Christians can be pragmatic in politics. The church cannot. It must proclaim the truth. “Thus, saith the Lord,” is not open for discussion or compromise. The unborn child is human and made in the Image of God. Thus, to kill the unborn child is to commit a homicide. The church must be unambiguous on this—it is a moral teaching backed with Scripture and the historical example of the church since the Didache.
Speaking truth into the culture and politics of modern America is a task of the church. It should not shrink from its prophetic duty. The church should avoid (except in rare instances) specific policy proposals—the Bible is not a manual telling the Christian what the tariff should be on imports from China nor the right healthcare policy nor how much the US should spend on defense in FY 2023. The church does its job best when it focuses on proclaiming absolutes—these universal moral principles.
How the Christian applies these absolute moral teachings to politics is open for debate. This is the point we shift from absolute moral teachings into the practical application. The present debate over incremental pro-life laws or immediate abortion abolition illustrates the dangers of absolutizing political approaches.
It is not necessarily wrong to seek the abolition of abortion through incremental restrictions or through rapid abolition. Both approaches must be examined on their merits. This process would include how the approach best honors the moral principle (Biblical evidence) and then judging how each approach accomplish the goal—saving lives. This process must reckon with one critical fact: man is fallen.
The Christian operates in a fallen world. This means politics is fallen because it involves sinners. This means politics will never be perfect. Politics will always be challenging, frustrating, and disappointing.
As Otto von Bismarck wisely observed, “Policy is the art of the possible, the science of the relative.”
In other words, historical conditions and the nature of humanity constrain the policy choices open to the politician.
Since in America, most individuals engage in politics, these policy constraints of history, systems, law, and circumstance confront the citizen. These constraints arise not only in the issues debated but also in the politicians running for office. As Henry Kissinger noted, a nation’s history limits the options an American president can pursue. We can extend that to the voter—for a voter’s options are limited by the historical circumstance of our time and place.
American evangelical Christianity does not do well with such ambiguity. With Puritan influences on politics, evangelicals prefer attempts to immanentize the eschaton. When thwarted in such political enterprises to bring a utopia, there is a desire to virtue signal among some evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Christians must resist this pietistic impulse. Politics is about creating order that “rewards the good” and “punishes evil.” This will not always result in the ideal. For example, how should we understand the New Testament teaching on divorce?
In Matthew 19:8 Jesus says, “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.”
What does this mean? Jesus affirms that God’s preferred design for marriage was that there be no divorce. Nevertheless, Moses operating under divine inspiration created a divorce procedure for Israel. How do we deal with this? We have a few options.
First, we can dismiss Moses as doing something outside of God’s command and thereby divorce for Israel as being sinful. This seems contrary to everything we know about Moses and the Law. Second, we could say that Christ’s command supersedes Moses law and leave it at that.
But why leave it at that? Perhaps, we can say that Christ’s teaching about divorce is binding on the Christian but nevertheless God allows government a greater leeway on an issue like divorce than He grants the Church? This seems to be supported by Moses’ action and Christ’s specific words–because of the hardness of the people’s hearts.
Such a view would create a system where the Church prohibits and disciplines divorce among its members and where the state could erect a system to discourage divorce but allows limited occasions for divorce because it recognizes that society is composed of fallen, unredeemed people as well as saints.
This preserves the moral clarity of the church and helps the state to create order among the people. (One can easily pursue a study of how governing unsaved people like they were saints could and would naturally lead to disorders that would harm not only them but the proclamation of the Gospel.)
Now, this type of approach is unlikely to please anyone on either side of the abortion abolition debate. Yet, it is the correct approach. For example, it is folly to attempt to apply most legal precepts of ancient Israel, like say immigration, to contemporary nation-states. We can glean general principles like Prof. James Hoffmeier does in his excellent book The Immigration Crisis: Immigrants, Aliens, and the Bible, however, our situation is far different than antiquity. As Hoffmeier explains, in ancient Israel certain types of aliens were protected from usury and others were not. This seems unworkable today in that we prohibit usury (though that is increasingly debatable) and would not allow anyone within our borders (legal or illegal) to face such exploitation. Thus, immigration rules in ancient Israel provide only a limited guide to our present policy debates. Our present laws, systems, and practices matter too—these constrain our possibilities.
Returning to abortion abolition, the current debate is not about incremental or absolutist positions. The recent kerfuffle over the Louisiana abortion law boils down to whether an unborn child should enjoy the same protections as a post-birth child. Does the fetus have a claim to the Equal Protection of the Laws?
The church should unambiguously declare that the unborn child is a human being who must be protected. This is the principle at issue—an issue that is clearly established as a biblical teaching that is not open for further nuance.
Don’t let Big Eva Elites change the abortion debate. It is not about incrementalism vs. abolition. It is about the personhood of the unborn child and the recognition that the unborn child deserves the Equal Protection of the Laws. The Church must proclaim this. It is the prophetic word the world needs. And this is how the Southern Baptist Convention failed. Since the ERLC attacked this very principle by attacking the Louisiana law, the church has now muddled this clear moral imperative.
We cannot compromise on the clear teaching that the unborn child deserves the protection of law.
The right way to accomplish that we can debate.