Not Morality but Decency

What if Christians talked more about decency than morality, about what is normal than about what is righteous or God glorifying? Sure, we have churches to talk about the demands of God’s law and how believers glorify God. But, as 2kers are wont to point out, persuading non-Christians to embrace Christian morality sans regeneration or the means of grace seems to be bass ackward.

Does that leave us without a case for those sexual and family aspects of public policy or social life that so animate religious conservatives? It certainly leaves us without a moral high ground. But it’s not as if that high ground doesn’t look to non-Christians like a moral high horse.

So why not take a page from Joseph Epstein? His first collection of short stories about Jewish life in Chicago included one that revolved around a non-observant Jewish businessman meeting his daughter, who had just had an abortion, for dinner to express his disapproval. Part of dinner conversation went like this:

“Daddy, did you really expect me not to sleep with anyone while I was in college?”

“No,” he said, “I guess I didn’t really expect that, but I wouldn’t have minded if you hadn’t. I would have minded a hell of a lot less than I do about what has happened.”

The waitress set down their food. “Enjoy,” she said.

“You still haven’t told me why this bugs you so much, Daddy. Do you think your daughter is now, somehow, damaged goods?”

“I don’t know as I would put it that way, baby, but maybe I do. But not in the way you might think.”

“How then?”

“I think it’s a goddamned damaging thing for a girl to have had an abortion at nineteen,” he said, more emphatically than he had intended. He looked across the aisle at the two old broads and the expressionless face of the senile old gent, and hoped they hadn’t heard him.

“Look, Deb,” he said, talking more softly now, “if you’ve had an abortion at nineteen, what’ve you got planned for twenty-four, or thirty-one, or forty-two?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that, for the first time, as a result of what’s happened, I can imagine a terrible life for you. A life of confusion and sadness and heartbreak. And it terrifies me.”

“Why do you think that?”

“Maybe an abortion is a solution to the problem of a pregnancy, but I suspect that it brings its own problems. It isn’t as tidy as it sounds; I suspect that it takes its toll. Once you undergo something like this, your opinion of yourself changes, maybe in small little ways, but it changes. Maybe, because of something like this, you no longer think so well of yourself. Maybe it becomes easier to do more foolish things.”

“I don’t think that’s true, Daddy.”

“I hope it isn’t, sweetheart, I really do hope it isn’t.”

“But what could I have done?”

“You probably did all that you could do, but I think you may be making a big mistake if you think you got away with it. An abortion, anyhow one of this kind, is a dreary and common and pretty crummy thing.”

“What do you want, Daddy?” She had only been picking at her food, but now she gave up even doing that. Tears were in her eyes. Harry remembered her in braces.

“What I want you can’t give me, Deborah. What I want isn’t even reasonable. I want you back the way you were before this happened.”

“What I am supposed to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know what you’re supposed to do. The world is slipping away, my sweet girl, and there’s evidently not much any of us can do about it. But I don’t have to like it. And I especially don’t have to like my kid becoming a part of it.”

If we can join with all (how many?) those people who think abortion who think not that it is a violation of the sixth commandment but “crummy,” would social standards be higher? Maybe.

Would Russell Moore Argue This Way about Cocaine Possession?

I understand why pro-life groups want to disassociate themselves from Donald Trump’s convoluted thoughts about women who seek abortions needing to be penalized. But doesn’t Russell Moore go too far when he says these women are victims of a culture and industry that is pro-choice?

One of the worst misconceptions about pro-life Americans is that we are pro-baby and anti-women. Unfortunately, the pro-life movement hasn’t always done a good job of defeating this notion. It’s true that some rhetoric on our side has lacked compassion and holistic concern for the well-being of mothers, especially unwed moms. But despite our imperfections, the pro-life movement has indeed been remarkably consistent about our desire not only to tear down abortion culture but to build a culture of life and human flourishing in its stead. This is the conviction that has built thousands of crisis pregnancy centers, funded hundreds of adoptions., and come alongside countless numbers of women, and men, with practical acts of mercy and love.

If abortion were illegal, if it were a form of murder, why does Moore assume the mother is innocent or not responsible for her involvement in the procedure? Does Moore think this is true for wealthy professional women as much as it may be for the poor mothers who can’t afford to have a child? And would he be so forgiving of any number of harmful activities that take place in poor urban neighborhoods?

