Younger Evangelicals Weigh in on Abortion and Other Issues

Once thought to be in the pocket of the Religious Right, many American evangelicals today are discovering a deeper understanding of what it means to be pro-life.

Kenny Hiser, communications director from Sojourners sent this article to me that will be their cover article in November, it’s called “The Meaning of ‘Life.'” For the article the authors interviewed 21 Christians from nine cities around the country, representing 6 ethnicities and aged between 26-66, they were asked about the issues that matter most to them. The key discussion that takes place in this article is that ‘life’ is still a really important issue for Christian Evangelicals and for a majority of the people interviewed here it is being interpreted in far broader than has been typical for those influenced by the Religious Right.  I appreciated reading through this and seeing how politics for at least some Evangelicals is starting to shift and I think you too will appreciate the holistic outlook that comes from these Christians, even if you disagree on some of their points. Click “read more” to see the article.

The Meaning of ‘Life’

–By Jim Rice and Jeannie Choi

Joshua Hopping of Sweet, Idaho, helped put George W. Bush in the White House, and four years later helped keep him there. As an evangelical Christian, Hopping was part of the so-called “values voters” bloc that some pundits credit with Bush’s electoral success.

            But this year, Hopping isn’t a lock to support the Republican ticket. He says he’s open to consider which candidate best embodies his Christian values—and that very openness represents what could be one of the most significant shifts in this election season, because evangelicals, especially those under 30, are no longer a safe bet to vote for the furthest-right option on the ballot. 

            Why the loosening of party attachment? The questions that matter most to Hopping, 28, aren’t as narrowly defined as they used to be. He says he’ll be paying close attention to what the candidates are saying about the issues most important to him, which now include not only abortion and same-sex marriage but also the environment, poverty, and immigration—“and that’s not even counting the war in Iraq, health care, social security, and all those other things that are important,” Hopping told Sojourners. Looking at the records of the two parties on those issues, Hopping says, gave him pause about the unquestioned convictions he held in the past. “I said, ‘wait a minute,’ I want to take another look and see who’s out there, who actually cares about life beyond the womb.” Hopping says this line of thinking feels outside of his conservative comfort zone, but he cannot ignore his new convictions, particularly about the environment.

            “Eight years ago, I began working in the environmental field, and it really hit me that God tells us to take care of the environment. The more I read the Bible, I see that the environment affects the poor, the young, and the old—the same people God said to go reach,” he says.

            While Hopping may seem like an anomaly, recent reports show that he is not alone. “Since about 2005 we have seen a sharp decline in the number of people calling themselves Republicans,” reported Scott Keeter, director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, based on surveys released in early September. “Evangelical voters have displayed a great deal of dissatisfaction with the current state of things, including the Republican Party,” said John C. Green, senior fellow in religion and American politics at the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

            And while polls showed a surge of evangelical support for the Republican ticket after the nomination of Sarah Palin, Keeter said that it was unlikely to last: “Some of what we are seeing now may be, if not ephemeral, subject to change with further events in the campaign.”

            Since there has not been a correlating increase in young evangelical affiliation with the Democratic Party, some observers feel that the evangelical vote is much less predictable than in years past—and may hinge on the question of whether a narrow concept of what it means to affirm life is enough.

            To get a better picture of how evangelical views are changing, Sojourners interviewed 21 people from nine cities—including Seattle; Columbus, Ohio; Boston; Leawood, Kansas; Atlanta; Houston; Pittsburgh, and Boise, Idaho—representing six different ethnicities and ranging from ages 26 to 66. The conversations suggested a significant shift in evangelical viewpoint—a transformation with the potential to shake up not only political assumptions but the very face of evangelicalism in the years to come.

Upholding All Life

For most evangelicals, being “pro-life” continues to be the central factor in their political discernment. That fact has led some political observers to declare that evangelicals will once again support the Republican ticket this fall in overwhelming numbers (in 2004, George Bush won 79 percent of the 26.5 million evangelical votes, according to exit polling).

            But this year, many evangelicals, especially among those born since the 1970s, are coming to understand “pro-life” in broader ways, and the impact of that new perspective remains to be seen. As Time Magazine’s Amy Sullivan put it in early September, “While Palin is inspiring rhapsodies from the lions of the Christian right, her appeal to more moderate and younger evangelicals—as well as independent swing voters—may be limited.”

