Friday, May 22, 2015

Steve Hays on Don Cooper's Debate Review

"For some odd reason, it doesn't even occur to Don that both sides, both debaters, have a burden of proof to discharge. What makes Don imagine the onus lies exclusively on the prolifer?" 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Incrementalism Debate Opening Argument [Clinton Wilcox]

This is my opening argument in a debate between "abolitionist" John Reasnor and myself, regarding the resolution Incrementalism is incompatible with Scripture (abolitionist is in quotation marks because all pro-life people are abolitionists, but those in AHA deny that those outside of AHA are actual abolitionists). John is affirming and I am negating the resolution. You can see John's opening argument here. And very special thanks to Scott Klusendorf and Steve Hays for looking this over and offering helpful comments.


The resolution as laid out before us is this: Incrementalism is a strategy incompatible with Scripture. As John is arguing the affirmative, he has the burden of proof. This means that John has the burden of proving his case. I will make a case negating the resolution, but even if I fail to make my case sufficiently, if I have managed to cast sufficient doubt on John’s position such that he has not affirmed the resolution, the debate goes to me. Additionally, John has posted AHA graphics with arguments on them. As they are not part of the body of John’s argument, I will ignore them (and you should, too).

Defining terms

John is correct in that we need to have a good understanding of the terms in this debate. John claims that we are committing an etymological fallacy by assuming these words mean what they mean (so I’m not sure John has a proper understanding of what a fallacy is). However, it is an etymological fallacy to assume that what a word meant 100 years ago is what it means now, since words evolve. What matters is how the words are being used now. By trying to force a definition onto the words that those who use it don’t mean, John is essentially attacking a strawman. It’s also incorrect to argue, as so many in AHA do, that incrementalists want to “regulate” abortion and not end it.

Unfortunately, while John said he wants to define these terms for us, he never tells us what he means by incrementalism nor immediatism. He only tells us what they are not. But if I were to say an ocean is any part of earth that isn’t land, I’m not really telling you what an ocean is, am I? So for the purposes of this debate, incrementalism is the political strategy that while we want to see abortion ended altogether, our political climate is such that ending abortion immediately is impossible. So we take incremental steps to eventually reach our end goal. Immediatism is the political strategy that incremental steps are either immoral or impratical, so the only legislation we should support is legislation that ends all abortion in one fell swoop.

Responding to John’s argument

John is also correct in that abortion is sin. However, what he and other “abolitionists” fail to do is make basic distinctions. For example, ancient Israel was a theocracy. Modern America is not. We are called to personal holiness; our nation is not called to be subservient to God. It’s significant that Jesus came to preach personal holiness, not to reform Roman society. In fact, he said “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21, NASB). The Gospel is the antidote to sin in a believer’s life; it is not the key to reformation of society. For that, we must work through the political process. The only counter-strategy AHA has to offer is in "seeding the culture," as they say, to hopefully change enough hearts and minds to eventually get all the votes they need to end abortion altogether. But the pro-life movement has been doing this for 40 years now. It's not a new strategy. The only difference is that AHA puts ideological purity over the lives of the unborn, so they can proclaim their "moral superiority" all the while children are dying because of their inaction. Why can't we work legislatively while seeding the culture?

John claims that incrementalism is condemned throughout Scripture, but never supports this claim. Until John provides evidence, this claim should be ignored.

John claims that God’s prescribed method is immediatism, but this false (and also given without evidence). The Bible is a book of history, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, and theology. It is not a book of political strategy. Immediatism is not prescribed by God, nor is incrementalism. Neither are they expressly condemned. So the question before us is whether or not incrementalism is compatible with Scripture, not which strategy is prescribed by it (because neither strategy is).

John claims that immediatism and incrementalism are mutually exclusive, but this is also false. His analogies from dark and light, etc., are false analogies. Incrementalism is compatible with immediatism because while we want to see abortion ended completely, if that is not politically possible to do, then one can take incremental steps to get there. In our political atmosphere (and really, in every political atmosphere since the beginning of human civilization), immediatism is impracticable.

Here’s another distinction John fails to make, just like Hunter did in his debate with Cunningham: slavery abolitionists believed in ending slavery altogether; they were immediatists in that respect. But like the incrementalists of today, they worked incrementally to make that happen. Immediatists are simply not reading history correctly. Like incrementalists of today, slavery abolitionists were immediatists by moral conviction, incrementalist by political strategy.

This idea about incremental laws implicitly ending with “...and then you can kill the baby” is just philosophically confused and an attempt to poison the well against incremental legislation. For one thing, every “immediatist” bill would also end with “...and then you can kill the baby.” There’s a personhood bill in Utah? Just go to Colorado, and then you can kill the baby. There’s a personhood bill in the United States? Just go to China, and then you can kill the baby. Every immediatist law is, by nature, incrementalist. This means that immediatism is necessarily incremental. By saving all the babies in Utah, AHA is condemning all the babies in every other state to death.

Second, it’s just a silly argument to make. All babies are currently targeted for abortion. We are not compromising with them, and allowing them to kill whatever babies they want. Those babies are already targeted. We are trying to save what babies we can, when we can. It’s not politically possible to save every baby. But unlike “abolitionists,” we are not willing to let thousands of children die for our ideology. It’s like these children are trapped in a burning house. There are children in rooms on the top floor that are locked, and we can’t get to them. AHA would let all those children burn because they can’t save them all. Incrementalists would rush in to save the children they can save.