I get it that the public relations of the pro-life movement needs to avoid looking punitive. But think about it. If a woman in a Southern Baptist Convention congregation had an abortion procedure, would her deacons come along side her and grant forgiveness and offer consolation apart from an admission of guilt and an expression of repentance?

This is not 2k. Two kingdoms theology recognizes that the church’s role is forgiveness (in response to faith and repentance) and that the state’s role is to punish the wicked and reward the good. But a blanket public policy that says mothers walk away scot-free from an activity that has drawn and quartered the United States for the last four decades seems a tad cynical. If something is illegal and someone engages in an activity that breaks the law, law enforcement doesn’t assume that law breakers are victims.

Anti-Gun is Pro-Life, Right?

James Mumford thinks so:

To me, the Planned Parenthood scandal seems the ultimate commodification of the body under the conditions of late capitalism.

Moreover, I agree that in the end it comes down to a trade-off between life and freedom. Pro-lifers often sheepishly downplay what their view entails: radical restrictions to a woman’s autonomy, both in having to undergo pregnancy—a burden I will never experience—and then either embarking on the project of a lifetime in raising a child she didn’t choose or, if she opts for adoption, knowing her child is walking around in the world without her.

So it struck me as all the more strange that, in complete contrast to the abortion debate, when it comes to guns American conservatives reverse their priorities. They rank freedom over life. “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.” Dr. Ben Carson’s response to the Umpqua Community College shooting in Oregon befuddled me.

Presumably, those who own guns for self-defense wouldn’t accept the claim that they rank freedom over life. They would say the freedom to own guns is precisely a freedom to defend life, their own and other people’s. Yet are more lives saved than lost by people having such easy access to lethal weapons? . . .

no possible reading of the Second Amendment can possibly excuse the fundamental hypocrisy here. Just because you’re free to do something doesn’t mean you should do it. Conservatives like me who care deeply about family values typically forego their freedom to sleep around.

Plus, a right is never absolute anyway. In 2008 Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion in Heller, recognized that even the individual rights reading allows for a raft of gun-control measures—prohibitions on carrying weapons in public, extension of background checks, etc., etc. So there’s a lot for consistent pro-lifers to be campaigning for with as much vigor as they’re trying to defund Planned Parenthood.

Mumford is British. So is it a form of American exceptionalism to make round the square of defending guns and opposing abortion?

Indignity Unbecoming

One more small yelp about Christians spotting media bias.

Alan Jacobs faults journalists for improperly interpreting Pope Francis’ declaration of mercy for women who have had abortions:

Pope Francis has done a big, big thing: he has made it dramatically easier for women who have had abortions to be reconciled to the Church. But take a look at this NBC News headline: “Pope Francis: Priests Can Forgive Abortion If Women Are ‘Contrite’” — as though before this papal statement contrite women could not have received forgiveness!

The distinction between making forgiveness — more accurately, reconciliation and restoration to Communion, but even I won’t be a stickler for that — easier and making it possible is an important one and easy to grasp, but a reputable religion journalist insisted to me on Twitter this morning that such headlines are perfectly accurate and that my questioning them shows my ignorance of Catholic doctrine.

Apparently the BBC doesn’t agree with him, because the headline and article they posted earlier — has been revised: “Pope on abortion: Francis relaxes forgiveness rules.” Which is a big improvement in accuracy, though at least one, ahem, reputable religion journalist will think it wholly unnecessary.

Why defend the indefensible? The NBC and the original BBC headlines are plainly and simply wrong, and the stories accompanying them are factually wobbly at their best and in several places incorrect. So why say otherwise? An ideological axe to grind? Misplaced professional solidarity?

But when Roman Catholics themselves don’t know what the church teaches or pay attention to the papacy, why should the press be held to a higher standard than those who answered the call to communion. Rod Dreher reports on the latest set of numbers that don’t lie (and don’t reassure about the call’s terms):

Although an overwhelming majority of Catholics (nine in ten) believe in the concept of sin, they don’t seem to agree on what, precisely, constitutes one. Fifty-seven percent of Catholics think it’s a sin to have an abortion, compared to 48 percent of the general U.S. population who say the same. Forty-four percent think homosexual behavior is sinful (about the same say this among the general public). And just 17 percent of Catholics believe its a sin to use contraceptives, while 21 percent say the same of getting a divorce.

And although those percentages are higher for those who attend Mass weekly — 73 percent of weekly churchgoers say that abortion is a sin, for instance — the numbers are still pretty low on the issue of contraception: just 31 percent of weekly Mass attendees say the use of artificial contraception is a sin.

