The Greatest Moral Failure of Our Time

Abortion.

If you’ve known me or followed my blog for any period of time, you’ll know where I stand morally on this issue. If you’d like a recap of my views on the morality of abortion, read this article and especially its followup. Today’s post presupposes that abortion is an evil practice, and will focus on candidates’ strategies for ending it.

How Did We Get Here?

Before getting into the pragmatic considerations, I think it’s important to get a little historical perspective. Before trying to figure out how to make abortion illegal, we should understand how it came to be legal in the first place.

First of all, it is important to note that the moral debate over abortion long predates the founding of America, and religion has always played an important role. John Calvin explicitly forbade abortion for theological reasons during the 16th century. Early Christians and Jews opposed abortion, though it was an accepted practice across the Roman Empire (along with infanticide and the abandoning of unwanted newborns).

There was never a time in our nation’s history when abortion was not practiced. During the colonial period, laws regarding abortion were varied and non-specific, but for the most part, it was considered to be murder.

Abortion is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, though many conservatives (including myself) interpret the Fifth Amendment’s clause that “No person shall be deprived of life… without due process of law” to implicitly protect the life of the unborn (one of the reasons why the debate over personhood is so important). Rather, this issue, like all criminal and civil matters, was left in the hands of the states via the Tenth Amendment.

Early on, abortions were rare, restricted primarily by the widespread belief that abortion killed a living person. As the nation expanded, morality relaxed, and abortion became more prevalent. The first laws explicitly restricting abortion were passed (by state legislatures) in the 1820’s. By the end of the 19th century, the rate of abortions was decreasing. Though most states had enacted legislation regulating the practice, abortion opponents realized that laws were not enough. They were  primarily focused on education and religious conversion (an apparently effective strategy).

The tide turned back again in the early 20th century. Public sentiment began to sway in favor of abortion, helped in large part by copious amounts of money being spent on advertising by those who were getting rich off of abortions (just one of the many ways in which abortion and economics are closely related concerns). The laws on the books were largely unenforced, and fewer and fewer people spoke against the practice.

By the late 1960’s, a majority of Americans wanted legalized abortion. State after state passed legislation legalizing abortion (the first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan). Then, in 1973, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade overturned all state legislation, providing abortion on demand in all 50 states.

By that time, those advocating the right to life of America’s youngest citizens were vastly outnumbered. Though Catholics strongly opposed Roe v. Wade, few other Christians stood in the way. Even the Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions recognizing the legitimacy of abortion in some circumstances; a position that, thankfully, began to change in the 1980’s.

Over the last three decades, the abortion debate has grown increasingly heated, becoming the single most important item on any politician’s platform in the eyes of many voters.

Much of this information comes from Marvin Olasky’s book Abortion Rites, summarized and excerpted here.

What Are Our Options?

Let me be clear… I do believe it is the government’s duty to criminalize abortion. Government is necessary because evil is a reality. Government is a blessing from God intended to restrain evil (Romans 13:3-4), a category into which abortion certainly fits. But there is, as they say, more than one way to skin a cat (also evil).

Ever since the political fight over abortion hit Prime Time, most people within the Pro-Life movement have sought a Federal solution: something that would instantly make abortion illegal in all 50 states by way of Congressional legislation or conservative nominees to the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. This is the position of most within the mainstream GOP, just as it was for our last Republican President — who, by the way, was not able to make this happen despite enjoying six years with a strong Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

Ron Paul, on the other hand, advocates removing the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to rule in this matter and returning the issue to the state legislatures. He has taken flak from many conservatives for his stance on abortion. He is often accused of not being “pro-life” enough because he does not favor a federal abortion ban. It is commonly claimed (even by those who supposedly favor small government) that the states could not adequately restrain abortion; only a national solution will do.

On the contrary, claims Paul in his 2010 book Liberty Defined (my review here):

I believe it is a state-level responsibility to restrain violence against any human being… Demanding a national and only a national solution, as some do, gives credence to the very process that made abortions so prevalent. Ending nationally legalized abortions by federal court order is neither a practical answer to the problem, nor a constitutionally sound argument.

Certainly states are capable of effectively enforcing laws criminalizing violent behavior. There is no Federal law prohibiting rape or murder, but both are crimes in all 50 states. In America, if you kill somebody (who has been born), you will be prosecuted not by the United States, but by the state in which the crime took place. In fact, the only crimes prohibited by the U.S. Constitution were treason, piracy, and counterfeiting. Slavery was added to that list by the Thirteenth Amendment.

