The Abortion Question

In response to my recent Post-Apocalyptic Musings, my friend Ben Miller asked an earnest and important question: “given his [Obama’s] strong pro-abortion stance, isn’t it the case that a vote for him was clearly a vote for abortion? I’m not saying that everyone who voted for him was consciously pro-abortion, but it’s an unmistakably prominent part of what he stands for. I don’t see how a Christian can support a leader who’s a vocal proponent of holocaust.”  A similar sense underlay my friend Daniel Alder’s post, where he felt confident that if pastors were doing their job right, almost no church member would vote Democrat, because it was unthinkable for any faithful Christian to support a pro-abortion agenda.  In this, of course, they speak for millions of American Christians, deeming that there is simply no way to conscientiously vote for a pro-choice candidate, however preferable he might be on a range of other issues.  

 In my post, I lamented the “chasm of mutual incomprehension” that had opened up in American public life, and I am convinced that nothing is so paralyzing to life together as incomprehension.  Disagreement can be extremely fruitful and edifying, but incomprehension is sterile and provokes only frustration.  When we cannot understand why something has happened or why someone would say or do something, we are prone to become angry, and impute the worst possible motives as a way of trying to make sense of the situation.  Unable to comprehend why any rational person would do something, we find ourselves increasingly unable to think of them as a person, and thus unable to love them as a person, although we have little difficulty loving even our worst enemy if we understand what motivates him.    

It is probably safe to say that no single factor has contributed as much to the creation of this chasm of incomprehension, at least for Christians, as the issue of abortion.  The politicization of abortion, I believe, has been deeply harmful for American public life—for it has done very little in the end to mitigate the abortion problem, but it has done a great deal to dissolve the possibility of rational debate and mutual understanding in American politics and society.  So, although I am deeply sympathetic to Ben and Daniel’s concern (it was indeed one decisive reason that I did not vote for Obama), I would like to make a stab at trying to dispel a bit of the fog around this issue.  As I want to be thorough, I will confine myself primarily to the narrow question, “How could a Christian vote for a pro-abortion candidate, even while disagreeing with his policies?”  Such is the spectrum of opinion on the matter of abortion that many Christians will see this as a silly discussion with an obvious answer, and will be far more interested in discussing whether the pro-choice position is a viable one.  To other Christians, this latter discussion seems almost unthinkable.  Unfortunately, I will only touch on it briefly in my conclusion, though perhaps I can try to address it more fully another time.  But hopefully this inquiry, at least, may constitute a small baby step toward mutual understanding among Christians on this issue.


Before proceeding, let me first reassure my readers that I view abortion as a grave moral evil, tragic and disgusting, and consider many of the campaigners for abortion rights to have deeply compromised moral sensibilities, to put it delicately.  The following may seem like a dry academic argument to the effect, “It’s not that big a deal after all.”  That is not my purpose.  Abortion is a very big deal, and the task of saving lives from it is an urgent one.  But neither is it the only moral issue confronting our society, so there is no virtue in so single-mindedly dedicating ourselves to its opposition that we become incapable of making sound moral and political judgments on other fronts.

So, let’s first untangle the question, “How could a Christian vote for a pro-abortion candidate?” or, to use Ben’s wording, “Given Obama’s strong pro-abortion stance, isn’t it the case that a vote for him was clearly a vote for abortion?”  The contention here is that one cannot really say, as many Christians clearly have said, “I am voting for this candidate who happens to support abortion, but I am not voting for his support of abortion.”  Now, I would suggest that in Ben’s case, this question contains a couple of unvoiced premises.  Without those premises, and as it currently stands, the conclusion is not at all compelling, for it would seem to imply that our British, Canadian, Australian brothers and sisters—indeed, many foreign Christians, of many nationalities—are necessarily wrong whenever they vote for a pro-abortion candidate in their elections, as they often do.  Is that really the case?  And if so, why not?  Although I think Ben’s claim was much more specifically targeted, let me take some time to say why not, since I think many American Christians have not bothered to think this through, and I think it will help illuminate what’s really at stake.  

 It may help if we abstract from politics for the moment.  Let’s ask then whether it would be appropriate, if one were a stockholder, to vote for a new member of a company’s Board of Directors if one knew him to hold pro-abortion views (assuming, for the sake of argument, that this is not a company directly involved in the abortion industry)?  Or, how about, at the risk of trivializing too much, to vote for an American Idol contestant whom one knew to hold pro-abortion views?  Few would argue, I think, that these views should in any way constitute an automatic bar to a Christian endorsing such a candidate.  If anyone did argue that, on the basis that a Christian should never offer support to a person of such obviously depraved morality, I would suggest that this would be a very arbitrary stand to take, given that the other candidates might be of equally depraved morality on other issues (e.g., greed, toleration of adultery, love of violence, whatever).  Indeed, it is on this basis that I have little patience with Christians who go on boycotting crusades against any company that, say, gives money to Planned Parenthood.  I understand the sentiment, but why single out this single moral issue, while turning a blind eye to companies that engage in complex tax evasion or exploitation of workers? 

 Now, it would not be arbitrary if abortion did indeed constitute a uniquely grotesque perversion of morality.  For instance, I can imagine someone plausibly arguing that even for something as inconsequential as an American Idol contest, one could not support a contestant who advocated, say, rape or pedophilia or the torture of innocents.  Merely holding such views would render a person morally repugnant to a degree that no Christian should want to identify with them.  Is abortion such an issue?  I believe not, though I shall only have time to touch on this for a moment in the conclusion.

Assuming, then, there would be no automatic bar to supporting a pro-choice American Idol contestant or corporate board member, there might still be a contingent bars, of at least two types.  First, let’s imagine that one knew that this board member did not merely privately support abortion, but was an activist, and hoped to use the resources of the company to advance the cause of abortion—perhaps by giving very generously to pro-abortion causes.  In this case, one would be opposing the candidate not on the basis of his private failures of moral reasoning, but on the basis of the harm likely to be done from his gaining a leadership position.  In such a situation, voting for him might be construed as material cooperation in evil, just like knowingly providing a getaway car for a bank robbery.  Unlike the getaway car, however, it would probably be judged far, rather than near material cooperation—you would be supporting a man who probably, given the opportunity, would allocate funds to help support organizations that might well use those funds to offer more abortions—in many cases, to people who were already trying to get abortions anyway.  Even if it were merely far material cooperation, though, one would be forced to judge just how much harm he might actually do, over against the other goods he might bring.  For instance, perhaps he was committed to generous philanthropy in general, and would also try to give large donations to very good causes; or perhaps the other candidates, while not supporters of abortion, might be inclined to donate to other wicked causes; or perhaps he was the only candidate with the business acumen to keep the company running (assuming, for the sake of argument, that it were an otherwise good company doing a service to society).  Perhaps, in short, great good would come from his election; might this outweigh the harm that might come from his use of company funds to support abortion?  Possibly, possibly not.  Or perhaps the company’s policy was already to fund abortion charities, and there was little evidence the other candidates would change it. In view of such uncertainties, this would be a matter on which Christians could quite plausibly disagree.  Some Christians might support the candidate on the grounds that he would do much more good and less harm on the whole than the other candidates; some might support the other candidates on the opposite grounds; some might conclude that when they were all such bad apples, one should just keep one’s distance and vote for none of them.  So the first contingent bar is: likely to materially advance the abortion agenda by means of policies to an extent that outweighs any foreseen other goods.  (Before moving on, it’s worth pausing to notice that although this seems like a rather silly example, given that almost no stockholder ever bothers to vote on their Proxy ballot, or to research the candidates at all, perhaps this just shows to some extent our inconsistency, or unhealthy fixation with politics.  I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the Board of Director choices that I’ve had the opportunity to weigh in on as a stockholder were actually more consequential, in terms of the harm that might be done or averted, than some of the political candidates I’d had the opportunity to vote for.)   

