Not every conversation is about abortion.
This is one of those obvious statements that needs to be made again and again in an age when so much of our political debate takes place online and evasion has become a favorite tactic on all sides.
Stop me if this sounds familiar: Someone criticizes a candidate or officeholder over crass words, a bad policy decision, or revelations of abuse. This politician’s faithful–often Christian conservatives–rally to his defense. But rather than deal with the charges at hand, they try to change the subject to some good he has promised to bring about, or has perhaps already enacted. Usually, this good is fighting abortion.
Alternately, defenders may attack the opposite party or candidate for supporting abortion. They will argue that no matter what their favored official or candidate is said to have done, the person on the other side of the ballot or aisle literally supports killing children. This trump card is treated as absolute and unanswerable.
Now, I believe that legal abortion is the most grisly evil in our society. Not only is it the most widespread form of homicide (according to a pro-life ethic), but it is sanctioned by our federal government and highest court, which compounds the shame and collective guilt.
But abortion is far from the only evil in our society. It’s become clear in recent months that sexual abuse and harassment, even by Christian clergy, continue to plague America. We continue to make excuses for this behavior, and feed it through our consumption of pornography and other forms of objectification. By turning every conversation into a conversation about abortion, we not only undermine our ability to reckon with these other evils, but we actually weaken the case against the legalized killing of unborn children. “Whataboutism” is counterproductive. That’s why it’s high time Christians retire the more serious cousin of the Jesus-juke, the abortion-juke.
First of all, reducing abortion to a red herring damages the pro-life message, and Christian moral witness, overall. It cheapens the lives of children in the womb by turning them into political wedges rather than causes in their own right. If politicians know they can get away with virtually anything as long as they pay lip service to the pro-life cause, they will do so. Even candidates who have done little in the past to end abortion can still win by talking a good game during campaign season. “After all,” they say, spinning up that broken record on their abortion jukebox, “the alternative is much worse. At least I won’t actively promote abortion!”This even introduces a perverse incentive to keep the issue alive. What politician in his right mind wants to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs? If “fighting abortion” is the most effective campaign promise among evangelical voters, then ending abortion is the last thing less scrupulous men will want to do.
The abortion-juke also diminishes the seriousness of other moral issues. It defines deviancy down and stunts reform. If we’re not allowed to talk about or prioritize any other moral issue while abortion is legal, then all sins except being pro-choice become functionally acceptable. If any discussion about integrity or conduct in our politicians gets instantly swatted aside by abortion-jukers, then our politicians will grow steadily worse and (ironically) less likely to be the kind of men and women who genuinely care about the lives of the unborn.
What’s more, tolerating or excusing other forms of immorality in order to end abortion erodes the moral credibility of Christians with the broader culture, and ultimately hamstrings our ability to fight abortion. It lives down to our opponents’ caricature of us as hypocrites who care more about political power than about the most vulnerable. If we regularly excuse abuse in order to defend pro-life candidates, how can we answer charges that we only care about children before they’re born?
This bad reputation rallies sympathy and support for the pro-choice side. Few things are more powerful than the image of an unborn child on ultrasound, sucking her thumb. One of those things is the image of kindhearted liberals gathered around that same girl years later, condemning the pastor, celebrity, candidate, or politician she claims sexually assaulted her, or harassed her, or disparaged her race.
The bottom line? Right is not opposed to right. Good is not opposed to good. Truth is not opposed to truth. It is possible to fiercely oppose abortion by all moral and legal means, while also opposing the other evils that beset our society and mar both sides of the aisle, every state in our country, and every heart, both red and blue. Don’t let anyone bully you with a false dilemma, even if they mean well. Don’t let anyone deprive you of your conscience in exchange for an abortion-juke.