Cool Compassion

Oct 31, 2008 |Gary Thomas

Being a "single-issue voter" isn't cool. Of course, Christian compassion isn't about being considered "cool."

It's become "cool" for evangelical Christians to distinguish themselves by insisting that they're not one of those close-minded fundies who base their vote primarily on a candidate's position on abortion and gay marriage.

"We're more enlightened," they boast, "more broad-minded; we think of the whole of Scripture, not just a part."

I understand the intention, as well as the desire to avoid some of the embarrassments of the past. As one who worked full-time in the pro-life movement in the late 80s through the mid-90s, I personally witnessed my share of "crazies," people who would ridiculously kill in the name of life. Some of the national pro-life leaders said embarrassing things, or true things in an embarrassing way. Any reasonable person could understand why someone wouldn't want to be identified with them.

Added to this understandable reluctance is the allure of what I call fashionable politics.

Environmentalism? Now that's cool. All of Hollywood, every left-leaning educator, even the New York Times will celebrate Christians who feel called to "save" the environment. Socially speaking, that's a pretty easy cross to carry.

AIDS and Africa? While it may have carried a stigma 20 years ago, fighting AIDS is now practically a badge of honor. From Elton John to Bono to Kay Warren, there are a lot of popular people doing some wonderful things to fight a terrible disease. (And may God increase their number.)

But abortion? That's not so cool.

Stand next to the people who hold up those awful signs with mangled fetus-corpses in front of abortion clinics? Throw in your lot with those crazies who used to blockade the doors of "medical" facilities? No thanks, God, I think I feel called to something else.

Something cool.

But here's the thing about being a Christian: We don't get to choose what we should be concerned about. The Bible not only tells us what to believe, it tells us what we should care about, and it stresses that our motivation shouldn't have anything to do with the news media, Hollywood or even popular church opinion:

Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Gal. 1:10)

The Old Testament singles out several groups to focus our compassion on, including the poor, but two of the poorest groups in particular seem to get the most attention. The New Testament echoes the call to reach these two groups in James 1:27:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God means caring for orphans and widows in their distress.

I'd like to suggest that in this day and age, a child on its way to an abortion clinic constitutes the classic "orphan." Even though both parents may technically be "alive," neither mother nor father is acting like a parent. Abortion by its very nature is the act of parents giving up all duties and responsibilities of caring for their child. And since that child is on its way to certain destruction, it is certainly "in distress." We should care, really care, about these children, whether or not it's fashionable to do so. Because God cares, we should care. It's that simple.

This goes beyond not participating in an abortion. It means actively defending those who are vulnerable to abortion:

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov. 31:8-9)
So Many Issues

But many might argue, "I'm not going to be a single-issue voter!" That's the new enlightenment thinking, anyway. Here's the challenge: Not every issue is equal, and not every issue is handled all that differently by either candidate.

Yes, the Bible has much, very much to say about taking care of the poor. Keeping that in mind, the fact of the matter is that the bottom 40 percent of wage earners in this country pay no income tax; that won't change under a Republican or Democrat administration. The truly poor can't pay less than zero, so as an issue, what the Bible calls true "poverty" has already been weighed carefully by both parties.

I realize that not paying taxes doesn't mean one has the money for other things, but let's be honest: about 90 percent of the students in my kid's high school who receive free lunches as part of a government handout also own cell phones — and many have more and bigger televisions than we do; calling them truly poor is a bit of a stretch.

Both current presidential candidates have said they want to address global warming, making that issue pretty much a tossup; even if one candidate is slightly more aggressive than the other in addressing it, it would be difficult to objectively state that the environment is truly threatened by one or the other. Given this, while the environment is an important issue, is it a vote-changing issue? Obviously, if the world disintegrates, every life is threatened, but neither candidate is suggesting we do nothing, or that we allow people to pollute with impunity.

Our government will spend billions of dollars on AIDS research and aid to Africa, regardless of who is in the White House; that was true under Clinton, and it's been true under Bush, and it will be true regardless of who is elected this time around. I don't see how either party can claim the moral ground on this issue.

But when it comes to abortion, the "uncoolest" of all issues, the difference is staggering. At stake this year is the "Freedom of Choice Act" (FOCA), which  has garnered significant congressional support, particularly if the new occupant in the White House would look favorably on such a bill.

What would this act do?

FOCA would, in a single stroke, remove most of even the modest restrictions on abortion that have already been passed, including the state laws requiring young girls to notify their parents before getting an abortion. Just as offensively, it would remove legal protections from doctors who, on moral grounds, refuse to assist in an abortion (so much for the pro-choice movement).

It's also important to look at funding: Here as well, the candidates have a stark difference. One favors paying for abortions for the poor — making those who morally oppose abortion have to pay taxes that will be used to pay for what these citizens view as murder — and opposes any substantive ban on partial-birth abortion, which is a monstrously grotesque procedure.

Regardless of one's stand on abortion in the early weeks or with stem-cell research (which, when you're talking about such a tiny being, or even single cells, can seem — even though it's not — theoretical), it takes a hard heart indeed to support something as violent as partially delivering a child and then sucking out her brains. And yet, some candidates have actually stated opposition to proposed laws that would require doctors to medically treat infants who survived an attempted abortion.

This article isn't about convincing you that abortion is the taking of a human life; there isn't sufficient space for that, and if you don't believe this, there's nothing here to convince you. My concerns will be meaningless.

But if you're a believer who has ever seen an ultrasound picture of an unborn child, or read through the many Scriptures attesting to prenatal life, I am suggesting that abortion is a bigger issue than just about anything else — and I say that unapologetically. How we treat the most vulnerable amongst us reveals quite a bit about a person's heart, character and compassion as God defines compassion.

Electing any candidate that would sign the FOCA would effectively erase 20 years of progressive legislative gains, and, the possible appointment of several pro-abortion U.S. Supreme Court justices would close the door on legal protections for the unborn for at least another generation.

But What about War?

Abortion is terrible, some might say, but war is just as bad, and what if one candidate would be more likely to keep us from killing people militarily?

War is terrible. But let's put this into perspective: Regardless of your position on the legitimacy of the Iraq war, the 4,000 U.S. soldiers who have died there (as tragic a loss as each life is) still equal just one or two day's loss of life to abortion. Similarly, the number of pre-born babies who have died through abortion eclipses the number of non-Americans who've died in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. And no one can reasonably call either candidate a war monger.

I'm saying all this at this late date in the election because if you choose to perpetuate the sin of abortion, you need to do so with a thinking mind. I believe you will be judged for doing so, and I don't want to be silent as your Christian brother if you pull that lever or punch that chad. It goes far beyond this election, to all future elections: Our votes should never be based on what's fashionable, but on the unchanging, revealed truth of God.

Not every issue is equal. It may not be cool to still openly care about abortion, and many will mock us for choosing to do so, but part of the glory of being a Christian is to care first and foremost about the things Christ cares about. There is nothing He is more passionate about than the welfare of the little ones He has made and planned a future for.

This is said positively: "Whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me" (Matt. 18:5) and negatively: "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea" (v. 6). If Jesus reacts this way to people who cause one of His little ones to sin one time, we needn't guess at His reaction to someone who allows that child to be killed.

Christian compassion isn't about being considered "cool." It's about being faithful to the Christ who awakens our hearts to the things He cares about the most.

Copyright 2008 Gary Thomas. All rights reserved.

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