Cover Story

Lawmakers, lawbreakers

"Lawmakers, lawbreakers" Continued...

Issue: "Roe v. Wade @ 31," Jan. 17, 2004

The legacy of the Democrats

Most Roman Catholics came to the United States as immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. Many of them, at first, were poor, settling in cities and working in factories. Through much of the 20th century, Democrats presented themselves as champions of the working man, and Catholics were highly represented in the Democratic Party. As the former immigrants became assimilated into American society and even as many of them became affluent-for example, the Kennedy family-they kept their Democratic affiliation.

And throughout much of the 20th century, although they erected a welfare state with questionable results, Democrats did reflect the values of ordinary Americans, including their patriotism, their church-going, and their family priorities. Democrats helped fight the Cold War and launched military action against the Communists in Korea and Vietnam.

But then came the 1960s, the counterculture, and the opposition to the Vietnam War. For the political radicals and cultural revolutionaries who took over the party, the great shibboleth, the test of orthodoxy, became abortion. It was the feminist sacrament, the guarantee of sexual liberation.

Democratic politicians had to embrace abortion. Otherwise, they would be villainized and marginalized by the activists who controlled much of the party. Pro-life Democrats had to change or lose their careers. Al Gore and Dick Gephardt once were pro-life, as was Jesse Jackson. They were forced to recant.

It was not just Catholics who had to deny or suppress their moral beliefs to succeed as Democrats. So did Southern evangelicals.

The South was once solid for the Democrats. Part of this was opposition to the Republicans as the party of Lincoln-and the racist legacy of the Democratic Party in the South is currently one of its darkest secrets. But for most Southerners, being a Democrat was a tribute to President Roosevelt, whom they credited with improving their lives during the Depression. And most of these Democratic Southerners were conservative Protestants.

When Democrats embraced the civil-rights movement, thanks to Lyndon Johnson, their moral authority was unsurpassed. But they lost that moral authority when they embraced abortion.

How could anyone take seriously their claim to champion the weak and the vulnerable, to be crusading for justice and compassion, when their one nonnegotiable dogma promoted death to the weakest and the most vulnerable of all, the blatant negation of justice and compassion?

In the meantime, Democrats essentially abandoned except in rhetoric their old constituencies of "ordinary, hard-working Americans" to appeal instead to the "lifestyle left," to the growing masses, often of the affluent class, who prize above everything else sexual freedom, including the right to an abortion.

Although many Catholic and evangelical politicians hewed to the new party line, ordinary Catholics and evangelicals-who felt that their party had been stolen from them-turned to Ronald Reagan in 1980 and voted Republican for the first time. Today, largely as a result of the "culture war," whose central issue is abortion, the South has become nearly solid for Republicans on the national level. And many ambitious pro-abortion politicians are members of pro-life evangelical churches.

A mark of the church?

So the question of church discipline for pro-abortion candidates is just as relevant for Protestants as for Catholics.

This would usually be up to the member's local congregation, of course, not an ecclesiastical hierarchy, as in Catholicism. Today, many congregations are so built around attracting members that they hardly have a mechanism for getting rid of them. In the current religious climate, denominational loyalty is so small that if a member were to as much as feel unwelcome in a particular congregation-let alone be called on a moral or doctrinal issue-there would be no problem in simply going across the street to a different congregation.

Even conservative Christians are often so individualistic in their personal theology that they acknowledge no authorities to which they are answerable, certainly not the authority of their pastors, their congregations, or the larger church body to which they belong.

And yet, Protestant churches have, historically, been willing to discipline their members when they strayed. In the Reformed tradition, church discipline is seen as no less than one of the marks of the church, along with the Word and the Sacraments.

Baptist theologian Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called on Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, Ark., to exert church discipline on one of its members, the president of the United States, Bill Clinton (see WORLD, Sept. 19, 1998).

"I do most emphatically believe that church discipline is called for in the case of a church member who defies church teaching or breaks the moral law while in political office," Mr. Mohler said. He noted that while matters of political judgment would seldom be grounds for church action, advocating abortion crosses the line from politics into a clear sin against God's Word.


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