Senator and Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine believes that both conservative and liberal Christians should be able to find common ground on healthcare. In an op-ed for Christianity Today, Senator Kaine writes that Christ’s commands to care for the “least of these” should galvanize Bible-believers on both sides of the political aisle to find compassionate solutions to the healthcare crisis. “Our disagreements do not lie in whether to care for them, but how,” the senator writes. “Following the failure of the most recent attempt to repeal the ACA, our focus should turn toward how we can develop simple solutions that improve care for all people.” His piece is short on practical policy suggestions but long on references to Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, particular the apostle’s reminder that Christians are each indispensable parts of the same body. Senator Kaine concludes: “If we unite ourselves in the same purpose of taking care of our brothers and sisters, we can do what is right and rejoice together in our success.”
What stands out about Senator Kaine’s piece is not what’s there, but rather what’s missing. It is astonishing that a Christian politician could write a full opinion piece on caring for the least of these in the pages of an evangelical publication, without mentioning abortion once. In fairness, the senator may have strategic purpose for such an omission. Last year Mr. Kaine explicitly laid aside his Roman Catholic views on abortion in order to be a faithful running mate for Hillary Clinton on the Democratic ticket. He even did an awkward about-face on the Hyde Amendment, supporting it before he (like the Democratic Party) vowed to remove it. Given all that, perhaps we ought not be too shocked that Mr. Kaine doesn’t feel it important to talk about what most religious people in the country believe is the single most pressing “healthcare” issue of our time.
The problem is that the senator’s editorial embodies the logical errors and moral hollowness that many progressive Christians display when it comes to politics. On issues like universal healthcare and immigration, young, left-of-center evangelicals especially often invoke Scripture and Christian theology in expressing support for progressive policies. For these Christians, Mr. Kaine’s piece is the reddest of meat, a quasi-homily on political theology that draws strict, straight lines from the teachings of Jesus to a pet issue. Just like the senator’s editorial, many of these progressive Christians likewise fall silent or become fidgety when we ask “What would Jesus do” of abortion. Apparently, the theonomistic laws given to Israel about the stranger and sojourner have crystal clear political application in the United States, but the sixth commandment and the psalmist’s rejoicing in the personhood of the unborn body are hopelessly murky and complex.
There’s also more than a little bit of willful blindness here about healthcare law and abortion politics. Though Kaine’s editorial urges bipartisan cooperation on healthcare, the overwhelming majority of policymakers and commentators on the Left believe that government funding of Planned Parenthood and soft (or no) restrictions on abortion access are non-negotiable elements of good healthcare law. What does “bipartisan cooperation” look like between those who believe that unborn children are human persons made in the image of God, and those who believe they are nonentities and biological property? Some evangelicals have suggested that cooperation between pro-choice and pro-life camps focus on reducing the number of abortions, rather than outlawing them. But this suggestion avoids the ethical heart of the matter. If abortion is immoral because it is the killing of a human person, then we ought to use the power, and the teaching function of the law, in order to eliminate it, just as our ancestors ought to have used the power and teaching function of the law to eliminate slavery. If abortion is morally relative or, as some of its important theorists maintain, a positive moral good, then what gives us the right to believe that abortions should be reduced?
It’s understandable that some, like Tim Kaine, would want to avoid the culture war divisiveness of abortion and instead call both Republican and Democratic Christians to mutual concern for the poor and ill. On one level, such mutuality is possible, and some conservatives have been making eloquent, and theologically informed, cases for questioning the GOP’s dogmatism on issues like healthcare, family leave policy, and more. But no amount of earnestness or good faith can change the fact that abortion is a major stumbling block in the national conversation about healthcare. To argue that we embrace abortion choice may be morally repugnant, but it is at least an honest response. Pretending as if the stumbling block doesn’t exist is not honest, and it’s not a pathway toward partnership.
Calling Christians to care for the “least of these” entails calling them to account for millions of tiny humans who are utterly innocent, utterly defenseless, and utterly at our mercy. Behind gospel-driven compassion lies the idea that we ought to have compassion on human beings in the first place. It’s precisely that foundational moral sensibility that Planned Parenthood, and the cult of death for which it storefronts, vivisects on a daily basis.