‘Freedom of Choice Act’ nightmare for bishops, pro-lifers

Why is the Orthodox Church silent on this? Why aren’t the Orthodox bishops taking a public stand against FOCA and Obama’s abortionist policies?
NCR | JOHN L. ALLEN JR. | Nov. 13, 2008

America’s Catholic bishops have been talking about abortion and politics at least since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, but their discussion this week in Baltimore had a special sense of urgency – driven by what many bishops and their pro-life advisors regard as a looming nightmare scenario under the new Obama administration in the “Freedom of Choice Act,” or FOCA.

Candidate Obama pledged to support the Freedom of Choice Act, which was first introduced in congress in 2004 but to date has not made it out of the committee stage. It acknowledges a “fundamental right” to abortion during the first trimester of pregnancy and at subsequent stages for health reasons. It would also bar discrimination in the exercise of the right “in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services or information.”

In effect, FOCA could undo most, or even all, of the existing restrictions on abortion under a patchwork of state and federal laws. Experts say that around the country there are currently some 300 such restrictions, including parental notification laws, waiting periods, requirements of full disclosure of the physical and emotional risks inherent in abortion, and limits on partial birth abortion.

Supporters say the measure would simply ensure that existing abortion rights are not eroded piecemeal; critics call FOCA a massive expansion of abortion rights, which could, among other things, force Catholic hospitals to choose between providing abortions or closing their doors. Opponents also say that FOCA would effectively repeal the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of federal funding for abortions, though some legal scholars dispute that view.

Obama was not an original co-sponsor of FOCA in the Senate, but in a 2007 speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Obama reportedly said that signing the act would be “the first thing I’d do as president.”

One measure of the anxiety among the bishops is that when Cardinal Francis George of Chicago, president of the conference, floated some “talking points” on Tuesday for a statement on politics under Obama, he alluded to FOCA but did not mention it by name. Several bishops, including Cardinal Edward Egan of New York and Archbishop Joseph Naumann of Kansas City-Kansas, insisted that FOCA be explicitly denounced in the text, and in the end George followed their lead.

“FOCA would have lethal consequences for prenatal human life,” says the statement released by George, in the name of all the bishops, on Wednesday.

“It would be an evil law that would further divide our country, and the church should be intent on opposing evil.”

The U.S. bishops gathered for their regular fall meeting Nov. 10-13 in Baltimore, their first meeting since the election of Barak Obama to the presidency.

In September, Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, chair of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. bishops, sent a letter to every member of congress asserting that under FOCA, “For the first time, abortion on demand would be a national entitlement that government must condone and promote in all public programs affecting pregnant women.”

Opponents of FOCA worry that it would make abortion as a fundamental right in American law, which could end up pressuring Catholic hospitals and other faith-based providers to provide abortion services in violation of their religious beliefs.

During floor debate in Baltimore, Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Paprocki of Chicago sounded this alarm most clearly.

“It could mean discontinuing obstetrics in our hospitals, and we may need to consider taking the drastic step of closing our catholic hospitals entirely,” Paprocki said. “It would not be sufficient to withdraw our sponsorship or to sell them to someone who would perform abortions. That would be a morally unacceptable cooperation in evil.”

In a news conference yesterday in Baltimore, George called such fears are “well-founded,” because “once something is enshrined as a right in law, then I have no authority to deny it to someone.”

. . . more

Comments

  1. What good is it to proclaim that we have the “True Faith” but our hierarchs in America are completely AWOL on FOCA? Could it be that some of them supported Obama and do not want to publicly criticize him… I hate to think such a thing is possible, but why else would none of the Orthodox bishops say a peep publicly about this coming horror?

  2. Indeed! Why don’t they speak out? It’s quite troubling. I know in Orthodoxy we like to approach most things cautiously, but can they not see that every second of delay is life-threatening in this case?

    I’m sure a lack of courage cannot be an issue because they — at least the bishops in California — spoke out on Prop 8, nevertheless, I’m at a loss here.

    I must absolutely tip my hat to my fellow Christians of the Roman Catholic tradition. I admire tremendously their courage and determination in the fight against the evil that is abortion.

  3. I’ve always been a bit perplexed by how folks buy into or let pass unaddressed the canard of abortion somehow being a health benefit. Planned Parenthood started this false notion long ago, and it irks me to no end that folks continue to be fooled.

    I sincerely hope and pray the Church makes known its stance on this issue very soon.

    May God’s will be done.

  4. I must absolutely tip my hat to my fellow Christians of the Roman Catholic tradition. I admire tremendously their courage and determination in the fight against the evil that is abortion.

    I’ll go you one better. The silence of our bishops on this issue added to my fellow Orthodox who inexplicably supported the FOCA-candidate have me seriously investigating Catholic theology with an eye toward possible conversion.

