Jay Rogers
Jay Rogers

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The Forerunner

Did William Wilberforce use "incrementalism" to abolish slavery?

By Jay Rogers
Published September 7, 2014

Never, never will we desist till we … extinguish every trace of this bloody traffic, of which our posterity, looking back to the history of these enlightened times will scarce believe that it has been suffered to exist so long a disgrace and dishonor to this country.

— William Wilberforce, The British Parliamentarian on describing his battle for the freedom of Africans from slavery

There is a battle among modern day sanctity of life advocates to claim the spirit of William Wilberforce. On one side, natural law incrementalists want to chip away at Roe v. Wade prior to engaging in a state-by-state campaign to regulate abortion and gradually abolish it. They see in Wilberforce a man of principle willing to bend within the political system to “prudent compromise” for the “greatest good.” On the other side, advocates of God’s moral law call for immediate repentance for the national sin of abortion. They see in Wilberforce a man who stated in no uncertain terms that the arguments in favor of the gradual abolition of slavery were “sophistry.”

Clarke Forsythe, M.A. in Bioethics from Trinity International University and Senior Counsel for Americans United for Life, has held forth the argument that Wilberforce was both a moral immediatist and a strategic incrementalist.

Although Wilberforce sponsored a motion for general and immediate abolition annually for several years, abolition came not immediately and totally, but intent and in effect, incrementally. The slave trade was incrementally reduced by regulations and partial prohibitions, and those incremental reductions were tied, in public debate, to issues of national interest rather than strong arguments of morality – “justice” and “humanity” – which were reserved until the final stroke. The incremental reductions served to eliminate the fears raised by the claims of the slave traders. Though Wilberforce and his allies had the strongest moral motivations, they exhibited strategic, tactical and rhetorical flexibility in their actions and arguments in large part because they stayed focused on the end result and did not confuse the goal with their motivations (Forsythe, Politics for the Greatest Good).

T. Russell Hunter, M.A. in History of Science from University of Oklahoma and founder of the Abolish Human Abortion movement, disagrees.

The kind of incrementalism that pro-lifers are trying to defend today, such as a fetal pain ban, is not the type of incrementalism that William Wilberforce was even close to advocating (Did William Wilberforce use incrementalism to abolish slavery? Video interview).

In July 2014, I spent a week in a timeshare in the French Quarter of New Orleans while attending Operation Save America’s (OSA) National Event. My roommates for the week were Abolish Human Abortion founders T. Russell Hunter and Toby Harmon. At least a dozen other leaders of Abortion Abolitionist Societies throughout America linked up with OSA for a week-long evangelistic outreach to the city of New Orleans. I had heard a lot about Toby and Russell and the growing AHA movement, so it was great to spend a week in a tiny apartment and driving around the city in Toby’s van getting to know them. This video interview was shot on an outreach to the University of Louisiana campus in Baton Rouge. Russell describes how his study of William Wilberforce as a Ph.D. candidate led him to become a full-time Abortion Abolitionist.

In Politics for the Greatest Good, Clarke Forsythe, who opposes Personhood amendments on the basis that they are not incremental, mentions several amelioration efforts that are not covered in our video. On further research, I found that Wilberforce did support three versions of “amelioration measures.” I asked T. Russell Hunter to respond to these as a follow-up interview.

1. Banning the slave trade in certain parts of Africa and to certain parts of the colonies. This appears to be an incremental measure. How would you answer that?

Hunter: It’s not the same thing as a pain capability act. It’s similar to state-by-state abolition or state-by-state Personhood amendments. And that would be immediatism today and yesterday. The American slavery abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison thought a state-by-state approach could be done without compromise. I think it can be done with abolishing abortion.

2. Limiting the number of slaves that can be shipped. This was specifically introduced in the context of advocating for humane conditions on the slave ships. Were there other slave trade limitation/amelioration laws that were supported by Wilberforce?

Hunter: That was the measure that Equiano and others suggested that William Wilberforce support, and on which he capitulated, but was not huge on promoting. Wilberforce wasn’t perfect as I said in the video.

