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Monday, November 10, 2008

The death of religious influence on single-issue politics

Despite the shrill rhetoric and dire warnings from the Roman Catholic Church, the issue of abortion as a determining factor in political elections was finally put to rest. We have elected a President of the United States who is solidly pro-choice.

Let's look at the mandate he has been given in terms of Reproductive Rights.

According to Peter Steinfels, religion writer for the New York Times, despite the dominant message from the bishops that Catholics were morally obliged not to vote for a candidate supporting abortion rights, exit polls show that Catholics voted 52 percent to 45 percent for Senator Barack Obama. That was, he claims, seven percentage points more than the Catholic vote in 2004 for Senator John Kerry, a fellow Catholic.

Hispanic Catholics, a group the bishops often hail as representing the future of the church in the United States, led the way. Latinos voted 67 percent for Mr. Obama, 16 percentage points more than their vote for Mr. Kerry.

The shift among other religious demographics is also revealing and, at least from where I sit, hopeful.

NY Times religion writer, Laurie Goodstein, reports that among those who are "white evangelical and born again Christians", a total of 24% voted for Mr. Obama, verses 21% for Mr. Kerry.

Of those, however, 32% in the age bracket of 18-29 years of age voted for Mr. Obama as compared with 16% for Mr. Kerry.

That can not be described as anything less than significant.

Of course, this does not necessarily mean that abortion has become and accepted issue among these demographics. Indeed, it does not. What it does signal is that single-issue politics no longer has the force it once did.

Moreover, I think this signals a real shift in the authority and influence once ascribed to religious leaders - especially, I think, Roman Catholic bishops and Evangelical leaders who have used their authority and influence as a moral wedge issue against other compelling moral issues like poverty, hunger, education, immigration, health care, the environment, the war and the economy.

That kind of politic ain't gonna play - no matter what the issue. Someone forgot to tell them that the world is not flat. Indeed, as technology has made the world smaller (I'm sorry. I am so weary of the term 'global village'), life has become more complex and complicated.

On the issue of abortion, the middle ground established by Mr. Obama's Interfaith team has become the high ground. I may not like abortion. You may not like abortion. But, re-criminalizing abortion is not the answer.

Looking at the reasons women have abortion and addressing those needs holds the answer to significantly reducing by 70-80% the number of abortions performed each year.

That's change I can live with - given the complexity and compelling nature of all the other issues we have before us as a nation and a world.

I am heartened by this post "Proposition 8: A Triumph of Bigotry" by blogger 'Skeptical Brotha' as a sign of that change.

In it, he reminds us of the words of the Coretta Scott King, the first lady of Civil Rights:

I still hear people say that I should not be talking about the rights of lesbian and gay people and I should stick to the issue of racial justice… But I hasten to remind them that Martin Luther King, Jr., said, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere’ … I appeal to everyone who believes in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s dream to make room at the table of brotherhood and sisterhood for lesbian and gay people.”

“…Gays and lesbians stood up for civil rights in Montgomery, Selma, in Albany, Georgia, and St. Augustine, Florida, and many other campaigns of the Civil Rights Movement. Many of these courageous men and women were fighting for my freedom at a time when they could find few voices for their own, and I salute their contributions.

…Gay and lesbian people have families, and their families should have legal protection, whether by marriage or civil union. A constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages is a form of gay bashing, and it would do nothing at all to protect traditional marriages."

Yes, an estimated 70& of African Americans in California who voted for Mr. Obama also voted for Proposition 8.

Yes, for LGBT people, the dance toward justice is what it has always been for every other minority population - one step forward and two steps back. The antidote to prejudice is what it has always been - education.

The message to - and the work for - LGBT people and our straight friends is clear: if we don't provide education and outreach to other minority communities, we only continue to participate in our own oppression.

We may not have significantly changed the problems besetting our environment, but one thing is clear - the religious and political climate in this country has changed.