For the second contingent bar, let’s look at that American Idol competition.  Can one imagine a scenario in which (assuming one were a die-hard American Idol fan, determined to vote for one of the contestants, in which case one might have issues worth addressing) one ought not to vote for one on the basis of her advocacy of abortion?  Yes, I think so.  For let’s consider the fact that an American Idol winner gains a very prominent podium in our society, an opportunity to speak out (albeit rarely very coherently) about what she’s passionate about.  Perhaps even more importantly, she becomes an “idol”—someone that people respect, for whatever reason, and want to emulate.  That being the case, she is capable of doing a great deal of harm merely by standing for morally depraved behaviors, even if she has little role in practically facilitating them.  (Of course, it might well be that she would also practically facilitate them, like the corporate director we saw above, by means of charitable contributions and the like, but we’ll leave that consideration aside here.)  If the contestant’s advocacy of abortion, then, were so strong or high-profile that, by supporting her, you were likely to raise up an influential spokesperson for abortion, or a widely-adored symbol of the pro-choice cause, someone who made it “cool” to be pro-choice make the cause of abortion more respectable, this might well constitute grounds why a Christian should *not* support such a person.  This is particularly the case in the example we have given, since there is really no reason why one should feel the need to vote for an American Idol contestant…this being so, to take the time to support such a morally compromised contestant would be like going out one’s way to support vice.  Of course, there would be other conditions—e.g., a presidential election—in which one might otherwise have very good reasons to support this candidate.  In that case, one would have to weigh the goods in question against the likely evils to result from helping to elevate to prominence of a spokesman for abortion.  Again, this would be a difficult judgment to make, perhaps even more difficult than the question above, since one would be weighing a very intangible factor (how powerful is this figure as a symbol of the pro-abortion cause?) against other more concrete factors.  One can imagine Christians who otherwise largely agreed on a wide range of issues coming to different judgments on this question.  The second contingent bar then is: likely to materially advance the abortion agenda by lending it respectability or prominence to an extent that outweighs any other foreseen goods.

(It should be noted that this second consideration loses significance to the degree that the vice in question becomes a cultural norm.  That is to say, imagine a pop star who was an outspoken supporter of abortion in the 1950s.  At that time, this would have been a very bold and, to most Americans, appalling position to take.  Anyone with such views at that time would have been almost certain to stand out, to become a symbol of this depraved cause, so that she was no longer just a pop star, but known as the “pro-abortion pop star.”  Nowadays, however, abortion has become culturally accepted enough that it is highly unlikely that an individual pop star’s advocacy of it would be sufficiently striking to merit much public attention.  The same, to some extent, is true of political figures.  To elect an openly pro-choice president forty years ago, would have been a much more shocking statement than to do so now.) 

From this second point arises a closely related concern, which might be thought to constitute a third contingent bar to voting for someone who approved of abortion, and which, I suppose, is a large part of what’s going on when people say that “a vote for Obama is a vote for abortion.”  To re-use the American Idol example, imagine if the outspoken pro-choice contestant became so identified with this “cause” that a vote for her could only be considered an endorsement of the cause, a message a Christian certainly wouldn’t want to send.  There are no doubt times which such can happen—when a particular issue generates so much heat and controversy that one cannot really separate the individual from the issue, cannot pass judgment one way or another on the individual without seeming to take sides on the issue.  In such a circumstance, a Christian would no longer be able to say, “I am supporting this candidate who happens to support abortion, but I am not supporting abortion,” which is the disjunction we have been assuming throughout the discussion thus far.  Therefore, no Christian could in good conscience cast such a vote, as it would appear to send a message that they could not send.  I think that this is how many on the Christian Right currently think about the abortion issue.  However, I think this argument fails, both empirically and theoretically.  Empirically, I do not think it is really the case that in America today, a Democratic candidate, even one as clearly pro-choice as Obama, is so identified with the abortion cause as to be almost indistinguishable from it.  Or rather, he is, but only in the minds of his fervently pro-life opponents—and perhaps in the mind of his most fervently pro-choice supporters. The majority of the American electorate does not think that way, and would have little trouble understanding the reasoning of someone who said, “I do not support abortion, but I will vote for Obama for other reasons.”  Theoretically, I think it fails because one’s own intentions always remain free and separate from others’ fallible judgments about them.  Just because someone thinks that when I act in such a way, I must intend evil, does not mean I cannot act in that way, intending something else.  We are to avoid the appearance of evil, but that’s the great thing about our voting—it’s private.  If I am convinced that I need to cast my vote in such a way that would appear to others to be a vote for evil, then I just cast my vote privately, without broadcasting for whom I voted.  Or, if I do broadcast it, I explain my reasoning clearly and carefully.  Therefore, the third contingent bar—likely to appear as an endorsement of a position I cannot endorse—fails.  (Nonetheless, this is still worth taking into account as one decides how to vote.  If one has trouble, in one’s own mind, abstracting the candidate from the morally reprehensible agenda one sees them as representing, then one certainly can determine on that basis that one would rather not vote for them.)


All of this should clarify for us what a vote against a pro-choice candidate isn’t or shouldn’t be: it is not a refusal to associate oneself with someone who has morally objectionable views; or a refusal to take any action that may indirectly result in the advancing of wickedness—both of these, consistently advocated, would require a complete withdrawal from public life.  On the contrary, it is a refusal to advance the agenda of someone who has morally objectionable views that they are likely to put into practice or publicly advocate to an extent that will do great harm outweighing any other foreseen goods.

This being the case, it should now be readily apparent why many of foreign brothers and sisters need have little compunction in voting for candidates who support abortion.  In many of their settings, abortion is in many cases a matter of settled policy, and there are few elected representatives interested in opposing it.  If none of the candidates available is planning to make much change to abortion policy, one may lawfully vote for the candidate one expects to do the most good on other fronts.  Indeed, in such a setting, voting for a candidate who supports the status quo abortion policy is only in a very distant sense any kind of material cooperation with evil, since the evil being done is quite separate from the actions of the candidate.  Likewise, if we turn to the second contingent bar, since abortion is not, alas, highly controversial in many of these societies, even an outspoken supporter of abortion would attract little notice.  In Britain, for instance, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which a candidate could become a symbol of the “abortion cause” (there not really being such a recognizable cause) to the extent that one must avoid lending him one’s support.  In their circumstances, then, it is rarely the case that a given candidate is likely to materially advance the abortion agenda either by means of policy or by lending it respectability or prominence to an extent that necessarily outweighs any other foreseen goods.  Of course, that is not to say it is never an issue.  There are still plenty of live political issues related to abortion here in the UK and other European countries, and there may be some candidates vigorously advancing an expansion of abortion rights, whom Christians should avoid supporting on those grounds.  But in general, it’s not likely to be a highly relevant consideration.  Note also that this is not a call for European Christians to give up on this issue, because they’ve already lost the battle.  It merely means that for most of them, opposition to abortion will likely have to take other forms besides political activism, at least until such time as legal opposition to abortion again becomes a viable platform.


So now, let’s turn finally back to Obama.  Four basic questions will affect our judgment of the Christian’s duty in this case.  The first is, “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by means of policy decisions?”  The second is, “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by lending it respectability or a prominent defender?”  Ben Miller, I take it, considers the answers to both of these questions to be, “To a great extent,” and it is on this basis that he feels able to say, “Given Obama’s strong pro-abortion stance, isn’t it the case that a vote for him was clearly a vote for abortion?”  But we must ask two further questions.  The third is, “To what extent are we already like Europe?  To what extent is abortion now settled policy, accepted practice?”  The fourth is, “What are the other viable candidates (in this case, Romney) likely to do about abortion?”  

Taken together, the third and fourth enable us to reframe the first and second as follows:  “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by means of policy decisions relative to what would happen if he were not elected?”  The second is, “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by lending it respectability or a prominent defender relative to what would happen if he were not elected?”  Once framed this way, the difficulty of reaching a clear answer, that should bind the consciences of believers as they consider voting, becomes readily apparent.  Because I do not think that any of these questions admit of easy answers, I will not attempt to hash them out in detail, but will merely outline a few points.

Thinking again in terms of four questions, how might we answer the first?  Obviously, Obama is pro-choice, and has already as President enacted policies that favor that agenda, most notably the provisions in Obamacare that leave religious institutions having to help fund abortions.  Just because abortion is already law in the US doesn’t mean it can’t be made worse by making access to abortions easier and more universal, and unfortunately, many in the Democratic Party, including Obama do seem committed to doing just that.  The President’s power to appoint judges is of course also relevant, as his selection of pro-choice justices renders it ever more unlikely that Ro v. Wade could be overturned.  I am not convinced by claims that Obama is militantly pro-choice, bloodthirsty for the expansion of abortion in a uniquely sinister way, as many on the Right seem to think, but the general orientation of his agenda is undeniable.  It is worth noting, incidentally, that it really matters little for this discussion what Obama’s private views are—perhaps personally, he really does dislike the idea of abortion, and wants it to be “safe, legal, and rare,” and is acting only under pressure from the NOW and other constituencies.  It would be nice if that were true, and would affect, perhaps, our assessment of his own moral sensibilities, but it makes little difference to our assessment of the impact of his policies. 

