Alcorn on Younger Evangelical Inconsistency

I would encourage you to view this interview between Mark Driscoll and Randy Alcorn. It’s excellent and rightfully deserves a response from evangelicals who label themselves “pro-life” but then vote for pro-choice candidates. I’ll be blunt; I know of no more contradictory stance held by younger evangelicals today, a stance which is both naive and appalling.

I’ve recently completed a term paper on a Christian understanding of public morality. In it, I made the assertion that individual acts create cultural habits and moods (which, I know, is not a novel concept), that eventually contributes to what Robert P. George labels as a “moral ecology.” On the abortion issue, evangelicals have the unique ability to stand on the side of celebrating a culture of life. How sad that, on such an important issue, younger evangelicals are contributing–surreptitiously–to the pro-choice movement’s “culture of death.”

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  • http://notesfromasmallplace.wordpress.com Jake Meador

    I think one of the problems is that there isn’t a coherent evangelical statement about political identity and the role of politics. Conservative evangelicals have for the last twenty years been very content to ride the coattails of the GOP. And yes, we’ve talked about abortion more than many other Republicans, so much so that we’ve managed to place it near the top of important issues for a candidate to consider.

    Yet we’ve failed to condemn unjust corporate practices and we continue – by and large – to support one (possibly two) unjust wars in the Middle East. Point being, we don’t have a distinctly and robustly Christian attitude toward politics. We have a conservative attitude with Christian trimmings.

    So of course younger evangelicals look at the political landscape with a strong sense of confusion and a great deal of incoherence. It’s like the Derek Webb line, “don’t teach me about politics and government, just tell me who to vote for.” For the most part, Christian culture has been content to tell us who to vote for, rather than how to think Christianly about the role of the state.

    Now when you add in the fact that there are many, many thoughtful evangelicals who get drowned out b/c the media is content to focus on the wingnut on CBN, the problem gets worse.

    Then, add to that the fact that a lot of the things perceived as the greatest evils in our culture tend to be more pronounced in GOP circles and it gets even worse.

    Basically, there are a variety of factors at play here. I’m not all suggesting that it’s purely the fault of older evangelicals that younger evangelicals like myself have developed such an incoherent political philosophy. There’s a lot of issues contributing to the problem. But, I would say that one of those issues (and one of the most prominent) is that Christian political thought is often little more than GOP policy with a few bits of lip service to Christianity.

    • Andrew Walker

      Jake, I appreciate your thoughts here. I would love to hear your thoughts on some more clarifying matters.

      Is it really true that Christians have no developed political philosophy? Has there not been 2,000 years of political reflection between the likes of Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Barth, Henry, etc, etc, that we can say that we’ve gotten no where?

      I’ve done lots of reading where criticizing Christianity for a lack of political theology is now fashionable, and I tend to disagree. I believe there is a good amount of material available which, while not directly telling us how to vote, still very helpfully instructs our thinking. If you’re interested pick up Nicholas’ Wolterstorff’s “Theological Foundation for Political Philosophy” in Evangelicals and Public Policy, edited by Ron Sider. Wolterstorff’s contribution is a fine asset to evangelical political reflection.

      How systematic can we get when it comes to developing a political theology? What, in your terms, would signal an appropriate shift and development?

      • http://notesfromasmallplace.wordpress.com Jake Meador

        Andrew – Certainly Christians have developed political philosophies. You cite several excellent examples above. But there’s a couple complicating factors that must be accounted for.

        There is the problem I already mentioned regarding the media. Your typical semi-informed American won’t have any idea who Wolterstorff is. They may not even know Aquinas. But they know Falwell and Robertson. It’s unfortunate and I do think the media has a responsibility to give more coverage to the better representatives of our movement, but at the same time, it’s hard to blame them for covering Falwell and Robertson. Speaking as a former journalist, those guys give you stories.