It's a new day, children. It's time to dry our tears, wipe our noses, pull up our socks, roll up our sleeves, take a deep breath, and continue to put our hands on the arc of history, which, as Martin told us, is long, but it always bends toward justice.

The work is before us. Let's get on with it.


ROBERTA said...

That was an absolutely fabulous post! thank you.

Jim said...

I think you are on to something here. Single issue voting never made much sense and its death is a good thing.


Grace said...

I don't think we should be single issue voters, either. But, still the matter of abortion is pretty significant to me.

In response to the poster, I want to point out that there are feminist based pro-life organizations, such as "Feminists For Life."

The early feminists were actually instrumental in supporting law helping to shape public opinion, protecting the human rights of unborn children.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, who in 1848
organized the first women's right convention in Seneca Falls, New York actually classified abortion as a form of infanticide.

She stated, "When you consider that women have been treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our unborn children as property to be disposed of as we see fit."

I'm totally in favor of providing every care, and support to women facing crisis pregancy, and help for kids, greater access and information relating to contraception...

But, I also think especially in the light of recent ultrasound technology, advances in medicine, life -saving surgeries performed while infants are still in the womb, etc. we need to take a fresh look at Roe vs. Wade.

I feel strongly that the legal parameters concerning abortion need to be redefined, and tightened.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

I hear that it is significant to you, Grace, and I know that there are organizations led by women who claim to be feminist (clearly, they don't know the meaning of the word), who are opposed to abortion.

The point is that the overwhelming majority of anti-abortion organizations is male.

And, the point I think the voters are making in electing pro-choice leaders is that the legality of this issue does not need to be re-visited.

Women have always had abortions and will always have abortions because of compelling medical, economic, and social reasons.

The point the voters are making is not that the issue of abortion ought to be revisited and its rules made more stringent - a punitive attack on the rights, dignity, reason and intelligence of women.

The point is to reduce the reasons women have abortions in the first place: poverty; misogyny and sexism wherein men consider a woman a sex toy or sex object and then do not provide her with assistance when pregnancy is part of the picture; incest and rape (see second point above).

The best we can do as a civilized society is to make sure the abortion performed is legal and safe and to work like hell to change the conditions which prompt a woman to have an abortion in the first place.

I think the point is being made that unless members of the anti-choice, pro-abortion camp like yourself begin to put your own lives on the line - like, say adopting and raising and loving a profoundly and multiply handicapped child who would have been aborted - then your credibility is very weak.

I know it sounds simplistic and I don't mean to diminish the significance of your passion about this issue, but the old slogan about abortion was never more true: If you don't want abortion don't have one.

Thanks for visiting, Grace (Becky), you always help me clarify my thoughts.

Grace said...

Thanks, Mother Kaeton,

I totally agree with you about working to alleviate all those conditions which might pressure a woman to choose abortion in the first place. No argument there at all.

I think, though, there are comparatively few abortions that occur because of these more extreme circumstances, Mother Kaeton.

Most are not happening because of children who are profoundly disabled, rape, incest, or because the mother's life is at risk. That's the truth.

I have known many folks involved with the pro-life movement who have adopted, or fostered special needs kids, or children with other problems. I certainly have.

But, I can't agree concerning the law. I would not see law only as restrictive. I think law also helps
to shape morality, and public opinion, what we believe is right, good, and just.

That's why it's so important to impact the law relating to marriage. Yes, it's about justice, and civil rights for gay, and lesbian people.

But, if we change the law defining marriage, this will also have a snowball effect, and impact the culture in other ways toward a moral acceptance, and affirmation of same-sex caring, and partnerships.

But, hey, I want to end with saying, I know you, and your partner have adopted kids, also a daughter with special needs. I think that's awesome, Mother Kaeton.

Prayers here for both of us.

Fran said...

What a brilliant post. And that Steinfels piece... interesting indeed.

I see my own esteemed Bishop Howard Hubbard quoted, I know him to be a man of reason. He was at a Faithful Citizenship event that I attended in October and was very clear that he would endorse no one. This actually upset some folks there.