3. Amelioration bills for better conditions for slaves. Shouldn’t we want to treat human beings well regardless of whether they are slaves? It is not any more immoral to write a law saying you can’t mistreat a slave anymore than to write that you shouldn’t be able to mistreat a free person. Agree or disagree?

Hunter: Agreed. But there is no possible analogy to abortion there. One successful abortion cannot be done in a better condition than another. In every successful abortion, an image bearer of God is murdered.

In creating this video, my interest in Wilberforce was reignited. I wanted to write a longer article exploring the points made by T. Russell Hunter more in depth. What follows is the result of further research.

A Brief Biosketch: William Wilberforce

Born in 1759 in Yorkshire, England, Wilberforce began his political career in 1780 at age 21 as Member of Parliament for Kingston upon Hull. He eventually became the independent Member of Parliament for Yorkshire from 1784 to 1812. Then he served as MP for Bramber from 1812 to 1825.

Wilberforce was barely five feet tall and was sickly his whole life. Historian James Boswell, witnessing the young Wilberforce’s eloquent oratory in the House of Commons, described the young statesman, “I saw what seemed a mere shrimp mount upon the table; but as I listened, he grew, and grew, until the shrimp became a whale.”

In 1785, he underwent a conversion experience and became an evangelical Christian, which resulted in major changes to his lifestyle and a lifelong concern for reform.

In 1787, he came into contact with Thomas Clarkson and a group of anti-slave-trade activists, including Granville Sharp, Hannah More and Charles Middleton, who persuaded Wilberforce to take on the cause of abolition. He soon became one of the leading English abolitionists.

Wilberforce got his inspiration by luminaries of the Great Awakening, such as the world famous preacher George Whitefield and former slave trader and author of the hymn, “Amazing Grace,” John Newton. While many would describe Wilberforce as a Neo-Puritan Calvinist, Wilberforce was probably most influenced by John Wesley – at least in his practical Christian life – if not in his theology.

Wesley had spoken out forcefully against slavery for many years. In 1774, he had written the influential, Thoughts Upon Slavery. On February 24, 1791, at age 88, six days before his death, Wesley’s last letter was addressed to William Wilberforce.

The text of the letter is given below. The “tract” to which Wesley refers was written by a former slave, Gustavus Vassa, otherwise known as “Olaudah Equiano,” who was born in 1745 in Africa, kidnapped and sold as a slave in Barbados. In 1757, he was sent to England and was converted to Christianity.

Dear Sir:

Unless the divine power has raised you up to be as “Athanasius against the world,” I see not how you can go through your glorious enterprise in opposing that execrable villainy, which is the scandal of religion, of England, and of human nature. Unless God has raised you up for this very thing, you will be worn out by the opposition of men and devils. But if God be for you, who can be against you? Are all of them stronger than God? O be not weary of well doing! Go on, in the name of God in the power of His might, till even American slavery (the vilest that ever saw the sun) shall vanish away before it.

Reading this morning a tract wrote by a poor African, I was particularly struck by the circumstance, that a man who has black skin, being wronged or outraged by a white man, can have no redress; it being a LAW in our Colonies that the OATH of a black man against a white goes for nothing. What villainy is this!

That He who has guided you from youth up may continue to strengthen you in this and all things is the prayer of, dear sir,

Your affectionate servant,

John Wesley

Right: William Wilberforce and John Wesley

Wilberforce was active throughout the 1790s in annual unsuccessful attempts to pass bills for the abolition of the slave trade. Debate continued for years, finally stalling amid the public’s fears of radical change that were exacerbated by the French Revolution.

It took until 1807 for the abolition of the slave trade to be effected throughout the British Empire.

Contrary to widely held misconception, only trading slaves became illegal at this time. In some cases, merely abolishing the slave trade led to greater abuses, such as illegally transporting slaves and then throwing them overboard when slave ships were boarded by British Navy. Slavery was not abolished in England until 1833 and took many decades enforce.

