In many ways, the ground appears to be shifting beneath our feet. We are not only alive in tumultuous times, we are alive in very strange times. Given how bizarre things have become, Christians need to be reminded to zoom out and ask themselves what God might be doing. There are things going on here that don’t fit with our standard partisan paradigms.
What the President Did and Said
As has been noted in multiple ways, the president is the first president to appear at the annual March for Life in Washington. But before getting to what he said there, I want to make a point about what the mere fact of his appearance means, and it is not a point I have seen elsewhere yet. When a president does something like this, there are certain things about it that are irreversible. This move was comparable to the universal presidential approval of moving our embassy to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but which never actually got done. But then Trump went and actually did it. The simple point here is that it will not be possible for a subsequent president, however much of a ditherer he may be, to move the embassy back to Tel Aviv. And the application to the pro-life issue is this: now that Trump has broken the ice, it will not be possible for any ostensibly pro-life president to not show up. And that, all by itself, is a momentum changer.
What follows here is my (rearranged) summary of Steven Wedgeworth’s astute observations on the significance of what the president did and said. Trump grounded our opposition to abortion in the theological truth that every human life, whether born or unborn, is created in the “holy image of Almighty God.” This is a crucial theological truth intruded into the public square by none other than Donald Trump, and it is a truth that more than a few evangelical squish-leaders have trouble making. Secondly, Trump made the point that the pro-life cause for the unborn is grounded in the same right to life that everyone else has, a right that is recognized and guarded by our founding documents. Third, Trump’s appearance makes the March for Life impossible for the media to ignore. This is critical because they really want to ignore it, and have been doing so for some forty some odd years. Next, Trump was specific in targeting particular policies related to the issue. This included religious liberty issues, but he also took the fight to a global level, calling for resistance to international organizations that pressure developing nations to abandon the unborn. He also drew attention to the fact that mainstream political leaders among the Democrats are openly promoting manifest evils like late-term and post-birth abortions, and he made it plain that the pro-abortion faction is clearly demented. They have hardened their hearts, cauterized their souls, and lost their minds. And last, Trump threw his support behind “pain-capable” legislation.
Now these last two points are obviously incrementalist in their approach, and I will have more to say about that below. Just be patient.
The First Purist Concern
There are still obvious concerns. Nobody that I know of thinks that Donald Trump is an epistemologically-consistent and biblically-grounded worldview thinker. Paula White is one of his spiritual advisors, for crying out loud. But then a question arises, related to what God might be doing in all of this. However volatile and erratic he might be as an individual, why has he been doing so much more about this issue than those who talked the straight game? Why is the hypocrite outdoing the saints? It is a reasonable question. It is as though Manasseh had taken away all the high places and Jehoshaphat hadn’t. That’s not how it went down, but supposing it had?
Now an obvious objection is that he only appeared at the March for Life in order to distract attention away from impeachment. It was a cold and calculated political move. To which the appropriate answer should be so?
“And it came to pass, when Ahab heard those words, that he rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his flesh, and fasted, and lay in sackcloth, and went softly. And the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying, Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days: but in his son’s days will I bring the evil upon his house.”
1 Kings 21:27-29 (KJV)
Now Ahab was a truly wicked king. He was really bad. And there was another instance when another king, hardly a bastion of righteousness, had the fact that he was wearing sackcloth noted by the biblical writer. But in the next breath, he is threatening to take the head of Elisha.
“And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes; and he passed by upon the wall, and the people looked, and, behold, he had sackcloth within upon his flesh. Then he said, God do so and more also to me, if the head of Elisha the son of Shaphat shall stand on him this day.”
2 Kings 6:30-31 (KJV)
This is why I suspect that many Christians do not really know how the Bible evaluates political rulers. In Scripture, the final goal is never forgotten (“the high places were not removed”) while significant steps in the right direction are never ignored. Righteous rulers who fell short are described as such, and wicked rulers who do the right thing (for once) are granted some mercy. This is why Christian political activists must always remember that human perfectionism necessarily falls short of God’s perfections.