He also was very clear about how we must examine our consciences and vote - for the person who will do the most good... or the least harm.

This whole abortion issue will suck all the air out of things and in its way, takes the focus off of all of life being respected.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Grace, I hear you loud and clear. It's obvious that you don't want to hear anything I say about abortion. And, to be honest and speak the truth in love, I feel the same about what you have to say about abortion.

So, let's be really kind to each other and, in Christian love and charity, agree to disagree on this, shall we?

And, when (not if) we allow LGBT people to have the Civil Rights they already have in the constitution, there will be a snow ball effect OF MORALITY.

Marriage is not only a sacramental right, it is a civil right that promotes order and decency in relationships - all relationships.

It was only 1967 when we refused the civil rights of interracial couples in this country. It was wrong then for people of color. It is wrong now for LGBT people.

Do you not understand that it is not only immoral to refuse a certain group of people their constitutional rights, but, it promotes immorality by forcing people who love each other and want to have a family to live outside of the bonds of marriage?

As my friend Margaret says, If you want to have a positive effect on marriage, ban divorce.

God Bless you, my dear. May God soften your heart and open your eyes to see God's abundant love in your midst.

Grace said...

Mother Kaeton,

Of course we can agree to disagree relating to abortion.

But, I think we've had a misunderstanding. I'm totally affirming of gay marriage, and couldn't agree with you more in this.

God bless!

JCF said...


I started going down this thread, in order to slam "Grace" (and bless your heart, Becky, I will! *g*)

But I don't think your tone is particularly helpful, Lisbeth, in your response to Grace.

There IS more common ground between you, than you seem to want to admit, TELP.

Society needs to restructured to benefit women in general, and women "w/ something in their uteruses", in particular. We ALL agree on that, and we don't need to snark at each, in order to get there. Please dear God, w/ Prez O and a Dem Congress, let the healing begin! :-D


Now, Grace, here comes your smackdown:

I feel strongly that the legal parameters concerning abortion need to be redefined, and tightened. Respectfully, Becky

Respectfully, Becky, you DO realize, that those "tightened" chains will be around me?

[Remembering, w/ disgust, John McCain's air-quotes around "Women's Health" in the 3rd debate. That was his idea of a "tightening", to EXCLUDE. >:-0]

As Clarence Darrow (the famous defense attorney) said "As long as there is a criminal class, I am OF it."

...and I'll add to that, as long as there are laws against abortions---for ANY woman who herself feels she needs one (nevermind whether you, Grace, feel she needs one)---I am committed to help BREAK them.

In any way I can!

Capice? We can work together to 1) reduce unwanted pregnancies, and 2) provide support to pregnant women---for WHATEVER they want to do w/ their pregnancies


You can put ME (along w/ those women who choose abortion, and the doctors who help them) in jail.

Thems your choices, O Anti-Choice one! ;-/

Grace said...

JCF, I've missed you, and our discussions together very much. Sure, we have plenty of common ground.

JC, I can understand helping a woman have an abortion who is in desperate, or life-threatening circumstances like Doxy described awhile back.

And, I would not want to see elective abortion banned in the very, very early stages of pregnancy. (Although, I don't feel it should be encouraged either.)

But, I have to confess I don't understand the mindset of Christian believers who would want to enable, and support someone otherwise. I'm not trying to be unkind, or snarky in this, but I really don't understand.

I mean would Jesus be escorting women into abortion clinics, or would he be loving them, and supporting them through crisis pregnancies, and wanting us to care for kids, wanted or not.

Are you sharing with me that you would try to perform or facilitate abortions, and then sit in prison?? I don't understand, JCF.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

My apologies if I missed your point on gay marriage or if I sounded snarky about abortion.

I guess I get my Portuguese up when anyone starts to want to restrict people's rights because of their religious beliefs.

You have an absolute right to your religious beliefs and so do I. That does not give either of us the right to restrict our legal rights on the matter.

