Christians Saying (and Doing) the Right Thing – and Not – on Family Separations

Since my post about the abhorrent family-separation policy enacted by the Trump administration, two major developments have occurred:

One, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders invoked Romans 13 in defending this egregiously anti-Christian policy. I don’t have much to add to the many, many words of outrage directed at this despicable misreading of Scripture, except maybe two things:

  • The Atlantic pointed out the use of Romans 13 to justify slavery in antebellum America, then said its use in public discourse essentially disappeared. That may be true, but I’d add a use of more recent vintage: To defend segregation and criticize Martin Luther King Jr.’s program of civil disobedience. I know I’ve run across examples in researching the response by Churches of Christ to the civil rights movement. So Sessions and Sanders can join apologists for slavery and segregation in misusing Romans 13 for political ends.
  • One of the most disturbing and anguished over sayings of Jesus is his assertion in the Sermon on the Mount that “not everybody who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will get into the kingdom of heaven. Only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter. On the Judgment Day, many people will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name and expel demons in your name and do lots of miracles in your name?’ Then I’ll tell them, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you people who do wrong’ (Matt 7:21-23). I confess I don’t have any better idea than you what that really means, but it’s hard not to think of it in light of Sessions’ and Sanders’ comments.

Two, since I leveled some pretty strong criticism of “the pro-life movement” – without acknowledging, as I should have, that there are plenty of progressives who consider themselves pro-life and pro-immigrant, as well as pro-social justice, and that no movement is an ideological monolith – I felt I should return since several organizations and people who I’d consider part of that movement, and largely part of the problem of turning the “pro-life” and “evangelical Christian” labels into synonyms for “Republican Party policy priorities, have since criticized family separations at the border.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, last seen shouting down nuns for their support of expanding access to health insurance, pulled no punches:

Our government has the discretion in our laws to ensure that young children are not separated from their parents and exposed to irreparable harm and trauma. Families are the foundational element of our society and they must be able to stay together. Separating babies from their mothers is not the answer and is immoral.

Franklin Graham, long one of Trump’s foremost public defenders, was also critical – although notably he did pull a punch or two:

I think it’s disgraceful, it’s terrible, to see families ripped apart, and I don’t support that one bit. And I blame the politicians for the last 20, 30 years that have allowed this to escalate to the point where it is today.

Somehow, of course, none of those politicians over the past three decades managed to implement a policy of widespread family separation the way Trump and Sessions have done.

The Southern Baptist Convention, after hearing from Vice President Pence, passed a resolution affirming “the value and dignity of immigrants, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, culture, national origin, or legal status” and further rejecting “any form of nativism, mistreatment, or exploitation” as “inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

WORLD magazine’s Twitter feed and website have been remarkably silent on the crisis and Sessions’ response, but one of their reporters, Mindy Belz, swatted him down:

So far, I can’t find any comments from Focus on the Family or the Family Research Council – and Democrats for Life’s Charles Camosy, in a column echoing my post, couldn’t find anything from the National Right to Life or Susan B. Anthony List. If they make a statement, I’ll post it.

Their silence speaks volumes about how much they truly care about innocent lives and family values – and how much they have sold out those lives and values for the taste of power Trump now gives them.

The Pro-Life Movement Is Failing

Image result for pro life movement
A rapidly shrinking generation.

The numbers don’t look good for the movement that calls itself “pro-life.”

After years of stasis, the most recent surveys are noticing a shift that bodes ill for the future of the movement that exists to eliminate legal abortion in the United States:

In the survey from the Public Religion Research Institute, or PRRI, respondents between the ages of 18 and 29 were more likely to report that their views on abortion had changed in recent years — and when they moved, they tended to move in favor of abortion rights. Of those young people whose opinions had changed, 25 percent said they became more supportive of legalized abortion compared to 9 percent who became less supportive.

