I noticed it first when I watched Elizabeth Neumann speak about her reasons for resigning from her position as the Department of Homeland Security Assistant Secretary of Threat Prevention and Security Policy.
She was tasked with following right-wing threats inside the United States, and she emphatically stated that President Trump had made her job harder.
She called him a racist and a danger to America, excoriated him for blocking plans that could have reduced the impact of the coronavirus “because he didn’t want the economy to tank and he didn’t want a distraction from his campaign,” and said: “We are less safe today because of his leadership. We will continue to be less safe as long as he is in control.”
And she announced that she is supporting Joe Biden for President.
I was grateful for her courage and forthrightness. She offered, however, another reason that made it clear how much soul-searching she had done. She said she’s a lifelong Republican and voted for Trump in 2016 because of “the pro-life issue.”
But Trump’s cavalier attitude toward the lives of so many Americans, and his treatment of immigrants, convinced her that Trump does not have a “pro-life ethic”–that he had “absolutely failed” and was, in fact, endangering human lives.
It was good to hear someone who declares a reverence for life moving beyond the pro-life versus pro-choice position.
Then I learned about the formation of a new group, “Pro-life Evangelicals for Biden.”
Here is their official statement.
“As pro-life evangelicals, we disagree with vice president Biden and the Democratic platform on the issue of abortion. But we believe a biblically shaped commitment to the sanctity of human life compels us to a consistent ethic of life that affirms the sanctity of human life from beginning to end.
“Knowing that the most common reason women give for abortion is the financial difficulty of another child, we appreciate a number of Democratic proposals that would significantly alleviate that financial burden: accessible health services for all citizens, affordable childcare, a minimum wage that lifts workers out of poverty.
“For these reasons, we believe that on balance, Joe Biden’s policies are more consistent with the biblically shaped ethic of life than those of Donald Trump. Therefore, even as we continue to urge different policies on abortion, we urge evangelicals to elect Joe Biden as president.”
In an Op-Ed in The Christian Post, two of the signers expanded on their position. First, they pointed out that the signatories included a 2016 Trump voter, a lifelong Republican who wouldn’t vote for either Trump or Clinton in 2016, and people who were publicly endorsing a political candidate for the first time.
Among them are former presidents of evangelical universities, the board chair emeritus of Christianity Today, and Billy Graham’s granddaughter, Jerushah Duford.
Duford wrote an Op-Ed in August that bore the title “I’m Billy Graham’s granddaughter. Evangelical support for Donald Trump insults his legacy.” The subtitle reads: “By supporting Donald Trump, evangelical leaders are failing us and failing the Gospel. Christian women must step up where our church leaders won’t.” It’s a powerful essay.
The Pro-life Evangelicals for Trump write:
“Poverty and diseases we know how to prevent kill millions every year….Poverty is a pro-life issue…Lack of health care kills people. Health care for all is a pro-life issue….Racism kills. Racism is a pro-life issue—and it is on the ballot in 2020 in an unusually significant way. Climate change already kills untold thousands and will soon kill tens of millions unless we change…Climate change is a pro-life issue.”
In each instance, the Op-Ed faults Trump’s policies, actions, and statements.
That brings us to Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic who has spoken openly about how his faith has sustained him at the most difficult points in his life. Biden states that although he personally is opposed to abortion, he believes in a woman’s right to make that decision.
His position has evolved from opposition years ago to his present belief that the public option he proposes for the Affordable Care Act will cover abortions and contraception.
He wants to restore federal funding for Planned Parenthood. He now also opposes the Hyde Amendment, which has—to my mind—mercilessly punished poor women for years by denying them abortions through restricting federal funding.
Some say that a Catholic politician who takes such positions is hypocritical because it is necessary to do so to win support from Democrats, who are largely pro-choice. An interesting discussion takes place in The Tablet, an international Catholic weekly publication based in the UK that endorsed Biden for President.
The paper says Biden’s position that he will not impose his views on abortion on others who may disagree is “a very common position for Catholic legislators to take, but it sits very awkwardly with church teaching” and is “problematical.”
It claims that there “was not a binary choice between the pro-choice and pro-life positions” and suggests that Catholic legislators could argue that abortions could be reduced by tackling poverty and providing maternal healthcare. (That is a partial answer, but a good start.)
But its editor, Brendan Walsh, concludes:
“Mr Biden has been justifiably praised for his decency and his strength of faith…it is a sound Catholic principle never to let the best be the enemy of the good. And in the present circumstances in the United States, the election of Joe Biden would indeed be good.”
Also of interest is The Tablet’s assertion that “the Church needs to give more thought to the dilemma faced by politicians like Mr Biden, given the conflict between the Church’s absolutist moral teaching and the demands of a democratic system. Otherwise it could become impossible for Catholic politicians to seek public office.”
That statement seems to me an acknowledgment of the very basis of the argument for the continuation of Roe v Wade, which is now in serious danger of being struck down by the addition to the court of Amy Coney Barrett, an ardent—even extremist—opponent of abortion.
One bedrock of our democracy has been the separation of church and state, though we have witnessed attacks on this concept in various arenas for years.
To me, that means that in a democracy in which a strong majority favors the preservation of Roe v Wade, a Supreme Court that overturns settled law because of individual justice’s religious convictions is not demonstrating judicial behavior that serves the public interest.
Poll after poll have indicated strong support for retaining Roe. The same is true, not incidentally, of gay marriage, voting rights, and Obamacare—all important matters that substantial majorities of Americans support and now appear vulnerable in the Supreme Court.
Abortion is a very difficult issue. In my hope to find common ground where it seems impossible, I’ve long felt that we should focus greater energy on contraception. If we spent as much time and effort encouraging contraception and making it readily available as we do on the abortion battle, we could greatly lower the abortion rate. (Unfortunately, some of those who oppose abortion also oppose contraception—and certainly oppose government funding for it.)
Yet for so many vital reasons—physical, emotional, economic, and deeply personal—I think it is essential that all women continue to retain control over their reproductive rights, which includes access to abortion in safe environments.
Women have always felt the urgent need to end unwanted pregnancies, and that need would not disappear if Roe were struck down. Wealthy and middle class women would find ways to get safe medical abortions regardless.
Once again, our society would be further endangering the health and lives of poor women, forcing them to take desperate measures to do what an enlightened society would never, ever, find acceptable.
The Catholics and Evangelicals who have expressed their support for Joe Biden seem to be indirectly acknowledging this grievous imbalance in so many areas of American life.
I am most encouraged by their publicly stated redefinition of “pro-life,” which opens up new potential for coalitions that would promote equity in our society on issues extending well beyond the subject of abortion. This year alone has laid bare so many areas that cry out for remediation.
And I believe they are right that Joe Biden, a compassionate man with a strong moral core, could begin the work of moving us toward the promise of America that a majority of Americans long for.
Or am I being naive? Is this support for Biden merely a temporary effort to reconcile the vote against Trump—and the coalition that I see as so promising more likely to be situational and ephemeral? Or is it enough that these individuals and groups have joined so visibly to defeat this president, thereby helping us save our democracy?
What do you think?