How abortion frames conservative politics

Charlie Neibergall AP Republican presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at … Continued

Charlie Neibergall


Republican presidential candidates pose for a photo before the start of the Iowa GOP/Fox News Debate at the CY Stephens Auditorium in Ames, Iowa, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2011.

David French writes as part of an On Faith roundtable on how social issues will resonate in 2012. French answers, “What do the religious controversies surrounding the leading Republican candidates tell us about the state of the social conservative movement? What do social conservatives want in 2012?”

With all due apologies to Charles Dickens, when it comes to faith, politics, and the presidential race, it is the best of times, and it is the worst of times.

First, the good times. For Christian voters there is a lot to like about the leading Republican contenders. Unlike in 2008, when the Republican nominee was famously indifferent or even hostile to religious conservatives (previously calling some of them “agents of intolerance”), Michele Bachmann, Mitt Romney, and Rick Perry not only embrace religious voters, they’re faithful members of their own churches.

Michele Bachmann has a personal story that would land her a Hollywood film deal if she were liberal. A mother of five and foster mother of 23, she jumped into politics when she saw the appalling deficiencies of her foster children’s public education. From the moment she stepped into public life, she’s been a fierce advocate of life, traditional marriage, and our nation’s founding principles. In many ways she’s a poster child of the evangelical engagement advocated by Francis Shaeffer and others in the aftermath of
Roe v. Wade.

While Mitt Romney’s LDS faith is controversial with many evangelical voters, even that controversy demonstrates the seriousness and vitality of faith in America. His record in public office demonstrates a commitment to life, marriage, and religious liberty. In 2007, Massachusetts Citizens for Life gave him a leadership award, and in 2008, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty awarded Romney and his wife, Ann, its Canterbury Medal for “courage in the defense of religious liberty.” Put simply, while there are theological differences between Mormons, Catholics and evangelicals, there’s no daylight between them on core moral issues.

Like Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry is an outspoken evangelical, and he’s not afraid to confront legal challenges as he demonstrates his own faith in public life. Perry goes so far as to declare that he hopes the “willingness to stand in the public square to acknowledge the God who made us” will draw others to faith. Likewise, his commitment to life, marriage, and religious liberty can’t be questioned.

In fact, every single major Republican candidate for president is pro-life. All of them are strong advocates of religious liberty, and none of them has adopted the ahistorical “separation of church and state” view of the Establishment Clause which has done so much damage to religious expression. While they have different theological views, they have a strong commitment to moral orthodoxy — to the values inherent in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

But that brings us to the bad times. It’s no secret that American politics are polarized, and as one political party is increasingly identified by faith, the other is increasingly secular. In the last several election cycles, church attendance has been a leading indicator of voting preference. The more often a person goes to church, the more likely they are to vote Republican. The less often they attend, the more likely they are to vote Democratic.

This is a terrible development for faith in America. Even worse, it is unlikely to change. The combination of faith identification and party identification has created a profound barrier not just to dialogue but also to basic civility. The famous “Jesusland” meme created after the 2004 election is just one manifestation of the contempt generated by the political and religious polarization.

And as the polarization increases, the two sides often no longer speak the same language. When David Gregory grilled Michele Bachmann on Meet the Press, it was clear he could hardly comprehend her world view. You can watch the exchange for yourself below, which starts around 17:40:

That contempt is mirrored on ideologically monolithic campuses where overwhelmingly leftist college professors admit they dislike their evangelical students and sometimes place intense pressure on those students to change their world view.

Why will this religious/political polarization persist? One word: abortion. While there is no single theologically orthodox position across a wide range of public policy questions — from taxation, to war, to entitlements, to welfare — it is profoundly difficult for theologically orthodox Catholics, evangelicals, and Mormons to support the legal killing of unborn children. So long as one political party uncompromisingly supports that “right,” faithful Americans will flee its ranks. Not all, to be sure. But most. And the more they flee the Democratic Party, the more the Democrats harden their position.

