A Smashmouth Thought Experiment

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I really appreciate John Reasnor’s demeanor and reasonability as he seeks to take me to task over my pro-life incrementalism. There are some back-benchers in his corner who are pretty surly (but enough about Boljidar), but I think Reasnor is going out of his way to have an actual discussion, and I do appreciate it.

Reasnor says that he will let Joel McDurmon handle my questions about the seventh commandment, but the questions still remain for all that. I am concerned that if they are not careful, American Vision is going to fall between two stools. There really does appear to be something like theonomic mission drift going on, and it seems to me to be entirely possible to alienate your natural constituency without winning over any new constituencies. I am making no accusations, but I would urge caution.

Reasnor said this:

“We have to understand the difference between a just King going from town to town (thus not overnight) destroying idols, and a compromised King going town to town only tearing down a fraction of the idols he comes across.”

Which makes me wonder why Reasnor didn’t respond to my citation of Asa. He was a compromised king, perfect in all his days.

“But the high places were not taken away out of Israel: nevertheless the heart of Asa was perfect all his days” (2 Chron. 15:17).

I grant that Asa had problems—the text says that he did. But I am submitting that in this gnarly world, it should be possible for an uncompromised prophet to work with (and to praise) a compromised king. The text also says that he was perfect all his days—high praise for a man who stopped short.

Let me see if I can highlight the issue, and so here is a thought experiment. Suppose I run for governor, and I do so as an outspoken abolitionist. I agree with everything Reasnor has argued, and I argue that way myself. I get elected by some fluke, probably having to do with my plan for the tax rates, but I get elected in some red state like Idaho. That would mean that my legislature is full of standard-issue pro-lifers, of the very kind that Reasnor objects to. That means that for the first time the governor is to the right of the legislature on abortion. Still with me?

Let me say further that in my state, for the last 20 years, there are one thousand legal abortions a year, and that 900 of them happen prior to 20-weeks. The legislature passes and places on my desk a “pain-capable” bill, banning abortions after 20 weeks. If I sign it, then 100 unborn lives a year will be saved. If I refuse to go along with such compromised triage, refusing to save 100 because they wouldn’t let me save all 1,000, what have I done?

I have refused to establish a beachhead at Normandy, that’s what. And this would be culpable even if I succeeded in coming to an agreement with Reasnor that my legislature was full of pro-life temporizers. I could agree with that, but I would still sign the bill–and I would do it with a song in my heart. Of course I would issue a signing statement along with it, saying that this bill was merely a start in the right direction, and that when it comes to the dignity of all human life, it was entirely inadequate. We can do better, etc.

Boil this all down. If Reasnor were in that position as a governor, would he sign the bill or would he refuse? If he would sign it, then I have no fundamental differences with him, and we should debate and discuss the terminology we are using. If he wouldn’t sign, then I would want to move the debate over to the proposition that perfectionism paralyzes.

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Eric Stampher
Eric Stampher
4 years ago

We’ll write you in.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago

Reasnor, who I don’t know so I can’t come to a real evaluation, appears to me to be “playing dumb” to get his point across. I honestly have a hard time comprehending that he doesn’t understand this principle as deeply as he writes it. After making a list comparing Roe V Wade arguments to the 20 week abortion ban, he writes: “Notice something peculiar? When Douglas Wilson says that the compromises that led to and helped establish Roe v Wade are an example of the bad kind of compromises, why is it that the bill he is supporting is guilty… Read more »

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Heidi_storage

Sure you mean illegal resident teenager. She’s extremely well documented. Those documents just don’t confer upon her the privileges and responsibilities of being a part of American society.

Lance Roberts
Lance Roberts
4 years ago

I’ve given up on American Vision, after following them for 30 years. They have abandoned Theonomy and have embraced Libertarianism, which is no Christian doctrine. God is not a libertarian God. It’s truly sad that they used to be one of the bastions, and now they’ve been decimated with cultural compromise.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Lance Roberts

I think this is the net result of the “separation of church and state” (which itself is a failure to read properly) concept bleeding all over the country. America is seen as the nation that, at the time of its conception “got it right” and people mistakenly believe secularism is part of that “getting it right”. As a net result, the American Libertarian tends to think “well all that God stuff is excellent. I believe in it, but it shouldn’t be anywhere near the law”. Well why not? Does God separate himself from the law in the Bible? It’s basically… Read more »

Trey Mays
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Exactly. And American Vision seems to have on some level drifted to a more libertarian mindset of law while attempting to still use theonomic rhetoric, while the crux of their argument is more on the libertarianism, not the theonomy.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

But, Justin, would you be a bit keener on separation of church and state if church was taken to mean the Roman Catholic church?

