09 July 2013

A Mixed Bag

by Frank Turk

What I should be doing this week is publishing a "Best-Of" post so I can dedicate my time and energy to finalizing my talk for the Tulsa conference that is scheduled for next weekend (register here; donate for the support of that conference here).  I have about 120 minutes of "stuff" to say, but 55 minutes to fit it in, so pray about that for me.

What I am actually going to do today this week (thanks, DJP) is talk about a topic which, unfortunately, isn't going to go away any time soon.  The topic is Abortion.  Specifically, I want to talk about one approach to the problem of abortion which I have unfortunately been subjected to over the last 7 days.

About a year ago, at the self-same conference in Tulsa, I was introduced to the group Abolish Human Abortion.  At that time, as I understood them, they were a young and new-ish group, and they had the vim and vigor of young fellows excited about getting into full-time ministry.  For my part, I am in favor of the end of abortion.  I am in favor of saving every human life from murder whenever possible, and this most certainly falls under that conviction.  All murder is wrong.

Let me make sure I say this as clearly as possible:

All murder is wrong

That's the moral premise which under-girds any work to limit or abolish abortion.  Anyone commenting or responding after this series of posts goes live who ignores this essential fact of Christian ethics in my position is selling something unsavory.

Insofar as murder is wrong, the epidemic of murder in our nation is not from firearm use: it's from abortion.  Only one bullet in a million ever kills a human being in the United States -- but one baby in 4 is aborted every year in the United States.  Comparatively speaking, there are 130 abortions for every murder committed by firearm in the United States.  For every one child murdered outside the womb by all others means, there are 1,000 children murdered in the womb via abortion.  As a percentage of all murders, abortion outstrips every other mode of murder in the world, and in our nation.

All murder is wrong; abortion is the most-prevalent type of murder in our nation; it is wrong.  However, the unfortunate fact of abortion is that, unlike shooting someone in the face or strangling them, it is not illegal.  And therein, as they say, lies the rub.

Here's the first bit of information from the AHA website which, I think, we need to consider:

Pro-life is the expression of a moral opinion. Abolition is the expression of a moral action. When you call yourself “pro-life” you are letting people know what you think about abortion. When you call yourself an abolitionist, you are telling them what you aim to do about it.

It's sounds very rational, right?  Everything, on first blush from these guys, sounds rational.  The problem, of course, is that this statement is a story they are telling themselves to justify something else they want to say or do.

Historically, since 1973, the Pro-Life movement has been the singularly most-vocal and most-active anti-abortion lobby and on-the-ground activist movement in this cultural debate in the US, and frankly it has been strongly populated by Catholics motivated by the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae.  To say it has done nothing in the last 40 years would be fudging at best.  (for a great commentary of what they have, in fact, failed to do, listen to this episode of the Mortification of Spin) For example, since 1982, the number of abortion providers has fallen by 37%.  That didn't happen because the pro-life movement is merely a statement of opinion -- and for anyone to say otherwise is, frankly, sly at best.  The advance of partial-birth abortion laws in this country is a function of pro-life activism; the advance of limiting abortion to prior to the 20th week is a function of pro-life activism.

The problem, of course, is that none of these actions are seen by the folks at AHA as advances: they are seen as some kind of ethical syncretism is which some losses are acceptable for minor gains.  Let's see how they would say it, just to make sure:

The history of the pro-life movement has been one of gradualistic means and measures, incremental legislation, ameliorative programs, and the inclusion of exceptions to abortion along the way to its eventual total abolition. Abolitionists reject the idea that you can effectively fight evil by allowing it in some cases or doing away with it by planned incremental steps. Abolitionists reject the notion that you can ever commit a little evil in order that good may come. 

Closing 37% of all abortion clinics is not an improvement in this view: it's evil.  It's evil because it doesn't save everyone.  I have covered this reasoning elsewhere, and it hasn't improved through fermentation over time or through this current revised statement.  The idea that if all cannot be saved then saving any is cooperation with evil is illogical at best, and unbiblical at worst.

"Unbiblical?" comes a voice from the moderated peanut galley. "By Jove, man - you may have a lot of flack for AHA on other grounds, but there is no way it can be unbiblical!  They quote quite a bit of the Bible on their websites!"

Well, they should read the Bible more closely.  The problem that the Bible tosses on this question is the problem of who God saves.  See: in a world where everyone is justly condemned for their sins -- where EVERYONE is going to hell -- God does not save every person nor does God intend to save every person, in the final account.  God saves some and allows some to be damned by their own sin -- and God is not therefore unjust.  God is rather therefore Holy and Merciful in spite of allowing some to be damned.  So in the worst case, there is perhaps one example of divine holiness which does not adhere to the legalistic absolutism of the AHA website.

But I think there is a more-human, more-analogous example in the Bible which the AHA statements overlook: the body of the church.  The church is a holy thing for God (for the sake of the purists, see Eph 5:27), but it is also a mixture of wheats and weeds until the end of the final judgment (purists: Mat 13).  In God's view of it, something salvifically-necessary can be, from a human perspective, a mixed bag and still achieve what it is meant to do in this world.

Because this is true, we should be able to see that we are not bound to absolutism every time we set out to accomplish a good and useful moral end. For example, it's not wrong to invent a medicine which cures some of the victims of a disease.  More to the point, it's not wrong to pass a law to stop immoral acts even though it cannot be enforced 100% and some will still be victims of crime.  Murder is already illegal in our nation - yet people are murdered every day. That doesn't make us immoral people for supporting the laws we already have.

So my first complaint against AHA is this: it is utterly unfair toward those who, frankly, share their ultimate goals but see the social  and political methods to achieving the goals as a longer process which takes back the law in steps.  It is unfair to their past accomplishments, and unwise in assessing the moral victories of the pro-life movement.

More tomorrow.  Comments will be closed until Thursday's post, at which time you are welcome to do as you will.

UPDATED:  Oh brother.

So the objection from concerned citizens in and around AHA is this: The parable in Mat 13 is not about the church, but about the world -- so I am off the reservation.  My objection is nullified.  "WORLD!"

OK - first of all, the standard reading of that passage is that Jesus is talking about the church in the world.  If my reading is flawed, so is the reading of a boat-load of reliable and faithful men from almost every age in church history.

"But," comes the rejoinder, "Jesus says, 'world'! You wouldn't deny Jesus for the ideas of men, would you?"

Well, if that's how we're reasoning, I'm not going to listen to your "ideas of men"  because I have already heard from Jesus, and you don't sound anything like him.  How far is this discussion going to go then?  Prolly no place you will enjoy or benefit from -- so unclench from the worry over the doctrines of men.

But: I'll go you one better -- maybe 2 better: I'll utterly concede that the parable of the wheats and tares is a parable about the whole WORLD!  If the whole WORLD is a mixed bag of wheats and tares until the end of the world, and the point of the parable is that God is doing what he's doing and allows there to be a mixed bag, how can God be doing what he means to do in this WORLD! except by some kind of incremental change?

The point is that God is not afraid of the mixed bag.  In fact, the mixed bag is in some way instrumental to the plan.  There are many examples of this in Scripture: Abraham bargaining with God for Sodom; Joseph in the household of Potiphar, and then as the servant of Pharaoh; Esther marrying the pagan King; Paul's explanation of the use of the Law in Rom 7; Rahab the Harlot as an example of true faith.  Failing to see this, and to demand only absolutism as the standard of engagement, is utter nonsense.