Roe v Wade and the death of dialogue

A few weeks ago I ran across David Gushee's excellent editorial in The USA Today called "What Roe Started". Gushee, an evangelical Christian and professor at Mercer University, argues that the Roe v Wade decision fundamentally altered the state of civil discourse and debate in America's political life.

The abortion issue raised the stakes of cultural debate so high that it became almost irrestistably easy for people to demonize those on "the other side." Thus abortion proponents called pro-lifers "anti-choice" and saw them as attempting to extend government control even to the most intimate decisions made about our own bodies. What could be more intrusive and intolerable? On the other side pro-lifers saw abortion proponents as "pro-death" and as supporting the legal mass-murder of children, the most innocent and defensless members of our society. What could be more heinous?

And so, demonization has become a regular feature of our political discourse, now extending to many issues. The Left demonized Bush and now the right demonizes Obama. As Gushee puts it "the politics of decency gave way to blood sport." The problem is that it accomplishes nothing. Demonization of individuals shifts energy away from reasoned debate and therefore prevents deep dialogue about issues, and so demonization cannot promote rational persuasion and compromise which are absolutely necessary if we are to have a single government for such a diverse people.

There is no surprise, then, that our nation is now so culturally and politically divided. Gushee appeals for a more restrained, rational politics that seeks to find common ground, even while still profoundly disagreeing about Roe v Wade:

I myself am an evangelical Christian who thinks Roe is bad law. But I am also drawn toward any effort to find common ground, whether on abortion reduction strategies or on other issues. For this, I have been demonized. Some of these experiences have led me to reflect a bit on why, as a Christian, I am so committed to the effort to find common ground — and why I seek to resist the demonization of adversaries that I find very tempting sometimes.

I try to start by recognizing the God-given fellow humanity of everyone whom I encounter, even those I sharply disagree with. My faith teaches that every human being is made in the image of God and beloved by him. Each shares humanity's common pool of frailties and strengths. Every human being is worthy of being treated with basic human decency and respect. I try to do that. I remind myself that every human being is capable of error and sin. But I am also painfully aware that whatever must be said about the weakness and vulnerability of others must also be said about me.

And he ends on a hopeful note:

I dare to think that it's still not too late to be the kind of nation in which differences are debated honestly, the votes are cast, the decisions are made and we move forward together as one people. I would like to see Christians contribute to that kind of society, rather than to the demonization that undermines it at its foundations.

May God strengthen Christians to move beyond demonization and "argument culture" and be leaders on the way to a new age of civil, rational discourse. This too can be a strong witness to the Light of Jesus Christ for the whole culture to see.

For those readers inclined to take a trip back to the 16th Century - here is a wondeful wonderful discussion of the views of that great foundational Anglican theologian Richard Hooker on the nature of discourse rooted in faith, hope, and love. He humorously called the political and theological discussions of his own day "full of tongue and weak of brain" - sounds familiar...

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