This was my reply in the combox to the post, “The consistent ethic of abolitionist William Wilberforce” by Kate Cousino (9-15-17).
The discussion hinges, I think, on what one means by “single-issue” activist. Detractors of pro-life activists (I have been one for 35 years) say that abortion is all they care about. Unfortunately, now we have fellow pro-lifers (of relatively more “liberal” political persuasion) falsely accusing millions of other pro-lifers of alleged concern only for abortion and nothing else (including even the woman having the abortion). This is a very unjust charge: especially made so broadly.
In my several writings about this “single-issue” charge I have emphasized that it’s not a matter of abortion being the “only” issue, but rather, the “foremost” issue of a given time. I wrote, for example:
I readily agree that abortion shouldn’t be all we ever talk about, and it need not — should not — be injected into every conversation. But on the other hand, we must (as a general proposition) never cease talking about it until the evil is removed from our society.
Pro-lifers are often accused of acting as if abortion is the only evil in society; as if there are not others of concern. The boilerplate accusation is that we care about preborn children, but not “post-born” children. That’s not true, either; it’s a bum rap. But there is a partial point to be made there, that I have already conceded (and always have). We mustn’t have tunnel vision or be blind to other social evils and problems.
At the same time, it is unjust to be accused of being concentrated on “one issue” insofar as we talk about it a lot or make it our leading concern. 58 million legal murders in America since 1973, with no end in sight, and (I mention in passing) also a radical redefinition of marriage by judicial fiat are pretty important things. I don’t blame anyone for focusing on either issue.
We Catholics (and fellow non-Catholic pro-life and traditional family values advocates) would love to talk about lots of other stuff, but since our culture has sunk so low as to not “get” either one of these rather basic and fundamental things (along with many sexual sins), we have to keep talking about them. In our country’s past, slavery once was the dominant issue, too.
Until we got rid of that scourge we had to keep talking about it. Harriet Beecher Stowe (of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame) kept talking about it. Frederick Douglass kept talking about it; so did the abolitionists that Douglass was part of. Abraham Lincoln kept talking about it. Feathers were ruffled. It was a key factor in bringing about the Civil War. When we did get rid of it, we didn’t have to discuss it much, did we? There was no need to. It was no more. It was the same with Civil Rights 50-60 years ago, during the halcyon days of the great Rev. Martin Luther King.
The Vietnam War dominated many discussions in the late 60s and early 70s. I remember well! After 9-11 everyone was talking about terrorism and what to do about it. Today the right to life is of foremost concern, as it should be, until legal childkilling is eradicated, once and for all. Just as African-Americans, or before them, Native Americans had their rights trampled upon or lives snuffed out, today the child in his or her mother’s womb is the helpless victim being led to slaughter.
That’s how it was with Wilberforce and other abolitionists. They acted out of profound Christian societal concern. But abolition was, far and away, their biggest concern (as it well ought to have been). It doesn’t follow that they had no other concerns. Likewise, the biggest concerns of the day in the early and late 60s were the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. Nothing wrong with that, either. They were the largest pressing concerns.
That’s back when larger secular liberalism still could fight for causes which weren’t immediately immoral (unlike the sexual revolution, radical feminism, abortion, and same-sex “marriage”).
I call myself a conservative, but I also am very socially conscious (as much as any liberal is). I just offer some different solutions. I have the same motivation to solve the problems.
Lastly, you say, “It is hard to imagine a modern-day Wilberforce sucking up to a man like Trump or Bannon. It is impossible to imagine him justifying or excusing unChristian behaviour or attitudes in anyone, ally or opponent.”
I find it equally hard to imagine Wilberforce “sucking up to” or “justifying or excusing” a woman like Hillary Clinton, who is an ironclad proponent of partial-birth infanticide, which is the delivery of a baby feet first up to the neck, followed by his or her brains being removed. Yeah, I can’t imagine Wilberforce being in favor of that.
Yet we have “new pro-lifers” like John Cavanaugh-O’Keefe and Simcha Fisher (and I do not deny that they are pro-life: as they often do to us) who have confirmed that they voted for her (one also named Planned Parenthood’s “Champion of the Century”). Not only that; they also claim (along with Mark Shea) that the pro-life outcome would have been better under Hillary than it is under Trump, which is patently absurd.
Photo credit: Portrait (1794) of English abolitionist and social activist William Wilberforce (1759-1833) by Anton Hickel (1745-1798) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]