I’m Just Asking

One of the more vivid memories I have upon exiting broad secularism and entering the funda-evangelical world in the early 1990s was attending a small Bible study in the little IFCA church. Like many former evangelicals will attest, not much happened in the way of actual Bible study. There were plenty of Bibles in hand, to be sure, and they were cracked open before every attendant. But discussion was more along the lines of glorified socializing. There was plenty of sentimentality about the inerrancy of the Bible, but a tutored understanding what it said was another matter. And the better part of one session was spent on the politics of abortion, initiated by one bleary-eyed young man who informed us of his eighty-fourth letter to the Editor on the evils of legalized abortion. High fives and “amens” all around.

The reason I recall this so vividly is that it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I had backed my way into a tradition that really did seem to think that Christian faith implied very particular politics. Whatever else having faith in the risen Christ meant it also included, evidently, a very explicit and pointed political opposition to certain legal decisions that transpired in the early 1970s. Being rather politically agnostic on this score, this apparent baptizing of politics struck me as very odd to say the least. Why were the liberal mainliners off the reservation and squarely in social gospel no-man’s-land for linking up Christian faith to particular politics while the fundamentalists were perfectly in line for doing the same thing? To the extent that both could be understood as being under the broad American evangelical rubric, it may be that this was a case of evangelicals fighting over whose politics get heaven’s nod. Jerry Falwell meets MLK. In other words, socio-political gospel is fine so long as it is the correct one.

Be that as it may, the ethos of the political gospel of the pro-life movement that has been uncritically embraced—even within otherwise conservative Reformed churches—seems to have waned in recent years amongst the evangelicals. One still hears from time to time something of it, yet not with the sort of fervor one used to. But rightist social gospelers, take heart. For Ray Comfort has recently picked up on the signature politics and has, without the star power help of Kirk Cameron this go around, cobbled together what giddy evangelicals like John Piper are giving their “unflinching, joyful, trembling Yes” to. (Is there no end to affect rolling down like a mighty river?) In typical Comfort style, it amounts to the man-on-the-street rapid firing questions designed to lead respondents to desired conclusions and for a two-fold effect: make them look like dim-witted and hell-bound sloths and Comfort look like a rock star.

At the risk of being politically incorrect, I do have some rhetorical questions of my own for Comfort and any who inclined to give two thumbs up to the curiously dubbed “award-winning documentary.” Is it really wise to appeal to the collective fear and loathing of 21st century Americans to win an argument and look totally awesome? Is it prudent or reckless to draw parallels between the policies of mid-20th century Germany and the jurisprudence of late-20th centuryAmerica? Can you concede that such incendiary suggestions bear at least some responsibility for zealots gunning down doctors? Can you see how some might think your emotional and sensational arguments actually serve to undermine a more serious and sober effort to aid our weaker and defenseless neighbors?

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This entry was posted in Abortion, Culture, Culture War, evangelicals, Pro-life movement, Ray Comfort, Video. Bookmark the permalink.

31 Responses to I’m Just Asking

  1. "Michael Mann" says:

    He stole that “ask dumb people questions” schtick from Jay Leno.
    It would have been just as easy to interview extreme evangelicals to make them look dangerous. And unreflective, like people who believe convincing people is that easy, and that the camera had no effect on the answers they gave.
    Can we call it what it is? Propaganda, right? But propaganda is OK when it’s our propaganda? It’s for a good cause after all.
    Honestly? I think we have the pot calling the kettle black. Not on the abortion issue in particular, but on the implicit idea that “those guys” just don’t think things through, and are destined to repeat history they haven’t learned.
    Am I crabby tonight?

  2. Richard says:

    No, not crabby, I got the same impression from hearing about the other pic, “Undivided,” which was supposed to have sent goose bumps down the spines of “family-integrated church” types. Why is it we look like poor imitations of Michael Moore?

