On Joe Biden’s Evangelical Outreach

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There are many white evangelicals out there who do not want to vote for Donald Trump, but they also refuse to vote for Joe Biden because they are worried about Supreme Court justices, abortion, and religious liberty. I know these people exist because they e-mail and message me regularly–almost every day.

At some point between now and Labor Day, I will try to write a post or publish something on whether or not an evangelical case can be made for Joe Biden. Stay tuned. But in this post I am writing more as a political observer.

David Brody’s reporting on the Biden outreach to evangelical Christians recently caught my eye. You can read it here.

I am not really sure what this outreach will look like. John McCarthy, the deputy national political director for he Biden Campaign, says that white evangelicals should be “open to Joe Biden’s message.” Why? Because Biden wants to build a “more fair and just society” that includes addressing climate change, racial injustice, and immigration reform. The Biden campaign is also conducting “listening sessions” with evangelical pastors and women. So far that’s it.

As Michael Wear points out in the Brody’s piece, the Hillary Clinton campaign did very little to attract white evangelical votes in 2016. Here is what I wrote in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump:

Though Clinton would never have come close to winning the evangelical vote, her tone-deafness on matters of deep importance to evangelicals may have been the final nail in the coffin of her campaign. In 2015, when a conservative pro-life group published videos showing Planned Parenthood employees discussing the purchase of the body parts and the fetal tissue of aborted fetuses, Clinton said, “I have seen the pictures [from the videos] and obviously find them disturbing.” Such a response could have helped her reach evangelicals on the campaign trail, but by 2016 she showed little ambivalence about abortion, or any understanding that it might pose legitimate concerns or raise larger ethical questions. During the third presidential debate, she defended a traditional pro-choice position and seemed to dodge Fox News host Chris Wallace’s question about her support for late-term abortions. There seemed to be no room in her campaign for those evangelicals who didn’t want to support Trump but needed to see that she could at least compromise on abortion.

Clinton was also quiet on matters pertaining to religious liberty. While she paid lip service to the idea whenever Trump made comments about barring Muslims from coming into the country, she never addressed the religious liberty issues facing many evangelicals. This was especially the case with marriage. Granted, evangelicals should not have expected Clinton to defend traditional marriage or promise to help overturn Obergefell v. Hodges, but she did not seem willing to support something akin to what law professor and author John Inazu has described as “confident pluralism.” The question of how to make room for people with religiously motivated beliefs that run contrary to the ruling in Obergefell is still being worked out, and the question is not an easy one to parse. But when Hillary claimed that her candidacy was a candidacy for “all Americans,” it seemed like an attempt to reach her base, not to reach across the aisle. Conservative evangelicals were not buying it.

Joe Biden is not Hillary Clinton. In other words, white evangelicals do not hate Biden. (Christians are not supposed to hate, but it really seems like they hate Hillary. I’ve heard this over and over again from those I met on the Believe Me book tour). Biden is now doing just as well, if not better, than Obama with white evangelicals. One could make a case that the Biden campaign does not need to have a white evangelical outreach plan. As long as he doesn’t do anything stupid (which is definitely possible for Joe) that might rile up white evangelicals, he will get more white evangelical votes in 2020 than Hillary in 2016.

But if Joe Biden’s team is interested in making serious inroads among white evangelicals who voted for Trump in 2016, he will need to do several things:

On abortion: Biden lost his chance to win over most white evangelicals on this issue when he reversed his position on the Hyde Amendment. But he can still win some white evangelicals, or at least make them more comfortable with a Biden presidency, if he talked openly about abortion and how his policies on poverty and racial injustice might contribute to the continued lowering of the abortion rate in America. (The high abortion rate among African Americans, for example, is directly related to systemic racism and poverty).

Right now, when Biden talks about abortion, he does so in order to convince his Democratic base that he is pro-choice. This was his strategy during the Democratic primary season. But what if he talks about abortion from the perspective of his Catholic faith and his personal opposition to the practice? This would require him to say that the number of abortion needs to be reduced in America. He could easily make such a case and still defend Roe v. Wade. Senator Bob Casey Jr. made a similar case against Rick Santorum in the 2006 Pennsylvania Senate election. Such an approach would also give Biden a chance to contrast his views on race and poverty with those of Trump. Biden should not only address abortion when people ask him about it, but he should make it a campaign issue. And yes, I know this is wishful thinking.

