Sunday, May 10, 2015

Should Christians Involve Themselves in the Legislative Process [Clinton Wilcox]

The following article originally appeared, with a section removed for space, on Jill Stanek's blog.

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 debate against Gregg Cunningham.

Late 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.”

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.”


  1. you didn't like my comment? what's the problem?

    1. Sorry, I didn't see your comment. It might have gotten lost in cyberspace somewhere. You may want to try to re-comment. As long as it wasn't profane, I don't think it would have just been deleted.

  2. I get the incrementalism is the strategy. I just don't think it's an effective strategy. I wrote Scott Klusendorf about it in the comments section of his post.

    1. Have you read the research done by Dr. Michael New? I first heard about it in the debate between Hunter and Gregg Cunningham, but I haven't yet had a chance to read it. In that research, Dr. New explains how incremental laws have been successful.

  3. "and then you can kill the baby"

    We should write incremental legislation that doesn't say "and then you can kill the baby". For example, Janak Joshi (Colorado Springs, CO) introduced a fetal homicide bill that said:

    If the commission of any crime is the proximate cause of death or injury to an unborn member of the species homo sapiens, the respective homicide and assault charges for that death or injury may be brought simultaneously with the underlying charges.

    This text in no way condones abortion but it also doesn't affect it because abortion is not a "crime" in Colorado law.

    Likewise, a parental notification law could easily avoid condoning abortion by broadening its scope to apply to any operation, administration of a drug or hormone and so forth.

    This way we can advance the ball while not condoning abortion. It also keeps the peace within the pro-life movement.

    1. No, but the Colorado law is a step in the right direction. What you're missing is that on top of trying to end abortion, incremental laws also educate the culture. Pro-choice organizations and Democrats in Colorado opposed the bill because they knew that fetal homicide bills undermine abortion rights because it causes people to ask, if it's wrong to intentionally harm a fetus against its mother's wishes, then why on earth do we permit it if she desires it?

    2. I completely agree with your assessment of the CO opposition to fetal homicide bills.

      "incremental laws also educate the culture"

      I'm not missing that at all. When you create a law that says the issue is pain, you gotta admit that law teaches that being human isn't enough. You have to be able to feel pain too. Surely, you see that that message undermines the ultimate pro-life goal of protecting every baby from the beginning of life.

      When you create a law that says grandparents should be notified of their grandchild's killing through abortion, the message is that abortion is ok for minors as long as grandparents are notified first. That is the message and it is the clear meaning of text of the law.

      Now i think people (the negligible few in the general public who pay attention) understand that pro-lifers don't really believe the text of the bill (pain or grandparent notification) but that they're doing their best to limit abortion given the "legal" realities. Some pro-lifers get overly critical of such incremental legislation, seemingly ignoring this fact.

      But even so, critical pro-lifers have a point. The bills really do say that pain not humanity is the issue or notification makes it all ok. That's why i think we should do our best to create pro-life legislation that doesn't say such things, while at the same time not castigating pro-lifers for their imperfect efforts.

  4. @Drew Hymer
    "When you create a law that says the issue is pain, you gotta admit that law teaches that being human isn't enough."

    Agreed. I would just also add that these teachings create massive problems even beyond the pro-life movement. Consider what effect this teaching has on the question on whether it's okay to euthanize old people who are in pain. I'll add another example, a law that says "Abortions are illegal after x weeks". Despite perhaps the best of intentions from the law's creators, you have to admit that this law teaches that abortions before x weeks aren't nearly as serious. So consider what effect this teaching has on people deciding if it's acceptable to do research on 3-day old human embryos.



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