Brian McClaren is the guru of one of the most recent evangelical theological fads, something called the emerging church. He’s a regular contributor at Sojourners and spent a lot of time last year campaigning for President Obama, trying to convince evangelicals that Obama was actually the pro-life candidate. For example, he wrote:
Some of my friends and relatives have been reading my reasons for voting for Barack Obama, but the issue of abortion is a major roadblock for them. They believe that a vote for Obama is a vote for abortion, and a vote for McCain is a vote against abortion. They are surprised to learn that I believe an Obama presidency could actually take us farther in reducing abortion than a McCain presidency, and it could do so through a wiser, less-divisive, more effective strategy.
The campaign continues. Now McClaren is shocked that anyone could ever possibly suggest that President Obama or congressional Democrats could even remotely consider abortion funding as a part of any health care reform proposal. One fellow recently wrote to him saying, “The reason I do not support the President [on health care] is his pro abortion views. The Senate bill will mandate government payment for abortion.” Here is McClaren’s response:
Where did you hear this? Whoever told you this was misinforming you. I have been involved with a group of religious leaders who are working hard to be sure this will not be the case. The language we’re using is “abortion neutral”—health care reform, we believe, should not become a surrogate battlefront for either side in the abortion conflict. Whoever told you this is a fact—that reform will involve abortion—was either intentionally trying to mislead you or they were passing on misleading information unintentionally. (I hope you will notify them.) Although it is highly unlikely, it is possible that such a bill could pass, and that’s why many of us are involved in seeking good reform that will be abortion neutral.
I must confess that I don’t believe for a moment that McClaren is working hard to make sure that health care reform is abortion neutral. I’m inclined to think that he is working hard “partnering with God” and all the other progressive faith-based leaders to carry Obama’s water to the faith-based community. But maybe I’m being too cynical about the motives of Brother McClaren. So here’s a chance to prove me wrong.
McClaren, as an outspoken faith-based authority on health care reform, is no doubt aware that in each of the three House committees, and in the Senate committee considering health care reform, amendments were proposed to keep elective abortion out of the public plan and to prevent federal subsidies from going to private plans that cover elective abortion. Democratic committee chairmen and majorities voted down each and every pro-life amendment. Perhaps McClaren could tell us all which of those amendments he supports and why. Perhaps he can tell us why the Republicans were right to support these amendments and the Democrats wrong to oppose them. Perhaps he can tell us why, if abortion was no big deal, these pro-life amendments were rejected in the first place.
Second, McClaren assures us that anyone making an issue out of abortion and healthcare reform is either (1) a liar or is (2) unintentionally spreading misleading information. One wonders what to make then of the comments of his fellow evangelical Michael Gerson. In “When Planners Decide Life,” Gerson writes that it is increasingly clear that Democratic health reforms would disrupt the rough social equilibrium on abortion.
Take abortion. The House approach to the coverage of the procedure in federally subsidized insurance plans is presented as a compromise: Abortions would be funded out of the premiums that come from individuals, not money from taxpayers. But this is a cover, if not a con. By the nature of health insurance, premiums are not devoted to specific procedures; they support insurance plans. It matters nothing in practice if a premium dollar comes from government or the individual—both enable the same coverage. If the federal government directly funds an insurance plan that includes elective abortion, it cannot claim it is not paying for elective abortions.
In fact, any national approach to this issue is likely to challenge the current social consensus on abortion. The House bill would result in federal funding for abortion on an unprecedented scale. But forbidding federal funds to private insurers that currently cover elective abortions (as some insurers do) would amount, as pro-choice advocates note, to a restriction on the availability of abortion. Either way, government will send a powerful, controversial social signal.
Perhaps McClaren could tell just exactly where Gerson is (1) lying or (2) unintentionally spreading misinformation.
That might keep him busy for a while. But here’s another little homework assignment. I wonder if McClaren has ever heard of an organization called the National Right to Life Committee, or its legislative director, Douglas Johnson. Johnson and the NRLC have a decidedly different take on abortion and health care than McClaren and company. Here is the NRLC’s most recent press release of August 19.
The following comment may be attributed to Douglas Johnson, legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), the national federation of state and local right-to-life organizations:
Emboldened by the recently demonstrated superficiality of some organs of the news media, President Obama today brazenly misrepresented the abortion-related component of the health care legislation that his congressional allies and staff have crafted. As amended by the House Energy and Commerce Committee on July 30 (the Capps-Waxman Amendment), the bill backed by the White House (H.R. 3200) explicitly authorizes the government plan to cover all elective abortions. Obama apparently seeks to hide behind a technical distinction between tax funds and government-collected premiums. But these are merely two types of public funds, collected and spent by government agencies. The Obama-backed legislation makes it explicitly clear that no citizen would be allowed to enroll in the government plan unless he or she is willing to give the federal agency an extra amount calculated to cover the cost of all elective abortions—this would not be optional. The abortionists would bill the federal government and would be paid by the federal government. These are public funds, and this is government funding of abortion.
In 2007 Obama explicitly pledged to Planned Parenthood that the public plan will cover abortions (see the video clip here). Some journalists have reported that Obama “backed off” of this commitment in an interview with Katie Couric of CBS News, broadcast July 21, but Obama actually carefully avoided stating his intentions—instead, he simply made an artful observation that “we also have a tradition of, in this town, historically, of not financing abortions as part of government funded health care.”
It is true that there is such a tradition—which Obama has always opposed, and which the Obama-backed bill would shatter.
Does McClaren believe that Johnson and the NRLC are (1) lying or (2) passing on misleading information unintentionally? Can he identify precisely where they are lying or unintentionally misleading?
Once McClaren tackles those questions we can perhaps move on to his explanation for President Obama’s comments on health care reform and abortion before Planned Parenthood back in 2007. But this will do for now. We could use a little truth-telling on abortion and health care reform, but somehow I suspect that McClaren just isn’t up to the task.