June 7, 2020

Why Ending the Slave Trade and Apartheid Worked, and Prohibition Didn’t – Implications for the Culture Wars

de-klerk-and-mandela2Last week I posted about how I stepped out of the culture wars. A number of comments were made comparing the fight against abortion with the fight against slavery. Prohibition was also mentioned as one battle that didn’t go so well. I have been thinking about that a lot over the past week, and have come to some conclusions about why some battles seem to have better resolutions than others. My first reflection relates back to a post I had a couple of weeks ago on the ending of Apartheid.

The short answer to why Apartheid ended was because two men, F.W. de Klerk, and Nelson Mandela, both wielding power of different sorts, came to the same conclusion:

It simply did not make sense for both sides to lose millions of lives in a conflict that was unnecessary. The Independent – February 2, 2010

de Klerk, in one thirty minute speech accomplished the following:

The ANC and 30 other political parties, including the Communist Party, had been unbanned unconditionally; the death penalty was suspended; the state of emergency was lifted; trade unions were allowed to function freely; all political prisoners were to be released immediately and restrictions on political exiles were lifted; and, perhaps most importantly of all, de Klerk opened the way for South Africa’s first fully democratic election in 300 years by promising “a totally new and just constitutional dispensation in which every inhabitant will enjoy equal rights, treatment and opportunity.”

de Klerk did not have to convince a majority of people that Apartheid needed to end. The majority of the country, both black and white already knew it. Four years earlier the church of the majority of the whites had declared it morally wrong. Hid did however have to believe that a majority of parliamentarians would side with him in his decision. Herein lies the key to cultural change: In order for cultural change to be successful, it must only require the convincing of a few, and easily be applied universally.

Does my thesis hold up? Let us look at slavery. The Slave Trade act of 1807, did not seek to end slavery in the British Empire, but rather, the slave trade. The Royal Navy controlled the world’s oceans and trade, and so Britain had the ability to enforce its laws. Through agreements and treaties with other nations who were dependent on British trade, the ban on trading quickly spread to other nations as well, and by 1820 all of the significant powers of the day had ended their trade in slaves. It should be noted that in 1793 a similar bill in parliament had failed to pass by eight votes. Again, while a it is a simplification of the situation, change required the convincing of a few, and was able to be applied universally. The end to slavery in the Americas was a much harder fight, being one of the primary causes of the civil war.

Prohibition was a different beast. While it took only the convincing of a few to pass it, it was largely unenforceable. The perception was that it was being applied unevenly and thus it became very unpopular among the working class. It also led to a surge in criminality (the opposite of its intended effect) with organized crime receiving a huge boost from its implementation.
If my thesis does hold true what does this mean for the culture wars? Access to abortion and the legalizing of gay marriage have succeeded or will succeed because of the same general rule that ended Apartheid, and ended the Slave Trade. That is, the convincing of a few, with a universal application. In the case of abortion it was the ruling of Roe versus Wade that made the universal application (or in this case Country specific application). As with prohibition, it is easier to provide access to something that is being demanded than it is to restrict access. The legalizing of gay marriage will succeed because it requires convincing a few (i.e. Supreme Court in Canada) who have the ability to apply it universally. I think that we could take each of the issues of our day and determine the likelihood of change based upon these criteria.

So what is likely to succeed if this thesis holds true? There is another abolitionist movement afoot in the United States. That is, the movement to end Capital punishment. Consider these two maps.
The map on the left shows the states which still have capital punishment on the books. The darkest red represents those who have had executions since 2000. The map on the right shows the percentage of evangelicals in the U.S. The darker the color, the greater the number of evangelicals. Note the strong correlation between the two maps! If evangelicals are truly pro-life then they do have the ability to end capital punishment, for the states in which they have the greatest voice are the majority of states in which capital punishment still exists. Capital punishment is one of those issues where the actions of a few, like the clemency of a Governor or a decision of a legislature, can have universal (or in this case state wide) effect. Is this a battleground for a new culture war? It is a winnable one. Methinks that evangelicals just might find themselves on the wrong side of the battle.

I will leave my fellow imonks with a few final questions? What other issues are out there that you could apply my criteria to? What is the likelihood of success or failure in each of these areas? Are there different issues, like capital punishment or modern day slavery, in which Christians should be involved?


  1. Headless Unicorn Guy says

    Evangelicals ARE already on the wrong side of that battle. Born-again Christians are Gallows Groupies. That’s been true since the Death Penalty fight began in the US. What’s the image of he pro-execution counter-demonstrations/cheering sections outside prisons? Waving their Bibles in the air, what else? There was even one guy in a ten-gallon hat who called himself “Bobby Bible” who followed executions like a Deadhead or Juggalo does his band, always seeking out the Media to “Witness(TM)”. It’s South Park on steroids out there; did we go screaming crazy or did everyone else?

    • Yelling insults at them won’t change many minds. They have a consistent argument for their position – i.e. abortion is the illegal ending of an innocent life, whereas capital punishment is the just ending of a life forfeited by the commitment of murder. And they have the biblical verses to back it up. If you want to change their minds, you have to engage *that* belief (state-sanctioned execution for high crimes is both just and biblical), or you’re just howling in the wind.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > Yelling insults at them won’t change many minds.