Biden also needs to articulate a more nuanced view of religious liberty, especially as it relates to institutions who uphold traditional views on sexuality. Most of the debate on religious liberty today lacks complexity. I would encourage Biden to read Inazu’s Confident Pluralism. He may also want to think about the Fairness for All legislation. Again I know this is a long shot. There will be too much pressure for Biden to follow party orthodoxy on this issue.

An appeal to racial justice, climate change, and immigration will attract some white evangelicals in 2020. But most of these will be the white evangelicals (16%) who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. If the Biden campaign wants to ignore my suggestions (above) on abortion and religious liberty, and focus its evangelical outreach solely on race, climate, and immigration, they will need to do a much better job connecting these issues to biblical faith. I am not confident that Biden can deliver on this front in the way that Obama and Hillary Clinton did in 2008 when they visited Messiah College and Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church.

Thank You (Again) Bob Casey

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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.

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.

How the Democratic Presidential Candidates Can Win Evangelical Votes

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Pete Buttigieg at Jimmy Carter’s church in Plains, Georgia

Here is a taste of Elana Schor’s Associated Press piece “Democrats’ challenge: Courting evangelicals in the Trump era“:

 

President Donald Trump’s strong white evangelical support poses a challenge to Democrats: how to connect with a group of Christian voters whose longtime GOP lean makes them compelling antagonists in a polarized era.

Former President Barack Obama reached out to evangelicals in notable fashion during his White House bids, tapping well-known pastor Rick Warren to appear at his first inauguration and vowing to safeguard religious liberty as he launched a coalition of faith voters in 2012. While Obama’s efforts paid some dividends, Trump has complicated that task this year for Democrats who are balancing an appeal to religious voters with opposition to the sitting president’s agenda on issues important to evangelicals.

The value of making political space for more conservative-leaning evangelicals may be less urgent for Democrats now, amid a grueling primary where the party’s liberal base holds significant sway. But once Democrats choose a nominee, cutting into Trump’s popularity with white evangelicals — not to mention securing votes in minority evangelical communities — could make a pivotal difference come November’s general election.

To that end, multiple Democratic presidential hopefuls have talked about their faith on the campaign trail, weaving it into their approach to issues from health care to economics. Among the most vocal Democrats on that front is former South Bend, Ind., mayor Pete Buttigieg, who asserted his party’s connection to religion last week during its final primary debate before next month’s first-in-the-nation Iowa caucus.

Read the rest here.

Of the candidates left in the Democratic primary race, only Pete Buttigieg occasionally uses Christian language.  This commendable, but it is often hard to separate Buttigieg’s religious language from Democratic Party talking points. He will not win over many white evangelicals this way.

Over the last couple of years I have talked with a lot of Trump-voting evangelicals.  Some go to my church.  Some are in my family.  Many attended one of my events on the Believe Me book tour. Others I have encountered through social media or e-mail.

Based on this anecdotal evidence, I think there are a lot of evangelicals who will vote for Trump again. I’ve even met a few evangelicals who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016, but plan to vote for Trump in 2020 because he delivered on Supreme Court justices, religious liberty (as defined by conservative evangelicals), and Israel.

But I have also met people who voted for Trump in 2016 and are looking for a justification–any justification–to vote for a Democrat in 2020.  These evangelicals might vote for:

  1.  A Democratic candidate who speaks in genuine and sincere ways about reducing the number of abortions in America.  Preferably this would be a candidate who supports the Hyde Amendment.
  2. A Democratic candidate who recognizes the legitimate threats to religious liberty experienced by some Christian institutions.  Such a candidate might endorse something like Fairness for All or embrace something akin to John Inazu‘s “confident pluralism.”

That’s it.

If a candidate will speak proactively on both of these points he or she will steal a small number of evangelical votes away from Trump.  These votes may be all that is needed to defeat him.  But I don’t see it happening. No such candidate exists in the Democratic field.

