Photo Credit: Raphael Warnock via Wikimedia Commons
As you know, the Rev. Raphael Warnock is running to represent the state of Georgia in the US Senate against incumbent Republican Kelly Leoffler. Their runoff next month, as well as the one between Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican David Perdue, is the site of intense national focus. If the Democrats take both seats, they win control of the upper chamber. This more than anything explains the extreme online reaction Tuesday to a short tweet by Warnock. “I am a pro-choice pastor,” he wrote. To wit:
Charlie Kirk: “You cannot be pro-abortion and also be a Christian.” Erick Erickson: “So not really a follower of the actual Jesus, but the one you’ve conjured in your head. Got it.” Graham Allen: “If you are ‘pro-choice’ pastor, you are not only NOT pastor. You are a crappy Christian!” Ben Shapiro: “I am the square root of a negative number.”
It should be said this is Warnock’s opinion. People are entitled to theirs. A difference of opinion, however, isn’t why Erickson and his ghouls are reacting so strongly. They are trying to discredit his religion. They are trying to delegitimize his faith. And they are doing this because Warlock, as the senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where Martin Luther King Jr., once preached, speaks with righteous authority. If you can take that away, you have taken away Warnock’s mightiest political asset.
A political defense is, therefore, appropriate. One of the best political defenses comes from the Rev. Dave Barnhart, an ordained elder of the United Methodist Church who heads something called the house churches of Saint Junia in Birmingham, Ala. Some time ago he wrote the following, which has been widely shared by liberal Christians.
“The unborn” are a convenient group of people to advocate for. They never make demands of you; they are morally uncomplicated, unlike the incarcerated, addicted, or the chronically poor; they don’t resent your condescension or complain that you are not politically correct; unlike widows, they don’t ask you to question patriarchy; unlike orphans, they don’t need money, education, or childcare; unlike aliens, they don’t bring all that racial, cultural, and religious baggage that you dislike; they allow you to feel good about yourself without any work at creating or maintaining relationships; and when they are born, you can forget about them, because they cease to be unborn.
He went on.
It’s almost as if, by being born, they have died. You can love the unborn and advocate for them without substantially challenging your own wealth, power, or privilege, without re-imagining social structures, apologizing, or making reparations to anyone. They are, in short, the perfect people to love if you want to claim you love Jesus but actually dislike people who breathe. Prisoners? Immigrants? The sick? The poor? Widows? Orphans? All the groups that are specifically mentioned in the Bible? They all get thrown under the bus for the unborn.
But Rev. Warnock’s opinion deserves a religious defense—a liberal and conservative religious defense. The former comes from the African-American church, where most people actually oppose abortion. However, they do not, and will not, take a position by which they are seen to be telling Black women what to do with their bodies. Black history is a history of state claims on Black bodies. The Black church, I think, is manifesting the moral equality at the center of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Would you accept authority over your body in defiance of your own? Of course you wouldn’t.
For a conservative religious defense, allow me to draw on my own experience. I was once part of an obscure (white) evangelical Protestant sect called—deep breath—Christians Gathered Unto the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t recall anyone mentioning abortion, but I do recall vividly that the order of power was sacred. God over Man. Men over women. And parents over children. I vividly recall the importance of parental authority, because it was literally beaten into me. Dissent was intolerable even in diapers. Equally intolerable? The rights of “the unborn” above the rights of parents. You can totally be a pro-choice pastor. You can be pro-choice and religiously conservative.
In everything, there was extreme skepticism of “this world,” which is Satan’s. That meant some of my family members refused to put up Christmas trees. It was too pagan for one thing. For another, it needlessly risked their mortal souls. Why tempt God’s wrath with the appearance of worshipping a false deity? (Bring that up the next time someone rails against the “war on Christmas.”) I think of this when it comes to “the unborn.” They’re mentioned only twice, in Psalms, both with reference to future generations. Nothing, however, about inchoate human beings. You could say, with legitimate Biblical authority, that the movement for life is a movement for idolatry. You could also say, with religiously conservative fury, that it’s time to get back to Biblical basics: prisoners and immigrants, widows and orphans, the sick and the poor.
My point isn’t to endorse a religiously conservative view. Indeed, I dislike it. My point is that Erickson and his ghouls aren’t as religiously conservative as they would like us to believe. They are, of course, politically conservative. Fascist, I would say, and there’s the rub. Deep in the heart of the world’s fascist politics is a crippling anxiety about the place of women in society, especially women’s bodies being out of the control of men.
John Stoehr is the editor and publisher of the Editorial Board, a newsletter about politics in plain English for normal people, where this article was originally published. He’s a visiting assistant professor of public policy and liberal studies at Wesleyan University.