Saturday, October 25, 2008

A Critique of Donald Miller's Reasons for Supporting Barack Obama

Burnside Writers Collective Interview with Donald Miller

When I recommended that my Barack Obama-supporting brothers and sisters in Christ read Randy Alcorn's article regarding Obama and abortion I mentioned that I would respond to Donald Miller's interview with the Burnside Writers Collective regarding his endorsement of and campaigning for Barack Obama. Many evangelicals and other Christians who have recently shifted to the Christian or Evangelical Left point to leaders such as Donald Miller and Frank Schaeffer for support when defending their support for Barack Obama so a review of Miller's reasons for support seem to be in order. Please read the Donald Miller interview here.

I want to give credit to the Burnside editors Jordan Green and John Pattison of the Burnside Writers Collective (BWC) for asking interesting and penetrating questions. Miller, unfortunately, did not answer what I considered to be the two best questions of the interview but I will return to that later.

Some Points of Agreement
I do not have very much to commend from the interview so let me start by stating where I agree with Miller. At the very end of the interview Miller talks about keeping our political discussions civil and not letting our differences damage our relationships with family and friends. He also reminds us that all candidates are fallen and things will continue to be messy until Christ returns. On these two points I wholeheartedly agree. I certainly fail to contribute to an elevated level of discourse many times and Miller's reminders are good ones. That being said, there is much that Miller had to say that I find troubling.

Donald Miller: Best-selling author, filmmaker...and hard-nosed, bare-knuckled politico?
Those who have left evangelicalism and/or conservatism (whether theological, political, or both) often bemoan the contentious tone of politics among Christians and the country as a whole. They are tired of all the culture-warring and want to elevate the level of political discourse, particularly among fellow Christians. This was the sort of approach I was expecting to find in the BWC interview and was somewhat surprised to find that this was not the case. Far from it.

Miller repeatedly assumes the worst of his opponents which he refers to at one point as "the very conservative, mostly white suburban churched." Conservative. White. Suburban. Churched. Anyone who is familiar with post-evangelical and emerging critiques of the church knows that these believers have become favorite targets of those who used to describe themselves in similar terms. There is a great deal of disdain for these Christians within some of the more bitter emerging and post-conservative circles and Miller singles them out for criticism throughout his interview.

Miller, who continually invokes race as a component of his complaints against conservatives, begins with a particularly insulting claim by stating, "Many white evangelicals have a misconception about Barack...they believe that because he is a Democrat, he cannot be a Christian." The claim that evangelicals, I mean white evangelicals, believe that citizens or candidates cannot be a Christian because they are a Democrat is incredibly insulting to our intelligence. Hopefully Miller engaging in a little hyperbole here because I would like to think that he really does not believe that white (why did race get injected here?) evangelicals truly believe something so foolish. The claim is so outrageous that I am just going to dismiss it and move on.

Unfortunately Miller continues with this sort of cheap shot when he says, "But because Barack is a Democrat, Conservatives are unable to even consider his ideas." Conservatives are either so dense that we cannot comprehend Obama's ideas or we are so dishonest that we reject good ideas simply because someone from another party came up with it. Could it be that conservatives actually have deeply-held, well-reasoned differences with someone who has been referred to as the most liberal member of the Senate? Perhaps there is a big controversy out there that I do not know about with conservatives rejecting George Gilder's ideas just to spite Obama [see interview for reference].

According to Miller, McCain's plan on abortion is merely a "trick." The GOP's approach on the same issue is "insincere." McCain does not truly care about abortion and is afraid to act because it will cost too much politically. Republicans care more about playing rhetorical games than saving lives. We have sold the church to the Republican party and we are telling people they are going to hell if they vote for Obama. These are some of Miller's claims.

So much for the fresh approach at elevated discourse that former evangelicals have been looking for. Don't get me wrong. I am glad Miller has stated his opinions plainly although several of his statements were incredibly unfair and insulting. I do prefer plainly-stated, strongly-delivered points. It turns out that Miller is quite the grenade tosser in what he calls our "cultural Vietnam." Surely we can do away with the pretense that conservatives are the only ones who are dragging down the level of our political discourse. So there's the style. Lets move on to substance.

