Maybe it's because, as a professor, I deal with lots of 20-year-olds. Maybe it's because I live in Austin, a charmingly weird town. But here's something I'll say straight out, and then wait for the slings and arrows of outraged readers: Much of the conservative Christian rhetoric we hear today misses the mark because it is either too hard or too soft.
I noted four weeks ago in this column that many college students cannot grasp moral arguments. If we say, in relation to abortion or many other issues, Thou shalt do X because it's the right thing to do, blank stares or incredulous glances result. Moral absolutes resonate poorly among students who desire absolute freedom and have never heard G.K. Chesterton's wise reminder: "The point of having an open mind, like having an open mouth, is to close it on something solid."
That is generally bad news, but there is a silver (or at least rhinestone) lining. In our pro-choice culture, homeschooling can expand, school vouchers have a fighting chance, addicts can be offered faith-based along with conventionally liberal anti-addiction programs, and creation can be taught alongside evolution. Name the political debate, and the winner most often is he who talks of expanding choices rather than restricting them. Sometimes that bias helps Bible-based ideas gain a foothold.
Furthermore, open-mindedness is sometimes a virtue: Since we are not to put our trust in princes, it makes sense for Christian believers to be political skeptics, particularly in relation to three decades of Washington orthodoxy, after all. Liberal true believers for years thought they had all the right answers. Poverty? Redistribute income. Crime? Push for gun control. Kids in trouble? Build self-esteem. Crisis pregnancies? Abort. But since God created the world and knows what works best for His creatures to live happily in it, a lot of politically correct activities are pragmatically incorrect. Cruising homosexuals have a low life expectancy, even when AIDS is factored out. Abortion often has dire psychological consequences.
Pragmatism can be useful, to a limited extent, even in dealing with our great American tragedy. Pro-aborts, ignoring the personhood of the unborn child, want everything to depend on the mother's situation. OK, let's compare the physical and psychological condition of aborting moms with those who place their children for adoption. Hard as giving away a live child is, meditating on a dead one is worse.
There's a problem, though: What if sociological testing (which cannot get at spiritual consequences) concluded that women were better off after abortions than after years of unmarried single-parenting? Would abortion then be justified? Of course not, because life is at stake-and here is where moral principles trump today's pro-choice ethos. How, then, do we get to a position where Americans, trained though most of us are in pro-choice thinking, are able to put it aside?
Let's go back to my original thesis statement: Much of the conservative Christian rhetoric we hear today misses the mark because it is too hard or too soft. I've described how rhetoric about right and wrong sounds too hard in a pro-choice society. But this doesn't mean Christians should give up; instead, we need to realize that many Americans will discard the pro-choice faith only if and when they come to Christ.
Churches hold the keys to the kingdom and also the keys to political and social change here and now. Faith in God logically requires assent to the proposition that God is wiser than us. That assent should mean that we sign onto the whole Bible and do not pick and choose among doctrines. Long ago Augustine said, "If you believe in the gospel what you like, and reject what you don't like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself." Those who convert to Christianity should also convert to a style of thinking opposed to the self-worship that underlies many aspects of pro-choice thought.
Successful politicians build coalitions within a pro-choice culture, but ministers must be willing to offend. It is folly to tell political leaders that they must be bold and courageous when so many leaders within the church are not: Much of what comes from major pulpits is soft, man-pleasing rhetoric more worthy of a politician than a preacher. For that reason, many who accept Christ as savior have no idea what it means to take Him as Lord, and they never fully move away from self-worship.
One final note: It's better to set young minds in the right path than to redirect them later. Kids who attend good Christian schools and homeschools can learn to think biblically and to value moral argumentation. If such schooling is fruitful and multiplies, and if conversion of adults increases, our entire society will change. Until then, like it or not, we live in pro-choice culture.