As a university president I was recently engaged in a Facebook exchange with some young scholars now attending a evangelical seminary on the east coast who argue that the Christian community needs to move beyond its “fixation” on abortion and gay marriage and become more concerned about the “breadth” and “complexity” of global justice, human rights, etc.  Here are some responses that you may find helpful and interesting.



Seminary Student:  “As Christians, we have more issues that we can vote on than just abortion! Why not consider the over 1 million innocent civilians killed as a result of the Iraq war? Or how about the millions living in poverty in the United States? Or perhaps you'd like to vote for wise stewardship of God's creation with tougher environmental standards, etc?  I don't know about your theology, but I believe each and every one of the "40 million" babies killed [by abortion] has gone to heaven! Can we say the same thing about Muslim civilians killed in Iraq, innocent women and children killed in Darfur, those killed in Somalia, Uganda, Rwanda, North Korea, etc? For me, these deaths are much harder to reconcile!”

Piper Response: I am going to respond with some basic rhetorical questions.  Sometimes this is the most effective tool in trying to resolve deep seated differences.  When we strongly disagree we at times just talk past each other and a well placed question can be of much greater value than dozens of well worn arguments – So here goes:  

 

First, when you say that Christians should vote on more than just two issues (i.e. abortion and gay marriage) aren’t you being rather presumptuous in implying somehow that this is really what "All Christians" do? Isn't this very close to an Ad populum falacy where you are implicitly lumping "all” conservative Christians who believe abortion and gay marriage are morally wrong into one big false category?  I know - I know... you are now likely going to say that you didn't mean "all" Christians but go back and look at the emotion, tone and content of your comments. This all inclusive critique of anyone who disagrees with you does come through loud and clear and, dare I say it, your implication just isn't valid or logical or (I would argue) factual.  This broad casting of the net of criticism falls on some very shallow intellectual waters in my opinion and as Christian thinkers we need to be more vigorous and disciplined in our logic and argumentation.

Second, when you suggest that Christian voters have a narrow fixation and you mention the issue of abortion in making your point aren’t you implicitly diminishing the moral weight of the lives of millions of children who have died at the hand of “choice” vs. those who have died under the banner of war? The way you pose your question presupposes that war is wrong and that the lives lost in Iraq are a moral tragedy but on what premise do you make this argument? Is it on the grounds of the value of human life? All human life? If so, then aren’t you admitting that the definition of “humanness” is an objective standard and never up to any one individual or group of people to grant or reject?  You see, this matter of ontology and epistemology as much as anything. Does life exist and if so how do we know (or define) such life? If we believe that God's creation includes the objective reality of life and that he is the provider of the "knowledge" or "definition" of such life then we must never presume to wrestle such definitions away from Him and onto ourselves. If the definition of an infant's life is "beyond my pay grade" then would the definition of other important maters likewise be beyond human reason and beyond the responsibilities of my job ... maters such as the end of life and who has the right to define it or the quality of life and who has the right to judge it? Can you see where the momentum of your idea takes you?  Your ontological assumptions not only diminish the value of millions of lives but also minimize the very standards you assume as a basis for your own set of priorities.  You are sawing of the very branch that you must sit on to make your case in the first place.  I think I have made my point so I will stop.... But one last thing:  If you are going to argue that the victims of abortion are "in heaven" (and I must say I found the callousness of this position very shocking) then you must realize that you just admitted that theses children were/are human in the first place - Right?? And if so, then the entire argument of "choice" must now be abandoned as vacuous and empty because at no time in legal or ethical history has one person's choice ever been rightly elevated above another person's right to live - Has it??