That poll was taken in March, and while it did not show a noticeable change in overall support for the notion that abortion should be “illegal in all or most cases” from where it’s been for the past decade (43 percent, compared to 54 percent saying it should be “legal in all or most cases”), it’s not hard to see that the millennial generation is growing as a percentage of the public. If they continue shifting leftward on abortion, the overall numbers will follow.

A separate PRRI poll of even younger Americans, age 15-24, finds an even stronger shift: the cohort opposes making abortions more difficult to obtain by a 72-28 margin – and even 43 percent of Republicans in this group oppose abortion restrictions.

The Christian pollster George Barna is seeing the same thing: “In fact, when we compared the views of Millennials to those who are 30 or older, there were consistent differences showing that the younger generation is comparatively less supportive of life and more supportive of abortion.

Continue reading The Pro-Life Movement Is Failing

A Final Word (for Now) on Abortion

I just finished working on a package of stories for our school’s alumni magazine about integration – a profile of the two men who integrated our college 50 years ago, as well as a sidebar about white students who pushed for integration years before it happened and one about race relations are like on campus now. The whole time I was writing these stories, I couldn’t help but think: “Wow, I have no idea what it’s like – and never will – to be black.”

This is not a new revelation, of course, but it’s made more painfully clear when I write about people in minority groups that I am in no way a member of any minority group. I’m white, I’m straight, and I’m male. And so I try to make it clear when I interview or when I advocate for racial and sexual minorities that I have no idea what it’s like to be in their shoes, so they’re going to need to help me out.

It’s not an overwhelming feeling, just a little tug – a healthy reminder that whatever I write, I’m doing it for others, people whose experiences I can’t ever truly know.

That tug has more recently shown up when I write, as I did last week, about abortion. Because while I often call abortion a human rights issue, it is also an issue that affects women far more than men. After all, who is actually pregnant? And who is going to be caring for the child, more likely than not? The old line is that if men could get pregnant, abortion would no longer be a controversial issue.

Continue reading A Final Word (for Now) on Abortion

Changing How We Approach Abortion

The political world is all atwitter (pun intended) this week with the comments of Senate candidate Richard Mourdock from Indiana, who made the mistake of saying what he really thought on the topic of abortion. Secifically, Mourdock was asked about any cases in which he would allow abortion, and he responded only in the case of the mother’s life being in danger, but not in the case of rape:

I struggled with it myself for a long time. But I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And, I think, even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen.

Ensue kerfuffle.

There have been a lot of crazy things said about abortion and rape in this election cycle, but this really isn’t one of them. Mourdock’s belief that God “intended” for life to arise out of a horrific event like rape may not be theologically sound, but it’s not something we should be terribly surprised at hearing.

Amy Sullivan, like myself a former conservative evangelical who now has a not-so-passing interest in progressive politics, agrees:

Despite the assertions of many liberal writers I read and otherwise admire, I don’t think that politicians like Mourdock oppose rape exceptions because they hate women or want to control women. I think they’re totally oblivious and insensitive and can’t for a moment place themselves in the shoes of a woman who becomes pregnant from a rape. I think most don’t particularly care that their policy decisions can impact what control a woman does or doesn’t have over her own body. But if Mourdock believes that God creates all life and that to end a life created by God is murder, then all abortion is murder, regardless of the circumstances in which a pregnancy came about.

That last sentence is especially significant for this conversation; Mourdock simply is outspoken and consistent about the natural ramifications of his belief that abortion ends an innocent human life.

But the reaction to this impresses on me that perhaps we need a few more Christians, conservative and progressive, to do on abortion what people like Justin Lee and Rachel Held Evans are doing around the issues of homosexuality and women’s roles in church, respectively – that is, speaking out for a renewed effort to understand each other and foster constructive dialogue.

Because it should be clear by now that our national conversation about abortion is toxic. Both sides are to blame, though one side more than the other, and it’s not helping foster a constructive dialogue about how to fix what both sides agree needs to be solved – the fact that abortions are necessary in the first place.

