A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

President Obama, the Culture Wars, and Abortion: David Gushee Speaks Out

In an editorial from USA Today, David Gushee, evangelical Christian ethicist (his co-authored book, Kingdom Ethics is a must-read) and supporter of President Barack Obama, expresses his concern over the president's "short record on abortion-related issues" which are in his words, "familiar-- and disappointing-- rather than revolutionary."

Gushee had hoped, and it appears from his editorial that he still hopes President Obama will make good on his promise to "roll out a major abortion-reduction initiative," but his moves so far only seem to indicate a change of course that simply looks like the typical Democratic Party perspective on abortion. In his brief time in office, President Obama has reversed a presidential order on the Mexico City policy. He also revoked President Bush's executive order that prevented medical professionals from being forced into providing abortion services against their consciences, although some have argued that conscientious objection would likely remain in place. Nevertheless the change was symbolically disquieting to say the least. Third, the current president has nominated pro-choice extremist Kathleen Sebelius as Secretary of Health and Human Services (She is Catholic and has been severely criticized by her bishop.), and lastly, Obama directed another change of course in providing federal funds for embryonic stem cell research. Gushee writes that he finds none of this extremely surprising, but he had supported the president in the belief that he might lead in navigating a third way on abortion.

Gushee gets to the heart of the matter and the danger when the church gets too close to and too cosy with Caesar:

"Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused."

"But I do confess that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support."

"But this kind of calculation is precisely what has gotten Christian political activists in trouble in the past, not just for 40 years but for 1,600 years. We gain access to Caesar in order to affect policy; we hold onto access even if it involves compromising some of what we want in policy; in the end, we can easily forget what policies we were after in the first place. I think this definitely happened to the Christian right. It doesn't need to be repeated by the Christian center or left."

And then Gushee quite eloquently and decisively makes the case for why abortion is intrinsically related to other pro-life issues as well.

"My understanding of the majestic God-given sacredness of human life tells me that a society that legally permits abortion on demand is deeply corrupt. It pays for adult sexual liberties with the lives of defenseless developing children. That practice, in turn, desensitizes society to the implications of paying for prospective medical cures with defenseless frozen embryos, which themselves are available because our society pays for medically assisted reproductive technology by producing hundreds of thousands of these embryos as spares. And yes, that same commitment to life's sacredness has grounded my opposition to paying for national security with torture, or paying for today's affluence with tomorrow's environmental destruction."

The religious right has unfortunately emphasized abortion as the only pro-life issue. The evangelical left has now come along and rightly argued that what it means to be pro-life is much larger, but in the process they have basically paid only lip service to the protection of the unborn while they have clearly focused only narrowly on the one or two issues of central concern (e.g. poverty and/or the environment). Their criticism of the one issue politics of the religious right is in reality nothing more than a matter of do as I say, not as I do.

What David Gushee has done is to exercise his intellectual and moral integrity and speak out in favor of being pro-life in all respects, and calling on President Obama to keep his word to those evangelicals who supported him and to provide a third way on abortion that is truly revolutionary.

There are other prominent voices from the evangelical center and left who have declared their support for the current president and have also claimed that they oppose abortion. Will they join David Gushee or will they remain silent?

We have yet to hear from them.
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Cross-Posted at RedBlueChristian


Anonymous said...

When it comes to any potential for a "major abortion-reduction iniative" from this administration, Gushee had better not hold his breath. For the current administration is doing exactly what any reasonable person would expect of democrats. To hope that in the future there will be any difference in policy is just a mere dream. The sad thing is that the resultant reality is a nightmare for children who are looked on as a problem to be eliminated in the name of convenience or a raw material to be used for profitable exploitation.

RightDemocrat said...

As a pro-life Democrat, I applaud Gushee for holding our President accountable for his campaign promise.