Saturday, November 29, 2008

William Wilberforce: Proof That Incrementalism Works?


Proof That Incrementalism Works?

by Bob Kyffin
(reprinted from the CRTL Newsletter Summer 2008)

William Wilberforce is a hero in the eyes of most of us in the pro-life movement. He’s an inspiration to all of us.

However, his work against slavery in Britain is often cited (by incrementalists) as proof that "incrementalism works." This claim not only mistakes the lesson we should take from his astonishing life, but also denigrates the true values that he held dear – those based upon a conviction in the God-given Rights to Life and Freedom.

The growing Personhood Wing of the pro-life movement holds that "any law which says ‘do this, and then you can kill the baby (or own the slave)’" is an evil regulation Christians should never support. Did Wilberforce support such laws during his nearly half-century of crusading? Yes. Have many sincere pro-lifers done so, even those who now support Personhood? Yes. The problem is not the person – it’s the naïve, emotional position they hold for a time.

Most supporters of Personhood once supported laws such as the Partial Birth Abortion Ban, or waiting periods. Some didn’t, but they are few. The intellectual path from incrementalism to abolitionism is a long, hard one. We can’t condemn someone for not "getting the concept" right away. All we can do is ask them to consider, and to learn.

A study of William Wilberforce shows he always held that slavery was absolutely wrong. He first stated his anti-slavery goal in 1789. "I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition." Every year, thereafter, for several years, he ran the same bill – an absolute end to the slave trade.

Discouraged (like many pro-lifers), he began trying incremental compromises such as registering slaves, regulating the number of slaves who could be on a slave ship, or prohibiting British slavers from trading with French colonies – laws which implicitly legitimized slaveowning, even while trying to reduce its misery, or prevalence. Was this an improvement? Debatable. Did the reduced misery of slaves, lessen public interest in ending the practice entirely, among some at least? Very likely. The abolitionists had a strong argument – that the slaves were being inhumanely mistreated – yet they reduced its potency through regulation.

In fact, it was often the slaveholders who advocated laws to improve the conditions of slaves! A document on slavery at reports, "Sugar planters in Guyana and the Caribbean and their political and financial backers in Britain were not yet ready for the final abolition of slavery. They decided that it would be better to support legislation to improve the physical, moral and religious conditions of the slaves." These bills were called "Amelioration Laws," yet in reality, they only continued the suffering. Likewise, Wilberforce’s nemesis Henry Dundas stymied the anti-slavery movement by stipulating "gradual abolition," only prolonging it.
Do we want to "ameliorate" abortion? Or do we want to end it? As the craven interests of the slaveholders proves, these are not one and the same path toward abolition!

We must be discriminating when evaluating whether a measure is "compromised incrementalism" (one step forward, two steps back), or positive incrementalism. If Wilberforce’s limit on the number of slaves per ship had instead simply regulated the number of people on board, then it would have accomplished its goal without tacitly approving of slavery. Similarly, if his registration bill had specified that every laborer, paid or unpaid, must be reported.

An uncompromised law today might make it criminal to perform any surgical treatment on a minor without parental notification, accomplishing one positive goal of pro-lifers without the tragedy of authorizing murder of the innocent in law.

Was Wilberforce an incrementalist because he wanted to end the slave trade first, and slavery itself later? No. In a letter from 1797, Wilberforce urged Prime Minister William Pitt to revoke a contract requiring Britain to provide Spain with African slaves. This highlights the point that the slave trade and slave ownership were different parts of the same problem. Even had Wilberforce successfully banned slave ownership in British territories, he would have had to ban the slave trade too, to prevent massive British involvement in promoting slavery elsewhere. Therefore, he cannot be blamed for not trying to simultaneously ban both. Taking on one or the other was commendable. Furthermore, there is nothing inherently wrong with banning the slave trade as an isolated goal because, like banning taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood, a law which would end such trade or funding would not necessarily affirm any rights to do evil, and therefore would not either promote the murder or ownership of people, nor undermine the argument that all men deserve life and freedom.