Regarding the second, too, we must go on the basis of public presentation, rather than private beliefs, whatever they might be.  That includes, unfortunately, campaign ads.  Of course, everyone recognizes that campaign ads are cynical vehicles of short-term manipulation, and people ought perhaps therefore to put little stock in them.  But they are a key way in which a candidate presents himself, his message, and what he stands for to the American people.  The fact that the Obama campaign decided to run so many ads defending abortion, and castigating Romney for his opposition to it, unmistakably painted Obama as the representative, the champion, of the pro-choice cause.  For him to win under such circumstances meant at least in part a victory for that cause, helping affirm it and lend it respectability.  Using someone like Sandra Fluke as a poster-child reinforces the message that “reproductive rights” are cool, and Obama is all for helping women expand them.  For some Christians I know, it was this identification with the cause of abortion by the Obama campaign, more than any particular policy decisions on the issue, that was a deal-breaker for them.

If we consider the third question, though—”to what extent are we already like Europe?”—I think many realistic Christians, particularly of a younger generation, take a pretty sober assessment of where America is now at on the abortion issue.  Are we really likely to overturn Roe v. Wade now, after forty years?  The political prospects are daunting enough alone.  But worse, it is widespread cultural acceptance of abortion that constitutes a greater obstacle than any purely political difficulties.  There is an extent to which law can affect morality, to be sure, and sometimes, law can outrun morality, as it were, insisting on conduct which does not yet command a general consensus, in hopes of creating that consensus.  The Civil Rights movement is a good example of a case where this seems to have generally worked (although some would argue that federal government policy here was too much, too fast, with long-term harmful effects on both races).  Many would cite also Wilberforce’s successful prohibition of the slave trade, but we mustn’t forget that this took twenty years of sustained effort, and was only successful when Wilberforce realized that first public perception must be re-shaped, the cultural consensus must be altered, before legislation could ever be successful.  There are many other cases in which attempts to ban a practice by law, when the citizenry were not convinced, failed abysmally—Prohibition being perhaps the most notorious.  In general, I would say that the trajectory of a society is one of the things that matters most here.  In Wilberforce’s time, factors were already at work that were moving English society in a direction that disposed them to be able to perceive and confront slavery as a grave moral evil.  Likewise in the Civil Rights movement—the public consciousness, while still stubbornly racist in many areas, was turning already in favor of the cause when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964.  Because of this, the law was able to succeed, by and large, in requiring people to be moral when they didn’t want to be, and in continuing to reshape the moral consensus.  Sad to say, the moral trajectory of the American people right now is not toward a greater condemnation of abortion.  Sure, there are some signs that some progress has been made, that a majority of Americans now would consider themselves pro-life, but the majority is slim.  And perhaps more decisively, the general worldview of Americans, with the premium value they place on choice, individual liberty and “rights,” and their general distaste of having the “government” dictate anything to them, renders it unlikely that the pro-choice cause is going down anytime soon.  Even attempts to restrict abortion piecemeal, by raising the age required, or by requiring parental consent, and that sort of thing, have often run into intractable opposition.  That’s not a reason why we shouldn’t continue to fight the cause, and on every front.  But it means that perhaps we are not now at the point where we should consider a presidential election likely to make a decisive difference one way or another.  It also means that we’re at the point where we’re pretty jaded as a nation, and the mere fact of having a pro-choice President may not materially alter people’s perceptions of the issue very much.

Likewise, if we consider the fourth question,”What are the other viable candidates (in this case, Romney) likely to do about abortion?” there were two reasons to be skeptical in this case.  The first is that Romney is a weasel and a flip-flopper, who seemed intent above all on getting elected, and once elected would be intent above all on staying in office.  That being the case, I don’t have great faith that, if he found confronting abortion to prove too difficult or controversial, he would had quietly shelved the issue.  Perhaps that’s overly-cynical, but it is at least an understandable judgment to reach, and remember that our purpose here is simply to show that there exist multiple rationally-defensible answers to these question.  Second, we have to be honest about the fact that we have had 24 years of Republican presidency—at least 16 of which made a fairly strong claim to represent the interests of the “Moral Majority”—since Roe v. Wade was passed, and have seen essentially no positive effect from it.  We’ve even had a conservative majority on the court, but seen it show little indication to revisit the issue or overturn the decision.  Even if we granted that Romney was at least as reliable a pro-life candidate as Bush II or Reagan, that obviously wouldn’t show much.  Yes, it is likely, that especially with the appearance of Obamacare and such, there are issues of particular policy where Romney could influence things positively, but we should not expect anything particularly dramatic.  It is of course also the case that, thinking in terms of the second question, it might help the pro-life cause to have such a visible public advocate.  On the other hand, so entrenched are the two camps now, that it might make little difference.  


Where does all this leave us?  How do we answer the questions, “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by means of policy decisions relative to what would happen if he were not elected?” and “To what extent is Obama likely to advance abortion by lending it respectability or a prominent defender relative to what would happen if he were not elected?”  My own personal answer was that I thought Obama could still do enough net harm on this front that I was unwilling to vote for him, but I was also unwilling to drop all other considerations and vote against him on this basis, as I spelled out a week and a half ago.  But I can readily understand arguments in either of the other directions—those who think that, given the weight of other issues, a vote for Obama was defensible, despite his abortion stance, and those who think that Obama’s position on this issue was likely to do so much imminent harm or Romney’s so much imminent good, that they felt obliged to vote for Romney.   

I hope that I have succeeded at the very least in demonstrating the complexity of the issues that must be sorted through before a summary judgment on this question is reached.  And I hope therefore that we might be more able to comprehend and accept the judgments of fellow Christians who weigh these considerations differently.  We may still disagree, but at least we needn’t be paralyzed by incomprehension.

Unfortunately, in this post, I have worked only within the sphere of assumed agreement that, ideally, we should want to legally ban abortion; I have not had the time to address the other, even more paralyzing source of incomprehension, and I shall only touch on it for a brief moment before concluding.  This is that there are some people, including some faithful Christians, who would genuinely support not merely a candidate who happens to be pro-choice, but pro-choice policy as such.  Perhaps for many Christians on the Right, this position at least remains so morally depraved as to be incomprehensible.  Of course, there are two forms that this might take—a belief that abortion should remain legal, although it is immoral, and a belief that abortion is not immoral.  Although I believe the former position is flawed, I would argue that a plausible case could be made for it, especially given certain assumptions about the nature of law that are increasingly dominant even among today’s Christians.  Even the latter view, I would want to point out, although an example of serious moral blindness, is not a unique or uniquely incomprehensible one.  Many of our Christian ancestors defended slavery, and even the slave trade, positions we now find repugnant and in many cases almost incomprehensible.  But it was only because their opponents were willing to seek to understand their sinful reasoning, and considered them capable of persuasion, that this evil was overcome.  When I hear some Christians railing about evil abortionists, I wonder sometimes if they’ve ever actually known anyone who was pro-choice.  A few, I would grant, truly merit the adjective “evil,” and deserve nothing but the most fervent opposition.  To most others, however, we owe a willingness to listen and learn, even while opposing.  There are some rational links in the chain of logic that would lead one to that position, and we must take the time to understand them if we are ever to successfully win hearts and minds.  


All of this, perhaps, has been a rather tedious way of saying not very much—“It’s complicated.  It depends.  Let’s disagree respectfully.”  Perhaps I am merely stating the obvious, but nowadays, it seems even the obvious needs stating.   With the conclusion of this third very lengthy post on contemporary politics (making up for my recent neglect of the subject on this blog), I propose to take a blogging hiatus for a week or two, while I’m away at ETS, AAR, and SBL, and then celebrating Thanksgiving and my arrival at the quarter-century mark.  I will try to reply to any comments here, but may be much slower than normal.  

76 thoughts on “The Abortion Question

  1. I think that's neglecting (ok, i started skimming halfway though, do you address this?) a better reason to never vote for a pro-choice politician.The very fact that a pol has decided the pro-choice position is the correct one to support displays his badly formed moral conscience. This conscience is so badly formed that it denies legal protection to the Very weakest members of the society. That should disqualify the pol in the minds of any conscientious Christian, as any number of serious errors should.Is it, for instance, a matter of christian liberty to support legal segregation, or pols who support it as a policy?American Idol is a musical contest.