        Related to that, then, is the need to get the political philosophy being worked on in our academies filtered down to our churches. Right now a huge gap exists between the Christian academy and the Christian church. The result is that you get many pastors saying horribly ignorant things about a great variety of issues (politics and the science/religion debate are two that spring to mind) simply because the resources of the academy are somehow not making it into that pastor’s study and, therefore, aren’t making it into his sermons.

        Basically it’s the tree falling in the forest question – if a Christian scholar writes a brilliant 800 page political tome and no pastor reads it, does the Church care?

        Regarding an “appropriate shift and development,” we need a couple things: First, we need the Christian academy and the Christian church to start talking to each other a bit more. Second, if we want to have any credibility in the broader culture on political matters, we need to develop a willingness to call the GOP on their crap as readily as we call out the Dems. Besides Johnmark Reynolds I don’t recall reading any popular evangelical blogs that called out Bush and company for their “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (That said, I wasn’t reading Mere O at the time, so perhaps someone here was doing it?) The Catholics have some credibility on these issues b/c they have a distinctly Catholic political philosophy and they apply it. So, for example, on life issues, they condemn the Dems for being pro-choice and the Republicans for favoring capital punishment.

        While I disagree with Rome on the issue of capital punishment, I respect their position. They are an independent group who votes consistently in line with their group’s convictions. I don’t see evangelicals on the whole taking a similarly-principled stance. I see lots of conservatives that toe the GOP party line and I see a few liberals who try to break out of the mold and either swing completely the opposite direction (the Christian left of Wallis) or they get chased out of evangelicalism before they can make a lasting impact. (Cizik, Land, etc.)

        Where are the evangelicals that will deviate from accepted GOP orthodoxy in the name of Christ? I’m all for taking a stance on abortion and I think I’d even agree with you in seeing abortion as the great evil of our day. However, that doesn’t dismiss us from our responsibility to speak Christianly about free market excesses (which are killing hundreds of thousands in Africa and the Caribbean) or to condemn nationalistic idolatry, which is one of the GOP’s great sins. (I was happy to see Doug Wilson call out Hewitt on the issue last week.)

        • Andrew Walker

          Jake, good stuff here.

          So, in your view, you would perhaps like to see a pastor leading a Wednesday night group through, for example, The City of God?

          When we speak of helping Christians think Christianly about politics, would that mean extended conversations about the concept of the Rule of Law, Limits, Authority, etc?

          • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

            Two factual things from Jake’s post:

            “Besides Johnmark Reynolds I don’t recall reading any popular evangelical blogs that called out Bush and company for their “enhanced interrogation techniques.” (That said, I wasn’t reading Mere O at the time, so perhaps someone here was doing it?)”

            No, I didn’t, for the same reason I didn’t blog about the health care debate beyond abortion–because I have to pick issues that I studied and felt informed enough to write about, not because I agreed with one position or the other.

            But I will say that the lead voice in the evangelical community on the issue hasn’t been John Mark, though he was loud. It’s been Joe Carter, who consistently argued (and persuasively, in my mind) against waterboarding. You can see my podcast interview with him in the archives for more on that.

            “or they get chased out of evangelicalism before they can make a lasting impact. (Cizik, Land, etc.)”

            You don’t mean Richard Land, do you? I didn’t know that he had been chased out of evangelicalism, if so.

            In addition, the evangelical alliance with the GOP is being overstated a bit, I think. Remember, the two most popular candidates in 08 among evangelicals were Huck and Ron Paul, hardly mainstream GOP guys. And that was enough to earn evangelicals an enormous amount of criticism.

            matt

          • http://notesfromasmallplace.wordpress.com Jake Meador

            Andrew – I would love to see stuff like that.

            Another great model is what we’re doing up here in the Twin Cities through the MacLaurin Institute. A friend of mine who goes to my church (and who holds a PhD from Notre Dame in history) is the director of the institute, whose goal is to build bridges between the Twin Cities church and the University of Minnesota. So last week we had John Somerville up here for a morning in which he did a two hour breakfast with local clergy and then an hour lecture open to faculty, grad students, and clergy. Then we concluded the morning with a panel discussion with three faculty members about how Christians can live well in academic settings.