Ever since the Democratic Party banned then-Pennsylvania Governor Bob Casey from delivering a pro-life message at the 1992 Democratic convention, the message has been clear: Pro-life Democrats are well outside the party’s mainstream.

Yes, that is “single issue” politics, but sometimes single issues are not only profoundly important on their own terms (what’s more important than life and death?) but also reveal deep underlying values, such as reverence for Scripture.

Roe v. Wade sent a message to Christian voters: Your voice is so far outside the pale of democratic discourse that a “right” would be created to bar your influence. Such a stinging judicial declaration can only be undone by massive, persistent, multi-generational bloc voting, and such bloc voting is inherently and necessarily polarizing.

We can rejoice that now — almost 39 years after Roe — the Christian faith has never been more vital and relevant in presidential politics. But the price of that engagement is high, and until the “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are available to all Americans, that price will be paid.

David French is a Senior Counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice and a regular contributor to National Review Online.

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  • LOL1

    WmarkW — you brought up Palin’s family. The same could be said for Romney. Look at his family history –polygamy, relatives dying for abortions — the story is the young girl was engaged to a Romney and died in an illegal abortion. And Bloomfield Hills ward where the Romney family dominated over for decades and their influence still holds, covered-up child sexual abuse as well as the assaults of women. Sometimes viciously.

    Even more currently another Romney had a transgression —

    those hot women buying teddies and blabbing to everyone around them, need to see who is standing next to them sometimes…. odd places truth comes out.

  • WmarkW

    I brought up the Palin family as an example to make a general societal point — the downside of unwed, unintended pregnancy is too severe to rely on faith in God to prevent it. I have other issues about Sarah Palin as an individual politician.

    The particular character faults you suggest of Romney, are a different discussion.

  • LOL1

    No, it is the same discussion. Palin family did not hide the teen-age pregnancy and did not enter into a bad marriage either. She kept her child, and the Palin family has been supportive and frank on the issue of teen pregnancy.

    On the other hand, the Romney family — a girl got pregnant by a Romney she was ‘engaged’ to, instead of marrying ( as most do when they are engaged) she had an illegal abortion and died.

    Of course, IMO the whole Romney story is fishy — because of the level of abuse that has been done in the Bloomfield Hills Stake and area to cover up sexual abuse in the Mormon Church to preserve the Romney name and reputation.

    It appeared to me wrong to single out the Palin family without mentioning Romney transgressions and how their family has handled these situation — which they have been badly handled.

  • LOL1

    correction “relatives dying FROM abortions”.

    this is the Romney relative, the young girl Romney mentioned in his debate with Ted Kennedy.

  • JimTrott

    Keep in mind that Mr French and the ACLJ are operatives of America’s top evangelical terrorist, Pat Robertson. They don’t care about us, or our faith, or our Salvation—they see us as “giving units” to be delivered up for power and wealth.

    If abortion were made illegal, they would lose their number one issue. They need to make us believe if we don’t take action to end abortion, then we are not “true believers” and will end up burning in Hell.

    They ignore the inconsistency of their own apologetic excuses for the supposed “God ordered slaughter” of fetuses and children in the Old Testament, in which they declare that God placed the innocent souls there so they could be “saved’ and be with Him in Heaven.

    Do they think God doesn’t know what He’s doing when he creates fetuses which will be aborted? They are interfering with those souls’ straight shot into Heaven.

    No extrapolations allowed: woman’s body, woman’s decision.

  • njg45

    The problem is reverence for scripture is something most religions have in common. And then there is also the goodness of those who profess to adhering to
    no faith but in ethics and humanism. I can’t begin to understand the braiding together of religion and politics; religion is a private matter. I want good people in political office, and I could care less what there connection is to scripture. I do care that they have a reverence for their country and the people in it, especially in these troubled times. I’m sure that bible-thumping nut in Florida who burned the Koran in Florida had “reverence for scripture.” Too many bad acts by those who consider themselves religious make it a bad argument to equate religious commitment to civic or even predictably good behavior or values. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, just that good character is one thing, religion another.

