Saturday, June 20, 2009

Mennonites, Obama and Abortion

It seems strange to me that most of the US Mennonites that I know voted for Obama. Now, I am not claiming that most Mennonites in the US voted that way but I it surprises me that when the chips are down and the Evangelicals and Catholics are in tough in a pro-life battle, the Mennonites seem to be nowhere in sight. They are like the liberal Catholics who, apparently, put expanding the welfare state as a higher moral priority than direct killing of the innocent in abortion and euthanasia. Although most Mennonite denominations are on record as opposing abortion, most of the statements I have read are tortured, ambiguous attempts at being "balanced," as if being against taking innocent human life and not taking it were two morally praiseworthy positions in need of support and recognition.

The Obama administration is making the exporting of abortion around the world a centerpiece of its foreign policy and is bent on making the world safe for those who would pursue scientific research that involves disposing of human beings at the earliest stages of life as waste - a mere by-product of progress. Obama talks moderately and acts as an extremist. His spin doctors then accuse those who oppose him of being extreme because they do not consider him a moderate. But to earn a deserved reputation for being a moderate, one must actually do some moderate things. It is the result of unbelievably effective public relations management by his aides that he is given credit for not introducing and lobbying for the Freedom of Choice Act. It is like an abusive husband being admired for not hitting his wife harder than he did. FCOA is being pursued quietly piecemeal one issue at a time - at least in this first term - but to suggest that Obama deserves to be called a moderate for not proceding faster is ludicrous.

I recently talked with a Mennonite friend who has no problem being outspoken about the immorality of war and who would not hesitate to support legislative action to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet he voted for Obama. Since the election, my prediction has sadly come true that Obama would not end either of the two wars. In fact, the number of troops in Afghanistan has been increased by Obama's order. With McCain we might have had continued war plus a 5th ant-Roe vote on the Supreme Court. With Obama we ge continued war plus another solid pro-Roe vote. The logic here puzzles me. If we can't save all life, why not save what we can? Of course, I don't advocate a consequentialist approach, but the consequentialist logic in this case coheres with the moral duty to avoid material cooperation in grave moral evil.

What causes the Mennonites I know to take a general left-wing line on a whole host of economic and social issues? I thought I understood their criticism of Bush until I realized they were happily voting for Obama. Oddly, the killing of human beings seems not to be decisive for them even though one usually thinks of Mennonites as deeply formed by their pacifist convictions. The admirable opposition to taking human life, which has been the centerpiece of the Mennonite witness to the world for five centuries, is an outstanding contribution to the Church and a great witness to the world. It would truely be a shame, however, if that witness were replaced by a general and predictable left-wing social stance that functions as an echo of the liberal Protestant stance, which itself is but an echo of the modern, secular left.

An echo of an echo is a long way from the strong and clear blast of the trumpet.

10 comments:

jatyson said...

Mennonites, on their best days, and especially their theologians, share an understanding that life is to be chosen over death - life is worthy of praise. This is the pacifist logic that goes all the way down. You know this.

Talking about Mennonite voting habits must be done with the understanding that a great deal of Mennonites do not even vote. Simply because, as you have missed, in the context of a two party liberal democracy the voter either makes the choice between, as in the last case, with a war monger or a tolerant liberal who defines progress as the being a better capitalist (see the Cairo speech). You suggest that McCain was the more life-giving candidate, but he sure as hell was not - did he plan to eliminate abortion?

All in all, does voting for Obama mean you are participating in some global crusade against the unborn? Does voting for McCain mean you are a war-monger as well? No.

Nonetheless, are you still a theologian?...or did Glenn Beck become an Augustinian?

Craig Carter said...

I'm glad to hear you say that voting for McCain does not make one a war monger. If that concession is made then a rational discussion is possible about the strategic merits of voting one way or the other and there are arguments on both sides. But I was reacting to people who would not say such a thing and who made it a black and white pro or anti way voting issue.

I think that it is now becoming clear that the argument that the Republicans did nothing to limit or moderate abortion is not true. But it had a lot of effect on many people who were looking for a way to vote for Obama with a clear conscience.

jatyson said...

In the context of the last election, abortion really wasn't an issue. The economy and foreign policy were/are the real issues. The younger voting Mennonites, knowing that the system is flawed or 'fallen', largely sided with Obama. I can assure that several conferences of Mennonite churches sided with McCain, as well. The more frightening thing is not which candidate each Mennonite voted for, but rather how their posture towards the election was more determined by location, race, and economic status than ecclesiology: a result of conforming to U.S.A. narratives, and a failure to be a community in diaspora.

Craig Carter said...

I don't know how you can say that abortion was not an issue in the last election. The capture of the Democratic Party by the extreme cultural left made it an issue a long time ago. The Republicans under Bush did a lot to oppose abortion and to limit it even though they were not able to eliminate it altogether. In areas like the Mexico City policy, concience protection for health care workers, the partial birth abortion ban, maintaining the Hyde Ammendment, appointing conservatives to the Supreme Court and in many other areas having a Republican president made a real difference. All this is unraveling now.

