In 1983, the American hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church was faced with a quandary. Most of them had conflicting allegiances politically. They opposed abortion, but at the same time, they supported the Democrat Party – an increasingly pro-abortion Democrat Party.
Further, they were seeing more of their traditionally Democrat flock vote Republican, particularly for President Ronald Reagan, who stood against abortion-on-demand, even writing that excellent declaration “Abortion and the Conscience of the Nation” for the Human Life Review early in 1983.
The most influential U. S. Roman Catholic bishops did not want to pull support from the Democrat Party and were concerned that much of their flock was doing just that at the ballot box. Yet they could not cast aside the sanctity of life for political motives – at least not openly – and retain any credibility. What were they to do?
In December 1983, Cardinal Bernardin came to the rescue with his famous address at Fordham University espousing the “Seamless Garment” of life.
If one contends as we do, that the right of every fetus to be born should be protected by civil law and supported by civil consensus, then our moral, political, and economic responsibilities do not stop at the moment of birth. Those who defend the right to life of the weakest among us must be equally visible in support of the quality of life of the powerless among us: the old and the young, the hungry and homeless, the undocumented immigrant and the unemployed worker. Such a quality of life posture translates into specific political and economic positions on tax policy, employment generation, welfare policy, nutrition and feeding programs, and health care. Consistency means we cannot have it both ways: We cannot urge rights of the unborn and then argue that compassion and significant public programs on behalf of the needy undermine the moral fiber of the society or are beyond the proper scope of governmental responsibility.
Yes, the Seamless Garment came to the rescue but by doing far more for Democrats and for the R. C. bishops than for the unborn. Now one could supposedly be pro-life by being for, say, food stamps for illegals or by supporting Democrats on any number of liberal “quality of life” issues. Abortion was relegated to one issue among many if even that. By mixing the right to life in with quality of life issues and with debates on the proper role of government in addressing these quality of life issues, the right to life was trivialized. And voting for pro-abortion Democrats was enabled.
As one very active in the pro-life movement at the time, I can testify we did not consider Cardinal Bernardin our friend or ally. We were furious with him for undermining the pro-life movement and the unborn for whom we were contending.
But his “Seamless Garment” philosophy largely succeeded even if it did not in the 1984 elections. To this day, many “pro-life” people justify their support of Democrats with seamless fig leafs.
Speaking of today, we are in a moment with some similarities to 1983. Social justice evangelicals (Yes, I am using those terms very loosely, but continuing…) were alarmed at the election of Donald Trump with the overwhelming support of evangelicals, especially those horrid White Evangelicals. Further, President Trump, like Ronald Reagan, is clearly upending political coalitions of long standing. Few expected his strength in blue states like Pennsylvania. And, although in the 2016 election he did poorly among blacks, as Republicans almost always do, indications are he is making inroads among them in 2020, as Van Jones has just noted.
And now President Trump has done something that is even more of a statement than Ronald Reagan’s Human Life Review article: He became the first President of the United States to personally appear at a March for Life. In his address, he not only supported the pro-life cause but spelled out a number of ways his administration is doing so.
So what are social justice evangelicals to do? Woke evangelicals still very much want to pull evangelicals back away from Trump. And they certainly do not want black Christians supporting him in any significant numbers. That would be disastrous for Democrats and probably ensure Trump’s re-election. But given how extreme the Democrat Party has become, far more extreme than in 1983 particularly on abortion, how can woke evangelicals pull Christians away from Trump and towards the Democrat Party and retain any credibility?
Again, the Seamless Garment philosophy is coming to the rescue, or so they hope.
Probably the best example of this attempt in an ACNA (Anglican Church in North America) Anglican context comes from Tish Harrison Warren in a recent article for Christianity Today and in her tweets responding to Trump’s address to the March for Life.
I will say right off that among the reasons I consider her the best example from ACNA is her article and tweets are thoughtful and have some good points. She is sadly correct when she says that those who oppose abortion and at the same time have liberal views on the government’s role in social welfare are for the most part politically homeless. And even when she is probably mistaken, she is not at all unhinged. She somehow considers Trump’s address to be a set back for the pro-life movement, but she did not reward Trump’s appearance with gratuitous and false smears as did one prominent ACNA priest. If anything she is harder on the Democrat Party being inhospitable to the remaining pro-lifers within their ranks. And THW is a particularly formidable opponent of NARAL.
So she is one of the better representatives of the Seamless Garment philosophy. And a Seamless Garment adherent she is by her own admission. It should be said here that the philosophy now often goes under the Consistent Life Ethic label. In fact, one group she recommends, Consistent Life Network, used to be the Seamless Garment Network years ago. Perhaps the newer labeling was in part motivated by how the Seamless Garment smelled to pro-lifers. THW also “call[s] for a consistent ethic of life.” (And as mentioned, she in no way hides her Seamless Garment affiliation. I am confident she is not engaging in any deception. As for others . . . well, read on.)