        Agree. I also do not believe there is anything that will change `thier minds`

        > They have a consistent argument for their position – i.e. abortion is the
        > illegal ending of an innocent life, whereas capital punishment is the just
        > ending of a life forfeited by the commitment of murder.

        If their consistency rests on the “innocence” of that life – then it is inconsistent.

        Even if you do not see that inconsistency there is inconsistency in those are those only lives – setting aside those on death row – which they so ardently `defend`. It is a narrow definition of “life” that defines its defense as simply preventing death.

        • Actually, it is a very consistent ethic that isn’t rested completely on the “sanctity of life” so much as it is the “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle of proportionate justice. Under this ethic, a person who steals a life has to pay a life. The unborn have committed no crime, and are therefore morally entitled to their life. The big problem with denying the “proportional justice” approach is that it implicitly endorses disproportional justice. A penal system that is too harsh or too lenient is often an injustice to either the criminal or the victim. With this understanding as the foundation, life can be understood as sacred without it being so much the highest good that proportional justice is impossible. Also, taking the opposing argument to it’s logical extreme, pro-lifers would not only have to be stridently opposed to the death penalty, they would also have to be strict pacifists, willing to take Jesus’s “turn the other cheek” to the literal extreme of failing to resist evil men. This would deny the responsibility to defend the defenseless and stand up for the oppressed clearly articulated in other NT scriptures.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Another of those Mystery Linkages of the Universe: Abortion and Death Penalty; you almost NEVER find Pro both or Anti both, always Pro one and Anti the other.

    • As I said much further below, I support the death penalty and believe the Bible supports it, and I’m not a “death groupie.”

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Daisy, “the Bible supports it” has (and in some cases IS still) used to justify slavery, genocide (Joshua vs Canaan: the Roleplaying Game), and subjugation of women. “The Bible Supports It” alone is not a QED justification, as it has been so misused as such in the past. After getting burned by “The Bible”, you want a second opinion when you hear it cited in support.

  2. Looking at those three cases, I see a similar correlation of success and the bent toward freedom versus restriction. In all three cases, the side promoting greater freedom (except the freedom to restrict others’ freedoms) won. Broaden the database to study other political/cultural struggles and it seems like in all cases that’s the winning bet…eventually.

  3. Christians should get involved in all issues where they feel they can make an impact. On whatever side of the issue they choose to be on. We are ‘free’ as Christians to do that. Or not to do that. These things are law issues, and law issues affect us all.

    Christians ought not (however) tie these issues or our stands, whichever side we take, to the gospel. That, is a whole nuther animal.

    • David Cornwell says

      Steve, I do not understand how the “gospel” can be neutral on each and very issue. Please explain.

      • It’s the Lutheran Law/Gospel distinction, without which one is a pharisee.

        The Gospel is forgiveness. It says nothing about what we should do, only that God gives his gift of grace to his people, who receive it by faith. The Law is about our duties to God and neighbor. The Gospel does free us to love and uphold the Law in its strictest sense without any fear of punishment from God. Luther’s on Christian freedom and Galatians commentary are essential reading for every Christian.

        • David Cornwell says

          If what you are saying it true, then one we are free to choose to follow whatever political ideology appeals to our prejudices. Thus any form of Fascism is open to to our choice. This sounds very similar to what much of the Church chose during the reign of the Third Reich. This sounds like an extreme application of Luther’s theology.

          Or, maybe I am not understanding what you are saying. (Always possible.)

          • David,
            Perhaps this could be seen another way.

            Perhaps the problem with the Church in Germany before and during the Third Reich, and the problem with the overwhelmingly Christian German population, is that they had become habituated to the custom of the gospel being attached to law, the law of the Kaiser, the law of the nation, the law of the volk, the law of the Furher, the law of obedience to governing authorities. When the Confessing Church mounted its protest against this attachment of gospel to law (and if we look at the what they actually said, isn’t that what they were protesting?), it was in the name of the freedom of the gospel, not allegiance to a higher law; and by the time they launched this protest, it had become too late and too little to make a history changing difference to the church, and by extension to the nation and world.

            If the German people had truly been taught the liberty of the gospel, rather than the gospel under various iterations of law, would it possibly have made a difference to the outcome in terms of the human and political situation during that time?

            Would it not possibly make a difference now, in many places around the world?

            Just questions and ponderings….

        • Spot on, boaz.

      • I agree with Steve here. I won’t answer for him, but I’ll give my answer. We Christians must take great care regarding what issues we wave Christ’s banner. I may become a zealot for or against capital punishment, but I shouldn’t wave Jesus Christ around as the reason. The reasons I think capital punishment is right or wrong should have nothing to do with Jesus, and thus my arguments shouldn’t include Jesus, and to do so taints the gospel of Jesus. Way too many Christians wave the Christ banner when rallying around issues that should have nothing to do with Him.

      • Exactly, Rick.

        How much time did Jesus spend criticizing or working against tyne Romans who occupied Jerusalem?

        There were Christians who were good Roman occupiers.

        Jesus was (is) not concerned with causes, but with individuals.

        The causes are ours to take up…or not…as we will.

