The election is right around the corner, and it's a big one. Americans turned out in droves not seen in a long time for the Primary process. Here in Minnesota, the state secretary is expecting an 80% turnout of registered voters for the general election. This hasn't happened since the 50's. For as many new ideas there are about the important issues facing the nation, there are some very familiar rumblings that are beginning to get louder with each day.
For all of the focus on platforms, and “where the candidates stand on the issues” that we seem to be concerned about during the early parts of a political process, it seems that inevitably as an election draws near, certain voices begin to try to limit the “truly important” issues to only 2 or 3 choice issues. Almost anyone could guess which ones I am talking about: Abortion, and gay marriage. Of the two, Abortion always seems to be the hottest issue.
Admittedly, this issue is most often brought up by conservatives, or Christians. No, in this day and age they are not one in the same. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble. I am a Christian, but I have to say before I go any further, that this phenomenon seriously distresses me. Without getting too off topic, let me just say that I don't understand how a Christian person could so easily, and so profoundly choose one or two issues facing this country as “the moral issues”, or even “the most moral issues.” God was never ONLY concerned about unborn children. Jesus was never ONLY concerned about children, or only concerned about money, or only concerned about following rules. If there was anything at all, anything that Jesus was ONLY concerned about, it was the heart of man; something far more unlikely to be so easily turned into a platform.
All this said, let me explain why I've felt compelled to write. This has been a very interesting election cycle to be a part of, and I don't mean from a, “Wow, did he really say that?” point-of-view. What's been most interesting is the varying reactions of many of my Christian friends, brothers and sisters, around the country. It seems that I am seeing different ideas, different perspectives, and different reactions from Christians than I have seen before. The more liberal Christians among us have fallen where it could largely be expected. But, those who have more classically been conservative seem to land all over the spectrum. Still, there are those perpetually conservative Christians who spell “Christian”, r-e-p-u-b-l-i-c-a-n, and who think of Republicans more like the army of God than as one perspective amongst many.
A hot button issue
It is the voices of this last group that compel me to finally put thoughts to paper about this election and it's candidates, at least where abortion is concerned. Why? Well, I've gotten a lot of emails about Barack Obama from different Christian friends. Some of them claimed he was a secret Muslim, a fake Christian, a wolf in sheep's clothing bent on the destruction of America from the inside out. Some touted how he hated America because he wouldn't wear a flag pin on his lapel. Some called him a terrorist. Lately, those emails, videos, etc. have begun to drum up the classic abortion issue that always surfaces at about this point in the election cycle.
I've heard comments from people too. Last week, I posted an article on my Facebook page that I thought was interesting. It was an ABC news piece about how numerous items from Sarah Palin's RNC speech were completely untrue. One person responded sarcastically that they sure weren't going to vote for someone who supported abortions. And, that statement is the most interesting statement that I've ever heard floating around in conversations... ever. And it got me thinking.
Of course, understanding the platform of the candidate I intend to vote for a little better than the average Joe, my first reaction was to want to explain that there is a difference between supporting abortions and not being willing to make them illegal. I don't think that one infers the other. But, that is really only scratching the surface. The label of “supporting abortion” is thrown about with such ease and frequency. If you are pro-choice, you are considered by those who are pro-life to support abortion. Republicans love to tag Democrats with the label. Nothing energizes the conservative base more than a war against liberal, extremist, gay, baby killers. But, I really have to ask...
Does anyone really support abortion?
Seriously, is there anyone out there thinking, “Hey, abortion is awesome! I'm so glad we can do it. I think I'm going to go get pregnant just so I can have one!” Does any politician really feel that if they could just make abortions popular that the world would be a better place?
I think common sense would dictate an easy NO answer to that question.
So, where does this assumption that anyone actually supports abortions come from? I can't truly give a researched answer. But, let me offer these observations, void of too much detail for brevity's sake. First, there may not be a more divisive issue in politics. For whatever reason, one side claims to be justified on moral grounds. And, there isn't much more that is firm and unbendable than someone who claims to have the ultimate morality. I'm a Christian myself, so I feel safe saying this. If you are a Christian, you probably feel pretty firm that you are right about what you believe. No one is going to tell you otherwise. And, if you have the truth, that means anyone who doesn't believe what you do, doesn't have the truth.
