I realize that many of my good friends, Roman Catholic, Anglican, evangelical, and others will not understand why I have chosen to try to find common ground with our President-Elect Barack Obama given his views on Roe v. Wade. Let me say very clearly that I disagree with Obamaâ€™s support of Roe v. Wade and his pro-choice position; however, I find disturbing the way in which Obamaâ€™s views on abortion have been misrepresented by well-meaning Christians. For example, the complexities of Obamaâ€™s reasoning for choosing to sign or not to sign Born Alive legislation have been flattened and presented in a way that paints his position in the worst possible light. If you examine Obamaâ€™s vote on this legislation, what you find is that the Illinois and Federal â€œBorn Aliveâ€ legislation had different clauses added and that the two bills were not the same legislation, which is why e.g., NARAL did not oppose the federal legislation.
Following on Fr Matthew Olverâ€™s piece posted here last night, I am pleased to present a thoughtful exchangeâ€“intended to be a conversation starter and an aid to reflectionâ€“between Neil Dhingra and Fr Will Brown on the thorny question of how Christians in the U.S. committed to â€œlifeâ€ should approach the question of voting in the presidential election next Tuesday. Neil and Will are inclined to different answers to this questionâ€“the former believing that a case can be made out for â€œpro-lifeâ€ support of Obamaâ€™s candidacy, the latter believing that this is not possible (leaving aside the question of whether or not a case for McCain can be made). But much common ground is shared by both writers, as well.
What else can and perhaps should be said? We invite your comments, and wrestling along with Neil and Will and others of us. How to move along the conversation? Is the strategic question of how to vote something about which we can reasonably disagree as Christians who do not disagree about the blight visited upon American democracy and order by the contradiction of abortion tolerated in our midst?
Lord, give us your mind and your heart, to the end of justice in our country, especially for these voiceless and silenced ones, callously killed in the name of â€œfreedomâ€ and â€œchoice.â€ Forgive us, Lord, for our own complicity in this culture of death. And give us the grace, individually and as a Community of counter-witness, to model for our nation a spirit of repentance, joined to a willingness to make amends for our sins. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Despite all the buzz in the Christian world–or more appropriately in the secular press about the Christian world–about no longer voting based on single issues (for most folks, that single issue would be or would have been abortion), there is no doubt that which direction many Christians go at the polls in November will fundamentally hinge upon their answer to the question of which party has greater respect for human life. For some, the answer is still obviously the Republican party, while for others, the movement of the Democratic party on issues that relate to the demand for abortion, as well as the policies of the Republican party on the environment and war have led them to the conclusion that it is the Democratic party that supports a more broad-based pro-life agenda. Â While many want to deny the continued importance of abortion as a political issue, I don’t believe it is becoming less important. If anything it is becoming more important as it now seems as though some Democrats at least, want to make their party safe for pro-life people.
The Wall Street Journal has an interesting write up of the Democrats rightward (or middle-ward) creep on this issue entitled “Tiptoeing to the right on abortion,” by Suzanne Sataline. Basically, the issues raised in the article have to do with the increased prominence and voice given to some pro-life democrats and to the organization Democrats for Life. Kristen Day, the executive director of of that organization put it this way:
“In 2004, we couldn’t get a word in. This time, they reached out to us,” says Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life, a six-year-old advocacy organization that sponsored a convention gathering that featured antiabortion Democratic Rep. Lincoln Davis of Tennessee. “The big tent is opening up.”
There are those who disagree with this assessment, and believe that the party is actually moving to the left in some ways (you can read about that here). But whether the movement is real or merely perceived, the reaction is certainly real and these changes are not being happily received in some quarters, as evidenced by the response of those in pro-abortion organizations. One response in particular stood out to me, that of Marjorie Signer:
“It pains me that our party holds this pro-life view,” says Marjorie Signer, a spokeswoman for the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, a national nonprofit group made up of groups from 15 denominations. “I have a big problem reducing the number” of abortions. How would that be achieved, she asks — “by cutting off access and making [abortion] impossible to get?”
Leaving aside the fact that someone would seemingly call the democratic position unequivocally pro-life despite the fact that the Democratic Party platform “strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade,” and “a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion,” I was very interested in Signer’s reaction because of the group she represents. Some of the readers of this blog may remember the fact that the Executive Council of the Episcopal Church chose to affiliate our entire denomination with this group. At General Convention 06 the Diocese of Tennessee was one of several Dioceses to introduce resolutions to remove the Episcopal Church from that organization.
This is the language and position that Ms. Signer finds so objectionable:
But it asserts that the party “also strongly supports access to comprehensive affordable family planning services and age-appropriate sex education” that “help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.” About 1.2 million abortions are performed each year in the U.S.
“This platform, for the first time, acknowledges and supports a decision to exercise choice in a different direction, to carry a child to term,” says Michael Yaki, the national platform director for the Democratic National Committee. “The core value, a woman’s right to choose, has not been compromised at all.”
This begs the question–as though there wasn’t a question before about affiliating an entire body of Christians with a lobbying group that unabashedly takes a position contrary to historic Christian teaching, and does so in a radical way–as to whether the Episcopal Church (or any of the other 15 denominations/religious groups) ought to be affiliated with an organization that believes the position of the Democratic party on Abortion is too pro-life.
Some of us here in the Diocese of Tennessee and at least three other Dioceses of the Episcopal Church were upset enough about this to submit resolutions at General Convention 2006 to rescind our membership in the RCRC. Perhaps as their ideology is shown to be out of step with even democratic orthodoxy this subject will receive a new airing. I pray so.