Why are we so opposed to the idea of returning jurisdiction of abortion to the states? Do we have so little confidence in our ability to govern ourselves locally?

I suspect the real reason is that we realize that in order for abortion to become illegal in all 50 states, we would have to engage in the difficult work of winning hearts and minds in the court of public opinion — something requiring much more dedication and perseverance than merely casting a vote for a candidate who claims to be pro-life. Few have the fortitude to engage in this duty, which is the fruit of generations of Americans who similarly neglected this responsibility.

It is time for us to realize that Dr. Paul is correct in agreeing with the 19th century pro-life advocates as he writes: “Legislation… will not stop all abortions. Only a truly moral society can do that.” We will never have a “truly moral society” until Christ returns, but we can reverse the moral decline of our nation, if only we realize that the solution is the Gospel, not the GOP.

Who Can We Trust?

Tactics aside, which candidates can we reliably trust to defend the unborn? Surely we aren’t just taking them at their word. After all, even Barack Obama has said (repeatedly) that his desire is to reduce the number of abortions in this country. All four GOP candidates say they oppose abortion. Which have consistent records to back that up?
Newt Gingrich — whose unrepentant serial adultery ought to cast plenty of doubt on his moral judgment — does not generally emphasize the abortion issue. Though he now says that he opposes abortion in all cases, he stated in 1995 that he supported federal funding for abortions in cases of rape, incest, and to protect the health of the mother.

Mitt Romney has similarly (and famously) changed his views on abortion. After previously supporting abortion “rights”, Romney began to describe himself as pro-life. Romney, like Paul, opposes a federal abortion ban, preferring to leave the matter to the states.

Unlike Gingrich and Romney, I do not doubt Rick Santorum’s personal convictions on this matter (though his wife’s views have certainly changed). I admire his willingness to take a stand against abortion. I just think his tactics are poor. Furthermore, I think his record of big government spending reflects a basic lack of understanding of how economics is inseparable from other ethical issues. This is evidenced by his recent defense of (and even bragging about) his vote to fund Title X family planning services. Though he says that his vote was to provide non-abortive contraceptives, the fact remains that funds are fungible, and that one of the beneficiaries was Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in America.

Ron Paul was pro-life long before it was cool. His strong convictions stem from an experience during his residency as a young OB/GYN in the 1960’s, in which he witnessed a botched abortion. The baby survived outside the womb, but was left to die by the medical personnel. This deeply troubled him, and led him to conclude that there could be “no consistent moral basis to the value of life” in a society that allowed abortion. As a libertarian physician, he urged other doctors to refuse to participate in abortion regardless of its legality, and to resume the practice of taking the Hippocratic oath, which includes a pledge not to do abortions, and which his med school graduating class (like so many others) had ignored.

From the beginning of his career as a politician, he has repeatedly asserted that personal liberty is impossible where abortion is condoned. This is most notable in his book Abortion and Liberty (available free online here), published way back in 1983, and in this 1981 short essay entitled “Being Pro-Life Is Necessary to Defend Liberty”. His strong (yet unheralded) Christian faith and track record on abortion, combined with his pragmatic, Constitutional plan to restrain violence against the unborn ought to give every lover of life and liberty cause to rally behind him.

Where Should We Go From Here?

There is no doubt in my mind that abortion is the greatest moral failure of our time. It is to our generation what slavery was to William Wilberforce’s. It is our culture’s ethical blind spot. If we hope to see the practice end in our lifetime, we must have men like Wilberforce. Principled, charismatic men with unwavering focus, willing to stand up for what they believe in the face of constant ridicule and scorn, able to recruit political allies while rallying passionate grassroots support, understanding that laws are useless to restrain evil that is not recognized as such by the people.

Sound like anyone we know?

Like Wilberforce’s struggle against the slave trade, it may take decades to win the philosophical battle. In the meantime, there are some  practical matters which do fall under the Constitutional authority of the President and Congress which have a much better chance of reducing the actual number of abortions than the GOP’s standard operating procedure. Here are a few bullet points that I think may be within reach in the next few years:

  • A majority vote in Congress combined with the President’s signature can remove the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court from ruling on something Constitutionally delegated to the States, which is much simpler than repealing Roe v. Wade or passing a constitutional amendment. Abortion would still be legal in some states, initially, but this is a good first step.
  • Legislation that would define “life” as beginning at conception and the term “person” as including all human life (such as the Sanctity of Life Act introduced by Congressman Paul in 2011200920072005, etc.) would provide immediate protection for the unborn under the Constitution without requiring an Amendment.
  • Deregulate the adoption market, making it easier to provide options to mothers with unwanted pregnancies.