  2. Thanks Brad for another insightful discussion in which you very helpfully lay out a little of the complexity of this issue. I have two further specific comments.1. "Note also that this is not a call for European Christians to give up on this issue, because they've already lost the battle. It merely means that for most of them, opposition to abortion will likely have to take other forms besides political activism, at least until such time as legal opposition to abortion again becomes a viable platform."This is very interesting, since it highlights the point that legal opposition is but one avenue for social change (a point you also made elsewhere in discussing the place of law in shaping public morality). There are many others and it is quite possible to believe that the destruction of a human fetus is a moral wrong without believing that doing all one can to make it illegal is the highest priority of Christian discipleship in this area.2. "Using someone like Sandra Fluke as a poster-child reinforces the message that "reproductive rights" are cool, and Obama is all for helping women expand them. For some Christians I know, it was this identification with the cause of abortion by the Obama campaign, more than any particular policy decisions on the issue, that was a deal-breaker for them."Now I may simply be ignorant of relevant details of the debate at this point, but wasn't Ms Fluke introduced into the discussion to address the question of contraception rather than abortion? And doesn't the conflation of both questions under "reproductive rights" represent a significant blurring of the issue? That is, isn't it quite possible to believe that women (and men!) ought to have subsidised access to contraception without simultaneously supporting abortion?The Republican conflation of abortion with the even broader question of "women's rights" was apparently a deal-breaker for plenty of voters (male and female, though single females gave Obama a 36 point lead). Those who desire to see fewer abortions make a serious tactical (and moral) mistake if they participate in lumping this issue together with (for instance) domestic and sexual violence, equal pay or sexual discrimination.


  3. Brad Littlejohn

    PDuggan—No, it's not neglecting that question entirely, although I do essentially shelve that question for separate consideration, since your question is essentially a variation on the question "How could anyone support a pro-choice position?" Because you find it inconceivable that any moral person could, therefore you consider it a failure of moral reasoning so great as to exclude one from consideration as a trustworthy candidate. Fair enough, and perhaps I should not have tried to separate the two questions as much as I did—although, when I got to 5,500 words, I decided I had to call it quits somewhere! But anyway, the question is not entirely neglected. Note near the top where I say, "If anyone did argue that [a pro-abortion stance is an automatic bar to supporting a candidate], on the basis that a Christian should never offer support to a person of such obviously depraved morality, I would suggest that this would be a very arbitrary stand to take, given that the other candidates might be of equally depraved morality on other issues (e.g., greed, toleration of adultery, love of violence, whatever). Indeed, it is on this basis that I have little patience with Christians who go on boycotting crusades against any company that, say, gives money to Planned Parenthood. I understand the sentiment, but why single out this single moral issue, while turning a blind eye to companies that engage in complex tax evasion or exploitation of workers?"In the penultimate paragraph, I offer a brief plea for recognizing that many supporters of abortion do not deserve to be dismissed wholesale as incapable of moral reasoning. I only have a moment, but I can expand very briefly on these points to say that in short (1) I certainly think that defense of the legality of abortion in some circumstances, even while opposing it morally, is a defensible (though flawed) position, and one that an otherwise morally respectable person is capable of reaching; (2) while I think defense of the morality of abortion (leaving aside debated extreme cases—e.g., life of the mother, etc.) is a deep moral failing, I do not think it is a sign of *complete* moral blindness; as I said in the post "there are some rational links in the chain of logic" that lead to that conclusion; (3) this is particularly the case given the overall moral logic of individualism and free choice that our culture as a whole—Right and Left, Christian and non-Christian, has bought into. Within the general parameters of modern Western moral reasoning, opposition to abortion starts to look pretty arbitrary. This does not mean support of it is any less a failure of moral reasoning, only that it is a failure widely shared, and thus one that does not single out a particular candidate for particular disqualificaiton; (4), related to that, iit is not clear to me that a supporter of abortion suffers from a unique moral blindness that other prominent political candidates do not. Romney, and many "pro-life" candidates, seem to me very callous and blind to the value of human life and the demands of justice in other settings where the moral issues at stake are almost as obvious as they are in abortion. Moreover, the ambition and level of deception that characterize most senior politicians speaks to their moral degradation even more than something like support for abortion. In short, if we're going to start summarily disqualifying candidates based on their badly formed consciences, there will be almost no one left to vote for.


  4. Don

    There is no comparison to a company board member and someone who runs the country making the decisions we live under and who can appoint supreme court justices that either keep or could get rid of abortion. A company board member has no control over whether abortion is legal or not. Can you see the difference in this? I suggest you redact your comment and remove that errant comparison. The decision is made primarily based on the particular sins of each party. Not even the puppet. Which party will do more to maintain the freedom of the church to proclaim the gospel. Which is more likely to suppress the peace of the church and gospel.


  5. I'm supicious. All the moral horrors of the 19th and 20th centuries could be found to be considered 'arguable' from a morally respectable position according to the standards of the day.And as A Christian I know that its easy for sinners to convince themselves to ignore correct moral reasoning in favor of expediency, pragmatism, or selfishness, or some 'great ideal'When Weston's "morally respectable' language about conquering Mars is correctly translated, it displays the immorality of it it. I won't vote for a Weston, and neither should anyone.


  6. Daniel Bakken

    Let's condense the nonsense. This is a truckload of hand wringing, moral equivalency, and weasel words. I count 55 uses of "might," "may," and "could". All those paragraphs just to say "Let’s disagree respectfully." A COEXIST bumper sticker would have been more to the point.


  7. AJ

    "The Republican conflation of abortion with the even broader question of "women's rights" was apparently a deal-breaker for plenty of voters (male and female, though single females gave Obama a 36 point lead)." I like Brad's post, but I don't see how someone could follow American politics and think that it's the right who conflates abortion and women's rights. It seems to me obvious that this is the strategy of the left. They regularly run ads that use "women's health" as an umbrella clearly including abortion.


  8. Brad Littlejohn

    Don,You don't seem to have been reading very carefully. Obviously, a company board member has no control over whether abortion is legal or not, and there are any number of important differences between the two cases. The purpose of using the illustration of a company board member, and then an American Idol contestant (!) was to use analogies to help discern the form the moral argument might take, to use a simpler case to illuminate the principles at stake in a more complex case. That's how moral reasoning works.And Dan, moral reasoning also means relying on terms like "might," "may," and "could"—it's a devilish business, with qualifications at every turn, but it cannot be avoided. We get nowhere by pretending that complex moral reasoning is unnecessary. I'm puzzled, because you seem to complain that my post was wasting time when it had in fact a very simple message to convey—"Let's disagree respectfully." Fair enough…I wondered myself at the end if I weren't just belaboring common sense. But then you seem to suggest that the message, "Let's disagree respectfully" is a bad one—"nonsense" in fact. If that's what you think, then maybe I wasn't wasting my time after all to belabor the point. Which part of my basic point (viz., we should respect the right of a Christian to vote in good conscience for a candidate who is pro-choice if they deem circumstances so require) do you not accept?


  9. Luke Nieuwsma

    Brad,I admit I skimmed things… and I appreciate parts of your careful reasoning here. However, sometimes people can be so brilliant that they miss the big E on the eye chart. Tax evasion and cheap labor/sweat shops are not at all comparable crimes to murdering the utterly helpless. There is an undeniable degradation in crime which you seem to be overlooking. Sincerely,your brother Luke


  10. Daniel Bakken

    "why single out this single moral issue [abortion], while turning a blind eye to companies that engage in complex tax evasion or exploitation of workers?"Ridiculous moral equivalency. Murder gets a pass because we wouldn't want to let greed off the hook."…if abortion did indeed constitute a uniquely grotesque perversion of morality… Is abortion such an issue? I believe not"Wow. Do you really believe that?"We get nowhere by pretending that complex moral reasoning is unnecessary."If only we had some divine law that told us whether or not murder was immoral. Then we wouldn't need long essays about whether it's okay to endorse those who support infanticide.


  11. Matthew N. Petersen

    Daniel: Do you think that we have a duty to abstain from politics then? Because every candidate endorses something forbidden in the Torah.


