Last week, I had the pleasure of being on a conference call with a few other Christian leaders and some of the religious outreach staffers from the Obama campaign. I wrote about my support for Obama long ago, and I’ve been relatively active in my support of him ever since. I’ve been contacted by the campaign a couple times, but this was my first actual interaction.
(For those who argue that those of us in emergentland who support Obama (or any candidate, for that matter) are just a new version of the Religious Right…puh-leeze. It’s nothing of the sort. For one, we are a lot more cynical about the political process than righties were thirty years ago. Don’t you get it, Bob? The Obamessiah talk is ironic. Second, I really have nothing to gain from an Obama presidency, except maybe a more just and civil country. And I could go on about the differences…)
I think there were about eight pastorish people on the call, and three or four Obama staffers came and went. For obvious reasons, I won’t disclose who was on the call, but I did notice something interesting. I’d say that the group broke down as 5 older leaders, and 3 of us I’d call “youngish.” I’ll refer to us as The Three and them as The Five.
The call began with some serious hand-wringing from The Five. They were quite upset by the Palin Pick, and they strongly encouraged the O staffers to have BO go hard after her, exposing her lies and distortions about climate change, earmarks, etc.
The Three were almost completely unconcerned with Palin and suggested that O focus exclusively on McCain.
Then, the sparks started to fly. One of The Three suggested that if O wants to peel off a segment of evangelicals under 40 who already share his concern for the environment, fighting poverty, and foreign diplomacy, that he must talk forthrightly about abortion. (Most of us will admit that O fumbled the ball at the Saddleback Forum when he told Rick that the decision about when life begins was above his pay grade. He later admitted as much to George Stephanopolous.)
To this, The Five became quite upset. They said that if O talks about abortion on the stump, he’s allowing the Religious Right to set the agenda. One of The Three countered that, among his friends, abortion is the one thing holding younger evangelicals back from full-throated support of O. One of O’s staffers said that O does very much want to reduce abortions, and he went on to say that abortions decreased during the Clinton administration and increased during W’s term. The Republicans, quite simply, use abortion as a wedge issue during election years and then do NOTHING (yes, I’m shouting) to reduce abortions.
The Five continued to protest, saying that abortion is not an issue that O should deal with much. To which I replied, “Do you want to win, or are you more interested in your principles?”
And this, it seems to me, is the most common stumbling block for progressives and liberals (I consider the former to be more centrist, and the latter to be more leftist). Too often, they’ll stand on principle until it’s too late.
For my part, I encouraged BO to talk openly and candidly. He thinks abortions are bad, and he wants to reduce them. He doesn’t think that criminalizing doctors or mothers is the answer. He thinks we need a more fully-orbed response to the problems of promiscuity and poverty that too often lead to abortions.
I think he needs to talk about this in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Florida and Ohio, and he needs to not look so uncomfortable when the subject comes up. In fact, I really hope that BO is ready to address this issue head-on in the debates, because I think he can win over a lot of younger evangelicals who are currently on the fence.