Joel Hunter is a conservative, Republican megachurch pastor in Central Florida. He's giving the Democrats some free advice, if they care to hear it: Even if you stick with Roe V. Wade, you can show evangelicals that you are the pro-life party by showing us how you will actually reduce abortions--and how you will support "life" in other areas besides abortion. From Steve Waldman's Beliefnet column today:
Hunter makes a practical argument: providing women with economic help in carrying babies to term can actually reduce the number of abortions more, and more quickly, than focusing on overturning Roe v. Wade. "With eight years of Bush the abortion rates have not declined. Every indication is that with financial support and different forms of supporting pregnant mother and then some post birth help also we could come close to 50% reduction in abortions. That's huge. That's huge."
Continuing with the same culture war paradigm is therefore morally dubious. "If we insist on keeping this an ideological war we're literally not saving the babies we could save. The Democrats have a huge opportunity here to really steal the thunder from those who are seen as traditionally pro life."
Keep a look out for other Christian leaders popping up with the same message. What's causing this is the failure of the Republicans to significantly reduce abortions, even with 20 years of Republican presidency since the rise of the Christian right. Many Christians are finally getting fed up.
In my opinion, the Republican line on abortion--the singular focus on banning it--was just a cynical ploy. I know that many GOP leaders were sincere, but overall the strategy was simply to oppose abortion symbolically while doing nothing to reduce abortions in real life. Moreover, there is evidence from history and from around the world that banning abortion would not even reduce abortions (have we ever banned anything successfully?).
Pro-life Christians are finally getting this. If the Democrats take Joel Hunter's advice, and stand up as the real "pro-life party," they will not find formerly Republican Christians falling into lock step with them. Many of these Christians are so burned by their experience with the GOP that they will not join another party. However, in their pro-life calculations at the voting booth, many will choose the Democrat.
But how many? That depends on Obama, and if he will take Joel Hunter's advice. If Obama can boldly articulate a pro-life platform to reduce abortion, care for children and families, reduce arms and prevent war then he could bring about a seismic shift in electoral politics that makes the "Reagan Democrat" phenomenon look like nothing.
For many pro-choice advocates, that will feel like a concession. But has the status quo stand off worked any better for them over the past few decades? Abortion is still legal, but access to safe abortions for women who choose them has all but disappeared for many working class and rural women--right alongside other medical and social services. For sure, embracing a politics of "life" is a risk for pro-choice advocates. But Christian leaders who reject the status quo are taken an arguably greater risk: with their own congregations, with their national reputations and with anti-abortion extremists.
Only one thing is certain: It's going to be fascinating to watch how change and risk will be embraced or rejected by various advocates on both sides of the debate through this election and an Obama presidency.