Smashmouth Incrementalism & Abolishing Abortion

We talked ending abortion strategies with Doug Wilson on the latest Crosspolitic episode. Doug followed up with a blog post entitled Smashmouth Incrementalism, and Joel McDurmon and John Reasnor have followed up with thoughts of their own. And there have probably been a few other conversations floating around on these topics.

So for whatever they’re worth, a few thoughts of my own:

  1. It’s important that we listen carefully to our fathers in the faith on this topic, especially those who have been arrested for protesting abortion in the past. Honoring father and mother applies here, no less than anywhere else. If we want the world to learn to love and honor motherhood and fatherhood, we can’t demand that they do that while not practicing that in our own ranks. I’m not saying this doesn’t mean we have no course corrections to make or there is no place for hard questions for our fathers, but we really do need to ask them from a posture of honor. I still remember my OPC pastor, Dick Kaufmann, in the mid-1980s announcing to our congregation that he would be flying to Atlanta to participate in an Operation Rescue protest in which he intended to peacefully block access to an abortion clinic and fully expected to be arrested. I have nothing but the deepest respect for that kind of courage, even if I don’t think that particular tactic is always the most strategic. But at that moment in the Pro-Life Movement, it was strategic.
  2. Doug said on Crosspolitic that he thought the pro-life movement was actually quite robust in America, and I noted that I thought it was probably more robust at the grassroots level than at the leadership level (in general). It looks to me like we’ve got a bottleneck in the movement, where most folks on the ground are hungry for abolishing the murder of babies but politicians and leaders often settle in to a wickedly passive incrementalism — which really does need to be smashed. For example, when we were prepping for our recent governors round table, I noted that in both candidates’ platforms, there were no details or plans listed for pushing their professed pro-life stance forward. When so-called “pro-life politicians” can just check a box and move on, there’s a major problem. We should be insisting that they spell it out in detail how they will actively push an agenda to save unborn lives and bring abortion to an end in our states and nation.
  3. Doug said that the great concern is that certain extreme measures will set the pro-life movement back. I think the sort of thing Doug is talking about is shooting abortion doctors and blowing clinics up. The other way of overshooting would be insisting that mothers be prosecuted for first degree murder. Yes, mothers are complicit in the murder of their babies, but the Bible makes distinctions between certain degrees of guilt and Western law has developed those principles. Those sorts of violent or clunky tactics really do set the movement back. But if he meant a state passing legislation simply outlawing abortion in defiance of Roe v. Wade, then we need to talk further. The example that comes to mind is how the Israelites responded when Pharaoh punished them for Moses’ confrontation. Was it a set back when the Israelites had to make bricks without straw? Well, yes and no. It was harder, but it really wasn’t a strategic set back because it revealed Pharaoh’s cruelty. I don’t believe our pro-life politicians and lesser magistrates have done enough to take stands for the unborn. Some of them have, but we need countless Roy Moores and Kim Davises cheerfully refusing to comply with tyranny and evil. We need the courage of Operation Rescue applied all the way up the line. In some instances, people will lose their jobs and livelihoods, and in others, I believe we will make great gains.
  4. It seems to me that everyone in this conversation is an incrementalist. In fact, if you’re a Christian, God requires you to be an incrementalist. Leave vengeance to the Lord. Unless you’re a totalitarian dictator, you simply don’t have the power to end abortion and get justice this very minute. And even if you were a totalitarian dictator it would probably take a few days or weeks or months to get word out to everyone. In other words, God is the only one who can say ‘Let there be light’ and light immediately appears. So, if you’re willing to wait until next Tuesday to end abortion (assuming you could), you’re an incrementalist. You’ve just settled on larger, swifter increments. What if you could push the button and end abortion next month? Now are you a compromiser? Should you refuse to push that button because you can’t end it in two weeks? Part of what seems to be going on is a certain subtle form of sentimentalism combined with hyper-machismo. Here’s the deal: sin brought death into the world. We’ve been killing one another since Cain. We are all murderers in our hearts. Cultures that reject God and His Christ are killer cultures, and I mean that in the negative, violent, bloody sense. I tend to think that we have imbibed a bit more of the prissy Leftists shock and dismay at evil in the world than we realize. The same world that eulogizes Hugh Hefner and celebrates Jay-Z feigns shock: “Harvey Weinstein was inappropriate with women?! Omigod! I can’t believe it!” Christians, we need to recognize that unbelievers (and sometimes even believers) do horrible things like treat women as objects, lie, steal, and yes, murder their babies. And they’ve been doing these evil things since Adam. Part of our shock at what people are doing is a result of the progress the gospel has made, but don’t forget that people have done these things (and far worse) for millennia. It’s called paganism. Apart from a few exceptional situations where God commanded His people to wipe out entire cities and nations or where He rained fire out of heaven, He has ordinarily required His people to work incrementally to end evil. Don’t be more macho than God, don’t be more holy than God — He’s the incrementalist. He’s allowing this world to continue on with starvation and cancer and rape, and He could end it with a word at any moment. And He hears the cries of the babies being slaughtered. He hates it more perfectly than any one of us could ever muster, and He is just and He will repay. And yet, He allows it for the moment. As Doug likes to say, God is perfect but He is not a perfectionist.
  5. The concern I have with making “incrementalism” our flag to rally to is that it often doesn’t communicate enough ambition or engender courage (despite the roaring success of liberal incrementalism). The reason I’m cool with Doug’s “Smashmouth Incrementalism” is because the adjective means “aggressive and confrontational.” In Reasnor and McDurmon’s response to Wilson they defined all the terms except that one. Seems to me that a more careful read of Wilson’s post needs to take that into account. I also hear Wilson’s warning in watching out for certain violent strains of “abolitionism” — Paul Hill happened before and can happen again. At the same time, a certain kind of rhetoric encourages the right kind of courage and boldness, and another kind of rhetoric doesn’t. End Abortion now, Babies are murdered here, I am the Pro-life Generation, Abortion will end in my lifetime — these are all helpful slogans and sentiments that seem to me to put the pressure on and work for and expect big things, and every incremental advance is just a little step in that war. In that light, I think McDurmon and Reasnor overstate their case on the 20 week ban currently before the Senate. It’s “not even a step in the right direction”? I think we should vote for it and immediately start talking about the next steps, at every level. Yes, some will celebrate it as some great victory (when we still have so far to go), but if we can pass legislation that saves one human life, isn’t that worth something? God rejoices over one lost sheep come home. Should we not rejoice with Him over one new saint when millions continue their merry way to Hell? It seems to me that this kind of abolitionist rhetoric is in danger of succumbing to the same concerns they seek to redress. In other words, the pansy incrementalists don’t want to propose ambitious legislation for fear of set backs, but McDurmon and Reasnor seem to be saying the same thing: don’t pass this mediocre legislation because it might set back the abolitionist cause. I think we all need to be a whole lot more scrappy than that. In a war, you keep your eye on the goal and you take every step forward you can.
  6. One last thought in defense of a robust, scrappy, and smashmouthed incrementalism to end abortion in our generation (see what I did there?): The gospel declares the end of the reign of sin, death, and the devil, and it actualizes this reality incrementally. We repent and believe immediately, but we are sanctified progressively. Now, my point is not that we should be A-OK with another forty years of abortion in America. Repentance in America should look like ending abortion ASAP. But there really is a massive difference between regenerate Christians who have the Holy Spirit within them and American religiosity. Christians can repent of sin, but pagans can only be herded and they have a vested interest in not being herded. We should do all in our power to herd them, but dead men don’t like breathing. Jesus said that the kingdom of God is like yeast in a loaf. The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed. And there really is a Holy Spirit-zen sort of balancing act here. It would not have been more righteous for Joshua to have attacked Jericho on Day 2 of the siege — even though there were atrocities surely happening inside that wicked city. So, on the one hand, Christians should be the most zealous and ambitious for the Kingdom, for truth and justice, and at the same time, Christians ought to be the most patient and joyful people. Lean too far in the zealous direction and you’re putting your hope in laws and regulations and human might to save instead of Jesus. Lean too far in the patient direction, and you’re not trusting and hoping in Jesus either, because you’re settling for something far short of His glorious Kingdom. Jesus changes hearts, and Jesus changes cultures, in that order. Our task is to be ambitious for justice and the kingdom, and the spear tip of our press should be with the gospel, proclaiming the blood of Christ at every turn. It’s not by might or by power, but by His Spirit that abortion will soon end in our land. But here’s the thing: we really don’t know exactly what God is up to other than the general plan to save the world and disciple the nations. But He’s the One telling this story. And His story has many dark moments, a great deal of suffering and death before resurrection. Why did God allow so many martyrs before Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire? Why did God allow so many Protestant martyrs before we won our right to exist in Europe? Why did God allow the gulags and the holocaust and other genocides? Why has God allowed so many believers in China and the Middle East to suffer so horrifically? I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know that the Story is far bigger than I can see. And the story is leading up to a glorious punch line with every knee bowing and every knee confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord. And when we finally see it all spread out before the throne of God on that great and terrible day, our hearts will break with an unspeakable joy and we will join our voices with that great chorus, singing “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever” (Rev. 5:13). It will be the best story ever. So with that complete confidence, there should be a full court press on all fronts of the abortion issue, depending on where God has placed us: defying unjust laws, cheering faithful leaders on, confronting cowardly leaders, passing minor limitations, repealing wicked rulings, adopting orphans, caring for foster children, serving in crisis pregnancy centers, honoring the marriage bed, welcoming children and raising them in the fear of the Lord, building private schools and church programs for the disabled and handicapped, and running many other plays consistent with the goal of honoring and loving every image bearer of our Father. If Paul could work harder than all of the other apostles and learn to be content in every situation, we too can be more ambitious and more content. The gospel gives us the courage to get far more done and the patience and the joy to trust our Father to bless us now.

