With Roe v. Wade day coming up, it is a time for bloggers everywhere to be weighing in with some thoughts about abortion. Unfortunately, I already did that, purely by coincidence, two days ago, reflecting on some of the occasional unsavory excesses of the pro-life movement (for a chilling reminder, though, of the moral gravity of abortion in America, it’s worth reading Al Mohler’s post today, “Abortion is as American as Apple Pie”).
The greatest problem with evangelical politics today, however, is not that it is too pro-life but that it is not pro-life enough. This is hardly a novel observation, having become a slogan of sorts for more leftward-leaning evangelicals, who would like to see a Christlike commitment to peace become part of Christian politics in America. But the extent of the Christian Right’s myopia has become glaringly obvious in this election cycle, which has been summed up for me (no doubt unfairly) in two memorable moments: (1) The cheers of a debate crowd when a moderator asked Rick Perry about the 234 death-row inmates he had executed as governor of Texas (which I blogged about last October), and (2) The crescendoing boos of a debate crowd (made up of my fellow Bible Belt South Carolinians) when Ron Paul said earlier this week, “Maybe we ought to consider a Golden Rule in foreign policy: we shouldn’t do to other countries what we don’t want to have them do to us.”
Now, in all fairness, the masses were probably not straightforwardly cheering for death and booing for justice in either case; rather more was going on. As a commenter on this blog pointed out regarding the Rick Perry incident, the audience was cheering for a concept of justice—a deviant one, perhaps, but one with a reasonable pedigree—even if they chose to do so in extremely poor taste. Likewise, one might say that the crowd was not so much dissing the Golden Rule, as (perhaps) booing at where they knew Ron Paul was headed, because they disagreed with the facts of the case—they did not accept that we bombed other countries without good cause. If so, I would say that they have had their heads in the sand, and again, acted in very poor taste and with a poor sense of timing, but it is perhaps more understandable. Yet I’ve seen enough to suggest that this mitigating explanation is unfortunately rather too charitable. Many on the Right—yea, on the Christian Right—seem outraged at the notion of applying Golden Rule logic to foreign policy, since that would mean giving others (such as Muslims) the same kind of benefit of the doubt we would give ourselves, would mean attempting to see the world through their eyes. I recall in the last election cycle, it was considered virtual treason for Ron Paul to suggest that we might’ve done anything to provoke the 9/11 attacks—no, of course not! That would imply that our enemies were rational human beings, rather than crazy demons! The Right really has no interest in any rule that would seek to measure our actions in a scale of justice vis-a-vis our enemies’ actions; for ours are virtually in no need of justification, whereas theirs are virtually incapable of justification.
What makes this repudiation of the Golden Rule by a voting bloc that largely identifies as Christian (indeed, evangelical Christian) so troubling, is that this is not even a rejection of charity in favor of justice as a rule for political action. Plenty of Christians will say, “Yes, we should exercise love of enemies in a private and personal context, but it would be disastrous to apply those specifically Christian principles to politics.” I think there’s some dangerous dichotomies being drawn in that kind of thinking, but I can understand it. The Golden Rule, however, is not even a statement of distinctively Christian charity—rather, it is usually considered a basic principle of justice confessed by religions, philosophies, and cultures the world over (though I think there is a bit more going on in Jesus’ articulation of it). It is a cornerstone of the natural law. And if we can’t base a Christian politics on evangelical law or natural law, then we are in very bad shape indeed.
For whatever reason, the issue of abortion seems to have acted not as a telescopic lens, provoking Christians in America to open up their moral imagination, looking far and wide to discern the evils of their culture of death, and sensitizing them to the need for a resolute witness in favor of life; instead, it has acted as a microscopic lens, leading many Christians in America to focus solely on this one issue, using their moral passion against abortion as a self-justifying salve for their eagerness to see malefactors executed and foreigners bombed. The result of this hypocrisy is a frightful witness to the watching world, which is always looking for Christians to make a misstep that will justify its repudiation of Christ. Although the comments on Youtube videos are consistently inane and rancorous, it was troubling to see how many took the opportunity of Ron Paul’s booing to say, “This is why I’m not a Christian! All these Bible Belters don’t even give a hoot about their Bible!” This election cycle, showcasing candidates feverishly attempting to outdo one another in the belligerence of their foreign policy, suggests that the Republican Party, from which most American Christians still seem unwilling to unhitch their wagon, is becoming (if it was ever anything else) a party of death, not life.