  • flcat

    Oh come on , religion has always been a charlatan’s game right along side of spouting “true” patriotism. Watch your wallets folks, is always the advice economically as well as poitically when in such encounters.

  • chrismartin2130

    One of the things I really like about the Washington Post is it really does make an effort to be even handed. Even a nut like this can get an audience nationally and that is a very good thing. All religion is cow flop but whatever gets you through the day is alright as long as you do not make it a political necessity to be elected to high(or low) office. I have no idea what the religion is of the person who represents me and I do not care. As long as she represents me effectively in things that matter to me , I am content. One of the many differences between the United states and my country, Canada

  • kimmsr

    The term “Conservative Christian” is an oxymoron. A far better term would be Pharisee, those people that were castigated for establishiing rigid rules people had to obey to be members of the in group. Few, if any, of these “conservative christians” seem to display any of the compassion that I would expect to find in a follower of Jesus Christ.

  • poshman

    AIt is amazing we have to have this religious archaic Judaic Christian slop in politics.

  • paris1969

    We can rejoice that now — almost 39 years after Roe — the Christian faith has never been more vital and relevant in presidential politics.
    …….. rejoice? … you must be as nutty as Bachmann and Perry!!

  • paris1969

    These are the very people Jesus rejected and their religious dogma too!

  • johannesrolf

    our constitution demands that you keep religion out of politics. when churches fail to do that, their religious tax deductions should be removed.

  • timothy2me

    When faced with Evangelicals rejecting the possibility of global warming what they believe has an affect on me if one of them becomes the President of the United States.

    Global warming is in direct conflict with the religious belief that the earth is only 6000 years old. Fossil fuels can’t exist in that belief system.

  • dschuster

    Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, and any other “ism has no place in politics. This country continues to be ruled by a Constitution that calls for separation of church and state. It is certainly important to note that most of the founding fathers and others who immigrated to this country did so to establish religious freedom, untied to the politics of the crown. The right-wing evangelical politicians are free to practice their religion as they please, but do not force it down my throat. My beliefs are my own, they do not play a part in my vote. Gov. Perry and Congresswoman Bachmann, if your religion is what is driving your political desires, forget it. Leave your beliefs at the door and deal with the issues that will make this country remain the greatest, most free and religiously independent land on the face of the earth.

  • glenmayne

    American Christians have embraced the methods of propaganda to communicate their message and to win converts and in the process have lost the spirituality of their “religion”. They are political operatives using the vocabulary of christianity for political power plays. They are exploiting people’s reflexive respect for religion to perpetrate their scams.

  • helenthomas100virginnet

    I find public religious positions frightening – quiet contemplation between yourself and your god are understandable. Certainty, fundamentalism, and intolerance are dangerous. Sadly, the impression the USA gives the world is a religious viewpoint as dangerous as any other fundamentalist position that pervades the world.

  • ApostleProphetJohn

    With all the polarization on the issue of abortion, the history in our own country has been lost in the shuffle. Legalizing abortions was an answer to the restrictive laws against abortion, that led to illegal abortions, which severely injured, sterilized and killed many young women. Until someone addresses the original problem, and offers a better answer than abortion on demand, I remain unmoved. This knee jerk “Outlaw It” also backfired in the Temperance Movement.
    I fear that, given the polarization of opinions, we may yet wind up with a worse outcome than we currently have. It does not matter that I personally believe that abortion should be a last ditch effort to save the mothers life, I cannot forget the slaughter that occurred before Roe vs. Wade. My response was to support a clinic offering support for young women who had decided not to abort the pregnancy. I will not be polarized.

  • ctd2

    Those posting comments are missing the point of the author. The reason why we have so much religion in the Republican Party is because of the abortion issue. Until both parties become pro-life, religious adherents will dominate the Republican Party. Roe v. Wade broke politics in America.

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