It’s no surprise, however, that Merritt disagrees with that assessment. Instead, he says that French has put forth a false choice. Merritt writes:
I am most troubled by Mr. French’s promotion of a popular false choice rampant among many partisan Christians today. He writes, “So, ‘post-partisan’ Christians, please ponder this: First, as the price for your new path, are you willing to forego any effective voice at all for unborn children? Are you willing to keep silent when the secular world demands your silence?”
According to Mr. French, Christians today have two options. We can either continue to fight the culture wars as some conservative American evangelicals have done for more than three decades, or we can retreat from the public square, abandon the unborn, and “keep silent.” But I don’t know anyone who advocates for the latter.
I don’t know anyone who advocates for the latter either—at least not in so many words. But that’s not really the point of French’s letter. The point is that no matter how you frame it, the cultural elites will not allow you to be too pro-life. As far as access to the mainstream media megaphone goes, your options are limited if you are too pro-life. You either have to tone it down or forfeit the platform.
The fact is that the cultural elites have very little time or patience with those who treat the pro-life cause as a transcendent moral issue—one deserving a certain priority in the ordering of our public life. If you say out loud that abortion-on-demand is the greatest human rights crisis of our time, you will find yourself on the margins pretty quickly. That is the cost of access to those platforms.
Ordinary evangelicals, however, do not have access to those platforms, nor do they seek them. As Christian Smith demonstrates in his book Christian America? What Evangelicals Really Want, the average evangelical isn’t much of a political activist, despite the way they are portrayed in the media. For most evangelicals, the extent of their political activism is showing up to vote at election time. These evangelicals view the franchise as a stewardship and a privilege, and that is just as it should be.
My concern with the post-partisanship of Jonathan Merritt is the message that it sends to ordinary evangelicals. When the ordinary evangelical steps into the voting booth this November, he will in fact have a choice to make. And that choice will involve prioritizing some issues over others. But I think Merritt disagrees. In his new book A Faith of Our Own, he writes:
Evangelicals…often reduce the immense witness of the Scriptures to only a few culture-war issues—namely, abortion and gay marriage. Both are important issues deserving serious thought. The Scriptures speak often about life and sexuality. But they also regularly address poverty, equality, justice, peace, and care of God’s good creation.
If Christians act as if the culture-war issues are the only issues or make them so paramount that they dwarf all others, we distill the limitless bounty of the Scriptures into a tiny cup of condensed political juice (p. 89).
How is a reader to apply this reasoning when it comes to voting? Merritt seems to be saying that evangelicals need not prioritize ending the regime of Roe v. Wade in their exercise of the franchise. If that is the message he’s trying to send, I think he is dead wrong.
When it comes to voting (which is the extent of political activism for most evangelicals), if everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority. Merritt’s “post-partisan” approach causes the pro-life issue to get lost in the din of competing interests.
Christians should cast a wary eye toward anyone who suggests that abortion-on-demand is just one among many social ills. In America, it is the single greatest human rights crisis of our time, and to overlook the fact that it is legal in all fifty states to kill a person at any time from 0-9 months gestation is unconscionable.
Abortion definitely deserves more than “serious thought” in the voting booth. It deserves priority.