Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Second Thoughts on Obama from the Evangelical Left

In an article in USA Today on Monday, David Gushee writes of his growing discomfort with the Obama presidency on the issue of "abortion reduction."

During the campaign, Gushee, along with Ron Sider, Jim Wallis, Tony Campolo, Joel Hunter and other Evangelical leaders were drawn into supporting Obama, along with Catholics like Doug Kemiec and Nicholas Cafardi. They all had left wing leanings and were seduced by loose talk of "abortion reduction." But no actual policies for abortion reduction were proposed by Obama other than a general rise in welfare payments. In order to buttress their claims that welfare could reduce abortion, a flawed study was put forward, which has since been discredited. In short, there never was any reason to think that Obama was committed to reducing abortion in any kind of meaningful way. But it gave cover to those who wanted to vote for the left in general. Now, however, David Gushee is honest enough to admit that the abortion reduction rhetoric is all style and no substance.

So far Obama has made four major decision relating to abortion:

1. The decision to repeal the Mexico City Policy, which prevented US government funding from going to organizations working in the Global South, which were providers of abortion services. This policy kept Western NGO's from imposing abortion on poor countries and Obama reversed it.

2. The Obama administration announced it intention to review the rule allowing health care professionals to be conscientious objectors and not participate in abortion. There are many who want to force Christians out of health care or make them participate in grave moral evil. Obama seems to be putting leftist ideology above individual conscience here, although there is a chance this change will not be made. The US Catholic bishops are fighting this initiative with everything they have got.

3. Obama appointed a pro-abortion extremist, Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, as head of the massive Department of Health and Social Services. Sebelius has been disciplined by her own bishop, Archbishop Naumann, for her pro-abortion policies, yet she is now in a position to impose the will of NARAL in hundreds of areas.

4. Then Obama reversed Bush's ban on embryonic stem cell research, despite the fact that it means the destruction of human life at its earliest stages for utilitarian purposes.

Gushee recognizes that he has been tempted to support what is morally evil in hopes of good outcomes in other areas:

"Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused.

But I do confess that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support."

Gushee recognizes that we cannot fight a utilitarian mentality with a utilitarianism. And he recognizes that our responsibility as Christians is to be moral, rather than politically successful. He writes:

"But this kind of calculation is precisely what has gotten Christian political activists in trouble in the past, not just for 40 years but for 1,600 years. We gain access to Caesar in order to affect policy; we hold onto access even if it involves compromising some of what we want in policy; in the end, we can easily forget what policies we were after in the first place. I think this definitely happened to the Christian right. It doesn't need to be repeated by the Christian center or left."

Gushee of all people, as a highly educated ethicist and theologian, knows full well that left leaning Christians were engaging in compromise with Caesar long before the rise of the Religious Right. The whole Social Gospel movement was just this very thing. And the past election was just another chapter in the long-running saga of Evangelicals shifting left-ward as they became fascinated with politics and the seemingly infinite power of government to effect social change. It is so easy for the State to replace God in our thinking.

I would argue that the Religious Right was more prinicipled in this respect than the Left insofar as it cared about specifically moral issues - marriage, abortion, euthanasia, pornography - than a general, ideologically-pure, liberal ideology of individual freedom. Yes, the Right was pro-capitalism, but it was anti-capitalist to the extent it stood in defence of the unborn and of marriage. (If the Left was really as anti-capitalist as its rhetoric would indicate, they would oppose big business when it commodifies human sexuality, which they don't. My point is that we are all more complicit than we like to think.)

The big mistake of the Religious Right was its utter and shameful failure to apply the just war criteria properly to the second Iraq war. Support for that war probably cost the Republicans and the anti-abortion cause this past election and the effects will be felt for decades to come in the form of needless deaths due to abortion and euthanasia. We let the unborn down when we let the people of Iraq down. (Although I opposed the Iraq war from the start, I include myself because it was my people, my movement, my Evangelical andCatholic allies who let Bush off the hook and we as a movement are to blame.)

I respect David Gushee for his willingness to admit that he was wrong. I just wish other Evangelical leaders who helped elect Obama would be as courageous and honest. I give the last word to Gushee and it is a good word:

"My understanding of the majestic God-given sacredness of human life tells me that a society that legally permits abortion on demand is deeply corrupt. It pays for adult sexual liberties with the lives of defenseless developing children. That practice, in turn, desensitizes society to the implications of paying for prospective medical cures with defenseless frozen embryos, which themselves are available because our society pays for medically assisted reproductive technology by producing hundreds of thousands of these embryos as spares. And yes, that same commitment to life's sacredness has grounded my opposition to paying for national security with torture, or paying for today's affluence with tomorrow's environmental destruction."

1 comment:

RightDemocrat said...

I supported Barack Obama but definitely agree with David Gushee that he must be held accountable on the matter of abortion reduction. Christians need to work within both parties. We cannot expect to see immediate results for our efforts but must continue to fight for moral values.