If a candidate is not willing to part from the Democratic Party platform on these points then I see no political reason for her or him to talk about religion on the campaign trail.  Such a candidate should just take the route Hillary Clinton took in 2016– ignore evangelicals and try to win without them.  Let’s remember that such a strategy almost worked–Clinton won the popular vote by three million.

Ronald Sider on Abortion

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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.

When a Pro-Life Democrat Wins the African-American Vote and Defeats a Pro-Trump Candidate in Louisiana

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This weekend Louisiana’s Democratic governor John Bel Edwards was reelected.  He defeated a Trump-supported Republican named Eddie Risponse.  Trump visited Louisiana twice in the last two weeks in the hopes of getting Risponse elected.  It did not help.

It is worth noting that John Bel Edwards greatly expanded Medicaid in Louisiana.  He also signed a bill banning abortion after a heartbeat is detected.  And his victory was largely due to overwhelming support among Louisiana’s African Americans.

Over at First Things, Fordham University moral philosopher Charles Camosy offers some analysis of Edwards’s victory.  Here is a taste:

It would be interesting to know what white, progressive, highly educated Democrats think of all this. After all, they have been primarily responsible for the party’s turn to the kind of abortion extremism that would have doomed an orthodox Democrat in a race like this one. Mother Jones ran a piece a few days before the election with the headline, “Is There Still Room for an Anti-Abortion Hardliner in the Democratic Party?” The answer in the party platform—which claims that abortion should be unrestricted, that it should be paid for by pro-lifers’ tax dollars, and that it is “core to women’s, men’s, and young people’s health and wellbeing”—is obviously in the negative.

But when faced with the prospect of a Trump-supported governor, Democratic activists changed their tune. This kind of change needs to happen more generally throughout the party, especially as we head into 2020. In 2016, Trump over-performed with African Americans and Latinos—populations which tend to be more abortion-skeptical than white Democrats. For the Democrats’ progressive leadership, which at least says all the right things about listening to voices of color, the factors behind Edwards’s reelection should be highly instructive. But the party, at least as currently constituted, is light years away from permitting a pro-life Democratic candidate from running for national office.

And this:

Despite struggling in purple states like Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, there is, remarkably, increased talk of the Democrats becoming a dominant party by turning big states like Texas from red to blue. But it is nearly impossible to see how this would work given their current abortion platform—which, in addition to just being politically bananas, is made-to-order for devastating pro-life messaging.

Indeed, recent studies of pro-life political advertisements in Texas found that they had the biggest impact on—wait for it—Democratic-leaning women, young voters, and Latino voters. Such ads moved them 10, 8, and 13 points, respectively. And they had real political results—pushing Governor Abbott to a whopping 44 percent approval rating with Latinos, for instance. Is it possible that the progressive, white abortion rights activists who dominate the Democratic party leadership could be marginalized in favor of those genuinely committed to listening to black and Latino voices on abortion?

One might think that Trump’s 2016 victory, coupled with the Edwards reelection, would be enough to push the party to change course. But the bubble of coastal elites (on both right and left) is a difficult one to burst. I fear that only something totally devastating—like a 2020 Trump victory—could shake up the current leadership.

Read the entire piece here.

Michael Wear: “Democrats Shouldn’t Be So Certain About Abortion”

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When it comes to abortion politics, Michael Wear, an evangelical Christian and member of Obama’s faith-based initiative team, is one of our most important voices.  His piece in today’s New York Times is one of the best things I have read on the subject.  Here is a taste:

According to some progressives, Democrats need to learn from Mr. Trump’s style of politics and name enemies, draw harder lines and callously stoke the animosities that roil Americans’ lives for partisan advantage.

This emulation of Mr. Trump’s flattening of our political discourse to its extremes is evident in many areas, but perhaps nowhere more clearly than on abortion. There were several examples of this just in the last month.