Third – On the issue of gay marriage, aren’t you just a bit cavalier regarding the principles of physical health, personal responsibility, selfless respect, and social accountability that have served as the underpinnings of socially acceptable sexual behavior for literally thousands of years?  By the way –This is a debate about behavior pure and simple.  The argument that this is about human rights, personal genetics, human physiology, etc. etc. is nothing but a post-modern Orwellian ruse and a Non sequitur fallacy that any first year philosophy student should recognize. It is behavior that is in dispute not one’s proclivities, instincts, or desires.   But back to my point: Human sexual expression has always been weighed on the scales of morality and virtue.  Sexual behavior, in all its manifestations, has never been considered to be ethically or legally neutral, even within a secular culture.  Agnostic, atheists, Christians and Jews all agree that the use of another person’s body for your own sexual fulfillment is wrong - selfish at best and criminal in its extreme.  The history of civilization is replete with arguments against bigamy, polygamy, incest, pedophilia, and bestiality just to offer a short list of understandable restrictions.   Minimizing the moral weight of such traditional sexual standards doesn’t seem to be the best way to elevate your argument for social justice and civil rights.  To the contrary, you might actually find that the time tested values of sexual restraint as represented in the Judeo-Christian ethic might have actually provided the framework for unprecedented justice for women and children and all others who were in danger of being subjugated to the passions of the powerful and the prominent.  Without such rules and standards is it possible to envision human exploitation and depravity without boundaries (By the way – If you don’t find this image easy to conjure up then just consider the hundreds of thousands of boys and girls now sold into sexual slavery who are not protected by the assumptions of biblical sexual piety).   So – my point is this: If, indeed, you want to argue for “other issues” then isn’t the rock of tradition, reason, experience and revelation worth considering over and above the shifting sands of political fads and popular opinion?  On one foundation you find the house of justice, dignity and freedom.  On the other you find jealousy, depravity, fear and oppression.


Fourth - Back to the issue of war:  Are you saying that all war is wrong and that total pacifism is your position? If so, then great as long as you are consistent. But if not and you, like Augustine, believe in a "just war" theology then perhaps it is erroneous to equate the killing of 40 million innocent children with the casualties of war. The argument here must start with a debate on what is “just” and who determines its definition? Man or God? Political power or divine revelation? Is the killing of 40 million children under the banner of “choice” of any different moral weight than the loss of lives suffered in war?  If you equate the two and say they are both equally evil then you by default should be working as hard to stop one as the other (or maybe harder to stop the one that results in greater quantitative loss??).  If you minimize one evil to justify your attention given to the other then your subjectivity betrays your entire argument as nothing but a personal construct that is no better or worse than the “war monger” you protest against. 

 

 Finally - I want to say a word on the issue of social justice... It is possible that those on the right might actually treasure justice as much as those on the left and that it is not really a matter of debating values (such as justice, mercy, love, compassion) as much as it is a debate of methods (i.e. how does a culture or an individual best achieve such goals)? Conservatives might actually cherish freedom, liberty and justice as much as their liberal brothers and sisters. They might just have a different perspective on how to obtain these things. Isn't the tactic of implying that "you are a conservative and therefore you don't care as much as me about people" rather thin logic and in fact a fallacy of false induction?


Now a personal note... I was once much more "progressive" than I appear to be now. I was pro-choice and I used to be a lead voice for the "you can't legislate morality" crowd. But I don't hold this position anymore for several reasons, first and foremost, It doesn't make any sense. I mean this literally.  There is no sense - no logic - no integrity- no intellectual or moral consistency - in this argument.  Legislation if it is nothing else is always based on morality. Otherwise there is nothing to legislate and the entire process would be meaningless. Wilberforce, Wesley and a host of others recognized this. At times these great leaders were indeed dangerously close to "one issue voters.” John Wesley famously declared that “you must be singular or be damned” and Wilberforce, in like manner, argued for decades with near tunnel vision to abolish slavery (because he, too, agreed that the definition of personhood was not his to make and was therefore not "above his pay grade'). Oh and by the way - Wilberforce also felt that his call was the "restoration of manners" and return his culture to the humility and modesty that came from considering God’s way and others’ dignity as higher and better than the baser proclivities of the human desire, animal instinct and personal passion.