John asserts that incrementalists support unjust laws, but here John is merely begging the question. He has not proven that incrementalist laws are unjust, he has only given one long irrelevant paragraph trying to compare incrementalists to a certain faction of slavery abolitionists. It’s irrelevant because it does not support the resolution, since he is trying to argue from history, not from Scripture. So even if he is correct (which is dubious), he has not supported the resolution with it.

John’s appeal to Moses and Pharaoh amounts to a false analogy. In fact, John’s first sentence shows why: Moses was given a specific commandment from God. God has given no such commandment to the pro-life movement. Additionally, this analogy works against him, since there were certainly other slaves besides Israelites in ancient Egypt. Yet Moses was told only to free the Israelite slaves. Moses was given an incremental command from God to free only the Israelite slaves. Moses was able to refuse Pharaoh’s deal because God gave him a specific command, and had given Moses signs and wonders to show that God means business. God has given the pro-life movement no such commandment, and he has given us no promise that we will win, no matter how faithful we are. By trying to claim Moses’ situation as our own now is an exegetical fallacy, since that promise was given directly to Moses regarding the freeing of God’s people from Egyptian slavery.

John also makes the statement that what we support and call for has consequences, and incrementalists should “confess their responsibility and guilt of abandoning most and showing unjust partiality.” This is just arrogance of the highest order. For one thing, John hasn’t even successfully made his case. For another, as I’ve already shown, it is immediatists, not incrementalists, who are abandoning children for the sake of their ideology (consider the burning building analogy). We do not have the ability to save all. If we have the ability to save some and do not take it, we are responsible for their deaths.

John’s appeals to Biblical prophets are just more false analogies. Again, Israel was God’s chosen people who were required, as a nation, to follow God. Other nations were not, though there were instances of God enacting judgments on other nations because of their extreme wickedness. God called the nation of Israel to repentance; he does not call other nations to repentance in the same way. We are not a theocracy, but as individual Christians, we are called to follow Christ and obey his commandments.

John’s analogy from 2 Kings 23 is a false analogy for the same reason. Josiah was a ruler of Jerusalem. It’s possible another king may have done the same thing, but they did not have commands for national holiness like Israel did, as God’s chosen people.

John’s next analogy is regarding Saul, but I feel I’m becoming like a broken record now. Saul was a Jewish king, and the Jews were called to national holiness; other nations were/are not. John has to show us where, precisely, God has given a specific command to the pro-life movement that we are not, or are only partially, obeying by supporting incremental legislation.

Ironically, John’s appeal to James can be turned right around on the “abolitionist” movement. By not supporting incrementalism, they are, in essence, telling these children “we’ll be praying for you, be warmed and be filled, don’t die” but are taking no actions to help them. They’re like the priest and the Levite would saw the beaten and battered man but are doing nothing to help. The incrementalists are the ones who see these children in desperate need, and although we can’t save them all, we will save the ones that we can. We are the ones James talked about, who are actively helping these children survive by enacting incremental legislation that saves lives. AHA is content to let them die because they can’t save them all.

John is also misreading the history of abortion techniques. It is not incrementalism that is responsible for different abortion techniques. Abortion was made a safe procedure by the advancement of medicine (such as the development of antibiotics). Abortion pills would have become a reality with or without incrementalists, since it moves abortion from an invasive medical procedure to a pill that you just take at home and flush the remains. Abortion was always much more common in the early term than the late term; that’s not a result of incrementalism.

John incorrectly mentions that we have “abandoned” the 19-week-old child, the trisomy 21 child, etc., but conveniently neglects to mention every child saved by incremental laws that AHA would rather we have abandoned. We can’t save those children right now, but if AHA has their way, no child will be spared from the abortionist’s blade until such time as we can save them all (if that ever happens).

In summary, John has used scores of Scriptures out of context to try and support his position. He has made false analogies, appealing to Jewish kings. He has also made irrelevant appeals to history, when it is the Scriptures we are debating. It should be clear by now that John has not supported the resolution.


I would like to reiterate that the Bible is a book of history, prophecy, poetry, wisdom, and theology. It is not a book of political strategy. This means that neither incrementalism nor immediatism are prescribed by Scripture.

John asked where we find incrementalism in Scripture.  Before I get in to that, John is essentially making a fallacious appeal to silence here. It's the same kind of argument pro-choice people use when they argue the Bible doesn't mention abortion, so it condones it (or is, at least, indifferent towards it). In this case, John is saying the opposite: it is not prescribed by the Bible, so therefore it is condemned by it.

Now on to incrementalism in Scripture.

First, Paul was an incrementalist. He said that he has become all things to all men so that he may by all means save some (1 Corinthians 9). He didn’t become nothing to anyone because he couldn’t save everyone. Paul was an incrementalist, yet apparently John (Reasnor) would say Paul was only partially obedient to God’s law, and that Paul did not trust in God’s power. I suppose when Paul called himself the chief of sinners, he was justifying his sin, as an incrementalist.

We also know that God works incrementally. Because of the hardness of his people’s hearts, he allowed some sins, such as divorce. As Norm Geisler writes (Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, MI, 1999, p. 608), “Sometimes God commands change because of the changing conditions of humanity. Such is the case with permission for divorce ‘for any cause’ in the Old Testament, and a strong prohibition in the New Testament...Jesus said the original law ‘was because of the ‘hardness of your hearts’...God sometimes overlooks certain things because of times of ignorance (Acts 17:38), but later does not.” Why aren’t “abolitionists” upset by this moral compromise that God made with his own people?