As for Jesus, yes I do think he would walk a woman into an abortion clinic if that's what she felt was best for her and her family in her particular situation.

What is "extreme" to you may not be so for others and vice versa.

There are social reasons for having an abortion that are just as compelling as medical ones. Jesus wouldn't judge that - he didn't judge prostitutes, tax collectors or the lepers of his day - and I don't think we should either.

If you needed to have an abortion and I didn't, I would not be pleased, but it is not my decision. It is between you, your doctor and God. Yes, I would walk with you to the abortion clinic.

If you don't need to have an abortion, and I did, I would hope you would do the same for me.

And, I'm not sure what jcf meant, but I can tell you that if the law were ever changed and abortion were re-criminalized or restricted, I would be willing to assist a woman in need of an abortion and pay the consequences for it - yes, I mean jail time.

I did it during the Civil Rights movement and during the Viet Nam War. I did it during the AIDS crisis, and I'd do it again for a woman's reproductive rights.

I also help to train 'escorts' at Abortion Clinics to walk past horrible, terrible people who call themselves Christians who yell hateful things to young women who are about to have an abortion - all in the Sweet Name of Jesus, of course.

I have no problem with them having their beliefs and religious principles. They have the First Amendment right to free speech and peaceful assembly. I would never, EVER take away their beliefs, or compromise their rights.

HOW they exercise their rights, as Christians, is nothing less than conduct unbecoming the Savior they claim to follow.

Jesus, I think, weeps.

JCF said...

Like Lisbeth, Grace, I absolutely believe that Jesus would escort women into abortion clinics, if those women believed that they needed them.

I know that such imagery of Jesus might shock you, Grace...

...but Jesus DID shock the religiously-certain people of his time&place, constantly.

See, that's the thing about me and abortion: I'm NOT certain.

Maybe abortion IS a sin: I just don't know.

I just haven't been persuaded of that (via Scripture, Tradition, or Reason).

If I can't make up my mind, how can I take that freedom (of mind-making-up) away from anyone else?

Re "anyone else": that would be the pregnant woman. I'm not convinced there's an "anyone else" inside that woman---no matter how many RC/ConEv bishops, priests, pastors, sob-sisters (!) scream at me that there is.

When in the world will people learn that red-in-the-face CERTAINTY Just. Isn't.Persuasive?

Lord have mercy!

Grace said...


I don't know what else to say here. This is a hard thing to discuss.

I agree that we should love and accept people no matter what. But, for me personally that doesn't always mean that I can help support, or facilitate harmful, or immoral choices.

I honestly can't imagine someone who has either witnessed later first trimester, or second trimester abortion, or even seen recent imagery,and 3D ultrasound who could support, let alone actively participate in elective abortion.

I know that we live in a fallen world, and sometimes abortion in more extreme, or life-threatening circumstances can be the lesser of the evils. But, I think those times are comparatively rare.

Mother Kaeton, it's ok. I didn't think you sounded snarky. I'm sorry for your experience. And, I can honestly say that I would never participate in a screaming match outside an abortion clinic, or attempt to hurt anyone. I agree that this is despicable, and a terrible witness to the love of Christ.

But, in all fairness I've participated in silent life chains where some pro-choice folks have driven bye also yelling, screaming profanities, making obscene gestures.

People on both ends of this issue can act pretty extreme, and crazy. And, of course, both sides can also pull out the horror stories.

At this point, the only thing I know to do is to agree to disagree for now, work to find common ground, and hold each other in prayer.

JCF, in the end, I have to be honest and say that I don't think you would really ever physically participate in an abortion. You're a total pacifist, as it is, who would rescue turtles off the highway. When push came to shove, there's just no way.

But, at any rate, I couldn't bear to see you in prison. We would have to figure something out. :)

JCF said...

in all fairness I've participated in silent life chains where some pro-choice folks have driven bye also yelling

Hey, Grace---maybe we HAVE met!