Did slavery, which persisted for 26 years after the end of the British slave trade, linger because abolitionists had fought the brutality of the trade, rather than focusing on teaching people that slavery is inherently wrong? Wilberforce became convinced it was so. In Eric Metaxas’ Wilberforce biography, Amazing Grace, he notes that Wilberforce became disenchanted with the incremental method, feeling it was counterproductive. He had hoped incremental improvements would lead inherently to emancipation. "But now, in 1818, it could be seen that this hope had been naïve. So once again, the course was clear: immediate emancipation by political means."

Today, we have the benefit of this lesson, and similar lessons from the United States’ abolition movement, to show us the superiority of principle over compromise. We must not reject these lessons of history!

The ultimate proof of Wilberforce’s commitment is his stand on abolition in the United States. Near the end of his life, an incremental anti-slavery society (a "colonization" faction) was able to secure Wilberforce’s endorsement by leading him to believe they were for an absolute end to slavery in America. However, the American absolutist William Lloyd Garrison arrived in England soon after, and explained the relative positions of anti-slavery societies to Wilberforce. He was greatly angered, revoked his earlier statement, and publicized an endorsement of Garrison instead.

Lest someone argue that Wilberforce’s chosen strategy for America was due to greater prospects of success, it is a fact that slavery remained strong in the United States, and was nowhere near abolition at that time (1833). There were many U.S. anti-slavery groups whose positions were less absolute than Garrison’s. But, no matter the difficulty of the road, at the end of his life Wilberforce preferred principle over compromise.

Surely, it can be argued that Wilberforce was an incrementalist at times. Wilberforce was led by his heart, and supported measures that would regulate slavery. We all face this temptation with regard to abortion.

By the end of his life, Wilberforce had become a staunch absolute abolitionist. Arguments that he is the poster boy of the "compromised incrementalist" movement are specious and unfair. When, with all his experience, Wilberforce had a chance to do it over again, he counseled against compromise. He preferred absolute abolition in the United States, not an incremental strategy.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A Well-Meaning Pro-Lifer

"What law do you propose?"

"I want a law which says a woman must see an ultrasound before she has an abortion."

"And what would that accomplish?"

"Many women would choose not to abort, because they see their baby is a little, living human being!"

"But do you believe it's a little, living human being?"

"Of course I do!"

"Then why, in your law, is it then allowable to kill that baby, if the woman chooses?"

"Well... Because it's already legal to kill that baby."

"Do you believe it shouldn't be legal to kill any of these babies?"

"Of course not. They're human beings."

"What about a woman's right to choose? Do you propose to prohibit all abortions?"

"Well... Yes, eventually. A woman shouldn't have a right to choose to kill an innocent child."

"But in your own law, you allow for that choice. Why is that?"

"Because society's not ready to outlaw all abortion. I could never pass a law to outlaw all abortion."

"Of course, that's true. Most people do believe in a right to choose, even if they're not really for abortion. Take me, for instance."

"So we have to stop as many abortions as we can, until the point when people understand there is no right to choose."

"But that's silly. In your own law, you respect a woman's right to choose, within certain limitations. Even you concede that right."

"I do not!"

"Your law does."

"No, it's just... It's a way of getting part of what I want until I have the opportunity to get all of what I want."

"So you're trying to trick us?!"

"No... I'm giving you what you'll accept."

"And then what?"

"And then, once I've taught you there's a Right to Life, you'll support an end to all abortion."

"No. That will never happen. Because you're not doing anything to convince me there's a Right to Life that supersedes a right to choose. Because your own law doesn't defend the Right to Life -- your law only defends the right to choose."

(originally posted on

Monday, November 17, 2008

Strict Constructionist Judges: A Good Thing for Christians?

I know it's been a Republican Party mantra for years, and I also know that Christians have adopted most Republican mantras as their own. But should Christians really be pushing for "strict constructionist" judges?

Consider this: If the law is corrupt, and a judge follows that law, then that judge is also corrupt.