Additionally, we know that God’s revelation is progressive. An example of progressive revelation is Jews being required to sacrifice animals in the Old Testament to atone for sin, but in the New Testament we are no longer required to sacrifice animals since Jesus’ sacrifice was sufficient to atone for our sins. Another example was when eating meat was forbidden before the Flood, and yet after the Flood eating meat was permitted. God revealed his revelation progressively, in incremental steps, to humanity.

So a Biblical case for incrementalism can be made as follows:

  1. If incrementalism is not expressly forbidden in Scripture, nor does it violate a clear Scriptural prescription, then it is compatible with Scripture..
  2. Incrementalism is not expressly forbidden in Scripture, nor does it violate a clear Scriptural prescription.
  3. Therefore, incrementalism is compatible with Scripture.

This is a sound argument in the form of modus ponens.

John has failed to support the resolution at issue, and I have successfully shown that incrementalism is compatible with Scripture, even if not prescribed by it (since the Bible is not a book of political strategy).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Why Do We Fundraise? [Clinton Wilcox]

The following post appeared on Jill Stanek's blog.

On one hand, a favorite punching bag of T. Russell Hunter is pro-life fundraising.
11122396_916351231756876_1989993906_nOn the other, Hunter's group Abolish Human Abortion is incorporated, has a for-profit arm through which it sells t-shirts and other wares, and rents office space. (Regarding office space, click to enlarge screenshot right; the original post has been removed from AHA's Facebook page.)

It was these contradictory positions Hunter had to balance in his April 25 debate against Center for Bio-Ethical Reform's Gregg Cunningham.

Hunter contended (1:06:10 on the video) that one reason Christians aren't actively involved in anti-abortion activism is because they donate money to pro-life organizations to do the work for them. (See also 1:14:24-1:16:26.)

Nevertheless, from timestamp 1:39:55-1:41:31, Hunter alleged he wasn’t opposed to fundraising per se.

But not only did this contradict Hunter's earlier statement, it contradicted a multitude of Facebook posts in which he and AHA have castigated pro-life organizations for fundraising, while two of AHA's leaders, Don Cooper and Todd Bullisactively engage in fundraising under the AHA banner. Click to enlarge...
As it is with their own incremental bills, it seems AHAers agree with fundraising as long as it fits their own agenda and not that of the larger pro-life movement.

The problem is that some people can’t feasibly stand against abortion because they work, have families that demand their attention, and maintain other responsibilities. They simply don’t have the time to be out there “in the trenches,” as Hunter would say.

So, giving funds to pro-life advocates who have devoted their life's work to the cause is their way of helping.
Donations help pro-life advocates like myself, the organization I work for (Life Training Institute), Jill StanekGregg Cunningham/Center for Bio-Ethical Reform, and all the other pro-life advocates keep doing what we do. As Scott Klusendorf reminds us, there are many more people working full-time to kill babies than there are working full-time to save them. As Gregg mentioned in his debate, a part-time movement of volunteers is not going to end abortion.

We also don’t receive billions of dollars in taapayer funding, as organizations like Planned Parenthood do.
Pro-life organizations subsist on generous donations so we can continue to educate pro-life people on how to effectively and persuasively share their views, maintain pregnancy care centers, make a difference in the political realm, maintain full-time presence at abortion clinics, change hearts and minds in the marketplace of ideas so as to eventually convert our culture to a point where we can end abortion, and a multitude of other pro-life work.
Hunter, while decrying the fact that pro-life organizations fundraise, also uses the fruits of those organizations’ labor.

A prime example was the debate itself. With months to organize, AHA still produced a substandard video using substandard cameras and audio equipment. Had AHA decided to fundraise, they could afford professional equipment to make a high quality recording so arguments by both participants could easily be understood for posterity. (Fortunately, Cunningham has done just that and also recorded the debate with much greater clarity.)
In addition, AHA uses images of abortion victims that Cunningham's group has spent millions of dollars to acquire over the years. CBR was the first pro-life organization to compile an archive of broadcast quality video and still photographs.

At 1:15:45 in the video, Cunningham astutely observed that while Hunter may not fundraise, he allows CBR to do the fundraising for him, because Hunter benefits from CBR's work. Click to enlarge...
photo 1
As previously mentioned, Don Cooper, who holds himself out as AHA’s Executive Director, also fundraises (as well he should). Fundraising is an essential component of being able to work full-time to stop abortion, and activists are an essential component to ending abortion in the United States.

Pro-life people, like everyone else, have bills to pay and families to support. If they had to work full-time in another arena, they wouldn't be able to devote themselves single-mindedly to working to end abortion.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t have to fight to end abortion. But we do.

In the debate, Hunter not only failed to give any sort of plan for ending abortion under his immediatist regime, he failed to give any sort of a plan as to how we can end the fight for the rights of the unborn without fundraising and all just working part-time to speak out against it. This is simply an untenable view, and one AHA fraudulently claims to adhere to.

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.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Steve Hays on the Sloppy Use of Language by AHA [SK]

Hays writes,

"It's my impression that by its fanaticism, utopianism, and scorched-earth rhetoric (in characterizing prolifers), AHA has alienated people who were initially sympathetic to its methods and aims. One example is the use of sloppy, thoughtless, polemical terminology. This isn't just carelessness, but willful indifference."