    Granted, Catholic bishops were as surprised at the number of Catholics who voted for “change” (mostly infrequent communicants, if surveys are to be believed) as I was at the number of Orthodox who voted likewise (in many cases, parish and diocesan leaders), but at least Catholic bishops spoke out for Life and Truth. Moreover, they show every sign of digging in for the long battle ahead. From Orthodox side, I hear nothing but the chirping of crickets.

  5. Michael Bauman says:

    The weakness on abortion seems to be coming primarily from the Greeks. As an Antiochian, there is no lack of clarity within the Church about abortion. My home parish is directly across the street from the Lutheran chuch attended by Tiller, the butcher of Wichita. No words minced in sermons about the horrible reality of abortion and the depravity of Tiller.

    Certainly, Met. Jonah has already spoken clearly on the topic though the OCA unfortunately remains in the NCC.

    However, the Greeks primary interest seems to be social acceptance and liberal politics and alignment with the world rather that Christ and His Church.

    Some may think I’m being too caustic, but when the Chancellor of the GOA comes out and praises God for Obama’s election; when a high profile member of the GOA such as Frank Schaffer (a man who has been staunchly pro-life in the past) heaps messianic praise on Obama; when the GOA priest with whom my brother (a convert Orthodox priest in the Patriarchal Bulgarian Archdiocese) shares fellowship with in his city is less than luke warm on abortion and denigrates Orthodox tradition; when Greece itself, so I’m told by Fr. Hans, has the highest abortion rate in Europe; when the GOA disciplines Fr. Hans and others who are speaking out against liberal ideas from an Orthdox perspective; when our friend Dean, a life-long GO continuously and almost profanely parrots Democrat talking points on every issue, what else can I say.

    The Greeks have stood in the way for every move toward genuine Orthodox unity in this country (granted, they are not the only ones).

    It seems to me they are the 500 lb gorilla of Orthodox life in the U.S. and curretly they seem to be a destructive gorilla. I am fed up of the purile, adolescent, miasmic pronouncements that issue from the Greeks officially and unofficially, collectively and individually: from the arrogant, saccharine narcissim of My Big Fat Greek Wedding on up the line. All of it trivializes the Church, negates much genuine Orthodox witness, and calls all of us into disrepute.

    It is no longer just cute anachronism. I for one refuse to be silent or polite about it any longer. Put up or shut up!

  6. With all the problems and scrutinies of the newly retired Met. Herman of the OCA, he had always been an outspoken advocate for the unborn. He alwys attended the “Pro-Life” marches in Washington, and was a speaker there. I pray his beatitude, the newly consecrated Metropolitan of the OCA, Jonah, will be a champion for the innocents.

  7. Perhaps the discovery of Met. Herman’s off-the-record activities undermined his moral authority. It is difficult to ignore the rogues’ gallery of GOA members and clergy who seek accord with Belial, but let’s not make this a Greek/non-Greek issue. Lay leaders in my OCA parish openly and actively supported the FOCA-candidate. Met. Jonah will have to do more than march once-a-year in order to truly champion the cause of the unborn. He’ll have to seek conversions among his own flock.

  8. Michael Bauman says:

    Passerby,

    The question was on the leadership. Certainly much more needs to be done to instruct the rest of us Greek or non-Greek. Just as obviously, clear teaching is not going to be sufficient either since over 50% of self-identified Catholics voted Obama depsite the forceful and consistent teaching of the Catholic Church.

    You used the correct word, converted. No matter our religion, without conversion, it is dead.

  9. Fr. Dismas, OP says:

    There is plenty of room in front of Planned Parenthood “clinics” for all of us! And I agree with Michael Bauman: we Catholic clergy need to preach better, to teach better, to set better examples, until the Gospel message of Life gets through. Pray for me, as I hope to preach on this centrally in a couple of weeks.

  10. Michael, forgive me if I misunderstood your emphasis on the GOA. The problem is truly one of leadership, be it among clergy or laity, by instruction and example. That more than half of nominal Catholics voted as they did is less troublesome to me, since it speaks to a misunderstanding of what it means to be Catholic. It appears to require the simple remedy of clear teaching. More troublesome is the active support of Obama by those who strongly identify as Orthodox, who are intimately involved in the life of the parish and the organization of the diocese, those who, I presumed, embraced the clear teaching of the Church on abortion.

    Fr. Dismas: Lord, have mercy!

  11. Passerby wrote:

    “More troublesome is the active support of Obama by those who strongly identify as Orthodox, who are intimately involved in the life of the parish and the organization of the diocese, those who, I presumed, embraced the clear teaching of the Church on abortion.”

    I’m thinkin’ Frankie Schaffer. What a shocker!!!! His reason for goin’ Obama regarding abortion was the Republicans have been in power for the last few years and nothing has changed regarding Roe v. Wade. Uh, excuse me, we now have 4 pro-life Supreme Court justices. A Republican president would have placed at least 2 more this next term. that would have made a 6-3 majority. As it is we may not only not change the make-up of the Court this time, but may lose two more seats next term.

