Incrementalism vs. Immediatism – Just Stop It!
Imagine for a moment if pro-life legislator answered, when asked, “Are you pro-life?”
“Yes, I am pro-life. I’m against partial-birth abortions. I’m against federal funding of abortions. And I believe in a strong parental consent notification law.”
Pro-lifers for the most part would gladly accept that response.
Remember that position: Pro-life. That is the position of Clarke Forsythe and Americans United for Life, the Roman Catholic Bishops, National Right to Life and a host of other groups. They have each actively opposed or refused to endorse the Personhood initiative — a strategy for passing state amendments that would recognize the right to life of all human beings from conception to natural death — thinking that pushing for an outright ban on abortion would be counter-productive at this point in time. Instead, they choose the pragmatic approach. To be fair, I must point out that these individuals and organizations actually do support Personhood, but only deny that it is the correct strategy at the current time.
Meanwhile, in the current political climate, former Republican Senator Scott Brown from Democratic Party dominated Massachusetts, once said in a campaign interview, when asked, “Are you pro-choice?”
“Yes … The difference between me and maybe others is that I’m very — I’m against partial-birth abortions. I’m against federal funding of abortions. And I believe in a strong parental consent notification law” (Barbara Walters interview, ABC News, Jan. 31, 2010).
The point here is that whenever we speak of the incremental strategy, what we are speaking of are laws that literally advocate the position of Roe v. Wade and “pro-choice” rhetoric. Roe used the exceptions to allow abortion under certain circumstances. On the same day that Roe was handed down, the companion decision, Doe v. Bolton, expanded these exceptions to abortion on demand. So in reality, these laws with exceptions seek to narrow Doe while keeping Roe intact.
Immediatists like to point out this compromise whenever a such a “pro-life” bill with exceptions is proposed. Incrementalists like to point out that even the most compromised laws might save some lives and we need to “do what we can” while Roe stands as a legal precedent.
I strongly encourage people on both sides of the debate to stop using the straw man terms of “incrementalism” vs. “immediatism.” This is a false dichotomy. We should begin to speak in terms of obedience to God’s law vs. willful sin. In reality, when immediatists speak of abolishing abortion, we are not speaking of “overnight-ism” or “all-or-nothing-ism.” We are merely speaking of moving forward without exceptions and compromise. In reality, those speaking of the strategy of incrementalism want the abolition of all abortion.
The issue isn’t “gradual vs. absolute” or “incremental vs. immediate.” The issue is whether we are willing to compromise God’s moral mandates found in scripture.
One of the disheartening outcomes of this debate has been that immediatists will often portray incrementalist tactics as wicked, cowardly and willfully pro-abortion. I strongly believe that the need of this time is to have a rational debate without name calling and instead patiently educate all people for the need of Constitutional state nullification of Roe under the 9th and 10th Amendments. Although they agree with us that Roe is not law, the incrementalists’ thinking is that any direct challenge to Roe could result in a negative decision with Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing the majority opinion. Their fear is that any direct challenge could result in five Supreme Court Justices actually making Roe stronger. So the heart motivation of the pro-life incrementalists is to abolish all abortion. The problem is that our movement has a long history of acquiescing to judicial activism.
We all agree that Roe is not valid law. Therefore, our goal now ought to be to educate and convince legislators to ignore Roe — using the provision in the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and the 9th and 10th Amendments that the duty of protecting the rights of the preborn is delegated to the states.
To accomplish a restoration of Constitutional and biblical thinking in the pro-life movement and among pro-life legislators is a tall order. Yet it is the lynchpin in winning the battle.
We must cease to think in terms of tactics and think instead in terms of God’s ultimate strategy in using His Church. So my resolution is whenever I find myself tempted to go off the rails into the heated immediatist vs. incrementalist debate on some well-known social media network, I think of the following Bob Newhart comedy sketch, “Just Stop It!”
Strategy vs. Tactics
Our overall strategy must be to end abortion. All Christians should all agree on that. A tactic is a method or means to an end. When we employ a tactic, we need to ask two questions. First, is our method pleasing to God? Second, is it an effective use of our talents, time and resources? A tactic that is effective, yet violates God’s commandments – dishonoring to our God or our parents, murder, lust, theft, bearing false witness, covetousness – is a sinful tactic. A strategy to end abortion that is not Christ-centered grieves the heart of God. Yet not all think this way. I recently read a comment by a well-known “pro-life” leader who literally wrote:
I, frankly, don’t care how we get there, but I’m going to save every baby I can, I’m going to close every abortion mill, I’m going to crush the enemy in every way I can, and if y’all think it’s wrong, stupid, or immoral I could care less. Maybe Jesus will send me to hell, but I’ll be okay as long as I kick the “rear” of the baby killers. I’m here for one reason: to win! Period end. I’m going to win by hook or by crook. And I refuse to stand on some fictitious moral high ground as long as babies are being murdered. I’ll leave the moral high ground and wallow in the mud with the pigs — as long as the babies win.