Monday, May 4, 2015

Debate Between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter [SK]

April 25 Debate—“Pro-Life Incrementalism versus Abolitionist Immediatism”

Gregg Cunningham argued for the former; T. Russell Hunter argued for the latter. The debate took place in Tulsa, in front of Hunter’s supporters. View the debate here.

Background and Structure

T. Russell Hunter and Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) attack pro-lifers for allegedly “regulating” abortion rather than calling for its immediate abolition. They insist pro-life incremental strategies are not only mistaken, they are based on evil compromise and because of that evil compromise, we are losing the abortion fight. On the web and in social media, AHA is primarily known for its attacks on pro-lifers, often with a strong dose of spiritual superiority. For example, Hunter affectionately refers to my own position on incremental legislation as "crafty" and "sinfully motivated," comprised of "delusive nonsense" that leads weak minds astray with "false doctrine" (Facebook post March 20). Elsewhere, AHA attacks the pro-life group Justice for All for allegedly ignoring sin and later calls pro-life apologist Josh Brahm's worldview "demonic." Almost without exception, every attempt to challenge these claims is met with the assertion that pro-lifers are attacking a strawman and, due to unrepentant sin, don't really understand what AHA stands for. When Jill Stanek wrote her review of the debate, an AHA supporter named Toby immediately attributed to her the worst possible motives and all-but damned her to Hell. "Instead of dealing with incrementalism or immediatism on Biblical terms, she chooses to make an idol out of the abortion fight. Her career is more important to her than her soul. When the light of scripture is shown on her wicked endeavors she, in the reaction of covering up sin, attempts to shoot the messenger and further compound her sin. If her position was a good and true one, she wouldn’t have to resort to strawman arguments and ad hominem...I pray she repents."

That's not the language of someone eager to engage his critics with thoughtful responses. It's the rhetoric of a spiritual weirdo with a severe prophet complex . What he can't secure with a syllogism, he'll pick up with a spiritual power play. Indeed, one high-up AHA rep requested that I publicly repent for not posting his link announcing the pending debate. That my Facebook page is mine to post or not post as I please apparently never crossed his mind. The arrogance of such a request is mind-blowing.

Rewind to late last Fall. T. Russell Hunter issued a very public challenge calling for any pro-life leader to debate him on incrementalism. Gregg Cunningham, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and Executive Director of the Center for Bioethical Reform, accepted. The formal debate structure was as follows: 20-minute opening statements, 15-minute rebuttals, 15-minute cross-examination, 5-minute closing statements. An informal audience Q&A followed the formal debate.

Short Take:

Gregg Cunningham won the formal exchange handily and he did so early by pointing out a fundamental flaw in Hunter’s argument—namely, the mistaken claim that pro-lifers have the power to end abortion immediately but won’t. Again and again, he exposed Hunter’s fallacious either/or reasoning by demonstrating that pro-lifers don’t have to choose between incremental legislation that saves some children right now or total abolition that saves all at a later time. Rather, they can advance both strategies simultaneously and save many lives in the process. Cunningham also demonstrated a superior grasp of social reform history, noting that while Wilberforce, Lincoln, and Martin-Luther King were in principle moral absolutists, in practice they functioned as strategic and tactical incrementalists—as do pro-lifers today. During cross-examination, Hunter stumbled badly when asked if those babies saved through incremental legislation should have been left to die. When he refused to give a clear answer—despite being repeatedly pressed to do so—the debate was effectively over. In short, Hunter could not preach his way to victory, even when invoking his understanding of Scripture. His claim that incrementalism is not found in the Bible was decisively refuted when Gregg cited three examples from Scripture where God dealt incrementally with His people.

Cunningham clearly did his homework for this one. Read on for a fuller analysis. Meanwhile, Jonathan Van Maren reviewed the debate here and Jill Stanek here and here and here.


1) Opening Statements

T. Russell Hunter framed the debate between incrementalism and immediatism in spiritual terms. The debate is not new, but old. It's rooted in the enmity between the woman and the snake--namely, a clash between "God has said" and "Did God really say?"

Hunter definied “immediatism” not as “overnightism,” but as a principle of immediate action as opposed to gradualism. He claimed that immediatism is seen theologically in the gospel—namely, the command to “work while the day lasts”—and in the abolition movements in America and in Britain. American abolitionists, the first street preachers in America, were immediatists "who believed the slaves ought be instantly set free" and brought under the protection of law. They believed that laws permitting slavery were an affront to God's holy commandments and thus were null and void. Such laws should be instantly abrogated, not regulated with incremental schemes that prolong the evil. In short, incremetalism is a substitute for immediate abolition. Slavery demanded immediate abolition because slavery was a national sin for which the nation(s) must repent instantly.

Hunter further insisted that William Wilberforce was not an incrementalist and “it’s ridiculous to say he was.” Rather, Wilberforce repented of incrementalism. Regulation of evil was not an option for him. Nor was it for Martin Luther King or the biblical writers. “The roots of immediatism are on the lips of every single prophet of God.” Pro-life incrementalists, by regulating abortion instead of calling for its immediate abolition, are to blame for its continuation. The culture is deeply immoral and merely addressing abortion won’t get the job done. We need an immediate call to repent and believe the gospel.