For further reading, I highly recommend reading Abortion: A Rational Look at an Emotional Issue by R.C. Sproul, and Ron Paul’s chapter on abortion from Liberty Defined. This chapter is available for free online here, and I have summarized it here. It’s only a few pages, but is perhaps the most articulate, succinct moral defense of the sanctity of life beginning at conception I have ever read.

The tenth amendment is the foundation of the Constitution.”
~ Thomas Jefferson

Nominal Christianity Never Changes

It never ceases to amaze me, when reading books from earlier generations, just how similar the people and culture of that time were to those of ours. The world teaches that people today are so much more developed than our ancestors; that the problems and hardships we face are much more complicated than those faced by people two hundred years ago. Along with this, the Church often teaches that the world has gotten more wicked as time has gone on; that somehow people used to be generally much holier than they are today, because such a large percentage of the people were professing Christians.

I’ve come to believe that these are simply myths with little substance. Human nature has remained the same since the Fall. Sin is still sin, and though it may manifest itself in different ways, it’s still the same exchange of God’s Truth for a lie. The world gives people far too much credit. We really haven’t changed much, and certainly are no smarter or better than we were centuries ago. The Church gives Satan far too much credit. He’s really not that creative… he doesn’t need to be. We still fall for the same lies he’s thrown at us for thousands of years.

Listen to William Wilberforce’s description of the state of Christianity in Britain at the end of the 18th century — when the vast majority of British citizens claimed to be Christians — and see just how many similarities there are with 21st century America, where over 80% of our citizens claim to be Christians. [I’ll add a few bracketed comments and translations of my own for the benefit of those unused to reading old books.]

A very erroneous notion appears to prevail concerning the true nature of Religion. Religion, agreeably to what has been already stated, (the importance of the subject will excuse repetition) may be considered as the implantation of a vigorous and active principle; it is seated in the heart, where its authority is recognized as supreme, whence by degrees it expels whatever is opposed to it, and where it gradually brings all the affections and desires under its complete control and regulation.

But though the heart be its special residence, it may be said to possess in a degree the ubiquity of its Divine Author. Every endeavor and pursuit must acknowledge its presence; and whatever does not, or will not, or cannot receive its sacred stamp, is to be condemned as inherently defective, and is to be at once abstained from or abandoned. It is like the principle of vitality, which, animating and informing every part, lives throughout the whole of the human body, and communicates its kindly influence to the smallest and remotest fibers of the frame. [True Christianity must affect every aspect of our lives.] But the notion of Religion entertained by many among us seems altogether different. They begin indeed, in submission to her clear prohibitions, by fencing off from the field of human action, a certain district, which, though it in many parts bear fruits on which they cast a longing eye, they cannot but confess to be forbidden ground. [This is the same dualism we see today, when many professing believers have a distinction between their church life and their regular life.] They next assign to Religion a portion, larger or smaller according to whatever may be their circumstances and views, in which however she is to possess merely a qualified jurisdiction, and having so done, they conceive that without let or hindrance they have a right to range at will over the spacious remainder. Religion can claim only a stated proportion of their thoughts, and time, and fortune, and influence; and of these, or perhaps of any of them, if they make her any thing of a liberal allowance, she may well be satisfied: the rest is now their own to do what they will with; they have paid their tithes, say rather their composition, the demands of the Church are satisfied, and they may surely be permitted to enjoy what she has left without molestation or interference. [Nominal Christians abstain from the “big sins”, attend church, and tithe, but feel that this gives them the freedom to live the rest of their lives however they want.]

It is scarcely possible to state too strongly the mischief which results from this fundamental error. At the same time its consequences are so natural and obvious, that one would think it scarcely possible not to foresee that they must infallibly follow. [However, Isaiah 44:18-20 shows that deceived, nominally religious people cannot see their error.] The greatest part of human actions is considered as indifferent. If men are not chargeable with actual vices, and are decent in the discharge of their religious duties; if they do not stray into the forbidden ground, if they respect the rights of the conceded allotment, what more can be expected from them? Instead of keeping at a distance from all sin, in which alone consists our safety, they will be apt not to care how near they approach what they conceive to be the boundary line; if they have not actually passed it, there is no harm done, it is no trespass. [Nominal Christians ask how close they can get to sin without sinning.] Thus the free and active spirit of Religion is “cribbed and hemmed in;” she is checked in her disposition to expand her territory, and enlarge the circle of her influence. She must keep to her prescribed confines, and every attempt to extend them will be resisted as an encroachment.