I can only hope that this person was being sarcastic and that this does not truly represent his view. But I have actually heard many pro-life leaders use similar rhetoric. I post this quote because it speaks volumes about the spirit behind a certain segment within the “anti-abortion” movement. (I used that term because I hesitate to even call them “pro-life.”)
Over the years, I have had long conversations with people who believe in so many words that “the ends justify the means” in ending the abortion holocaust. We can kill, steal, vandalize and lie in order that preborn lives may be saved. In the end, these are tactics that are not only incrementalist, but counterproductive. Or to put is conversely, sinful, counterproductive tactics are the ultimate form of compromised incrementalism. God has a much better strategy.
God’s Strategy: The Church
To counter that idea, I use the following quote by 19th century Arminian evangelist Charles Finney (a man whose theology I have many disagreements with) who was correct about the need for the Church to be an army to bring about the reformation to society.
Now the great business of the Church is to reform the world — to put away every kind of sin. The Church of Christ was originally organized to be a body of reformers. The very profession of Christianity implies the profession and virtually an oath to do all that can be done for the universal reformation of the world. The Christian Church was designed to make aggressive movements in every direction — to lift up her voice and put forth her energies against iniquity in high and low places — to reform individuals, communities, and governments, and never rest until the kingdom and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High God — until every form of iniquity shall be driven from the earth.
Jesus said the gates of hell shall not prevail against the Church (Matthew 16:17-19). The important point is that we are moving as the Church, not as a pro-life organization. This does not necessarily mean an institutional church – although that would be ideal. The institutional church has government, material resources and the mandate to make disciples. However, the “Church,” from a minimalist point of view, can be “two or more” who are gathered on the foundation of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Regardless of tactics, we must go forward in a Christ-centered mindset as the Church. Our way of thinking ought to be that wherever two or more are gathered, Jesus Christ is at the center, not on the periphery.
I submit that the source of incremental thinking is a Christ-less, Church-less strategy that sees that politics is the art of compromise. If you can’t get a whole loaf of bread, it’s better to get a few crumbs than to starve. God’s plan is much higher than that. His strategy through the Church is infinitely more powerful. I have never thought that the solution to the abortion holocaust is political. However, if the Church led by courageous pastors and elders would stand up in a unified force against wickedness, we can see any evil stopped in its tracks.
Can we really legislate morality?
A friend of mine who was a pastor and leader in the Operation Rescue movement, Phil Vollman, gave a great answer to this question in the 1990s. What I like about his response is that Phil will be the first to tell you that he points the finger at himself as one who knows weakness and failure. Yet despite our failures, we must stand up in this hour and be bold and courageous.
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To pastors, I speak as a pastor and I want pastors to hear me. Two things are needed in this hour. Number one, sound orthodoxy is needed. For as one noted theologian has noted recently, “You can’t beat something with nothing.” If we don’t return to a Reformed faith, that is to say, the orthodox historic Reformed faith, we will not have the tools ethically to take dominion in the earth in time and history as Christ Jesus has commanded us to do. There is no arguing that point.
But there is something else that is needed on this hour and I think it is equally important. Pastors need courage. There is a great famine of courage. It will take courage to embrace the historic Reformed orthodox Christian faith. I know this personally. But it will also take courage once we have embraced that faith to apply that faith then in time and history locally in our neighborhoods where we live. When God begins to judge a nation, the first thing he does is begin to give his people a cowardly clergy. I am very fearful today that America is being sanctioned, judged, with cowardly clergy. They are all around us. You look at the clergy today and what do you see? You see politically correct and religiously correct men of the cloth who are afraid to speak the truth for Christ.
What is it costing us? So far there are over 40 million dead babies. Militant homosexuality, militant feminism, militant humanism are running amok in our culture. We have a madman in Michigan named Jack Kevorkian who has right now killed or been responsible for over 86 deaths. There is not one prosecutor in Michigan who will stand up to him. We have two states now with right to die laws. And we have the most wicked, vile president in our history. There is no end in sight.
Now I’m a pastor. I know about fear. I know about loneliness. I know about the loss of reputation. But I am convinced that if we don’t see a revival in courage in this nation. If we don’t see some men begin to stand up in courage, conviction and Christian principle and stand faithfully in a world of cowardice and compromise, then we are going to deserve everything that is coming our way, we and our children.
The great Russian prophet, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, wrote many prophetic things about his own people and the future of America.
When asked, what went wrong in Russia that God would visit upon them the brutality of communism, he only had one thing to say, “Russia forgot God.” America has forgotten her God. She’s forgotten her God because her shepherds have forgotten her God. This is not rocket science. When the pastors are walking in the fear of God and yet the comfort of the Holy Ghost, when the pastors are teaching sound orthodoxy, when they are wedding that with courage, to the things that they must do, there is victory, there is peace, and there is hope.
If we don’t see a raising of the black regiment in this hour. If we don’t see a parson’s revolution. Well then I would say, America is about to enter a long and a dark period. For as the pastors go so goes the Church. As the Church goes, so goes the nation.
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