DVD on Abortion

Apropos of recent discussions (which I stopped trying to keep up with weeks ago), here is what OHS DVD has to say on the topic of abortion. This is from his lecture “Christ and the State,” from WSCAL’s annual conference, this year on the topic of Christ & Culture.

I want to focus upon abortion. I don’t have time to focus on more than one concrete issue and I think that abortion works as well as any, and it’s one about which I’m sure many of you have strong opinions, and have been involved with over the years. I would suggest that Christians must agree about abortion as a basic moral issue. I believe that given what Scripture says on a number of points that we as Christians are obligated to believe

  • that human life begins early;
  • that even from the earliest days in the womb that is a human person that is worthy of protection (and that has profound implications for the question of abortion);
  • that the church should teach this;
  • that we should encourage one another to be living in accord with this basic moral conviction.

And yet I would also say that as Christians deal with this as a political issue that we must always deal with it with that conviction in mind. In our political involvement in abortion, we are convinced that abortion should not be considered a just action.
But I would also suggest that Christians can disagree about things for which scripture is silent. Specific issues like,

  • How exactly do I vote on this issue?
  • How exactly might I legislate if I was in congress or a state legislature?
  • How exactly should I carry out my strategy of seeking to make abortion practiced no longer, or at least more rarely, in wherever it is that we live?

Here I think is a basic issue of Christian liberty, is that Christians are bound in conscience with everything that scripture says. But certainly in the Reformed tradition, for really good reason we believe that we as Christians, and particularly ministers and elders, may not burden other peoples’ consciences on issues that scripture does not address; on issues that scripture does lay out a clear course of action — that we all have to be making certain judgments about how we conduct ourselves on these issues, and that we should be very careful not to trample the conscience and the liberty of other believers.

The above quote starts at 36:20 of the linked Vimeo. If you continue listening past this point, you will hear DVD defend Christian liberty on those three questions: citizens voting for or against pro-choice candidates; legislators voting for or against a bill that would reduce, but not eliminate abortion; or Christians participating in this or that pro-life/anti-choice activity (writing, picketing, volunteering, etc).

So when Paul insists that there is a simple core to the issue (abortion should be legally classified as murder), I would agree, but in the real world, things are very rarely that simple. Prop 8 I think was a rare counterexample. DVD didn’t address the question of a bill that would completely eliminate abortion; maybe he would insist that Christians must support such a bill. But still there are questions of what does/should “completely eliminate” mean? Christians may in good conscience differ about the usual marginal cases of rape, incest, and safety of the mother.

As I recently heard somebody (DVD? I can’t remember) very well state, politics is by definition about compromise, and the church cannot be in the business of compromise. So in whatever matters undiluted, biblical truth is clear, the church should insist on that truth. But it doesn’t take long to cross into territory of politics and compromise, where the church may not bind the conscience (or exercise discipline) in favor of one form of compromise over another.

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This entry was posted in Abortion, Church and State, Culture, Culture War, Culture-of-life, David VanDrunen, Liberty, Pro-life movement, Two-kingdoms, W2K. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to DVD on Abortion

  1. Zrim says:

    DVD didn’t address the question of a bill that would completely eliminate abortion; maybe he would insist that Christians must support such a bill. But still there are questions of what does/should “completely eliminate” mean?

    Well, it could mean the precise opposite of Roe, which is to say that states mayn’t govern themselves and abortion is federally outlawed (instead of legalized) in every nook and cranny. I could be wrong, but it is my impression that lots of believers would very much favor that. I’d at once oppose such a thing while not insisting that other believers must support my opposition.

    But I wonder if those believers who would favor federal outlawing understand that they’d have to get into bed with those who don’t share their Christianity. And, if so, do they realize that not only does that preclude the idea that Christianity implies any particular political conclusion, but that they are also functional 2Kers?

  2. Paul says:

    ‘As I recently heard somebody (DVD? I can’t remember) very well state, politics is by definition about compromise’

    Horton. Though that’s not a definitional thing, that’s just to state a falsehood. In fact, I have never read that in any definition in any political philosophy book. But if horton or DVD supplied the jointly sufficient and severely necessary conditions for ‘political,’ point me to the work.

    However, the bug in the rug for you guys is that you pay lip service to Nat Law. Now, is that real or is it lip service? Nat Law, if you understand it, gives us some things we don’t compromise on. This is starting to look to me as shouting Nat Law to the Theonomists was just a diversionary tactic.

    but maybe you could help, cause this just doesn’t make sense. DVD says a Christian is *obligated* to assent to a set of propositons S; however, a Christian may vote or legislate to bring about ~S. Now, that just seems irrational. Viloating epistemic virtues like that has implications, which is another argument from nat law and virtue ethics that I’d pull from, both of which DvD seems to want to put forth for his ethic.