But this is not all. Since whatever can be gained from her allotment, or whatever can be taken in from the forbidden ground, will be so much of addition to that land of liberty, where men may roam at large, free from restraint or molestation, they will of course be constantly, and almost insensibly, straightening and pressing upon the limits of the religious allotment on the one hand; and on the other, will be removing back a little farther and farther the fence which abridges them on the side of the forbidden ground. [The more professing Christians flirt with sin, the less they care that they look just like the world. They begin to feel that Christianity restrains rather than frees them.] If Religion attempt for a time to defend her frontier, she by degrees gives way. The space she occupies diminishes till it be scarcely discernible; whilst, her spirit extinguished, and her force destroyed, she is little more than the nominal possessor even of the contracted limits to which she has been avowedly reduced.

This it is to be feared is but too faithful a representation of the general state of things among ourselves. The promotion of the glory of God, and the possession of his favor, are no longer recognized as the objects of our highest regard, and most strenuous endeavors; as furnishing to us, a vigorous, habitual, and universal principle of action. We set up for ourselves: we are become our own masters. The sense of constant homage and continual service is irksome and galling to us; and we rejoice in being emancipated from it, as from a state of base and servile villainage. Thus the very tenure and condition, by which life and all its possessions are held, undergo a total change: our faculties and powers are now our own: whatever we have is regarded rather as a property than as a trust [“I am not a steward of God’s blessings. My talents, my money, my stuff, and my time belong to me. I’ve earned it!”]; or if there still exist the remembrance of some paramount claim, we are satisfied with an occasional acknowledgment of a nominal right; we pay our pepper corn, and take our estates to ourselves in full and free enjoyment.

Hence it is that so little sense of responsibility seems attached to the possession of high rank, or splendid abilities, or affluent fortunes, or other means or instruments of usefulness. [The more “stuff” people have, the harder it is for them to live as true Christians.] The instructive admonitions, “give an account of thy stewardship,“—“occupy till I come;” are forgotten. Or if it be acknowledged by some men of larger views than ordinary, that a reference is to be had to some principle superior to that of our own gratification, it is, at best, to the good of society, or to the welfare of our families: and even then the obligations resulting from these relations, are seldom enforced on us by any higher sanctions than those of family comfort, and of worldly interest or estimation. Besides; what multitudes of persons are there, people without families, in private stations, or of a retired turn, to whom they are scarcely held to apply! and what multitudes of cases to which it would be thought unnecessary scrupulosity to extend them! Accordingly we find in fact, that the generality of mankind among the higher order, in the formation of their schemes, in the selection of their studies, in the choice of their place of residence, in the employment and distribution of their time, in their thoughts, conversation, and amusements, are considered as being at liberty, if there be no actual vice, to consult in the main their own gratification. [I haven’t cheated on my wife or killed anyone. Why should it matter what I do with my time and money, what I read or watch on TV, where I work or what kind of house I live in?]

Thus the generous and wakeful spirit of Christian Benevolence, seeking and finding every where occasions for its exercise, is exploded, and a system of decent selfishness [I love this term] is avowedly established in its stead; a system scarcely more to be abjured for its impiety, than to be abhorred for its cold insensibility to the opportunities of diffusing happiness. [Decently selfish people have only a false piety. They don’t care about other people, and constantly miss opportunities to bless others.] “Have we no families, or are they provided for? Are we wealthy, and bred to no profession? Are we young and lively, and in the gaiety and vigor of youth? Surely we may be allowed to take our pleasure. We neglect no duty, we live in no vice, we do nobody any harm, and have a right to amuse ourselves. We have nothing better to do, we wish we had; our time hangs heavy on our hands for want of it.” [“I’ve put a roof over my family’s heads and food on the table. I’ve stayed out of trouble, and we aren’t hurting anybody. What else could you ask of me?”]

