Tuesday, March 25, 2008

As much as I like the guy, I don't think I can vote for Obama.

Two primary reasons: 1) it's wrong to abandon our efforts in Iraq at this point; 2) abortion is a categorical evil, and Obama supports it.

I even donated $30 to his campaign, but as I go along, I just don't see how I can punch the ticket for him.

I guess one other thing is that his billing as a truth teller is starting to seem to me somewhat overstated.


On Abortion

Evangelicals no longer report that abortion is their number one political issue; instead that spot is reserved for poverty. Paying attention to poverty must be a good thing.

But it’s a bad thing to forget about abortion:

“In 2005, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million in 2000. From 1973 through 2005, more than 45 million legal abortions occurred.” http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_induced_abortion.html

This is speculation, and I may be wrong. But I have a somewhat half-cynical view about the shift in Christian’s political priorities. The non-cynical half is represented by what I said at first.

Concern for the poor is absolutely good.


I also suspect there is a spirit of acquiescence, accommodation, and appeasement to this shift. Or in other words, cowardice. Christians, like everyone, want to be widely accepted. We all love to be popular; we all hate to be unpopular. Christians know that their popularity will not suffer, and will probably be improved, by paying attention solely to the poor (unless they get extremely zealous about it to a point not yet reached or even approached; I'm talking universal housing or something nutty). And they also know their popularity will suffer if they are vocal about opposing abortion—it puts them back in that 90s, Jerry Falwell camp that they’ve tried so hard to get away from.

We have feet of clay, and everything we do is a mixed effort of both good and bad. Our current shifting political priorities will be not be unique in this regard. I’m not unsympathetic to the conversations we had in the 1990s and early 2000s along the lines of ‘aren’t we supposed to care for the poor, and don’t the Democrats do that better?’ But, for all of the progressive thinking that may be good for the Church, and for all the rightly acknowledged nuance there is to the issues, here’s all I’m saying:

45 million abortions since 1973 is an outrageous categorical evil. Low taxes on the rich are not.


Ρωμανός ~ Romanós said...

Very clear, if very hard, thinking on your part, Kenny. Abortion is a categorical evil; low taxes on the rich is a detail of social injustice. Can we do anything about either?

It’s clear that the advocates of abortion rights can only be people who lie to their consciences. Regardless of religious or cultural upbringing, everyone knows in their knower that to kill an unborn human child is evil. Some just don’t think it’s an evil that will be punished at some point; they think they can get away with it. Even a 'Christian' can be a unrepentant shoplifter, “I'm only taking what's owed me, this is only plundering the Egyptians,” if he thinks that God stretches the law in his favor because he’s been so oppressed. This reminds me of Mrs Obama, who feels that the country owes it to her to elect her husband the next President of the United States, because (as I heard her say in a newscast yesterday evening) “to be a black man in America is horrible—you can even get shot stopping at a gas station to fill up because you’re black.”

Back to abortion. As I said in my blog post “The Border” (http://cost-of-discipleship.blogspot.com/2008/02/border.html) awhile back, referring to the historic Church, “They would not contribute any more than was exacted from them for the maintenance of the world system. They didn’t stand up for their own rights. They didn’t agitate for social reforms or strive for the betterment of any society except their own. Only among themselves, by common and unwritten consent, did they abolish customs that the world regarded normal, but which they abhorred—infanticide, sexual license, slavery, the “festivals.” In this regard, the world felt justified in labeling them “haters of humanity,” in segregating and controlling them by an elaborate system of “tests,” such as the performance of acts of public worship to the state deities.”

Christians cannot and should not try to be ‘Mr Nice Guy’ on social issues, but neither should we try to coerce the amoral to follow us in our values. I wish we could, but unless history lies, it didn’t work whenever tried by “Christian” societies, at least not for long, and maybe never for everyone. Only if we are willing to class abortion-providers and their customers with murderers and their accomplices (and maybe so they are) can we be logically justified in preventing their crime and prosecuting them for committing it.

I doubt seriously that any of the presidential candidates currently running can be considered a Christian in the sense of being a disciple as you are and, hopefully, I am. The world system, even in America, has made it very difficult for a Christian to serve in high public office, because to do so almost condemns him to commit a breach of conscience—he has to allow, because of the perversion of our laws, atrocities that dishonor God, obviate commonsense and biblical morality, and injure the helpless citizens that he will have been elected to serve and defend. Now, it’s only a matter of choosing a régime locally and nationally, that roughly lines up with that commonsense morality, and locally on our own to live moral lives, following our Lord, obeying His commandment (to love one another, as He has loved us), and planting the seed of the Word of salvation, redemption, and liberation in Him, to those around us who will hear.