In the first presidential debate, Senator Elizabeth Warren was asked if there was any restriction on abortion she supported; she could not name one, and no other candidate on the stage tried to either. Joe Biden was berated by his Democratic competitors and others for his previous support for the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding for abortion, and announced that he would now oppose it. And yet a Politico/Morning Consult poll from June showed that slightly more Democratic women support the Hyde Amendment (at 41 percent) than oppose it (at 39 percent). Overall, 49 percent of registered voters support Hyde, compared with 32 percent who oppose it. It is not so much that Mr. Biden was out of step with the Democratic electorate, but that the 2020 Democratic candidates are out of step with American voters, even Democratic voters, on the issue of abortion.

Read the entire piece here.

How Biden Can Separate Himself (Even Further) From the Pack Tonight

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I still stand by my belief that Joe Biden has the best chance to beat Donald Trump in 2020.  He is going to get hammered in these Democratic debates and the coming primaries, but if he can survive, and not screw things up, he can be the next president.

I was not overly impressed by anyone in last night’s debate.  Elizabeth Warren won the first half of the debate, but she seemed to fade toward the end.  Nevertheless, I think she controlled the stage and was clearly the overall winner.  Julian Castro did very well.  His team can build on his performance.  As I said to my daughter last night, I still don’t understand why Cory Booker is not polling higher.  I felt bad for Beto O’Rourke.  He did not look well last night.  I was wondering if he had the flu.  He looked pale and his eyes were very red and watery.  I like Amy Klobuchar, but Biden will take all of her potential votes.

I was struck by the question on abortion.  Every candidate on the stage upheld the Party line.  Here is Emma Green at The Atlantic:

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates see abortion as a winning issue in the next election. That was clear from the first night of the party’s primary debates, where the politicians onstage vied to show how emphatically they support abortion rights. The candidates focused on fear: of the state-level abortion bans recently passed in places such as Alabama, Missouri, and Georgia; of the threat to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that established a constitutional right to abortion. Multiple candidates affirmed their support for expansive abortion rights, citing widespread support among Americans.

The candidates also conveniently avoided the most controversial and contested aspects of abortion policy, including limits on the procedure at any point in a pregnancy. Whether this dodge was intentional or the natural outcome of a quick-paced debate, it stood in contrast to one of the most memorable moments of the 2016 presidential debates, when Hillary Clinton endorsed abortion through the end of the third trimester of a pregnancy. So far this cycle, Democrats have been running to embrace the abortion-rights positions that poll well with voters, and steering clear of tougher questions. In reality, however, these nitpicky questions about abortion limits matter: These are the policy areas where most abortion fights actually happen at the federal level.

Green correctly concludes: “Democrats are clearly willing to promote their party’s support for abortion rights; none of the nearly two dozen candidates has tried to use moderation on abortion to his or her advantage.”

Read her entire piece here.

Let’s see what happens tonight.  As many know, Biden has raised serious questions about federal funding for abortion, but he caves whenever he is pressured by other candidates.  What if Biden takes the opportunity tonight to provide a nuanced view on abortion by saying something about how he wants to reduce the number of abortions in the United States? He can do this without flip-flopping again on the Hyde Amendment or undermining Roe v. Wade.  If Biden takes this route, he will probably be the only candidate willing to make a break–however subtle–with the Party line.  I am not optimistic that Biden and his team will go this route, but I do know that most Democrats here in Pennsylvania would welcome such a move.

Biden Caves on the Hyde Amendment

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Princeton’s Robert George was right:

Biden, in a speech tonight in Atlanta, claimed that he is opposed to the Hyde Amendment.

Here is the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former Vice President Joe Biden said Thursday he no longer supports a controversial ban that blocked the use of federal funds for some abortions, reversing a position that put him at odds with many Democrats.

The White House hopeful said at a national party fundraiser in Atlanta that anti-abortion measures adopted in Georgia and other states are a sign that Republicans are going to continue to push for more aggressive restrictions. 

Read the entire piece here.