    • Hi STEVE,

      Not sure it’s good for Christian witness for people who identify as ‘Christ-followers’ to be involved in audiences that holler ‘Let him die’ concerning a man in a coma who didn’t have life insurance . . .

      there ARE times when the dissonance is so startling and jarring that you know some folks haven’t thought through their faith enough to have it sink into their political behaviors . . .

      take Paul Ryan for example . . . he was a devotee of Ayn Randian economics . . . but now, as a Catholic, he says that Pope Francis’ example is helping him to see things in a different light (thank God)

      I suppose Francis was able to do what the good Nuns On The Bus tried to do, but weren’t ‘important enough’ to make a difference (?) . . . that sounds snarky, but I am being open here about how it is that ‘celebrity’ and positions of power and control often command respect among those who won’t normally pay little attention to humble people . . .

      Pope Francis IS most sincerely a humble man, and that is making a LOT of powerful people think twice about their faith and their politics, especially where it impacts the marginalized vulnerable

      • Christiane,

        I’m sure the Pope is a great guy. I happen to like much of what he says.

        Christians are free to follow their consciences with respect to whatever causes or political parties they wish to follow or get involved with.

        Our congregation is about half Democrat and half Republican. That can happen because there are NO political gospels at our church.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      Maybe they shouldn’t; maybe there’s a difference between getting involved and actually helping.

      My favorite Bible story is the one of the sons of Sceva (Acts 19), who tried to cast out a demon “in the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches.” It’s a hilarious story, and every time I see a self-professed Christian try to step into the deep end of the pool on social issues for which they are not prepared or educated, I see that story play itself out again.

  4. The bondage of the will explains everything. Laws pass that 1) make people feel morally superior to their neighbors; or 2) that personally benefit those in favor.

    Laws on homosexuality were formerly in force because its easy to look down on wrongs that one has no temptation for. But when traditional, Scriptural Christianity became a minority view, it became easy to support pro-homosexuality laws and feel moral superiority over Christians who hold to the old position. Abortion is easy; it personally benefits men and women who reject traditional sexual morals, and does not personally benefit men and women who hold traditional sexual morals. That’s why the dividing line is where it is, instead of along lines of those who hold strong views of agency (typically conservatives and libertarians) and those who don’t, (bleeding heart socialist types).

    Also, in our short-sighted culture, morality-based arguments that address generational effects are ignored, and we focus on whether somebody is being harmed here and now. Which is why the pro-life side is doing far better than the traditional marriage groups. It’s very easy to make the argument that killing babies is barbaric and evil. It’s harder to make the argument that marriage built around romance instead of child-rearing hurts society and children in the long run.

    • This, catalyzed by the narcissism epidemic. I just read this quote today: “White Trash has always been partial to immediate gratification over long-term planning.”

  5. IL abolished the death penalty in 2011. It did so with broad support of the population that encompassed black evangelicals, catholics of all races, and secularists as well. Most of the public argument involved the cost of keeping it on the books since it kicked in automatic appeals, plus there was very little confidence that everyone on death row had been actually guilty of the crime for which they had been condemned to die which is why Gov Ryan had commuted everyone’s term at the end of his term. Gov Ryan had started a moratorium on executions that had been continued by Gov Blagojevich and then Gov Quinn. With so long since our last execution it made little sense to continue to pay for the machinery of death.

  6. I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the death penalty is a bad idea, primarily because there is no commuting this sentence once carried out. I still would find the death penalty acceptable for some crimes, especially against children, but only if the physical evidence was matched with many, MANY reliable witnesses. It would be a very rare situation. That said, life without parole should mean just that, and not at a country club prison….

    Abortion will continue to be legal, as noting the humanity of a growing embryo or fetus is contradictory to too many world views and the convenience of many…..sadly.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > and not at a country club prison

      Have you been to one of these “country club prisons”?

      > Abortion will continue to be legal, as noting the humanity of a growing
      > embryo or fetus is contradictory to too many world views and the
      > convenience of many…..

      And that same space for world-views gives us the peace, and to some degree the prosperity, we enjoy.

      > sadly.


  7. In order for cultural change to be successful, it must only require the convincing of a few, and be easily be applied universally.

    Or to put it another way, the tide must already be in your favor. But if that’s the case you are not really creating change but accelerating the inevitable. And where should that effort fall on a Christian’s list of priorities? I don’t know other than to say probably not at the top.

    But even to accelerate such cultural change, one must have earned a certain level of public trust and credibility. And I think that is where evangelicalism falls short. So I think we’ll see a continued decline in culture war rhetoric and sabre-rattling. Case in point, I’ve heard very little about the recent instances of state marijuana legalization. Twenty years ago it would have caused an incredible ruckus. Interesting.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > And where should that effort fall on a Christian’s list of priorities?
      > I don’t know other than to say probably not at the top.

      An evil ending tomorrow rather than a decade from now is not better? One should ask the afflicted the answer to that question.

      > Case in point, I’ve heard very little about the recent instances of state
      > marijuana legalization. Twenty years ago it would have caused an
      > incredible ruckus. Interesting

      I have noticed the relative silence and thought it odd as well. Is it an issue the church simply prefers to ignore, believing it does not effect their own?

      • An evil ending tomorrow rather than a decade from now is not better?

        Of course it’s better and of course we should work against evil. But should that in itself be the top priority, or worse, the all-consuming issue. I think it’s better if these things are placed in the context of, and a natural outgrowth of, living as followers of Christ and proclaiming the gospel in word and deed. That is what we have lost in the culture wars, to the detriment of the church. Winning battles in some cases but losing the larger and more important “war.”