Obama the Christian Brother
BWC opens the interview by asking Miller, "Can you lay out your biggest reasons for supporting Barack Obama?" Miller begins his reply by explaining that supporting a candidate for President is an odd thing to do for someone in his position. This is a minor point but why is this an thing for him to do? Because he is an author? What position does he hold that would make it odd for him to support someone for president? Supporting a candidate for president is normal thing for American citizens including Christians.

Whatever it is that normally holds Miller back from supporting a candidate for president has been laid aside because Barack Obama is "unique." How so? "Barack is the only candidate willing to talk about his faith in Jesus." Miller continues, "He is the "only one who has consistently talked about the cross, about redemption, and about repentance." And, "So one of the reasons I support Barack is because he is my Christian brother, and other Christians are rejecting him." Frankly, this is absolutely stunning. He supports Obama because he talks about his faith and Jesus and he is a Christian brother? This is stunning to me because we have just witnessed 8 years of some of the most vile, hate-filled rhetoric against our "brother" George W. Bush. Bush is despised by the Christians on the left. The validity of his faith has been questioned and dismissed time and again, year after year. If a profession of faith and talk about repentance is all that is needed to garner our support than a great number of Christians have some apologies that need to be made to George W. Bush.

By the way, I would have thought that left-leaning, emerging sort of Christians would actually like what McCain has said about his faith. According to the Associated Press: "Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Monday that questions over whether he identifies himself as a Baptist or an Episcopalian are not as important as his overarching faith. 'The most important thing is that I am a Christian,' the Arizona senator told reporters following two campaign stops in this early voting state." But apparently he messes up with this admission: "Do I advertise my faith? Do I talk about it all the time? No." Miller likes Obama, not merely because he is a fellow believer but, because he talks the faith talk.

But then Miller says all this "has little to do with his [Obama's] candidacy" so apparently he was just talking about supporting Obama as a person rather than as a candidate. I suppose you cannot argue with supporting someone as a person. Let us continue on then and see why Miller supports him as a candidate.

Obama: Peace Treaty Negotiator of the Culture War?
"Senator Obama is going to move us past the impasse in our cultural war, something I think of as a cultural Vietnam." This may end up being true but it could only be good news if you are a leftist who is looking for Obama to turn the tide of the culture war in favor of the left. I find it difficult to believe that with a Democrat President, House, and Senate with 2-3 Democrat-appointed Supreme Court justices and thousands of other Democrat-selected appointments in the government that liberals are going to be a lot of compromising. If Obama is going to move us past the impasse in our cultural war it is going to be by one side winning and the other side losing because I really do not see either side all of a sudden deciding to compromise their deeply held convictions on the transcendent issues of our generation. Many people have asked just how it is that Obama will bring the nation together as Miller claims he will but I have never heard a satisfactory answer as to just how he will do this.

The only candidate who has a plan to reduce the number of abortions
Now we get to what is the crux of the interview. The first issue Miller decides to tackle is abortion and rightfully so. Many people are genuinely wondering why pro-life Christians are deciding to vote for Obama. Note: I did not say Christians who vote for Obama are not really Christians and are going to hell. This is a view Miller attributes to some conservatives but that is not at all what I am saying. Not only is Obama the "only" candidate willing to talk about his faith in Jesus, he is also the "only candidate who has a plan to reduce the number of abortions." That is quite a claim. It is an incorrect one so let's examine why.

First, let's take a look at what Miller is rejecting: McCain's "trick" of criminalizing abortion. Apparently Miller is referring to the possibility that the next President may be able to appoint 2-3 Justices to the Supreme Court. McCain has pledged to appoint those who will interpret our laws rather than create laws by legislating from the bench. He will appoint those who follow the original intent of the Constitution rather than those who concoct ways of "finding" such things as a general right to privacy or a right to abortion in the Constitution (Why? "The framers assumed no general right to privacy because, to state the obvious, criminal and evil acts can be committed in privacy. Criminal codes are full of such examples — from murder to incest to rape and other crimes"). If McCain appoints those who believe that Roe v. Wade is legally bankrupt and succeed in overturning Roe v. Wade as McCain desires, will abortion be criminalized as Miller asserts? No. States will have to decide for themselves whether or not to "criminalize" abortion. As the McCain campaign states, "Constitutional balance would be restored by the reversal of Roe v. Wade, returning the abortion question to the individual states. The difficult issue of abortion should not be decided by judicial fiat." And should we not decide how to proceed on such weighty matters through the deliberation of the people and their elected representatives? As Ronald Reagan once said, "Our nationwide policy of abortion-on-demand through all nine months of pregnancy was neither voted for by our people nor enacted by our legislators — not a single state had such unrestricted abortion before the Supreme Court decreed it to be national policy in 1973." As Reagan said, not a single state had unrestricted abortion before Roe and no state would have unrestricted abortion after Roe is overturned. Sounds like a plan to reduce the number of abortions to me.