  12. Jim Holman says:

    Fr. Dismas writes: “There is plenty of room in front of Planned Parenthood ‘clinics’ for all of us!”

    And after 35 years, how’s that strategy working for you?

    Passerby writes: “That more than half of nominal Catholics voted as they did is less troublesome to me, since it speaks to a misunderstanding of what it means to be Catholic. It appears to require the simple remedy of clear teaching.”

    In addition, one poll suggests that Catholic women get abortions at a slightly higher rate than Protestants, though at a rate significantly lower than non-religious women.

    But the Catholic church has been teaching against abortion for years, for decades, and it’s not working very well. Why is this?

    I think there are forces at work in the culture that simply overwhelm church teaching, and frankly, are starting to overwhelm Christianity in America.

    These days most people have a sense of personal autonomy — that they are able to make up their own minds about things, that they don’t need to be told what to do or what to believe. And this ties in with the feminist idea that women are independent agents who are in control of their own bodies and destinies. I’m not arguing for that; I’m just saying that this is the way it is. The sense of personal autonomy is largely built in to the American worldview; people don’t even talk about it. It’s just the way they see things.

    Folks here sometimes rejoice at the loss of members by the “liberal” churches. But the fastest-growing “church” in America is the church of people who no longer go to church. They may even identify themselves evangelicals or Catholics, or whatever, but they are no longer active in any church.

    As research by the Barna Group, a Christian polling organization, has shown, even many of the people who still attend church do not hold basic traditional Christian beliefs.

    To the extent that churches show “growth,” in many cases it is simply from people going from one church to another, not actual adult conversions to the Christian faith.

    One of the most telling situations is what happened in the Southern Baptist church. Bobby Welch, president of the SBC, challenged the church with an ambitious goal: one million baptisms in 2006. This was a major three-year initiative for the church, and included extensive fund-raising to support the effort, and a significant increase in evangelical efforts of all kinds.

    The result was disappointing: in 2006 a four percent decline in baptisms from the previous year. And this after the largest SBC evangelism campaign in recent history. And again, many of these were baptisms of Christians coming to the SBC from other churches.

    As one author put it in economic terms, American Christians today are simply getting people to change brands, but they aren’t penetrating any new markets; overall they are losing customers. The relaxed attitude of many Christians toward abortion is one sign of that, but it is only the tip of a much larger iceberg.

  13. Fr. Dismas, OP says:

    Dear Mr. Holman: I do not dispute the seeming tsunami of pressure the Culture of Death has upon us. The prayer offered in front of Planned Parenthood may or may not help change Roe v. Wade. But if it helps just one mother and child — totally worth it.

    See: http://www.sentinel.org/node/7457

  14. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim, a better description of apostasy I cannot think of.

  15. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim, I would also add that while it may seem as if Christianity is being overwhelmed, Christ Himself and His Church will endure because of the victory He has already won. All are welcome to participate in His victory, but few, it seems, want to.

    The Christian stuggle is not about changing the world, its about allowing Jesus to change us. In fact, Jesus tells us the world won’t change until He comes again. That is one reason why it is so wrong for Christians to go chasing after utopian ideologies.

  16. Michael writes: “All are welcome to participate in His victory, but few, it seems, want to.”

    And the trends for the future don’t look good either. Again, the Barna Group is an excellent resource. The results of a September 2007 poll showed that young people increasingly see Christianity in negative terms — even young Christians themselves.

    The study shows that 16- to 29-year-olds exhibit a greater degree of criticism toward Christianity than did previous generations when they were at the same stage of life. In fact, in just a decade, many of the Barna measures of the Christian image have shifted substantially downward, fueled in part by a growing sense of disengagement and disillusionment among young people. For instance, a decade ago the vast majority of Americans outside the Christian faith, including young people, felt favorably toward Christianity’s role in society. Currently, however, just 16% of non-Christians in their late teens and twenties said they have a “good impression” of Christianity.

    http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrow&BarnaUpdateID=280

    In addition, each generation has an increasing percentage of people who are not Christians:

    As pointed out in the Barna Update related to atheists and agnostics, this is not a passing fad wherein young people will become “more Christian” as they grow up. While Christianity remains the typical experience and most common faith in America, a fundamental recalibration is occurring within the spiritual allegiance of America’s upcoming generations.

    Michael: “The Christian struggle is not about changing the world, its about allowing Jesus to change us. In fact, Jesus tells us the world won’t change until He comes again. That is one reason why it is so wrong for Christians to go chasing after utopian ideologies.”

    And that’s one reason why I have to wonder about Christian involvement in politics and social issues. Of course Christians have a right to do that. But it’s happening in a context in which many Christians no longer have a grasp of the “basics,” many don’t seem to have any serious depth of spiritual experience, the number of non-Christians and unchurched is growing, and even young Christians are increasingly disenchanted with the church. It seems to me that there are some misplaced priorities in operation.