      • Final Anonymous says

        “Is it an issue the church simply prefers to ignore, believing it does not affect their own?”

        Or they know how much it already affects their own.

  8. Adam Tauno Williams says

    > The short answer to why Apartheid ended

    That is a very short answer. There was also quite pervasive international condemnation and harsh economic sanctions [so the powerful felt pain].

    > cultural change to be successful, it must only require the convincing
    > of a few, and be easily be applied universally

    I don’t know. This is an exercise in coercive power, the calculation as to what is easy – based on how strenuously people resists – can be a tough one.

    > Does my thesis hold up? Let us look at slavery.

    I do not believe this comparison works. To *own* something I need legal recognition, I need [at least to some degree] to have `the system` behind me. Slavery was a battle about property rights. To drink alcohol, and even to enjoy doing so, all I need is to find someone who will sell be alcohol. I do not need to keep, restrain, feed, and transport my liquor. Slavery is quite different than a consumable – it really only works if there is institutional recognition, even if that recognition is tacit.

    > Prohibition was … was largely unenforceable

    For much the same reason it is very different than slavery.

    > If evangelicals are truly pro-life

    But they are not. Evangelicals are pro-baby. There is a swirled and incoherent mix of Renaissance/Enlightenment feeling about children [Children are innocent, blank-slate, souls that will be tainted by the world] and old-school theology [humans are corrupt and damned by Original Sin inherited by the blood line of Adam].

    I am convinced the great majority of anti-abortion [emphatically not Pro-Life] activists are *not* on a moral crusade. It is not about life. Much like a Historical Preservation Society fighting for some old building you will hear high-concept ideas about citizenship, and culture, and history when mostly it is really about “We like that building”. Anti-Abortion people like babies and their vision of motherhood, plain and simple, it is not a fight about “life” [defending the “innocent”… wait minute, how can an Evangelical do that? You just got done saying there aren’t any]. This is the reason I completely tune-out the Abortion `debate` – because it is not honest and the participants are not being honest. It is too easy a fight – “Protect the babies!”. This is the same reason that culturally Christmas has survived into secular culture while Easter is essentially forgotten – a lowly baby born to save the world is a *MUCH* more pleasing image than a grown man proclaiming uncomfortable truths and then being murdered. It is a much more palatable story if we keep the first bit with shepherds and wise men and choirs of angels – that last bit about speaking for the voiceless, anguish, and sacrifice… that is real downer. “Protecting babies” is a *cheap* moral cause that allows pontification and posturing without being troubled by gritty reality or being called to sacrifice.

    > Capital punishment … a battleground for a new culture war?

    It is one that can be won indirectly. Capital Punishment remains on the books but is used less and less. This is the outcome I expect. Most Evangelicals will be happy so long as it stays on the books.

    > Are there different issues, like capital punishment or modern day slavery,
    > in which Christians should be involved?

    Yes, all the normal ones. As “Christian” causes they are delightful in accordance with lots of non-Christians who have the moral vision to name the same evils.

    – Economic Equity
    – Access to quality education for all students
    – Access to health-care, including sufficient nutrition
    – Access to safe housing and neighborhoods
    – Transportation equity, the poor should not be ghettoized.
    – Environmental issues
    – Clear air and water; doesn’t everyone want this?
    – The worst offenses always seem to be visited on the poor
    – Opposing a culture that lauds violence and exploits confrontation.
    – Opposition not by condemnation but by example and vision.
    – Care for the elderly, sick, disabled, and damaged.
    – Opposition to sexualization and sexual exploitation.

    But none of these involve cuddly things wrapped swaddling clothes. All involve dealing with complicated, ornery, conflicted [and often smelly] adults. At this point in my life I’m on the side with most non-Christians – I am not expecting much from the Christian community.

    • That is a very short answer. There was also quite pervasive international condemnation and harsh economic sanctions [so the powerful felt pain].

      Agreed that this was of some effect, and there were many other factors as well. For example, the whites saw themselves as a bulwark against communism. It was no coincidence that the end of the Communist Eastern Block started just before change occurred in South Africa.

  9. from what I have observed on SBC blogs, the death penalty is now at least being considered, although the majority of folks seem to uphold it as ‘just’ . . . so my conclusion was that ‘the right to life’ and ‘the dignity of the human person’ and ‘the sanctity of life’ do not have the same meanings in the Southern Baptist world that they do in Catholicism.

    my heart breaks for some of the things I see on those blogs: child discipline ‘techniques’, mildly disguised mysogyny, low-level islamophobia, and relatively open homophobia cloaked in terms of ‘truth in love’ (doesn’t work, that term) . . .

    but I can see moments where people are becoming more open to discussing the darker side of the fundamentalist-evangelical world, and in those moments I take hope that the Holy Spirit is at work among the more humble evangelicals . . . I am sure of it at times

    things are changing . . . slowly, but things are changing, especially among the young

    • “darker side of the fundamentalist-evangelical world”?

      Let’s be fair here. There is a “darker side” to every Christian tradition–not just the fundagelicals–whenever Christians fail to love the “Light of the world” (John 8.12) and then act as the “light of the world” (Matthew 5.14).

