A Pro-Life Perspective on the 2016 Presidential Election

First, an overly long introduction:

Several days ago I said on Facebook: “Ultimately, I’m more concerned with the process Christians use to come to their political conclusions, than the conclusions themselves.” To that end I’ve tried to comment on those processes – values, conscience, love of neighbor, concern for life, etc. – and avoid sharing my conclusions. But, I’ve become convicted that at some point I am being passive aggressive in my approach, hinting at my own conclusions without stating them outright. That’s not my goal – my statement above is perfectly earnest – but I think it still falls short.

With that in mind I have decided to offer my conclusion[1] on one particular issue which is a high priority to me, the issue of abortion. I am not a single issue voter, but I believe this issue to be one of the most central issues when it comes to justice. For me it is both a clear issue, and an issue which the government ought to concern itself with. It is a cultural issue to be sure, but it is also a political issue.

In offering my conclusion, I am not dismissing all other possible conclusions. Feel free to disagree. My own family (my parents on down), for as much as we agree on central beliefs and core values, have come to a range of conclusions on this topic.[2] This doesn’t diminish my respect or love for them. I’m sure the same is true in my church and among my friends – even those who are consistently pro-life. If you disagree with my conclusions I will continue to love and respect you. Still, since I love my neighbor – in this case the most vulnerable of my neighbors, and those who are the victims of systematic injustice – I feel obliged to stop hinting and just be out with it and do my best to advocate on their behalf.

The case against Hillary Clinton

This case is perhaps almost too obvious to even mention, but Hillary Clinton is pro-choice. To make matters worse she has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood – an organization that was exposed for unethical behavior and which advocates for the most extreme positions on abortion. Last year I attended a protest of Planned Parenthood[3] and I still believe that the organization should be defunded by the federal government.

Not only that, but the Democratic Party has doubled down on its support of injustice when it adopted a party position which called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment[4]. Hyde is what prevents the government from using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions. Clinton is in agreement with the DNCs position.

All of this is to say that I find the DNCs – and Clinton’s – call to care for “all children” bitterly ironic. In a year where a softening of position on abortion could have won over conservatives who are dissatisfied with Trump, Clinton moved in the opposite direction. I feel sad for pro-life Democrats. There used to be at least a small haven in the party for them – not anymore.

The case against Donald Trump

Given what was said above, many pro-lifers, including many who I deeply respect, feel that there is no other option than to vote for the only candidate who appears to have a shot at defeating her: Donald Trump.

But this alliance is a big gamble and, as I hope to demonstrate, self-defeating in the long-term.

The gamble goes as follows: We know that Clinton will appoint justices who will strike down any law limiting abortion. Trump has offered a list of judges who would be friendly to the cause. Therefore, we are morally obligated to vote for Trump.

There are several problems with this gamble and central to that is the core problem with Trump himself – his character. Trump’s character – he’s proven himself to be a bully, to be untrustworthy, to be vulgar, to be disrespectful of others – women, the disabled, foreigners – is antithetical to what it means to be pro-life. To be pro-life is to respect all people, to stand up for the vulnerable, to stand up to bullies, to speak the truth, and to be considerate. None of those characteristics apply to Trump as he has demonstrated over and over again.[5]

The second problem is his shifting position on abortion. He has been pro-choice for much of his life, even supporting partial birth abortion. During the campaign, in one horrendous week, he went through a whole range of public positions on abortion – from saying women should be punished to defending Roe v Wade. All this makes it hard to believe that Trump has any kind of actual principled position on abortion. And given his character issues above, it’s easy to conclude – even if not correctly – that his current position is one of political expediency. It was politically expedient for him to submit that list of judges so that he could “shore up” the “evangelical” vote. It was politically expedient for him to pick Pence as his running mate. Will it be politically expedient for him to actually appoint those judges should he become president?

The third problem is that many of his other positions grate against a consistently pro-life message and seem to undermine human dignity. He is draconian on immigration. He seems oblivious to issues of racial justice. He defended the use of torture. All of these issues are, in my mind, connected to the same root as the issue of life within the womb: the belief that all people are precious to God and should have their basic God-given rights defended. But my problem is not even necessarily with the positions – but who is holding and expressing those opinions. It is one thing for a candidate to say he is a “Law and Order candidate”. Fine, I like law and order. But that only works if law and order flows from a virtuous government, not from a bully president. From a bully it would certainly mean oppression and injustice.

Either the pro-lifer who supports Trump does not believe his character is as bad as it appears to be[6], or is making a bargain. He knows he wants to stop Hillary and so he is willing to go to Trump. Even given all the issues above, he is willing to make the trade. Supreme Court justices are just too important.

But I fear that this trade won’t work out for the pro-life cause in the long run.