    I’ve always thought of Christianity as literally “other-worldly.” (“My kingdom is not of this world,” etc.) To the extent that Christians become involved in politics, it is increasingly perceived as an earthly ideology, just one among many, that attracts friends and enemies the same as any other ideology. And when that happens, people seeking an actual spiritual experience may decide to look elsewhere.

  17. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim, we Orthodox are frequently criticized for being too other worldly yet we also preach most stongly the value of the Incarnation for the salvation of the entire human being, body and soul. Being other worldly does NOT mean that we refuse to participate in the world. In fact, exactly the opposite. We are called to be in the world, but not of it. Much more difficult. Christians are not dualists which your comment seems to imply.

    We have a God given responsibility to dress and keep this earth, we are His stewards and our salavation is linked to the care we take of the rest of creation and of each other. That being said, He does not require us to remake what our sin has damaged, only He can do that.

    A proper social conscience is founded on Christ’s Incarnation and the fact that we human beings are created in the image and likeness of God.

    The ancient world was changed in large part because of the dedication of the early Christians not to compromise with the the practices and mores of the time: looking upon Caesar as god being chief among them. Refusing to engage in pagan practices of any kind such as abortion, infanticide, cremation and more postive practices once our faith was legalized by establishing hospitals, orphanages and other types of charity.

    The falling away we see is perhaps that prophecized in the Bible, but its root lies in the people of the Church seeking first the kingdom of this world, compromising and temporizing in all types of things both individually and corporately. Not a single Christian tradition is immune.

    The real question is whether the decrease in the number of titular Christians is a bad thing?

    The next question is whether the remaining Christians will be able to face what comes with the same faith as our brothers & sisters in the past. Certainly in many Muslim countries the answer is yes. Here in the West that remains to be seen. I have felt my entire Chrisitan life that marytrdom would be required of Christians in this country. Nothing happening now disabuses me of that. Despite the fact that satanic beliefs have made such great headway simply by seduction, the devil always oversteps his bounds, goes to far and shoots himself in the head. If another time of marytrdom comes, it will be the resurrection of the Church.

    Martyrs and confessors are those who love the Kingdom of God above and beyond the kingdom of this world and are forced by the powers of this world to witness to that belief.

  18. Jim,

    I don’t think we Christians (forgive me if I’m wrongly assuming you’re a Christian, but I am) can honestly say that young people are disengaged or disillusioned without good reason.

    For far too long the examples of Christianity that have been in the limelight are not the ones I believe most in this forum would deem representative of our faith. I won’t totally blame Christianity for all of this, but I believe we can blame ourselves for choosing to let a perception that is not what we approve of grow.

    I also believe a lot of us are at fault for choosing to simply sit quietly by when we should be speaking out on issues that we know go against the faith (i.e. abortion, sexual promiscuity, gay “rights”, and the list goes on). How else people be able to differentiate us from the world if we don’t speak out. Young people watch this. They always have and always will. Anyone with children knows this. We used to be young once. Have we forgotten? They watch when churches don’t discipline their own (and I mean this for Protestant, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox alike. None are lacking in scandal over the last several years). They watch when Christians sit idly by as neo-atheists take the stage, as ill-equipped as they are with their supposed waxing eloquent mostly about arguments solidly dealt with centuries ago. I thank God for courageous people like William Lane Craig, Dallas Willard, and others. Nevertheless, I can’t help but wonder where my Orthodox brethren are not in this battle. I can’t imagine Sts Irenaeus, Clement, Basil, Chrysostom and the many others sitting idly by during times like ours. I simply cannot. These were people who lived and died for it. They’ve left us an inheritance truly worthy of envy, but it seems so many of us are choosing to simply sit on the very inheritance we should be using to engage the world for the sake of Christ.

    Pardon the preachiness, and I am by no means suggesting we be as radical or militant as are a lot of groups who are “over the top” today. However, we appear to be paying the price for saying nothing. It’s been demonstrated for us by many in our faith, on more than a few occasions, how we can win souls for Christ with His love. Nevertheless, I hope and pray we remember that His love was both verb and noun.

  19. To the extent that Christians become involved in politics, it is increasingly perceived as an earthly ideology, just one among many, that attracts friends and enemies the same as any other ideology.

    Christians have been involved in politics from the foundation of America. In fact, it is unreasonable, and I think undesirable, for them to not be involved in politics when living in a country that has a representative government. I do not think the participation of Christians in politics is to blame for any possible demise of Christianity in America.

    One important factor is that, politics and government aside, just about every culture-forming institution (mainstream media, pop culture, education, the arts) is dominated by leftists who are intensely opposed to traditional Christian beliefs. In and of itself, this poses a huge challenge to traditional Christianity in America. But this is not the worst of it.

