A Letter to My White Christian Pro-Life Friends, Part 4: My Plea

Dear White Christian Pro-Life Friends,

If you from time to time have second thoughts about what the pro-life movement is doing to our country, our faith, and your own soul, this four-part series is for you. I only ask that you read it prayerfully and thoughtfully, with an open mind and heart. I hope you will feel that I show you and your sincere involvement in the pro-life cause the respect you deserve, and if nothing else, I hope this series will help you participate in the movement more wisely and lovingly going forward.

For reasons I explained Part 1Part 2, and Part 3, my misgivings about the pro-life movement have grown since my days marching for the cause. I’ve seen how sincere Christians like me — and like you, people who just want to follow Jesus and do the right thing, have been conscripted into a culture war with an agenda that seems harder and harder to square with the teaching and example of Christ, especially in the era of Donald Trump.

That’s why my Catholic brother Patrick Carolan and I wrote a recent article advocating that we reframe the issue entirely. We wrote: “In our combined 120-plus years of life experience, neither of us has ever met a single supporter of abortion rights who hates babies, supports infanticide, or who has a the more the better’ attitude toward abortion. Nor have we ever met an abortion opponent who hates women and wants to throw mothers in jail for seeking an abortion. No doubt, such extremists may exist, but we have yet to meet any, and we can no longer let the debate be framed and fought from the extremes.”

The pro-life movement’s political marriage to Donald Trump over the last four years has changed conservative American Christianity profoundly, and not for the better. The sad story of Jerry Falwell, Jr. serves as a mirror for the movement as a whole. Through Falwell’s association with Trump, Trump did not become more Christ-like; Falwell became more Trump-like. The same has happened to so many of my Christian friends. A world full of mini-Trumps is not a world I would wish on my grandchildren or their grandchildren, and Christianity remade in Trump’s image is not a religion I could ever be part of.

Sadly, the whole Republican Party, including its most religious wing, has been remade in Trump’s image, as I’ve explained elsewhere. The more Evangelicals and Catholics align themselves with the Republican Party as it now stands, the more they will present themselves as a group of angry, older Trump-like white people who think they know more than they actually do, who don’t understand or care much about young people and people of color, who are guided more by self-interest than the common good, and who present to the world a twisted version of Jesus, as if Jesus were

anti-Black, anti-poor, anti-environment, anti-science, anti-neighbor, anti-gay, anti-refugee, anti-Mexican, anti-Chinese, anti-Muslim, anti-semitic, anti-kindness, pro-war, pro-gun, pro-winning-by-any-means, and pro-violence.

That isn’t just my observation: lots of research points in the same direction, as churches shrink and wrinkle and drive their young people away. (See https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/ and https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/millennials-are-leaving-religion-and-not-coming-back/ and https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2019/january/church-drop-out-college-young-adults-hiatus-lifeway-survey.html for starters.)

I’m worried, my sincere white pro-life Christian friends, that right now, Evangelical and Catholic leaders are mobilizing you to vote once again for a billionaire playboy who has spent his life embodying the seven deadly sins rather than the seven cardinal virtues. He almost perfectly epitomizes values that are the very opposite of those we learn in the Gospels.

His manifold faults are irrelevant, pro-life leaders tell you, because he is “with us on abortion.”

As a result, I’m worried that your vote in November will once again throw your neighbors of color under yet another bus, despite the fact that most of them are your fellow Christians. I’m worried that your vote will hurt our Muslim, Mexican, and other minority neighbors while emboldening anti-Semitic neo-Nazis like the ones I saw in Charlottesville in 2017 and like the pro-Trump white supremacist shown in a recent video, who lives not far from me.

I’m worried that your vote, cast because of your sincere pro-life commitment, will result in still more school children being bullied and threatened by classmates who are repeating what they hear their parents saying, inspired by Donald Trump.

I’m worried that your pro-life/pro-Republican/pro-Trump vote will further destabilize needed national institutions and international relationships, will again empower someone who seems to have little actual knowledge of or respect for the Constitution, inflicting further harm upon God’s creation through his specific anti-environment policies and his general denial of climate change.

In short, I’m worried that because of your pro-life commitment, which I believe you hold with utter sincerity, you will vote for a man with all the characteristics of malignant narcissism, with over 20,000 verified lies to his credit, who back in February said COVID-19 would be gone in a few days (even though he knew that wasn’t true), who considers his efforts to combat it a great success even as the death toll rises toward 200,000, who sought back channels with the Russians to subvert his own intelligence community, who celebrates violence at his rallies and uses lines from Stalin to vilify the media, who bragged about his genital size and ability to “move on” married women and grab their genitals while kissing them because “they let you do anything when you’re a star.” I’m worried you will vote for a man who has surrounded himself with indicted and convicted criminals, who hires and uses them and then says he hardly knew them when they get caught in wrongdoing, and who has shown himself in these and other ways to be an authoritarian leader, the very quality that our Constitution was designed to protect us from.

And even though your vote will support all these harmful effects, you will not feel any responsibility for the harm unleashed by your vote because your pro-life commitment confers upon you an absolute innocence.

