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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Abortion Myth of the Religious Right

Randall Balmer discusses the popular Abortion Myth created and propagated by leaders of the Religious Right in his latest work, "Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America." Balmer writes....
In the 1980s, in order to solidify their shift from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an abortion myth, one accepted by most Americans as true. Simply put, the abortion myth is this: Leaders of the Religious Right would have us believe that their movement began in direct response to the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Politically conservative evangelical leaders were so morally outraged by the ruling that they instantly shed their apolitical stupor in order to mobilize politically in defense of the sanctity of life. Most of these leaders did so reluctantly and at great personal sacrifice, risking the obloquy of their congregants and the contempt of liberals and "secular humanists," who were trying their best to ruin America. But these selfless, courageous leaders of the Religious Right, inspired by the opponents of slavery in the nineteenth century, trudged dutifully into battle in order to defend those innocent unborn children, newly endangered by the Supreme Court's misguided Roe decision.

It's a compelling story, no question about it. Except for one thing: It isn't true.

Read the rest of the excerpt HERE at Faith in Public Life.


Blogger posttinebraelux said...

I'm not sure I'm getting the thrust of the argument. Is he arguing that, since there was a delayed response by the human rights activists (the Religious Right as he calls them), then the response is morally wrong? I'm just not sure that's a logical conclusion to make. If, however, he's arguing that the response should have been quicker, I believe he's right - it serves no purpose, though, to look back into history and say, "Well, you should have responded 'then'!" We cannot change the past.
Is the fight against abortion a 'Religious Right' movement or a human rights movement? I believe it is a human rights movement. I believe that US citizens - even the unborn citizens, have a right (in the constitutional sense) to live. Does that conflict with a woman's right to not have to deal with an unwanted pregnancy/child? Of course it does. Whose rights should prevail? There's the rub, isn't it? If I say that a woman's rights should prevail, I am doing so at the expense - and great expense, I might add - of the baby - who is a citizen of the United States (at some point, anyway). If I say that the baby's right to live should prevail, I am doing so at the expense of the woman's right to not be put out for something she's responsible for in the first place.
As with most issues worthy of debate, there is no easy answer. One answer we've tried is to 'set a time' during the pregnancy at which the unborn child 'assumes' the rights of citizenship - most often defined as that time that the baby, whether born or not, could survive outside the womb if necessary. Is that the right answer? I don't believe so, but to wit, it has sufficed in a fallen world.

Grace and peace,


6:42 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

Balmer's not concerned with when they responded as much WHY? What are the underlying motives of some RR leaders?

Another excerpt from his conclusion...

"And what about abortion, the issue that the Religious Right decided in the early 1980s was its signature concern? Since January 2003, the Republican-Religious Right coalition has controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress - indeed, the president, the speaker of the House, and the majority leader o the Senate all claim to be evangelical Christians and unequivocally opposed to abortion - yet this coalition curiously has not tried to out law abortion. Why? Could it be that they are less interested in actually reducing the incidence of abortion (in which case, they should seek to alter public opinion on the matter) than they are in continuing to use abortion as a very potent political weapon, one guaranteed to mobilize their base and get out the vote?"

8:11 AM

Blogger Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I've been saying this for years, but could not document it the way that Balmer has done.

In fact, I remember several Religious Right figures agreeing with Roe v. Wade during the 1970s, including W.A. Criswell and Norman Geisler. They didn't oppose until after they made the deal with the Republicans to use this issue to gain power.

Now, this does not say anything about the merits of the moral case for or against liberal abortion laws. It does (a) question the motives of the Religious Right, and (b) it undermines their position that opposing abortion is the ONLY Christian position, the natural way to read Scripture, etc.

9:58 AM

Blogger posttinebraelux said...

It is quite difficult to speculate about another's (or group's) motives. Inevitably, when someone opposed to another's dogma (be it political, religious, etc.) attempts to discern the motives of those with whom they disagree, their assumptions are usually biased and subjective - as appears to be the case here. I've found it is much more meaningful to stick to the facts (in this case the facts that we have had a Republican controlled congress and presidency - if not Supreme Court as well), and to draw objective conclusions based on the facts. In this situation, they have certainly failed to adequately address the issue through either public opinion or the judicial branch of the government. We can say this as fact. Any implications we draw as to why, however, are simply exploratory. To imply that the reason is to continue to use the issue as a political maul is speculative and without warrant.

Grace and peace my friend,


10:12 AM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

We do know that racist policies at Bob Jones University rallied RR leaders together not Roe v. Wade.

That's not speculation.

Abortion has been used successfully by the Right as an effective political tool.

The question remains, why has the Religious Right invested so much into an institution (GOP) which pays mere lip service to their agenda?

11:23 AM

Blogger posttinebraelux said...

Do you not think that the most significant reasons the RR has affiliated with the GOP is their similarity in views relative to moral conservativism? You'll have to agree that most (not all) political conservatives are also moral conservatives (and I define moral conservative as one who adheres to - right or wrong - 'traditional' values including marriage between man/woman, the historical role of the Bible/Biblical standards as a measure of morality, etc. In general, I think we find a strong correlation between those who are politically conservative and those who are religiously conservative and vice-versa. I'm not sure there's any conspiracy theory there.
BTW - I'm Libertarian.