And yes, this has been an extended commercial for Crosspolitic. Thanks for listening, sharing, and supporting. As they say in northern Idaho, Mucho Cheers.

  1. John Forster October 14

    Pastor Wilson and the men out of Moscow, as well as American Vision have done us a good service in faithfully preaching Theonomy over the years. It is not so hard to apply it and see the meaning of Gen 9:5,6. Jesus, as the owner and judge, maintains the “I will require”. The smashing at His image is against Him, not harshing our mellow. If we don’t execute the murderers, God will execute the society, sometimes by using the very murderers we failed to put to death. Everyman is responsible to support the lesser magistrate, and every lesser magistrate is responsible to call for support and appeal, resist, and oppose, even attack upward with that support behind him. Pastor Trewhella is highly recommended to this topic I believe. I think many could improve on these ideas? https://www.keepandshare.com/discuss/46317/open-letter-to-aha-pro-lifers-everywhere?i=148077

  2. Bill Evans October 21

    So I suppose a definition of Doug Wilson’s ‘smashmouth incrementalism’ doesn’t include signing (much less promoting) a petition to get abolition of abortion on the ballot it his own state? Besides wordsmith/talking head, has Doug actually demonstrated what energetically opposing child sacrifice looks like in a land with a 501(c)(3) religion dispensary on every street corner?

    • I’m pretty sure Doug’s only objection to the petition he saw was the inclusion of a predetermined sentence (*first degree* murder) included in the petition. I’m very excited about and getting ready to robustly support an another initiative to outlaw abortion in Idaho that’s currently in the works.

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