The fact that so many working class Catholics voted against their natural class interests by voting Republican is something to be thankful for - not just because abortion is so serious an issue, but because it was an example of exactly what you bemoan as Christians' voting patterns being explicable in purely secular terms. The fact that Obama was able to pry a few percetange points worth of Catholics away from the Republicans and convince a few percentage points worth of younger Evangelicals to stay home was key to his election. And he did it by pretending to be a moderate on abortion.

The other key to the election was the disgusting betrayal of fiscal and social conservivism by so many Republican legislators during the past 8 years. The Republican Party has to shoulder most of the blame for the promotion in abortion under the Democrats.

jatyson said...

Nevertheless, abortion wasn't an issue that the candidates spent much time discussing - which was my point. I think we could both agree that the issues that held precedent and still do our the economy and war.

And, it is quite clear, my issue with your original post has absolutely nothing to do with catholic voting patterns - liberal or conservative. I'm not interested in pursuing any dialogue beyond Mennonites and their voting habits - something I think you deeply have misrepresented here.

Craig Carter said...

How much time the candidates spent discussing abortion is not the whole story. There is the issue of the two party platforms, the role of abortion in the primaries etc. etc. I do not agree with you - and maybe this is the real source of our disagreement - on how much of a priority the abortion issue should be for Christians in contemporary elections. The economy pales in comparison as a moral issue, in my view. And as I said on war the two canidates are a toss up.

How exactly have I misrepresented Mennonite voting habits? Are you saying most Mennonites voted Republican? Or are you just upset that I pointed out that so many Mennonites voted for Obama?

stephenmk555 said...

Maybe some Mennonites recognized the dangerous temperament of John McCain and were worried that it might lead indirectly or possibly even directly to a significant amount of war/killing.

http://www.dailykos.com/story/2009/6/22/91816/8246

jatyson said...

I never said that the economy and war were the most important issues for me, or for Mennonites, I simply said they were the most debated.

I agree that Christians should be more concerned with praising life by denouncing abortion, the death penalty, war - our culture of death - than they should be with finding solutions for our economy (something that takes balls saying as a recent graduate with no job).

You misrepresented Mennonite voting habits - the only issue worth pursuing here - by suggesting that your few academic friends habits were normative. This, as I have said repeatedly, is entirely wrong. Ever heard of Lancaster County, PA?

And, absolutely almost all my younger Mennonite friends voted for Obama (I didn't vote). However, I am not upset about this in the least. Your suggestion that McCain and Obama are toss ups on war is flat wrong - McCain's posture of refusing to meet with 'enemies' was indicative of this. Read my blog if you want criticism of Obama, but I will still say that he is a hell of a lot less likely to pull the trigger. And, as I have said, there was no serious attempt by McCain to denounce abortion - obviously, he thought the economy and foreign policy were more important.

All in all, lots of speculation here by the both of us on 'would haves' and 'would nots'. In reality, both candidates made compromises with violence and exclusion in certain areas. And the Mennonites, confused as they were, voted more by socio-economic status than by ecclesiology, save for a few academics, some damn good ones too.

Mennonite_Pacifist said...

I'm Canadian and a Mennonite and so I never got to vote for either McCain or Obama. I was cheering for either one. They both have some things I like, especially both of their willingness to work across party lines to get important policies in place to help regular folks.

Carter... since you live in Canada and you care about Mennonite voting patters, who would you say a good Christian Mennonite should vote for here in Canada?

There was only one platform running with an expressed interest in revisiting the abortion debate, and that was the Green party. Elisabeth May said that if she would be elected that she would hold a national public conversation/dialogue/debate on the question of the life of the fetus - whether or not it is a human life. May is a student of theology and happens to disagree with abortion even though she runs for a party that is prochoice. Her argument is that this issue should be decided by Canadians.

This year I voted Green for precisely this reason. Other years I tend to vote NDP federally and provincially because they do good stuff for programming and rehabilitation in prisons. Ever since I befriended Dwight, a lifer in the Prince Albert Penitentiary, I decided to vote in his interests because society no longer listens to him.

Tim and Stephanie said...

I find it shocking that you equate left wing with anti-Mennonite. Of course I will choose life over death. I would choose Obama because I believe that he does not support the wars that America has waged against so many countries. There are far more innocent lives being taken in Afghanistan and Iraq than in America via abortion.

I also think that Obama will implement programs that will prevent women from having to make the choice of aborting their babies. We have to think of the reasons behind abortion: poverty, fear of judgement or abuse, and inabilities to cope. Perhaps if there were more supports in place for pregnant women and if there was a bigger emphasis on involvement of fathers, more women would choose to have their babies.

As a Mennonite I believe that people are doing the best they can. I do think that choosing to abort a baby is an easy decision for most people but I do think that sometimes they think that that may be their only option. We need leaders that can understand the importance of prevention and support.

Jesus loves everyone. He loves the prostitute and the tax collector. He loves the people in Iraq and Afghanistan. He loves that unborn baby. Let us continue to pray for justice and peace.