            For instance, a self-described anti-abortion evangelical commenting on “Jesus Creed,” a leading blog of the emergent church, wrote that policies that fight poverty, work for health-care justice, and generally improve economic conditions for poor and working-class people will likely result in the number of abortions decreasing much more than under an administration that simply declares itself opposed to Roe vs. Wade—and thus supporting the former initiatives should arguably be considered more “pro-life” than the latter.

            Those efforts to address the root factors that have been shown to contribute to increased numbers of abortions—“abortion-reduction” measures—speak to the desire of many evangelicals to move from divisive rhetoric about abortion to actual results. Adam Hamilton, founding pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resur rection outside of Kansas City, Kansas, says a key question is, “‘Are you interested in actually reducing the number of abortions even if you can’t completely sway people to your opinion?’ I think that’s where the abortion debate needs to move.”

            The abortion-reduction issue became a focal point at both of the national conventions this summer, with the parties moving in opposite directions. The Democrats, pushed by evangelicals, Catholics, and others, added abortion-reduction language to their platform: “We also recognize that … health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions. The Demo cratic Party also strongly supports a woman’s decision to have a child by ensuring access to and availability of programs for pre- and post-natal health care, parenting skills, income support, and caring adoption programs.”

            The Republican Party, on the other hand, took a step back from abortion-reduction language. As The Wall Street Journal put it, “For all their pro-life pieties, the Republicans at this year’s convention, while asserting their opposition to Roe, dropped platform language that invited ‘all persons of good will, whether across the political aisle or within our party, to work together to reduce the incidence of abortion.’”

            Commenting on the party platforms, Cameron Strang, editor of Relevant Magazine, said that commitments to reduce the number of abortions could appeal to young evangelicals who have a more “holistic” view of the meaning of “pro-life.”

            For some evangelicals, even those who consider themselves strongly pro-life, the issue of abortion doesn’t have a lot of influence on how they vote in presidential elections. For example, Bo Lim, a member of Quest Church in Seattle, said that abortion, along with several other moral concerns, “don’t rise to the top of my list of issues in regard to the election because of the limited role the president or our government can do in regard to these issues.” 

EVANGELICALS ACROSS the country tell stories of their own transformation from a narrow concern for one or two issues to a broader understanding of the Christian call. Eugene Cho in many ways exemplifies these “new evangelicals.”

            When Cho started Seattle’s Quest Church in 2001, he began with a handful of people meeting in his living room. Quest Church has grown to a congregation of more than 500 members, many of them young evangelical Christ ians.

            “Personally, I don’t want to be defined by one or two issues,” Cho says. “Obviously two of the bigger issues that are highlighted by certain groups of the Christian segment are gay marriage and abortion. And while I acknowledge that they are important to me, I simply don’t elevate them over other issues. I must juxtapose them with the war in Iraq, local and global poverty, and human rights.”

            That opinion is shared by Rich Nathan, pastor of Vineyard Church of Columbus in Columbus, Ohio, and host of last spring’s Justice Revival, co-sponsored by Sojourners. As the pastor of one of the largest churches in the Vineyard movement, with more than 6,500 members, Nathan considers the importance of the sanctity of life and the “least of these” when thinking about the upcoming elections.

            “I believe that the measure of a culture is how we treat the weakest person in the culture, the most defenseless,” Nathan says. As a result, a serious abortion-reduction plan remains one of the most important issues for Nathan as he decides whom to vote for in November. But the weakest and most defenseless people in a culture do not only include unborn children, Nathan says.

            “God is always on the side of the marginalized, the people who are the weakest and poorest. That includes the unborn and their mothers, but it also includes people who lack health insurance and folks who can’t find jobs in a global economy. It includes children and women who are being trafficked into sex slavery, and it includes the people of Darfur,” Nathan told Sojourners.

            This broader perspective has loosened party attachment for many evangelicals. As Marlon Hall, pastor of The Awakenings Movement, a Houston church, put it, “I’m not voting for a candidate or a party; I’m voting for principles.”

