David P. Gushee, distinguished university professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University and president of Evangelicals for Human Rights has taken to the pages of USA Today to confess—well, sort of—that things haven’t turned out exactly as he had hoped with President Obama.Â Gushee identifies himself as one among “a group of self-identified centrist or moderate evangelicals” who had “built a friendly relationship with Barack Obama and rejected the Christian right’s vilification of him.”Â Yes, of course, following close to script, Gushee, as a “centrist” or “moderate” Â must vilify the Christian right’s vilification before proceeding to confession.
With that out of the way, Gushee confesses that he is beginning to have some doubts about Obama and this pro-life thing. “I knew from the beginning that if Obama took typical Democratic positions on abortion-related issues, this centrist evangelical friendliness toward him and his administration would be tested.”
Well that friendliness is being tested of late and the “centrist” or “moderate” evangelical response? Preemptive capitulation, but not without a little guilt.
Gushee sums it all up this way:
Mexico City, conscience clause, Sebelius, embryonic stem cells. In each case, I have been asked by friends at Democratic or progressive-leaning think tanks not just to refrain from opposing these moves, but instead to support them in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life. I mainly refused.
Let’s pause and think about that for a moment. Gushee’s new found “friends” in the Democratic or “progressive think tanks” have been seeking him out down there at Mercer University to get him to support each of these policies. Not just to remain silent mind you, but to actively support these policies and to do so “in the name of a broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life.” Â But this is evidently too Orwellian even for Professor Gushee. He can’t bring himself to do it (with the exception of flaking for Obama on the Sebelius nomination, which now says he regrets.)
At some point, Professor Gushee must come to the realization that his “progressive friends” are selling him the political equivalent of snake oil. Even Gushee seems to be aware that it is simply impossible to support these policies as part of a “broader understanding of what it means to be pro-life.” So, by his own admission, he remains silent.
But that silence is loud. Gushee’s silence is a nonverbal acknowledgment that the pro-lifers on the “Christian right” who Gushee is so anxious to vilify may have been on to something. They actually looked at Obama’s record—his defense of FOCA, opposition to partial birth abortion legislation—and found little that would have given them assurance that he would not be a typical “progressive” Democrat on abortion.
On the other hand, Obama “said,” he was for abortion reduction (after several years of polling and focus groups indicated that this might pick off a few “values” voters.)Â Gushee, Sider, along with Kmiec bought the line. TheyÂ were convinced that Obama would be pro-life in the same way that the pop star Rihanna is convinced that her boyfriend Chris Brown will not beat her the next time they get into an argument. How much abuse will Gushee and company have to take from their “progressive” friends before they get out of the “relationship?”
It seems not to have occurred to Professor Gushee that another option was available: he might actually present a reasoned public argument against the funding of abortion and against and the lifting of Mexico City policy; he might actually make a public argument in support of a conscience clause; he might actually tell us why Governor Sebelius’ defense of late-term abortion is wrong and her Bishop’s views of her areÂ right. And he might pause a moment and take a lesson from Yuval Levin, Charles Krauthammer, and others who have put their considerable intellectual and writing talents to task demonstrating the utter ethical bankruptcy of Obama’s decision on stem cells.
Why has this not even occurred to Gushee? A large part of it has to do with not wanting to be associated with “those” people, the unwashed pro-life yahoos out there in the evangelical world. Gushee doesn’t confess to that, but he does confess to this:
But I do confess that my desire to retain good relationships with the Obama team has tempted me to give what was asked in return for the big payoff of a serious abortion-reduction initiative that I could wholeheartedly support.
That’s a diplomatic way of saying that Gushee has been and remains “in the tank for Obama.” But what are we to make of this hope for a “big payoff?” I suspect that Professor Gushee’s new “progressive” friends know a sucker when they see one.
Here, one can’t help but recall Ross Douthat’s comment about Douglas Kmiec’s shameless flaking for Obama and the Democrats on the pro-life issue. Conceding that the Republican Party has not done enough on the abortion issue, Douthat then remarks:
What I don’t understand at all is Kmiec’s position, which seems to be that the contemporary Democratic Party, and particularly the candidacy of Barack Obama, offered nearly as much to pro-lifers as the Republican Party does. I am sure that Kmiec is weary of being called a fool by opponents of abortion for his tireless pro-Obama advocacy during this election cycle, but if so, then the thing for him to do is to cease acting like the sort of person for whom the term “useful idiot” was coined, rather than persisting in his folly.
That might apply to Gushee and his fellow “moderate” and “centrist” evangelicals as well.Â “Some of us continue to dream,” Gushee tells us, “that [Obama] will roll out a major abortion-reduction initiative.”
Dream on, brother. Dream on.