When Rod adds that liberalizing church teaching would actually hurt more than help, I have to wonder:

This is a pretty strong piece of evidence against the idea that if Pope Francis (or any pope) liberalized church teaching and practice in certain controversial areas, it would stop the bleeding and bring back Catholics who have left the church. All it would stand to do is to discourage the core of true believers. In fact, the Pew survey appears to indicate that the teachings of the Church don’t have a lot to do with the way many individual Catholics — even regular churchgoers — think and live.

I’ve seen what the numbers do to the true believers who at least were former Protestants. Nothing discourages these folks. It’s always sunny in Rome.

Telling Fibs about Saving Lives

The Lutheran Satire pastor, Hans Fiene, is the latest to defend David Daleiden’s deceit. Thankfully, he does not mention journalism. Unthankfully, he does mention fascist Germans:

The lie of the CMP is, therefore, the obliging lie — seeking to protect the lives of our littlest neighbors. It’s the same lie told by people who say to a frothing-at-the-mouth husband, “sorry, I haven’t seen her,” when his battered wife is safely asleep in their guest bedroom. It’s the same lie told by law enforcement officers who do undercover work to protect children at risk of sexual abuse or citizens at risk of gang-related violence. And if Tollefsen wants to compare the actions of the CMP with a figure from World War II, Truman and his decision to let thousands upon thousands of women and children die to end the war is far from an appropriate candidate. Rather, he’d find a much better fit in someone like Irena Sendler, the Polish nurse who deceived the German government by producing fake IDs for Jewish children in order to save them from the Holocaust.

Actually, not. PP officials were not asking Daleiden where the pregnant women were so they could abort and sell the parts. He was there not about the taking of life but the sale of abortions’ remains. If government agencies defund Planned Parenthood, the lives of unborn babies will still be taken by those providing abortions. Maybe PP’s rates will go up. Maybe they’ll take a hit in public relations. But abortion remains legal and these videos or the lies Daleiden told do nothing to change that.

So I’d like the analogies to be accurate. This is like Daleiden posing as a lampshade maker to meet with Nazi officials about the effects of those slaughtered in the concentration camps. His lies are all after the fact.

Meanwhile, Fiens identifies the basis for the resonance these videos have had:

We in the pro-life community don’t get many stirring victories. Granted, we see a reason to celebrate in the face of every woman who changes her mind and walks out of an abortion clinic with her child still safely in her womb. And we take comfort in the gradually declining abortion rate in America. But Roe v. Wade still stands, the most aggressively pro-abortion president in U.S. history still sleeps in the White House, and the Supreme Court still blocks implementation of state restrictions on abortions.

So when the Center for Medical Progress started releasing its string of undercover videos, most of the pro-life community felt a kind of joy we hadn’t felt in ages. Not joy over what Planned Parenthood was doing, of course, nor was it the kind of joy that wants to shout “busted!” in the face of the bamboozled enemy. Rather, the joy pro-lifers felt at the release of these videos came from the belief that maybe, just maybe, unveiling these particular horrors of the abortion industry would be enough to wake up previously indifferent Americans and start moving the wheels of justice for the unborn. Buried in the sewers of those nausea-inducing undercover videos, pro-lifers found a nugget of hope that lets us believe that a stirring victory for our cause is finally on the horizon.

That confirms my sense that these videos are pay back in the culture wars for same-sex marriage. I’m not saying such a desire for retribution is without basis (though I’m not sure it goes with turning the other cheek). But again, it would be helpful to be honest when defending dishonesty. (Is that a Christian haiku? Nah. Wrong w-w.)

Journalists and Saints Together

Push back on questioning David Daleiden’s explanation of his Planned Parenthood videos got me thinking — it sometimes happens — about the ethics of journalism. One of the strongest pushes came from those who say that Daleiden is only doing what journalists do. Which is sort of like saying that journalists don’t have to tell the truth to gain a story, and why would believers argue that way? Sounds antinomian.

In point of fact, journalists have ethical standards that require honesty. Here’s part of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics:

– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

– Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

– Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

– Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant. . . .

– Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

Daleiden was vigilant and courageous (though he might have been even more courageous if he had been truthful with his interviewees). But didn’t he fail on all the other measures? In which case, can anyone really say that this is par for the course with journalists?