I doubt that the most ardent evangelical NeverTrumper believes him to be as bad as King Ahab was. And if God cut Ahab some slack, then what are we called to do?
Incrementalism and Another Purist Concern
I mentioned the problem of incrementalism above, and it ties in with an issue I have written about a number of times before — smashmouth incrementalism. Just type that phrase into the search bar, and see what pops up. There are a few posts in that category.
So take the pain-capable bills, or the prohibitions of late-term abortions. The concern should be obvious, and it is a legitimate concern. No thinking Christian wants to grant that it is somehow okay to kill the baby provided there is no pain. You don’t want to create a market for fetal anesthesiologists to start working in abortion mills. Support for the prohibition of abortion for pain-capable children must never be taken as a tacit approval of murder provided the victim is drugged first. And the same goes for late-term abortions. Saving a child’s life in the third trimester is not to be obtained by sacrificing all the children of the first trimester. The bottom line is never to be forgotten, which is that abortion is never okay, and that we will not cease our efforts until human abortion is outlawed, period, stop.
But getting from here to there is always a matter of incrementalism. You can be a gestational incrementalist (moving through the trimesters), or a geographical incrementalist (moving through the states), or a penal incrementalist (moving through increasingly severe penalties for the crime of abortion). None of this is to be be opposed. Run all the plays. And don’t turn away from fighting the pro-abortion forces in order to fight pro-lifers.
A few months ago, we had a presentation at New St. Andrews by some of our Idaho state legislators, who made a compelling case for a bill they were introducing that would ensure that abortion would be treated as the murder that it is. I have had concerns about earlier versions of their proposals, but I now believe they have made some needed adjustments, and I support what they are doing. But even here, the necessity of incrementalism came through. In the Q & A, they were asked about the biblical penalty for murder (e.g. death penalty for abortionists?). They were not willing to “go there,” but this kind of thing does not make their proposals fatally compromised. Just because somebody can come up with a bill that is more “hard core” than yours doesn’t mean that your bill is not genuinely pro-life.
So I am in favor of bans on late-term abortions. I support heartbeat bills. I support pain-capable bills. I support the move to outlaw all human abortion. Run all the plays. If someone introduced a bill to outlaw all abortions on Tuesdays, I would support that. Because everybody in the legislature, and their cousin, would know full well that we will be back next week with a bill about Wednesdays.
You Will Be Voting for President in Just Ten Months
And so what will you do come November?
Given what the president has been doing with regard to federal judges, given what he has done with regard to various regulations on abortion, given the two appointments he has made to the Supreme Court thus far, what are you going to do?
I was recently at a CrossPolitic event at G3 in Atlanta, waiting for them to interview my daughter Rachel. The room was jammed, but the rest of the conference was running a bit late, and so our hosts were just burning daylight, visiting with the crowd. One of the questions they asked was revelatory. They asked “how many of you did not vote for Trump in 2016, but are thinking seriously about voting for him in 2020?” Many hands went up, including mine.
In other words, in a room full of conservative Christians, many of them did not support Trump. I suspect that they did not do so for similar reasons that I had. I had no track record to go on, and his conservative rhetoric was but recently adopted, and I had all kinds of grounds for my willies. I could honestly say that I did not think that he would keep his promises. But now I cannot say that.
This means that the Democratic nominee will be guaranteed to be a hard line abortion rights advocate. And Trump will promise to give us four more years of what he has been doing, and we will have every reason to believe him this time. The choice will be binary and simple — this direction or that one?
So unless there a shake-up that changes absolutely everything, I am anticipating doing something that I don’t think I anticipated ever doing in 2015, which is to say, I will be voting for the president. This will bring a two-fold pleasure to me, two sensations that are rarely found together. I will have the sensation of doing something I believe to be righteous, in the first instance, and in the second, I will also feel like I am being very, very naughty.