            And yes, a discussion of law, limits, and authority would all be very helpful. As I read Douthat’s NYT column today I had the thought that we really need a conversation about the role and authority of tradition in public life.

            Thanks for starting the conversation, too, by the way.

            Have you done anything like a City of God study? How’d it go?

          • http://notesfromasmallplace.wordpress.com Jake Meador

            Matt – I’m glad to hear Joe Carter was speaking out against it as well. I wasn’t reading Evangelical Outpost when all that was going on, so I must’ve missed it. Thanks for correcting me though.

            As far as the Evangelical/GOP alliance goes, I think we have to look at more than 2008. That was a quirky election for a lot of reasons. That said, if you were to say that Evangelicals ties to the GOP are not as entrenched as they were in 2004, I’d agree. We are developing a more independent voice and I’m glad to see it. But I want to keep pushing for more independence because I think our credibility as a political witness depends – to a large extent – on our ability to distinguish between “evangelical politics” and “Republican politics.” As long as our political identity is tied to the GOP’s we’re going to struggle. Esp. with the state of the GOP right now.

            Essentially, I’m arguing that we need to rediscover Schaeffer’s idea of being a co-belligerent. (I think Guinness’ Evangelical Manifesto from a few years ago is a really useful model of that kind of thinking. You could also look historically at someone like Wilbeforce as a model of this sort of Christian political work.)

          • http://mereorthodoxy.com Matthew Lee Anderson

            Jake,

            Yup, just google “Our Tortured Silence.”

            I agree we have to look at more than 2008. Ironically, though, the further back we go, the more tenuous the relationship gets. It was, after all, Jimmy Carter that evangelicals first formed their alliance with. We have to remember that over the past 30 years, Democratic politics has become increasingly strident in their pro-choice position. We can dismiss the fact that evangelicals voted for Carter, but I actually think it says a lot about the character of evangelical political engagement.

            matt

          • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

            Yes, Joe Carter has offered a brave and, as far as I can tell, lonely evangelical voice against torture during our “war on terrorism.” Frankly, this is one issue where I think our mainline Protestant brothers and sisters were doing a better job of witness-bearng. See the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), founded by Dr. George Hunsinger, professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary.

  • casey

    Jake…I heartily concur.

    I would also add that there is a perception that a pro-life administration even when combined with a pro-life Congress (at least in theory) has not brought about the elimination of legal abortion. Maybe because it primarily seems to be a court and Constitutional issue rather than an executive or legislative one? This can have the effect of down-playing the priority of abortion issues in elections too.

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

    Is it “contradictory,” “naive and appalling” to label yourself “pro-life” and then vote for “pro-choice” candidates? I’m pro-life and have always voted for pro-life candidates (read: Republicans) except in 2004 when I voted for John Kerry in the presidential election (If you’re worried that I’m a Leftist incognito, I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 and John McCain in 2008.) Looking back, I regret my decision to vote for Kerry. Neither choice was “good” – morally or politically. Abstention from voting would have been more principled.

    In a world where the culture of death prevails, all Christians – in principle – want to advance a culture of life. But what should be done when there are competing issues at stake? Voting for Kerry gave tacit support to abortion. Voting for Bush gave tacit support to an unjust war in Iraq – a conclusion I arrived at after much reading, reflection, and prayer. Both abortion and unjust war contribute to the culture of death. How, then, should a person decide between the two? The problem with single-issue voting is that I might do the right thing on one issue and the wrong thing on other issues. This is a dilemma I haven’t worked through, but I have a sneaking suspicion, as a Reformed Christian, that the doctrine of two kingdoms will provide a helpful guide.

    • Andrew Walker

      Christopher,

      I understand your position, but maintain no sympathies with it. You seem to equate the evils of war on the same grounds as the evils of abortion. This, I believe, is incorrect.

      The question is whether abortion and war are deontologically evil. Abortion is. War is not.

