The reason the prolife movement has become a heresy is that the bulk of “prolife” Christians, mostly white and conservative, have failed to trust Jesus and instead have come to believe they can only achieve their ends by law and force. They sense that they are living in a de-Christianizing culture and are struggling to hold on to the pieces of Christian morality they like (the parts that serve their grip on power) while at the same time ignoring those pieces they don’t like (which threaten their grip on power). And they are excusing their hypocrisy with twaddle about how their critics are godless.
The archetypical example of this, of course, is seen in the disparate treatment of Bill Clinton and Donald Trump. Both are men with credible rape charges against them. Twenty years ago, the Religious Right said (and I believed and still believe) that “Character matters.” I have always thought Juanita Broaddrick told the truth and I have always thought that in a just world, Clinton would be in prison.
But twenty years later, in the pursuit of raw nihilist power, the Religious Right dynamited all that talk about character in order to lie that a man who openly confessed to sexual assault for all the world to hear had somehow repented (even though he said he saw no reason to ask for forgiveness) and then joined him in his campaign to denounce and smear the 20+ women who came forward to call him a sex predator and rapist. Yesterday, after years of babbling about not wanting to have their tax dollars used to support the grave intrinsic evil of abortion, the MAGA Cult applauded as Catholic Opus Dei member and Attorney General Bill Barr (who will shamefully be given the Christifidelis Laici award at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast for his achievements in defying the Church’s teaching on the death penalty) outrageously turned the Department of Justice into Trump’s private law firm so he could take a dump on his rape victim E. Jean Carroll.
This subculture has somehow convinced itself that by opposing abortion, Jesus will give them a free pass to defend any other sin and has (which is my point here) convinced itself that by being against abortion, the rest of the world owes them that free pass too. They actually expect to be taken seriously as moral superiors to Damn Libruls while engaging in this gross campaign of contempt for human dignity. And they expect to have the right to look down on and hold in contempt every unbeliever who declines to embrace the Christian faith they so grossly misrepresent. The words, “God’s Name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24) never occur to them.
Now the entire project of trying to impose Christian morals, much less selectively chosen Christian morals on thee but not me is a fool’s errand. It cannot be done for the simple reason that Christ demands of his disciples things nobody can do–or even desire to do–without the help of the grace that is received by faith in him.
Consider the Beatitudes. Every blessing Jesus pronounces is a Lenten blessing. Who wants to be poor, meek, mourn, be a hated-by-both-sides peacemaker and get gunned down like MLK and Gandhi? Who wants to hunger and thirst after righteousness, or be persecuted? In a word, who wants to take up a cross? Being crucified hurts. It’s shameful. You die from crucifixion. Nobody wants that. Unless….
Unless they have really had a living encounter with the living God. I don’t mean, “Unless they have come to the conclusion that if they are good then they will be rewarded with Heaven when they die” as though faith in Christ is a divine transaction. That is simply another form of legalism. I mean a living, personal encounter with Jesus that is something far more like falling in love (though even that is inadequate to describe the reality) than like signing an “I’ll be good and then you owe me Heaven as a payoff” contract with a Deity who remains remote and threatening.
Much of our civilization has (I suspect blessedly and by God’s intention) lost even that crude perception of God. We live in an age, not of godlessness, but of paganism: the search for God. And the fields are white for harvest if only we speak the truth of our own Catholic gospel to the world and, above all, live it for people to see.
But the MAGA Cult does not trust that gospel in the slightest. That’s why, when Trump came along and led conservative Qhristians up a high mountain and promised them all the kingdoms of the earth, they bowed down and worshipped him. After all, he straight up promised them:
“I’ll tell you one thing: I get elected president, we’re going to be saying ‘merry Christmas’ again. Just remember that,” he said. “And by the way, Christianity will have power, without having to form.”
He added: “Because if I’m there, you’re going to have plenty of power. You don’t need anybody else. You’re going to have somebody representing you very, very well. Remember that.”