  3. "Michael Mann" says:

    Right, Richard. Michael Moore is very skilled at doing propaganda. Evangelicals? They count on their audience being ecstatic for just being on the “right” side.

  4. Zrim says:

    MM, if you’re crabby then I wonder what that makes me.

    Richard, I think it’s “Divided,” isn’t it? But speaking of homseschoolers, do Reformed/Presbyterians ever realize they talk about public schooling the way Baptists talk about beer?

  5. John Yeazel says:

    Definition of propaganda: 1. the organized dissemination of information, allegations, etc, to assist or damage the cause of a government, movement, etc

    “Propaganda is a soft weapon; hold it in your hands too long, and it will move about like a snake, and strike the other way.”

    This is why revivals don’t really work- you get an emotional reaction rather than a deliberate and thoughtful one over time. The ordinary means of grace work better when we are diligent in using these means. It causes us to persevere in the faith too-even through all our failures and sins. The only way to beat our sin and God’s wrath towards are sin is to submit to his means. And God never forces us to do this.

    The mini-documentary did show the extent and depth of our sin and that even the most admittedly God haters (neo-nazi’s) really don’t believe what they so vocally proclaim.

  6. John Yeazel says:

    schtick? the context in which you used that word makes me wonder. Why is it I feeeeel a bit undone in such a humorous and entertaining way?

  7. John Yeazel says:

    That is, neo-nazi’s with 12 inch long spiked purple mohawks. For some reason I really got a kick out of that guy.

  8. "Michael Mann" says:

    “The ordinary means of grace work better when we are diligent in using these means.”
    John, I don’t think evangelicals much believe in the ordinary means of grace. Strictly from observing their behavior, they appear to have a stronger belief in political and propagandistic means. A question I’ve been mulling over for some time is whether they really believe in the Apostle’s Creed. As incredible as that sounds, can they meaningfully say they believe in the holy Catholic church? Believing in the church means more than believing it exists – it entails a belief in its jurisdiction and the efficacy of preaching, corporate worship, and the sacraments. It think it’s easier to make the argument that they don’t believe in such things than that they do.

  9. Zrim says:

    MM, in my experience evangelicals choke literally and otherwise on believing in “the holy catholic church” for two reasons: first because they are anti-Catholic and second because they are anti-institutional.

  10. John Yeazel says:

    The issue of the church gets convoluted in people’s minds pretty easily. There is a fear of becoming “religious” and “passive” in our approach to God. Talk of transformation and quick fixes is what appeals to our fallen natures. And some people’s conversion experiences are pretty remarkable. That is much more attractive then trying to figure out doctrine from scripture and depending on Word and Sacrament for spiritual health and growth. It took a long time to convince me that Church, Word and Sacrament is what the scriptures actually taught. It was the fact that my transformational (read: pietistic) techniques were not really doing anything to transform my sinful behaviour that made me give in to the Church, Word and Sacrament approach. And I still struggle with my sin. But now I have a better handle on why I do and a better way of dealing with it.

  11. RubeRad says:

    So after seeing the vid, I’d say it is 3/4 good. It’s like two good videos, poorly spliced together. All the Holocaust/Abortion stuff is purely Natural Law argumentation (though mentioning the commandments). Comfort even begins the whole thing with “I’m Jewish…”. If you took out the law/gospel evangelism segment near the end, you might never realize Comfort is Christian instead of Jewish.

    And to give the benefit of the doubt to a guy who has a zeal without 2K knowledge, Comfort doesn’t even try to make a connection between Christian evangelism and anti-abortion activism. That evangelism segment is just sitting in there near the end, with no connection to the video around it. It’s like Comfort realizes it would be bad to connect those together, but the gospel is so important, he has to tack it on there anyways.

  12. RubeRad says:

    However, what was the point of his “would you kill Hitler’s mother” questions? Isn’t that pretty much the same as “would you tell Hitler’s mother to have an abortion?” and totally undercuts his desire to prove there is no valid justification for abortion?