    “So when Paul insists that there is a simple core to the issue (abortion should be legally classified as murder), I would agree, but in the real world, things are very rarely that simple.”

    I don’t get this, that just seems like rhetoric.

    Anyway, I gave this experiment to Zrim.

    Suppose there is an island with 20 Christians on it and 20 non-Christians. 19 of the non-Christians are taken in by an argument for the criteria of personhood that has as a troublesome consequence that one of the non-Christians does not meet the criteria. So they decide to kill this guy, call him Bob. So, they put it to a vote. 19 non-Christians vote to kill, 19 Christians vote to not kill (holding to Christian teaching about man). One Christian, Ruben S., is a 2K guy, he finds it a good compromise to vote to kill Bob. What should the local church say of Ruben? What does this say of Ruben? Is Ruben morally guilty? Furthermore, in keeping with what DVD said, suppose Ruben believes, indeed is obligated to believe, that Bob is a human. What say ye of Ruben?

  3. Paul says:

    I was uncomfortable about posting here, I walked on egg shells and was distraught about whether to say anything. If something in the above offended someones’ 21 century mores, I offer this preemptive apology on behalf of my knuckle-dragging uncouth self.

  4. Paul says:

    Zrim said this about me at DGH’s blog:

    “After going round after rude round with some recently, I can’t help but wonder if you’re mistaking the Reformed confessionalists (sorry, “TR” is way too loaded for my comfort) with the self-appointed Reformed philosophers, apologists and logicians roaming the earth seeking whom they may devour. They are quite antagonistic toward the confessionalism that something like WSC or OldLife represents. But it doesn’t stop there, everyone is in their cross-hairs. The point seems to be like that of Muscle Beach: kick sand in the scrawny faces of those who cling to their confession or otherwise don’t bow the knee to the gods of logic. What they don’t seem to realize is that Paul contended as much with them as he did the super-apostles: one wants a hermetically sealed argument, the other an experience with the risen Christ (while others want signs). And it’s all theologia gloria.”

    Since that’s the a priori view on my responses here, there’s really no point to interact with anyone. So I gues I won’t be around to engage any answers to my above comments. Have fun in the Outhouse, guys.

  5. Zrim says:

    Paul said:DVD says a Christian is *obligated* to assent to a set of propositons S; however, a Christian may vote or legislate to bring about ~S. Now, that just seems irrational.

    I think this might turn on the distinction between the moral and political. Believers are personally obligated to that which is moral in faith and practice. But that doesn’t mean they are obligated to a political outlook or conclusion. So, Christian Jane mayn’t herself have an abortion, but she may vote or even make legislation contrary to this. As someone opposed both morally and politically to abortion, I’ll certainly grant that there is something obviously wrong with the sort of logic that opposes abortion morally but protects it politically (paging John Kerry). But the personal obligation a believer has is moral, not political or logical.

    Suppose there is an island with 20 Christians on it and 20 non-Christians. 19 of the non-Christians are taken in by an argument for the criteria of personhood that has as a troublesome consequence that one of the non-Christians does not meet the criteria. So they decide to kill this guy, call him Bob. So, they put it to a vote. 19 non-Christians vote to kill, 19 Christians vote to not kill (holding to Christian teaching about man). One Christian, Ruben S., is a 2K guy, he finds it a good compromise to vote to kill Bob. What should the local church say of Ruben? What does this say of Ruben? Is Ruben morally guilty? Furthermore, in keeping with what DVD said, suppose Ruben believes, indeed is obligated to believe, that Bob is a human. What say ye of Ruben?

    First, this hypothetical is obviously geared toward the abortion debate. It has that reductio ad nazium ring to it: when one says obey the tyrant he necessarily means murder people; similarly if someone deems an entity non-human it means it should be actively killed (where we get all the “pro-abortion” rhetoric from some anti-abortionists). This scenario doesn’t help those of us opposed morally and politically to abortion. It isn’t charitable to the opposing side. They may not believe an embryo is human, but it just doesn’t follow from this that they think embryos should be killed.