The sort of power Trump promises Christians is the opposite of the “power from on high” that Jesus gives through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Christ’s power enables us to love God and serve our neighbor in love, even unto death if necessary. It calls us, as it called the apostles, into the highways and byways to serve the poor, crippled, blind, and lame and help them to the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. It enables men, women and children to offer their lives in love for others.
MAGA power, in contrast, is about defending a Fortress from people they regard as enemies, including–especially–other Christians they deem “liberal”. It asks, as Trump asked in bafflement while standing at the grave of Robert Kelly, what’s in it for them. MAGA Christians see themselves as persecuted victims–and as avenging angels. They are perpetually convinced that “dark shadows” are plotting against them, and that through the Power of Trump they will finally strike back at their foes. That is why they are currently thrilling over a kid who went to Kenosha to hunt humans. It’s why they love punishing refugees by tearing their children away from them and disappearing them into rape camps. It’s why they are talking about “hunting season” being open in Arizona.
The paradox of this time is that it has resulted in Qhristians convinced that liberals are plotting to destroy them, when in fact liberals are begging them to live their faith and show them Jesus:
The spectacle of MAGA conservative Qhristians is the spectacle of their red-faced, spittle-flecked scream of NO to people like Wilson. It is the incredible sight of Christians defiantly refusing to listen to the Church when she speaks about capital punishment or calls for universal health care or a living wage. It appears to me to come from a weird fear that if conservative Qhristians give liberals what they want–even if it is what Jesus wants and the Church teaches–liberals will have “won” and MAGA Qhristians will have lost… something. As far as I can see, such a mentality has nothing whatever to do with abortion or defending the unborn. It’s just about stupid tribal pride. Liberals are Them. They are wrong and bad. Give them an inch, even if they are right, by agreeing with the Church and they will defeat us!
Meanwhile, when unbelievers look at all this pig-headed folly and make the perfectly understandable assumption that the people shouting all this nonsense about QANON and 5G vaccination plots and the Sandy Hook hoax to steal our guns and Dark Shadows and “Racism Does Not Exist” and “COVID is a Hoax” and all the other folly to which the MAGA cult has wedded itself body and soul? Why should we be surprised that they conclude we no more believe the gospel than they do? It is obvious to them (because it is true) that MAGA Qhristians are in pursuit of power for Trump and the magical carrot of outlawing abortion is nothing other than definitive proof that Christians do not believe or trust Jesus in the slightest.
The blaring message the “prolife” Qhristian cult has sent for years is that we Christians believe we are entirely on our own. Jesus will not save us. So we have to save ourselves with money, power, and violence. Republican Jesus preaches, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, that’s assault! Blow his head off! If someone compels you to go one mile, that’s kidnapping! Blow his head off! You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, blow your enemy’s head off and do unto him before he can do unto you.” MAGA Scripture reads:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the podium, and when he stood up his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the rich, for we shall never face consequences.
“Blessed are those who make others mourn, for we shall be winners.
“Blessed are the brazen, for we shall inherit Daddy’s money.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for publicity, for we shall be on camera.
“Blessed are the merciless, for we shall obtain victims.
“Blessed are the corrupt in heart, for we shall see only ourselves.
“Blessed are the instigators, for we shall get suckers to to our dirty work.
“Blessed are those who are the persecutors, for suckers will always run after scapegoats while I fleece them.
“Blessed are you when you revile men and shoot them and utter all kinds of evil against them falsely on my account. I will rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be jail while mine will be the White House, for so dummies like you have always killed others to please Mob Bosses like me. (Mt 5:1–12 Trump Revised Edition).
So what can we Christians who are prolife but also believe the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the MAGA freak show gospel do? Start here:
Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Mt 6:33).