Gregg Cunningham followed with his opening, insisting that Hunter’s argument was fundamentally flawed because it assumes that pro-lifers have the power to immediately end abortion but simply won’t. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pro-life advocates do not have the power to say which children live and which ones die. The federal courts have already said that no unborn children have a right to life. In that legal environment, the principled pro-lifer is an immediatist morally and an incrementalist strategically. That is, while pro-lifers remain committed to the principle that every unborn human should be legally protected, they work to save as many lives as possible given current political realities. In short, Hunter is misstating facts: Pro-lifers aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They’re appalled by it.  But unlike Hunter, they realize you can’t just “wave a magic wand” and make abortion go away. So, while they don’t willingly choose to be incrementalists, they function that way legislatively in order to save as many lives as they can.

Citing the work of Dr. Michael New (University of Michigan-- see here and here, reg. required), Cunningham argued that incremental laws are indeed saving lives everywhere they are passed. He challenged Hunter’s claim that legislators who sponsor incremental laws are compromising with evil.  Citing his own efforts as a Pennsylvania State Rep who authored and sponsored several such bills always with a view toward getting the strongest protections he could, Cunningham replied, “It’s painful to hear T. Russell Hunter belittle men and women who put their seats on the line to save as many children as possible.”

Gregg then challenged Hunter’s historical claims. William Wilberforce was in principle a moral absolutist, but in practice a strategic and tactical incrementalist—as are pro-lifers today. While firmly committed to the principle of complete abolition, Wilberforce went after what he could get. For example, he supported legislation to refit slave ships so the suffering could be reduced. He introduced limitations on slave traffic in shipping ports. He did all this while working tirelessly for complete abolition. He took these incremental steps to get the votes to eventually ban the slave trade altogether. Here in the states, Abraham Lincoln worked incrementally to abolish slavery. He withheld his Emancipation Proclamation until 1863, and even then, it only declared slaves free in the South not the North! Were both these men guilty of compromise?  Cunningham concluded, “We will give an account to God for babies we could have saved but didn’t.” And we don’t have to choose between preaching the Gospel and exposing abortion. “We can do both” with a combination of spiritual arguments and human rights arguments.

2) Rebuttal Speeches

In his rebuttal speech, T. Russell Hunter claimed that Wilberforce never authored incremental bills. He insisted that abortion-opponents can’t compromise by offering such bills. We must repent. Instead of putting a compromised principle in front of unsaved people, “Secular people need to be told to repent of sin.”

As for Cunningham’s claim that pro-life incrementalists are constrained by political realities imposed on them by the federal courts, Hunter replied that we have the power to stop abortion immediately “because we serve a risen King and have the Holy Spirit as a helper.” Using the image of a tree to represent abortion, he insisted that pro-life incrementalists are content to cut-off branches rather than taking an ax to the root of the tree. For example, they ban partial-birth abortion, only to have other methods creep up. Focusing on late-term abortion doesn’t get at the root; it sends a message to the public that other abortions are okay. In short, pro-life incrementalists deny the power of God when they refuse to call for the immediate abolition of abortion.

Cunningham began his rebuttal by summarizing Hunter’s position as follows: “Until we can outlaw killing that unborn baby, we can’t work to save any.” He insisted that Russell is “so prophetic” that he lacks love for those children who are saved by incremental legislation. Unlike immediatists, “I won’t let savable babies die.” Gregg went on to say that, again, Hunter gets Wilberforce wrong. Wilberforce, like pro-lifers today, did not compromise on principle, only tactics and strategy. When you don’t have the votes, you get what you can while you continue working for complete victory. That’s sound moral thinking! Not once did Wilberforce compromise principle. Nor do pro-lifers today. Indeed, the history of social reform has both immediatism and incrementalism. Russell only acknowledges the former.

Cunningham once again appealed to history, noting the incremental examples of John Adams and Martin Luther King. During the debate for Independence, Adams knew he didn’t have the votes to abolish slavery. Thus, he allowed southern states to retain slavery in order to pull them into the Union where the principles in the founding documents would eventually abolish the practice. If those southern states weren’t pulled into the Union, they’d remain separate slave-holding nations. Thus, in principle Adams was an immediatist but in practice an incrementalist. He used the latter to get the former. Likewise, Martin Luther King, recognizing he didn’t have the votes for immediate civil rights, worked to achieve what he could in each political cycle.

Gregg then confronted Hunter on his hostility toward professional pro-life activists who raise funds for their projects. “Russell Hunter uses our abortion photos—which happened because we had professional activists who fundraise. Russell just lets me do his fundraising for him.”

3) Cross Examination

During the cross-x, each speaker had fifteen minutes to ask questions of the other. Gregg went first. Noting that T. Russell Hunter was critical of pro-lifers who work with secularists to save babies, Cunningham asked the following: “If your two-year old daughter stumbles into a swimming pool, are you going to quiz the paramedics about their theology before working with them to save your kid?” Hunter replied the question was a silly strawman of a complex issue, but Cunningham persisted. When Hunter eventually said that he would work with the paramedics, Gregg replied (paraphrase), “So you will work with [secularists] to save your own kid, but you won’t work with them to save other kids?” Then, holding up Dr. New’s research on the effectiveness of incremental bills for saving lives, Cunningham asked, “What about these babies? Should we allow them to die instead of passing incremental legislation that would save them?” Hunter initially said “no,” but when Cunningham pressed him for clarification, he called the question a “charade” because if all incrementalists would become immediatists, we could put the ax to the root and end abortion. Gregg continued, “For the record, Russ didn’t answer the question. Should these babies have been allowed to die instead of passing the incremental legislation that saved them?” When Hunter again declined to answer and called incremental victories “shallow,” Cunningham again held up Dr. New’s study and asked, “Are you saying this guy made this stuff up when he said these laws save lives?” Cunningham also asked if Lincoln was wrong to be both an immediatist in principle and an incrementalist in practice. Hunter replied that Lincoln did not credit incrementalists with the abolition of slavery.