(Haven't done so recently; haven't had the opportunity. When I have yelled, it's always been "Before I'll be your slave, I'll be buried in my grave." I regret . . . that I probably wasn't understood by the demonstrators)

I TOTALLY reject the very concept of "elective abortion." There ain't no such thing!

"Elective" should ONLY be used in terms of (non-reconstructive) plastic surgery (like facelifts---not that there's anything wrong w/ them).

Abortion can only result from the medical condition of pregnancy. As such it is NEVER "elective", it arises from a woman's perceived NEED.

Period. Full-stop. Don't go there, Grace, I ain't playin'.

JCF, in the end, I have to be honest and say that I don't think you would really ever physically participate in an abortion. You're a total pacifist, as it is, who would rescue turtles off the highway. When push came to shove, there's just no way.

Well, I'm not medically-trained, so there's no possibility of that (unfortunately. Lemme tell you, I'd make all kinds of different career decisions if I were starting all over again!)

Re turtles: I think I did move one off a road one time...

...but that doesn't change the fact that I don't believe a fetus is a "human being" per se. Only the WILL of a particular pregnant woman, re her own fetus, can make it such [See II Samuel 12, for an analogy. In the story, it wasn't that "lambs" were sacred, it was this particular lamb, loved by this particular poor man, which gave this lamb a privilege of life (which the rich man violated)].

When I moved that turtle, I was making that same decision to privilege it---w/o violating the RIGHTS of any other human being. Get it?


I honestly wonder: has the (repeated ad nauseum) meme of "unborn baby" turned the minds of people who value (perhaps w/ a particular devotion) ACTUAL babies, to sentimental mush?

Don't get me wrong: I'd prefer that abortions NOT happen---because there AREN'T anymore unwanted pregnancies! Under the BEST circumstances (and what are those?) I'm sure abortion is always unpleasant for the (soon-to-be-not) pregnant woman, and rather grotesquely messy for the medical staff (and that's your best case).

But human life? In the first trimester? Fuhgeddaboutit! [And as far as later trimesters go, I would ONLY be thinking about the medical emergencies of the pregnant woman, that would require such an operation].

Well, I hope you won't ever change the law, to lock me up Grace. Remember: that which you do to my brothers and sisters (abortion providers, and abortion patients), you do to me!

Rant concluded. Pax.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Ah, well, I guess it's still just the three of us. Everyone else has moved on. Really. Everyone.

I don't know why the conversation about abortion continues. It has been settled. Even most of the RCs and Evangelicals have moved on. It's just the Right Wingnuts who continue to rant and rave.

That's not you, Grace. You are not a Right Wingnut, but I can tell from your rhetoric that some of them are your best friends.

There is no such thing as "elective abortion". That's bunk. Likewise, if you check a medical dictionary or any OB-GYN book, there is no such thing as a 'partial birth abortion'. It's 'late term abortion'.

These are two emotional terms made up by the Right Wingnuts as the only weapons they have in their arsenal: guilt and manipulation.

Otherwise, they got bupkus: certainly not intelligence or scientific/medical fact, certainly not love and compassion, and absolutely not a shred of generosity and kindness - not to mention a PLAN - including financial plan - to help this woman carry this fetus to term if that's what she REALLY wanted.

Here's the difference, Grace, between the loud protests of the Pro-choice people when the Anti-Abortion people are screaming their hateful things:

1. The Anti Abortion demonstrators are not saying horrible, hateful, hurtful things at Pro Life demonstrators - they are yelling them AT a vulnerable, scared woman.

2. The pro-life counter demonstrations are not aimed at a pregnant woman but at drowning out he horrible, hateful, hurtful things the Anti-Abortion people are saying so the scared, vulnerable pregnant woman will not hear them and feel supported.

I know. I've been there. We Pro-Choice people long ago determined that counter-yelling does no good to our souls. So, we have developed the 'Peaceful Presence' project where we train people in non-violent counter demonstrations to blunt the verbal violence of the Right Wingnuts.

