Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What's Victory? [Scott]

That’s one of the questions for an interview later today. I’m glad, because no social reform movement succeeds without a clear definition of what it means to win.

Here’s a preview of what I’ll say. Pro-life victory is defined narrowly. It happens when unborn humans are legally protected, which means outlawing elective abortion and destructive embryo research. That’s the standard. True, our tasks vary achieving that objective and necessarily include pregnancy center work, apologetics, political strategy, and educational campaigns, to name a few—but the objective itself is singular.

Pro-life victory does not mean the poor are fed and every unwed mother has all her needs met if in the end elective abortion remains legal. It does not mean reducing the need for abortion while lawmakers make sure it is nowhere restricted. It does not mean mass conversions to Christ, though as a Christian I have a mission to communicate the gospel wherever possible. It does not mean that we wait for hearts to change (though I hope they do) while another 40,000,000 humans are killed.

Pro-life victory means one thing: The state no longer permits 1,200,000 (read that number again, slowly) defenseless human beings to be butchered annually through elective abortion. It means the state no longer funds and permits destructive embryo research. In short, victory does not mean hearts are changed; it means the heartless are stopped. As Martin Luther King once said, “it may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me.”

To that end, I’m encouraged by five current trends (there are others) that give me hope for eventual victory, though I’m prepared for a long fight:

First, the political party sworn to uphold elective abortion as a fundamental right suffered heavy losses in November and will likely face more losses in 2012. That party, as long as it retains a congressional majority, will kill pro-life bills and advance pro-abortion ones. Even its few “pro-life” members are problematic, and not just because the vast majority of them caved on opposing abortion-permitting health care legislation. The fundamental problem was that in 2006 and 2008, they voted to elect a pro-abortion Speaker of the House. In the 2010 mid-term elections, they paid dearly for that compromise.

Second, the pro-life student movement is exploding on campuses across the country and with it comes a renewed interest in pro-life apologetics, visual depictions of abortion, politics, debates, and training seminars. In 2004, a mere 60 students attended the annual Students for Life of America conference in Washington D.C. The 2011conference had over 1,800 attendees from 200 campuses. This student movement is, for the moment, overwhelmingly Catholic, but I’m hopeful evangelicals will step up. True, on one hand, you’ll look far and wide for a major evangelical conference that features pro-life apologetics in a workshop, let alone a keynote address. Nevertheless, leaders like Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Justin Taylor, Kevin DeYoung and Randy Alcorn are outspoken in their condemnations of abortion and perhaps under their influence a groundswell will follow. Here’s the bigger challenge: Evangelical student ministers must not only preach on abortion, they must also equip their people to engage the culture with a robust, but graciously communicated, case for life—a case that can compete in the marketplace of ideas. Thankfully, the pro-life student movement is beginning to do just that. Claremont political science professor Jon Sheilds writes that while pro-life students are making a persuasive case, their pro-abortion opponents are lazy and stagnant, preferring to silence their pro-life opponents rather than debate them. It isn’t working.

Third, a sizable number of Catholic scholars—including Pope Benedict—are drawing clear distinctions between contingent evils and intrinsic (absolute) ones. The former includes things like war and capital punishment that are not intrinsically wrong, but only contingently so—meaning they must be prudently considered and rationally justified. The latter, however, includes absolute wrongs like elective abortion that should never be tolerated. These scholars (see here and here) are clarifying for Catholic voters an important moral truth: We should never support a political party that promises to avoid contingent evils (like war) while it wholeheartedly promotes intrinsic ones (like abortion).

Fourth, some evangelical scholars are fighting back against those in their own ranks who discourage political involvement. Theologians like Wayne Grudem are connecting the dots: Christian belief is not just about John 3: 16, but transformed living which includes the transformation of government. True, political success can’t save souls eternally (only the gospel does that), but it can promote a more just society for the weak and oppressed. To that end, Christians should exert significant influence on government. Moreover, Grudem nails the core problem with those evangelicals discouraging political involvement: They wrongly take one of the ways that God restrains evil in the world (changing hearts through the gospel) and assert that it is the only way that God restrains evil (thus rejecting the role of civil government). Truth is, God gave both the church and the government a role to play. In short, pro-life evangelicals don’t have to choose between preaching the gospel and reforming culture. They can do both.

Finally, the nation’s leading abortion provider—Planned Parenthood—is on the ropes. While scholarly books affirming the anti-child agenda of PP were in print 25 years ago, almost no one but the most stalwart pro-life advocates read them. That, coupled with a pro-abortion media bias, meant that PP’s reputation escaped scrutiny. However, the Internet changed all that. Thanks to undercover groups like Live Action, Planned Parenthood’s cover up of child trafficking is now exposed with a simple mouse click. And the credit for that exposure goes to yet another student pro-life group, Live Action led by UCLA student Lila Rose.

To sum up, I’m hopeful. Can you imagine how many lives will be saved once the evangelical students are more engaged?

Update: Regarding my mention of Live Action, credible pro-life philosophers are debating whether lying is always wrong. I don't believe it's always wrong (If Nazis knock on your door and ask if you are hiding Jews, is it wrong to lie if telling the truth means innocent people are unjustly killed?), but you can read the debate here and here and here.

Update 2/18: Frank Beckwith argues that telling an intentional falsehood is not always wrong.

Update 2/19: Peter Kreeft argues for Live Acction.

And so does Hadley Arkes


  1. Wonderful! Thank you so much for posting. I'm spreading this far and wide.

  2. Maybe I'm misunderstanding what you mean by election abortion, but if elective abortion is an absolute wrong, then it seems it would be wrong to have an abortion even to save the lives of Mom and several siblings in the womb. Most pro-lifers can maintain consistently that such exceptional cases may be morally allowable. But I would have thought that to be an elective abortion.

  3. Good question, Jeremy. If you can tolerate a Presbyterian/Southern Baptist interpreting Catholic church teaching, read on. :-)

    Breifly, the church does not say that all killing is wrong, including (presumably) all abortions. However, it teaches that we are not to take human life without justification--and elective abortion does that. For example, treatment for ectopic pregnancy that requires immediate medical intervention is not elective and thus is not absolute evil. Rather, it's justified with an appeal to the law of double effect.


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