The Six Inches In Front of Your Face

Ever since the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, I’ve been deeply demoralized — feeling like something fundamental just changed in our nation and our culture. The relationship between citizen and state has been redefined, and more strong legal bricks have been laid in the abortion edifice. For conservatives there is no silver lining to this decision, none. State power has been increased, our nation takes another step towards bankruptcy, and now a previously unpopular law has gotten the Supreme Court seal of approval — a seal that still matters to those who don’t follow politics or the court closely.

But I was wrong to feel so demoralized, wrong to place so much weight on a court decision. Our lives and destinies are not shaped by justices of the Supreme Court. Indeed, they are often trailing-edge indicators of millions of choices and tectonic cultural shifts that occurred before and during their time on the bench. I was reminded of this by, of all things, an Al Pacino YouTube — the greatest fictional motivational speech of all time:

Please click and watch it. What an astonishing and powerful portrait of our priorities and powerlessness. We fight and claw and scratch for inches — not feet, not miles (no matter how important we deem ourselves). And it’s in those inches and in that fight that we define our character. [Read more…]

Whole-Life is not Pro-Life, and (Sadly) Pro-Life Means Partisan

My continuing series of posts about young evangelicals, post-partisanship, and social justice has drawn some interesting responses — some thoughtful, some not.  One of the best (in my judgment) comes from Gregory Metzger’s blog, called Faith and the Common Good.  He makes three main points: That I say “again and again” young evangelicals are abandoning an effective voice for the unborn for the sake of “social justice” without providing examples; that I’ve presented my side favorably while distorting the opposing side; and that I’ve reduced the other side to a label they reject.  Most importantly, however, his post presents an opportunity to address an issue that plagues the pro-life movement — the “whole-life” distortion.

Any discussion of partisanship has to start with the cold, hard partisan facts.  In the real world voting for all but the tiniest minority of Democrats means strengthening and protecting the abortion-on-demand regime.  In the real world one party has cast its lot firmly on the side of abortion while the other seeks to protect unborn children.  Let’s contrast the parties’ 2008 platforms. [Read more…]

The “Social Justice” of Abortion?

An abortion is the intentional killing of an unborn child inside (or partially inside) the womb.

Social justice is . . . what exactly? [Read more…]

An Open Letter to Young, “Post-Partisan” Evangelicals

It’s that time again — the time when the younger evangelical generation surveys our damaged nation, observes the terrible reputation of leading evangelical “culture warriors” in the pop culture and with their peers, and says, “You guys blew it.  It’s time for a new approach, for a post-partisan approach.  We’re not in anyone’s political pocket.  We’re not focused on politics at all.”  You look at books like Jonathan Merritt’s A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars and think, “Finally someone is speaking to us.  We’re about Jesus — not about Republicans, not Democrats, just Jesus.”  Young, post-partisan evangelicals, this letter is for you.

Dear fed-up idealists,

I used to be you.  I know that’s hard to believe.  After all, I’m pretty darn partisan.  I’m a religious liberties lawyer, a pro-life activist, the founder of Evangelicals for Mitt, and the most recent winner of the American Conservative Union’s Ronald Reagan Award.  I serve my country in uniform in the Army Reserves and am a veteran of the Iraq War.  In other words, for a lot of you out there, I’m less role model than cautionary tale.  I’m the guy you’re trying not to be — the guy you think is destroying our Christian witness.  Heck, I’m the guy that even I used to hate.

How did this happen?  Why did this happen?  The short answer is that it happened because life happened — real life.  So let’s take a trip back through time.


Step 1: Despising my elders.  We called ourselves “Solomon’s Colonnade” after the temple area where Jesus delivered one of his many stinging rebukes to the religious leaders of the day.  There were only a few of us, friends from college, but we were determined to upend the silly, partisan hypocrisy of the religious right.  I blame Bono, really.  I attended a U2 concert during the 1987 “Joshua Tree” tour, and was enthralled as Bono (a real rock star!) not spoke openly about his love for Jesus, he wound up his rousing mini-sermon with a passionate condemnation of the televangelists who were then dominating public religious life.  His words were both shocking and exhilarating: “Here’s my message to the televangelists: get the f**k off my TV screen!”

Well, that generation of televangelists did eventually “get the f**k off” the TV screen — doomed by their own insatiable appetites — but that wasn’t enough for me.  Simply put, I was convinced we hadn’t been doing church right, and my friends in Solomon’s Colonnade were going to do what we could to reboot the whole thing.  We spent hours talking late into the night, discussing everything from ideal church governance to the right way to engage politics and the culture.  We didn’t reach any consensus other than the consensus that we could do it better — whatever “it” was.  And we had to do better.

I graduated from college, Solomon’s Colonnade faded into oblivion, but my goals didn’t change.  Oh, I was philosophically conservative — a biblical literalist, an admirer of Edmund Burke, and very deeply pro-life — but I was convinced that the core, life-affirming values of my faith were being wasted and squandered by partisans and charlatans.  Shortly after law school, while reflecting on the latest media-reported “outrage” from Jerry Falwell or Pat Robertson or James Dobson, I remember emailing my friends something like this: “There has to be a revolution in American Christianity.  The old guard has to go, and we have to put Jesus at the center of all we do.  I don’t have to lead the revolution, but at least let me drive the tank.”  How those words would come to haunt my conscience . . .