Even this characteristic of firm belief is interesting, though. As modern American Christians, our firm beliefs in certain moral absolutes often drive us away from intelligent, thoughtful conversations on those very matters. On the other hand, in their day Jesus and Paul were more than happy to engage in a spirited debate on purported enemy territory in order to mutually arrive at a good and true conclusion (which was always the truth that Jesus or Paul held true). Paul, in particular, made a habit of having debates with polytheistic Greeks and Romans on their terms. Sometimes these debates ended in floggings or arrest, and other times they ended in a mass of converts to “the Way.” Why don't we engage thoughtfully in these conversations today? Why does the mere mention of the abortion topic illicit level 4 defenses going into effect? If we are so sure that we are right, why not have an intelligent conversation? For that matter, why do we have to be right anyway? Jesus and Paul didn't go around beating into everyone else's head that they were right. They went about preaching the truth, discerning the truth, and discussing the truth because their interest was in the hearts of men being reconciled to God, not with the ego's of men acknowledging their folly. I digress.
As with many of the hot button issues, abortion is often used as a fear tactic by opposing sides. Republicans drive billboard trucks around city streets with pictures of bloody, broken, aborted fetuses on the side and tell you that this is what you get if you elect a Democrat president. Democrats tell you that if you elect a Republican that you should never get pregnant. If the pregnancy goes south, and your life is at risk from continuing it, that you won't have any choice. You'll have to just die and your baby will be put up for adoption. You have no rights to your own body.
Here's a reality check. Democrats don't just want to kill babies, and Republicans don't just want to let you die and take your rights of choice away. Who ever came up with such preposterous ideas anyway? Here's a snippet of perspectives on abortion from the current presidential candidates:
“I’d love to see a point where Roe vs. Wade is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations.”
“And if we can acknowledge that much, then we can certainly agree on the fact that we should be doing everything we can to avoid unwanted pregnancies that might even lead somebody to consider having an abortion.”
These are two quotes that offer positions on abortion, one from each of the current presidential candidates. I think you'd probably be surprised whose quote is whose. The first one belongs to John McCain; the second to Barack Obama. Regardless, nowhere in either of those comments do I hear any support for abortion anywhere. In fact, the sentiment from both candidates seems to be one of wishing for a world where we didn't even have to argue about abortion because no one was having one.
Here's some more reality about the abortion issue. First, it's not really about who supports abortion and who doesn't. It's a difference in the definition of what constitutes life, and which life is more important, that is more often the true issue with abortion. And, regardless of what your moral position is on abortion, this isn't an easy one to sort out. Consider this confession from Barack Obama:
“I think it's very hard to know what that means, when life begins. Is it when a cell separates? Is it when the soul stirs? So I don't presume to know the answer to that question. What I know is that there is something extraordinarily powerful about potential life and that that has a moral weight to it that we take into consideration when we're having these debates.”
Let's not forget
Something interesting seems to happen quite a bit when the abortion debate begins to rage. The actual people, the real faces that we are arguing over begin to fade into the background. We aren't arguing about them, but about who's right, and who's wrong. The reality is, if we are going to argue at all, we should be arguing over them. They are the real face of this issue. Obama isn't the face of the issue, McCain isn't the actual person we are talking about. The unwed mothers, the teenager who was raped, and the woman with no husband and no health care are the real faces. And, when we even try to talk realistically about these actual people and their actual situations, our political rhetoric doesn't seem to cut it anymore.
Abortion is not some simple issue, some clear cut line between right and wrong. It may be something that none of us want to see, but it's by no means an easy decision. The issue is messy, it's emotional, and it's painful. Even those who claim to firmly support the pro-life movement have a hard time with the physical and emotional reality of the abortion issue. When asked by Alan Keyes, in a debate during the 2000 election Republican primary, about a hypothetical situation where his daughter got pregnant and was considering an abortion, John McCain said that the decision would be up to his daughter but that they would have a family conference. When the abortion issue hits close to home, it's suddenly not an easy decision.
In no way shape or form am I attempting to justify abortion. I am as against it as the next Christian. Instead, my hope is that we can realize a few things this election year before we all haul off and start jeopardizing our friendships by slinging biased and baseless accusations about one another 's political candidate of choice, and maybe bring a reduction to the seemingly endless flow of false and inflammatory information flying all of the Internet, particularly amongst Christian folks. That said, let me make a few personal statements.