During his cross-x, Hunter asked Gregg if he wanted to “constantly strawman” the immediatist position or simply avoid it. “Do you really not understand [immediatism]?” To which Cunningham—pointing to a screenshot of unborn humans—replied, “I’m going to make this as simple as possible. I’m determined to save that baby, and that baby, and that baby, whether a few seconds old or not, and that is immediate action. It’s a false dilemma to say we can’t both talk about abortion as sin and talk about it as a human rights violation.” Hunter’s second question was about Christian involvement: “Do you believe the Bride of Christ is sitting in the pews instead of fighting abortion because it is putting it’s faith in incremental legislation?” Cunningham agreed it is a problem, but not the one Hunter imagines. The big problem is we can’t win without the church, and we won’t win the church without more full-time paid activists who can train seminarians, etc., yet Hunter attacks those working full-time. But how can we win when secular institutions crank out full-time professionals to support abortion and we have part-time volunteers? Hunter then asked if Gregg knew that Wilberforce called slavery wicked and criticized gradualism? Gregg replied that Hunter was conflating two different things—Wilberforce’s principles and Wilberforce’s practice. That is, Wilberforce hated gradualism in principle and wanted to abolish slavery immediately, but in practice knew he didn’t have the votes. Thus, he worked incrementally to take what he could get. He wasn’t either/or—incrementalist or immediatist. Rather, he pursued both strategies simultaneously. Again, Wilberforce did not compromise on principle, only on strategy and tactics. Hunter next asked if the atheist at a pro-life display is more likely to become anti-abortion by converting to Christ or by hearing human rights arguments. Once again, Gregg pointed out that Hunter was engaging in either/or thinking when it is both/and. We present both sets of arguments—gospel arguments and human rights arguments—because we don’t know who the atheists are. We should pray for revival and work to save every baby we can. It’s not either/or. Finally, Hunter asked if Gregg agreed the partial-birth legislation was a waste of time. Gregg replied PBA legislation had a big impact on changing public opinion on late-term abortion and that never in the history of social reform is everything accomplished all at once, as Hunter wrongly thinks. Instead, individual victories matter because they save lives.

4) Closing Statements

Hunter spoke first and quoted Isaiah 30, making the claim that incrementalists don’t challenge the status quo, but say, “What can I do within the law?” He insisted that incrementalists are under a false delusion thinking incrementalism is the way forward. They are “placing their hope in Egypt.” If Christians would repent of incrementalism and become immediatists, we could lay the ax to the root of the abortion tree and end the practice. Incrementalism is not found in the Bible.

Cunningham replied by appealing for both incremental and immediate action. That’s how social reform campaigns always work. Gregg then gave three examples of incrementalism in the Bible. First, Paul (1 Cor. 3) works incrementally to convey hard truths to weak brothers in the faith. He gives them milk instead of solid food. He revealed God’s law to them incrementally so they could digest it. Second, Jesus (Mark 10:4) says that God instructed Moses to relax the law on marriage because the people were not ready for tough divorce codes just then. Gradually, however, Christ toughens those laws. Jesus said this! Third, when Peter asked about paying the temple tax, Jesus compromised and paid lest he offend weaker Jews. Jesus was skillfully picking his fights! Studies show we can save babies incrementally, and we don’t have to do that to the exclusion of saving them as immediately as we can. Cunningham concluded by saying he was deeply troubled by Hunter’s insensitivity to the babies saved by incremental legislation.

5) Audience Q&A

The Q&A is not part of the formal debate, so I won’t say much about it other than to point out one weak spot for Gregg during that time. I’ve noticed that almost always, the winner of the formal debate gets aggressive questions from his opponent’s frustrated devotees. This was certainly true in this exchange, where the audience was almost exclusively made up of those supporting Hunter’s position, which didn’t seem to trouble Cunningham. In the first question directed at Gregg, an AHA devotee asked if CBR had a written policy, a waiver, instructing people not to preach the gospel at GAP displays. Gregg said he didn’t have any waiver documents with him and even if he did, the language in them is constantly evolving. He further said CBR wants people to be discerning, but does not foreclose on volunteers sharing the gospel when opportunities arise. That’s true. But it didn’t directly answer the question about the waiver. But, again, even if Gregg had such a waiver, it would not destroy his case that we can both preach the gospel and make human rights arguments. At best, it would only show that in the case of that waiver (assuming it foreclosed on sharing gospel content), he was inconsistently applying his own position. It wouldn’t prove the both/and principle wrong, especially when other pro-life groups like LTI, Created Equal, and others effectively integrate both sets of arguments.