             Similarly, for Teresa Norman, a member of Cho’s Seattle congregation, being pro-life is more than just a side to take in the abortion debate; rather, it is a consistent ethic with which to consider other issues.

            “To be consistently pro-life would mean being pro-everyone’s-life, not just the lives of the unborn and not just those who are demographically, economically, racially, culturally, or religiously similar to us,” she says.

 The Impact of the War

Support for the sanctity of life affects the views of many evangelicals on the Iraq war. That’s the case for Sokol Haxhi nasto, a member of Park Street Church, a historic evangelical church in Boston, founded in 1809, where William Lloyd Gar rison delivered his first major public address against slavery. Since 2003, Haxhinasto has been dismayed by America’s presence in Iraq.

            “From the Christian point of view, the war does not send a message of loving your enemies,” Haxhinasto, a doctoral student at Harvard Medical School, told Sojourners. “The war is certainly not pro-life, and so I wonder, how can you be pro-life on abortion and then go into a war that isn’t pro-life?”

            Pat McWherter, a member of Vineyard Church of Columbus and a retired Vietnam War veteran, agrees. For McWherter, his Christian convictions and his firsthand experience with war are enough for him to believe that the war in Iraq must end.

            “We got into the Iraq war, right or wrong, and now we have an obligation to develop and execute a political and military endgame that will ensure that the Iraqi people have a stable and viable government to conduct their country’s affairs and provide for their sovereignty,” McWherter asserts. “Once accomplished, U.S. troops should be compelled to come home.”

            Haxhinasto and McWherter are not lone voices for peace in the evangelical community. For Cho, dissatisfaction with the Iraq war grew over time. “This issue has become increasingly important over the last four years,” Cho says. “I am eager to carefully scrutinize not only the respective candidates’ views on the war, but their overall vision in engaging the larger world—both friend and foe.”

            That raises an issue that many evangelicals consider equally important to a timely exit from Iraq: fostering improved relations around the world. For Dan Ra, 26, a member of The Living Room, an emergent community in Atlanta, U.S. foreign policy in recent years has altered his political perspective. “Eight years ago I was a freshman in college, and I didn’t know who to vote for,” Ra says. “Most of my Christian friends were voting for Bush and my non-Christian friends were voting for Gore, and I guessed it would have been appropriate to vote for Bush, since I had aligned with what my Christian friends believed. Since then, though, the more aware I became, the more upset I became.”

            Ra says that he’s “tired” of U.S. militarism. “I am tired of an America that plays the bully,” he says. “America needs to re-establish itself as a fair country, and what we’re doing in Iraq and what we’re not doing in Sudan, and what we’re not doing even in our own country by not closing down Guantanamo Bay, is sending a message to the rest of the world that we are a bunch of militaristic cowboys.”

            For Nathan, pastor of the Columbus Vineyard church, improved foreign relations is as much a concern for the church as it is a concern for the government, and he says he’s troubled by “surveys that the rest of the world hold America in almost complete disdain. We rank lower than China and Russia across the globe as threats to global peace. As a result, it’s increasingly difficult for American missionaries to gain a hearing in and around the world, particularly in Muslim countries.” Missionaries recently came to Nathan to plead with him to tell American Christians to have a more balanced perspective regarding Middle Eastern policy, and particularly to urge Americans to care about the rights of Palestinians. For too long, Nathan says, U.S. Christians have maintained a narrow view of the world. Today, their ideas of justice and mercy must expand beyond this continent, into the furthest reaches of the world.

            “I am a citizen of the kingdom and a citizen of the world before I am a citizen of America,” he says. “As a Christian, I can’t think only in terms of narrow American self-interest. I really do need to think about what will promote the kingdom of God and God’s agenda.”

 Caring for All Creation

Considering oneself a citizen of the world, as Nathan says, has compelled many evangelicals to also view the environment as an important issue for the upcoming election—an issue that has, until recently, been largely considered a “liberal” cause. For many evangelicals, caring for the creation is inextricably linked to God’s mandate to Adam and Eve in Genesis.

            “Creation care has certainly grown to become an issue of greater importance for me, more so than previous elections,” says Jason Chatraw, a member of Vineyard Boise church in Boise, Idaho, “but it has for every candidate in every local, state, and national election—which I believe is a good thing and probably a result of the growing number of evangelicals involved in this movement.”

