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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Should Christians Involve Themselves in the Legislative Process?

It is an honor to be able to contribute to Jill’s frankly devastating critique of T. Russell Hunter’s performance in his “Immediatist vs Incrementalist
against Gregg Cunningham.
churchandstatesignsLate in the debate (timestamps 1:05:10 to 1:07:04), Hunter made the following claim: Christians are not practicing activism at abortion clinics because they don’t trust in the power of God, they trust in incremental legislation.

During cross-examination  (timestamps 1:41:32 to 1:44:56), Hunter made the same accusation, adding pastors and churches, and asked if Cunningham agreed.

Cunningham rebutted that while he agreed churches aren’t doing enough to combat abortion, it is not the fault of incremental legislation. Incremental legislation is a good thing.
Rather, Cunnngham observed:

  • Pastors are not being trained properly in pro-life apologetics, and they are not speaking about abortion to their parishioners.
  • Pastors can be afraid of losing members, so they don’t want to engage in any sort of “offensive” speech from the pulpit.
  • Christians, by and large, are not leaving the pews to engage in pro-life activism.
But there’s another problem in Hunter’s argument. Not everyone who goes to church is a bona fide Christian. Plus, not every Christian is pro-life. These facts underscore the need for proper Christian education in our churches and better education in many of our seminaries (or to encourage all pastors to attend seminary, not just start preaching if they feel “called” to do so). Additionally, Christians may be called to other ministries. I don’t think we can fault William Lane Craig for not being out at the abortion clinics. He has a very important ministry, to interact with academic atheists and show their position to be untenable. Dr. Craig saves many Christians Hunter and I won't have access to because we are involved in different spheres of life. Doctor Craig is not afraid to talk about the sanctity of life, but that's not his ministry. We can't just all drop everything to work to end abortion and let people on the street starve to death.
Finally, can we really say that all Christians who are not working to end abortion are not being like Jesus? Can we really say, for example, that someone is immoral who is spending their time to end sex trafficking, but not abortion, which is Hunter’s issue? Hunter doesn’t spend any time working to end sex trafficking, though I’m sure he would vote on bills (though probably not incremental bills) to put sex trafficking to an end. So would Hunter agree he is not being a neighbor to sex trafficking victims?
The reality is that while abortion is a major evil, it’s not the only evil. There are a lot of social issues, and if we believe that sex trafficking victims are just as intrinsically valuable and made in the image of God as the unborn children we are trying to save, then how can we say someone who works to end sex trafficking but not abortion is a fake Christian?
You can’t work to end every social evil. As they say, a jack-of-all-trades is a master of none. If you try to affect change in every social evil you won’t affect change in any because you’ll be spread too thin.

Not to be outdone, Hunter wrote the following as a comment on Jill’s post:
"As for specific bills and laws, we do believe that cultural change is necessary to their passage and are focused on doing what we can to “get the votes,” as our anti-abolitionist pro-life opponents always tell us “are not there.” But do look for specific practical actionable bills of abolition to start appearing in 2016."
In other words, legislation is actually fine, as long as it’s AHA’s brand of legislation. And somehow Hunter’s brand will not lull Christians into complacency?

The bigger problem, though, as has been pointed out before, is all bills are necessarily incremental, as would be any bill AHA proposes. If, for instance, you pass a personhood amendment in Texas, all you have to do is go to New Mexico, “…and then you can kill the baby.”
Hunter had an answer for that in another comment on Jill’s blog:
"Do I need to explain the difference? Do you see that the statewide abolition bill that bans abortion because it is the murder of human beings is different than a state Not banning abortion and not bringing humans under the protection of law but hexing a certain procedure in which they could be killed? 
"Of course people would drive to another state to get an abortion but that is because in their state abortion had been abolished as murder."
However, AHA opposes incremental legislation to close abortion clinics because “Shutting down clinics doesn’t halt abortion; it just makes people who choose to sacrifice their children drive further.”

Overt contradictions aside, Hunter is nevertheless playing semantics. If we must oppose all bills that could end with “…and then you can kill the baby,” we must, of necessity, oppose any personhood amendment that doesn’t abolish abortion in the United States as a whole.

But then you run into further problems, because then you could just cross the border to Canada, “…and then you can kill the baby.”

Hunter’s brand of “immediatism” should be rejected because one cannot consistently live as an immediatist as Hunter understands it. All bills we can logically support are incremental in nature; personhood bills are simply the only kind Hunter is happy with.

During the debate Hunter knocked Christian involvement in legislative endeavors as distractive from real work to stop abortion.
So, should Christians be involved in the political process?

Absolutely, if we believe in effecting change for the better. In fact, as brilliant theologian Wayne Grudem pointed out, there have been many times in Jewish history when they gave counsel to ungodly rulers, such as when Daniel counseled King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, and when Joseph advised Pharaoh in Genesis. Please read the linked article for a more in-depth discussion of Christians being involved in the political process.

It’s true many Christians can use the political process as an excuse not to engage in activism, but this isn’t a problem with the legislative process. This is a problem with education in our churches, and apathy among church-goers.

We should continue to support incremental legislation because that’s the only way we’ll affect change in our current political atmosphere.

Pro-life people want the immediate end to abortion. Incremental legislation is our strategic method for getting there. Planned Parenthood knows this. Pro-choice writers like Katha Pollitt know this (it plays a major theme in her recent book Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights). The only people who don’t seem to get that are the self-proclaimed “abolitionists.”

This article originally appeared, slightly altered, on Jill Stanek's blog.

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