Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Gosnell case: Why it won't make any difference

Anti-abortionists have been transfixed by the current criminal trial of Dr. Keith Gosnell, a Philadelphian who performs abortions, and have complained about media coverage -- in their view, the lack thereof, because of their perceived pro-choice bias. I suspect that they want to force a national conversation on the morality of abortion and that if they covered it properly more people would support their cause.

I think that they're wasting their breath.

The reality is that most Americans really couldn't care less about abortion -- one survey I saw a number of years ago noted that the percentage of people who based their vote primarily on a candidate's stance on legal abortion was in single digits, and two-thirds of those were pro-choice. And when was the last time you ever saw abortion as a campaign issue? It almost never happens.

And I think I know why. In its nearly-40-year history the "pro-life" movement has always been dominated by religious types not consistently popular with the public, specifically Roman Catholics and Protestant evangelicals, because of its uncomfortableness with the use of faith as the will to power. In other words, ultimately it's about not "life" but the idea of religious values being crammed down everyone's throat (which Americans despise with a passion, especially today). In this context "religious" arguments simply don't -- can't -- work. Yet the movement keeps trying, wishing and hoping for the cultural change that they have yet to produce.

That hope took root in 1981, when Ronald Reagan became president; I was in college at the time and noticed that fighting abortion was the only acceptable way to be a Christian who sought political involvement. And that led to an unbalanced understanding of what faith was about -- many of my fellow students became flat-out jerks more concerned about "the cause" than the personal character that God wanted to develop in them.

As someone who opposes abortion for reasons having nothing to do with my Christian faith, I see no way that we can have a conversation about abortion unless and until the religious aspect is downplayed. That actually might happen as the United States grows increasingly secular, but it won't happen a moment before. And I'm thankful for that, because fighting abortion has become a form of idolatry.

And that's why the Gosnell trial won't be the touchstone, the turning point, that anti-abortionists have craved.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

A rude awakening: The 'realpolitik' of gay marriage

Earlier this week the Washington Post reported that a number of culturally conservative organizations asked the Republican Party not to support same-gender matrimony in the light of last year's general election, threatening to leave if it reversed course.

I seriously doubt, however, that they will. Reason: From a financial and organizational standpoint, they have always been highly dependent on the secular conservatives who have dominated the GOP since the 1970s. And if they do, which to me would be a surprise, they will find themselves increasingly isolated.

They're headed that way anyway; they stopped being a force in American politics on the national level in 2006. That became clear when Focus on the Family, facing the potential of major GOP losses in Congress due to the lobbying scandal and the increasingly unpopular war in Iraq, sponsored officially non-partisan "Stand for the Family" rallies in several battleground states hoping to turn out its supporters, one of those, essentially a shill for Sen. Rick Santorum, taking place here in Pittsburgh. (Of course, GOP candidates lost every one of those Senate races, Santorum losing to Bob Casey Jr. by 18 points.)

More to the point, however, the vast majority of secular conservatives really don't care about gay marriage, abortion or other social issues of import to conservative evangelical Christians, something that would be obvious if you subscribe to secular conservative media. You won't see discussions on those in secular print or online media or on the Fox News Channel, FNC's bogus "War on Christmas" notwithstanding.

More troubling, however, is just how easily many of us Christians were suckered into the war against "big government," which in essence was always a class war; the movement from its beginnings in the mid-1950s took aim against those of lesser means who may benefit from political action, in my view violating Biblical principles of social justice. (Yes, the Scriptures do support such, contrary to what you may have heard.)

And while there's nothing wrong with making money, too many of us have idolized businessmen as the Christian ideal, ignoring the economic exploitation that they supported that began taking place in the early 1980s and the heavy lobbying to maintain their privileged status that they do today. In the process the church, in failing to confront the greedy then, has lost much of its prophetic power, which is why few are listening to it today when it comes to a clear violation of another Biblical issue.

Indeed, many, many gays are otherwise politically conservative. I was stunned to learn about a decade ago about the Republican Unity Council, a now-inactive organization that sought to recruit gay or gay-friendly conservative candidates, and one survey noted that George W. Bush received about a quarter of the gay vote in 2000. And of course you have today the more-established Log Cabin Republicans and the more recent GOProud that irritate "culture warriors" to no end. Clearly gays are becoming a more powerful force in the Republican Party, whose chief concern is winning elections, not taking moral stances.

With the gay-marriage issue now facing the Supreme Court -- and remember that one of the lawyers who argued for the overturning of California's 2008 Proposition 8 that banned it was Ted Olson, who played a small part in the 1990s anti-Bill Clinton crusade -- it's time for us Christians to understand that secular conservatives were never really our friends. I always was concerned that Christians might be thrown overboard if we were seen as costing them elections.

That day may have come.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

More than just 'white privilege'

Janell Ross, writing in Wednesday's Huffington Post in an article titled "Black Unemployment Driven By White America's Favors For Friends," tried to insist that the jobless rate for African-Americans is double that of the population at large is because of so-called white privilege -- that white America simply takes its opportunities for granted and is inconsiderate of "people of color." She quoted as a source a recent book, "The American Non-Dilemma: Racial Inequality Without Racism" by Nancy DiTomaso, a professor of organization management at Rutgers University who said that most white people admitted that they had little contact with blacks.

I understand that concern, but it's not necessarily the fault of whites. What's really needed is not so much a program to get more African-Americans in the pipeline but a way for black and white to have closer personal relationships -- attend the same churches, live in the same neighborhoods or otherwise associate with the same people.

Trouble is, that kind of "intimacy" was discouraged when I was growing up. And if my experience is any indication, it comes mostly from the black side.

Come again?

I came of age in the 1970s, a time when integration was at least a reasonable possibility. I attended largely white private schools and found myself in an almost-all-white conservative Presbyterian church, so white folks have virtually always been a part of my life. But for reasons I'll never understand this side of heaven, other black kids hassled me, one girl (yes, a girl) abusing me on a consistent basis at one of those schools. I thus decided to build my significant friendships with whites, leading to more scorn from my fellow African-Americans. At that point I didn't care.

As a 10th-grader at a prestigious Catholic prep school, I won two parts in the spring musical and was invited to two graduation parties. I was on the newspaper staff of both the major universities that I attended; at the second university I decided to go through fraternity rush and was extended a bid on the first night from the first house I visited. (I eventually accepted that bid and am a brother today.) In my early 20s I joined a socially prominent Presbyterian congregation; by the time I left 14 years later I had become a deacon and would likely be an elder today had I stayed.

In all of these places there were very few, if any, other blacks. Why was I so accepted, especially when I was often told that it wouldn't happen? I'm not sure I can answer that question so easily; that said, I was not trying to make a statement.

I was simply trying to find a home.

It thus could be that the high unemployment rate for blacks that Ross and DiTomaso refer to is connected to their inability or unwillingness to take risks, leave comfort zones and actually mix with people who don't "look like them"; if you do you risk being labeled "sellout," "honky-lover," "Oreo cookie." Teens who focus on their studies at the expense of a social life are even now often accused of "acting white."

I've worked at the same newspaper for over 16 years, and I got that job indirectly because I used to attend a integrated church with a now-deceased member of the editorial board -- a very fair-minded white man. In 1993 he was my instructor for one of my college classes; I did so well that he put my name in down there.

Maybe instead of complaining about "white privilege," we should be asking ourselves: "Are we connected to the right people, and will they vouch for us?" After all, we all feel most comfortable with those we already know. Perhaps we need to broaden our own horizons and cross some lines -- uncomfortable at first, of course, but well worth the effort down the road.