    I think the bigger problem is to be found within the churches themselves. The evangelical churches, I think it is safe to say, committed a serious error by embracing the “community church” model. The goal was to keep the kids entertained, and to reach out to the “unchurched” who would be “intimidated” by Christian symbolism and traditional services. Significantly, education in doctrine was strongly deemphasized. Also significantly, these churches promoted antitraditionalism. Well, as Mr. Holman points out, there is plenty of evidence to say the community church model failed miserably on both counts. To me this is intuitive. If your kids are growing up in an environment in which every secular institution is not just neutral toward, but actively mocks and belittles traditional Christian beliefs, how could fostering antitraditionalism in your church and then failing to teach the kids theology in any depth help? The evangelicals clearly threw fuel on the fire, and now Barna reports over 60% of their kids are no longer evangelical after they get through college.

    I think the Roman Catholic Church did itself no favors with regards to its kids when it came to teaching doctrine, and by making goofy changes to the liturgy with post-Vatican II reforms.

    Sadly, the Orthodox Christians are hardly significant when it comes to a discussion of Christianity in American life, but they clearly also failed miserably at catechizing, by fostering an ethnic ghetto mentality, and by clinging to languages that a lot of Orthodox Christians stopped learning two generations ago.

  20. Jim Holman says:

    D. George writes: “Christians have been involved in politics from the foundation of America. In fact, it is unreasonable, and I think undesirable, for them to not be involved in politics when living in a country that has a representative government.”

    I agree, but the difference is the degree of involvement over the last twenty years, and the extent to which Christians have been organized around specific issues. Another difference is that in the past Christians were distributed fairly equally between the two political parties. That is no longer the case, and conservative Christians have become strongly associated with a single party.

    In the post prior to yours, Harlemite provides an example of what I’m talking about:

    I also believe a lot of us are at fault for choosing to simply sit quietly by when we should be speaking out on issues that we know go against the faith (i.e. abortion, sexual promiscuity, gay “rights”, and the list goes on). How else people be able to differentiate us from the world if we don’t speak out.

    In this view, the Christian distinctive — the thing that strongly identifies Christians as Christians — is their view on certain social and political issues.

    This is actually a huge change from the past. Religious differences that used to crystallize along the theological axis now crystallize along the social and cultural axis, and specific social and political issues have replaced theological issues as the main focus and litmus test. In a real sense, social and political issues are the main religious issues for many people.

    In the past the important thing was to be right about the Bible, the church, the Trinity, and so on, and Christians were very aware of and sensitive to doctrinal differences. Today the situation is much different as theological differences take a back seat, and conservative religious folks all join hands as generic “people of faith.” The important thing now is to be right on abortion or homosexual marriage, etc.

    In the past, the church was the “light of the world,” a “city set on a hill.” Christians were enjoined to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” The shining light included turning the other cheek, blessing those who curse you, loving your enemies, and so on. Another part of the Christian distinctive was “by this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.”

    Michael put it this way: The ancient world was changed in large part because of the dedication of the early Christians not to compromise with the the practices and mores of the time: looking upon Caesar as god being chief among them. Refusing to engage in pagan practices of any kind such as abortion, infanticide, cremation and more postive practices once our faith was legalized by establishing hospitals, orphanages and other types of charity.

    I would put it this way: traditionally the Christian distinctive was how Christians lived their own lives, not how they told other people to live their lives — and in particular, not by focusing on a handful of politically-charged, “lightening rod” issues. The “cure,” if you will, was not a matter of imposing a Christian worldview on the rest of society, but of bringing people into the church.

    Harlemite sees the root of disengagement and disillusionment of youth (with the church) in the failure of the church to “speak out on issues that we know go against the faith.” I would suggest that the situation is exactly the opposite — that the extent of speaking out on these issues has actually turned off young people. Here the Barna Group data are also helpful.

    Among young non-Christians, nine out of the top 12 perceptions were negative. Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%) – representing large proportions of young outsiders who attach these negative labels to Christians. . . .

    . . . Even among young Christians, many of the negative images generated significant traction. Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political.

    . . . Today, the most common perception is that present-day Christianity is “anti-homosexual.” Overall, 91% of young non-Christians and 80% of young churchgoers say this phrase describes Christianity. As the research probed this perception, non-Christians and Christians explained that beyond their recognition that Christians oppose homosexuality, they believe that Christians show excessive contempt and unloving attitudes towards gays and lesbians. One of the most frequent criticisms of young Christians was that they believe the church has made homosexuality a “bigger sin” than anything else. Moreover, they claim that the church has not helped them apply the biblical teaching on homosexuality to their friendships with gays and lesbians.

    . . . When young people were asked to identify their impressions of Christianity, one of the common themes was “Christianity is changed from what it used to be” and “Christianity in today’s society no longer looks like Jesus.”

    Remember, these are the poll results from a Christian polling organization. Since the youth are the future of the church, if young people increasingly see the church as unchristian, that does not bode well for the future.