  13. Bill says:

    Seriously? I think that’s an EXCELLENT imitation of Michael Moore. Possibly even better than Moore. Are you just worried that Comfort doesn’t have a pasty, amorphous face and a baseball cap?

  14. Zrim says:

    Rube, I guess I don’t see how claiming to be Jewish justifies the whole project, which again, seems to be a way to emotionalize and sensationalize an issue. And can you really have an honest moral or political disagreement with someone when you suggest that to not share your view is a moral and personal failure? How is that really any different from the anxious-bench revivalists telling the catechism confessionalists that they were unconverted for opposing the new measures? If this doesn’t fuel what Bork called the “division and bitterness” that makes abortion an “explosive issue” then I don’t know what does.

    And as for sticking the evangelism segment at the end, you are more generous than me. That’s not good 2k even accidentally. It would seem to me that if one wants to be careful not baptize morality and politics then one would see how this clearly does.

  15. RubeRad says:

    I realize you don’t like it, but let me try again. I’m not saying that the fact that the evangelism is at the end is accidental 2K, I’m saying the way the minimovie is constructed, the evangelism part has no connection with the rest of it. Take it out, and the minimovie is a coherent, not-Christian (not-religious even), natural law bit of pro-life advocacy.

  16. Zrim says:

    But that’s my point: simply stopping tape for a few seconds doesn’t really seem to constitute a clean disconnect. It’s actually the opposite effect, that is, if one reads it organically.

    And even the evangelism point aside, my main point is that while it may be a “natural law bit of pro-life advocacy,” it’s pretty poor due its emotional and sensationalistic appeals. Try a thought experiment and imagine someone connecting opposition to legalized abortion with fascism. I don’t know about you, but I don’t imagine getting very far with my opponent who is convinced that my opposition is a step removed from gassing people.

  17. RubeRad says:

    But it is a clean disconnect. The evangelism in this piece is just like Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. It’s a good story, but it’s a separate story, and the whole would work just as well without it (in this case, better).

    As for sensationalism, why not resort to that to reach people that are dumb enough to not know who Hitler is?

    Your thought experiment isn’t working for me, but I think the connection between gassing Jews and aborting babies (they both require desensitization to human-ness) is valid. Not so much with fascism, since Germany’s government was actively causing the extermination of Jews, while ours is merely allowing a holocaust of babies.

  18. Zrim says:

    Rube, if one doesn’t know Hitler then how does appealing to him work? But I don’t think the point is to “reach people.” (Funny how you use evangelism lingo here. Maybe the disconnect isn’t so clean?) The point is to perform for the audience watching and get them to exclaim “Brilliant!” Maybe I’m the curmudgeon, but don’t you at all get the sense that you’re being manipulated? And I say that as one quite opposed morally and politically to abortion.

    Re the thought experiment, I can easily hear someone suggesting that to refuse one segment of the population the individual right over their reproductive lives is a sort of genocide or fascism, making the funny little mustache fit. Many choicers have resorted to calling those opposed to elective abortion “anti-choice.” I know I’ve been called plenty of unhappy things because of my particular views. I guess my point is that since I don’t think it’s at all very charitable to suggest my moral failure because of my views that I have grave doubts when people who share my views do the same thing to our shared opponents.

  19. RubeRad says:

    Rube, if one doesn’t know Hitler then how does appealing to him work?

    He can appeal directly to mass-murder of Jews, and it’s actually cleaner to do this directly without adding the additional baggage of “Nazi, Hitler” etc.

    But I don’t think the point is to “reach people.” (Funny how you use evangelism lingo here. Maybe the disconnect isn’t so clean?)

    I don’t see the phrase as belonging only to evangelism. All pro-choicers need to be reached; they are suppressing the truth with a complex web of rationalization that holds together only by force of numbers.