  12. Kent Will

    Brad,I agree that there can be theoretical cases where a Christian can vote for a pro-abortion candidate without becoming morally complicit in the evil. But I stumbled at this comment:"Now, it would not be arbitrary if abortion did indeed constitute a uniquely grotesque perversion of morality. For instance, I can imagine someone plausibly arguing that even for something as inconsequential as an American Idol contest, one could not support a contestant who advocated, say, rape or pedophilia or the torture of innocents. Merely holding such views would render a person morally repugnant to a degree that no Christian should want to identify with them. Is abortion such an issue? I believe not, though I shall only have time to touch on this for a moment in the conclusion."It's worth noting that abortion has claimed 54.5 million lives in the US since 1973. A quick google search turns up this list of 20th century genocides: Presuming some level of accuracy in those numbers, abortion outranks every other genocide with the possible exception of Mao in China. If you were to re-write your post, but substitute, for instance, "killing Jews" for "abortion," would that change any of your conclusions?


  13. Brad Littlejohn

    These recent comments suggest that perhaps I was wrong, after all, to think that I could postpone detailed consideration of the arguments on the morality of abortion, and I should have lengthened the post still further. On the other hand, perhaps there would have been no point, since it would have meant people would have "skimmed" even more.Luke, your comment is clearly the result of skimming. I did not say that tax evasion was an equivalent crime to performing an abortion. If you look carefully, you will see that at that point in the argument I was talking about a company which donated money that helped support abortion providers, and I compared that—an indirect cooperation in an evil—to the direct perpetration of evils such as tax evasion or worker exploitation that the companies might be involved in. Abortion is a greater evil, but donating money to support abortion causes is not of equal gravity to perpetrating an abortion. My point in that paragraph was that for many companies, their direct involvement in lesser evils rendered them as morally culpable as their indirect involvement in greater evils.I would point out also, however, that from a Biblical perspective, if we are making our appeal to "divine law" as Dan is, that the Bible far more frequently condemns exploitation of workers—in very strong terms—than it does abortion (when we know that abortion or infanticide was in fact practiced by many of Israel's neighbors and at times Israel herself). Make of that what you will, but at least keep that in mind before you castigate too much my moral priorities. Dan,My response to Luke addresses your first point. To your second, let me point out that I am considering all this from the standpoint not of moral culpability before God but of moral rationality—that is, how depraved we judge a person's moral sensibilities to be. And that is affected by cultural norms. That is to say, if everyone in my society considers a certain sin to be acceptable, I am not thereby off the hook before God for endorsing that sin. However, it is perhaps more understandable why I have fallen into error, and I need not be thought a complete lunatic. My main point here was that the fact that a great many people in Western society have accepted the morality, or at least legality, of abortion, makes it much easier for someone to fall into moral error at this point—more so, than, for example, to endorse pedophilia. Given the widespread revulsion toward pedophilia even in modern society, an embrace of it would denote a uniquely perverted moral imagination.To your third point—and this also relates to some of Luke's remarks:Precisely the problem here is that abortion advocates do not understand it as murder. In all moral deliberation there are two moments of judgment required—the normative (in which we say what we think are binding moral principles) and the situational (in which we say what we think the proper description of the circumstance before us is)—on the basis of these two, we form a moral judgment, in which we apply the proper normative description to the situation as we understand it. For most defenders of abortion (and I should point out here that we are guilty in this discussion of severe over-simplification, as there are I think important differences between the reasoning that supports late-term abortion vs. early-term abortion, and abortion under extenuating circumstances vs. abortion at will), murder is always prohibited but abortion does not qualify as murder because it is not the killing of a human person. This is because the "personhood" of a baby in the early stages of development is debated and unclear. In my view, the pro-life cause has done itself a considerable disservice by its dogmatic insistence that "personhood begins at conception." I do not see how we have any empirical criteria for knowing that—and even the Bible offers us no such clear guidance—indeed, Ex. 21:22 might be taken to contradict the thesis that "murder" is the proper description for abortion. Of course, I agree that we must *treat* a fetus as a person from conception, and that abortion at any stage is a violation of fundamental moral duties, but it does not seem clear to me how we can demonstrate at what point it is a violation of the rights of a person. It is on the basis of this ambiguity that I would not rank the advocate of abortion—early-term abortion, at any rate—as equally depraved as the advocate of murder.Kent, I think the foregoing remarks address your objection as well. Yes, the toll that abortion has taken is staggering and horrific. But the perversion in moral reasoning that has led to it seems to me in most cases to be rather less than the perversion that led to things like the Holocaust. I am open to being persuaded otherwise, but that is how it appears to me at present.(EDIT—I reworded the penultimate paragraph of this comment slightly for clarity.)


  14. We should also remember that just because someone reasons "logically" the ultimate validity of their position depends on the premise. It is not unkind or disrepectful to point out when a fellow Christian holds an untenable position on something this important – in fact it will help that brother grow. Also, it is the ultimate in disrespect to stand by as millions of the most helpless are destroyed.


  15. Matthew N. Petersen

    The Church has Christological reasons for believing personhood begins at conception–while there may be rights that individuals possess, and certainly before the law, there are rights individuals possess, the main problem with murder comes from Matthew 25:45. By being a foetus, Christ sanctified the unborn human, and gives them his infinite worth. This sort of thing is the proper (Christian) reason for opposing abortion: trouble is, (and I'm more or less agreeing with you) that it isn't clear to the non-Christian that God was a foetus. When Singer says that even infants are not yet persons, he is reflecting the same logic the ancients used–and which was overturned by the Church. We definitely should fight abortion, but I'm not sure than until the world shares our Christology, they will find our objections–particularly, our political objections–as cogent.


  16. Daniel Bakken

    Matt,All Christians should agree that the unborn are persons. Your first paragraph provides a good argument for that conclusion.Non-Christians may disagree with that conclusion. But Brad is addressing how we should engage with Christians who vote for pro-abortion candidates. ("Hopefully this inquiry, at least, may constitute a small baby step toward mutual understanding among Christians on this issue.")


  17. Brad Littlejohn

    Dan, You're mixing things up again. What Matt is saying—in agreement with me—is that arguments for fetal personhood are not immediately compelling to the non-believer. For that reason, a non-believer who endorses abortion is not necessarily guilty of the same degree of moral blindness or perversity as one who endorses murder. And therefore, I don't accept the idea that by accepting abortion, a political candidate automatically shows themself to be so evil that no one could conceivably vote for them.On fetal personhood, I believe the best perspective is that offered by Oliver O'Donovan in his lecture "And who is a person?" (1983; I quote here from a summary by John Stott):"His starting point was the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Just as Jesus declined to answer the question “and who is my neighbour?” by providing a set of criteria, so there are no criteria (whether self-consciousness or reason or responsive love) by which to decide who is a “person.” Instead, the Good Samaritan identified his neighbour by caring for him, since “the truth of neighbourhood is known in engagement.” Just so, the question, “Who is a person?” cannot be answered speculatively. Instead, we come to recognize someone as a person “only from a stance of prior moral commitment to treat him or her as a person.” Then later we come to know him or her as a person, as he or she is disclosed to us in personal relationships. It is not that personhood is conferred on someone by our resolve to treat him as a person, but that personhood is disclosed that way. Personhood becomes apparent in personal relationships, although it is not established by them. At the same time, before we commit ourselves to the service of a person, it is right to look for evidence that it is appropriate to do so, either by appearance or (in the case of a fetus) by our scientific knowledge of its unique genotype. There are thus three stages. First, there must be recognition, making it appropriate to engage with a person as a person. Next follows commitment, caring for him as a person. And thirdly there comes encounter: “Those whom we treat as persons when they are yet unborn, become known to us as persons when they are children.” These three stages acknowledge the gradualness of development into personal encounter, while affirming the reality of personhood from the moment of conception."This seems right to me. We know the unborn as persons by committing to engage with them as persons, not by identifying the properties and rights of a person at some determinate stage. I think this would be a more helpful tack for Christians to take rather than shouting at abortion advocates—"Isn't it obvious that this is a person?"Jesse—I agree that abortion advocates hold to untenable premises. What I do not agree is that someone who thinks it might be alright to vote for someone who is pro-choice, on the basis of other reasons besides abortion, holds to an untenable premise. That has been my argument in the above, although people don't really seem much interested in engaging with that argument.


  18. Matthew N. Petersen

    Daniel,But the question isn't whether it's ok to support abortion (it isn't) but whether it's ok to vote for someone who supports abortion–whether a Christian is free to do so. I didn't vote for a pro-choice candidate, because the issue bothers me that much. But the vast majority of Hispanic Catholics and Black Evangelicals did. I'm not going to say that only white Christians are good Christians. I disagree with the numerous Christians who voted for Obama, but I disagree with them in the same sort of way that I disagree with Christians who don't baptize their babies–I think they are in error, but not in sin.