“All these things” is literally everything you want and need. Really want and need, not just think you want and need, including respect for human life and, with it, not just salvation of children from abortion, but unselfish behavior during a Pandemic, real respect for all forms of human life, a living wage for families, respect for LGBTQ folk as persons made in the image and likeness of God for whom Christ died, rejection of torture, a love of human life that takes priority over gun fetishes, determination to make sure that everybody gets the health care they need, and lots of other things that liberals want which the Church also wants us to work for.
Jesus, as is his custom, has some wisdom here that MAGA “prolifers” should heed, if they are serious about the gospel and not simply about using the unborn as human shields for all the evils the Cult of Trump wants to inflict on their victims. It is this:
Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny. (Mt 5:25–26)
In other words, instead of endlessly repeating the lie that liberals are fiendish enemies of the gospel who are “against God” and “want to hurt God” face the fact that this is a filthy lie and that there are lots of so-called “liberal” positions that are simply the teaching of the gospel or highly compatible with it. So Christians should agree with liberals wherever possible and, what is more, find every single place we can be willing to sacrifice what is not really essential to the gospel in order to win them over to Christ.
To the fractious Church at Corinth, filled with stupid power struggles and quarrels, Paul writes this advice:
To have lawsuits at all with one another is defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud, and that even your own brethren. (1 Co 6:7–8).
Imagine if the rich, white, American conservative Christian subculture–instead of endlessly brooding over its sense of victimization (while persecuting brown families at the border), or shouting “Don’t touch my gun!” after every massacre, or shrieking “Socialism!” when asked to fund universal health care like all other civilized countries–imagine if that subculture took up Paul’s attitude of trust in God and loved their neighbors ahead of themselves.
Imagine if, for the sake of the liberals for whom Christ died, they said, “Why not rather be wronged?” and gave up the 300 extra guns they hoard.
Imagine if Christians agreed to give a couple of bucks out of their paycheck for a national health system since the Church calls for universal health care–even if that was a win for liberals.
Imagine if conservative Christians decided that it wouldn’t kill them to have a government food program for hungry kids, or to wear a mask during Pandemic, or to admit that POC are often shafted and do have a point when they protest that Black Lives Matter.
Imagine they simply abandoned the fight to have a death penalty along with such enlightened regimes as Saudi Arabia and North Korea and simply joined liberals in calling for its abolition since that is what the Church teaches?
In short, what would be lost by just agreeing with the Church even when liberals agree with her too?
I submit that nothing would be lost at all. On the contrary, if conservative Christians simply conceded on every point where liberal values and the Church’s teaching overlap, they would lose nothing essential to the gospel, gain much that is essential to it, and would suddenly find themselves as credible witnesses to it instead of being the horrifying deadly toxic freak show they are now in the MAGA Cult.
They would be able, at long last, to say to liberals, “I affirm and am working for the lives of refugees. I say out loud and with conviction that the life and dignity of every LGBTQ person is undergirded by the fact that they are made in the image and likeness of the God who made them, loves them, and died for them. I go to the mat to declare that Black Lives, so monstrously mistreated and abused for so long in this country, truly do matter and we have to affirm and fight for that. I reject misogyny and affirm that men and women are of equal dignity and must be accorded equal justice, since Jesus Christ died for both and in him both are creatures destined for eternity. I believe that all human beings, no matter who they are or what language, tribe or tongue they represent are loved by God and of equal dignity.”
And because we embrace that fully Catholic anthropology of the human person and really live it in a way the diabolically false “All Lives Matter” slogan is calculated to deny, we could at long last make a credible argument to a world that sees no reason to believe our grotesque witness to the gospel that the same dignity inheres in the unborn as in the other forms of human life that are so neglected and abused.
In short, if we stop weaponizing the unborn against all the forms of life conservative Qhristians want to rob, harm, neglect, oppress, and kill in obedience to GOP Crime Syndicate propaganda, we could actually be taken seriously as Christian witnesses to the gospel.
And that would mean taking seriously that the way the gospel works is not so much to make sin illegal as to make it unthinkable.
Of which more next time.