On July 26th, 1833, Wilberforce heard of the passing of the Bill for the Abolition of Slavery. The following day he grew much weaker, the result of a lengthy illness, and he died early on the morning of July 29th in London.

In America, the shortage of slaves encouraged the practice of slave breeding and separating slave families. American slavery continued until 1865 with the passage of 13th Amendment.

Was Wilberforce an incrementalist?

There is no question that the abolition of slave trade was a long and gradual process. Those wanting to end abortion often ask, “Does this mean Wilberforce was an anti-slavery incrementalist rather than an abolitionist? Could it be that he was both?” To answer this question, we have to look at Wilberforce’s strategy during three separate periods.

First, Wilberforce supported the Dolben Act in 1788 on the advice of Olaudah Equiano, who had written a narrative chronicling the abuses he suffered as an African slave. The Dolben Act tackled the inhumane conditions on slave ships. The advocates of this bill did not argue that the number of slave ships or slaves should be lessened – but they were concerned with the fact that huge numbers of slaves were dying on the “Middle Passage” from Africa to the West Indies.

The Dolben Act cut the number of slaves that a ship could carry based on the ship’s tonnage by about 40 percent. However, many abolitionists feared that the Act would not establish the idea that slavery was immoral, but only needed to be regulated. Although Wilberforce lent his support to the Bill, it was debated and passed by peripheral abolitionists in Parliament during his absence due to a serious illness.

Second, Wilberforce annually advanced bills from 1791 to 1799 for the total and immediate abolition of the slave trade. His opposition, led by Lord Henry Dundace, appeared to compromise by inserting the word “gradual” into the proposal in 1792. However, Wilberforce and the other abolitionists in Parliament soon realized that the “gradualist” timeline was used as a ruse to block attempts to abolish the slave trade immediately. Still Wilberforce continued to advance Slave Trade abolition bills each year. Even though his bills were not passed, they gained support coming as close as four votes in 1796.

By the mid-1790s, the bloody French Revolution had run its course across the English Channel. The specter of the atrocities and wars committed in nearby Europe were used by slavery advocates to paint abolitionists as dangerous radicals. The motto of the French Revolutionaries was “Liberty, Fraternity, Equality.” To many Englishmen, the abolitionists were too much like the lawless fanatics who had cut off the head of a king and performed systematic executions during the “Reign of Terror.” They imagined that freed slaves would lead a similar rebellion in the colonies.

Third, the abolitionist movement was revived in 1804 gaining popular support. Seizing on this new momentum, Wilberforce wrote A Letter on the Abolition of the Slave Trade in the months prior to the Slave Trade Act of 1807. This treatise contains a direct answer to the question of whether Wilberforce advocated gradual means to end the slave trade.

Wilberforce entitled a chapter in his book, Immediate abolition preferable to gradual, both in the West Indies and in Africa.

It is a historical fact that Wilberforce himself wrote that gradualist efforts were in opposition to his immediatist efforts. Although he compromised on points early on, he later wrote that proponents for gradualism proposed the compromise only to delay and resist his measures.

But this kind of half measure, however unintentionally, exactly answered the purpose of our enemies …

Wilberforce explained that some did this to merely assuage their consciences and in time self-deception allowed them to

… feel the complacencies arising from an act of justice and humanity, without paying the price or making the sacrifice which those principles required.

He also graciously wrote that he believed that some of the gradual Abolitionists were sincere.

Yet I cannot believe, that, could they have clearly foreseen what would be the practical effect of their opposition, it would not have been continued for an hour. Let them now, however, remember the grounds and principles on which they resisted our measure; that they themselves only stated the question to be only between two different modes of abolishing the Slave Trade.

How amazing it is that much the same argument is used today by opponents of Personhood who claim that the timing is wrong for such measures! The incrementalists of today say William Wilberforce was both an immediatist and an incrementalist. They admire his supposed “incrementalist” strategy, but want nothing do with his yearly bills for immediate abolition! Like Wilberforce’s gradualist opponents, they will vigorously oppose measures, such as the Personhood Amendments, that call for an immediate recognition of the right to life of all human beings.

