Nestled between two worship services, a small group meal and study and a quarterly business conference was my presentation for the 2013 annual Apologetics Conference.   Past topics have included writing and marriage.  This year the topic is abortion and apologetics.  Yeah, not for the faint of heart is this conference.  If you want to see my presentation, you’ll have to register at the conference homepage.  They have everything archived, including my previous years presentations.

I began by insisting that we who value life are winning the struggle and I used Facebook to prove it.  You’ll just have to watch to see how I do that.

Everything was rocking along pretty well until I insisted upon two concepts that I think are pretty important but apparently not many people in the conference agreed.  In fact, someone accused me of being ‘liberal.’  It has been a very long time since that has happened.  I actually enjoyed it.

What did I insist upon that got people riled up?  Well……

  1. Well, the first thing that seemed to raise hackles amongst people was my opinion that the word ‘abortion’ is probably too strong a word to use in sermonizing and in general church discourse.  My reasoning is that it has become one of those harsh words that can have a very negative connotation to many people.  There are only a handful of words that are stronger in the English language–such as the “N” word,  faggot, and masturbate.  Even if one uses the words properly and without emotional connotation they just take the focus off the goal and move it onto something else.  Notice how as you read this, me writing “N” word probably makes you feel so much better than actually typing out the awful word.  Why?  It carries so much emotional baggage for understandable reasons.  I think the word abortion does the same thing.  It takes people’s minds away from our argument about the purposes of God, the sanctity of life, and our responsibilities as sexual beings.  For this I was accused of adopting ‘liberal Gen-Xer language.’  Maybe, but I think I’m right.  I want to persuade people, not offend them.
  2. The second thing I did was to connect the abortion issue to the death penalty.  I put forward the argument that we in the Christian community lose credibility when we argue for the sanctity of life of the unborn but vociferously advocate for the death penalty.  My reasons for opposing the death penalty are nuanced and complicated but the key reason is that in the United States the practice is racist.  People of color tend to be executed at substantially higher rates, while those who are wealthy are able to afford better lawyers.  Life and death should not depend upon the skill of a lawyer.  Other reasons include the concept that Jesus was executed by the state for crimes he didn’t commit, because the state is not always right and the aforementioned lack of credibility on the issue when engaged with the world in general about policy.  I would gladly cede capital punishment to strengthen the defense for the unborn.  Turns out, this is pretty controversial.  Many folks disagreed with me on this capital punishment issue.  Their arguments ranged from citations of Old Testament biblical passages to the case that harsh penalties save lives and establish the importance of victim’s lives, thus paradoxically preserving life even as it takes it.  I accept these arguments, perhaps in a perfectly just world they would sway me.  We do not live in that perfectly just world.

I said a lot of other things, but if you want to see those, you’ll have to register and watch the video.

 

13 Comments

  1. Oh, Jamie, we’ve always known you’re much more liberal than a pastor out of Texas ought to be. But you wear it well. 🙂
    For what its worth (coming from a born and bred West Coast-er) I think you make good points. I agree wholeheartedly on the death penalty issue. I have never really thought about the baggage in the word abortion, but we have got to find a better way to talk about this issue, because no one gets persuaded and everyone gets hurt or angry the way we do it now.
    On the plus side, there are some great groups being hands and feet of Jesus to pregnant women and new mommies, and that carries a lot more weight than debates and politics.

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    1. joan–thanks for reading and commenting. i agree on the ‘hands and feet of Jesus’ statement very much. there are so many wonderful organizations that do a great deal.
      now, as to the liberal business, i can’t tell if you are complimenting me or matching me against a stereotype? i’ll just pretend its a compliment and say thank you! 🙂

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  2. Very interesting, Jamie. My response here pertains to your comments regarding the death penalty. It is a very convoluted issue, which is why I am not surprised most people don’t wish to expend the intellectual energy to deal with some of the nuances. I think you are doing a great job of it here. I would suggest that there are a few ways of dealing with this. First, a practical (sociological) argument might suggest that, as an abstract principle, the death penalty might be supportable. Why? Because societies tend to function on the assumption that things “work.” Because certain crimes “demand” certain punishments (as Kant said, the last murderer must be hunted down and punished), our justice system is charged with meeting those demands. In other words, if someone rapes and kills a loved one, I am not allowed to enact my own vengeance on them. Instead, I am supposed to be protected by the fact that society (through our justice system) will impose a retributive punishment. What do we find in societies where citizens are no longer confident in the surety of a retributive punishment? The outocome tends to be increased vigilante justice. This puts all of us at risk because the vigilante (e.g., relative of the victim, etc.) is likely the escalate the payback for the original offense. The fact is, in responding to my loved one’s rapist and killer, and I not likely to take an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth, but both eyes and all the teeth. So, I can understand the desire of citizens for the guarantee of payback. Yet, among Christians, we see the expectation to rise above such natural (yet, so desirable) inclinations.

    Like you, even if capital punishment is permissible as an abstract principle, my problem with the death penalty is related to the assumptions we make in its implementation. In sentencing someone to death, were are expressing de facto certainty that the police have done their jobs honestly, that the prosecution has done their job fairly, seeking justice and not merely convictions, that juries come into court unhampered by what they read in the press or see on television, that eyewitnesses were correct in their observations (the sociological data discounts this), and that judges are fair and impartial. The facts suggest that we should have very little confidence in any of these assumptions system-wide.

    I would say the level of certainty accorded all of these assumptions is really not warranted, especially given our recent experiences. I could use the state I just moved from as an example. Of the 39 cases reviewed so far by the Innocence Project in that state, 13 of the defendants were found to be innocent. For those of use who are mathematically challenged, that is one out of every three of those cases resulting in a wrongful conviction. What proportion of wrongful convictions must we need before we suggest that the death penalty expresses too much confidence in a flawed system? Whatever happened to Blackstone’s formulation, that “It is better that ten guilty go free than to let one innocent suffer?” If anyone should be standing up for those in such circumstances, it should be the church.

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    1. thanks for reading and replying david. i agree with your sentiment and appreciate your thoughts. i think the key barrier many have to opposing the death penalty is that in the Old Testament God approves it, and people feel, i think, in a way that they are betraying God or disagreeing with him if they oppose capital punishment. the hermeneutics on the issue don’t budget, because to their heart it still feels like they are on the other end of an issue from the Lord. i sympathize, but disagree.
      again, thanks for reading!

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      1. As always, I very much agree with you, Jamie. I’m always entertained when those very people insist on keeping such OT imperatives such as capital punishment, but are quick to discard it when we read the scriptures regarding hunting down and killing witches, killing young women who make a false claim of virginity, selling our daughters into slavery, punishing those who play football (touching the skin of a dead pig), killing those who work on the Sabbath, and punishing those who plant two crops side by side or wear blended fabrics. I think you hit it right on the head when you suggest that our flawed logic regarding capital punishment really diminishes our credibility when we speak against the injustice of abortion.

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