      War, according to Scripture can be pursued on legitimate grounds (as you would agree). Yet, even in an unjust war, the combatants in war do not automatically conduct themselves unjustly. Combatants can still act justly in an unjust war.Moreover, combatants either willingly or unwillingly entered the military on their own discretion. When one chooses to enter the military, they knowingly enter into the obligation that a just or unjust war may be fought. Moreover, individuals engaged in war are ordered to defend themselves against the threat of death, wear armor to protect themselves, and likewise are ordered to go on the offensive to attack individuals who–even in unjust wars, may still be potentially culpable of having committed moral evils. You would not disagree that, even if the Iraq War is unjust, that the military killing of an attacking insurgent is morally evil, correct?

      In abortion, you have an unwilling, innocent victim being slaughtered; literally, limbs and extremities being torn apart.

      Yes, unjust wars exist. But philosophers and ethicists debate the extent to which the Iraq War is unjust. That is, the jury is still out. Thus, it is not fair, even in 2004, to assert the possibility of perfect knowledge that would require one being able to announce the Iraq War as certainly unjust. But abortion can be nothing other than unjust.

      So, while you hold reservation on the appropriateness of voting for Bush and his war (which is questionably unjust, I’ll agree), the greater good requires the conscience to vote against that which is morally evil on all grounds all the time.

      I’ll make a rather absurdly obvious statement: a vote for a pro-choice candidate is a vote for abortion. I don’t mean to be pejorative or rude in saying this, but in 2004, you voted for the continued constitutional right which continues the practice of abortion.You voted against the continuation of an unjust war which has achieved limited success.You may not be complicit in pulling the trigger of a gun in an unjust war, but complicity exists when legislation accords the right for doctors to dismember defenseless human beings.And complicity is a direct result of democracy.

      Please hear me, I’m not trying to be asanine or disrespectful. I just want to go to great lengths to protect Christians from “blurring the lines.”

      • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

        Mr. Anderson has encouraged me to reveal more of myself in comments, so I chose to disclose the uncomfortable and regrettable fact of my vote for John Kerry in 2004. The war in Iraq tied me up in ethical knots. I was torn between the anti-abortion candidate (Bush) and the anti-war candidate (Kerry), both of whom were contributing to the “culture of death” but in different ways. As I said before, abstention from voting would have been more principled than entering this “lesser of two evils” dilemma.

        In the eyes of a deontologist like Mr. Walker, my vote for Kerry made me complicit in abortion. By going “to great lengths to protect Christians from ‘blurring the lines,'” he implies that I’m a baby-killer. I don’t see how our political theology is assisted by this kind of black-and-white thinking. The political sphere is messy, and our response to it will often be in shades of gray.

        Is abortion evil? Yes. Is an unjust war evil? Yes. I concede that just things can be done in an unjust war. So too, good things can come out of abortion. Is giving license to either acceptable? No, but this is our dilemma.

        Single-issue voting is naive because all of the issues must be weighed. I don’t think a person is comprehensively pro-life by supporting anti-abortion candidates. Other issues impinge on human flourishing, such as ecology, poverty, and war. We need a guide to prioritize the issues to make an informed and wise vote.

  • http://silouanthompson.net Silouan

    In nearly 40 years since Roe, “pro-life” politicians have demonstrated their inability to do anything about abortion. In Christ’s own parable, the son who says “yes I will” but doesn’t is not any more obedient than the son who says “no I won’t.” Casting a vote purely on the basis of some professional liar’s promise that this time he really will do, er, something about abortion is demonstrably not an effective plan to criminalize abortion.

    For as long as I’ve been voting, the religious right has been telling voters “if you vote against a Republican you are voting for more abortions.” But experience shows that voting for Republicans doesn’t reduce the abortion rate.

    In the absence of any consistently “pro-life” candidates (how is he “pro-life” if he’s pro-war and pro-capital punishment?) voters need to look at the rest of the candidate’s platform and personal integrity. Is he a serial polygamist, a warmonger, a tool of what President Eisenhower called the military-industrial complex? Is he capable of seeing past tired old models like the Cold War, American exceptionalism, or the myth of a free market?