What is even more amazing is that in April 1791, when Wilberforce introduced the first Parliamentary Bill to totally and immediately abolish the slave trade, it was easily defeated by 163 votes to 88. Yet Wilberforce continued to move bills throughout his career until on February 23, 1807, the Slave Trade Act was carried by 283 votes to 16. We can expect to see much the same turning of the tide in the effort to defend human life if we will only remain faithful and settle for nothing less than a total recognition of Personhood without exception or apology.

The Modern Abortion Abolitionists

What I noticed while fellowshipping with several of the Abortion Abolitionist Society leaders last July is that there is among them a duality of personality. They tend to either be movement leaders or serious theological-philosophical scholars. The movement mentality tends to be very different from the scholar mentality. For the movement leader, everyone should either be for the cause or against it. You are either hot or cold. Those who accept some ideas, but not all, are compromisers. Jesus was a movement leader. So were the Apostles Peter, James and John.

The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, had the ability to live in the Gentile world as a Jew. He was called to write scholarly treatises on the faith, not in contradiction to the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, but explaining them to the world in a way that some of the Jewish Apostles could not initially grasp. Similarly, Luther and Calvin had a movement mentality. You were either for the Reformation or you were against it. A scholar like Erasmus who wanted to accept some aspects but not others was demonized.

Movement leaders set things in motion and then the scholars systematize, critique and solve the problems that arise within the movement. T. Russell Hunter is that rare combination of both. He’s a charismatic leader and a student of history. I therefore see great promise in the Abortion Abolitionist movement. Among these leaders there is a precision of rhetoric and a gifting for branding and marketing the message through social media. This has been effective in reaching and converting younger generation leaders to the abolitionist call.

As a student of the effort to end abortion over the past 25 years, I am critical of a few of their tactics and stances. However, I consider the vast majority of their Christian theology, strategy and practical logistics to be sound and biblically based. I believe that some initial problems created by their penchant for polemic posturing will be corrected in time. Some attacks by outsiders are based straw man arguments – stating that “Abolitionists believe or practice this or that …” when they deny it. Other attacks are based on outright lies.

I found it interesting to watch an MSNBC feature on Toby Harmon. The reporter for the left-leaning news network stated that she was expecting to find wide-eyed fanatics in the Bible Belt leading a protest. Instead she found reasonable, intelligent young men and women trying to dialog with high school students.

More importantly, the abolitionist movement is evidence of a paradigm shift in the pro-life movement back to the original view that abortion must be abolished – not with a pragmatic, political, social or economic argument – but on the call to embrace the sacred Truth that we are each image bearers of God and the call to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Slavery and Abortion: A Comparison

The comparison between slavery and abortion is not a new concept, but it has been developed in the last few years with the reemergence of William Wilberforce as a popular figure in the modern evangelical culture. When we look at the arguments used by pro-slavery advocates in Wilberforce’s day, there is an eerie similarity to that of the pro-abortionists.

Two hundred years ago, those hoping to maintain the institution of slavery liked to argue that slaves living free in Africa were subject to violence, famine and sickness and were better off as slaves on a New World plantation. Today, those arguing to maintain abortion rights like to argue that it is better for a fetus to be aborted than to be born into a family who will abuse the child.

British legislators in the time of Wilberforce worried that if Great Britain abolished the slave trade, it would be taken up with vigor by France, Spain and Holland. American pro-abortion advocates argue that if abortion is banned, poor women will still seek illegal abortions and rich and middle class women will simply travel to places where abortion is legal.

Slavery advocates trumped up fears of uprisings, massacres and rebellions led by freed slaves. Pro-aborts like to argue that thousands or even millions of women will die of illegal abortion if it is outlawed.

Slavery was often defended as a “necessary evil” that was profitable for commerce and to support the British economy. Abortion is often defended because women who cannot afford a child will have to sacrifice their income, education and career. Therefore abortion is necessary to support their private economy and by extension helps the national economy.

Slavery defenders claimed that slaves were treated humanely. Slavery abolitionists showed photos and sketches and published narratives to show slaves were treated harshly. Abortion providers tell patients that their preborn children are only cells or “potential life.” Abortion Abolitionists show photos of perfectly formed preborn children killed through abortion and the grotesque horror done to them.