Step 2: Encountering life.  I was living my dream.  Sure, I was still pro-life (I co-founded Harvard Law School’s only pro-life student group), but you couldn’t categorize me!  I had also written a then widely-read op-ed arguing that gay marriage was “inevitable” and that the state had forfeited any legal grounds for denying gay couples the “right” to marry.  No labels for me!.  Shortly after publishing that op-ed, I found myself not only leading a nonpartisan free speech organization but also being profiled in a progressive Christian magazine (sadly defunct or I’d link the article) as an example of nonpartisan Christian leadership.  My friends in Solomon’s Colonnade would have been so proud.

But I soon realized that my nonpartisanship had a steep price.  I could be pro-life, but not too pro-life.  You see, if you’re too pro-life; if you talk about too much, then you can’t be post-partisan.  One political party is completely dedicated to legal protection of abortion on demand.  The other political party is completely dedicated to repealing Roe v. Wade.  If you talk too much about abortion, others will define you, and if you’re defined how can you be independent?

“No problem,” my hip inner voice said.  Pro-life is really whole life.  Anti-poverty programs, environmental advocacy — that’s all ‘pro-life’ in the broad sense, right?  Can’t I be pro-life and maintain my independence?”  But my rational inner voice quickly rebelled.  If I’m “whole life” without talking about unborn children then I’m functionally pro-abortion, but if I’m “whole life” and bring unborn children into that conversation in any meaningful way, then I’m right back where I started.  Besides, the effect on life of driving a Prius over a pickup truck can’t be measured with a (metaphorical) electron microscope.  But if an abortion clinic shuts down or a young mom is persuaded not to abort, a real live human being is born — a person of incalculable worth.  Yes, I want them to grow and flourish in a just society, and yes I want them to have economic opportunity.  But it’s tough to enjoy justice and opportunity when you’re dead.

So I was pro-life.  Firmly.  Actively.

I clung, however, to my marriage position — with even greater ferocity.  But my rational voice rebelled once again against my hip inner voice.  Didn’t no-fault divorce fly directly in the face of biblical marriage?  Weren’t legal regimes that were focused entirely around adult self-actualization having measurable and devastating effects on our culture?  Why then would we continue down the path of marriage as a legally recognized means of adult self-actualization rather than marriage as a legally-protected institution of cultural preservation?

Then, as a lawyer, I saw the catastrophic effects that normalization of same-sex relationships was having on religious liberty.  And I realized I was wrong.

As I decisively entered the “culture war” I discovered something shocking: there aren’t that many of us.  (What’s that?  Are you telling me that Christians aren’t obsessed with gays and abortion?  That’s what all the polls say!)  As I traveled around the country and spoke at churches, Tea Party rallies, and conferences, I realized that the number of Christians who truly fight the culture war is quite small.  How small?  In 2011, I researched the budgets of the leading culture war organizations and compared them to the leading Christian anti-poverty organizations.  Here’s what I found:

How do those numbers stack up with leading Christian anti-poverty charities? Let’s look at just three: World VisionCompassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse. Their total annual gross receipts (again, according to most recently available Form 990s) exceed $2.1 billion. The smallest of the three organizations (Samaritan’s Purse) has larger gross receipts than every major “pro-family” culture war organization in the United States combined. World Vision, the largest, not only takes in more than $1 billion per year, it also has more than 1,400 employees and 43,000 volunteers.

In other words, Christians are overwhelmingly focused with their money and their time on the poor, not on culture war issues.  Then why are Christians portrayed differently?  Because the media is obsessed with the sexual revolution and demonizes dissent.  If news outlets focus on Christians only when engaged on culture war issues and ignores the much more extensive work we do for the poor in Africa, in Asia, and at home, then it’s no wonder the wider world sees us as politically-obsessed.  Anyone who believes that Christians are in control of their own public image does not understand how public perceptions are created in this country.  No one is in total control of their own image and reputation.  Not even the President — and shame on me for not realizing that in my days of naive rage.


Step 3: Becoming my elders:  I’ll never forget the day I met James Dobson.  I was preparing to appear on a Focus on the Family broadcast highlighting a number of my cases on behalf of Christian students.  In a very real way that broadcast would cement my transition (not that anyone cared about that but me) from “post-partisan” to firmly, completely “religious right.”  I was joining Focus and many others in their long fight against cultural and legal trends that result in millions of aborted babies, millions of broken families, persistent poverty, and increasing inequality.  On that day, I was struck by Dr. Dobson’s humility and the humility of his staff.  There was a palpable feeling that they were answering God’s call on their lives — serving their role in the Body of Christ, a role certainly no more important than that played by others but vital nonetheless.