      • here’s to the Light of the world:


        • Thank you for sharing that beautiful music; I very much enjoyed listening to it. I hope to be one of those “more humble evangelicals” you mentioned. But please don’t paint Evangelicals or Fundamentalists with a broad brush.

          • I’m sure I’m guilty of over-reaction to some blog posts on an SBCblog that discussed spanking infants and toddlers as proper Christiane forms of ‘discipline’ for little ones,
            but I do know you are right because on those blogs, there were Southern Baptist comments given that opposed the spanking of babies and toddlers, one lady even went so far as to say she would not be opposed to people who spanked babies going to jail.

            my ‘broad brushes’ come out when I see people supporting hitting infants . . . but I must remember that these people are NOT in the majority of Southern Baptists and certainly not in the majority of evangelical Christian people . . . and thank God for that . . .

            but still there are some extremely cruel practices using ‘switches’ that are tolerated by more than a few fundamentalists, and I cannot help but speak out loudly against that cruelty . . . it’s in my conscience to react passionately against such practices

  10. Final Anonymous says

    IMO, the problem with the abortion war is that we are fighting it on the wrong front. WE can’t stop other people from having abortions, any more than we could stop drinking during Prohibition or marijuana use during the “War on Drugs.” By making abortion illegal, we just push the activity underground and drive the creation of an abortion black market. To really enforce the law and ensure women are not secretly having abortions, we will have to invade the privacy and restrict the liberty of nearly all women of childbearing age. The focus on legislation and enforcement of such just has no good end.

    But we can put those billions of dollars to good use and figure out what factors reduce abortion or increase pregnancy retention, and work on those.

  11. To me issue of abortion goes beyond the “culture war”. There are laws restricting murder and child abuse. Living in an age of information and scientific enlightenment should demand that Christians pursue justice for the unborn regardless of “the likelihood of success or failure”. Voting for Pro-Life candidates and supporting Christian-based pregnancy clinics is a good start.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > Voting for Pro-Life candidates

      But there are no Pro-Life candidates, not a one. There are candidates where Anti-Abortion is A point of their position or ideology. That issue cannot be taken regardless of all other positions.

      > and supporting Christian-based pregnancy clinics is a good start.

      Agree. Or supporting better health-care access for everyone; mother or not.

      • If the goal is to legislate more protections for the unborn then voting for “Anti-Abortion” candidates would make more of a difference than voting for “Pro-Abortion” candidates, wouldn’t it?

    • Final Anonymous says

      How many billions of dollars have been poured into the campaigns of anti-abortion politicians in the past 40 years? How many hours have been spent marching and stumping for “pro-life” in the political arena? How many abortions has it actually prevented?

      Voting for pro-life candidates is not a “good start,” it’s been an unimaginably wasteful, shameful endeavor.

      • Could you explain how voting for candidates who would legislate more protections for the unborn is “shameful”?

    • Marcus Johnson says

      First, the pro-life movement has had a pitifully low return on its investment in preserving the life of the unborn. Personally, I think that candidates who make big promises that appease the pro-life movement and do nothing are worse than those that are pro-choice; at least with pro-choice candidates, I know where they stand. Also, I’m thinking that the fight to make abortion illegal is not particularly concomitant with preventing abortion–that is, making abortion an unwanted alternative. I prefer candidates who seek to combat poverty, support better educational systems, etc.; those are the sorts of initiatives that are slowly creating an environment in which I believe abortion will soon be unwelcome and easily dismissed. If it turns out that those folks are “pro-choice” candidates, then I’ll take them over a “pro-life” candidate who treats the poor like takers and cannot produce any effective reduction in abortion rates.

      All that being said, I also don’t believe in this simple pro-life/pro-choice concept as a proper label for people; there are a lot of folks who live in the continuum between those polar opposites and, just as in the debate for marriage equality and marijuana legalization, they can be swayed over time.

      • “Also, I’m thinking that the fight to make abortion illegal is not particularly concomitant with preventing abortion–that is, making abortion an unwanted alternative.”

        Good point. I agree, as well, with what you say about how “pro-life” candidates treat the poor. This is a problem. On the other hand, “pro-life” office holders have power to affect laws restricting abortion, particularly late-term abortions. “Pro-Life” Presidents have power to appoint judges who more than likely rule in favor of protecting the unborn. I don’t think this is a small thing. But I agree with you that its important to address issues of poverty and education in regard to this issue.

  12. “To sum up all in one word—what the soul is in the body, Christians are in the world. … The soul is imprisoned in the body, yet preserves that very body; and Christians are confined in the world as in a prison, and yet they are the preservers of the world.” (Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 6, “The Relation of Christians to the World.”)

    “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5.13-16, ESV).

    So what does this mean with regards to “capital punishment or modern day slavery”? I’m not sure what you meant by “modern day slavery.” If you mean slavery as it is still sanctioned in some countries or the slave sex trade going on right under our noses or dangerous work conditions or other such things, then yes, as Christians we need to speak out and take appropriate action.

    With regards to capital punishment I am not opposed to it as it is a matter of executing the guilty (or so it is by design). But neither would I take a stand to keep it as law. Actually, a concern I have with capital punishment is with how unfairly and inconsistently it is applied. Consequently, capital punishment is not a deterrent. Then again, neither is extended prison time; otherwise, crime would be low and prison cells would not be overcrowded. There has to be a better way.

