Democracy, Christianity, abortion

Wednesday night’s post by Heather Cox Richardson (you should read it) illustrates the central problematic in American politics: the alliance between fascist-leaning politics and selected conservative Christian values pertaining to sex.

With my background, I can see clearly that antipathy toward abortion always has been and always must be a feature of authentic Christian faith. The idea of “sexual freedom” as the liberty to pursue one’s own pleasure or fulfillment, and that the conception of a child out of that pleasure may be seen as an inconvenience, or an obstruction to one’s own welfare, such that one has an inherent human right to abort an unwanted pregnancy, contradicts the self-giving love that is right at the heart of the Christian understanding of the character of God and the essence of the Christian life.

But I am also persuaded that the secular state has no right to encode religious conviction in law, no right to declare that people may engage in sex only for the purpose of modeling the self-giving love revealed by Jesus Christ, and before him by the Israelite prophets, as the nature of God. The state does have the responsibility of protecting human life, but when that life begins is a complex question. Some Christians hold, on grounds that are not biblical but which they support with both philosophical and theological arguments (and in their Catholic renderings, at least, these arguments are cogent and powerful), that it begins at “conception”; but that remains a debatable point, and not a point on which the state has the right or responsibility to decree an answer.

My own belief is that the state can and should restrict (not absolutely, but effectively) abortion beyond some point in pregnancy—perhaps after the first trimester, certainly before the third; but both the scientific questions and the constitutional/legal questions around such legislation are complex, so rigidity and severity are inappropriate. A lot of deference to medical professionals and to the involved individuals (especially the women) is appropriate. And it is far more important to legislate the creation and maintenance of a social system that will make it possible and even rewarding for parents to bring children into the world and raise them.

I can also see clearly that rejection and condemnation of gay and trans people has a long tradition in Christianity, and can be and has been connected with the Jewish and Christian affirmation of families that are based on the union of one man and one woman who commit to lifelong faithfulness to each other and the children of their union in imitation of the faithful love of God.

But I now also see clearly that, unlike the pro-life imperative, rejection and condemnation of gay and trans people is even more deeply rooted in pre-Christian, sub-Christian, and ultimately anti-Christian taboo and prejudice, and that it depends for its survival on the denial of the truth—clearly established as fact by modern science—that not every human person is straight or capable of straightness.

The further question of whether a Christian who is gay or trans should live a life of denying their sexuality or fulfilling it is a religious question, answered differently by traditionalist and progressive Christians. The secular state has no business whatsoever intervening in that decision and cannot permit discrimination in the public sphere on the basis of individuals’ answers to that question: they have the right to answer it for themselves.

The central problem in American politics, then, is that the forces of oligarchy, patriarchy, and plutocracy discovered—and not for the first time in the 1970s, it goes back much further—that they can gain and wield power, contrary to the interests of the majority of the people, if and only if they somehow establish in the minds of sufficient numbers of Christian people the lie that Christianity supports their cause. This is why slavery endured decades longer in the USA than in any other North Atlantic nation and was abolished only through a bloody civil war.

And they discovered—this is the new thing in the last fifty years—that they maintain their control of Christian voters most effectively by loudly mouthing (without really believing in) anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ slogans. Then they discovered that they could maintain their hold over these Christian allies only by encoding those slogans in law either through legislation or through jurisprudence, which meant either gerrymandering legislatures or cramming right-wing judges into the court system.

This is how traditionalist Christianity in America became allied with democracy-subverting, fascist-leaning politics.

The way back not easy, because the anti-abortion and anti-nontraditional-family imperatives retain their plausibility for many millions of Christians who otherwise would have no tolerance for the blatant immorality that now characterizes the MAGA Republican party. Progressive/liberal Christians are and will be mostly anti-fascist, anti-racist, and inclusive. But from where I sit, I see the realization spreading in the evangelical world that rejection of LGBTQ people is antithetical to Christian faith and life. Pastors and professors—the people who have studied and prayed the longest and hardest—are already there; the greatest resistance is among people who are merely cultural believers and people who are fervent but not learned in their faith.

The danger is that the MAGA movement—whether led by Trump himself or by Ron DeSantis or someone else—may, despite its failure to do so in 2020 and 2022, gain sufficient executive and legislative power in 2024 to be able to establish one-party rule by further corrupting the electoral system. There can now be no doubt that if we give them the power to destroy democracy in America, they will do so. Will sufficient numbers of conservative and centrist Christians abandon the MAGA deceptions in time to prevent such an outcome in 2024? I think so. But it is far too close a call. The emotional appeal of the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ propaganda is visceral and powerful.

Christians of my variety, unlike more left-wing Christians and (apparently) secular people like Heather Cox Richardson and many Democratic politicians, will never be able to be gung-ho pro-choice in ways that seem to verge on celebrating abortion as a good thing. We have an easier time with Bill Clinton’s old slogan: “safe, legal, and rare.” But what we really think is: “always tragic, usually immoral, and, all things considered, not a matter best managed through coercive state power.”

But given a choice between “pro-life” politicians using abortion as a trick for gaining control of religious voters to the end of establishing a fascist-leaning (religio-political, Christian nationalist) regime, and uncritically “pro-choice” secular politicians committed to preserving a regime that will acknowledge everyone’s right to live their life in either Christian or non-Christian ways, we will side emphatically and unambiguously with the latter.

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