Abolitionists were called dangerous religious fanatics and told to keep their moral and religious beliefs to themselves. Those fighting abortion today are portrayed by the liberal media as dangerous fanatics.

Every generation has it’s moral evil. Every generation has an abolitionist movement to oppose the evil.

Incrementalism vs. Immediatism: Who is right?

The most interesting comparison between slavery and abortion, however, is a current controversy within the sanctity of life movement itself. As it was 200 years ago, there are those within pro-life groups such as Americans United for Life and National Right to Life whose policy in the past 20 years has been to only advocate bills that are incremental in nature and to include rape and incest exceptions in hopes of avoiding a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade until the Supreme Court bench is “stacked” with conservative justices and it can be effectively overturned. Then there are those within the Personhood movement and the Abortion Abolition movement who advocate first recognizing that all human beings are Persons from conception with the right to life because they are created in the image of God.

Both sides of the debate agree that William Wilberforce is a model. There is no question that the abolition of slavery serves as a model for an effective model to end abortion. However, even though Clarke Forsythe wants to give Wilberforce the credit for being the moral center of the debate to abolish the slavery in the 19th century, he faults him for being a moral crusader who focused his efforts throughout his lifetime on being the president of “no less than 69 societies” dedicated to social reformation. In other words, Forsythe criticizes Wilberforce’s moral absolutism in treating many social issues, when he should have been a practical incrementalist centered on one issue – ending the slave trade.

At the height of Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish the slave trade, he published the first of only three books he wrote in his lifetime, A Practical View of Christianity. This took to task the false, dead Christianity of many within the Church of England and other denominations as not being true to a lifestyle renewed by faith in Jesus Christ. Wilberforce methodically covers a variety of topics that apply to everyday life. Far from being a preachy polemic against society’s ills, he takes the time to reason with the reader, leaving them with arguments, according to one reviewer, that are “intelligent and well reasoned, make perfect sense and cause the reader to wonder how it is that they hadn’t thought of it before.”

Wilberforce also understood that the moral atrocity of slavery was allowed to continue not due to the ungodliness of the slave holders, but due to the inaction of Christians. According to Wilberforce, the source of all of society’s ills was the Church failing to preach and practice authentic Christianity. Wilberforce understood that without the engine of revival in the Church, no reformation of society will ever take place.

In Politics for the Greatest God, Forsythe argues that Wiberforce’s wider focus on anything other than the slave trade was a “weakness” and a “personality trait that may have actually distracted him.” This attitude represents in a microcosm the error of the pro-life movement. While it is true that students of history bring their own filters and read their own experience to interpreting what motivated a great figure, it is much more likely than an evangelical Christian who has had a born-again experience can interpret the intents and purposes of a man who was impacted by the First Great Awakening. Thankfully, William Wilberforce was more than a lawyer working for an anti-slavery organization dedicated to using a natural law argument to convince the Parliament to incrementally do away with a human atrocity. He was a voice calling for repentance with the zeal of a Gospel preacher, while using a Divine eloquence and empathy toward his hearers.

Clarke Forsythe is a non-Catholic using Roman Catholic nomenclature regarding the “virtue of prudence.” As an advisor to the American Catholic bishops, he is largely responsible for the bishop’s opposition to Personhood in many states – even though the official position of the Vatican is for Personhood. Judie Brown, the president of American Life League, wrote the following rebuttal using a more Gospel-centered argument.

With all due respect to Forsythe and his colleagues, it is my fervent belief that the pro-life movement is at a critical crossroads. It is imperative for each of us, upon examining our own attitudes and praying for guidance, to choose God’s way and stay the course; regardless of the barbs, the public insults and the efforts to undo what we are putting together in the various states and at the federal level in our quest for human personhood.

We are not at war against legal positivists and secular humanists; we are engaged in a battle with evil. Forsythe concludes by saying, “There are other goals that are more important — and more achievable in the current environment — than an illusory test case to ‘challenge Roe’ based on questions that the current justices simply aren’t asking.”