            Hamilton, Church of the Resur rection pastor in Kansas, sees this election as an important opportunity to address issues of waste and consumption in the United States. “People want to think differently about the environment, and it’s a wonderful moment to retrain people’s habits,” Hamilton says.

            Tri Robinson, pastor of Vineyard Boise, began to see environmental matters in a new light after an eventful conversation with his two young-adult children. “They came to me and said, as Christians, they had nobody to vote for,” Robinson remembers. “On the one hand, they would have to vote against the sanctity of life, and on the other hand, they would have to vote against caring for the environment.” This conversation launched Robinson into a deep and careful look into the scriptures, where he was surprised to find an overwhelming call from God for creation care. This led to his writing several books about the Christian call to creation care, including Saving God’s Green Earth: Rediscovering the Church’s Responsibility to Environ mental Stewardship.

            Several formative trips he took to Burma from 1982 to 1985 also informed Robinson’s understanding that the issue of creation care was linked to problems of poverty and even human sex trafficking in developing nations abroad. “There wasn’t a bird chirping or one moving or living thing in that land,” Robinson says, “and I realized that a bad environment leads to polluted water, which leads to infant mortality, world hunger, illiteracy, and even human trafficking in the face of a dying economy. You can’t deal with isolated issues. All of these problems are related.”

 An Interconnected World

Robinson represents many of the new evangelical voters who are coming out of their conservative traditions and challenging themselves to see the world in a different way—as a world where one issue is connected to another through a series of systems. The fragile environment contributes to a broken economic system that creates a society of haves and have-nots. The resulting injustice is what is compelling most, if not all, of these new evangelical voters to look beyond wedge issues to fight for the rights of all people.

            Social justice, then, remains at the heart of the new evangelical voters’ focus in this election year, as demonstrated by Irene Yoon, a member of Quest Church in Seattle and a fervent advocate of efforts to help African peacekeepers in Darfur and to aid people in North Korea, China, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere.

            “We must pursue justice to the best of our ability in our day-to-day lives. As we must love our neighbors, to me, that means taking care of each other,” Yoon says. Caring for our local and global neighbors is a more vital role for government to play than policing the issues of gay marriage and abortion, she says, which are personal issues between individuals and God. “God decides in the end who is righteous and who is not.”

            For Emily Brixius, a church mate of Yoon’s at Quest Church, one of the key ways to care for our neighbors is adequate health care for all. “I really view health care as a moral issue,” says Brixius, 27. “If a country is going to uphold an ethic of life, then health care has to be a part of that.” Christian Chin, another member of Quest Church, agrees that access to health care is a central moral issue for Christians. “It’s a disgrace that nearly 50 million people do not have any coverage in a nation as wealthy as ours,” Chin says. “We need universal health care now.”

            Nimma Bhusri, a member of The Vineyard Church of Ohio, thinks that issues such as the global AIDS crisis, genocide in Darfur, and particularly child prostitution and human trafficking are important to consider in the upcoming elections, a realization she has come to in her own devotional life and in her career as a fashion designer.

            “Living in central Ohio can become a bubble, but Darfur has been a huge issue that has been on the radar. I’ve been much more exposed to the cause, and also to the cause of human trafficking,” Bhusri says. “Therefore, I understand that even though I am a fashion designer in Ohio, I am responsible for AIDS in Africa and for caring for the global poor.”

            “Social injustice is near to the heart of God,” explains Chatraw of Vineyard Boise. “It’s when as a Christian that I feed the poor, tend to the sick, and care for the orphans and widows that I fully embody the love of Christ.”

            It is precisely this inclusive thinking that exemplifies the remarkable transformation that has come over a demographic whose votes in previous elections were predictably based upon two wedge issues. Many evangelicals today are no longer comfortable voting on a narrow understanding of what constitutes a “pro-life” stance.

            “God is always on the side of life,” Rich Nathan insists. “Jesus said, ‘I am not only the truth, but I am the life.’ And so we always press for the preservation of life. We always press toward the inclusion of our neighbors.”

Jim Rice is editor and Jeannie Choi assistant editor of Sojourners.