Some personal thoughts
First, no one supports abortion. No one wants to see babies killed, at least not anyone who doesn't belong behind bars. No one is out in society planning a way for us to have more abortions. Politicians and average citizens alike, Christians and non Christians alike would sooner have a society where abortions never happened. Our approaches may largely differ, but neither of us want to see babies killed.
Next, abortion is by no means the only issue in an election. Neither is it the most important one, or of the primary moral importance over every other issue that we could address. In fact, at the most base level, no Christian person should be able to separate the issue of abortion from the issue of capital punishment. Both arguments flow out of a difference in understanding of the sanctity of life, and proponents on both sides have their justifications for their position. Why don't we spend at least as much time talking about how we kill people who have committed crimes?
Further, there are a myriad of other issues that are equally important to talk about, and ones that Jesus had much more to say about. Consider poverty for instance, or equality, justice, and how we spend our money. If Jesus wasn't merely making suggestions with what he traveled the countryside teaching, then how our government spends our money, how we treat the poor among us, and whether everyone living here is treated with the same respect are all equally moral issues that need to be addressed, lived out, and fought for by Christians.
Very little “progress” on abortion has been made in the last few decades since Roe v. Wade. Every election cycle, someone brings up the abortion issue, which becomes a firestorm of positioning and accusation. However, rarely any real change comes from the promises of the election debates. Politically speaking, choosing a side on abortion is suicide. A politician is generally going to alienate 50% of the population over an issue they aren't so sure about themselves.
Moreover, there isn't a candidate for president in this election who has a consistently pro-life platform or voting record. Obama voted as “present” on numerous abortion legislation votes in Illinois. McCain failed to vote on pro-life legislation that he supposedly co-sponsored, and failed to vote on a piece of congressional legislation stating that Congress agreed with the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the scare tactics, the pictures of dead fetuses, the screaming slurs between pro-life and pro-choice supporters, the emails concluding with a not prayerfully submitted “God help us if this guy gets elected” don't help anything at all. They don't get to the bottom of the issue. They don't solve any problems. They don't create space for courteous and intelligent conversation. People on opposite sides of the issue can scream at each other all they want, until they are blue in the face, and all it serves to do is more staunchly polarize the other side.
That is not our call as Christians. Instead, we are to love people, even our enemies, to seek the good of mankind, to offer hope and good news, to introduce people to Jesus' love, not to cast judgment for him. So here is a thought. Let's drop the ridiculous accusations and name calling of past election cycles that Christian people get so easily wrapped up in, and let's seek some real solutions. As the pastor at our church said last Sunday about a completely unrelated issue, “Stop having church, and learn to do good!”
I'm not necessarily against abortion legislation. But, I also don't think it would be that effective. We wouldn't tell an alcoholic to “just stop drinking” as a solution to his problem. And making drinking illegal would help him either. That is because drinking isn't the problem, but instead an indication of a problem. Whatever that alcoholic is running from that drives him into the bottle is the problem. And if we merely take away the poor man's outlet, we'll never solve his problem. Instead of fighting over which candidate is more pro-life and therefore somehow the preferable Christian candidate, or calling someone's salvation into question over their understanding of one single moral issue amidst thousands, how about if we really become the church and do something constructive about abortion? What if we looked at some of the contributing factors and started working on those?
I heard a pastor tell a story one time that I am about to butcher, but the profundity is not lost on me despite my fading recollection of the intimate details. He told a story of a group of missionaries that were visiting a village of native people in a forest somewhere, maybe in South America. They were learning the culture and making friends with the native people. One day, they heard women screaming from down at the river where they washed their clothes. When they went down to see what was going on, the women were frantic because there were bodies floating down the river. The bodies were those of some of the village children. The women screamed for help, trying to recover the children and save whichever ones they could. Many men rushed into the river to help, but a few began running up the shore. “Where are you going?” the women asked. “We need help saving these children!” The men replied, “We are going upriver to see who is throwing them in, and to stop them before they throw in anymore!”
Maybe, we could try to see what is contributing to abortions, and go up shore to see how to stop it, instead of making enemies of our brothers and sisters over how to save those who are already floating in the river.