Why does everything always turn into a “religious” discussion with you, Romanós? No, my friends, not religion, only honest discussion. “Welcome to the world of the real.”

jason said...

"45 million abortions since 1973 is an outrageous categorical evil. Low taxes on the rich are not."

Well said.

It makes me wonder, since I hold this to be a make or break issue, what am I going to do about it in areas other than voting?

I still don't know.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Kenny. Your growth and maturity are amazing.

ReneeW. said...

I understand where you're coming from but the truth is that it just isn't that simple. 45 million babies is an unfathomable number, but changing that one law wouldn't eleviate the systemic problems plaguing our nation's poor. These issues are cyclical, low taxes on the rich are connected to the number of abortions performed each year. Deregulation and lack of oversight in our markets are connected to the number of abortions performed each year. The trickle down theory put into practice in this country is connected to the number of abortions performed each year. Then theres cuts in education, the arts, heath care for children.....These issues are all connected. We can't isolate one issue and hope that one problem solved with help the rest. By bringing people out of poverty, the number of abortions will decrease. By teaching comprehensive sex education, not just abstinence only education, the number of abortions will decrease. As a voting democrat, I am also against abortion, but our country is so out of balance, there is so much amiss, that to not see every problem as intimately connected is to not see the world as it is.

jackswords said...

I guess I've acquiesced long ago. It's not that I want people to like us more. I must not really believe it's murder. Or I must not care enough. Otherwise I'd be doing something more. I mean, wouldn't we be doing more?

Or maybe I feel we're powerless to stop it. We've voted in an evangelical President. He's appointed a new Justice. We were told this would be the beginning of overturning Roe. Is that the only place the battle should be fought? Do we have 20 years and enough luck to have another conservative Justice appointed?

I know it seems like a cheap compromise, but I'm still in favor of reducing the number of abortions somehow even if the U.S. doesn't outlaw it.

Kenny said...

Renee –

I also understand where you’re coming from. But your comment just isn’t responsive to my essential statement that abortion is an absolute evil.

The point of my statement isn’t to decontextualize the issue. Of course everything you said is true regarding the connectedness of other societal issues to abortion. But the areas you’ve named are gray areas.

So, I’d be interested in knowing whether you agree or disagree that abortion is an absolute evil. If not, then fine. But if so, do you allow for U.S. law to sanction such a thing?

I recognize that overturning Roe won’t eliminate abortion. Even if that were to happen there would remain substantial work to do on the issue. At the same time, I believe the law has a moral component, and so something absolutely immoral shouldn’t be sanctioned.


Jack –

I don’t think abortion needs to be the equivalent to murder for us to need to oppose it. For example, slavery isn’t murder, but we still oppose it.

It’s definitely completely tenuous whether any given political action, like voting for a particular president, will result in the overturning of Roe. But I have several responses to this: 1) that’s true of any policy you favor (getting a Democrat in the Whitehouse doesn’t guarantee universal health care); 2) similarly to my response to Renee, the likelihood of practical success doesn’t seem to affect whether we should sanction a categorical evil; 3) we are plausibly close to having a Supreme Court that would overturn Roe, but we need one more Justice (there are probably 4 votes for it right now, but you need 5), and we got two in the last 8 years, so it’s entirely possible to get another 1 in the next 4-8.

Of course the U.S. Presidency and Supreme Court isn’t the only place we should be fighting this fight. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be fighting there too.

Being in favor of reducing abortions even if the practice isn’t outlawed seems like common sense. But I’d also add that you could work to reduce abortions AND work to outlaw the practice. There’s no mutual exclusivity between these two things.

-Dave said...

It's a big messy issue. But I think a good starting point in the discussion is sex. Poverty may be behind x% of abortions, but sex is behind 100%.

There's two conflicting ideas in my head. One is the traditional conservative route: sex outside of marriage is bad, abortion is bad, and the two often go hand in hand.

The other is that a bashful approach to such topics promotes ignorance, and ignorance (as alluded to in Renee's abstinence-only-sex-ed comment) could be a root cause that we miss.

As a practical manner, I think the Church often has its greatest impact not on the national legal level, but at the very personal level - being available to take in, care for, provide for women who may feel an abortion is their only alternative. Facilitating relationships between such women and potential adoptive parents. Reaching out with the stories of parents unable to have children.