Here’s how I see the current dialogue failing us. Continue reading Changing How We Approach Abortion

If You Read One Thing This Week …

… make it this Q&A with Dianna Anderson on Rachel Held Evans’ blog as part of Rachel’s “Ask a …” series. Dianna answered questions as a feminist. Allow me to pull an excerpt, from her answer about the compatibility of feminism with opposition to abortion:

I believe it is possible to be a feminist and pro-life, as long as that pro-life ethic does not come with rhetoric that shames, ignores, or vilifies women for the choices that they may make about a legal procedure. Don’t use your pro-life stance to treat women like morons. Don’t use it to shame women for their sexual choices, because, honestly, you don’t know what led to those choices. Instead, use your pro-life stance to attempt to make a difference in the lives of the women surrounding you by supporting them, by letting them know that you will be there for them if they do have an unwanted pregnancy (and then actually being there for them!), and by working to lower the occurrence of unwanted pregnancies in the first place – which means better sexual health education in schools, funding for birth control measures and education about using that birth control, promoting research into methods of safe male birth control, and creating an environment where the women in your life can come to you to discuss safe sexual choices.

Nothing will turn you into a feminist faster than having daughters. The more I think about what I want them to know about the world and about themselves, the less tenable I find anything but true equality in all aspects of life – including the church. We’ve discussed here before the radical femininity of Christ in response to the erroneous notion that Christianity has “a masculine feel” and shape. Go there if you want an example or two of how Jesus subtly subverted the patriarchal gender norms of his day. Anderson adds another one:

Continue reading If You Read One Thing This Week …

A Thought Experiment on Abortion

A good friend of mine is an ethics professor, and he recently delivered both sides in a debate about whether Christians should push for stricter anti-abortion legislation. Yes, both sides. It’s part of a weekly forum in which a person takes a controversial topic, advocates one side, then walks across the stage to another podium and advocates the other.

Previous topics have included gay marriage is an abomination/gay marriage glorifies God, women should keep silent/women should lead in church and swearing is forbidden/allowed in scripture. Richard Beck has done a couple of them, but this was the first I’d attended, and I wish I had done it sooner.

I think the anti-abortion side would be familiar to most of you; abortion is morally wrong because it deprives an individual – aside from whether or not a fetus is technically a person – the right to a future, and therefore laws should be in place restricting it. But coming back and arguing for the pro-abortion side, my friend began with a thought experiment.

Suppose, he said, a group of people breaks into your house, drugs you and kidnaps you. You wake up in a hospital room, hooked up via machines to an unconscious man next to you. One of the people who kidnapped you comes in and apologizes for the inconvenience but explains the man beside you is a world-famous violinist at death’s door. You are keeping him alive, and they need you to continue to do so for the next nine months, after which he will be well, and you can go on with your life.

The question is: Do you have a moral duty to remain connected to this person?

Continue reading A Thought Experiment on Abortion

When Christians Pray for the Death of Thousands

Yesterday, I touched briefly on groups of Christians whose choices seem out of touch with their pro-life mantra, and wondered why they don’t receive the tough questions pro-abortion or pacifistic Christians would receive. Not to say they wouldn’t have good answers, but to give good answers, one must be asked hard questions.

Minutes after posting that, I heard on my way to work an NPR report from outside of the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments this week on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act.

Sonari Glinton interviewed some of the people protesting and standing in line.

GLINTON: Mike Crowder is a minister from the suburbs of Salt Lake City. He opposes the health care law and he’s come to pray for the justices.

MIKE CROWDER: This whole mandate, regardless of how people have perceived it, it has awakened the people of faith all across this country. People are beginning to see, whoa, wait a minute. Maybe these things that I think aren’t that important, don’t deal with me on a day-to-day – maybe they will come in and deal with me and my church and how I live my life.

Mike Crowder – who I’m sure would identify himself as pro-life – needs to answer some hard questions.

A mix of emotional, hard-hitting and practical questions such as these: Continue reading When Christians Pray for the Death of Thousands

If Trayvon Martin Were a Fetus, Christians Would Be a Whole Lot More Upset

Man still has one belief, one decree that stands alone:

The laying down of arms is like cancer to [his] bones.