Sojourners Readers Weigh In

 Evangelical members of the Sojourners online constituency named poverty, peace, and health care as the issues they are most concerned about.

Top social/political concern?

27%     Poverty

12%     War & Peace

11%     Health Care

9%       Consistent Ethic of Life

8%       Human Rights

From a September 2008 survey of 1,505 Sojourners online readers.

In terms of discussion: what are your top social and political concerns? Would you call somewhere in line with this article, or some place else? And please state your own church background so we can have some context.

Published by

Wess

...is the William R. Roger Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

5 thoughts on “Younger Evangelicals Weigh in on Abortion and Other Issues”

  1. I often struggle with the integration of my faith and politics. On the one hand, I consider abortion to be an evil that defies reason, and I feel compelled to seek its eradication. However, if I am honest with myself, I must admit that nothing is achieved for the Kingdom by making abortion illegal if we have not addressed what it is in people that would compel them to do such evil to begin with.

  2. Just for the sake of discussion, here is an article by Robert George, a professor at Princeton University who takes the opposite appproach to this issue.

    Obama’s Abortion Extremism
    by Robert George
    Oct 14, 2008
    Sen. Barack Obama’s views on life issues ranging from abortion to embryonic stem cell research mark him as not merely a pro-choice politician, but rather as the most extreme pro-abortion candidate to have ever run on a major party ticket.

    Barack Obama is the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress.
    Yet there are Catholics and Evangelicals-even self-identified pro-life Catholics and Evangelicals – who aggressively promote Obama’s candidacy and even declare him the preferred candidate from the pro-life point of view.

    What is going on here?

    I have examined the arguments advanced by Obama’s self-identified pro-life supporters, and they are spectacularly weak. It is nearly unfathomable to me that those advancing them can honestly believe what they are saying. But before proving my claims about Obama’s abortion extremism, let me explain why I have described Obama as ”pro-abortion” rather than ”pro-choice.”

    According to the standard argument for the distinction between these labels, nobody is pro-abortion. Everybody would prefer a world without abortions. After all, what woman would deliberately get pregnant just to have an abortion? But given the world as it is, sometimes women find themselves with unplanned pregnancies at times in their lives when having a baby would present significant problems for them. So even if abortion is not medically required, it should be permitted, made as widely available as possible and, when necessary, paid for with taxpayers’ money.

    The defect in this argument can easily be brought into focus if we shift to the moral question that vexed an earlier generation of Americans: slavery. Many people at the time of the American founding would have preferred a world without slavery but nonetheless opposed abolition. Such people – Thomas Jefferson was one – reasoned that, given the world as it was, with slavery woven into the fabric of society just as it had often been throughout history, the economic consequences of abolition for society as a whole and for owners of plantations and other businesses that relied on slave labor would be dire. Many people who argued in this way were not monsters but honest and sincere, albeit profoundly mistaken. Some (though not Jefferson) showed their personal opposition to slavery by declining to own slaves themselves or freeing slaves whom they had purchased or inherited. They certainly didn’t think anyone should be forced to own slaves. Still, they maintained that slavery should remain a legally permitted option and be given constitutional protection.

    Would we describe such people, not as pro-slavery, but as ”pro-choice”? Of course we would not. It wouldn’t matter to us that they were ”personally opposed” to slavery, or that they wished that slavery were ”unnecessary,” or that they wouldn’t dream of forcing anyone to own slaves. We would hoot at the faux sophistication of a placard that said ”Against slavery? Don’t own one.” We would observe that the fundamental divide is between people who believe that law and public power should permit slavery, and those who think that owning slaves is an unjust choice that should be prohibited.

    Just for the sake of argument, though, let us assume that there could be a morally meaningful distinction between being ”pro-abortion” and being ”pro-choice.” Who would qualify for the latter description? Barack Obama certainly would not. For, unlike his running mate Joe Biden, Obama does not think that abortion is a purely private choice that public authority should refrain from getting involved in. Now, Senator Biden is hardly pro-life. He believes that the killing of the unborn should be legally permitted and relatively unencumbered. But unlike Obama, at least Biden has sometimes opposed using taxpayer dollars to fund abortion, thereby leaving Americans free to choose not to implicate themselves in it. If we stretch things to create a meaningful category called ”pro-choice,” then Biden might be a plausible candidate for the label; at least on occasions when he respects your choice or mine not to facilitate deliberate feticide.