    I can easily hear someone suggesting that to refuse one segment of the population the individual right over their reproductive lives is a sort of genocide or fascism

    I don’t see how genocide could be wangled in there, but yes, at least fascism is in the same continuum as lawful restraint. And I’ll happily take on the “pro-life is fascism” vs “pro-choice is genocide” debate. The latter is an easy winner, because (a) it’s harder to make a meaningful connection between pro-life and fascism, and (b) genocide trumps fascism (murder is more evil than mere oppression). If I have to oppress people to get them to stop murdering, I’ll oppress the crap out of them.

    I don’t think it’s at all very charitable to suggest moral failure

    Why not? As Calvinists who understand Total Depravity, why would we ever shy away from asserting moral failure? All sin is moral failure.

  20. Zrim says:

    But is politically disagreeing with me a moral failure? Sorry, but I suppose I set the bar much higher in order to be able to suggest someone has failed morally, as in how someone behaves personally instead of how s/he thinks politically.

    I’d rather oppose those with whom I disagree than “reach” them. Again, the implication seems to over-realize matters and confuse the personal with the political. And it may be easy to make the choice-politics-is-the-same-as-running-death-camps argument, but it sure is hard to get lifers to admit they are vulnerable to overstatement.

    P.S. It seems to me that “pro-life” is a term politically spun for the age of positivity and affirmation. But what 99% of “pro-lifers” mean by the phrase is “anti-abortion.” It’s odd to me that those so willing to demonize their political opponents are also so quick to term their views with such a smiley face.

  21. Richard says:

    I know it’s just me, but I resent being manipulated, whether it’s by Michael Moore or R

  22. Richard says:

    ay Comfort. Dang! I hit “post comment” too fast.

  23. Zrim says:

    Richard, at least Moore knows how to make film and sponsor film festivals in my hometown city by the bay. Plus, he’s a Michigan native, so I have to stand up for him a little (ahem) more.

  24. RubeRad says:

    But is politically disagreeing with me a moral failure?

    What are you talking about “politically disagreeing”? If you and I are both against abortion, but you think it should be left up to the states, and I think we need to tax it at 10000% to discourage it, that’s a political disagreement. But if one of us is pro-life, and the other is pro-choice, that’s not a political disagreement, there’s moral failure involved, and that’s the situation being addressed in the video.

    But what 99% of “pro-lifers” mean by the phrase is “anti-abortion.”

    What do you think 100% of “pro-choicers” mean? What pro-lifer shies away from the term anti-abortionist? The only reason “pro-life” gets more currency is that abortion is an ugly word, that nobody likes to say. Plus pro-life is only two syllables.

  25. Zrim says:

    But if one of us is pro-life, and the other is pro-choice, that’s not a political disagreement, there’s moral failure involved, and that’s the situation being addressed in the video.

    It seems we disagree, which may account for your sympathetic take on Comfort and my antagonism. But I allow for people to have fundamentally different political conclusions from me. Frankly, this last comment of yours serves to help show what I think the unchecked embrace of the pro-life movment has fostered, namely a moralizing of politics (and a politicizing of faith).

    What do you think 100% of “pro-choicers” mean? What pro-lifer shies away from the term anti-abortionist? The only reason “pro-life” gets more currency is that abortion is an ugly word, that nobody likes to say. Plus pro-life is only two syllables.

    I think the whole choice/life debate is about those who prize two American virtues, liberty (choicers) and life (lifers). I think it’s about prizing individual rights one way or another. I think both are fairly misguided, but I think lifers who want to enlist Christianity particularly interesting because biblical ethics has nothing whatever to do with the modern conception of individual rights. If biblical ethics is about anything it’s about duty to others, which is why I think the sixth and second greatest commandments beat Psalm 139 (the favorite proof text of right-to-lifers).

    It’s also interesting because it exalts the highest temporal good, which is life, to an almost idolizing level. This in light of the fact that Jesus tells us we must lay down life in order to obtain it and to hate our lives (Luke 14:26). I wonder why so many conservative Calvinists can often see right through something like the family values movement as an idolizing of the highest temporal institution, but when it comes to the pro-life movement idolizing life suddenly everybody becomes a Methodist.

