Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Myopic thoughts on the abortion debate

More frequently in today’s political climate, abortion supporters follow President Obama’s lead to use moderate terminology in the abortion debate. Abortion should be safe, legal and rare. Unwanted pregnancies (and thus, abortions) can be prevented by ready access to birth control. They infer that somehow by the impact of their verbal moderation, a few less American women will face unplanned pregnancies, and (perhaps) more American women will decide to keep their babies.

But yet, their definition of “common ground” still includes allowing abortion at any time, at any age, for any reason. And in their attempt at moderating their rhetoric, they fail to grasp the double-speak that lets their abortion-minded perspective off the hook.

Essentially, they -- led by the President of the United States -- want everyone to talk nicer. That’s a good goal, especially for the in-your-face nature of the blogosphere, but there’s no true willingness to find common ground, only chummy agreement on the disagreement.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the president’s address to the Notre Dame graduating class on Sunday. Obama was only eight paragraphs into his speech when he referred to the current economic struggles “where greed and short-term thinking [have been] too often rewarded at the expense of fairness, and diligence, and an honest day’s work.” A few paragraphs later, he noted that “Too many of us view life only through the lens of immediate self-interest and crass materialism; in which the world is necessarily a zero-sum game.”

Short-term thinking? Immediate self-interest? Like the kind where a woman seeks to end her baby’s life because she doesn’t want to be pregnant right now?

Obama went on:
Your generation must decide how to save God's creation from a changing climate that threatens to destroy it.
Does the phrase “God’s creation” not apply to unborn children? How can we simultaneously lionize those who trumpet efforts to save God’s creation from global warming, and yet demonize those who attempt to save God’s creation from abortion, criticizing the use of the phrase in one arena but not in the other?

And yet, despite those myopic examples, I couldn’t help but be moved by this section, when Obama referred to his time working in the Chicago community with people of faith:
And something else happened during the time I spent in these neighborhoods -- perhaps because the church folks I worked with were so welcoming and understanding; perhaps because they invited me to their services and sang with me from their hymnals; perhaps because I was really broke and they fed me. Perhaps because I witnessed all of the good works their faith inspired them to perform, I found myself drawn not just to the work with the church; I was drawn to be in the church. It was through this service that I was brought to Christ.

And at the time, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin was the Archbishop of Chicago. For those of you too young to have known him or known of him, he was a kind and good and wise man. A saintly man. I can still remember him speaking at one of the first organizing meetings I attended on the South Side. He stood as both a lighthouse and a crossroads -- unafraid to speak his mind on moral issues ranging from poverty and AIDS and abortion to the death penalty and nuclear war. And yet, he was congenial and gentle in his persuasion, always trying to bring people together, always trying to find common ground. Just before he died, a reporter asked Cardinal Bernardin about this approach to his ministry. And he said, "You can't really get on with preaching the Gospel until you've touched hearts and minds."
This is the very thing I struggle with as a person of faith: where is that line between defending my faith and the truth, and driving people away from any opportunity to see Christ in me?

What’s the old saying? People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

I don’t have the answer, but I’d like to think it has elements of Obama’s call for rhetorical moderation, as well as the intellectual honesty necessary to realize that achieving true common ground involves more than just changing the labels. It involves the hard work necessary to find legitimacy in the other person’s arguments, to work toward compromise where possible, and, yes, to respectfully hold firm to your ideals with the expectation that the other side will do the same.

Realistic? Pollyanna-ish? I don't know. I don't deny that I may have a case of myopia as well. But I'm working on it.