Nathan James
Nathan James
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

The USA wasn’t actually secularist when founded. It was non-sectarian. I wouldn’t want to see the government establish and support any church, not the RCC, nor my own. I do want to see laws informed by godly principles. The great thing about those principles is that they are not esoteric. They are reasonable and the most basic elements are known to all.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Nathan James

I’ll disagree here and say that I would have no trouble with the government establishing and supporting my church. I used to think as you do, but the older I get the less convinced I am that it’s possible to run a government that way. If your nation isn’t overtly systemically Judeo-Christian, sin nature will make it anti-Judeo Christian. We see this with Isreal. It doesn’t matter what they do at this point, the world will hate them. At least they have control of their own country. The U.S., having only Christian influence and not Christianity itself, is probably less… Read more »

Nathan James
Nathan James
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

I’d say that the institutions of a society will corrupt very quickly without genuine Christian faith, whether those institutions are overtly, systemically Judeo-Christian or not. And, if the electorate doesn’t have a living Christian faith, how could sin-nature fail to use state-sponsorship to corrupt the church?

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Nathan James

Well I assume we agree that inevitably, being made by humans, all governments are corruptible. If the goal were an everlasting kingdom of man, you’re right my idea is quite useless indeed. I’m not suggesting that though. I’m suggesting that, given the world will inevitably turn itself against those loyal to God over time, we want to give ourselves as many tools as possible to use. Specifically barring Christianity from government and merely allowing it to inspire government takes away a tool, in exchange for nothing.

Nathan James
Nathan James
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

I don’t believe that government establishment or support of church(es) are biblically sanctioned tools.

JohnM
JohnM
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

“The U.S., having only Christian influence and not Christianity itself, is probably less than a century from overt persecution of believers. Then where do we go?”

To Heaven, where we have our citizenship.

By ” having…..Christianity itself” you would mean? Christianity is a system of government?

Trey Mays
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

I completely agree with Justin.

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

To heaven?

Jill Smith
Jill Smith
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Justin, so you would compel Jews and Catholics to pay taxes to support your church? And if your church were established, would you support preferential government hiring practices for its adherents? Would you want a system in which you must be Reformed to get a job at the post office?

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Jill Smith

lol. While I appreciate the good natured ribbing, I don’t think it’s comparable. Protestants didn’t demand that the state become secularist, they demanded to be allowed to leave it. So terrified were they of not being allowed to be left alone based on their experience with Catholicism and eventually the Church of Britain, that they accidentally made a secularist society. So in a way, this is all STILL the fault of the Catholic church not listening to Protestants hundreds of years ago. ;)

Trey Mays
4 years ago
Reply to  Lance Roberts

This has been my observation of American Vision. I don’t know the people at American Vision, so I don’t know there hearts to condemn them or cast judgment, but it has for a time appeared to me that they have mistakenly drawn a false dichotomy between libertarianism and theonomy. God’s Law does build a radically liberal society, in the classic sense of the word, with a minimal size of civil government. However, libertarianism is the worship of liberty, where liberty is an idol. I agree with Doug when he called it “theonomic mission drift.”

asdf
asdf
4 years ago

The problem that someone like Apologia is trying to deal with is a situation like Arizona’s (which is obviously the most relevant to them): 1. The law in Arizona says that abortion is not legal; it is simply not enforced due to Roe v. Wade. 2. If Roe v. Wade goes away, then abortion instantly stops in Arizona. 3. If you pass a law that says “abortion is murder except in the first five months [and the rest of a long list of circumstances]”, then if Roe goes away, abortion stays legal (just difficult) in Arizona. They point to a… Read more »

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  asdf

That’s comparing a definitive hundred lives today, vs a kinda maybe sorta thousand lives in the long run IF a series of events that’s impossible to predict happens the way you predict. You can use that sort of logic to turn down any benefit today if you really want to, but that isn’t the same as condemning the principle. You could speculate that, if we passed a full abortion ban, that X then Y then Z would happen, and then more murders would happen in the end. That isn’t a very concrete argument for why the full abortion ban is… Read more »

Nathan James
Nathan James
4 years ago
Reply to  Justin Parris

Hmmm… I’d hate to pass a bad law, when there’s a good one in place.