    The same cannot be said for Barack Obama. For starters, he supports legislation that would repeal the Hyde Amendment, which protects pro-life citizens from having to pay for abortions that are not necessary to save the life of the mother and are not the result of rape or incest. The abortion industry laments that this longstanding federal law, according to the pro-abortion group NARAL, ”forces about half the women who would otherwise have abortions to carry unintended pregnancies to term and bear children against their wishes instead.” In other words, a whole lot of people who are alive today would have been exterminated in utero were it not for the Hyde Amendment. Obama has promised to reverse the situation so that abortions that the industry complains are not happening (because the federal government is not subsidizing them) would happen. That is why people who profit from abortion love Obama even more than they do his running mate.

    But this barely scratches the surface of Obama’s extremism. He has promised that ”the first thing I’d do as President is sign the Freedom of Choice Act” (known as FOCA). This proposed legislation would create a federally guaranteed ”fundamental right” to abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, including, as Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia has noted in a statement condemning the proposed Act, ”a right to abort a fully developed child in the final weeks for undefined ‘health’ reasons.” In essence, FOCA would abolish virtually every existing state and federal limitation on abortion, including parental consent and notification laws for minors, state and federal funding restrictions on abortion, and conscience protections for pro-life citizens working in the health-care industry-protections against being forced to participate in the practice of abortion or else lose their jobs. The pro-abortion National Organization for Women has proclaimed with approval that FOCA would ”sweep away hundreds of anti-abortion laws [and] policies.”

    It gets worse. Obama, unlike even many ”pro-choice” legislators, opposed the ban on partial-birth abortions when he served in the Illinois legislature and condemned the Supreme Court decision that upheld legislation banning this heinous practice. He has referred to a baby conceived inadvertently by a young woman as a ”punishment” that she should not endure. He has stated that women’s equality requires access to abortion on demand. Appallingly, he wishes to strip federal funding from pro-life crisis pregnancy centers that provide alternatives to abortion for pregnant women in need. There is certainly nothing ”pro-choice” about that.

    But it gets even worse. Senator Obama, despite the urging of pro-life members of his own party, has not endorsed or offered support for the Pregnant Women Support Act, the signature bill of Democrats for Life, meant to reduce abortions by providing assistance for women facing crisis pregnancies. In fact, Obama has opposed key provisions of the Act, including providing coverage of unborn children in the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP), and informed consent for women about the effects of abortion and the gestational age of their child. This legislation would not make a single abortion illegal. It simply seeks to make it easier for pregnant women to make the choice not to abort their babies. Here is a concrete test of whether Obama is ”pro-choice” rather than pro-abortion. He flunked. Even Senator Edward Kennedy voted to include coverage of unborn children in S-CHIP. But Barack Obama stood resolutely with the most stalwart abortion advocates in opposing it.

    It gets worse yet. In an act of breathtaking injustice which the Obama campaign lied about until critics produced documentary proof of what he had done, as an Illinois state senator Obama opposed legislation to protect children who are born alive, either as a result of an abortionist’s unsuccessful effort to kill them in the womb, or by the deliberate delivery of the baby prior to viability. This legislation would not have banned any abortions. Indeed, it included a specific provision ensuring that it did not affect abortion laws. (This is one of the points Obama and his campaign lied about until they were caught.) The federal version of the bill passed unanimously in the United States Senate, winning the support of such ardent advocates of legal abortion as John Kerry and Barbara Boxer. But Barack Obama opposed it and worked to defeat it. For him, a child marked for abortion gets no protection-even ordinary medical or comfort care-even if she is born alive and entirely separated from her mother. So Obama has favored protecting what is literally a form of infanticide.

    You may be thinking, it can’t get worse than that. But it does.

    For several years, Americans have been debating the use for biomedical research of embryos produced by in vitro fertilization (originally for reproductive purposes) but now left in a frozen condition in cryopreservation units. President Bush has restricted the use of federal funds for stem-cell research of the type that makes use of these embryos and destroys them in the process. I support the President’s restriction, but some legislators with excellent pro-life records, including John McCain, argue that the use of federal money should be permitted where the embryos are going to be discarded or die anyway as the result of the parents’ decision. Senator Obama, too, wants to lift the restriction.