    If a presidential candidate had a credible strategy for criminalizing abortion, voters might be justified in overlooking his personal immorality or his disastrous foreign policy agenda. But I have yet to see a presidential candidate with a credible agenda regarding abortion, let alone a candidate I could call consistently “pro-life.” So I have to evaluate all their statements regarding abortion as lies or irrelevancies, and vote based on the rest of their package.

  • http://www.mereorthodoxy.com Christopher Benson

    Silouan has made an excellent point. Since Roe v. Wade, advocacy for anti-abortion candidates has done little to reduce the number of abortions in this country. Rather than investing our hope in the polity of the state to eradicate this evil, why don’t we invest more of our hope in the polity of the church? Herein lies the importance of a two kingdoms view.

    Jake has made an urgent point. We need to bridge the gap between the academy and the church, so that pastors and laypersons are more adequately informed by the work of scholars. Based on Matt’s recent blog, it sounds like Fred Sanders’ new book, The Deep Things of God, has the potential of shape the church’s understanding of the Trinity. I expect that David VanDrunen’s forthcoming book, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, has the potential to shape the church’s understanding of the proper relationship between Christianity and culture.

    But I would go one step further than Jake. Even better, we need pastor-scholars. That would truly bridge the gap. Thankfully, the Society for the Advancement of Ecclesial Theology is energizing, encouraging, and equipping men to follow this model:

    Pastor? Scholar? Why Choose?
    by Gerald Hiestand

  • Josh Mann

    Silouan said it best:
    “In nearly 40 years since Roe, “pro-life” politicians have demonstrated their inability to do anything about abortion. In Christ’s own parable, the son who says “yes I will” but doesn’t is not any more obedient than the son who says “no I won’t.”

    For as long as I’ve been voting, the religious right has been telling voters “if you vote against a Republican you are voting for more abortions.” But experience shows that voting for Republicans doesn’t reduce the abortion rate.

    I’m curious what Walker’s response will be to this, but in my estimation, most of my evangelical friends who have voted for a pro-choice candidate cite the aforementioned reasons. In many elected positions their abortion as irrelevant as their preferred ice cream flavor as neither will ever come to bear in any meaningful way due to their scope of power and service. And for those who do have power, in our recent history it has done little to make a difference. It seems ironic then that Walker’s very strong language be applied to an aspect of a vote that ends up functionally or historically not making any difference. If anything, adds credibility to those who thought with at least one other aspect of their brain before voting, because chances are those other aspects actually did impact policy or the public’s lives.

  • Andrew Walker

    You’ve all outed me: I vote single issue. The issue of being GOP is irrelevant and so is the discussion of supposedly aligning evangelicalism with the GOP. Tom Riner, a radical Christian by all accounts is a pro-life Democrat here in Louisville. I’d vote for him before I’d vote for a pro-choice Republican.

    To all, I appreciate the conversation tremendously. Yet, I still have not heard anyone deal appropriately or persuasively with the incontrovertible fact that a vote for a pro-choice candidate is a vote for abortion rights. How in the world is it ever morally justifiable to vote yes on a right which legally protects the right of an abortionist to pick up the canula and suction out “the contents of the pregnancy?” Yes, I am using graphic language to convey the moral sobriety of the issue at present.

    Yes, Republicans and the pro-life movement have not obtained recent success, but it is not for a lack of effort. Look at the work that Americans United for Life is doing; can we call their efforts a failure simply because they have not succeeded in overturning Roe v. Wade? Is the work of individuals like Charmaine Yoest all in vein because she has not succeeded in defeating abortion? Absolutely not. Success on this issue must be measured with small steps. Persuasion. Ultra Sound Bills. Donations to Pregnancy Crisis Centers. Consider that more Americans are consciously pro-life than ever before. Imagine the potential if evangelicals remained as vigilantly pro-life as they are about broadening the fashionable concerns of social justice in the pages of RELEVANT Magazine?