No man has a right to be idle—Not to speak of that great work which we all have to accomplish [Does everyone have a “great work” to accomplish? Wilberforce’s was the abolition of slavery… what’s mine?], and surely the whole attention of a short and precarious life is not more than an eternal interest may well require; where is it that in such a world as this, health and leisure and affluence may not find some ignorance to instruct, some wrong to redress, some want to supply, some misery to alleviate? Shall Ambition and Avarice never sleep? Shall they never want objects on which to fasten? Shall they be so observant to discover, so acute to discern, so eager, so patient to pursue, and shall the Benevolence of Christians want employment? [Can professing Christians really not see that they are wasting their lives on health, entertainment, and the acquisition of “stuff” when there are so many needs they could be meeting?]

Yet thus life rolls away with too many of us in a course of “shapeless idleness.” Its recreations constitute its chief business. [Check out this list of ways folks wasted time and money two hundred years ago… sound familiar?] Watering places [eating out] — the sports of the field — cards! never failing cards! [video games] — the assembly[politics] — the theater [TV and movies] — all contribute their aid—amusements are multiplied, and combined, and varied, “to fill up the void of a listless and languid life;” and by the judicious use of these different resources, there is often a kind of sober settled plan of domestic dissipation, in which with all imaginable decency year after year wears away in unprofitable vacancy. [Wow!] Even old age often finds us pacing in the same round of amusements, which our early youth had tracked out. [People back then even wasted their retirement years on amusing themselves.] Meanwhile, being conscious that we are not giving into any flagrant vice, perhaps that we are guilty of no irregularity, and it may be, that we are not neglecting the offices of Religion, we persuade ourselves that we need not be uneasy. In the main we do not fall below the general standard of morals, of the class and station to which we belong, we may therefore allow ourselves to glide down the stream without apprehension of the consequences. [So many of these people who claim to be Christians have no idea that they are lost.]

I could go on (Wilberforce’s chapter on this topic is over 100 pages long!), but by now you get the point. The good news is that the remedy for nominal Christianity is also the same today as it was in 1797, which his book was published.

“God requires to set up his throne in the heart, and to reign without a rival.”

Today, as in Wilberforce’s time, the vast majority of people claiming the title “Christian” for themselves live a life in which their practice does not match their profession. These people need to see that Christ is NOT reigning in their hearts. Who will show them if not the true believers? We do this by modeling a life of true religion, teaching them God’s Word, and correcting them… but with gentleness, not hostility. God still saves nominal Christians, too!

“So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord with a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” ~ 2 Timothy 2:22-26

Which Way Are You Sailing

I love this imagery from William Wilberforce’s book, A Practical View of Christianity, which depicts the state in which many professing Christians find themselves, if they are not true believers in the Lord Jesus Christ:

Not unlike the rival circumnavigators from Spain and Portugal, who setting out in contrary directions, found themselves in company at the very time they thought themselves farthest from each other; so the bulk of professed Christians arrive, though by a different course, almost at the very same point, and occupy nearly the same station as a set of [professed unbelievers], who also rest upon a barren faith, to whom on the first view they might be thought the most nearly opposite, and whose tenets they with reason profess to hold in peculiar detestation.

Beyond Measure

Last night’s lecture and discussion forum on the life and legacy of William Wilberforce was really great. The speaker was Regis Nicoll, from Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship. He’s a frequent contributor to the Prison Fellowship website BreakPoint (he actually wrote a recent article about the upcoming election in which he mentioned Wilberforce, which I hope you’ll check out), and has his own blog.

The quote of the night, though, was not about Wilberforce. During the Q&A session following his talk, discussion turned to what would be necessary for American Christians to have the same impact today as Wilberforce and his Clapham Sect had on England two centuries ago. In saying that the American church needs to adopt a similar approach to Wilberforce’s by encourage professing believers to read the Bible and conform their lives to it, Nicoll, an engineer by trade, applied a common engineering phrase to the situation:

“What gets measured gets done.”

What he meant is that, if churches are going to change lives, they need to be focusing on discipleship. In order to do that, we need to make sure that we have a way to measure our current discipleship efforts, and make it a priority. Churches are great, he said, at measuring things like attendance, giving, and baptisms. Is it any surprise that we see plenty of growth and stability in those areas, yet most of those sitting in our pews remain undiscipled and ineffective witnesses?