Grace and peace,


11:40 AM

Blogger D.R. said...

I read this part of Balmer's book and I found it to be quite lacking. First, I have never, never heard such a myth that the Religious Right started over abortion. Even Balmer points out in that same chapter that he only became aware that such a myth was incorrect when Paul Weyrich said so himeself. Why then does Balmer seem to act as if this is some kind of smoking gun, when in fact he presents no evidence that backs up his statement that, "In the 1980's, in order to solidify their shift from divorce to abortion, the Religious Right constructed an abortion myth"? Certainly we could say that some might have thought this was true, but where is the evidence that this myth was perpetuated by the Religius Right in any formal sense or even the evidence to suggest that any of the leaders of the Religious Right have done so? Balmer's book seems to prove nothing, other than leaving open the possibility that this urban legend was intentionally not debunked, and of course if we are going to judge the Religious Right on this, then why not Planned Parenthood and the entire pro-abortion movement who refuses to debunk plenty of urban myths about abortion?

Now, BDW, as to the paragraph in Balmer's book you quoted in your last comment, when I read that part of the book, I was stunned. I found it to be the most counterintuitive and factually incorrect statement Balmer made in the entire volume (and that's saying a lot considering that Balmer's book is quite strong on accusation and hype and weak on evidence and research). If indeed what Balmer says is true, that "this coalition curiously has not tried to out law abortion" then why is NARAL, Planned Parenthood, and NOW so worried about the Republicans having a super-majority in Congress? Why did they wage an unprecidented war against judges like Sam Alito and John Roberts? Either Balmer is that dense or he is misleading in making this statement, but surely he knows that Congress does not have the votes to outlaw abortion in any way. Congress cannot do anything without the Judiciary, which means Supreme Court judges have to be appointed and then laws have to be passed, and then those judges have to rule favorably toward those laws. Does Balmer honestly think this process could be adequately completed in 3 years??!! And what does he think Bush was doing by nominating judges for the Federal Bench who actually uphold the Constitution as it is, rather than misappropriating it in order to give people the right to kill their own children? Somebody needs to inform Balmer of what has been happening in the Senate (and is still going on) over the past 6 years with the fillibustering of Judicial nominees. And someone needs to educate him on how laws are made and ruled on by the Supreme Court. You know, it is fine to make accusation based on shotty evidence, but to write a book and assert he is a scholar is another matter altogether.

Now, as to the SBC and their former pro-abortion position. The first resolution on abortion was passed in 1971, prior to Roe v. Wade. It stated the following, "Be it further RESOLVED, That we call upon Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother." The 1974 resolution said about the 1971 one that it "reflected a middle ground between the extreme of abortion on demand and the opposite extreme of all abortion as murder." But in 1976, the statement reflected a very negative attitude toward abortion, though it stated that legislation making abortion legal was appropriate. However, in 1977 a resolution on abortion began, "RESOLVED that this Convention reaffirm the strong stand against abortion adopted by the 1976 Convention, and, in view of some confusion in interpreting part of this resolution we confirm our strong opposition to abortion on demand and all governmental policies and actions which permit this." Resolutions in 1978 and 1979 confirmed this (but the vote tallys show support for abortion in any form was waning). In 1980, the resolution on abortion stated, "Be it finally RESOLVED, That we favor appropriate legislation and/or a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion except to save the life of the mother." Resolutions from 1980 on confirmed this one, with some speaking about partial birth abortions and some on RU-486. Finally in a 2003 resolution there was no mention of legislation that gave exception in the case of the mother's life (of course we also know that know that medicine has progressed to the point where these exceptions are not needed except in only the rarest of cases).

So what does this indicate? It shows that the abortion debate raged in the SBC for decades and Southern Baptists were not changed overnight for political purposes, as hinted at by Balmer and even Michael. The fact is that W.A. Criswell was wrong on this and so was Norm Geisler (who I don't even think is a Southern Baptist). Those men repented of their positions and to suggest they or anyone else did so for purely political reasoning is to speculate most egregiously and without sufficient evidence of even the most circumstantial kind. The 1980 and 82 statements came during the very beginnings of the conservative resurgence (that didn't happen overnight either) and thus was reflective of the entire SBC, not a handful of Religious Right'ers. The fact that these two resolutions ended a 5-7 year continuous string of resolutions seems to speak volumes on what was happening with the SBC and their view on abortion during that time, among moderates and conservatives.

So I find all attempts to paint the SBC or the Religious Right as acting on purely political motives, rather than on behalf of "the least of these" who cannot speak for themselves and are heinously murdered year after year absolutely repulsive due to lack of evidence. It seems that there is more evidence to suggest that such an accusation is motivated by a political agenda, given that Balmer has had to completely ignore the facts at hand and make some completely illogical jumps along the way. Surely you guys can see how bad his reasoning is.

12:03 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

I believe many educated folks are under the assumption that the Religious Right was a product of Roe v. Wade. Instead, the RR was formed in response to a racist policy. How widespread is that fact?