Joe Biden on Abortion

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Emma Green is back with a piece on Joe Biden’s view on abortion.  He supports the Hyde Amendment, a ban on federal funding for abortions through Medicaid.  Yet last night one of his campaign directors claimed that he was supportive of Roe v. Wade.  As I tweeted:

Here is a taste of Green’s piece at The Atlantic:

…he still supports the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old ban on federal funding for most abortions through programs such as Medicaid. As a senator, Biden voted repeatedly to keep this ban in place; in the 1990s, as NBC reported, he wrote a letter to constituents affirming that Americans who oppose abortions should not have to pay for them. The other leading 2020 Democratic candidates have taken the opposite stance, calling for Hyde to be repealed, along with other expansions of abortion rights. Perhaps in response to the Democratic field’s move to the left, Biden has recently indicated that he might be willing to protect abortion rights with federal legislation.

While most voters likely do not recognize the term “Hyde Amendment,” the issue of using tax dollars to pay for abortion is fairly clear-cut. Even people who support legal abortion, including Democrats, may not believe the federal government should be paying for it. Biden’s continued support for a ban on federal funding for abortion sends a different message: This is the moderate Democrat who voters have known for decades. Abortion-rights advocacy groups are already calling out Biden’s position on Hyde, but unlike other 2020 Democrats, he is not prioritizing to those groups’ causes. In part by emphasizing his fight for “the soul of the nation,” as he has put it, over and above divisive social issues, Biden is making a bet that he can appeal to the widest range of voters in a 2020 general election.

Frankly, I would like to see Biden define himself as a pro-life Democrat.  As I have argued before, it is the most consistent position for a party that claims to care about the weakest and most vulnerable human beings in society.

And by the way, it is also possible to be pro-life and pro-women’s rights.  I am with Jimmy Carter on this.

What Will Future Historians Say About Abortion?

abortion

I hate the term “right side” and “wrong side” of history.  No historian should use these phrases. They are moral, not historical, phrases.  When people use them they are usually saying more about their own politics or religion than the patterns of history.  When Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” he was making a theological statement.  It is a theological statement that I affirm because I am a Christian who hopes in a coming Kingdom where justice will prevail, and not because I wholeheartedly embrace the Enlightenment idea of progress.

Historians know that the story of humanity does not always bend toward justice.  Usually those who reference the right and wrong sides of history have a political axe to grind.  Historians, of course, are not prophets.  We cannot predict the direction history will move.  Christian historians should have eschatological hope, but we cannot pretend to claim that we know all that God is doing.  This is why we talk about humility and mystery.  We see through a glass darkly.

In her recent piece on abortion at VOX, evangelical feminist Karen Swallow Prior does not use the phrase “right side of history” or “wrong side of history,” but she does invoke a kind of ethical trajectory–a teleology if you will– that is born out of her Christian convictions and her belief in moral progress.  As a historian, I am trained to treat her predictions with caution.  As a Christian who believes we must reduce the number of abortions in the United States, I say let’s hope she is correct.

Here is a taste of her piece, “Abortion Will Be Considered Unthinkable 50 Years from Now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last year that abortion hit its lowest rate since Roe v. Wade11.8 per 1,000 women ages 15-44, a dramatic decline from a peak in the early 1980s that approached 30 per 1,000 women. It’s unclear whether this decrease is owing to increased use of contraceptives; delayed sexual activity among young people; the declining number of doctors willing to participate in abortions; a growing inability to deny — thanks to ultrasound technology, prenatal surgical interventions, and extravagant gender reveal parties — the insuppressible personality of the child in the womb; or a combination of all these factors.

Whatever the cause, however, abortion is becoming less necessary and less desirable. Recent attempts in several states to expand access to late-term abortions in anticipation of the possible overturning of Roe not only violate the view of the majority (who support greater restrictions after the first trimester) but will be seen by future generations as a last, desperate show of stubbornness in the face of human progress.

Every age has its blinders, constructed, usually, through a combination of ignorance and self-interest. Many things such as bloodletting and wet nurses that are seen as good or indispensable in one age are unthinkable in another.

Our modern-day willingness to settle for sex apart from commitment, to accept the dereliction of duty by men who impregnate women (for men are the primary beneficiaries of liberal abortion laws), and to uphold the systematic suppression of sex’s creative energy and function are practices that people of other ages would have considered bizarre. As we enter late modernity and recognize the limits of the radical autonomy and individualism which have defined it, the pendulum will correct itself with a swing toward more communitarian and humane values that recognize the interdependency of all humans.