    But I wish you had included abortion in your final list as this is most definitely a matter of executing the innocent. If the unborn is mere tissue then by all means, choose to keep it or have it removed at will. But if the unborn is human life from the moment of conception, as both Scripture (yes, I’ve heard many arguments to the contrary, all of which are weak and come across as self-serving) and many in the medical community (yes, I’ve heard the “tissue” argument–again, weak and self-serving) acknowledge, then should we not take a stand as the “preservers of the world…the salt of the earth…the light of the world”?

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > if the unborn is human life from the moment of conception,
      > as both Scripture (yes, I’ve heard many arguments to the
      > contrary, all of which are weak and come across as self-serving)

      I have never yet heard a compelling argument from Scripture that says “the unborn is human life from the moment of conception”.

      I find abortion morally repellent in that
      (a) it is the disposal of life for convenience and *typically* that life is a known possible consequence of the choices made [so it is an ugly utilitarian construct]
      (b) under the good principle of moral Conservatism that life MAY be human life so it should be dealt with as such. Saying definitively it is or is not human life requires a method by which one can quantitatively define “human life”.

      • I agree with the points from both of these paragraphs. I would go so far to say that I can equally well from scripture on both sides of the argument. While I do believe that life begins at conception, your second paragraph is the one that convinces me. “The Bible tells me so”… is not an argument that works in many circles.

      • I reiterate, it’s either tissue or human life, a clump of cells with the potential for human life or a person with a developing human life, like a baby continues to develop. Scripture does directly call it either one, but strongly alludes to it. Besides passages such as Psalm 139.13 and Luke 1.44 would make no sense unless they were referring to unborn “persons,”

        “…you knitted me (“person” not “tissue”) together in my mother’s womb.”

        “For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby (not the “tissue”) in my womb leaped for joy.”

        Look, I have had this argument so many times and in so many places and in so many different venues that I know from experience that people will believe what they want to believe and refuse to believe what they do not want to believe, in either case their reasoning being their own. I could argue Scripture, I could argue DNA, I could argue an unborn baby’s right to live vs. a woman’s rights to choose, I could argue the logic of when life actually begins (1st, 2nd or 3rd trimester? quickening? when it moves? when there is a heart beat? when it fells pain? when there are detectable brain waves?), you name it, and it will make little to no difference for most people.

        I have to assume that life begins at conception, for that is the most logical starting point. And if my assumption is correct, then the unborn needs to be defended, both by the church and by the civil authorities, as would be the case with any other person.

        For what it’s worth… At our church we determined that the most effective means of action for us would be to build a Care Net facility on our land and with our own funding (donated by our members and those from other churches in the city). When completed, hopefully about six months from now, we will lease it to the Care Net folks for a $1 a year and let them manage it themselves.

        • I’ll confess to always being a little suspicious that while the creation of the ovum happens very early on in a woman’s body, and that ovum is maintained by the woman for decades, and the child it’s-self is created out of and from the woman’s own body over a period of months. The only morally important part, the part where this potential life goes from no one has to care, to full human being, is the only point in this decades long process where a man is in the room for 5 minutes.

        • Marcus Johnson says

          Calvin, I just recently adopted a more rigid stance against abortion, but I can guarantee you that Psalm 139 and Luke 1 did nothing to shift my viewpoint. One is a line from a song; the other is a statement in a longer expression of joy. There is nothing to suggest literal interpretations of either passage.

          That being stated, while the Bible does carry several themes which underscore my support for anti-abortion initiatives, I am more than comfortable using a line like Adam Tauro Williams’. The need to proof-text our way through every single social issue is part of why this argument cannot gain the necessary majority it needs to be effective. For instance, I’m also anti-capital punishment and pro-marriage equality, but I don’t go digging for the “magic Bible verse” to affirm my views. That’s not what the Bible is for, and when it’s used with the presumed ubiquity that MacGuyver used duct tape, it creates more weakness in my position than it does strengthen it.

          • Adam Tauno Williams says

            > Psalm 139 and Luke 1 did nothing to shift my viewpoint. One is a line from a song; the other is a
            > statement in a longer expression of joy. There is nothing to suggest literal interpretations of either
            > passage

            +1 These verses do not address this issue.

            >. The need to proof-text our way through every single social issue is part of
            > why this argument cannot gain the necessary majority

            It is also a very difficult way to approach complex modern problems. But there are consistent themes and constructs in Scripture. Sometimes I think it is a bummer that there is no a Christian equivalent to the Talmud where the debates of the ages and the application of the Scriptures concepts and metaphors can be seen applied. Without that we are diminished; one can construct a sort of thing for ones self but there is not much of a consensus for what the canon of such a document would be.

      • There is no question that the cells of a human fetus are human cells, and they are alive, so it is human life. Whether it is a human being, a person, deserving of legal protections is another question altogether.

        I’ve moved in the direction of believing that while a month old clump of barely differentiated cells in the womb of a pregnant woman may not be a human being and person, any more than a human hand is a human person, and in addition would be very difficult to legislatively protect, a six month old fetus with all the developed and differentiated features of a human being certainly is a human being and person, and not as difficult to legislatively protect.

        I, therefore, support legislation that moves in the direction of protecting six month old fetuses, and I do not support legislation that moves in the direction of protecting month old fetuses.