Something to think about…

Random Political Thoughts

Christine O’Donnell and the Constitution

First of all, I’ve been forcing myself to stay away from following midterm elections outside of my own city and state, so I’m sure there’s a lot of background I don’t know. Though I’ve gathered through links and status updates posted on Facebook that the Delaware race has been getting a lot of attention, I have literally not seen, read, or heard a thing about either of the candidates. I’m sure there’s more to this story than what I know, so take my comments with a grain of salt. I’m going only based on what I saw in this video, which I watched yesterday, for some reason.

To me, this video represents everything that’s wrong with politics in America. Were I a Delaware resident, there’s no way I could possibly vote for either of these candidates. Let me give just a few reasons why.

I respect Chris Coons for his honesty and consistency. Everything he says in this clip is 100% in line with his political philosophy. He doesn’t seem to have anything to hide. He has thought through the issues, and speaks with clarity on his positions and his interpretation of the Constitution. I just disagree with him on nearly everything, including his Constitutional interpretation. He’s wrong on evolution as an established fact. He’s wrong on abortion as a “right”, and his support for public funding of abortions is particularly unsettling. Also, the simple fact that there are pieces of legislation and judicial decisions “that we’ve lived with and lived under for decades” does not make them right, and does not obligate our politicians to necessarily protect and preserve them. What is a Congressperson’s job if not to represent the people and exercise their right to “alter or abolish” (in the words of the Declaration of Independence) forms of government — including former decisions by earlier generations of that same government — deemed “destructive of these ends”, which are “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”? I say this fully understanding that my interpretation of those ends is quite different from Mr. Coons’… but that’s why he could never have my vote.

Ironically, though, I fully agree with Coons on education. While I disagree that evolutionism is an established fact while creationism is (merely) a “religious doctrine”, he’s absolutely correct in that the government has every right to determine what is taught in government schools. Home, private and parochial schools exist so that parents CAN have a choice regarding the education of their children. If learning the doctrine of evolution — not to mention all the other tenets of the government’s religion of secularism — is objectionable to Christians, then maybe our children should not attend public schools. It never ceases to amaze me that Republicans, and, most recently, the current crop of “Tea Party” candidates, are so adamantly opposed to socialism in any form, yet all of their education reforms are geared toward finding solutions within our system of socialized schools. Education, after all, was nationalized long before GM and Fannie Mae…

Christine O’Donnell, on the other hand, shows a complete lack of respect for our system of government. If American-style Democracy is to work, candidates must at least be civil toward one another. Her frequent interruptions of Mr. Coons and the timekeeper display the arrogance of which Tea Party candidates are all-too-often rightly accused. Her ignorance of the Constitution and its amendments is simply embarrassing for a candidate for such high office.

And while I might be willing to give her the benefit of the doubt that she was trying to “trap” Mr. Coons into claiming that Thomas Jefferson’s famous words “separation of church & state” appear explicitly in the Constitution (they don’t), the first amendment’s establishment clause IS there, and, given Coons’ presupposition that “creationism” is a religious doctrine and not science, he was absolutely correct in his application of this clause to the topic at hand. The issue ought to have been this incorrect presupposition (“science” is a method by which truth claims — of which evolution and Creation are two — are investigated, not a group of truth claims in and of itself); questioning whether the first amendment actually says what it says is an error not worthy of the platform Ms. O’Donnell has been given.

I suppose the point I’m actually trying to get at is that the political process in America has devolved into an effort by political parties to find “electable” candidates, rather than for the people to search out the best candidate — one who will represent his or her constituency with integrity, and seek to uphold both the letter and the spirit of the Constitution. Instead of civic-minded statesmen, we end up with elected officials who are merely the winners of popularity contests.

At the risk of painting with too broad a brush, it seems the “Tea Party” is guilty of the exact crime which led to its founding. Two years ago, Barack Obama and Democrats nationwide nearly swept the elections running on a platform of “change”. Rather than lay out a specific plan of action, many candidates seem to have won elections simply by being “Not Bush” or “Not Republican”. Conservatives rightly pointed out the dangers of this, and our country is already reaping the rewards of a willfully, insufficiently-informed electorate choosing likable but unqualified leaders.

But if Christine O’Donnell is any indication (not to mention some of the candidates in our local elections), the Tea Party movement seems to be resulting in the success of candidates essentially running on a platform of “change”, though that word has been avoided. If a person’s greatest electable asset is “Not Obama” or “Not Democrat”, how is this any better for our nation?

 

"Just vote 'em out" is not the answer...