Outside that one question, Cunningham commanded the field the entire night. Again and again, he corrected Hunter’s cherry picking of history. He repeatedly demonstrated that Hunter was falsely creating an either/or framework when it was truly both/and—meaning we should work incrementally to save as many lives as we can while simultaneously working to end abortion outright. Cunningham also demonstrated that for a guy who constantly accuses his critics of straw-man arguments, Hunter was guilty of misrepresenting the incrementalist view. That is, pro-life incrementalists are not satisfied with the status quo—they would stop abortion immediately if they could. Nor are they “regulationists" who decide which babies live and which die. They have no such power. To the contrary, the Supreme Court has already said that no unborn humans have a right to life. Thus, while incrementalists work to change that, they try and save as many lives as they can right now.

The most troubling moment for Hunter was the cross-x when Gregg repeatedly asked him, “Should these babies saved by incremental legislation have been allowed to die?” Hunter was grilled on that point and never fully answered the question, as the clip of the exchange demonstrates.  Here is the transcript:

GC: I’d like to return to the question with which I began, which Russ hasn’t answered. Should we allow these babies to die rather than enact incremental legislation?

TRH: No.

GC: I’m sorry?

TRH: Like, should we allow – should we allow babies to die?

GC: Should we allow these – because…

TRH: The charade is – the charade is not even what we’re talking about – the incrementalism/immediatism debate. Focusing the ax at the tree, getting all the people who follow incrementalism to become immediatists and help put that ax to the branch – to the root…

GC: Would you answer this question?

TRH & GC: [unintelligible]

Moderator: That was the last question. Russ, go ahead and answer that, and then we’re gonna end this.

GC: Just for the record, Russ didn’t answer the question: Should we have allowed these babies to die, which this university professor says would have died had that legislation not been enacted. Should we have allowed them to die rather than enact the incremental legislation?

Moderator: Okay, Russ, answer that question, then we’ll change.

TRH: Um, well, I firmly believe that abortion is evil, and it is one of these things that the powers and principalities of darkness and high places are very in to. It’s the crown jewel of darkness, and I actually believe that if they can keep abortion going by deceiving people into becoming gradualists, they will do it. And if to deceive them they have to give them empty, illusory victories, and law professors may claim that babies were saved, they’ll do it. But I – if someone goes to an abortion mill and shoots a doctor, a baby might be saved that day, but that’s not going towards abolishing abortion. It’s not establishing justice that day [unintelligible] a baby that day.

GC: May I ask for clarification for your answer? You’re saying this guy’s making this up?

TRH: Uh, no, I have to read it. But I’m just saying that convincing people to be gradualists by saying, “Hey look, we saved some,” while they’re still being – I’m pretty sure that you can convince people to be gradualists for the next 40 years…

GC: Hey Russell, let’s do both. Let’s do both. Let’s do both.

Hunter never once said how his policy of immediatism plays out in the real world. How, exactly, does it work to insist on the immediate abolition of abortion? Got the votes for that? Here is where Hunter’s argument is truly self-sealing. He states that if only all incrementalists would become immediatists, we could take the ax to the root and win. So there you have it. When you can’t explain how your strategy actually works in the real world, you just fault your opponents for your failure to execute. This reminds me of faith healers who blame the victim for “not having enough faith” when he doesn’t immediately recover from a systemic illness.

Commenting on the debate, Dr. Marc Newman, professor of rhetoric at Regent University and well-known debate coach, writes:

"Many people's hearts are still hard, so I am going to 'by all means save some.' There will, one day, be an accounting and God will not judge us incrementally but absolutely. But until that day comes, we do what we can, share the truth in its entirety, and accomplish as much as our present circumstances allow. I do not have the internal luxury of feeling good about the purity of my legislative agenda while thousands of human beings that I could have saved perish, while not saving any of the others either. Abortion rights advocates love the absolutists because they can portray them as extremists. They fear the incrementalist because they know that once people begin to consider that SOME human lives before birth are worthy of protection, they will have to craft some kind of justification for why that protections should not be extended to others prior to birth. And that, my friends, would be a much tougher sell than the scorched earth story our opponents are telling now."

Regarding Hunter's claim that you must go right to the Gospel when talking to unregenerate people about abortion, this, too, is rooted in fantasy. Dr. Newman writes, "By making a case for the gospel, Hunter neglects the fact that the gate is narrow and few are those who find it. That means that Christianity will always be in the minority. In a democracy, you need to be able to make an argument that appeals even to those who don't share your spiritual underpinnings."

Cunningham demonstrated a superior grasp of social reform history. Puzzling to me was Hunter’s claim that Lincoln never acknowledged incrementalism as a solution to slavery. Really?  No less than Frederick Douglass had a different take, as Princeton Professor Robert George points out:

“Of course, politics is the art of the possible. And, as Frederick Douglass reminded us in his tribute to Lincoln, public opinion and other constraints sometimes limit what can be done at the moment to advance any just cause.” Applied to abortion, George continues: “The pro-life movement has in recent years settled on an incrementalist strategy for protecting nascent human life. So long as incrementalism is not a euphemism for surrender or neglect, it can be entirely honorable. Planting premises in the law whose logic demands, in the end, full respect for all members of the human family can be a valuable thing to do, even where those premises seem modest. Fully just law would protect all innocent human life. Yet sometimes this is not, or not yet, possible in the concrete political circumstances of the moment.”

