So I wrote this piece a few days ago, and it has engendered some responses. The best one I have seen was offered up by Toby Sumpter, with which I entirely agree. In addition to what Toby said, allow me to make just a few additional, scattered observations.
I have been ardently pro-life from the moment I first knew what the issue was. My wife and I were instrumental in starting the crisis pregnancy center here in Moscow. When abortions were still being done here in town, I picketed the clinic that performed them, and I have been arrested at a clinic in Spokane. I have preached on it, and written on it over the course of many years. Right-to-life has been the cornerstone issue of my political involvement for all the decades of my adult life. Not to overstate the case, but . . . “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Gal. 6:17).
Now in McDurmon’s and Reasnor’s response to my piece they rejected, quite rightly, any approach whatever that concluded with “and after that you can kill the baby.” For not one moment in all these years have I countenanced that kind of thinking. After that, we demand the next thing.
There is a species of incrementalism—one suspects—that would be willing to quit the fight once we have an America that had no huge abortion mills, but morning after pills were the norm, and babies with the misfortune of having a rapist father were still fair game. That kind of tepid incrementalism ought never to be defended. Unprincipled compromises ought not to have principled defenders.
But flip it around. I mentioned the Gramscian cultural Marxists. When they demand that 10 million acres be set aside as a wilderness area, not one person in America believes that they think something like “and outside that area, you can cut down all the trees and lay asphalt a foot thick.” No—everyone knows that they are going to be back next year demanding more acreage, still in the millions. We trust them to act in accordance with their stated convictions. And in that trust, they have not let us down.
Impatient abolitionists appear not to trust any incrementalists, and in a number of cases I understand why. But, as Toby points out, we are all incrementalists. McDurmon and Reasnor distinguish their position from “overnightism.” Yes, exactly. Can we talk?
If someone has compromise in his heart, then geographical incrementalism (approved by McDurmon and Reasnor) could be just as problematic as that posed by “after twenty weeks” legislation. If there is an incipient permission to kill babies prior to twenty weeks in the latter, then how is the former not incipient permission to kill babies on the basis of longitude and latitude? And after that, “you can kill the babies conceived in New York State.” No to all of that kind of compromise. But the compromise is always in the heart, and not in the nature of the increment. Our reply should sound like Nancy Pelosi on gun control. And after that we will be back, demanding more.
So why did I write my piece? I was responding to what I regarded as some rhetorical missteps in our own circles. If you sow the wind, it is possible that you might well reap the whirlwind. There is at the very least a strong temptation contained within the term abolitionism, and I don’t think there is nearly enough awareness of the possible problem. So there I was, raising awareness.
Impatience is the hallmark of revolutionaries, not reformers. But I only want to be an incrementalist the same way that yeast works through the loaf incrementally. A year or so ago I got a request that I sign on to a petition for abolishing abortion in Idaho. I read it, thought it was poorly written and unbiblically draconian, and so I begged off. Next thing I knew there was an Internet agitation threatening to have our church picketed. Why picket abortion mills when you can picket “strategically inadequate” pro-life churches? That is the kind of impatience I am concerned about.
The historian Christopher Dawson once said that the Christian church lives in the light of eternity and can afford to be patient. Now I know that patience can look like compromise, and compromise can pretend to be patience. But there is a difference.