  19. Kent Will

    Brad,OK, then no objection. It just wasn't immediately clear that you were distinguishing between the perversion of morality and the perversion of moral sensibility. But I gotcha now.


  20. Daniel Bakken

    Matt,Your argument seems to be "minorities do it, so we shouldn't condemn it." Every last minority Christian could support evil, and they would all be in sin. Leave race out of it and argue on the merits.You advance another false moral equivalency. Supporting a pro-murder candidate isn't in the same ballpark as not baptizing babies. Ignoring weightier matters of the law brings greater condemnation. If you're arguing that it's okay for Christians to support leaders who hate God's law as embodied in the 10 Commandments, then you are just wrong.Brad,You have made a simple issue needlessly complex. It doesn't matter that the pro-abortion candidate accepts the personhood of the unborn. The unborn baby is objectively a person. Sin makes people stupid, and ignorance is no excuse for evil. Your arguments sound compassionate and irenic, but their effect is to excuse sin. Being honest about sin is truly the way to love the brothers. If someone votes for a pro-abortion candidate, he has blood on his hands whether he is black, brown, or white.


  21. Bradley

    Dan,You have made a simple issue needlessly complex. It doesn't matter that the pro-war candidate accepts the innocence of the foreign persons. The foreign persons are objectively innocent. Sin makes people stupid, and ignorance is no excuse for evil. Your arguments sound compassionate and irenic, but their effect is to excuse sin. Being honest about sin is truly the way to love the brothers. If someone votes for a pro-war candidate, he has blood on his hands whether he is black, brown, or white.Satire, of course. The point is that ALL plausible candidates these days participate in actions that, considered in isolation, are unacceptably vile. There are almost no "pure" candidates to vote for. Surely you must realize that. Killing innocent people in war is just as bad as killing babies in the womb (probably a little worse, actually). If we follow your line of reasoning, Dan, then we would probably have to abstain from just about all politics in order to maintain our personal "purity." Is that your argument here? I'm not quite sure.Actually, it wouldn't be limited to politics; we would have to abstain from supporting abortion advocates in ANY way whatsoever that might conceivably contribute to abortion. We shouldn't do business with people like that and thereby give them money (i.e., we would be morally required to boycott anybody we knew to be associated with abortion), we shouldn't pay for care at hospitals where abortions are sometimes performed, we shouldn't buy a book from any publisher that has profited from a pro-abortion book, etc. But it wouldn't even stop there. If it's wrong to do ANYthing that might contribute to an abortion, then we would be morally prohibited from giving money to anybody who themselves might turn around and shop at the store of a pro-abortion merchant, etc. Ultimately it would be impossible to live in American society and avoid contributing to abortion in some way. It's inescapable. The alternative is that we realize things are "complex", as Bradford has done. Not all support is the same. It's possible to buy a DVD from Disney and not like the fact that Disney kills babies by donating money to Planned Parenthood (which they do, by the way). It's possible to give money to eBay and PayPal without agreeing with their stance on abortion (they donate money to Planned Parenthood as well, for the record). Likewise, it's possible to vote for a candidate and disagree vehemently with his stance on abortion.


  22. Daniel Bakken

    Bradley,You are the first to mention war rather than some silly "evil" like tax evasion. Now we're talking. But where do you get the idea that I think it's fine to vote for warmongerers? Your goal is to make people who oppose war and infanticide sound kooky because they don't support "plausible" candidates.I wasn't aware that Disney supported Planned Parenthood. I expect they are much quieter about it than Obama is about his support for abortion. If you become aware that a business supports monstrous evil, you should do everything in your power to avoid funding them. Think of IG Farben's role in supplying Zyklon B for the gas chambers. But you are leading us down rabbit trails. Brad's post is about voting for pro-abortion candidates, not buying Cinderella. I'd be happy to argue the merits of boycotting in another thread.Where in the Bible do we find justification for being pragmatists and supporting the lesser of two evils? You say we must choose Evil A (abortion) or Evil B (war). It's a false dilemma and we should choose neither. Scripture commands us to protect the weak and fatherless. It warns against oppression and murder. But I can't find any warnings about the evil of abstaining from politics.


  23. Bradley

    If you become aware that a business supports monstrous evil, you should do everything in your power to avoid funding them … But you are leading us down rabbit trails.

    This isn't a rabbit trail, this is the exact principle we need to talk about. Dan, if it's true that we should do EVERYTHING in our power to avoid supporting people involved in monstrous evil, then the only way to do that is to become an absolute hermit. Sure, you can boycott Disney. But you would also have to boycott everybody else who themselves watch Disney movies, or use eBay, etc. It's not even possible to be an absolute hermit in America anyway, because you will always need to pay property tax, and your taxes will directly participate in funding in monstrous evils. True, your taxes aren't voluntary, but living in America is. The only alternatives would be (a) moving to a country that actually allows you to live as a complete and total hermit, or (b) sea-steading, where you renounce all citizenship and live on the high seas permanently in international waters. Those are actually options, Dan. You could do them. And by refusing to do them, you ARE involved financially in the perpetration of monstrous evils. Or at least, that's what your argument leads to. In short, if contributing towards evil in some extended way were actually evil, then becoming a hermit would be the only option. But that's not Biblical. The proper solution to this dilemma involves the following: (1) we need to meditate on what it means to be in the world but not of the world and continually take this into account as we live our lives, (2) we need to realize that not everything is about individual sin; there is such a thing as communal sin, and it's not possible to pretend that we're immune to it by pretending that we're not a part of the community committing the sin; we're all wrapped up in these sins, particularly on an economic level; the solution is to help our society moves towards communal repentance, and (3) we need to realize that not all "support" is equal. Intent is a big part of the equation. Distance is a big part of the equation. Some oil is used to manufacture weapons and murder people, some oil is used to make plastics and chemicals used in abortions. When our company sells oil to the refinery, we do this in full awareness that the refinery will sell oil to people who will use the oil for these monstrously evil ends. That doesn't mean we refuse to sell to the refinery. It's possible to sell to the refinery without approving 100% of everything the refinery does (and actually, the refinery itself isn't doing anything wrong per se; it would be very difficult to follow a barrel of oil and see when it finally does get used for something evil). Likewise, it's conceivable that you can vote for a candidate without approving 100% of everything he will do. I didn't want to vote for Obama myself, but I can at least respect Christians who believed he was the lesser of two evils.

    Where in the Bible do we find justification for being pragmatists and supporting the lesser of two evils?

    When we are electing sinners, then by definition we are ALWAYS choosing between lesser evils. Sometimes the evil is so small that it's overshadowed and not worth mentioning (like hypothetically, if we were choosing between two godly Christian candidates), sometimes the evil is so great that one could NEVER in good conscience support it (like if Stalin were running for President), and sometimes it's in the middle (candidates who will do some good things and some bad things). Choosing the lesser of two evils isn't necessarily the same as supporting evil itself; it's just another way of saying, "I want something GOOD, and this seems to be the way we can get the most good right now."Therefore: It's okay for a Christian to vote for Obama and disagree with abortion. Wouldn't do it myself, but respect those who did.


  24. Bradley

    For the record, I didn't vote for Romney either, not least because he's a warmonger. But I can respect those who did vote for him, believing that he was the lesser of two evils. (In my book, the evils in this election were roughly the same, so there didn't seem to be much point in trying to choose between them. But that's my opinion, and not the Word of God or anything 🙂


  25. Daniel Bakken

    "This isn't a rabbit trail, this is the exact principle we need to talk about."Boycotts are a different topic and the principles are different. Buying a product doesn't necessarily imply endorsement of the company selling it. Voting, on the other hand, signifies that you believe the candidate will promote virtue and execute justice. Now a candidate who openly promotes monstrous evil cannot meet those standards by definition."Sometimes the evil is so great that one could NEVER in good conscience support it (like if Stalin were running for President)."You grant that we should withhold our vote when a candidate is guilty of monstrous evil. You apparently believe that promoting abortion is not a monstrous evil. But abortion has killed more people than Stalin. Nobody could vote against Stalin, but we can and should vote against anyone who has promoted abortion as openly and wholeheartedly as Barack Obama.