  21. So Jim, what do you think Christians should be doing regarding abortion, apart from us not having them? It seems that you’re saying we should just live and let live die. I may be misunderstanding you, but it appears that you think Christians should be seen (maybe) and not heard (definitely).

  22. Walis writes: “what do you think Christians should be doing regarding abortion”

    It’s not just abortion but a number of political issues, the pursuit of which has caused people to identify the church with a particular political party, and even with one branch of that party. It thus becomes identified also with the flaws and faults of the people in that party, some of whom are not in any sense religious. It also becomes identified with a certain kind of combative rhetoric that is marked by anger, name-calling, and so on, that does not exemplify the “fruit of the spirit” as mentioned in the epistles.

    Let me put it this way — if you weren’t a Christian, what would attract you to the faith? A political agenda? Angry denunciations of perceived enemies? People who are peeved all the time about this or that issue? I think not.

    The greatest “weapon,” so to speak, that Christians have is not an issue or an ideology but the gospel. When people see someone with love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, and temperance, people are attracted to that. They are drawn to it; they want to have a life like that. They want to be that kind of person, and that goes far beyond politics or any particular issue.

    As far as abortion — I don’t have a good answer for you. I can only say that in my observation the political approach does not seem to have been very effective, and that, in combination with other political issues, it only serves to alienate people from from the church, especially the young people.

  23. Jim writes: It’s not just abortion but a number of political issues, the pursuit of which has caused people to identify the church with a particular political party, and even with one branch of that party.

    That makes sense. I think, though, that most of us who are pro-life don’t think of abortion as one of “a number of political issues.” It gets classified as a “social issue” but again, most pro-lifers don’t think of it as such. There’s no question that real social issues–economics, immigration, health care, etc.–are important, but abortion is on a different plane. This is illustrated all the time: When someone’s life is in danger, it’s a bigger deal than when their bank account is in danger; if your house is burning down, you don’t have to wonder whether to save your kids or your clothes; when a robber demands your money or your life, you don’t really have to weigh the pros and cons. That’s how we see it.

    Maybe we have for too long thought the political system would swing this horror out of existence, but abortion can never be reduced to merely another social issue. Those unborn children are never unwanted–give them to us! Let us take care of these “pregnancy by-products!”

  24. Michael Bauman says:

    Jim asks, “If I were not a Christian, what would attract me” Since I still remember when I was not a Christian I can answer that.

    1. The unwillingness of some Christians I met to compromise with the worldly view on things like bio-ethics and abortion. They knew what was right and wrong and were willing to stand on that. (This was during the late 60′s, early 70′s)
    2 The Person of Jesus Christ, not just in theory, but in reality. At a very down point in my life, I called out to God, and Jesus answered.

    Only in the Orthodox Church have I been able to deepen my communion with Jesus or rather allowed Him more deeply into my heart. Only in the Orthodox Church have I found a theology that allows me the freedom to explore my communion with my Lord and also the protection and wisdom to direct it.

    The Church asks only two questions to those who ask to be Baptised: Do you reject Satan and all his works? Do you unite yourself with Christ? My experience mirrored on a small scale what the Church asks. The rest of our life is spent fulfilling the answers to those questions, every day.

    Part of my growth has been a better understanding of the absolutely wrong headeadness of the modern culture that says that all evil is good and all good, evil. Nihilism.

    Where I might agree with Jim is that I do not believe fighting politically has any value. In fact, it just allows the nilhism of the world to infect the faith of many Christians and turn away others from even exploring the faith. There is no complusion in God, only love. He nevertheless is quite clear on what behavior is God-like and what behavior is sinful. As people of God we have the reponsibility to look first at our own sins before we address the specific sins of others. At the same time, we are duty bound to witness against the evil, by doing good, by making peace, by serving our bothers and sisters who are damaged by sin. Then, and only then can we tell the rest of the story (that Jesus is the Savior, the Incarnate Word of God who took on our very nature yet remains uncorrupted, who defeated death) with
    authority.

    Where I would emphatically disagree with Jim is that Chrisitanity is solely an ‘other worldly faith’. If we were that we would not have rejected the Gnostics and Arians. Unfortunately, many of today’s Christians have accepted either or both; combined with a non-Chrisitan legalism quite a mess is created.

    Jesus Incarnated, took on our nature so that His Creation might be transformed and transfigured by divine grace, through us. While salavtion has been completed, the tranformation will never cease (as Christians, we move, as St. Gregory of Nyssa put it, from glory to glory).

    The Church has the reponsibility to also speak prophetically. Therefore, it is perfectly appropriate to say that abortion is evil, homosexuality is a sinful act, fornication, greed, pornography, gluttony are wrong because they go against how God made us to be. As we become further enmeshed in such activity, the more difficulties we will all have as individuals and as a society as these things lead to death not life. That does not and should not translate into using a Godless governemnt (regardless of party) as a substitue for doing what God commands us as believers to do.

