Reforming our Political Calculus

Several weeks ago, President Trump said in a statement that Pro-Lifers were to blame for poor Republican performance in the last election cycle, particularly those who did not support exceptions for abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother in the wake of the Dobbs decision overturning Roe V. Wade. While many on the Right were quick to criticize the former President for the apparent betrayal, it should be pointed out that all Trump did was the very thing that fueled his ascent to the top of right-wing politics in the first place—say out loud what most Republicans are too afraid to utter. The fact is that Pro-Life Republican policy over the past five decades has generally been pursued according to this calculus: be Pro-Life enough to seal the Christian vote, but not too Pro-Life so as to lose the socially liberal leaning center, which has resulted in an all but impotent response to the mass murder of the pre-born. Christians seem to be awakening to a greater sense of the dangerous inconsistencies of the pragmatic Pro-Life political world, yet if we are to truly and meaningfully pursue justice for the pre-born, then we must make a fundamental break with the sort of cowardly strategies exemplified in Trump’s remarks. Christians must think differently about politics than the secular world does. While we certainly must apply wisdom and pursue shrewd strategy, our overriding principles must be integrity, justice, and above all faith that God is consistently working for His glory and the ultimate good of His people.

The first thing that must be addressed is the segment of Christians who seem to think that power and the pursuit thereof are inherently sinful and ought to be avoided by followers of Christ. As the past several years have demonstrated, there is a sizable population of Christians who seem to believe that civil government is a purely secular institution, and that serious Christian participation in it is therefore unspiritual and carnal. And if a Christian does happen to find himself involved in civil government, he certainly must rule according to “neutral” natural law principles, and not in a distinctly and explicitly Christian manner. One will commonly hear that the apostles did not seek to begin a political movement, that they were not engaged in government affairs, that Jesus’s kingdom is not of this world, and that we are commanded to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” (Matthew 22:21). However, as pious as these sentiments may appear, they do not supply a truly and holistically biblical attitude toward civil government and political power.

While the old adage “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” is well attested through history, it is this reflexively negative perspective on political power that gives pause to many Christians. What we must begin to recognize, however, is that the desire for and pursuit of power is not sinful in itself—in fact, it is something that is good and proper to human nature. As beings made in the image of God, we were designed and commissioned to rule over creation—to have dominion (Genesis 1:28). God made men and women to be kings and queens, to exercise wise and just rule in accord with His righteous law. Therefore, the human impulse to obtain and exercise power is one that is ours from creation, a part of God’s very good design. And indeed, when wise, godly men are in authority and rule faithfully, blessing follows (Proverbs 29:2).

This affirmation is by no means to imply that power does not come with specific and serious temptations to sin. Because of the fall, man’s natural bent is to rule self-servingly, to abuse authority, and to lord it over people (Genesis 3:16, Luke 22:25). The temptations that go along with authority are analogous to those that accompany wealth—the more one has, the greater the responsibility to use it righteously, and also the greater opportunity to misuse it. It is for this reason that kings were issued specific warnings in God’s law about the pitfalls those in authority are prone to (Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and as a safeguard against corruption, they were required to personally write out a copy of the law. Additionally, when Israel was ready to appoint it’s first king, God warned of the wretched fruit that comes from unrighteous rulers, all of which arise out of an abuse of authority (1 Samuel 8:11-18). Because political authority carries with it truly great power, it will attract self-serving men who are all too willing to subjugate fellow image bearers for the sake of personal gain.

At the same time, righteous men with truly altruistic motives are not immune to the trappings of power. One need look no further than King Solomon, a man endowed by God with unsurpassed wisdom who yet fell into scandalous sin due to the temptations of power, wealth, and women (1 Kings 11:1-8). The same temptations followed by the same results continue in our own day—upright men of integrity get into politics for the right reasons and genuinely seek to do good, but over time the corrosiveness  of corruption leads to compromise, abuse of power, and idolatry. In addition, there is also strong temptation to sin as a means of  merely obtaining a position of power. It is dangerously easy to rationalize an “ends justify the means” attitude—a man desires to enter politics for just and righteous reasons, and so to acquire office he may justify corruption, bribery, dishonesty, or other such compromises. These are all very real and very dangerous temptations, and any Christian who aspires to political power is required to take them seriously, humbly acknowledging his vulnerability. Power must never be pursued with a cavalier, haughty spirit.

With all of this established, however, we must return to the fact that power is a good and necessary element of creation, and it is proper—indeed vital—for Christians to seek such authority in this life. We are told in Scripture that “there is no authority except from God”, and that the civil ruler is “God’s servant for your good…who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:1, 4). God, as the source and foundation of all authority, places men into power and determines how long that power will remain: “He removes kings and sets up kings” (Daniel 2:21). Thus all authority—whether Christian or not—is appointed by God and accountable to God for the just execution of His judgment against lawlessness in the civil sphere, with the acknowledgment that they will serve only as long as God allows, however short or long that may be. This especially must therefore be in the minds of rulers who profess the name of Christ.

Abortion when viewed with clear-eyed sobriety, is an issue that is not morally ambiguous in the least. The preborn are undeniably human persons from the moment of fertilization, and thus the destruction of such a person through abortion is murder. The just response therefore is equal protection—extending the same rights enjoyed by all Americans to the person in the womb, and so treating abortion as any other case of wrongful death. Christians who have been placed into positions of political power by God should have absolutely no hesitations about pursuing such a consistent policy, and any non-Christian rulers who oppose abortion—placed in power by the very same God—ought to cheerfully join their Christians colleagues. Yet such a policy pursuit has yet to seriously materialize, even among Republicans who were elected by claiming to be staunchly Pro-Life. The reason for this is because, as President Trump’s comment exposes, the political calculus employed by Christians and non-Christians alike is fundamentally flawed.

