19 March 2009

Second thoughts

During last year's presidential election a number of prominent evangelicals openly aligned themselves with Barack Obama's campaign, claiming, somewhat implausibly, to have succeeded in toning down the Democratic Party's pro-abortion position and to have moved the future president towards an abortion reduction strategy — all of this while claiming the prophetic mantle. As readers of this blog know, I myself was sceptical of these claims, persuaded that these well-intended Christians had allowed themselves to be used for partisan political purposes while receiving little if anything of substance in the exchange.

One of these pro-Obama leaders, ethicist David P. Gushee, is now having second thoughts, as expressed here: Mr. President, we need more than lip service. Gushee writes:

Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused.

But I do confess that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support.

But this kind of calculation is precisely what has gotten Christian political activists in trouble in the past, not just for 40 years but for 1,600 years. We gain access to Caesar in order to affect policy; we hold onto access even if it involves compromising some of what we want in policy; in the end, we can easily forget what policies we were after in the first place. I think this definitely happened to the Christian right. It doesn't need to be repeated by the Christian center or left.

Once again, the danger is that, in our efforts to transform the world, we ourselves will be remade into its image. Gushee is perhaps more clear-seeing about this than some of his associates surrounding the new president who have refrained from criticizing him, even when this is obviously called for. Let us hope Obama will read and heed Gushee's frustrated plea for action.

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