  26. RubeRad says:

    I allow for people to have fundamentally different political conclusions from me.

    If you see pro-choice vs. pro-life (or to strip the political labels, allowing abortion vs. anti-abortion, although I still don’t see the difference) as merely a political, not a moral disagreement, you must be working with different definitions of “moral/political” than, say DVD.

    it exalts the highest temporal good, which is life, to an almost idolizing level. This in light of the fact that Jesus tells us we must lay down life in order to obtain it and to hate our lives

    ????? How does a command to lay down our lives a knock against pro-life? Are we to apply this command to fetuses, requiring them to lay down their lives? (Does the voluntary communism of the church in Acts 2 imply that we are to adopt communism universally and force everybody to share their property?)

    Yes, Jesus’ command teaches us that our life is less important than we think. But that does nothing to our 6th commandment responsibility to protect the lives of others. If anything the Christian ideal of duty others gives us even more reason to accept a more difficult life in response to an unplanned pregnancy, rather than opt for the choice of convenience.

  27. Zrim says:

    If you see pro-choice vs. pro-life (or to strip the political labels, allowing abortion vs. anti-abortion, although I still don’t see the difference) as merely a political, not a moral disagreement, you must be working with different definitions of “moral/political” than, say DVD.

    Rube, I don’t see anything to quibble about in what DVD says. How do you see what I am saying and what he says here to diverge:

    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.

    ????? How does a command to lay down our lives a knock against pro-life? Are we to apply this command to fetuses, requiring them to lay down their lives? (Does the voluntary communism of the church in Acts 2 imply that we are to adopt communism universally and force everybody to share their property?)

    Rube, you’ll notice that I call life the highest temporal good, which is to say that I think pro-lifery has a good instinct as far as it goes. But rarely do I see it recognizing the downside of exalting life in light of biblical commands that put a more sobering perspective on provisional life.

    Yes, Jesus’ command teaches us that our life is less important than we think. But that does nothing to our 6th commandment responsibility to protect the lives of others. If anything the Christian ideal of duty others gives us even more reason to accept a more difficult life in response to an unplanned pregnancy, rather than opt for the choice of convenience.

    I oppose abortion morally and politically. You don’t have to prove to me the failure of choice worldview or politics. My point about temporal life is to reign in the sentimentality and over-realization of it by the pro-life mentality.

  28. RubeRad says:

    All of what you quote from DVD I see as falling under “pro-life(a) vs. pro-life(b)”, with (a) and (b) being any two different political strategies for a moral position of pro-life. What I’m talking about is pro-life vs. pro-choice, which I see as falling under DVD’s earlier words, such as

    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.

    I don’t know what this means:

    the downside of exalting life in light of biblical commands that put a more sobering perspective on provisional life.

    Are you talking about fetal life being only provisional (which would seem to disagree with DVD’s belief obligations above), or are you talking about all of our lives being temporary?

    To put more of a point on it, consider the common ‘compromise’ viewpoint “I would never have an abortion personally, but I acknowledge the right of others to make that choice for themselves”. Do you classify that within pro-life or pro-choice (or both)? How do you see that squaring with yourself (and DVD)?

  29. Zrim says:

    All of what you quote from DVD I see as falling under “pro-life(a) vs. pro-life(b)”, with (a) and (b) being any two different political strategies for a moral position of pro-life. What I’m talking about is pro-life vs. pro-choice, which I see as falling under DVD’s earlier words, such as

    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.

    Rube, if you’re right then I don’t know what it means to “…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?” But the way I see it, while they are not at liberty in terms of how they behave personally, Christians are at liberty to come to very different political conclusions on this issue. Simply stated, what Christian Jane does with her unwanted pregnancy is under the church’s jurisdiction, but what she does in the voting booth isn’t. Personally, I do not know how anyone who believes what DVD states in his “earlier words” can logically come to a choice conclusion. But since when does the church discipline for bad logic on top of bad faith and life? And if you’re right then that means liberty doesn’t really extend to political views, which to me simply underscores an elevated view of politics instead of a moderated one.