It’s especially ironic: Joe Biden, like Barack Obama, is actually a dedicated church-going Christian, a sincere Roman Catholic believer, a kind and empathetic man who is devoted to the honest family values I’ve sought to live by for my whole life. Of course he isn’t perfect, and no doubt, “opposition research” will uncover any number of additional imperfections, real or fabricated. But my sense is that for many of you, perhaps most of you, my pro-life friends, none of Biden’s good qualities will matter, because no matter how good a Democrat is, no matter how genuine their character, no matter how smart and good their policies, no matter how genuine their faith, even if their policies reduce the number of abortions, you will feel obligated to minimize that goodness and maximize their faults.

And no matter how bad a Republican is, I’m worried you will feel obligated to minimize their badness and maximize their goodness.

Again, I know that virtually all of you, my white Christian pro-life friends, are completely sincere in your desire to see human life treated as sacred and abortion rates reduced. And I am not asking you to change that desire!

I only wish you would consider the possibility that your moral sincerity is being politically manipulated, leading to unintended and highly dangerous consequences.

My friend Robb Ryerse, an Evangelical pastor and a Republican who ran for Congress in Arkansas, summed it up powerfully in a TIME op-ed (https://www.votecommongood.com/vcg-in-time-i-questioned-the-sincerity-of-donald-trump/):

My desire is for there to be as few abortions as possible in our country. However, I’ve come to believe that the best means of reducing abortion rates is not through restrictions and criminalization. I’m also not convinced that reversing Roe v. Wade would reduce abortion rates. Abortion rates are now lower than they were before the Supreme Court’s decision to make abortion legal nationally.

The best means of reducing abortion is expanding health coverage so that every woman can consult with her doctor about her medical needs. We also need effective, comprehensive sexual education and greater access to other methods of birth control.

More troubling than my critics’ misunderstanding of my position on the abortion issue is the vitriol they have directed at me personally. Their voicemails, emails and direct messages have been full of name-calling and insults like I have never before experienced.

Like millions of other Americans, I grew up in the evangelical Christian subculture. We were taught that if we took a stand for what we believe, we would face opposition. Our pastors and leaders told us that nonbelievers in the world would mistreat us, insult us and even persecute us. Never would I have thought that what they warned us about wouldn’t actually be coming from the outside but from within.

Here is just a sampling of the messages I’ve received:

Daniel wrote, “Get struck down by God, you pile of sh*t.”

A man from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., did not leave his name but left a voicemail in which, after extolling the virtues of President Trump, he told me, “Enjoy hell, b*tch.”

Sarah Jane repeatedly called me a “dumb f***.” She said I am a “demon rat,” a “worker of iniquity” and an “instrument of Satan” who wants to “destroy America.”

Many of those who lambasted me emailed my church calling for me to be fired. The phrase “wolf in sheep’s clothing” has been used dozens of times. My church’s rating on Facebook fell from five stars to three and half because of all the negative reviews written by Trump supporters who have never visited one of our worship gatherings.

… That people disagree with me is not my concern. My concern is for an evangelical church in America that has normalized hatred in defense of President Trump.

I don’t understand how Christians can justify the name-calling, the insults and plain meanness. I don’t understand how they can so freely bear false witness against others. I don’t understand why they think following President Trump and loyalty to the Republican Party is of greater value than following Jesus and loyalty to his ethic of love.

The question I am left with is a paraphrase of Jesus, “What good is it if we gain the whole Supreme Court but lose our souls?”

I hope you can see that I am working under the assumption that you are just as sincere and well meaning as I was when I was in my twenties and marching for life in Washington DC every January. I hope you know I haven’t written this letter to attack you, or even to ask you to change your beliefs.

I’m just asking you to reconsider supporting Donald Trump based on your sincere opposition to abortion.

I have some sense of how uncomfortable it would be to think of breaking with the 81% of white Evangelicals and 60% of white Catholics who supported Trump in 2016. You and I both know how they talk about people who “go liberal” and vote for Democrats, and you hate to think of them saying similar things about you. (You might find some comfort knowing that growing numbers of kind and honest Evangelicals and Catholics are moving away from Trump and toward Biden, so you won’t be alone.)

I can imagine how hard it must be to wake up to what you have helped unleash through your political marriage to Donald Trump, especially because you only voted for him because people you trust told you it was the right, Christian, and pro-life thing to do, even though you found him personally repulsive.

I can imagine how intertwined Republican economic and political ideology has become with your theology and spirituality, so that you wonder how you can stay Christian without staying Republican.

Knowing these difficulties, I can only remind you the reason you originally joined the pro-life cause: because you wanted to do the right thing, just as I did.

If you become convinced that it is the right thing to change your vote this November, people like me won’t shame you for what you’ve been part of in the past.  Many of us, including me, have been there. You’ll be celebrated for having the courage and humility to change your mind, because we know how hard and costly that can be.

You won’t be seen with suspicion, or pressured to swing to the opposite extreme of where you may be now. You’ll be welcomed with grace and invited to rethink things as you are ready.

If you’re looking for help in rethinking your vote this November, here are some websites I recommend because I know the people behind them:

Thank you, my white, Christian, pro-life friends, for sticking with me through this four-part letter. 

I hope that you feel, regardless of your agreement or disagreement, that I have spoken from my heart and with genuine love for you, for all our neighbors, and for our beautiful, fragile, troubled country and world. 

If nothing else, you have shown the decency and civility to read with an open mind and heart the thoughts of someone with whom you differ. These days, that is no small thing. God bless you.

Warmly and with prayers for justice, peace, and joy for all,

Brian D. McLaren