s landed.)

This personal wrestling resonates with me. I have had those same wrestling matches within myself.

Did you know – between 1981 and 2016, the sharpest decline in abortion rates occurred under Democratic Presidents – not under Republican Presidents. The rates especially dropped under the leadership of President Obama and continued to decline after he left office. Most everyone agrees the reason for this is because access to contraception is key in preventing pregnancies. And under the Affordable Care Act, contraception coverage became more widespread. Even though some states enacted new abortion restrictions between 2011 and 2017, by 2017 57% of the nationwide decline occurred in states that had not enacted new abortion restrictions. So there is evidence that pursuing legal action isn’t necessary (or effective) to reduce the amount of abortions.

I am pro-life. I would like to see zero abortions. I also want to honor and value the lives of women who find themselves in the position of considering abortion. Those lives also matter to me. So I don’t believe criminalizing the choice is the best way to truly help those women. I think public policies that offer help and hope — financial and medical – are the best ways to reduce abortions.

Therefore, I need to find political candidates who will support programs that help the women who are most likely to feel that abortion is their only option, candidates who support making effective contraception affordable and accessible to everyone.

I also want a candidate who values all life. Refugees’ lives. Women’s lives. Black lives. Poor lives. Lives during a pandemic. The lives of people who disagree with him.

You see, when you say you’re voting for Trump because you’re pro-life, I can’t take you seriously. Because Trump has not proven himself to value lives. For the love! – read his Twitter and show me how this man values life.

When you say you can’t vote for Biden because of your Christian beliefs, I can’t take you seriously. Because again and again and again, Donald Trump’s words and actions fly in direct contradiction to the character of Christ.

For the past four years, I’ve been so disillusioned and heartbroken and sad to see so many Christians abandon their morals and contort their beliefs in order to justify their support of someone who so obviously violates every moral and value I was taught in the Church.

Somewhere along the line, political masterminds decided that evangelical Christians could be manipulated into believing abortion and gay marriage are the only two things God cares about.

Friends, that is a lie. You have been hoodwinked.

Obviously, you don’t have to vote for Joe Biden. But you can’t use our Jesus and the Bible to defend your support of Donald Trump.

David French: Donald Trump is not pro-life

French is right.

Here is his piece at Time:

We know what it looks like when Trump is committed to a cause. Witness his deployment of the military to the border and his defiant diversion of military funds to begin construction of his border wall. Has he showed the same commitment to, say, ending taxpayer support for the nation’s largest abortion provider?

The bottom line is that Trump will end his first term with the nation’s abortion laws largely intact and without engaging in a single serious effort to defund Planned Parenthood. He will also end his first term with a legacy of deception, failure, and callous disregard for the lives and health of even his friends and colleagues in the face of an infectious disease that has killed more than 200,000 of his fellow citizens.

Look at Donald Trump’s complete record. Examine all his rhetoric. Is his presidency characterized by words and deeds that affirm the “incomparable worth of the human person”? Has he treated “life on earth” as a “sacred reality” entrusted to him? The answer is clearly no. His selfish and reckless actions have cost lives. They’re still costing lives. By no fair measure is Donald Trump truly “pro-life.”

Read the entire piece here.

Three former evangelical seminary presidents now support “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden”

According to Ron Sider’s recent blog post, over 2000 people have signed-on to the website “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden.” Three former evangelical seminary presidents support the statement:

Richard Mouw, Fuller Theological Seminary

Dennis Hollinger, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

Samuel T. Logan, Westminster Theological Seminary

Those are some pretty heavy-hitters in the evangelical world.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey’s piece at The Washington Post notes that Richard Nixon’s former pastor has also signed the statement.

Pro-life evangelicals for Biden

A group of evangelical leaders have formed “Pro-Life Evangelicals for Biden.” Here is the official statement:

As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with vice president Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion. But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end.

Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.

For these reasons, we believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.”