Here are a few excerpts from NPR’s Ethics Handbook:

Honesty
Journalists who conduct themselves honestly prove themselves worthy of trust. In the course of our work, we are genuine and candid. We attribute information we receive from others, making perfectly clear to our audience what information comes from which source. We avoid hyperbole and sensational conjecture. We may sometimes construct hypotheticals to help explain issues and events, but we reveal any fabrication, and do not otherwise mix fiction with our news reporting. We edit and present information honestly, without deception, and we identify ourselves as NPR journalists when we report. Only in the rarest of instances – such as when public safety is at issue, or when lives are at stake – might we disguise our identity or intent when reporting. Before we take such a step, we engage in rigorous deliberation and consider all alternatives. Then, when we tell the story, we fully disclose what we did and why. . . .

Impartiality
Our experiences and perspectives are valuable assets to our journalism. We enjoy the right to robust personal lives, yet we accept some unique professional obligations and limitations. Because our words and actions can damage the public’s opinion of NPR, we comport ourselves in ways that honor our professional impartiality. We have opinions, like all people. But the public deserves factual reporting and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or see. So we strive to report and produce stories that transcend our biases and treat all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives and pursue a diverse range of others, aiming always to present the truth as completely as we can tell it.

Transparency
To inspire confidence in our journalism, it is critical that we give the public the tools to evaluate our work. We reveal as much as we practically can about how we discover and verify the facts we present. We strive to make our decision-making process clear to the public, especially when we find ourselves wrestling with tough choices. We disclose any relationships, whether with partners or funders, that might appear to influence our coverage.

Christians and conservatives should be careful about snickering too much here. If we want our side not to be snickered at, . . .

And on each of NPR’s criteria you could said that Daleiden was an epic fail.

But here’s the worst part of the journalistic-ethics defense of Daleiden. If a journalist went to a Roman Catholic archbishop and presented himself as a member of the church and in need of sacramental grace as part of a way of doing an expose of clerical sexual misconduct, what would the social conservatives say? Is that the way journalists behave? How loud would the outcry be over such dishonesty?

Or how about a reporter who while doing an interview with Mitt Romney to gain better access to insider information, what if that reporter presented himself as a fellow Mormon (when he wasn’t) and a regular donor to the GOP (which he didn’t)? Would anyone possibly take that “reporter” seriously as a journalist? Would Romney or his staff?

None of this means that Daleiden doesn’t deserve some credit for exposing a truly despicable aspect of American society. But if he is going to claim either the mantle of journalistic ethics or Christian morality, can’t we/I question that?

Pro-Business, Pro-Life

Imagine yourself the owner of an aluminum ladder company. What do you do once every home owner in the United States owns a ladder? You go after renters. But what happens when that market is saturated? You better hope the ladders fail and need to be replaced. Or you buy another company, like one that makes cookies, and hope for profits on that product. (Or so I imagine how business people think.)

But imagine also hearing the Brit Hume commentary about abortion and the Planned Parenthood videos. You learn there that 55 million human lives have been taken through abortion. And you begin to think of all those customers who might have needed an aluminum ladder.

What got me thinking along these free-market lines was Rod Dreher’s posting of an American creed that goes out of its way to deride capitalism:

We believe in one Market,
Objective and Free,
maker of assets and security,
of all that is prosperous and possible.
We believe in the one true force, the Invisible Hand,
the Logic of the Market,
eternally co-existing with the Market,
regent of riches, assurance of efficiency,
trumpeter of technology, power behind politics.
Through him all transactions are made.
For us and for our prosperity
he gives value to all money
and enables all commerce;
by the power of the American Dream
he becomes incarnate in the hearts of all free men.
For our sake he guarantees the equitability of all commerce,
he re-assures all the laborers,
emboldens all the entrepreneurs,
and casts aside all the idle.
He ensures all debts will ultimately be repaid.
He is revealed in glory in America but his kingdom has no end nor boundary.
We believe in the American Dream, the hope and giver of the life abundant,
who proceeds from the Market and who with the Invisible Hand is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through Adam Smith and his economists.
We believe in one holy and universal Spirit of Growth.
We acknowledge the cost and risk of our choices.
We look for the extension of credit,
and the affluent life that is certain to come. Amen.

Dreher’s friend, the one who wrote the creed, explains that “consumerism and its underlying philosophy is as big of a cultural hurdle to serious Christian’s life as liberal sexual norms.”

It can be. But why isn’t consumerism also a friend of the unborn when you recognize how many potential consumers have been eliminated from the check-out line?