Of course they’re not perfect.  Of course I’m not perfect.  Of course I’m in fact deeply flawed.  But so are relief workers at World Vision.  So is the pastor you may admire so much.  So were each one of Jesus’s disciples and apostles.  As we fight the culture war, we’re going to make mistakes, we’re not going to agree with each other, and sometimes I still get deeply frustrated at my own side.  But I no longer believe the lie that there is a path for Christians through this culture that everyone will love — or even most people will love.  I no longer believe the lie that American Christians are “too political” and if we only spoke less about abortion we’d be more respected (the mainline denominations have taken that path for two generations, and they continue to lose members and cultural influence).

So, “post-partisan” Christians, please ponder this: First, as the price for your new path, are you willing to forego any effective voice at all for unborn children?  Are you willing to keep silent when the secular world demands your silence?  After all, that is the true price of non-partisanship — silence.  Second, if you believe that a more perfect imitation of Christ (more perfect than the elders you scorn) will lead to more love and regard for the Church, consider this: No one was more like Christ than Christ, and he wound up on a cross with only the tiniest handful of followers by his side.

Follow Jesus, yes, but don’t think for a moment that will improve your image, and don’t be surprised if He takes you down much the same path He took the generation before you.

Read more on the Faith and Family Channel

Battling Over Bain: Jobs, Free Enterprise, and Morality

In New Hampshire and South Carolina, we are now witnessing the economic equivalent of conservatives attacking a pro-life colleague using Planned Parenthood talking points. Let’s be clear about what’s happening here: Acting out of personal frustration and political desperation, three leading conservative politicians are faking outrage about Mitt Romney’s business practices and in so doing are actively selling poisonous moral and economic ideas to the American people.  The language of the Occupy movement is infecting Republican rhetoric.

My concern is not so much for the twists and turns of any given political week but instead the larger, emerging meta-narrative that these Republicans are now feeding.  The Occupy world sees a job as a right, not a privilege.  The Occupy world tells Americans that their hard work is futile, and they can never achieve their dreams so long as the malicious 1% grow wealthier.  The Occupy world sees ordinary Americans as victims.  This is a narrative that is not only false but eats away at the soul of the American people.

Rebutting this narrative may be one of the great moral tasks of our time, and in rebutting that narrative we will not only reverse American decline but we will rescue millions of Americans from lives dominated by purposelessness, defeat, and dependency.

Here is the core truth about jobs, corporations, and personal responsibility:  An employer does not exist to create jobs, rather a job exists to help an employer thrive.  In other words, rational companies hire workers not simply because they can (hey, the money’s there, why not?) but because that worker will materially contribute to the company’s success.  This arrangement provides a profound mutual benefit: the employer gets the fruit of the worker’s effort, and the worker not only gets a salary but also the great benefit of purposeful work.

Struggling companies and unions often lose sight of this social compact.  Unions (and non-union employees) often see the employer as simply a source of jobs, not an enterprise to be sustained and nurtured.  Employers will sometimes grow too attached to their employees and watch the enterprise flounder as too many people — or the wrong people — dominate the payroll.  Employers will also fail by not providing sufficient compensation and treatment for the efforts they demand, leading to high turnover and constant employee discontent.

What do we do when a company struggles?  What should be our priority?  The answer is simple: seek a turnaround.  Is it rational to look at falling sales, rising costs, and aging equipment and say, “No matter what, we will not cut jobs”?  Businesses cannot possibly make such a vow.  Even if it’s a goal, it can’t possibly be a promise.

What did Mitt Romney do?  He invested in startups and struggling companies (the riskiest and most dangerous investments one can make — but also among the most crucial for the health of a free enterprise system) not with the goal of “creating jobs” but with the goal of making money.  In other words, he had the same goal as virtually every rational business owner.  But in the miracle of the free enterprise system, if he succeeded in turning around a failing company or in creating a successful new corporation, people got jobs — real jobs, purposeful jobs.  Staples has gone from one store to more than 2,000 worldwide.  Do you think that created jobs?  Similar stories can be told of other Bain investments, like Domino’s Pizza or Sports Authority.

Of course not all investments worked.  Not all businesses can survive.  Then what do you do?  You take what value you can and then give it another try, with another business at another location.  The value you take becomes part of the investment in the next enterprise.  This process is at the core of the free enterprise system.

To be sure, it is not at all painless.  And in that pain comes political opportunity, as sometimes well-meaning and (more frequently) opportunistic politicians tell suffering people that they are experiencing an injustice, that they are helpless in their plight, and that only the intervention of the government can give them the security they crave.  The South, plagued for generations with poor education, systemic racism, and simmering class resentments, has historically been particularly fertile ground for “people versus powerful” populism, and it’s hardly a coincidence that the attacks on Mitt are reaching a crescendo as we head towards South Carolina.

Ironically, we are now facing a primary campaign that is a virtual dry run for the general election, with the Republican front-runner getting hammered from the left by hysterical populist rhetoric.  Perhaps this fight will serve to toughen Mitt Romney for the general election.

But there could be a more ominous outcome.  Perhaps the attacks will work, and the Republican party will have lost the free enterprise argument by arguing against itself, and we’ll be left with two candidates — one from each party — who seek to attain power by pandering to the feelings dependence, powerlessness, and hopelessness of an increasingly economically ignorant population.