Dr. Robert George, Princeton UniversitySo what about this claim that Barack Obama "is the only candidate who has a plan to reduce the number of abortions?" Miller's assertion has been flatly contradicted by the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton, Robert P. George. Dr. George calls Barack Obama "the most extreme pro-abortion candidate ever to seek the office of President of the United States. He is the most extreme pro-abortion member of the United States Senate. Indeed, he is the most extreme pro-abortion legislator ever to serve in either house of the United States Congress." I usually do not quote such lengthy citations but I am going to in this case since it so effectively refutes the claim that Obama's plan would reduce the number of abortions. After presenting a compelling case why Obama is actually "pro-abortion" rather than "pro-choice" (the article is worth reading just for this information), Dr. George writes,

"But despite Obama's injustices against the most vulnerable human beings, and despite the extraordinary support he receives from the industry that profits from killing the unborn (which should be a good indicator of where he stands), some Obama supporters insist that he is the better candidate from the pro-life point of view.

They say that his economic and social policies would so diminish the demand for abortion that the overall number would actually go down-despite the federal subsidizing of abortion and the elimination of hundreds of pro-life laws. The way to save lots of unborn babies, they say, is to vote for the pro-abortion-oops! "pro-choice"-candidate. They tell us not to worry that Obama opposes the Hyde Amendment, the Mexico City Policy (against funding abortion abroad), parental consent and notification laws, conscience protections, and the funding of alternatives to embryo-destructive research. They ask us to look past his support for Roe v. Wade, the Freedom of Choice Act, partial-birth abortion, and human cloning and embryo-killing. An Obama presidency, they insist, means less killing of the unborn.

This is delusional.

We know that the federal and state pro-life laws and policies that Obama has promised to sweep away (and that John McCain would protect) save thousands of lives every year. Studies conducted by Professor Michael New and other social scientists have removed any doubt. Often enough, the abortion lobby itself confirms the truth of what these scholars have determined. Tom McClusky has observed that Planned Parenthood's own statistics show that in each of the seven states that have FOCA-type legislation on the books, 'abortion rates have increased while the national rate has decreased.' In Maryland, where a bill similar to the one favored by Obama was enacted in 1991, he notes that 'abortion rates have increased by 8 percent while the overall national abortion rate decreased by 9 percent.' No one is really surprised. After all, the message clearly conveyed by policies such as those Obama favors is that abortion is a legitimate solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies - so clearly legitimate that taxpayers should be forced to pay for it.

But for a moment let's suppose, against all the evidence, that Obama's proposals would reduce the number of abortions, even while subsidizing the killing with taxpayer dollars. Even so, many more unborn human beings would likely be killed under Obama than under McCain. A Congress controlled by strong Democratic majorities under Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi would enact the bill authorizing the mass industrial production of human embryos by cloning for research in which they are killed. As president, Obama would sign it. The number of tiny humans created and killed under this legislation (assuming that an efficient human cloning technique is soon perfected) could dwarf the number of lives saved as a result of the reduced demand for abortion-even if we take a delusionally optimistic view of what that number would be."
I agree with Robert George again when he concludes his article by stating:

"In the end, the efforts of Obama's apologists to depict their man as the true pro-life candidate that Catholics and Evangelicals may and even should vote for, doesn't even amount to a nice try. Voting for the most extreme pro-abortion political candidate in American history is not the way to save unborn babies."

Insisting that an Obama presidency would reduce the number of abortions is indeed "delusional."

To be continued.

See also: Obama and Infanticide by Robert George & Yuval Levin

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