Wilberforce and the Blessings of Government

Though my cynicism toward our political process is surely evident in my writing, I want to also make it clear that I do believe that the “American Experiment” of republican government is the best form of human government yet devised. One day, the government of this world will be placed on Christ’s shoulders, and of that government — and of the peace that it brings — there will be no end (Isaiah 9:6-7). Until then, we will be governed imperfectly by corrupt human authorities. All of our leaders are sinners; this is why we must pray for them! (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

Even these imperfect forms of government exist for our good, because of God’s grace toward us. These authorities create and uphold laws which restrain much evil that men would do in the absence of government. Though there are definite biblical limits on the authority of human governors (God always reserves for himself highest authority), we are to submit to and support our leaders as much as possible (Romans 13). Where conflict exists, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), but this country was founded on principles that prevent these conflicts more than anywhere else in the world.

Over 200 years ago, William Wilberforce wrote in A Practical View of Christianity about this very thing, contrasting the merits of an admittedly imperfect British Parliamentary system with the anarchy of the French revolution:

“Consider well the superior light and advantages which we enjoy, and then appreciate the superior obligations which are imposed on us. Consider in how many cases our evil propensities are now kept from breaking forth, by the superior restraints under which vice is laid among us by positive laws, and by the amended standard of public opinion; And we may be assisted in conjecturing what force is to be assigned to these motives, by the dreadful proofs which have been lately exhibited in a neighboring country, that when their influence is withdrawn, the most atrocious crimes can be perpetrated shamelessly and in the face of day.”

I long for the day when I will live in the country of my true citizenship (Philippians 3:20), but until then I am thankful for the blessings which are afforded me by God in the nation of my earthly citizenship. I am awed by the superior advantages that we enjoy in America, and humbled by the superior obligations of government of, by, and for the people.

The greatest political obligation for American Christians continues to be our duty to pray for our leaders, and to support and submit to them in any way our conscience allows. This is something I gladly do, and will continue to do, whether Democrats, Republicans, Tea Partiers, or anyone else holds office in authority over me.

The Legacy of William Wilberforce

William Wilberforce is one of the most fascinating figures in history. A member of the British Parliament in the late 18th to early 19th century, he is certainly one of the most effective and influential politicians of all time.

Wilberforce is known primarily for his role in the abolition of slavery in the United Kingdom, and while this was his most prominent accomplishment, it was by no means his only one. I highly encourage everyone to read one (or more!) of his many biographies… you’ll be blessed! I recently reviewed a short biography by John Piper, which you can read here.

This Friday, Regis Nicoll — a columnist for Breakpoint, Salvo, and Crosswalk, as well as a Centurion in Prison Fellowship Ministries’ Wilberforce Forum — will be presenting a lecture entitled “The Legacy of William Wilberforce: Making a Difference in an Age of Moral Decay” at the Cookeville campus of Nashville State Community College. Here’s a blurb advertising this lecture:

How can Christians make a difference in a culture in moral decay? That is the question that British parliamentarian, William Wilberforce, asked over two centuries ago in a country that was the slave capital of the world. For Wilberforce the answer was the integration of his faith into his public calling for the cause of abolition and the betterment of society. Hear how the faith, commitment, and courage of one man gave millions their liberty and transformed an empire. Learn the lessons that Wilberforce holds for those engaged in the pressing issues of society today.

The lecture, presented as part of the Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture, will begin at 7:00 in Cody Hall, which is centrally located in the only building at NSCC (which is over on Neal Street). It’s scheduled to last for an hour, with a 30-minute question and answer period following. Admission is free! I hope that many of you will join me there.

I leave you today with a few quotes from the opening pages of William Wilberforce’s best known book (published in 1797), commonly known as A Practical View of Christianity but originally titled A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in This Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity. I began reading this excellent book yesterday in anticipation of Friday’s lecture!

On why he is writing to address professing Christians whose lives do not conform to Scripture:

“It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power; and that he who thinks he sees many around him, whom he esteems and loves, laboring under a fatal error, must have a cold heart, or a most confined notion of benevolence, if he could refrain from endeavoring to set them right.”

On politics and religion:

“[I allege] not only that Religion is the business of everyone, but that its advancement or decline in any country is so intimately connected with the temporal interests of society, as to render it the peculiar concern of a political man.”