    But Obama would not stop there. He has co-sponsored a bill-strongly opposed by McCain-that would authorize the large-scale industrial production of human embryos for use in biomedical research in which they would be killed. In fact, the bill Obama co-sponsored would effectively require the killing of human beings in the embryonic stage that were produced by cloning. It would make it a federal crime for a woman to save an embryo by agreeing to have the tiny developing human being implanted in her womb so that he or she could be brought to term. This ”clone and kill” bill would, if enacted, bring something to America that has heretofore existed only in China-the equivalent of legally mandated abortion. In an audacious act of deceit, Obama and his co-sponsors misleadingly call this an anti-cloning bill. But it is nothing of the kind. What it bans is not cloning, but allowing the embryonic children produced by cloning to survive.

    Can it get still worse? Yes.

    Decent people of every persuasion hold out the increasingly realistic hope of resolving the moral issue surrounding embryonic stem-cell research by developing methods to produce the exact equivalent of embryonic stem cells without using (or producing) embryos. But when a bill was introduced in the United States Senate to put a modest amount of federal money into research to develop these methods, Barack Obama was one of the few senators who opposed it. From any rational vantage point, this is unconscionable. Why would someone not wish to find a method of producing the pluripotent cells scientists want that all Americans could enthusiastically endorse? Why create and kill human embryos when there are alternatives that do not require the taking of nascent human lives? It is as if Obama is opposed to stem-cell research unless it involves killing human embryos.

    This ultimate manifestation of Obama’s extremism brings us back to the puzzle of his pro-life Catholic and Evangelical apologists.

    They typically do not deny the facts I have reported. They could not; each one is a matter of public record. But despite Obama’s injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.

    They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! ”pro-choice”-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.

    This is delusional.

    We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt. Often enough, the abortion lobby itself confirms the truth of what these scholars have determined. Tom McClusky has observed that Planned Parenthood’s own statistics show that in each of the seven states that have FOCA-type legislation on the books, ”abortion rates have increased while the national rate has decreased.” In Maryland, where a bill similar to the one favored by Obama was enacted in 1991, he notes that ”abortion rates have increased by 8 percent while the overall national abortion rate decreased by 9 percent.” No one is really surprised. After all, the message clearly conveyed by policies such as those Obama favors is that abortion is a legitimate solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies – so clearly legitimate that taxpayers should be forced to pay for it.

    But for a moment let’s suppose, against all the evidence, that Obama’s proposals would reduce the number of abortions, even while subsidizing the killing with taxpayer dollars. Even so, many more unborn human beings would likely be killed under Obama than under McCain. A Congress controlled by strong Democratic majorities under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would enact the bill authorizing the mass industrial production of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed. As president, Obama would sign it. The number of tiny humans created and killed under this legislation (assuming that an efficient human cloning technique is soon perfected) could dwarf the number of lives saved as a result of the reduced demand for abortion-even if we take a delusionally optimistic view of what that number would be.

    Barack Obama and John McCain differ on many important issues about which reasonable people of goodwill, including pro-life Americans of every faith, disagree: how best to fight international terrorism, how to restore economic growth and prosperity, how to distribute the tax burden and reduce poverty, etc.

    But on abortion and the industrial creation of embryos for destructive research, there is a profound difference of moral principle, not just prudence. These questions reveal the character and judgment of each man. Barack Obama is deeply committed to the belief that members of an entire class of human beings have no rights that others must respect. Across the spectrum of pro-life concerns for the unborn, he would deny these small and vulnerable members of the human family the basic protection of the laws. Over the next four to eight years, as many as five or even six U.S. Supreme Court justices could retire. Obama enthusiastically supports Roe v. Wade and would appoint judges who would protect that morally and constitutionally disastrous decision and even expand its scope. Indeed, in an interview in Glamour magazine, he made it clear that he would apply a litmus test for Supreme Court nominations: jurists who do not support Roe will not be considered for appointment by Obama. John McCain, by contrast, opposes Roe and would appoint judges likely to overturn it. This would not make abortion illegal, but it would return the issue to the forums of democratic deliberation, where pro-life Americans could engage in a fair debate to persuade fellow citizens that killing the unborn is no way to address the problems of pregnant women in need.