Contrary to that view, I would argue that it is not wise for us to base our efforts on paying attention to the “questions that the current justices” are asking, but rather to make absolutely certain we are faithful to God in our public witness to the questions He will be asking when we face Him, as each of us surely will, at the judgment.

Judy Brown hits the nail on the head. Our strategy isn’t primarily legal or political, but spiritual. Indeed the goal of Personhood is often thought of as a legal strategy to challenge Roe. In reality, the leaders of Personhood believe that due to our petitioning and education efforts the culture will be so changed in time that Roe will be ignored, and the right to life will be recognized for all human beings, much the same way that Americans ignored the Dred Scott case that declared a black slave to be a non-citizen without the right to liberty. This can only occur as we change the culture.

Much in the same way that Wilberforce failed by bringing the same Slave Trade Act year after year, it was the debate in British Parliament spilling over into the popular culture that eventually changed public opinion in England. In the same way, debate over Personhood is bringing the debate over when life begins into the culture. So the number one goal of Personhood is education. We don’t educate by debating a woman’s right to privacy or whether abortion clinics should be safer for women. We put the focus squarely on the imago Dei, the biblical truth that all human beings are created image of God. We are endowed with the right to life from conception, not because Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution gives us this right, but because God himself declared it as a creation ordinance.

The reason Wilberforce prevailed is because he fought with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Only the Gospel preached in power – as it was in Whitefield’s and Wesley’s day – can change the heart of our nation and restore our culture to Godliness. This is the reason why it has always been the church that is at the head of social reform movements that bring about greater morality in society.

The Present Crisis

Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.

– James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis”

When the “fireside poet,” James Russell Lowell, penned these words in the 19th century, the “present crisis” was the institution of slavery. If 21st century Christians are truly concerned about the present crisis confronting America, we must set about to restore our nation with the same evangelical zeal. This includes rescuing babies, but the strategy is to preach the whole truth of the Word of God.

The call to national repentance is what fueled the abolitionist movement. Practical steps in the forms of laws and amendments followed, first the spiritual temperature of the culture was intensified by the Gospel. The same was true of the Civil Rights movement over 150 years later when Martin Luther King outlined this call with great eloquence in his Letter From Birmingham Jail.

There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators”’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are.

Lawyers and politicians are those who barter with money and power. The job of a lawyer is often to defend a position that he knows is not true. The work of a politician is often to compromise principle in order to gain a pragmatic foothold upon which to climb. The job of a Christian Reformer is to call the nation to repentance and to agitate the consciences of individuals in order to force them to confront a moral evil that they would otherwise deny.

In the time of Basil of Caesarea, the Christians had the majority in fifth century Rome, but abortion and infanticide was allowed to continue in the pagan backwater districts. The collagen of aborted infants was even used a cosmetic among Egyptian merchants and brought a high price. St. Basil used a program of agitation, education and political activism to bring an end to abortion and infanticide in the Roman Empire – and as a result abortion remained a criminal offense for over 1400 years in all parts of Europe.

It is a historical fact that social evils – abortion, infanticide, racial genocide and slavery – have been brought to an end when Christians have agitated, educated and lobbied for political change and legal relief. But the culture always changes first as it is leavened by the Gospel and then laws and politics follow.

Definitions: Amelioration, Incrementalism and Immediatism

There is a debate going on within the pro-life movement over the morality of incrementalist or immediatist efforts and which is the more effective strategy.

Abolitionists are often accused of advocating an “all or nothing” strategy. Therefore, it is thought that abolitionists do not seek to save lives any way they can even while calling for a total abolition of abortion. According to T. Russell Hunter, this is a strawman since abolitionists teach that 50 percent of their work ought to be assistive or “ameliorative” in nature. The “all or nothing” accusation is meant to deflect from the contradiction of stating that life begins at conception while advocating measures that allow for the killing of some preborn children and attacking those that are principled on the truth of the imago Dei.