Signers include Richard Mouw (Fuller Theological Seminary); Ronald Sider (Evangelicals for Social Action); Jerushah Duford (Billy Graham’s granddaughter), John Huffman (Christianity Today); Richard Foster (spiritual writer); Roberta Hestenes (former president of Eastern University); Joel Hunter (former megachurch pastor); Myron Augsburger (Eastern Mennonite University); John Perkins (Christian activist); Samuel T. Logan (Westminster Theological Seminary).

Mouw and Sider wrote an op-ed on the group in The Christian Post.

The Washington Post covered the announcement.

Sider wrote about it today at his Substack newsletter. Here is a taste of that post:

The group is diverse. At least one signer voted for Donald Trump in 2016. It includes at least one lifelong Republican. There are several who never before publicly endorsed a presidential candidate but now feel compelled to do so this year. Richard Mouw and I organized this effort. 

The court evangelicals are not happy:

What should we make of Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett?

In the last 24 hours several of you have asked me what I think about Trump’s nomination of Amy Coney Barrett.

First, I think there is nothing unconstitutional about Trump choosing a nominee in an election year.

Second, I think there are times when a president should think about the greater good of the country. (I can’t believe I actually have to point this out, but we are living in the age of Trump). This might mean holding a Supreme Court nomination until after a presidential election. At the very least, it might also mean waiting until Ruth Bader Ginsburg is buried before choosing her successor. Joe Biden is right about Trump’s lack of basic human decency.

Third, GOP Senators are hypocrites. In 2016, Merrick Garland should have received a hearing and a vote. I am not convinced by any of the GOP attempts to reconcile their 2016 views with their willingness to give Trump’s nominee (Barrett) a hearing and a vote in 2020.

This Jake Tapper interview with Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas is a perfect example of what I am talking about:

Cotton is just making stuff up here. He loves the founding fathers, but he seems to have no interest in their fears about political partisanship undermining the republic.

Fourth, no matter what we think about all of this, Barrett will be appointed to Ginsburg’s seat and it will probably happen before the election. If it wasn’t Barrett, it would have been another justice approved by the court evangelicals.

Fifth, Barrett is a competent interpreter of the law and a fair choice in light of what I wrote about in the previous paragraph.

Sixth, I direct you to my previous posts on Barrett’s religion. I have tried to put her beliefs in some kind of larger context.

Seventh, I take a “wait and see” approach on Roe v. Wade. Barrett has said it is unlikely that it would be overturned, but that was back in 2013. (It is unclear whether her comment represented her own personal beliefs or was simply a statement made by an outside commentator).

Moreover, as someone who does not believe overturning Roe is the best way to reduce abortions in America, I don’t have a strong opinion either way on Barrett’s anti-abortion record. I know I will be criticized by the Right and the Left for this position. The Right will criticize me for not embracing the conservative evangelical playbook on abortion. I have argued many times before why the Christian Right playbook is bad for the nation and the church. The Left will say that as a white male I don’t care about women’s health. This is a false binary. One can care about women’s health and still think abortion is morally wrong. I stand with the millions of American women who also believe this.

Eighth, I am worried more about what a Barrett appointment might mean for health care and the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) than I am about what it might mean for abortion.

Ninth, I am not worried about Trump using a conservative majority on the court to steal the 2020 presidential election. I have no doubt that Trump will try to claim election fraud if he loses on November 3, but I can’t imagine the Supreme Court would allow him to get away with this.

Politically, Trump’s ongoing claims that mail-in-ballots will lead to an unfair election will ultimately work against him because it gives the Court and other officials time to anticipate his arguments and gather evidence to prove he is wrong.

Court evangelical Robert Jeffress says the debate over a new Supreme Court justice makes COVID-19 “background noise”

It’s all about the Supreme Court for Donald Trump’s court evangelicals. Everything else, including nearly 200,000 dead from a pandemic, is just “background noise.” Here is NBC News reporter Peter Alexander.

So much for being pro-life. For Jeffress, COVID-19 is simply a political inconvenience. Of course Jeffress’s political savior, Donald Trump, believes the same thing.

UPDATE: I misses this tweet:

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.