Your examples of NARAL, Planned Parenthood, NOW is a moot point. Non-profits on the right such as the ACLJ, Alliance for Separation, and Land's ERLC do the same when they begin their "Liberals want to do this, Liberals want to do that" routine. So their constituencies rally-together, send in the checks, and the cycle continues...

It's not like the Republican Congress has been pro-active on the issue of abortion. Instead, they have merely reacted to the death of a Justice and the retirement of another. If the Republicans were truly serious about outlawing abortion or minimizing the number of abortions, surely legislative steps could have been taken? Push for a Gay Marriage Amendment but not an Abortion Amendment? 3 Equal Branches. Congress could attempt to amend the Constitution or at least pay lip service to the Right.

Let me remind you (as did Balmer) that Bush nominated Harriet Miers first. If Bush was dead serious about overturning Roe, Miers would not have been his first choice.

Abortion has been used by Rove (and many many others) as a very effective tool.

As for the SBC Leadership, God Bless 'Em

Separating the politics from true theological convictions can be quite difficult sometimes.

1:15 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Your comment ignores the reality that those pro-abortion groups are very, very influential. It also ignores the problems with Balmer's critique, which is still problematic, given that he presents no evidence to back up his claim. The Gay Marriage ammendment was a political ploy and everyone knows it, but Gay marriage isn't a right protected by the Supreme Court and even some Dems support a Constitutional Amendment on it. The abortion issue is much more deeply entrenched and requires a much longer process than 3 years. Also, even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, abortion is still not a Federal issue. The states must outlaw it and in that fight South Dakota and Louisiana have taken steps. What else does Balmer want?? Oh, yeah, I know -- to have his counterintuituve positions accepted without question. My denomination might get drilled by people saying we are a bunch of dumb rednecks, but I know straw men arguments when I see them.

1:34 PM

Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

You're right, abortion is not a federal issue. Balmer acknowledged this and quoted Chuck Colson in his support who said that overturning the Roe decision would not make for fewer abortions, at least not in the short term. "Colson who counts himself pro-life, points out that 'changing the law is an emptry victory unless we also change the moral consensus.'"

Balmer seeks to draw a distinction between abortion as a moral issue and abortion as a legal issue.

I see a difference as well. And as to changing the moral consensus, both parties have failed miserably.

But honestly, what were your feelings towards Balmer BEFORE Thy Kingdom Come.

I haven not blindly pledged my allegiance to a political party. But, you seem to come to the rescue of the Religious Right each and every time? Perhaps the criticism of the Right is only acceptable when it comes FROM the Right?

Now, I don't know who's "drilling" the SBC as a bunch of dumb rednecks...not me.

Actually, this is the very first book by Balmer that I've read. I'm much more familiar with evangelical authors such as Hatch, Noll, and Marsden. I do, however, own Balmer's Encyclopedia of Evangelicalism which is quite splendid.

3:16 PM

Blogger D.R. said...

Honestly, I didn't know anything about Randall Balmer until I heard about his book and picked it up in the bookstore one day. I read through it because I couldn't stop. It seemed like a train wreck to me. I honestly couldn't believe some of what this guy, who I was expecting to have some semblence of understanding about the Religious Right, was saying. The abortion chapter was the most shocking to me because it was built upon this myth that I had never heard and he even he couldn't prove came from the leadership of the Religious Right. That's just bad journalism and bad writing.

I have written in the past about my distaste for Christians in politics. I don't identify myself with a political party and if I had a choice to make I would vote on issues like environmental care, help for local farmers, and welfare reform. But I absolutely cannot support candidates that want abortion on demand. These folks who push for partial birth abortion have to have lost their souls. It is by far the most horrid "medical" procedure that doctors have ever dreamed up. But I digress...

I do often defend conservatives, and many of them are connected to the Religious Right. I don't pretend that I am a conservative and I do support some policies of the Religious Right. But, that doesn't mean I can't be critical of them as well. The problem, as I see it, is that Balmer's book and many others like it would rather resort to calling names and pointing out extreme examples rather than actually spending time with people like myself who I believe make up the majority of the Christian conservatives in this country. We aren't crazy "Jesus Camp"'ers who bless everything Bush does. We aren't war-mongers and we don't care about politics as much as we do issues like abortion. But unfortunately that is enough for many people to label us theocrats or dominionists or whatever term scares the most people into voting Democrat. And so often I find myself defending people rather than actually critiquing them. If I found a fair critique that legitimately presented the core group of Christian conservatives then I would be far more likely to listen to it. The problem is that whether you sit on the right or left, calm discourse doesn't sell books. Ann Coulter doesn't sell books because she is an intellectual -- she sells them because she is a raving madwoman, and sometimes she is even right. Balmer's book is celebrated because it often presents a crazed view of religious conservatives, and because of that I will stand and defend those I think are being misrepresented.

I am glad to see that you are reading Noll and Marsden as I think they are great writers. Noll is a good critic of the Religious Right, though I disagreed with him not voting in the last Presidential election, as I believe you probably do as well.

9:16 PM


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