        Are very few six month old fetuses aborted for anything but serious threats to the health and well-being of the mother, a situation which one would reasonably expect to be excepted from any proposed protective legislation of the fetus? I don’t know. But what is the value in legislatively protecting even one such human being from being unjustly killed? Enormous, in my opinion, and so I would support it even if it saved only one human being from being killed.

    • If you mean slavery as it is still sanctioned in some countries or the slave sex trade going on right under our noses or dangerous work conditions or other such things, then yes, as Christians we need to speak out and take appropriate action.

      I was thinking of all of that, yes.

  13. Here’s my two cents on the map showing the percentage of evangelicals in the USA. The graduate students in the geography department at Kansa State mapped every county in the USA in respect to the “seven deadly sins”. Outside of the largest metro areas, the region that had the highest percentage was as evangelicals, above. That should not be so, and to me shows we should be concentrating on humility, diligence, gentleness, charity, mercy, peace, and purity way more than any of the other issues.

  14. David Cornwell says

    What applies to us as followers of Christ do not necessarily apply to the “world.” We are different. And so while the world can say that capital punishment is a good thing, it’s difficult for me to say this as a Christian. The same for abortion. Both of these are violent acts against another human life. They are ways that have been devised to solve a problem. However, in the end, violence almost always results in more violence. And to advocate it for the solving of complex issues should not be part of our story.

    For Christians a way to address the issues having to do with the taking of a human life to exact revenge, punishment, or however we want to define that act have been solved by the cross of Christ. We should have no need to exact a price.

    I like a quote from Harmon Smith in his book “Where Two or Three are Gathered”:

    “What that story says to us in the case of capital punishment, or war, or self-defense, is that Jesus was nailed to the cross for the sins of the world; that his execution, satisfaction, ransom, the rest. If expiation is required for human transgression, Christians believe that this has been accomplished by the death of Jesus. If retribution in the form of judicial homicide is willed by the state, Christians know that this action defies and denies the claim that Jesus is the sinless sufferer who pays the penalty for our sins, ‘who was put to death for our trespasses.'”

    Smith is an Episcopal priest who has taught medical ethics at Duke University and divinity school.

    • These are some of the reasons why I am against capital punishment. For me it was the conviction and subsequent exoneration in Canada of Stephen Truscott, David Milgaard, and Guy Paul Morin. All of whom were convicted of murder, and two of whom where found to be not guilty by way of DNA evidence. I would rather spare the lives of 1000 men than mistakenly execute three innocent ones.

  15. I support the death penalty, always have. The Bible also supports it.

    • I don’t support the death penalty, never have. The Bible does not support it.

      Well, that was a helpful dialogue, wasn’t it.

      • 🙂

      • I apologise for the snarky attitude. You are entitled to your opinion here at Internet Monk. There have been some significant arguments both for and against laid out in the comments here, including a historical perspective by Fr. Ernesto below. Interacting with these comments to show their strengths and weaknesses is a lot more helpful to advance the discussion.

    • Marcus Johnson says

      I supported the death penalty, and then I didn’t. Fortunately for me, I realized that the Bible doesn’t support either, because it doesn’t exist to support my political stances, any more than it was passed down to me to provide me with a paperweight on my desk when my office is drafty.

      I can make a pretty good case for or against the death penalty, depending on which bar I find myself in. As for the Bible, the case can be made for both, but the Scripture I would use has a sociocultural context that I would have to anachronize in order to apply undiluted to modern-day situations.

    • Agree. Maybe agree.

      But not in the political justice system we have in the US and most places of the world these days. Way too many innocent people on death row. Which is a subset of putting innocent poor (mostly non white) people in prison for crimes they didn’t commit in much of the US.

      As I heard on a recent new show. If you have a choice between a great lawyer or being innocent, you almost always want the great lawyer. Innocent or not.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      I support the death penalty, always have. The Bible also supports it.

      The Bible also supports (or was understood to support) slavery, genocide, and subjugation of women.

  16. When the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy.

  17. Please remember that it also says,

    “Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased, and turn away his anger from him.” (Proverbs 24.17-18)

    And also,

    “If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.” (Proverbs 25.21-22)

    Even the vilest criminal should be fed, clothed, healed, sheltered, protected from the vigilantes, given a fair trial, provided with a pastor, priest, or whomever he chooses. And if he is to be executed, then it must be carried out as quickly and humanely as possible.

    In effect, everyone deserves to be treated with the respect due to one who bears the image of God, which includes all humanity.

  18. I think sometimes we get caught into very strong black and white arguments. I cannot do it justice, but let’s look at abortion, poverty, war, and the death penalty in some ridiculously brief bullet points.

    Abortion — Christians have been against elective abortion since the time of the Church Fathers. However, up until the culture wars started, many Christian denominations considered that where the life of the mother was involved that a choice would need to be made that would/might involve a life being lost. One only needs to read medical accounts from the 19th century of ectopic pregnanies, toxemia, etc., to see the extreme pain and agony that women would suffer on their way to the death of both mother and child. To this day at least one Eastern Orthodox jurisdiction approves of therapeutic abortions.

    Poverty — Both the modern Pope Francis, the Early Church Fathers, and Jesus, considered the care of the poor to be such an important issue that if you did not do it, your Christianity was in serious question. In both the parable of Lazarus and the rich man and in the parable of the sheep and the goats, the failure to take care of the poor, the sick, etc., could doom you to everlasting hell. This point is almost never made in modern Evangelical America.