On parents’ failure to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord:

“View their plan of life and their ordinary conduct; and not to speak at present of their general inattention to things of a religious nature, let us ask wherein we can discern the points of discrimination between them and professed unbelievers. In an age wherein it is confessed and lamented that infidelity abounds, do we observe in them any remarkable care to instruct their children in the principles of the faith which they profess, and to furnish them with arguments for the defense of it? They would blush, on their child’s coming out into the world, to think him defective in any branch of that knowledge, or of those accomplishments which belong to his station in life, and accordingly these are cultivated with becoming assiduity. But he is left to collect his religion as he may; the study of Christianity has formed no part of his education, and his attachment to it (where any attachment to it exists at all) is, too often, not the preference of sober reason, but merely the result of early prejudice and groundless prepossession. He was born in a Christian country, of course he is a Christian; his father was the member of the church of England, so is he. When such is the hereditary religion handed down from generation to generation, it cannot surprise us to observe young men of sense and spirit beginning to doubt altogether of the truth of the system in which they have been brought up, and ready to abandon a station which they are unable to defend. Knowing Christianity chiefly in the difficulties which it contains, and in the impossibilities which are falsely imputed to it, they fall perhaps into the company of infidels; and, as might be expected, they are shaken by frivolous objections and profane cavils [petty objections], which, had they been grounded and bottomed in reason and argument, would have passed them “as the idle wind,” and scarcely have seemed worthy of serious notice.”

On the importance of abiding in God’s Word:

“When God has of his goodness vouchsafed to grant us such abundant means of instruction in that which we are most concerned to know, how great must be the guilt, and how awful the punishment of voluntary ignorance!”

On the expectation of an easy Christian life:

“No one expects to attain to the height of learning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, without vigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance. Yet we expect to be Christians without labor, study, or inquiry.”

Our call to action:

“Great indeed are our opportunities, great also is our responsibility. Let us awaken to a true sense of our situation. We have every consideration to alarm our fears, or to animate our industry… The time of reckoning will at length arrive. And when finally summoned to the bar of God, to give an account of our stewardship, what plea can we have to urge in our defense, if we remain willingly, and obstinately ignorant of the way which leads to life, with such transcendent means of knowing it, and such urgent motives to its pursuit?”

What could be more relevant for our time?

Book Review: Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce

“Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce” by John Piper

William Wilberforce is one of my favorite historical figures, and John Piper is one of my favorite authors, so I knew I really wanted to read this book! Before I get into the review, though, I should tell you what this book is not.

It is not a full-length, detailed biography of Wilberforce. Many excellent such books exist, including the recent work by Eric Metaxas which was the companion to the 2007 movie “Amazing Grace”, which focused on Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery in Great Britain. Instead, Piper’s short biography (only 76 pages) focuses almost exclusively on the British politician’s theology, and the way his life (after his conversion to Christianity) was driven by faith. The result is a fascinating and encouraging look into the life of one of the most influential politicians of all time.

While many biographers portray Wilberforce as being singularly focused on the issue of human slavery, this is not entirely accurate. He actually listed “two great Objects” set before him by God Almighty: ending British slavery and reforming British morals. He realized that the first could not be accomplished without the second, because he knew that slavery was a surface issue. The root of slavery, as well as all other societal ills, was sin. If slavery was to be defeated, English society (and particularly it’s majority of “nominal Christians”) needed a right understanding of sin and righteousness.

Over the course of nearly five decades in Parliament, Wilberforce lobbied for one reform after another, but all the while, his primary emphasis was on evangelism. He relentlessly but winsomely sought to win his colleagues to Christ, so that those in a position to make decisions could make right ones. He was also a popular and influential writer, changing the hearts and minds of British commoners in order that they might elect good men as representatives to Parliament. He also used his considerable influence to encourage other wealthy Brits to join him in supporting international missions with their money and time.

Within the period of one man’s life, and due almost solely to his efforts, Britain was transformed from a nation completely dependent on the slave trade to the first world power to abolish it. This did not come without much resistance. Wilberforce endured personal hardship and trials of all kinds with an endurance and joy rooted firmly in Christ’s love. (Piper has explored this further in his book “The Roots of Endurance.”)

This is a great read, particularly for those who, like me, need a reminder that one person really can make a difference when his life is given completely over to God. May we all be encouraged to draw from the same root as William Wilberforce so that our lives might be exemplified by enduring joy as we submit ourselves to God’s will for our lives and for the world that He has made and cares about deeply.

Buy it here if, like me, you prefer a “real” book in your hands, or download it for free as a PDF here.