Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Jim Wallis and the Culture of Life

Jim Wallis is the founder of the journal Sojourners and the anti-poverty organization Call to Renewal and the author of God's Politics. He is the single most influential left-leaning evangelical around.

A recent Touchstone editorial strongly criticizes him:
When Jim Wallis advises pro-abortion politicians how to “neutralize” the life issue among religious voters—“neutralize” it, that is, without actually protecting the life and liberty of unborn Americans—he is playing a very old role in American politics: the political chaplain who claims divine sanction for a party’s existing policies.
The editorial also implicitly criticizes Wallis for allowing a female minister who wrote entirely unapologetically of her abortion to write on his blog. Now, I think Touchstone is entirely right on this matter.

As for the main criticism, I think we need to go back to the source of Wallis' comment, which was from a Washington Post story:
For Democrats to continue bringing in more religious Christians, experts agree, a key component will be to find a way to "neutralize the abortion issue" by "advocating for the drastic reduction of abortion," as Wallis puts it. To lessen the weight of the abortion issue, one option currently discussed in Democratic circles is the "90-10" push to reduce the abortion rate 90 percent in 10 years.
What is this neutralizing policy?
Abortion is one such case. Democrats need to think past catchphrases, like "a woman's right to choose," or the alternative, "safe, legal and rare." More than 1 million abortions are performed every year in this country. The Democrats should set forth proposals that aim to reduce that number by at least half. Such a campaign could emphasize adoption reform, health care, and child care; combating teenage pregnancy and sexual abuse; improving poor and working women's incomes; and supporting reasonable restrictions on abortion, like parental notification for minors (with necessary legal protections against parental abuse). Such a program could help create some much-needed common ground.
Liberal pro-abortionists are less than convinced that Jim Wallis stops anywhere short of the same completely pro-life policy that the "Religious Right" favours, and for good reason. Wallis is a signatory to "The America We Seek" an important pro-life statement where he joined Richard John Neuhaus, Chuck Colson and many others in a vigorous defence of the need for pro-life action.

How best, then to interpret his "neutralize the abortion issue" comment? First, we need to realize that it is a political neutralization of which he speaks, not a moral neutralization. Let us suppose that a pro-choice party presented a plausible plan to reduce abortions by 50%, and gave strong assurances that it would be implemented. The other party is fully pro-life, but will not pass the liberal plan, and its ability to limit abortion rights is severely constrained by judicial decisions. In such a circumstance, it is possible to see the pro-choice party as the more pro-life option (though, I hasten to add that it is hardly as simple as that- one ought to consider the negatives of giving the advantage of incumbency to a pro-choice legislator, of a reduced possibility for pro-life action in matters such as euthanasia, and of the impact on the judiciary). Such a neutralization is entirely defensible.

As it happens, I don't think much of Wallis' strategy- I am doubtful that any set of policies advanced by Democrats will have a meaningful impact on the abortion rate. I also suspect that Republican pro-lifers would be willing to put these policies into action if they were convinced of their efficacy. The indirect effects of putting pro-choice Democrats in office would be significant and likely outweigh any positive developments.

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