And, we volunteer to escort the woman past their horrible placards with an aborted fetus pictured prominently on them with lovely terms like: Murderer!

If you , God forbid, had Parkinson's Disease and needed a stem cell implant that would alleviate your pain and suffering, and had to walk by a demonstration of people with placards of aborted fetuses that read, "Don't kill so you can live" - how would YOU feel?

Never happen? Pshaw! It happened just six months ago here in NJ outside a doctor's office who doesn't do abortion. One of his patients was the sister of a Right Wingnut and she organized the Anti-Abortion demonstration outside his office.

I think, Grace, when things deteriorate to that level, the movable middle moves along. And, so it has. So should you. So should we all.

Fran said...

You are not the only 3 left... I have watched and read every comment.

This is a difficult subject and one that I have wrestled with long and hard.

The bottom line for me is that judgment, shame, blame and ultimately criminalization are never ways to deal with anything.

Recently I was in a conversation with a man in my parish and he went off on abortion and the election of Obama. His idea was that anyone who voted for him be excommunicated.

I felt completely assualted by his words.

In any event, I asked him if he ever asked - literally or just in his heart - the question of why some women choose abortion.

His response chilled me to the bone - he said that that did not matter to him at all.

Where do you go with that? Not very Jesus-y IMHO, but what do I know.

Sadly much of this type of conversation (not here- in general) exists at the edges of both extremes. The conversation here spent a lot of time in that murky middle place where our hearts live and where we work out our consciences every day.

Thank you all for your candor and your discussion, most especially to Elizabeth for providing the forum.

Grace said...

Thanks to everyone here too for the discussion. And, JCF, keep in touch. :)

Ditto what Fran said about Mother Kaeton providing the forum.

Seeing Eye Chick said...

I believe in part that this issue has been Framed in terms of Sex. Back in the 80s, women's rights were all about sex and it killed us. Sexual Discrimination, Sex Crimes, etc., Now its: Gender Discrimination, Intimiate Partner Violence.

When you remove the sex, then suddenly the discussion becomes about something other than where one puts tab a into slot b.

I know its crude and all, but I really believe that the Christian Supremacists {I dont call them Right because they are Wrong] and I dont call them Fundamentals, unless its fundamentally Disconnected. They are Supremacists in that they embrace a religiously motivated supremacist ideology. And they have capitalized on the word association of SEX--not just in terms of gender but also as a term for intercourse or in this case, as Deviant Acts.

This discussion needs to depart from Sex and deviance. Between Consenting adults, its no one's business outside that relationship. This discussion needs to be framed in terms of Contract, Parental designation and rights, Next of Kin, Economic Dependent--Churches can determine the prerequisites for couples within their own walls. That is their right to determine what has spiritual currency according to their cosmology. But this Nation is a nation of secular laws and that spiritual currency has no place in the realm of the legal contract, equal protection, right to privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of and from religion. By imposing their religiously motivated moral values on everyone else via the legislature, they have infringed upon the religious expression and freedoms of other religious groups and peoples who may not hold the same values regarding marriage, or homosexuality, traditional gender roles etc., and so on.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Welcome, SEC. You're right. We still live in a democracy, not a theocracy.

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Not just three...

Grace---My sense from what you have said here is that you have very little trust in women. You seem to see women as easily manipulated, almost-childlike creatures who can be talked into doing something immoral---apparently because they don't have much of a moral compass to begin with (since they will abort for reasons of "convenience").

And you seem to see doctors as money-grubbers who will murder unborn babies to line their coffers. I get no sense that you believe them when they take the Hippocratic Oath.


I trust women. I trust them to make the best decisions they can in their own personal circumstances. I trust that they are mature moral agents, who can answer to God about their choices without my help--or the government's.

And while I have some skepticism about doctors (thanks to working in several hospitals and on research projects), on the whole, I have found them to care very much about the welfare of their patients. YMMV.

I certainly trust women and physicians more than I trust Congressional representatives or state legislators. I've worked with both sets of I know whereof I speak.