    One need not be utopian to see a bright future for the pro-life cause.

    And in regards this statement: “It seems ironic then that Walker’s very strong language be applied to an aspect of a vote that ends up functionally or historically not making any difference,” I reply with a Hauerwasian quote: “Hope, of course, is the way time is shaped.”

    I’m a fierce proponent of hope. I’ll hold onto that.

  • Mark

    >> Yes, Republicans and the pro-life movement have not obtained recent success …

    Andrew: Hey man, now is no time to go wobbly. Silouan says “experience shows that voting for Republicans doesn’t reduce the abortion rate” and then Christopher and Josh say “excellent point!” and you let them get by with that without even pointing out that the rate has been going down for a long time, and they well know no one can prove a negative unless they now think they can. So why not ask them to explain the dramatic decrease if they know so much about what couldn’t be causing this?

    Besides which, any student of history would know that moral evil of the social sort doesn’t follow trend lines to extinction. That’s not the way it works. I’m an avid student of American Civil War history and there are so very many parallels to slavery. I relish a debates on that. Or the Civil Rights movement. This is one of the most fascinating books you’ll ever read http://www.amazon.com/Stone-Hope-Prophetic-Religion-Death/dp/080782819X Some things we know so well we don’t know them at all. None of the social evils that have ended were ended in a sort of straight line decrease such as one could predict the end by it.

    And you’re right to point out that war is not intrinsically evil, though abortion is. That abortion can some how be equated with other social evils or balanced out by other social goods or lessor evils is just plain bad thinking. Imagine if slavery had been compared to war, just or unjust. Abortion (like slavery) *is* an unjust war visited on the innocent (and others) and well over 40 million have died in that war in this country alone. Far more in China. And many, including myself, think that in abortion is encapsulated all the other evils. People hate evil because it is a grosser evil that others, no matter the incomprehension of the “oh but look over there!” apologists.

    >> Johnmark Reynolds I don’t recall reading any popular evangelical blogs that called out Bush and company for their “enhanced interrogation techniques.”

    Jake: JMR has never answered the question (so maybe you or Christopher would like to answer in his stead) about reasons for thinking waterboarding is torture. He just keeps repeating it every few months -more cowbell! I detest the way JMR demeans average Christians who simply ask how it is that army special forces are waterboarded as a part of their training if it is demeaning to them? Wouldn’t their mothers protest? Wouldn’t we? JMR is long on righteous indignation against Christians “not drawing any lines”, but I say they do draw lines but not where he wishes. If you want to know what torture is I think we should look at other examples we know of that are acknowledged to be such. Just try reading any of the accounts of how various ideological groups in the recent past broke people without feeling revulsion. It isn’t a question of degree, or violence, it is a qualitative difference.

    He may be like the moral preeners such as John McCain whole blathers on about torture but says if the need is great enough “someone would need to do the right thing”! The right thing? He always gives himself an out. Deny it in public but allow it on the sly. Is that a serious position? So we want to say we’re against a certain activity, but if we really need to do it we swear we never did or it isn’t what it appears to be. Like Obama who supports rendition. I don’t support rendition. That is where we send someone to a country where we don’t ask what they do. I think that is awful and I oppose that, but Barack Obama supports it. http://articles.latimes.com/2009/feb/01/nation/na-rendition1 I opposed it under Clinton, Bush, and now Obama. His executive order sends people to where their dignity is often not respected and they are treated dispicably to and no one cares as long as it happens elsewhere. Where is JMR when you really need him? The moral preening value of “opposing torture” is excellent though. But as far as Christians not having any lines they won’t cross as JMR claims, there are clear lines that people will not cross, and people know what impugns human dignity and what doesn’t. What JMR can’t admit is that Christians do have lines they won’t cross, but they aren’t his lines and he should man up and stop implying people are morally deficient and/or ignorant who disagree with him on this. He’s a charitable guy on most other issues but on that one he just slanders our fellow Christians and won’t back up what he says with reasons and just keeps repeating himself.