Last night, I fully intended to let the whole incrementalist thing go. After 24 hours straight of having my pro-life bona fides passive aggressively attacked I was a little sick of the game. Then it occurred to me, they are right.
It was the millionth time I saw questions about “unprincipled incrementalists” and the subtle hints about me and my fellow LTI ministry cohorts defining some human beings as less valuable than other human beings that finally cleared it up for me. It was a little hard for me to see at first because I was caught up in how many of us quit our jobs that previously supplied our families with that little useful thing called money and began a life of living on support to speak, teach, write articles, research materials for future books, and debate people on college campuses defending the position that all unborn human life is equally and intrinsically valuable. Eventually, through the helpful comments from others that it is not what I do or how I live my life but what they think of my position on political strategies that determines whether or not I am pro-life, I saw the light.
I was in a crisis. My entire DVD/Blu Ray collection had to be revisited before I went to bed. My bookshelves needed to be purged. My house was full of unprincipled incrementalist propaganda! I had been a fool all those times I had felt that emotional swell at the end of Amazing Grace with the eradication of the British slave trade. William Wilberforce was unprincipled! The slave trade was legally abolished in 1807, the scene at the end of the film, but it was not until 1833 that the slaves were actually freed. So he was really participating in perpetuating the idea that the slaves were worthless. Also, some British slave traders continued to defy the law for years so other than dramatically decreasing the number of new slaves being taken and shifting the political landscape of Britain forever he did not actually free any slave at all by this point. Why were these people cheering for this unprincipled compromiser?
I looked at my bookshelves and saw my Civil War section and was struck with how one of my heroes, Frederick Douglass, no longer deserves the mantle of abolitionist. Sure he was a former slave that dedicated his life to ending that evil institution as it was practiced in America, but he was unprincipled in doing so. He struck out from the real abolitionists and tried to form broader anti-slavery coalitions with the less principled Free Soilers and Republicans believing that a larger force working to limit slavery would faster facilitate the end of it. Who cares if he was right, didn't he realize that by allying himself with people that hated slavery for silly reasons (like it bred laziness in the southern states) or people who were willing to compromise to stop the spread of the slave state power that he was agreeing with them on those points? No matter what he said and in spite of the fact that his past experiences gave him greater reasons to hate that institution than any of the “real abolitionists”, his actions exposed him for what he was. Compromised and unprincipled. Nothing demonstrated that more than when he allowed a wealthy benefactor to help him buy his freedom. Didn't he realize that he was supporting the idea that people could be bought and sold? Who cares if he wanted to be free? That is nothing compared to being principled in the eyes of those who have arrogated the authority to bestow or divest that title from others.
My head was reeling. I couldn't find anyone on my history shelf that had ever been able avoid the trap of accepting less than all that they ultimately wanted in pursuit of a greater goal. Gandhi, unprincipled over and over again. Martin Luther King, Jr. was compromised! And don't get me started on that moral monster Lincoln. Everywhere there was nothing but unprincipled compromisers.
What has been accomplished by all of this? What had these men and women wrought by accepting a graduated move toward greater goals?
And what about the so called pro-lifers of the last 38 years? Oh how they have failed us! Sure the pro-abortion side is bemoaning the dearth of doctors and nurses willing to perform abortions out of fear it will compromise the ability to actually supply the current pace in the future when this generation of abortionists goes away, but that is small potatoes. It is absolutely true that for the first time since Roe v. Wade the majority of Americans identified themselves as pro-life, but that hardly matters because they don't get to make that call. I know that liberal journalists are writing articles lamenting how they have lost the argument on principles and need to change their tactics, a claim I have even seen repeated in pro-choice panel discussions, but they are blind to the truth of their success. They are trying to get the argument off of the unborn and back on the rights of women because the PBA debate and other legislative efforts undermined the public support of abortion in ways they see as dangerous, yet they cannot understand it was all a compromised and unprincipled waste of time on our part.
It was to no avail because we clearly should be further along than this by now. I mean I don't really know how long it takes to reverse the philosophical tides of history and reinstall a broader ethic that respects life rather than diminishing it to a functional machine whose worth is determined by utility. It is hard to tell how fast we should be able to arrest the worldwide liberalization of abortion laws and swing this ship back in the right direction. Nobody else seems to have a specific time table either, but it sure feels like we should have been able to do it by now. If it feels that way then it should be that way and so this has all been unprincipled failure to this point
I thought of all of these things and all of these men and women that I admire that are being cast as unprincipled and compromised and you know what I did? I went to bed and slept like a baby because if I am unprincipled like William Wilberforce, Frederick Douglass, Francis Beckwith, Hadley Arkes, and my good friend Scott Klusendorf then that is fine with me. I can learn to live with the disapproval of the rest.
To further demonstrate this point, comments will be closed on this post. It is a principle thing, so I am sure you all understand.