— The great philosopher Dave Mustaine

A legal expert stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to gain eternal life?”

Jesus replied, “What is written in the Law? How do you interpret it?”

He responded, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.”

But the legal expert wanted to prove that he was right, so he said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

— Luke 10:25-29, Common English Bible

Who is my neighbor?

Is my neighbor the unborn child no one will ever meet, killed by her mother before ever seeing God’s sun?

Are my neighbors the parents down the street, struggling to pay bills, postponing doctor’s visits because they cannot afford health insurance, which is not provided by the employers who provide them the part-time jobs with which they can barely stay afloat?

Is my neighbor Trayvon Martin and the thousands of other victims of gun violence, slain in a nation with the highest rate of guns per capita in the world?

To which Jesus replies, “Yes, my child. But the real question is: Are you their neighbor?”

Continue reading If Trayvon Martin Were a Fetus, Christians Would Be a Whole Lot More Upset

‘Struggling to Find Our Way’ on Abortion

I’ve discussed before that I am finding even that most polarizing of subjects, abortion, to be less and less clear cut.

As a further example, I offer Emily Rapp’s poignant and powerful piece for Slate this week – in which she argues that had she known of her son’s genetic disorder, she would have aborted him:

If I had known Ronan had Tay-Sachs (I met with two genetic counselors and had every standard prenatal test available to me, including the one for Tay-Sachs, which did not detect my rare mutation, and therefore I waived the test at my CVS procedure), I would have found out what the disease meant for my then unborn child; I would have talked to parents who are raising (and burying) children with this disease, and then I would have had an abortion. Without question and without regret, although this would have been a different kind of loss to mourn and would by no means have been a cavalier or uncomplicated, heartless decision. I’m so grateful that Ronan is my child. I also wish he’d never been born; no person should suffer in this way—daily seizures, blindness, lack of movement, inability to swallow, a devastated brain—with no hope for a cure. Both of these statements are categorically true; neither one is mutually exclusive.

Continue reading ‘Struggling to Find Our Way’ on Abortion

The Church’s Trouble With Women

If anything has been made clear to me this month, it’s this: Christianity has a gender problem.

First there was the kerfuffle over John Piper’s comments about the “masculine feel” of Christianity. The fact there even was a kerfuffle over them is encouraging, but let’s face it: John Piper’s influence far exceeds 100 angry blogs’.

Then there was the craziness over President Obama’s effort to make sure all women covered by a health insurance plan have access to free contraception – an important goal because access to birth control is a constitutionally protected right, it has health value beyond its stated purpose, and its stated purpose is far preferable to unplanned pregnancy, 30 percent of which end in abortions.

Well-intentioned people can disagree about whether the initial proposal was a good idea – it would not have forced a single Catholic to use birth control, so the reaction to it seemed a tad overwrought to me, especially since many states already had the exact same mandate without religious institutions falling into the abyss – but the compromise worked out by the Obama administration exempted religious-affiliated hospitals and universities while requiring insurance companies to provide it for free in those cases. Issue solved, right?

Well, no.

The bishops want every Catholic employer everywhere to be able to opt out of the contraception mandate, but this is another example of Christian leadership evincing a position that oppresses women – one clearly not supported by the women affected by that position.

This is the problem with hierarchalism in our church. My wife and I have three children; I’ve been an eyewitness to three full-term pregnancies and three labors, each with their own unique challenges and difficulties. I know as well as any man how hard it is to carry a baby to term and deliver it. Which still means I know just about nothing about being pregnant or having a baby. 

The much-ballyhooed figure is this: 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control. Even assuming that number is a little high (it’s actually 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women who are able but not actively trying to have children, so nuns, the elderly and the pregnant, among others, are not included), it indicates yet another divorce between the assumptions of the men who run our churches and the women whose fealty they demand.

It seems wrong to me that a group of celibate men should call the shots on reproductive health for sexually active women, so let’s see what the women think.

Continue reading The Church’s Trouble With Women