BWAA January 3, 2020

That stands for “But What About Abortion?” — a phrase so thoroughly programmed into the heads and lives and religious devotion of white evangelical Americans that we hear it, like clockwork, as their Pavlovian response to any discussion of anything that might otherwise slip past this defense to prick their conscience.

It appears to be a question. “But What About Abortion?” There’s a question mark there at the end and everything. Yet for all the many, many countlessly many times I’ve encountered this phrase, I don’t think I’ve ever heard it as a question — as an honest inquiry seeking or expecting any response.

It is, rather, uttered as a dismissal of whatever other thing might have arisen for us to be about. We must not think about that, because what about this?

I recently witnessed BWAA in something close to its purest form in a Twitter exchange. I’ll give you the screenshot first, then transcribe it below:

I liked — and “liked” — Rodriguez’s original tweet there. He writes that:

American Christianity allows you to be: Supportive of the death penalty, an addict of consumerism, OK with children in cages, empowering of white supremacy, comfortable with sexism, a hater of creation, an evangelist of homophobia … and still be called a follower of Christ.

I might amend “allows” there to read, more accurately, “requires.” And the reason why that’s more accurate shows up, as always, in the very first reply, which states:

Obviously all of those are true but why leave out one of the biggest issues … abortion? Why are there so few who don’t let politics shape their Christianity [weeping emoji] this goes for conservatives and democrats.

The BWAA is never late.

But note how quickly the BWAA arrives and how thoroughly it is applied. This occurs constantly on social media and in real life conversation. Whatever other functions or intent or agenda might be involved in abortion politics or in abortion religion, this is its most frequent function. This is its paramount use, agenda, purpose, and intent.

The exchange above is the foremost liturgical expression of abortion religion. It mirrors the responsive readings found in the Book of Common Prayer (or in those bulletin inserts for those who don’t know what that is).

Prophet: The death penalty …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: Addiction to consumerism …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: Putting children in cages …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: White supremacy …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: Sexism …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: The destruction of creation …

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: Homophobia.

The people respond: But what about abortion?

Prophet: Absolutely anything.

The people respond: But what about abortion?

It is an all-purpose evasion and dismissal. This not-a-question question, when deployed as trained and instructed, will eliminate any other concern.

But that’s not quite it either. The use of BWAA is used to avoid any substantial consideration of any other concern, but the totalizing function of it doesn’t completely erase the existence of those concerns. Instead, it subsumes them under the all-encompassing umbrella of BWAA.

Nearly every other topic can, by means of BWAA, be perceived as being aligned for or against “abortion.” Consider that first subsidiary concern: the death penalty. If one attempts to treat “pro-life” as a meaningful ethical principle, rather than just a slogan, then political support for state-sponsored execution might be uncomfortable. For the minority of white evangelicals who continue to attempt to ethicize this slogan — for, say, the so-called elites of the “Christianity Today crowd,” or for that earnest fellow desperately BWAAing at Carlos Rodriguez — immediate, reflexive recourse to BWAA will override this discomfort because the paramount evil of abortion trumps all other evils, including the death penalty. This is, for them, the function of BWAA — to ensure that every other evil can be disregarded as decisive because it is a lesser evil than BWAA.

But for the vast majority of white evangelicals, there is no attempt to construct any coherent ethical principle out of this slogan and the death penalty does not constitute a lesser evil. It is, for them, an added bonus — an unambiguously positive good. This is partly due to the fact that they have been discipled by Fox News and AM talk radio to become people driven by vindictive resentment, and who celebrate the massive racial disparities of America’s machinery of death as a feature, not a bug. But it’s also due to the fact that they have been carefully trained to view support for the death penalty as aligned with opposition to abortion.

They have been trained to think this way about every “political issue.” About every “social issue,” and every “cultural issue.” It has all been partisanized via the mechanism of BWAA.

Observe how this abortion-alignment functions for the items in Rodriguez’s tweet:

• Support for the death penalty is regarded as aligned with BWAA. Opposition to the death penalty is perceived as aligned against it. Therefore, it is a white evangelical’s absolute religious duty to support the death penalty, i.e., to support the party, and only the party, that is most fervently pro-death penalty.

• “Addiction to consumerism” is suspiciously liberal-speak for any economic considerations other than laissez-faire capitalism. Unregulated capitalism is aligned with BWAA. All criticism of unregulated capitalism is aligned against it. Therefore, it is a white evangelical’s absolute religious duty to support addiction to consumerism, i.e., to support the party, and only the party, that is most fervently pro-consumerism.

• Putting children in cages has become aligned with BWAA because it is an expression of opposition to non-white immigration and opposition to non-white immigration is aligned with BWAA. Support for immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers other than white Christians is regarded as aligned against BWAA. Therefore, it is a white evangelical’s absolute religious duty to support putting children in cages, i.e., to support the party, and only the party, that is doing so.

I don’t think you need me to repeat this exercise to show how sexism, homophobia, and the destruction of creation are all regarded as aligned with BWAA, and therefore all regarded not as lesser evils but as things that white evangelicals have an absolute Christian duty to support.

This is something many observers have struggled to understand about the split between the so-called “elites” and the “populists” of white evangelicalism. The “elites” have all long supported refugee resettlement, participating directly in it through the work of World Relief and other agencies, and lobbying on behalf of refugees through the Evangelical Immigration Table. Yet the vast majority of white evangelicals refuse to follow their supposed “leaders” here. This is not because they’re simply ignoring those leaders. It’s because, in their view, their leaders are wrong to welcome refugees. You want us to help resettle refugees? But What About Abortion? 

Hospitality for refugees aligns against the BWAA agenda and is therefore something these white evangelicals see themselves as duty-bound to oppose. Because that’s what “abortion” means to them.

This is also why this majority of white evangelicals enthusiastically support war with Iran. They always have. War with Iran has always been aligned with BWAA. In fact, white evangelical enthusiasm for war with Iran precedes white evangelical opposition to abortion by several years. The two things, invented and infected at the same time, have always been closely knit. This was true even during the 1980s, when the same Republican officials loudly singing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” were, behind the scenes, selling them arms to fund an illegal war in Central America.

White evangelical voters did not support Republicans in the 1980s in spite of Iran/Contra. Iran/Contra was one of the reasons they supported Republicans. Because But What About Abortion? Support for war — any war, every war — aligns with opposition to abortion, and therefore support for war — any war, every war — is perceived as an absolute Christian duty for anti-abortion white evangelicals.

It won’t diminish their enthusiasm for this war to argue that America is already hopelessly entangled in two forever wars in the Middle East that cannot be won or ended or even explained. They believe they have a magical solution to that: a president who is as willing and eager as they are to use nuclear weapons. Their 40-year-old “Nuke Iran” T-shirts may not fit any longer, but that’s OK — their kids can wear them.

If the nuclear annihilation of 80 million people sounds monstrous to you, don’t worry, they have a response to such concerns. You’re opposed to nuclear war? BWAA.


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