On the other hand, suppose you had two laws:

#1. Abortion is illegal. <– overruled by Roe v Wade
#2. Abortion after 20 weeks is illegal. <— theoretically allowed to stand by the courts.

If RvW is overturned, all you have left is a redundant law #2.

Justin Parris
Justin Parris
4 years ago
Reply to  Nathan James

And if Roe v Wade is never overturned? Do you want to take responsibility for all the lives lost? Remember that the question here isn’t merely if the 20 week abortion ban is a bad idea, but if supporting it is inherently a betrayal of the goal to save lives. Your evaluation depends on a given set of circumstances happening that may never come to pass. Then if that circumstance does come to pass, that if we manage to overturn Roe V Wade, we’ll also be unable to change this law to fit the new circumstance. Further, it requires that… Read more »

Doc B
Doc B
4 years ago
Reply to  Nathan James

Problem is, your premise #1 is not true. Abortion isn’t (was not) illegal prior to Roe v Wade. It was regulated by the states.

Nathan James
Nathan James
4 years ago
Reply to  Doc B

Looks like no one understood was I was trying to suggest.

Jack Bradley
Jack Bradley
4 years ago

“perfectionism paralyzes”. That nails it, Douglas, as does your test case.

Johnny Simmons
Johnny Simmons
4 years ago

I love AV but I’m really tired of those of us with the same general perspective on things bickering about everything anyone ever says. It feels like gravy training and click bait.

Trey Mays
4 years ago
Reply to  Johnny Simmons

I’m a supporter of American Vision is general, but I have always felt like their primary mission has been to attack and ridicule everyone that opposes their point of view, even those who would be consider on their political and theological side. They nitpick just to pick a fight. Most of their articles focus on little things they found offensive and they tend to take it as a personal affront to them and a gross (and maybe malicious) mischaracterization. I think Joel is sincere and faithful, so no personal condemnation towards him here, but most of his articles have an… Read more »

Andrew Roggow
Andrew Roggow
4 years ago

Has anyone seen these articles on Reuters about the sale of human tissue donated for science and medical purposes? It seems to me that if enough concern could be fomented about this, a bill could be proposed which would simply require a standard tracking process. And while we are at it, lets make sure to write up the bill such that it just happens to apply to anyone selling tissue – including Planned Parenthood. Once this is done, PP can either fully admit they are selling human fetuses (which is illegal) or disobey the tracking law. Either way they would… Read more »

Trey Mays
4 years ago

I have really appreciated this back and forth between y’all. I think it’s a much-needed debate if Christian cultural reformation is going to be obediently successful to the plain teaching of the whole counsel of Scripture.

Zachary Hurt
Zachary Hurt
4 years ago

Reasnor’s argument fails on the weakness of his analogy between the compromises that led to Roe and Doug’s allegedly compromised willingness to support the 20-week ban. The two are in no way analogous because while the pre-Roe compromises allowed for some or more abortions where FEWER OR NONE were allowed before, “compromises” like the 20-week ban prohibit abortions that WERE allowed before. To analogize, the pre-Roe compromises that Reasnor cites are like Chamberlin’s foreign policy — giving away the Sudetenland and Austria to preserve Poland; becoming complicit in some evil in an attempt to prevent greater evil. The 20-week ban,… Read more »

bethyada
bethyada
4 years ago

It is good to see this argument move beyond whether an incremental approach is acceptable (it is), to the nature of the increment. Is it a true increment or not and are the exceptions just allowing the camel’s head in the tent. I find that I can agree with Reasoner’s first paragraph and first summary paragraph. The one thing that I believe Reasoner fails to appreciate is trajectory. Direction matters. And many comparisons are false because they compare the photographs and not the video. Justin’s illustration is quite apt. Roe sort to increase access, 20 week limits seek to decrease… Read more »

JP Stewart
JP Stewart
4 years ago
Reply to  bethyada

“It is good to see this argument move beyond whether an incremental approach is acceptable”

I hope so. Unless you’re a violent revolutionary, that’s the only approach we can take.