The pro-life cause is fought on two major fronts: cultural and political. Both matter. When a pro-lifer decides to vote for Trump they are fighting the political front. Clinton is a sure loss on this front and Trump, if he is true to his word, offers a potential win – Supreme Court nominees.

But, by aligning themselves with Trump they guarantee a loss on the cultural front. They lose any moral ground. They show that you can say just about anything, or demonstrate any kind of personal character and, as long as you give lip service to pro-lifers, you can get their vote. Pro-lifers would go from those who use the political system to advocate for justice to those who are used by the political system to win elections, whose votes are simply bought with empty words. Furthermore, the rest of the culture will see the hypocrisy: You claim moral high ground on the issue of abortion but you debase yourself with a vote for Trump?

In this election we’ve already lost our political power. Let’s not also lose our prophetic voice.

A loss of our prophetic and moral voice is a long-term loss. Generally speaking, politics follows culture. Therefore a cultural loss, even if it results in a political win, will have long-term and potentially devastating consequences for the pro-life movement.

A quick note on Gary Johnson

A lot of conservatives turned off by Trump are turning to Libertarian Gary Johnson. This is understandable. On abortion, Johnson’s position is somewhat mixed. He believes that abortion should be legal up until the point of viability but he also believes that Roe v Wade overextended the reach of the federal government and that states should be able to decide individually. He supports bans on late-term abortions. He also supports mandating parental notifications for minors seeking abortion. Ironically, though he is not strictly pro-life, he might be the most pro-life candidate on the ballot. Still, Christians will have to decide whether or not supporting a candidate who believes that most abortions should remain legal can be done without violating their conscience. For me, that’s too much of a pill for me to swallow right now.

[Update 8/15]

There are two pro-life candidates of note, though both are long-shots at the time of writing this, and it is unclear whether either be on on the ballot in my state. The first is Michael Maturen of the American Solidarity Party, a political party based on Catholic Social Teaching. The second is Evan McMullin, a republican who has broken away from the party and has launched an independent bid for President. I note these two candidates only to make the reader aware of their presence (since they are no part of the vaunted two-party system they won’t likely get much media attention) and not as an endorsement. You’ll have to investigate the remainder of their platforms to understand your own political alignment.

[/ Close Update]

Where does that leave pro-life voters?

From a pro-life perspective this is election is an utter disaster. It’s simply a matter of picking your poison. I think Christian pro-life voters should seriously consider not voting for Trump or Clinton and find a third party candidate to vote for, one which will not sully their conscience. From a human perspective, it’s hard not to be despondent. But we operate from more than just a human perspective.

More than ever we need to put our trust in God and in his sovereignty.

More than ever we need to operate from a position of conscience and love.

More than ever we need to do that hard moral and cultural work of standing up for the most vulnerable.

More than ever we need to support young women in crisis.

More than ever we need to encourage young men to take responsibility for their actions.

More than ever we need to be a prophetic voice of justice for all.

More than ever we need to pray.

Our political weapons look dull and/or double-edged. But our spiritual weapons are as mighty as ever.

Notes and further reading

[1] By saying “my conclusion” I want to emphasize that this conclusion represents me and me only. I am a pastor, but I am not speaking on behalf of my church or its leadership. I expect and welcome a difference of opinion within the body of Christ and the local community. We are each beholden to our own conscience as we stand before the Judge.

[2] The best defense of a Trump vote was recently published by theologian Wayne Grudem, who I have deep respect for. Ultimately I think he is naive about Trump’s character, and I disagree with him about what a Trump presidency would likely mean for our country, but I completely agree with the process by which he came to that conclusion. But, if you Grudem’s arguments seem compelling then please read this devastating responseUpdate 10/10/2016: Wayne Grudem subsequently rescinded his support for Donald Trump here.

[3] My rational for why I attended the Planned Parenthood protest.

[4] Russell Moore on the DNCs shift in position on the Hyde Amendment.

[5] There are many, many articles which have been written about Trump’s character and I’m not going to belabor the point. The “straw that broke the camels back” for me was probably when Trump viciously went after Cruz’s wife immediately after reposting something about how he was going to make Christianity great again(!), but that was only after a long line of more fundamental problems. In addition to his character, and perhaps more fundamental, are what appears to be his core beliefs. This article has some issues, but it still makes a strong case that Trump has a lot more in common with Nietzsche than Christ.

[6] I have heard it argued that Trump has one public persona and one private persona and that the private persona is far more kind and gentle. That private persona, it is argued, it the “real Trump.” He’s brash and bombastic for political purposes. My response to that is two-fold. First, doesn’t that imply duplicity on his part and strengthen the argument against his trustworthiness? Second,. I don’t have access to private Trump and so the only judgment I can make is the one he himself presents to me. You know a tree by its fruit. You know a man by his words. His words are what is most self-condemning.

[*] The pro-life argument against Trump has been made on a couple other occasions. Here’s one if you are interested. Mere Orthodoxy.

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