    Second, re Rube, the scenario is pretty absurd. My guess is that this hypothetical is intended to be in the service of saying someone who votes for a pro-choice candidate is morally culpable for the effects such policies have on in vitro life. Even so, if he should be disciplined for his vote (which seems to be the implication) then what keeps anyone else from being disciplined for a vote in favor of, say, pre-emptive war (which entails plenty of collateral death of “innocents”) or any other policy that has adverse effects on ex vitro life? If this hypothetical is going in the direction I am guessing, I wonder if the assumption is that in vitro life somehow gets the luxury of a different set of rules than ex vitro life. But, again, having an abortion seems significantly different from voting for someone who is pro-choice.

  6. RubeRad says:

    Well, I can see that some might say argue a state’s right position as (practically speaking) more likely to reduce abortion, but I don’t understand an objection to a federal ban; isn’t murder a federal offense? Can’t you go to a federal penitentiary for murder?

    Also, I don’t get your “get into bed” comment. Evangelicals in CA were overjoyed to hold hands with catholics and especially mormons on Prop 8.

  7. RubeRad says:

    I have never read that in any definition in any political philosophy book.

    Seems to me that politics is what people do when something needs to get done, and people disagree what/how. If politics fails, nothing gets done. But even if politics is not defined by compromise, certainly it sometimes/always requires compromise.

    DVD says a Christian is *obligated* to assent to a set of propositons S; however, a Christian may vote or legislate to bring about ~S. Now, that just seems irrational.

    If life were only that simple; if every vote consisted of only a single proposition. Supposing s1 and s2 are two propositions in S, and a law comes forth that included s1 and ~s2, or a candidates was running who supported s1 and ~s2, while his opponent supported s2 and ~s1?

    I assume you would affirm that every Christian is obligated to affirm that war that is not just, is not just (for some appropriate definition of “just war”). Is every Christian obliged to affirm that the war(s) in Iraq and Afghanistan are just (would you discipline a Christian for opposing our effort in Iraq as an unjust war)?

    So we have a Christian voter who properly affirms the moral principles that murder is unjust, and that unjust war is unjust. And flowing from those principles, he agrees with us that abortion is murder, and, with his conscience and in Christian liberty, he has determined that the war in Iraq is unjust. And he balances the extra babies saved and extra American and foreign lives lost if a Republican is elected, against the extra babies killed and extra American and foreign lives saved if a Democrat is elected.

    What if the three candidates available are a democrat who wants to liberalize abortions, a republican who wants to maintain the status quo, and a third party candidate who (a) is a wackjob, but staunchly opposes abortion, or (b) is not a wackjob, but nonetheless is probably not electable (and staunchly opposes abortion)? Who must the Christian vote for?

    And of course, there are races where abortion is irrelevant. Would you vote against a water board official or registrar of voters because they were pro-choice?

    What does this say of Ruben?

    I would say in this simplistic hypothetical case, rEuben would be wrong. You haven’t painted a picture where there is any compromise, any moral good balanced against Bob’s life. What if the election for Island President came down to Alice, who would kill Bob if elected, and Cal, who has a platform of declaring war on the recently-discovered tribal natives, and enslaving them (and because the shipwrecked islanders have guns, this will result in the death of every tribe-member that resists?)

  8. RubeRad says:

    But the personal obligation a believer has is moral, not political or logical.

    I don’t see why political actions are automatically amoral. As Calvinists, we’re never afraid to call sin sin (even our best works are defiled). The question is not whether political actions are or can be sinful; the question is which potentially sinful political actions are subject to conscience-binding and church discipline? None? Some? Most? All? I’m sure Paul would not say All, or even Most, but it seems as if you want to say None, even to Paul’s most simplistic hypothetical scenarios.

    My own answer is Very Few (for the set of scenarios that have ever actually happened or realistically might happen). I don’t really know history or law, but I’d go out on a limb and suggest that whichever Supreme Court Justices voted for Roe, (had they been members of churches that practiced discipline) should have been called to repentance by their shepherds.

    the confessionalism that something like WSC or OldLife represents

    Don’t forget Z, that our confessions “require of us all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.”

    BUT, you’ve had your chance to antagonize with Paul. Maybe you should stay out of the way and let me talk with him a little bit — unless he’s gone for good (for now).

  9. adam says:

    So if I’m understanding DVD’s/W2K model correctly, since Saul’s role in the stoning of Stephen was political and he didn’t himself toss stones, then he’s not guilty of the sin of murder in regard to his role in Stephen’s death? I mean, wouldn’t the same political/moral separation apply to Judas too, since his actions occured in the political sphere of the day?