Incrementalists are often accused of compromise if they phrase a step-by-step approach to eliminating abolition as a strategy. The reality is that some incremental tactics are moral if they don’t explicitly allow for some human beings to be killed while trying to end abortion. Other incrementalist strategies are compromised.

Unfortunately, the debate is often muddled because there is confusion is over the terms, amelioration, incrementalism and immediatism.

Amelioration is simply the act of making something better or an improvement to the human condition. Amelioration is not necessarily a compromise with evil. In the time of slavery, amelioration efforts were those that tried to ease the suffering of slaves while slavery was still legal. Likewise, we can work to make the conditions better in a society that condones abortion on demand. Crisis pregnancy centers and sidewalk counseling offer assistance to women seeking abortion. These attempts are ameliorative. In and of themselves, they can never end the abortion holocaust, but they are good attempts to make a pregnant woman’s situation better and in turn saving some lives today.

Incrementalism is the strategy of working to abolish abortion little by little. It is what Wilberforce called gradual abolition. In terms of the fight against abortion, we use the term incrementalism to speak of restrictions on abortion or regulations on clinics. Incrementalism can be either compromised or moral.

Compromised incrementalism includes any law that identifies a class of human life we may kill while identifying a class of human life we may not kill. An example of this would include rape and incest exceptions. Compromised laws include those abortion clinic regulations that begin with the language, “A physician performing or inducing and abortion must …” In the end, compromised incrementalism undermines the sanctity of life argument by including exception for who we may murder.

In my opinion, this is a difficult area to discern whenever we consider implications over objective wording and explicit legal intent. For instance, a 20-week abortion ban does not explicitly state that 19 week-old preborn children may be killed. The law does not say, “Make sure the gestational age is under 20 weeks and then you can kill the baby.” To claim that the law says this is to use an argument from silence, which is a logical fallacy. The difficulty here is not the wording or the moral intent. The problem is that many of these measures are probably a waste of time in the effort to end abortion. That is, we will never end abortion by taking baby steps. One law advocates parental consent. Another law puts restrictions on partial birth abortion. Although some might consider these laws moral, we have to consider if they are effective. Do they simply reinforce the goal of “safe, legal and rare” abortion in the culture at large?

Moral incrementalism might include measures such as defunding Planned Parenthood or advocating bills that would recognize the Personhood of the preborn in cases not directly related to abortion. Moral incrementalism would also include a state-by-state approach in ending abortion.

Another factor to consider when determining if a bill is compromised or moral is the language itself. A parental notification law that would require minors to get parental permission before killing a preborn child is different than a law that require all minors to get parental consent before having any medical procedure in general with no exceptions. The effect of both of these laws is identical in intent. However, the difference is that we are not codifying with legal language a class of human beings that we may murder with impunity. The same principle can be applied to a law encouraging or requiring all pregnant women to undergo an ultrasound or a law requiring surgeons at all out-patient clinics to have hospital privileges. These laws can never end abortion, but they might morally ameloriate the problem by saving some lives.

Having said that, I am not naïve and realize that even within the Personhood and Abortion Abolitionist movements there is going to be disagreement over what is moral and what is compromised. Further, there will be even greater disagreement on what will be effective and what will be counter-productive. To discern the difference will often take the wisdom of Solomon.

Immediatism is the strategy of calling for the end to a moral atrocity – a crime that murders or diminishes the dignity of an image bearer of God. Immediatism may take various forms, but it is really just one strategy – which is the Church taking to the highways and byways a call to compel all people to repent and to come into the kingdom of God. In every generation, there is one sin or social evil that exemplifies mankind’s rebellion toward God and denies that we are made in the image of God. In our generation, the most prominent example of that is abortion.

In conclusion, it is a strawman argument to say that some pro-life advocates want “compromised incrementalism” merely because the measures they support cannot end all abortion. It is also a strawman argument to say that some Abortion Abolitionists are “absolutists” meaning that they want an all or nothing approach and will refuse to save some lives unless they can save them all.