When we do, we will look back at elective abortion and wonder — as we do now with polluting and smoking — why we so wholeheartedly embraced it. We will look at those ultrasound images of 11-week old fetuses somersaulting in the waters of the womb and lack words to explain to our grandchildren why we ever defended their willful destruction in the name of personal choice and why we harmed so many women to do so.

Read the entire piece here.

This reminds me of what I wrote earlier this week about Jimmy Carter’s suggestion that the Democratic Party change its views on abortion:

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Jimmy Carter: Democrats Should Change Their Position on Abortion

Carter

Jimmy Carter teaching Sunday School

Jimmy Carter appeared on radio show of conservative pundit Laura Ingraham recently.  Here is what he said about the Democratic Party’s position on abortion:

“I never have believed that Jesus Christ would approve of abortions and that was one of the problems I had when I was president having to uphold Roe v. Wade and I did everything I could to minimize the need for abortions. I made it easy to adopt children for instance who were unwanted and also initiated the program called Women and Infant Children or WIC program that’s still in existence now. But except for the times when a mother’s life is in danger or when a pregnancy is caused by rape or incest I would certainly not or never have approved of any abortions.”

“I’ve signed a public letter calling for the Democratic Party at the next convention to espouse my position on abortion which is to minimize the need, requirement for abortion and limit it only to women whose life are in danger or who are pregnant as a result of rape or incest. I think if the Democratic Party would adopt that policy that would be acceptable to a lot of people who are now estranged from our party because of the abortion issue.”

Life News has context.

I think there are a lot of pro-life Democrats out there who would agree with Carter, but they do not make their voices heard for several reasons:

  1. They do not want to be ostracized by the Democratic Party.
  2. They are afraid that if they defend the unborn they will be accused of not caring about women’s rights.  (This, I believe, is a false dichotomy).
  3. They do not want to be associated with the divisive and unhelpful “baby-killing” culture war rhetoric of the Right.
  4. They do not endorse the Christian Right/GOP playbook that teaches the only way to reduce abortions is to overturn Roe. v. Wade.

Secular Pro-Lifers

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Check out David Mills’s piece at Aleteia.  There are secular pro-lifers who are pro-life based on “left-wing” ideas.

Here is a taste:

For example: A few days before the conference, I saw on Medium a post by someone who called himself “your stereotypical leftie.” He explained his rejection of the movement to repeal Ireland’s pro-life eighth amendmentof its constitution. Against most of his leftwing peers, he calls himself “unashamedly pro-life; a conviction that is not based on any religious dogma, but science.” The child is a human being from the moment of conception. That is “irrefutable fact.” (Here, fyi, is the Irish Republican organization supporting the eighth amendment. For those who don’t know, Irish Republicanism is pretty much the opposite of our Republicanism.)

The Irishman argues that his position more authentically upholds left-wing commitments than the pro-abortionists’. He describes abortion “as a far-right concept, intended to remove those from society deemed to be unworthy, in this case working-class children and children with disabilities.” What, he asks, “could be more misogynistic than sex-selective abortions that almost exclusively target unborn female children? And what could be more bigoted than the disproportionately high amount of Black and Latino children aborted in US clinics?”

A few years ago, a writer in the leftist journal New Statesman made the same argument. The slogan “My body, my life, my choice,” writes Mehdi Hasan, had “always left me perplexed. Isn’t socialism about protecting the weak and vulnerable, giving a voice to the voiceless? Who is weaker or more vulnerable than the unborn child? Which member of our society needs a voice more than the mute baby in the womb?”

He doesn’t believe this because he’s Muslim, he says. “To be honest, I would be opposed to abortion even if I were to lose my faith. I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a ‘person.’”

Read the entire piece here.

Democratic Party Will Fund Pro-Life Candidates

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

 

Kate Shellnut reports at Christianity Today:

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

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

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

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

Read the entire piece here.

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

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

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

Are Democrats Rethinking “Abortion Orthodoxy?”

 

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

Here is a taste of his piece at Crux:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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