  26. Daniel Bakken

    Psalm 94 tells us how we should feel about rulers who establish the murder of innocents by decree. It doesn't sound like the psalmist allows us the option of voting for them:O Lord, how long shall the wicked, how long shall the wicked exult?They pour out their arrogant words; all the evildoers boast.They crush your people, O Lord, and afflict your heritage.They kill the widow and the sojourner,and murder the fatherless.Can wicked rulers be allied with you, those who frame injustice by statute?They band together against the life of the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out.


  27. AJ

    It seems to me that most ofthe comments on this thread have been people asserting they're positions and re-asserting the same rather than listening and asking questions.


  28. Matthew N. Petersen


    If God is going to wipe them out, we should be as far away as possible to avoid getting burned when the fire falls from Heaven.

    Incidentally, that's the exact opposite attitude people like Bonhoeffer in Germany and Tikhon in Russia had, who returned to Germany and Russia respectively so they could participate in the sufferings of their people. Indeed, that's the exact opposite attitude God had, who rather than being as far as possible from us when the fire fell, had the fire fall on Him.


  29. Daniel Bakken

    Matt,When did Bonhoeffer tell his countrymen it was okay to support Hitler? He tried to assassinate Hitler and certainly never would have countenanced voting for him.I never said we should leave America and forsake our people. You are twistiing my words. The "them" we should avoid are wicked rulers who establish injustice by decree, not the entire nation.I've simply said that we sin if we vote for those who advocate murder and tyranny. The fact that a group of brainy Christians finds this laughable disturbs me.


  30. Daniel Bakken

    This post is nothing but casuistry: complex and sophistic reasoning to justify moral laxity."Casuistry is prone to abuses wherever the analogies between cases are false." Your analogies (tax evasion? corporate board? American Idol?!) fall flat and can't bear the moral weight you've loaded on them.


  31. Brad Littlejohn

    Bradley,Thanks for jumping in. With all the conference stuff these past couple days, I haven't been able to keep up on it, so I really appreciate it. Dan, Since you obviously have no trouble being blunt, let me be blunt. It is this kind of talk that makes me lament the demise of moral reasoning among American evangelicals. My dad and I were discussing today what a sad observation is was that the only universities hiring moral theologians and Christian ethicists today are Catholic universities. Protestants, particularly evangelical Protestants, have simply lost almost altogether the long and rich tradition of Christian ethics as a discipline of reflection that required complex and careful reasoning. "It's all obvious, man! It's in the Bible!" we say, and wonder why the rest of the world goes on ignoring us. If this were an easy issue that I am making needlessly complex, why is it that the issue has been the subject of such protracted and ferocious debate and has elicited hundreds of books and tens of thousands of articles from ethicists on all sides? Just because we believe there is a clear and definite answer that we must stick to our guns about doesn't mean that it's not complex. And let me point out that the discipline of "casuistry" is an inheritance of that great Christian ethical tradition. Among Protestants, it was pioneered by those compromising, lily-livered, pragmatic, unprincipled, slippery characters they call "the Puritans," particularly by one weaselly character named William Perkins, and subsequently developed and rendered enormously influential by those despicable English Protestants, Puritan and Anglican, of the seventeenth century. A pox upon them! But I'm not sure what to make of that last paragraph. Are you complaining that casuistry as such is wicked, or that it is a valuable tool that I have abused by false analogies. I would be happy to discuss (at least, when I'm not travelling) possible failings in the analogies I employed or the logic with which I applied them, but so far I haven't seen you attempt to do that—you just keep railing about what a sell-out I am.You have asked some important questions about the nature of voting—why is it OK to vote for the lesser of two evils? Isn't one ipso facto endorsing a candidate by voting for them? Since this post was building upon earlier posts, I presupposed, instead of attempting to argue here, for fundamental Christian principles on voting, though you probably missed where I linked to this a couple weeks ago. This may be helpful for you.


  32. Brad Littlejohn

    Dan, It may be helpful to pose the whole question to you this way: Do think that a British Christian can never vote, because they will almost always be voting for a candidate who wants to keep abortion legal?You seem to be committed to a stance like that, by saying you can never vote for the lesser of two evils.


  33. Bradley

    Boycotts are a different topic and the principles are different. Buying a product doesn't necessarily imply endorsement of the company selling it. Voting, on the other hand, signifies that you believe the candidate will promote virtue and execute justice.

    Okay, this is useful. Now we're actually getting somewhere. Here's where we disagree: you think that by voting for somebody you "imply endorsement" for all their policies on virtue and justice. I, on the other hand, do NOT believe that's what voting implies. I think of voting in in a similar category to boycotting and shopping: it's possible for me to 'shop' at the market of political candidates without necessarily aligning myself 100% behind the candidates I pick off the shelves.In other words, I do NOT believe voting implies wholesale endorsement. Voting is more pragmatic than that. I'm not asking you to necessarily agree with me and adopt this mentality yourself, I'm only asking you to at least recognize that this is is a tolerable mentality for a Christian to have about voting. Is that alright? (If you still disagree on this point, you should check out that link Bradford provided for elaboration.)

    You grant that we should withhold our vote when a candidate is guilty of monstrous evil. You apparently believe that promoting abortion is not a monstrous evil.

    No, that's not exactly what I said. King David was guilty of monstrous evil, but I would have voted for him, because on the whole he would’ve led the country in a better direction than the other candidates (Saul? Absalom? Joab?). My point was that sometimes a candidate, like Stalin hypothetically, is so incredibly, monumentally, unmitigatedly evil that it’s difficult to imagine supporting ANY aspect of his campaign or his policies. I chose Stalin as my example because he’s the greatest mass murder in human history, and the nearest example of unmitigated evil that I could think of (the man killed 40-60 million of his own citizens, not even counting those killed in WW2!). I don’t believe that’s the category Obama falls into. Yes, abortion is certainly a monstrous evil that has claimed millions of lives; we agree 100% on that fact. But promoting/allowing abortion isn’t the same as actually doing abortions. That’s why it’s not really appropriate to compare Obama to Hitler or Stalin. Obama has actually done some good things, and he comes nowhere near Stalin. Now, if Obama were actually the person going out and killing these babies, I would agree with you. But he's not. Mothers and doctors are killing the babies. If we’re trying to figure out who bears the blame and guilt for abortions in our country, then it lies most heavily on the shoulders of those mothers and doctors, not the President. At worst, Obama is an extended accomplice. Obama isn't Stalin. All these mothers in our nation are mini-Stalins.Anyways, if Obama really were as evil and genocidal as Stalin and Hitler, then the right thing to do would probably be to assassinate him. So how about it? Are you ready to go assassinate Obama? Why not? Because it wouldn’t actually accomplish anything, you say? Could that possibly be because Obama isn’t actually orchestrating all this murder? Hmm. Could this possibly be a huge cultural problem that the President is only one small piece of?


  34. Bradley

    Oops, typo. I accidentally said:"I think of voting in in a similar category to boycotting and shopping"But I meant to say:"I think of voting in in a similar category to shopping"Hopefully that was clear from context, but just wanted to clarify.


  35. Brad – My response is here – summary, the relative urgency and importance of the abortion issue far exceeds other issues to the extent that Christians should, based on moral grounds, seek to vote for candidates that are pro-life when available. If a pro-life candidate is available and they refuse to vote for them their moral analysis has been a failure. I would also say that abstaining from voting in "swing states" is also a result of a failed moral analysis. Idaho was always going for Romney so not voting is no biggie and in Maryland we're always going for Obama but I did vote. I like to take advantage of the gift of voting when possible. I always find your views interesting because I disagree so much. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!


  36. Matthew N. Petersen

    One more point that Bradley only touches on–abortion is a great evil, but it isn't just an evil of our leadership. It's a societal evil. We can't say that it's the leadership that has hell to pay. If there's hell to pay for abortion, there's hell to pay for the entire society, not just for the leadership. And if we want to be as far from the bowl of wrath, we need to separate ourselves from the society, not just not vote for that leadership–indeed, refusing to vote seems a pretty anemic way to separate ourselves. "And the angel of the Lord can to Lot, and told him "be careful how you vote.""