    Also, is the Kennedy approach to abortion – “personally opposed,” but publicly “pro-choice” a position that synchronizes with W2K thinking?

  10. Zrim says:

    Well, I can see that some might say argue a state’s right position as (practically speaking) more likely to reduce abortion, but I don’t understand an objection to a federal ban; isn’t murder a federal offense? Can’t you go to a federal penitentiary for murder?

    Rube, that’s what Roe was all about, states’ rights. Abortion was the vehicle, but before Roe states governed themselves on this matter. Statesers aren’t given to frame this discussion in terms of “murder” but in terms of “governance.” What choicers and lifers both agree on is that the federal government should regulate this policy. Statesers (like me, who tend very much to agree with lifers that certain people don’t have the right to take the lives’ of others at will or whim) want local governments to decide. Choicers and lifers aren’t as wild about states’ rights because it means that some states may decide against their views. Statesers are satisfied with local control, even if it means local decisions don’t align with them. To a stateser, it isn’t about “may she or mayn’t she” but “who gets to decide?”

    Also, I don’t get your “get into bed” comment. Evangelicals in CA were overjoyed to hold hands with catholics and especially mormons on Prop 8.

    But I’m guessing these evangelicals were also the same ones who growl at 2K suggestions about working shoulder-to-shoulder in the common sphere with those who don’t share one’s religious devotions, or further that religious devotions don’t necessarily imply certain moral or political outlooks. Apparently, they can do it but 2Kers can’t say it. So the question is, would those overjoyed evangelicals be just as giddy about the godless prolifers or secularists for life?

    I don’t see why political actions are automatically amoral. As Calvinists, we’re never afraid to call sin sin (even our best works are defiled). The question is not whether political actions are or can be sinful; the question is which potentially sinful political actions are subject to conscience-binding and church discipline? None? Some? Most? All? I’m sure Paul would not say All, or even Most, but it seems as if you want to say None, even to Paul’s most simplistic hypothetical scenarios.

    Politics have moral dimensions to them. Politics are not amoral. But politics don’t rise to the moral level many seem to assume. I’m not saying there are no political actions that could be sinful, I’m simply looking for a satisfactory argument as to why any in our own context would be. And what I am trying to say is that before we go off half-cocked and call someone sinful for his/her politics, consider whether it’s more a matter of (relatively strong) political disagreement instead of whether the other guy is personally sinful. I understand the temptation to simply pull the sin trigger on someone with whom we strongly disagree, but if we really consider ourselves conservative maybe we’ll take more seriously what it means to exercise constraint?

    Don’t forget Z, that our confessions “require of us all lawful endeavors to preserve our own life, and the life of others.”

    But they also carve out space for liberty of conscience (WCF XX). This liberty mayn’t be used to sin. But that is the question, it seems to me: are someone’s particular political outlooks (as opposed to his personal actions) sinful? And, if so, why would some particular politics rise to the level of personal sin and others not? And if there are particular politics that are sinful shouldn’t we be seeing more political discipline going on?

  11. RubeRad says:

    Saul’s role in the stoning of Stephen

    About Saul, I doubt you’re understanding the W2K model. I would say that Saul was as guilty as a mafia boss that hires a hitman but doesn’t pull the trigger. And I think we see in the Bible that the early church did not accept him as Christian until they understood that he repented of that sin.

    political/moral separation

    I’m not arguing a political/moral separation; I’m arguing (and DVD is arguing) for a separation between moral principles (about which the bible speaks, and in which the church may bind the consciences of Christians and exercise discipline), and political strategies for achieving those moral principles (where the bible does not speak, and thus the Christian has liberty). An affirmation of liberty is in no way a denial that political actions are not potentially sinful. What Christian liberty entails is that the Christian has liberty to be wrong! In their wrongness they may well be sinning, but that sin is only paid for by Christ on the cross, not punished in this life by the church.

    “personally opposed,” but publicly “pro-choice”

    No, that’s not W2K, that’s “pro-choice” (by definition)! I think what DVD is allowing for is “personally opposed to abortion, but in some case I may vote for some pro-choice candidate or legislation because other moral criteria outweigh the abortion issue in this case”. Also, “personally opposed to abortion, but I vote differently than a Christian brother who is also opposed to abortion, because we disagree about the ‘best’ way to address the problem of abortion”.

    Ironically, DVD is defending the liberty of the most radical anti-abortionists; those who would vote against legislation to reduce but not eliminate abortion, on the principle that such legislation further legitimizes abortion and thus is an unacceptable compromise.

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