The arguments by professing Pro-Life politicians against equal protection are numerous. It is posited that a true bill of equal protection would be immediately struck down by the courts, would be unenforceable, or would be so unpopular as to constitute political suicide. The proposed alternative, even in the post-Roe world, is for a series of incremental bills—fifteen-week bans, ten-week, six-week, heartbeat—until finally abortion ceases to exist. It is argued that such bills ease people into a world where abortion somehow becomes “unthinkable”, all the while maintaining the appearance of being “moderate”, “centrist”, and avoiding the accusation of political extremism, and thus avoiding major backlash. While the problems and documented failures of such an approach are too many to list, chief among them is that it explicitly allows for the murder of babies to continue indefinitely, ostensibly in order to maintain political power (for the greater good, it is argued). While the pragmatic argument that a bill of equal protection would end the political careers of those involved and trigger a blue backlash may indeed be accurate, this is precisely the instance in which Christians must employ our own political calculus. Just as, in the world’s eyes, martyrdom is seen as defeat rather than a step along God’s path to victory, so “political martyrdom” is viewed through a short-term lens as an utter failure, rather than something that may be a necessary stride toward long-term triumph. Again, none of this is to deny the need for wisdom in political strategy, yet at some point the question must be asked: what is the point of a winning strategy if political power is not used to pursue true justice? If maintaining political power has become an end in itself, then idolatry is taking place and the corrupting effects of sin are evident, no matter how righteous the intentions were at the start.

A helpful hypothetical case study is the state of Florida. Florida has become the bastion of conservative hope in the United States, with a Republican supermajority in the legislature and an extremely popular second-term governor in Ron DeSantis. DeSantis has developed a devoted base of support across the country thanks to his courageous opposition to the left-wing agenda and his willingness to take a stand on significant cultural issues. With such a state of affairs, there is no reason why a bill of equal protection should fail to pass in the Sunshine State. Yet the law currently on the books is a fifteen-week ban (barely considered “extreme” by bloodthirsty abortion supporters), with no indication of a just statute on the horizon. The reason for this is because pragmatic political calculus prevails. There is fear that such legislation would reverse all the Republican gains in the state, and perhaps even flip Florida blue. There is concern that this bold move by the most prominent conservative state in the Union would be the nail in the coffin of national Republican hopes. And of course there is much consternation that a full abortion ban would crush any chance of Governor DeSantis reaching the nation’s highest office, a hope of many Republicans across America. The response to these objections by those who truly wish to see abortion ended should be “so what?” If equal protection triggers leftists to double down on their radicalism, if it shifts the electorate of a state like Florida toward the Democrat side of the aisle, or even if it sends the career of a rising star like Ron DeSantis cratering down, are not these worth a truly just and courageous effort to preserve the lives of those being helplessly murdered each day? This is not to single out DeSantis in particular, but only to supply an example of the kind of strategy employed by countless Republicans who have ridden a Pro-Life platform to high office and yet have rarely taken a truly courageous stand for the preborn because there is always a “next election” to be won.

It will be said that this is foolish idealism, that such a “Kamikaze” mission is but naive zeal, and that such a bold stance will ultimately result in more loss of life through abortion. Yet true equal protection has never been attempted, and so such pronouncements are mere speculation. While outcomes such as court blockages and leftists seeking even more radical abortion “protections” (which they are doing anyway) may be perfectly predictable, such proclamations of doom overlook potential political benefits of equal protection. People respond to courage and consistency, and once a courageous precedent is set, it is reasonable to expect more and more to follow the path charted. Even if the statute is overturned and the state flips blue in response, the precedent is still set, equal protection is a valid part of the conversation, and the overturn window begins to shift. Yet beyond these pragmatic considerations, there is an even greater incentive for equal protection, and that is for the commendation of God Himself. Every ruler, Christian or not, rules before the face of God and will answer to God for every action (or inaction) exercised. And He will judge them by the perfect standard of His law, which demands protection of the vulnerable and restitution for victims. Yet as terrifying as this prospect is, God’s response to faithfulness is correspondingly glorious. A select few people will be the first to pass a truly just statute on behalf of the preborn in this nation, and even if the consequence in this life is political blacklisting and a life of obscurity, those rulers can rest assured knowing that their eternal reward through Christ will not fade. We should desire the glory that comes from God rather than the glory which comes from man.

This is the kind of distinctly Christian political calculus needed to adequately fight against abortion. It is a calculus rooted in faith that God’s kingdom will not fail and that He is always at work for His glory and the good of His people. And it also combats the self-importance that our political climate is currently drowning in. Such a  faithful approach recognizes that,  while God is pleased to use us for His purposes, He does not need us. Therefore, we should be willing to sacrifice careers and the power which has been entrusted to us for the sake of true justice, knowing that God is more than capable of raising up many more faithful than we, to succeed us. We are called to be spent, laid down as a living sacrifice for the sake of the glory of Christ and His kingdom, and only radically faithful self-sacrifice such as this is capable of ending the human sacrifice of abortion that plagues our nation.

Written by Luke Griffo

Luke Griffo is an elder at Redeemer Church of South Hills in Pittsburgh where he lives with his wife and twin sons.