    Further, the Church should not use worldly political ideology as the criteria for speaking, rather the Gospel and the rest of Holy Tradition must form the only foundation. If we want a Godly governement, we have to become a Godly people. It does not work the other way around.

    What is so disappointing is that so many who call themselves Christians (Protestant, RC & Orthodox) thing government can make people Godly or worse yet that government is an agent of God to transform and transfigured the world without His grace. Such ideas are heretical.

    Jesus give us two commands: to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and strength and to love our neighbor as ourself. For me, part of loving my neighbor as myself is saying, “hey guy, what you’re doing will get you into trouble.” or even shouting: “STOP! THAT WILL KILL YOU!” Christians did that for me before I knew Christ so I feel it is a good thing to do unto others as was done for me.

  25. Mr. Holman writes:

    “Another difference is that in the past Christians were distributed fairly equally between the two political parties. That is no longer the case, and conservative Christians have become strongly associated with a single party.”

    This is not necessarily the fault of the traditional Christians. The Democrats used to accommodate socially conservative individuals. This was no longer the case by the 1970s. Party activists gained control and abandoned Democrats who were traditional Christians in favor of various radical and leftist interest groups. Today it is inconceivable that the Democrats would ever run a pro-life presidential candidate, and their platform is far-left on every social issue.

    Mr. Holman: Religious differences that used to crystallize along the theological axis now crystallize along the social and cultural axis, and specific social and political issues have replaced theological issues as the main focus and litmus test.

    These specific social issues are certainly theological. They were not at the forefront in the past only because there was more or less broad consensus on those issues in the past.

    Mr. Holman: Today the situation is much different as theological differences take a back seat, and conservative religious folks all join hands as generic “people of faith.”

    This is natural, given two trends. First, the marginalization of traditional Christianity in just about every cultural institution (media, education, etc.). The prospect of hostility from the larger society results in cooperation. A second factor is the exhaustion of the various conservative protestant churches with debates over doctrine, which I believe was one factor that led to the current deemphisis of doctrine.

    Mr. Holman, I believe we agree that conservative/traditional Christians have lost the better part of a generation, but I think we disagree on the causes. Sure, there are some of Christian figureheads on the right who got a lot of negative media attention. Some are judgmental and others really are not so bad. Regardless of how Christians behaved, unless they capitulated to leftist political trends and leftist social ideology, they would be cast in a negative light by cultural institutions that are dominated by leftists.

    I cannot emphasize enough my belief that the critical factor was/is changes within the churches that led to the departure of many people my age. Chief among these would have to be, particularly among evangelicals, the implicit and explicit teaching of congregants to reject tradition, and failure in most cases to provide doctrinal training. This would have been an ironic and foolish action for conservative Christians at any time or place, and I believe it was terribly damaging under recent cultural circumstances.

  26. Jim Holman says:

    Walis writes: “Maybe we have for too long thought the political system would swing this horror out of existence . . . ”

    As you know, people’s perceptions of these issues change over time. In the Roman empire the newborn infant had value only inasmuch as the head of the family, the paterfamilias, deemed it to have value. Exposure of infants was common; the the infant thus exposed typically died or was taken by someone and reared as a slave. I once read about an ancient letter that had been discovered, in which a husband, away on a “construction job,” wrote to his wife that if the baby about to be born was a girl, she should expose it. Though such a thing would horrify us today, it was all very matter-of-fact back then.

    Even older children could be seen as disposable. There a well-known story in the gospels about Jesus and children:

    And they [the people] were bringing children to him, that he might touch them; and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it he was indignant, and said to them, “Let the children come to me, do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

    For modern people, this is a strange story. We get the impression that the disciples must have been real assholes to not like children. Many sentimental paintings have been done about this story, and most of them show Jesus with children who are well-scrubbed and well-dressed, looking like they are ready for Sunday school.

    The reality back then was very different. The reason the disciples were offended is because these would have been “street children,” without families, living by stealing or by whatever means they could find. They were literally seen as garbage, human trash, children without value. So “of such is the kingdom of God,” was a radical statement, even to the disciples.

    Today, people have a very different view of children, and it’s not a view that came about through a political program.

    Contrary to the typical conservative political rhetoric, “liberals” are not morally reprobate. Most people, liberals included, have very developed moral sensibilities. People are concerned about suffering in third-world nations. They want to save the whales. They are concerned about endangered species. Some of them are even vegetarians for ethical reasons. These are all good things, born out of real compassion for life. Sometimes conservatives ridicule this, but I think that’s a mistake.

    I believe the wiser approach is to appeal to someone’s existing moral sense and build upon it, to ask him to expand the scope of his moral concern. It’s not a political approach, but a pastoral approach. It involves being “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” It’s not a matter of winning an argument but of helping people to be better people.