    What kind of America do we want our beloved nation to be? Barack Obama’s America is one in which being human just isn’t enough to warrant care and protection. It is an America where the unborn may legitimately be killed without legal restriction, even by the grisly practice of partial-birth abortion. It is an America where a baby who survives abortion is not even entitled to comfort care as she dies on a stainless steel table or in a soiled linen bin. It is a nation in which some members of the human family are regarded as inferior and others superior in fundamental dignity and rights. In Obama’s America, public policy would make a mockery of the great constitutional principle of the equal protection of the law. In perhaps the most telling comment made by any candidate in either party in this election year, Senator Obama, when asked by Rick Warren when a baby gets human rights, replied: ”that question is above my pay grade.” It was a profoundly disingenuous answer: For even at a state senator’s pay grade, Obama presumed to answer that question with blind certainty. His unspoken answer then, as now, is chilling: human beings have no rights until infancy – and if they are unwanted survivors of attempted abortions, not even then.

    In the end, the efforts of Obama’s apologists to depict their man as the true pro-life candidate that Catholics and Evangelicals may and even should vote for, doesn’t even amount to a nice try. Voting for the most extreme pro-abortion political candidate in American history is not the way to save unborn babies.

    Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and Director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University. He is a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics and previously served on the United States Commission on Civil Rights. He sits on the editorial board of Public Discourse.

  3. Kevin – You have a twisted sense of something being “just for sake of discussion” – that’s rather pompous in my opinion. This article sets out to prove one’s point without any exception or openness to the Other. While reading this I kept wondering if this guy isn’t actually a journalist for Fox News and not an actual academic with his repeated shock rhetoric. If you won’t believe my arguments, maybe I can beat you over the head with it! And it gets worse, and it gets worse still, and still, until our heads blow off!

    I’m honestly surprised you’d endorse this kind of attitude and rhetoric, even if you are staunchly pro-life – this doesn’t appear to be filled with Christian virtues you espouse. I found this article to be hateful, it could have been written in a way that wasn’t, but by his rhetoric it was meant to be not an argument but a battling ram.

    I initially thought I’d just copy and paste what he thinks all Obama supporters say just to be that guy, but in stead I’ve got two other responses (that turned into four):

    a) This article is the opposite of my article in the sense that it has nothing to do with faith, and people struggling to do the right thing. Instead, it’s about trying to protect a one issue platform which makes an issue easier to club people over the head with. It reveals how this has become a maintenance of power issue, as the “pro-life” agenda crumbles, so does the Religious Right.

    b) In terms of the “facts” of the article. It’s not hard to imagine that there might be a little more nuance to these positions than someone who is so blatantly partisan on this issue might believe. Last night Obama declared again, that he is against partial-birth so long as there is an exception made for the mother. George’s argument is going to have a hard time with that. And below a Time article suggests that there are more nuances to laws being signed in the Illinois case cited than some would have us believe. It’s not so cut and dry, this is a very complex issue and any attempt to make it cut and dry is disingenuous (to how life works).

    http://snurl.com/4f3gq [www_time_com]

    c) By continuing to argue a public-theology version of the Christian faith in the “public sphere” Christians continue to legitimize the power the State has over them. George’s debate never once calls into question the legitimacy of the State to do or not do the things he’s proposing. Should the state have rights over our bodies or not? From a theological point, I would say no. As the Body of Christ, Christ has a right to our bodies, and we are held accountable one to another, thus binding and loosing, but the State continues to pursue more and more control over the material world in ways that challenge the Christian ecclesia. Any debate in my mind needs to start from a position where a Christian politics is re-imagined and challenges the assumptions of our “civil” society.

    d) Thus, no matter how hard you club me over the head, this isn’t going to come down to one issue for me (and for many other Christians as well). In one way, I disavow the state project, my allegiance and citizenship is with Christ and his Kingdom. I am voting because I can, and I think one candidate will be better for the politics of America and the world than another, but ultimately they are both men who will work within a system I cannot fully endorse because I am a Christian.

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