Evangelicals and Abortion

Ed Kilgore has a useful note about the Evangelical love of the anti-abortion position, one he finds a bit at odds with the character of evangelical thinking itself, as he explains

It’s always fascinated me that by contrast American conservative evangelical Protestants have come to be if anything more extremist on abortion than Catholics (certainly in terms of rank-and-file opinion) without any of these factors: they do not regard Church traditions as dispositive, have been lukewarm or hostile to “natural law” as a foundation for doctrine,

He goes on to link to a very interesting article in Religious Dispatches by Jonathan Dudley. Broadly the history seems right, but then…

Speaking from the Evangelical side of the aisle, the article misses some of the major aspects of Evangelical support for anti-abortion. While Evangelicals of the South certainly framed it through their battles on civil rights (there’s a long, long history their among the S Presbyterians especially, now in Presbyterian Church of America), in the Upper Midwest, the Evangelicals were often members of immigrant based churches. Their reaction was shaped far more by the cultural battles over the ERA. There is also within these communities a large consensus on the justice side of the issue — these communions were one of the homes for the Pro-Life Democrats.

Also, within these communions, Francis Schaffer did have a pull, not because of this last film, but because of a generation of work in Europe. Many young Evangelicals found in him the first person who seemed to possess a cultural engagement. Whatever his flaws, at L’Abri he pioneered a vision of Evangelical thinking that inspired a number of evangelical and non-evangelical scholars. His film had impact because of his previous brand, as it were.

Among northern Evangelicals (well, at least in here in Michigan), the decisive push to a more radical position takes place in 1988 and Pat Robertson’s primary run. This was the contest that showed the political potency of the Right to Life, from that point on, that was the beat that the Evangelical Right had to move to (also note that the Evangelical Left, prominent in the late 70s had collapsed — another story).

Finally, we should probably also noted the impact of the change in abortion itself, from surgical to medical, and with it a shift to earlier abortions. The violence of the abortion methods in the 80s played a role in fueling the Evangelical stance. In that light, the Evangelical adoption of the metaphysical fundamentalism of the Catholics represents more a political alignment, and a lessening of the community’s early horror at the practice and with it, a concern for justice.

The Eugenic Future

Ross Douthat certainly opened a discussion with his column on eugenics, advances in testing, and abortion. Ed Kilgore is scathing, meanwhile Rod Dreher sees the threat and points to a (conservative) cultural solution. Scott McKnight simply lets it fall. I respond

While Douthat wants to see this through the grid of abortion, the more critical view would be to see this as an instance of economic choice. The decision on which children to have, how to engineer them presently looks as if it will be made as a market decision. How successful we can be in keeping genomic information out of the hands of parents remains to be seen. Spiritually, this turn to the self seems to be a far greater danger than the issue of abortion per se. Indeed, once the knowledge is easily available (and for now, thank heavens, it’s not), the decision about fetal life will not be one that can be prohibited, either because of private medicine or the availability of pro-choice jurisdictions. And that in turn only underscores that the issue at hand is deeply cultural in nature.

After all, we are far more likely to introduce a eugenics regime through the market than by some liberal cabal (per Douthat). The enemy is inside us, in our own culture.

Developing and supporting an alternate culture is “conservative” I suppose, however that should not be confused with the merely political. The task is deeply cultural, and one that cannot be settled simply by a reactionary turn, a pulling back. We need a healthy, organic, nurturing culture. Yeah, it’s going to take work.

Talking Faith

In No More “Enemy Turf,” Ed Kilgore lays out the rationale for engaging on cultural issues away from

Yes, certain demographic categories may be “lost” to conservatives if you insist on a winner-takes-all definition, and no, aggressively pursuing support among such voters isn’t worth it if it involves abandoning key principles or essentially adopting the opposition’s point of view. But reducing the margin of defeat on “hostile ground” is often achievable simply by paying attention and not wilfully repelling voters, and in the end a vote is a vote whether it comes from a segment of the electorate that progressives are “winning” or “losing.”

Kilgore notes in particular, the contribution of Amy Sullivan and her recent post in the Washington Post. At least some progressives are not only finding their voice but making important electoral inroads into these once off-limit constituencies.

Of note, he may also underestimate his own contributions, at least for me.