    I don’t know what this means:

    “…the downside of exalting life in light of biblical commands that put a more sobering perspective on provisional life.”

    Are you talking about fetal life being only provisional (which would seem to disagree with DVD’s belief obligations above), or are you talking about all of our lives being temporary?

    All life, in utero and ex utero, is temporary. My sense is that pro-lifery thinks that in utero life is somehow beyond the pains and injuries of life that ex utero life isn’t, that it’s extra special, that the unborn are more than human, almost angelic and there are different rules for it. I think modernity generally and western culture specifically esteems youth and children to odd proportions, and arguably pro-lifery is one expression of this exaltation.

    To put more of a point on it, consider the common ‘compromise’ viewpoint “I would never have an abortion personally, but I acknowledge the right of others to make that choice for themselves”. Do you classify that within pro-life or pro-choice (or both)? How do you see that squaring with yourself (and DVD)?

    I alluded to that above when I said I do not understand that logic, which seems to me to be largely common among choicers. For my part, even though the logic escapes me, I think all that really matters is how someone personally lives. If s/he participates personally in elective abortion then s/he is subject to discipline. If s/he is politically in favor of legalizing it then I would oppose him/her politically. And that’s really the question here: should we oppose a political conclusion ecclesiastically or politically? To ask the question, it seems to me, is to answer it. But if one thinks politics should be opposed ecclesiastically then doesn’t that invite all sorts of problems, not least is how it makes hay out of the spirituality of the church and tramples liberty? But my sense is that, present company excepted, most lifers care much more for their social and political issues than the spirituality of the church. After all, there’s a “holocaust” going on—and you want to talk about Christian liberty?

  30. RubeRad says:

    Dude, you are way over-sensitized on this topic. You are reading in political categories where they are not. I am doing my best to steer away from political, and toward moral. Again, I agree with DVD 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.” Note he goes beyond explicit behavior to bind what “Christians are obligated to believe”.

    Simply stated, what Christian Jane does with her unwanted pregnancy is under the church’s jurisdiction, but what she does in the voting booth isn’t

    There’s a gap in there between doing and voting, and that’s exactly the moral position everybody else tries to talk about with you, and you immediately bend it into something political. DVD is insisting that all Christians must be anti-abortion (or pro-life, or whatever one could possibly call it that could slide past the Z-dar); and yet DVD also understands that it is unreasonable to insist that all Christians must always vote anti-abortion or pro-life, because that would bind to a political strategy.

    My sense is that pro-lifery thinks that in utero life is somehow beyond the pains and injuries of life that ex utero life isn’t, that it’s extra special, that the unborn are more than human, almost angelic and there are different rules for it.

    By all means, let’s maintain consistent rules for all human life, regardless of which utero: no intentional homicide. Really, I don’t know where you’re going with this thread. You seem to be implying, “C’mon, abortions happen — Oopx! Let’s not get all worked up, it’s just another murder :-0”

  31. Zrim says:

    Rube, by your own admission you are deliberately making this all moral and neglecting the political dimension. Then when I want to make make a political point I’m “way over-sensitized to this topic.” Yet then you agree that to insist on believers being politically monolithic on this issue is unreasonable. You’re losing me.

    At the risk of being accused of being way over-sensitive again, pro-lifery seems at times like a specific function of a paedo-centrist culture that can unduly exalt youth. I know that sounds odd, but pro-lifery doesn’t seem very interested in ex utero life, at least not Protestant pro-lifery. Catholic pro-lifery seems much better here since Catholics seem interested in the plight of life pre- and post-birth. Still, it faces the problem of exalting temporal life against eternal life.

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