It is hoped that the goals and efforts of the Abortion Abolitionist movement will be better understood by the incrementalists who oppose the idea of immediatism. Abolitionists use other tactics in the short term to save lives and call individuals to repentance. The goal is national repentance, but it begins with individuals. It is also hoped that Abolitionists will realize that many pro-life Christians are in sync with the theology and practice of Abortion Abolition and have been since the time of Basil of Caesarea, event though they may not choose to use the label “Abortion Abolitionist” or identify themselves with the growing numbers of Abortion Abolitionist Societies.



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Amazing GraceAmazing Grace: The History and Theology of Calvinism (DVD)

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Just what is Calvinism?

Does this teaching make man a deterministic robot and God the author of sin? What about free will? If the church accepts Calvinism, won’t evangelism be stifled, perhaps even extinguished? How can we balance God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility? What are the differences between historic Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism? Why did men like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Spurgeon, Whitefield, Edwards and a host of renowned Protestant evangelists embrace the teaching of predestination and election and deny free will theology?

This is the first video documentary that answers these and other related questions. Hosted by Eric Holmberg, this fascinating three-part, four-hour presentation is detailed enough so as to not gloss over the controversy. At the same time, it is broken up into ten “Sunday-school-sized” sections to make the rich content manageable and accessible for the average viewer.

Running Time: 257 minutes

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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - A Christian Manifesto (DVD)

That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again!

Dr. Schaeffer, who was one of the most influential Christian thinkers in the twentieth century, shows that secular humanism has displaced the Judeo-Christian consensus that once defined our nation’s moral boundaries. Law, education, and medicine have all been reshaped for the worse as a consequence. America’s dominant worldview changed, Schaeffer charges, when Christians weren’t looking.

Schaeffer lists two reasons for evangelical indifference: a false concept of spirituality and fear. He calls on believers to stand against the tyranny and moral chaos that come when humanism reigns-and warns that believers may, at some point, be forced to make the hard choice between obeying God or Caesar. A Christian Manifesto is a thought-provoking and bracing Christian analysis of American culture and the obligation Christians have to engage the culture with the claims of Christ.

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Dr. Francis Schaeffer - How Should We Then Live? (DVD)

Special Two-Disc Set!

After 40 years of intense study and world-wide ministry, Dr. Francis Schaeffer completed his crowning work of scholarship – to present profound truths in simple film language. Dr. Schaeffer’s brilliant analysis of the past and predictions for current trends have proven so uncannily accurate that this amazing series still feels contemporary almost three decades after its initial release. Ultimately, Schaeffer concludes that man’s only hope is a return to God’s Biblical absolute, the truth revealed in Christ through the Scriptures.

Available for the first time on DVD, this documentary spectacular also includes intimate in-depth conversations with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. With the on-disc study guide, this presentation forms a unique course of comprehensive study. While this series forms an innovative analysis of the past, this outstanding work is more than history. Each episode focuses on a significant era, yet speaks clearly to 21st-century man with answers for modern problems.

$49.95 — ORDER NOW!

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God's Law and SocietyGod's Law and Society (DVD)

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God’s Law and Society powerfully presents a comprehensive worldview based upon the ethical system found in the Law of God.

Speakers include: R.J. Rushdoony, George Grant, Howard Phillips, R.C. Sproul Jr., Ken Gentry, Gary DeMar, Jay Grimstead, Steven Schlissel, Andrew Sandlin, Eric Holmberg, and more!

Sixteen Christian leaders and scholars answer some of the most common questions and misconceptions related to this volatile issue:

1. Are we under Law or under Grace?
2. Does the Old Testament Law apply today?
3. Can we legislate morality?
4. What are the biblical foundations of government?
5. Was America founded as a Christian nation?
6. What about the separation of Church and State?
7. Is neutrality a myth?
8. What about non-Christians and the Law of God?
9. Would there be “freedom” in a Christian republic?
10. What would a “Christian America” look like?

Perfect for group instruction as well as personal Bible study.

Ten parts, over four hours of instruction!

Running Time: 240 minutes

Watch over 60 on-line video interviews from God’s Law and Society.

$19.95 — ORDER NOW!

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