Warren’s article and tweets are especially helpful in surveying Seamless Garment/Consistent Life groups. We will have to limit ourselves in looking at them; for if one starts with only her recommendation of the Consistent Life Network, the number of groups in CLN is a bit overwhelming, from Sojourners to Pax Christi to Red Letter Christians to the Buddhist Vihara Society to Pro-Life Alliance of Gays and Lesbians and many, many more, religious and irreligious. As to be expected, most of these are at least Left of Center. Still, to survey all of these would be herculean task.
Nonetheless it is fair to say that THW’s recommended groups as a whole share the aforementioned problems of the Seamless Garment philosophy. They mix the right to life in with quality of life issues and disputes as to the proper role of government in them. The right to life is thereby devalued. At the same time, I will be charitable and say most of them mean well. And at least they are giving the unborn some consideration in their activism.
However, there are some groups that have deeper problems that give at least the appearance of deception. Two groups that Warren recommends are cases in point.
One is the AND Campaign, a new and attractive group aimed at pro-life social justice Christians. They rightly state, “Christians can hold both parties accountable.” But AND seems a bit reluctant so to do. For example, when discussing “the health of our democracy,” they bash Trump but do not say a word about Democrats not respecting elections unless they win. They are also silent about the Democrat Party’s long, sordid and continuing history of election fraud. But Orange Man Bad!
A look at their leadership reveals why AND does not live up to their claims of non-partisanship. The top two leaders are Justin Giboney and Michael Wear. Read the linked introductions at the AND Campaign site for yourself. Both are experienced Democrat Party political operatives. And Wear directed “faith outreach” for the Obama re-election campaign in 2012. To put it bluntly, his job was to con Christians into voting for Democrats. And now he is venturing to do that again under the auspices of the AND Campaign.
No, I am not being very tactful. But if the AND Campaign is oh-so-non-partisan and holding “both parties accountable” – and it is not – then why is it led by two Democrat political operatives?
But the deception gets worse. AND claims to be so very pro-life. But look closely at the section on healthcare and abortion in their 2020 Presidential Election Statement:
We believe in building a society that respects human dignity at all stages of life, including the unborn. This includes accessible and affordable health care for everyone. Americans should not go bankrupt because they get sick or die because their medication is exorbitantly expensive. This includes policies that support maternal health and address our nation’s high rate of maternal mortality, especially among Black and Native American women. It includes vigilant prosecution of pregnancy discrimination in education and the workplace. It is essential that the sanctity of human life at every stage, in particular in the womb, is defended vigorously. Abortion is a tragedy, not a social good, that should be vehemently discouraged rather than promoted.
Notice what is missing? There is no mention of legal restrictions on abortion. Oh, it should be “vehemently discouraged rather than promoted.” That’s nice. But AND cannot bring themselves to say clearly that elective abortions should be outlawed or even legally restricted.
Yet they and Tish Harrison Warren want you to think AND is pro-life. I think this is an honest error on Warren’s part. The experienced leadership by Democrat political operatives gives reason to think the deception is intentional on the AND Campaign’s part.
Another “pro-life” group that Warren recommends that is hardly that is New Wave Feminists. Now they deserve some credit. They did not go along with the rabidly pro-abortion stance of the Women’s March. So the Women’s March removed them as formal sponsors. But why were New Wave Feminists sponsoring such a toxic, pro-abortion event in the first place? And if they are pro-life, why do they openly say this: “Look, we don’t work to make abortion illegal. We work to make it unthinkable and unnecessary. And we do that by getting to the root of the need for it.”
The naiveté and absurdity of that statement is obvious. People commit crimes no matter how “unthinkable and unnecessary” they are. Just replace “abortion” in that sentence with “murder” or “theft” or any number of crimes, and you get the picture. And is elective abortion ever necessary? But putting all that illogic aside, how can a pro-life group say, “Look, we don’t work to make abortion illegal”?
New Wave Feminists say, “We subscribe to something called the ‘Consistent Life Ethic.'” But it is not consistent at all, at least not in their hands. Nor is it pro-life.
Yes, these are just two groups. And I, too, have been aligned with groups that I later found were not worthy of my support. I cannot be critical of Tish Harrison Warren without being critical of myself. And, yes, one can indeed be a committed Christian with left of center stances on social justice issues and at the same time be genuinely pro-life. Additionally, it should be said the pro-life movement has also been burned by Republicans and “conservatives” who claimed to be pro-life but proved hardly to be so once in power.
But the errors of the Seamless Garment or Consistent Life political philosophy remain. It devalues the unborn and their right to life by throwing them in with quality of life issues and related disputes on the proper role of government. And it gives people cover to vote for a profoundly pro-abortion political party and yet still claim to be pro-life.
Further, there are some groups that align themselves with the Consistent Life Ethic and claim to be pro-life but use that label to deceive and mislead. Some are not even for outlawing elective abortions although they certainly want to increase the power of government in any number of areas. They are neither pro-life nor consistent. To adapt Jesus’ words from Revelation 3:9, they say that they are pro-life and are not, but do lie.
With such organized deceptions as the AND Campaign about, pro-lifers would do well to be alert in their affiliations and to follow the admonition of Christ to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
Mark Marshall is the author of Pilot Point.