  37. Daniel Bakken

    Brad,We may have lost the long rich tradition of Christian ethics, but this sort of reasoning won't restore it. Jesus didn't come lamenting the lack of ethical philosophers in Israel. He mostly complained about the oversupply."Are you complaining that casuistry as such is wicked, or that it is a valuable tool that I have abused by false analogies?" I thought my statement that your analogies fall flat was quite clear. I haven't studied the fine points of casuistry, but your abuse doesn't incline me to favor it. Employ your skills to protect the innocent rather than excuse those complicit in evil.Not voting isn't withdrawal from society. If Christians abstained from voting, people might realize that we do not have government "deriving its just powers by consent of the governed." The emperor's nakedness would be plain. And Christians would be free to pursue righteousness through cultural engagement, which is likely to be more effective.Bradley,"But promoting/allowing abortion isn’t the same as actually doing abortions." I don't think even Stalin could have personally executed 40 million peasants. Someone else did the killing. But Stalin ordered and approved it.


  38. Daniel Bakken

    Brad,You criticized me for being a simplistic Bible thumper. Your post contained no Scripture at all. Is it because Scripture is silent that you feel compelled to write at such length? This is a strange Christian ethics which has no need for the Word of God.


  39. If one of the primary goals of the pro-life movement is to reduce the number of abortions, then it is possible to argue that Obama has done more than any previous president to secure such an outcome through increasing access to affordable contraception. Internationally, improving access to contraception (especially amongst poorer and less educated women) has been shown to have a larger suppressing influence on the abortion rate than the legal status of abortion.This was another significant difference between the parties and candidates. Republicans wanted to further restrict access to contraception and ridiculed a lady for testifying to Congress when she argued for improved access.Now Roman Catholics may also have a problem with contraception, but isn't this still (for RCs) a lesser wrong than abortion? Thus might not a policy of improving access to contraception be accepted as a valid retrieval ethic, an imperfect effort towards harm minimisation? (Even if the precise mode of this improved access is open to further dispute.)


  40. Michael

    According to the Guttmacher Institute, "In 2008, 1.21 million abortions were performed, down from 1.31 million in 2000. However, between 2005 and 2008, the long-term decline in abortions stalled." Indeed, their graph actually shows a slight uptick in the waning years of the Bush administration, and the numbers listed indicate that between 2001 and 2008 the abortion rate dropped by 1.5 per 1000 women, less than half as fast as the 3.9 per 1000 drop between 1993 and 2001. For details, see a presidential candidate advocates on an issue and what their policies actually affect can be very different.


  41. Brad Littlejohn

    Dan,You seem to forget that I actually largely agree with you in practice. I too refrained altogether from voting both this election cycle and four years ago, and largely on the grounds you seem to advocate doing so. For me too, the abortion issue was decisive. All I am arguing here is that I am not going to automatically condemn a Christian who judges otherwise on this complex matter. You, on the other hand, are determined to judge all other Christians at the bar of an extra-Scriptural principle that you have exalted as absolutely normative—"Never vote for someone complicit in grave evil (of which abortion is an example)." And then you suggest that I'm engaged in the kind of Pharisaical reasoning that Jesus would've condemned. The shoe, I think, is on the other foot.In any case, the problem is that Scripture is silent on the question of principles of voting for democratic citizens, because there is no such thing in Scripture. We hear a lot about rulers, and how God judges rulers, and even some cases of rebellion in which one ruler was replaced with another—some of which perhaps were justified, others clearly not. But we have nothing like the peaceful processes by which the people choose their leaders themselves that we have in modern democracies. If we are to figure out how Christians are to act in such settings, we have to use a great deal of imagination, and draw on moral resources beyond Scripture alone. This is not "Christian ethics which has no need for the word of God"; it is simply recognition that the Word of God does not directly address all the situations we face today. Inasmuch as it indirectly addresses them, it seems that it provides ample basis for Christians voting for rulers who are deemed "the lesser of two evils," given how often God himself seems to support such in Scripture, and the cases in which believers are clearly called upon to do so (e.g., Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Caesar). No, Daniel didn't vote for Nebuchadnezzar, but he did more—he served as his counselor, and in this was following the advice of Jeremiah for Jews to be loyal supporters of his regime. And I guarantee you Nebuchadnezzar did worse things than maintain a legal climate favorable to abortion—likely, he maintained a legal climate favorable to outright infanticide.Byron, I'm not sure I'd be comfortable with that line of reasoning, because to me the abortion issue is not problematic simply in terms of the bare moral status of killing a fetus. If that's all there were to it, then any otherwise morally licit means of minimizing the number of killings would be good. The problem is the attitude toward sex, reproduction, and life that is embodied in modern pro-choice commitments—that sex between consenting adults is an amoral action, to which the conception of children is appended as a contingent undesirable by-product, a by-product to be avoided by whatever means possible. Simply distributing free contraception, while it may reduce the number of abortions, clearly reinforces this root problem in our cultural consciousness.Of course, I think that the point you make helpfully draws attention to an incoherence or ambivalence in modern pro-life rhetoric, much of which tends to focus solely on the evil of the abortive act, so that the opposition to contraception seems arbitrary. A more holistic reasoning would require pro-lifers to re-examine our modern cult of individual free choice which lies at the root of this whole problem, a cult to which most contemporary pro-lifers are still quite wedded in most areas of their lives.


  42. Brad,I think some of the trouble your readers are experiencing is due to your approach to voting itself. You see voting as merely the selection of a candidate who runs on a variety of positions and policy recommendations, which can be considered in isolation. You do not see voting as endorsement of a candidate who champions a discernible cultural movement. You fail to discern the trajectory of liberal progressivism in America.Let me spell it out for you. Liberal progressivism is the attempt to maintain a society that allows individuals the freedom to live as they want, short of committing actual criminal acts, and to determine life's meaning for themselves. This entails that society must be ordered and regulated apart from public obedience to God's order and law–especially, fatherly authority and the commandment against theft. As the social policies of the left fail to achieve the condition of absolute equality for all free-and-equal individuals, it becomes necessary to coercively extract resources from some individuals to give to other individuals who have no family to fall back on. The family’s role as an institution of wealth conservation and transmission has been supplanted by the state, with disastrous results.A vote for Barack Obama was a vote for more godless government, male subjection, feminist domination, sexual license, sexual confusion, political correctness, racial preferences, and familial instability. The demonization of Western Civilization and repudiation of the traditional American way of life are also entailed in this commitment. As Peter Leithart noted, “Obama’s reelection was the coming out of a new Moral Majority.” See, .EVERYONE WHO VOTED FOR BARACK OBAMA KNOWS THIS AND IS HIS ACCOMPLICE IN ATTEMPTING TO IMMANENTIZE THE LIBERAL PROGRESSIVE ESCHATON.Obama’s change is a movement away from traditional norms, a transvaluation of American values. His hope is that an endless supply of money will be available for the project. Thank you.~Andrew Matthews


  43. Matthew N. Petersen

    I think if you read through the comments you will find your concerns are answered. Particularly, that description of voting is not biblical, and it would be wrong to bind consciences with that understanding of a vote. That doesn't mean it is wrong, or that we shouldn't consider it when we vote. But we cannot claim that people who disagree are in sin for doing so.


  44. I made no biblical argument against Obama, Matthew. So, I’m not trying to bind consciences with my own private take on the Bible. I’m claiming that you know, that Brad knows, and that I know that Obama was the liberal progressive champion for the presidential contest.There was little practical difference between either of the main contenders in terms of proposed policy. The motivating impetus for anyone to vote one way or the other, rather than just staying at home, was to approve or register disapproval with the moral direction Obama is taking America. Objectively, a vote for Obama was little more than an endorsement of Obama’s moral priorities for America—the priorities of progressive liberalism—over the alternative.


  45. Matthew N. Petersen

    Your analysis of why some people voted for Obama is probably accurate. Your jump from a statement about why some voted for Obama to the universal claim of what a vote for Obama was (for all) is unwarranted.


  46. "Abortion is a very big deal, and the task of saving lives from it is an urgent one."Which is worse: the murder of the innocent or failing to challenge a culturally-dominant yet deficient view of sex? I'd suggest that if you oppose maximising affording access to effective contraception on the basis of its enabling promiscuity with reduced chances of unwanted pregnancy, you're cracking an egg with a sledgehammer. Widespread access to contraception as an abortion reduction measure is a harm minimisation strategy, a retrieval ethic of making some undesirable outcomes a little more possible in order to avoid a worse one. There are all kinds of government policies that take this form. Indeed, it could well be argued that all or almost all government functions are a form of harm minimisation (at least on an Augustinian view of political authority as a concession to human weakness (cf. clothes) rather than a part of the created human order).


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