    War — the Early Church Fathers were against war. In the West, Saint Augustine’s theology of just war was actually designed to limit how often princes could go to war by insisting that they must first be attacked. Then it was designed to limit the damage by delineating who could be attacked, what methods could be used, etc. In the East, war was declared to be never to be approved (even though you can find photographs of Orthodox bishops blessing arms and tanks), but only understood to be an unwelcome necessity as part of the fallen world.

    Death Penalty — While Augustine argued that both war and capital punishment did not violate the commandment to not kill (if applied with justice), he also argued that acting as either judge or executioner required a purity of motive with an inner disposition of repentance for having to dictate and carry out the sentence! Even in cases in which the offense was grave, eminent writers like Tertullian of Carthage and Origen of Alexandria manifested a clear preference for mercy and an aversion to all punishment that involved the shedding of blood. In an exercise of the church’s solemn teaching authority, the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) promulgated that “no cleric may decree or pronounce a sentence involving the shedding of blood, or carry out a punishment involving the same, or be present when such punishment is carried out.” Sadly, the “be present” part was soon forgotten. In the East, a cleric who sheds blood is forbidden from celebrating the Divine Liturgy till the day he dies.

    When one looks at the historic attitude of the Church to every life issue, one realizes how far the very limited expressions of modern anti-abortion cultural warriors are from the full expressions of the historic Church.

    • Thank you for this Fr. Ernesto. The historical perspective is an important one. My original thoughts as I was developing this post had to do with war, and then it morphed into something else. We forget that in the early church soldiering was one of the banned professions.

      • Though I’m not a scholar and can’t give you references, I’ve come across work by scholars of church history who believe that it is wrong to assert that the early church was unanimously pacifist, or that soldiering was prohibited by all church leaders in all provinces.

        To the degree that Christians could not swear oaths to the Emperor, they could not serve in any official capacity, yet there were sometimes ways around swearing such oaths, and in some provinces, those who were soldiers before they were converted to Christianity were not required to resign from military service. Also, the historical records indicate that many soldiers were in fact Christian, and even some of the hagiography shows this, without mentioning any pressure exerted by the church on these Christian soldiers to resign from their military service.

        Some church leaders in some provinces enjoined complete pacifism. On the other hand, even these leaders often appealed for the toleration of the Empire by assuring officials in written documents that Christians could serve the state by praying for the victory of the Empire in its armed conflicts.

        I don’t believe the picture is quite as black and white as it sometimes said to be.

        • I would say that the more accurate way to phrase it is to say that the Early Church was unanimous in seeing war as being wrong, and ultimately evil. However, the conclusions and consequences drawn by the Early Church fathers varied.

          Some Church Fathers concluded that one could not serve in the military of the Empire and could not even serve in the Imperial administration.

          Some Church Fathers concluded that you could serve in the military, but that there was a consequence. For instance, Saint Basil wanted those who served in the military in conflict to abstain from holy communion for a year, as well as go to confession, because they had killed people. This was not precisely a punishment (as the punishment for first degree murder could be a lifetime ban from holy communion until you were on your deathbed), but rather a time to reflect on the fact that killing a human being was innately against God’s will.

          Some Church Fathers concluded that you could serve in the military because of the lesser of two evils argument. So, Saint Augustine concludes that killing in war and in capital punishment is not forbidden killing. However, he promptly turns around and seeks to limit the amount of killing in war by his various rules. Sadly, once he opened the door to this attitude, it also opened the door to the more modern approach by American Evangelicals to strongly support the death penalty because it is not killing in the sense of the Ten Commandments.

          But, look again at the statement from the Fourth Lateran Council, 800 years after Saint Augustine and 200 years after the Great Schism. The attitude of the Council is identical to the one in the East. No cleric may participate in, or even witness, capital punishment. The attitude still is that killing is not what God wanted, even when it is legal capital punishment. Therefore, since the cleric represents God, the cleric may not be present. In other words, by representation, God turns his head aside and refuses to witness capital punishment.

          This is also why military chaplains neither carry weapons nor participate in war. God also turns his head aside from war.

          Yes, Romans 13 says that the state has the power of the sword. But, the witness of Holy Tradition is that this power is the lesser of two evils. The greater of two evils is lawlessness uncontrolled. Thessalonicans tells us that there will be a day when lawlessness shall be unleashed and woe to those who live at that time. Therefore, armies are better than lawlessness unleashed. But, that does not mean that it is approved.

    • Wow! Thank you for this very eye-opening overview, Fr. Ernesto. Perhaps you can tell me: Are there Orthodox military chaplains? An Orthodox friend of ours said she thought there were not. She was curious because our Catholic priest is a chaplain in the Air Force Reserve. If there are not, what do Orthodox believers in the military (I’m assuming there are some) do for pastoral care?

      • There are Orthodox chaplains, both in the US Armed Forces and in the Armed Forces of other countries. They are not required to carry weapons or to receive weapons training (nor is any chaplain of any type). My daughter met one of the Orthodox chaplains when she was serving in Iraq.

    • David Cornwell says

      Thanks. This is a wonderful presentation of the Church’s history on these contentious issues. Most people claim to believe in “just war” without having any idea of the principles involved.