In those ugly days post-2004, Kilgore’s matter-of-fact faith at his old blog, Donkey Rising, along with that of Sullivan and a few others including an up-and-coming state senator from Illinois helped nurture the link between faith and progressive politics. Both articulate a language of hope that is larger than individualism, or the temporary appeals of self-interest.

Whether we talk about Ayn Rand, Romney’s always-switching policy nihilism, austerity economics, or shrinking back from our schools and universities, the conservative turn to the local, private, individual is a turning away from hope. it speaks of a failure of imagination and a settling for second best. Faith and progressive politics alike speak not only of hope for oneself, but of a hope for others, for our communities.  And it is hope that lets individuals pick up the generations-spanning task of justice.

On 5/1/12 8:20 PM, Bill Vis wrote:

So far today we’ve heard it implied by two Voicers that whites that vote against Obama may very well be closet racists.


My point was that for  some — those I would consider as radicals out on the fringe — do bring a racial animosity into their rejection of the president. Moreover, that race issue has a historic link in certain types of populism. This issue is simply uncontestable.

This racial tinge is not universal, but arises for a narrow set of anti-Obama types (I would not even presume that they vote).

Even then, I do not consider race to be the dominant theme among this radical wing. Rather, the politics seem to be driven by other emotional understandings. The best explanation that I’ve read has suggested that this underlying emotional energy comes from a perceived threat to a way of life, perhaps even a loss of a certain way of life, a loss of a way of understanding ones place in the culture.  Actually, that’s fairly understandable. Folks my/our age, who grew up in the 60s, grew up in a nation that was overwhelmingly white, one where ideals seemed to be fixed. The changes of the last 40+ years have been disorienting, not only with ideals/beliefs, but what happens on our streets, and what our economy looks like.

This is a real loss, and so it would not surprise me if that loss also had a certain rear guard, or reactionary politics associated with it.

Related to this is perhaps a loss of common connection. Once perhaps, we thought of the ideals as applying to everyone, covertly assuming that our viewpoint (white, middle class) was the normative one. Others participated as a sort of mercy, or noblesse oblige. This loss of cultural pride of place can fuel resentment. An interesting blog post on this turn from empathy to disdain is from Ed Kilgore.

Frame Issues

As  can be expected, Get Religion has been paying especial attention to the controversy between the administration and the Catholic church. I first suggested that some stories went unheard.

One story aspect that I have not seen covered is that of the recipient of these pills. Let’s call her Hanna in Housekeeping, the single mom with two pre-schoolers. This is the human interest side, the one with real skin in the game. Up until now we have pretty much dealt with the story as told by one of the two institutional players, the administration or the Catholic hierarchy, but the individual story actually gives some substance as to what is involved here, what these larger decisions mean for those who do the work.

To which, Paul of Alexandria responded

Harris (22): Hanna is actually irrelevant to this story, even though the Democrats keep trying to drag her in. This issue is about the rights of the employers, not the employees.

Hanna belongs. While the nominal controversy can be framed as one of government v. employer rights that particular frame has been decided by courts; the government possesses the power to establish uniform measures for employers. The issue here does not turn on that rather unexceptionable finding, but rather on the violation of particular institutional religious tenets.

When we engage in religious battles we encounter a landscape in which multiple claims to rights are made. There is a persistent tension between the right of religious practice and societal limits in the concern of equity; this roughly the battle between the 1st and the 14th amendment. This battle-line keeps shifting, these concerns are constantly recalibrated with respect to each other.

Seen as a battle-line, the conflict does become one of winners and losers, the easy stuff of political conflict. here is where the human interest story actually helps us out. We meet the stakeholders being affected. A good focus on the individual not only makes for some interesting story-telling (e.g. why are you working at this Catholic hospital and not the big one on the hill?), it also helps humanize the hospital – itself, not a bad outcome.

There is also one other story not getting told well at all in this: that of the Church’s own position – this too arises from the battle-line coverage of winners and losers. If we miss the impact on the female employees (the Hannas), we also miss the actual reasoning for the position. The New York Times went a little down that road, in spelling out the reasoning that pushed the American Church to this decision. Ironically, one of the best presentations of the Church’s case for this outsider, showed up in comments by “theAmericanist” on Ed Kilore’s post “Contraception and ‘Religious Liberty’” at Political Animal.