I agree with Romanos: "Christians cannot and should not try to be ‘Mr Nice Guy’ on social issues, but neither should we try to coerce the amoral to follow us in our values. I wish we could, but unless history lies, it didn’t work whenever tried by “Christian” societies, at least not for long, and maybe never for everyone."

I think the best response we have is with the tools we are given: love, grace, and prayer. Love, not only for the unprotected child, but for the mother that feels she has no option but that terrible choice. Grace, for the woman who has made such a choice, so that she might not be shunned, but brought to the cross at which we all desperately need forgiveness. And prayer, that through our actions, example, and willing lives, we might bring the light into that unspeakable darkness.

Ben said...

Kenny, thanks so much for this post. I've wanted to post a comment for two days, but haven't had time until now. I appreciated it for several reasons:

a.) Its civility- you didn't stoop to using the inflammatory language so common (understandably so) in these discussion. People have such visceral reactions to this issue on both sides, and civil discourse is often lost. It was clear, logical, called for a response, but was not contentious.

b.) You framed the issue well. I believe history will look on abortion the way we now look on slavery. These are very similar issue, and the responses to them are very similar as well(even in the justifications used and the reason why change cannot happen). I will not go into the similarities, but I think the discourse needs to move this direction and reckon with the parallels.

I think there are some issues that disqualify a person from civil service. Essentially NO ONE would vote for a KKK sympathizer in today's milieu, and justifiably so. In our corporate mind such a position is a disqualifier. I very much agree that abortion is an absolute, categorical evil that I think justifiably disqualifies a person. There are all sorts of surrounding gray issues, lots of contextualization that must be done (as Renee rightly addressed), but certain positions are watershed. As you said, abortion has become so normalized that we tend not to put it in such black and white terms. As much as I've tried to understand a more nuanced position, I can't at this point. I agree with Renee that it's important to understand the surround issues, but nonetheless, abortion needs to be abolished and I cannot support a candidate with said stance.

c.) You very well stated where I am at this point politically. I fit squarely nowhere politically. Yet I reluctantly engage and vote, knowing it does some measure of good- or at least works to minimize the injustice I think is inherent to government. I have no rose colored glass about gov. or politics, but don't believe in separatism, as Hauweras and others purport. Like you said, this has become a watershed issue for me.

I hope a good, civil discussion can continue.

Ben said...

Whoa there's another person named Ben commenting on your blog. That's gonna make things confusing.

Remind me to have a substantive post later on.

Liberal Jesus Freak

Jeff said...

Blast! Besieged by Bens!

OK, time to wade into a hornet's nest here and make an argument for why Christian pro-lifers shouldn't turn their backs on all pro-choice candidates (granted, this is coming from a Jew who doesn't list abortion among his top 30 issues)...

There is more than one way to reduce abortions. Comprehensive sex ed, expanded prenatal and postnatal care programs, community support for new single moms, extended mandatory maternity leave... all these programs generally pushed by liberal (and usually pro-choice) candidates will reduce abortions.

Now, why would you choose a pro-choicer who supports such programs (eg Obama) over a conservative prohibitionist (eg McCain)? Because a prohibitionist still has to overcome 60% opposition to get a law passed, and in the meantime will do nothing. So speaking pragmatically, in 4-8 years in the White House, the liberal pro-choicer will probably decrease abortions more than the conservative pro-lifer. This will be true until public opinion turns against abortion.

Just a thought. You may commence with the tarring/feathering.

Oh, and I'd give Christians credit for complexity in their political beliefs - it's possible to be anti-poverty and pro-life. Issue importance isn't a zero-sum game.

kennyching said...

Jeff -

I think I understand the pragmatic argument. But how would you respond to the idea that there's a time to reject pragmatism?

So, whether abortion is one such issue for you, let's assume a candidate is pro-something-you-consider disqualifying? Say, just for the sake of argument, a pro-slavery candidate, but whose presidency would advance whatever issues you believed were most important?

Another approach you could take is to convince me that abortion isn't a categorical evil.

I'm willing to listen. And I appreciate your willingness to venture into the Christians' nest.

smlwoman said...

I've no longer let abortion beliefs be my deciding factor on a president. I no longer believe that their belief matters. I no longer believe that the president who is against abortion will be able to do anything about it. I have lost faith, they are more concerned about the mothers safety then the safety of the baby. God is the one who needs to step in and end it, and that won't happen until the end of life as we know it.