Matthew Jackson
Matthew Jackson
4 years ago

To Douglas Wilson: When was the last time that you have ever been to an abortion mill where the babies are actually being murdered? How much time have you actually spent protesting abortion at an abortion mill?

Barnie
Barnie
4 years ago

Hoppe on the “bad neighbor” problem, among other things. The current American Christian church virtually defines its role in the world as exacerbating, subsidizing, and defending bad neighbor problems. Leadership of every major denomination are waging culture war against bourgeoisie middle-America. American men need to stop tithing to these churches and supporting their charities and “missions”
work. http://www.unz.com/article/libertarianism-the-alt-right-and-antifa/

demosthenes1d
demosthenes1d
4 years ago
Reply to  Barnie

I hope you stick around just to drop the occassional great link. I think hoppe’s governing philosophy is incoherent to the point of insanity, but there is a lot of gold in that talk.

Isaac
Isaac
4 years ago

Doug, it seems to me that your thought experiment slightly misses Reasnor’s position. I hesitate to speak for him, but I actually think he would (and probably will) say that he would sign the bill. But in so signing, he isn’t pushing for or supporting the efforts towards the passage of a compromised bill. And THAT is the issue. To simply sign a bill and then call for the complete abolition of the practice isn’t the same thing as getting into office and campaigning for the passage of a compromised bill. To go back to his original analogy of personal… Read more »

LeRoy Whitman
LeRoy Whitman
4 years ago

OF COURSE. But that is “not the question.” The question Abolitionists have raised is: Why won’t pro-lifers press for, and why do they actively work against, the actual Ending of human abortion / murder of preborn children. It makes me throw up in my mouth a little that when the real Elephant in the room is finally recognized, some will start discussing “what type of elephant is it?”, ad nauseum PURE DISCUSSION. (As a result of my stance, on principle!, I will not be engaging in further comments here. Hear me!

Travis M Childers
Travis M Childers
4 years ago

I would hope that Governor Wilson would issue a statement that went something like this: “Citizens of the great state of Idaho, I sign this bill today for one reason only–because it has potential to save some unborn lives in Idaho. But please understand my position clearly: this bill is insufficient, and the legislature of this state has failed the people of this state, particularly those unborn Idahoans, by sending me a bill that does a little when they should have sent me a bill that does much. By focusing our attentions on this limited-reach bill, we have wasted time… Read more »

Daniel Fisher
Daniel Fisher
4 years ago

SINK THE LUSITANIA! Pastor Wilson, may I address the military metaphors? You have suggested that the 20-week ban is akin to establishing a beachhead at Normandy. Reasnor’s position would see it more akin to bombing Pearl Harbor or sinking the Lusitania. Seeing elements of truth in both of your cases, may I humbly suggest a more apt metaphor to be the Doolittle raid? Specifically: He is arguing that, if you as the governor signed this 20-week abortion ban, there would still be 1,000 abortions performed each year after that. Women will simply have to be quicker to get theirs in… Read more »

Scott Herndon
4 years ago

Except Idaho already passed their own pan-capable, actually 22 week bill, in 2011, and it was first enjoined in 2011 and then ruled unconstitutional by the federal district court of Idaho in 2013 affirmed unconstitutional by the 9th circuit in 2015 and is thus not enforced in the 9 western states. So, until we exercise the principle of defying the courts we really get nowhere, and so we might as well, if we are going to defy courts, just defy them with complete abolition. As governor of Idaho, one could call the legislature into special session to take up an… Read more »

Tim Wilcoxson
Tim Wilcoxson
4 years ago

I have the feeling this is something that Doug Wilson is going to write add to his “Retractiones.” The 2 Chron. 15:17 refers to the fact that despite the incompleteness of Asa’s actions his heart was whole-hearted or complete toward the Lord. This is, of course, not a commendation of the incompleteness of his actions as King, but rather redactor expressing the divine pleasure in the man while still importantly noting his deficiency as King. This is hardly grounds for codified moral compromise over the lives of helpless human beings who are presently being led to the slaughter. If Asa… Read more »