    Michael writes: “Where I would emphatically disagree with Jim is that Chrisitanity is solely an ‘other worldly faith’.”

    Well, perhaps we have a real disagreement, or maybe I wasn’t very clear. With “other-worldly” I was talking in the context of what appeals to people, of what moves them to consider other possibilities. I think what does that is the presentation of a compelling moral and spiritual vision, not a political agenda.

    D. George writes: “This is natural, given two trends. First, the marginalization of traditional Christianity in just about every cultural institution (media, education, etc.). The prospect of hostility from the larger society results in cooperation.”

    I think the problem is that when Christians become generic people of faith, the distinctions between various groups are erased in the public mind, and Christians are seen as being cut from the same cloth. What happens then is that a few controversial and combative leaders — Dobson, Falwell, etc. — get all the attention, and Christianity in the minds of many people is identified with these leaders, with all the negative baggage that they carry.

  27. Jim writes: As you know, people’s perceptions of these issues change over time.

    Sure they do, but if your implication is that morality is therefore a mere function of perception, then we really have nothing to discuss. I’m sure that folks aren’t concerned about whales, third-world suffering, and eating meat simply because it’s the thing to do these days, but because deep down it seems right as opposed to wrong. And Christianity provides a reason, first of all that something can be right or wrong and, second, a reason why. As for the anecdote about the Romans, ask yourself why we see infants differently than they did. Is it that our perception is different? Why? Why are we horrified by their behavior? (It still happens in other places of the world now, BTW).

    Christians (among others) spoke out against slavery in America and entered into the political sphere with it, and no-one condemns them for it now. But I suppose people’s perceptions of these issues change over time.

    Incidentally, I don’t think the passage you refer to from Matthew 19 indicates that children were seen as disposable. A nuisance maybe, but disposable? Even the much maligned disciples weren’t so crass.

  28. Walis, I think you may be missing Jim’s point. It doesn’t seem as though he’s opposing you, just that his strategy differs. If you step back and take a look you’ll see that you’re singing from the same sheet of music, just in a different key.

    Just a thought.

  29. Jim Holman says:

    Walis writes: ” . . . . if your implication is that morality is therefore a mere function of perception, then we really have nothing to discuss.”

    In that context I don’t agree with the word “mere.” As a matter of fact people’s understanding of morality changes over time. I think this is obvious. The interesting thing is how that happens. In my observation and experience, a change for the better rarely happens through harsh, combative words. It happens through a positive message, the presentation of a transcendent moral message, an encouragement to be a better person.

    Walis: “Incidentally, I don’t think the passage you refer to from Matthew 19 indicates that children were seen as disposable. A nuisance maybe, but disposable? Even the much maligned disciples weren’t so crass.”

    A few years ago I read a commentary on the gospels in which the author discussed that story. What he did was to interpret the story in the light of what is known about the culture of that time and place. (I have the book somewhere, but couldn’t locate it; apologies for not providing a reference.)

    Perhaps the word “disposable” is too strong. Maybe “unworthy of consideration” would be more accurate. My point was that how the disciples (and the people of that time in general) responded to those children is very different from how we would respond to them today, at least in our country.

    Harlemite writes: “It doesn’t seem as though he’s opposing you, just that his strategy differs. If you step back and take a look you’ll see that you’re singing from the same sheet of music, just in a different key.”

    What I’m trying to do is to look at what works vs. what doesn’t work. If people want to accuse “liberals” and others of murder and say that they are part of the “culture of death,” what I would ask is this: how’s that working for you? Are you actually reaching people with that kind of rhetoric, with respect to abortion and other issues? As I mentioned before, even according to the polls done by Christians, more people are abandoning church, and the fastest-growing “church” is the church of the unchurched. Young people, both Christian and otherwise increasingly see Christianity in negative terms. As far as I can tell it’s not working.

    As Walis said “I’m sure that folks aren’t concerned about whales, third-world suffering, and eating meat simply because it’s the thing to do these days, but because deep down it seems right as opposed to wrong. And Christianity provides a reason, first of all that something can be right or wrong and, second, a reason why.”

    And so the issue is how that message is communicated and how you can build upon and expand the moral sensibility that people already have.

  30. Jim writes: In my observation and experience, a change for the better rarely happens through harsh, combative words. It happens through a positive message, the presentation of a transcendent moral message, an encouragement to be a better person.

    I think I understand what you’re saying, and I agree that being rude and harsh most likely will not have the desired effect of changing anyone’s mind. A Christian’s involvement (politically) in the abortion issue, however, doesn’t automatically make them a harsh and combative Republican, just as a someone who voted for Obama doesn’t necessarily want to bully old ladies, burn churches and tax the embers. Unfortunately, it seems that many who are pro-abortion see supporting abortion as a positive and even noble thing. Again, it’s more than just another social issue, with a little more urgency than the price of gas.