Hunter’s reply was that pro-life incrementalists don’t trust the power of the risen Lord and thus don’t embrace immediatism. But wait. If Hunter truly believes the power of the risen Lord enables us to end abortion immediately, why wait for us? Doesn't that same power enable small groups as well as large ones? If so, stop blaming the pro-life movement for not joining your immediatist crusade. After all, the gospel proclamation began with just twelve men, accompanied by signs and wonders, proclaiming the power of the risen Jesus in the very city where he was crucified in the face of hostility far worse than Hunter faces today.

And they did it incrementally. As Dr. Newman points out, the salvation of many people took place gradually.

"Look at Acts 17, with Paul on Mars Hill. He preaches a sermon during which he, quite interestingly, doesn’t cite a single scripture, but does invoke the local religion, philosophers, and poets. At the end, some scoff, some convert, and others say that they want to hear more on this subject. Similarly, God in his foreknowledge and omnipotence, could convert all of the elect in the womb, but he does not. C.S. Lewis came to Christ incrementally: from an atheist, to a mythologist, to a theist, to a Christian — and this road has been traveled by many others. God saves people in much the same way that incrementalists save children. God makes it clear that it is His desire that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4), and that He takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ez. 33:11). Nevertheless, we all come, one at a time. This one gets saved, then that one. Imagine if the apostles waited until they crafted a strategy that resulted in the salvation of everyone before they actually began evangelizing? The Church would have been strangled in its cradle. No. The Apostle Paul says that he works separately among the cultures in all ways that don’t require him to compromise the core of the faith, becomes all things to all men, that by all means, he might saves some — not all, some (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul even declares that he will live as one under the law, even though he is not under the law, if by doing so he can save some. If Paul was an incrementalist, count me in."

In short, if Paul and the other apostles didn't immediately end the social ills of their day by applying the power of the risen Christ, what makes Hunter think he can do so today?

Hunter also had no response to Dr. Michael New’s research that incremental laws save lives. He appeared not to have read the studies. How can this be, given he insists these legislative victories are hallow and contribute to the deaths of children? That’s quite a claim for a guy who is not even familiar with the relevant literature. And if focusing on late-term abortion is bad because it implies that early abortion is not, why does Hunter use Gregg’s late-term abortion pics in his own signs and postings?

Another example of Hunter’s either/or fallacy was his illustration of the atheist. Hunter asked Cunningham, “Do you think the atheist viewing a pro-life display is more likely to oppose abortion after converting to Christ or before?” Setting aside for the moment that unbelievers can recognize the moral wrong of abortion just like they can the moral wrongs of slavery and discrimination, note it can work the other way as well: The pro-life case draws agnostics towards a Christian worldview. For example, professor Hadley Arkes, once a secular Jew (agnostic), eventually embraced Christian theism precisely because the soundness of the pro-life argument forced him to reconsider his ultimate philosophical foundations. Speaking of his own journey toward theism Arkes writes:

"It came through my involvement over many years in the pro-life movement. I've been moving in this direction for a long while, perhaps more than 20 years. The process is often the reverse of what is told in the media. The media suggest that we're pro-life because we're religious, when in fact, many of us are won over by the force of the moral argument and the evidence of embryology. Then we're drawn to the Church that defends that argument."

This fits with my own experience. When non-Christians encounter a Christian theist who graciously and persuasively makes a case for life, they sometimes take a deeper look. They reason that if Christianity has something intelligent to say on a key moral issue of our day, perhaps its other claims deserve a second look. A skilled apologist knows how to make the best of the opportunity. For example, once a non-believer agrees that moral truths exist, it’s natural to gently ask, “Have you committed moral crimes? If so, should you be punished for them?” Now we are at the threshold of the gospel. In short, it's not a one-way street. Sometimes the gospel opens eyes on abortion. Sometimes abortion pics awaken our need for the gospel. Both bring God glory because truth is proclaimed.

Ultimately, Hunter’s ax to the root analogy is God-limiting. He wrongly takes one of the ways that God restrains evil in the world—changing hearts through the gospel—and asserts that it is the only way that God restrains evil, thus ignoring the role of cultural engagement that results in good civil government. Truth is, God gave both the church and the government a role to play. Civil law may not change hearts, but it restrains heartless men who are hardened to the gospel. As Wayne Grudem points out,

“One significant way that God restrains evil in the world is through changing people’s hearts when they trust in Christ as their Savior (see 2 Cor. 5:17). But we should not turn this one way into the only way that God restrains evil in this age. God also uses civil government to restrain evil, and there is much evil that can only be restrained by the power of civil government, for there will always be many who do not trust in Christ as their Savior and many who do not fully obey him.”

Exactly. As Gregg pointed out again and again, pro-life Christians don’t have to choose between preaching the gospel and reforming culture. They can do both.

Later in the exchange, Hunter quoted verses from the major prophets without any attempt to provide exegetical support for applying them to pro-life advocates today. Cunningham, however, did provide exegetical support when he refuted Hunter’s claim that incrementalism isn’t found in the Bible. Gregg provided three specific examples of God working incrementally with people who weren’t ready for tough truths. Again, for a guy who believes he knows the Gospel and Scripture better than compromising incrementalists, Hunter demonstrated a surprising lack of biblical knowledge. Gregg really schooled him on that point.

At the end of the day, Hunter picked a fight with a pit bull and got chewed up in his own yard. This was a public-relations disaster for AHA and served to solidify its brand as being more about attacking pro-lifers than stopping abortion. If Hunter wants to fix that, he better stop grinding his ax against pro-lifers—immediately.