Then consider this: The Nazi judges tried at Nuremburg in 1945 were strict constructionist judges. They said, in their defense, "I was just following the law" when I ordered that Jew put to death for hoarding eggs. Or, "I was just following the law" when I ordered that Nazi released for killing his neighbor.

In a moral court system -- in God's system of justice -- following the law, absent of moral considerations, is NO defense!

Strict constructionism, the way it's interpreted today, and the way it's applied today, is amoral. If the law says to kill Jews, then that's what these judges would do!

Besides, strict constructionism hasn't gotten Christians anything. Roe v. Wade, to be certain, was created by "activist judges" who should never have interpreted the law the way they did. A strict constructionist wouldn't have made that mistake. But a strict constructionist wouldn't have refused to sign Roe v. Wade on moral grounds. He would have refused to sign it because there IS no "right to privacy", nor any "right to abortion."

On the other hand, a moral justice would have refused to sign Dred Scott, returning a slave to his master. A strict constructionist, depending on how he read the Constitution, might very well have used the "strict construction" of the US Constitution to find a defense of slavery (which did exist, in the letter of the law). Never mind that a moral justice would have pointed out protections for life and liberty also.

Remember American Right to Life's (unclaimed) $10,000 Challenge to National Right to Life! There ARE no pro-life justices on today's US Supreme Court. None of them believes in a right to life. The most "conservative" justice, Antonin Scalia, has said on the record that the right to life is just for "'walking around' people."

Strict constructionist judges are amoral. We might as well have a computer in that office. In fact, a computer would probably decide morally more often than our justices on the US Supreme Court do -- just by random chance!

There was a time, in American jurisprudence, when a judge felt a higher calling to God's moral authority than he did to the actual letter of the law. If a law violated the "natural law" of God, it was appropriate for a justice to abrogate that law, and rule it invalid, because it violated God's natural law.

The Ten Commandments was once part of the law, which justices would use to decide cases. Yes, the Founders intended for judges to follow the letter and spirit of the law as written, but God's moral law, through the Ten Commandments, and the Bible, was PART of that written law!

What Christians should really want to see on the Court is Christian judges -- judges who believe in the Right to Life. Judges who believe in moral absolutes, and in the Ten Commandments.

We need judges who fear God, and who fear His wrath if they disobey God's laws.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Answer to Criticism re: McCain's "Pro-Life" Record

Since the last CRTL newsletter dealt directly and decisively with the myth that Sen. John McCain is pro-life, CRTL received quite a bit of criticism from certain "my party, right or wrong" Republicans who either have been fooled into thinking John McCain has "always been pro-life" (the campaign's mantra) or who think even if he's not strongly pro-life, he was better than Obama, and therefore principled Christians should still vote for him. We simply disagreed, on principle.

We spoke truth -- if you doubt our word on it, then look at the detailed white paper produced by Vision Forum (a major homeschool publisher, and publisher of books highlighting the Christian character of the American Founders).

Other things to consider: In 2002, Sen. McCain tied with Sen. Harry Reid (now the Democrats' Senate Majority Leader) on the National Right to Life scorecard, at 33%, and unlike virtually every other Republican Senator, McCain hasn't scored 100% on a NRTL survey in recent memory (averaging 66% over the past decade -- and consider that NRTL intentionally tries to give every Democrat a 0%, and every Republican a 100% rating). National Right to Life referred to McCain as "dangerous" and "not pro-life". James Dobson's statements against McCain, before his change of mind, were damning. Many other conservative sources confirmed that McCain was not very conservative on many issues at all, and certainly not on abortion.

Moreover, Sen. John McCain openly sought the support of the moderate wing of the Republican party as the "pro-choice alternative" to Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 Republican Primary.

To help illustrate our opinion of what Christians should say, when faced with the "lesser of two evils" argument, here is a reprint of an article by Bob Kyffin:

The Lesser of Two Evils

Is Still Evil

by Bob Kyffin

Why are we being urged by our Christian friends (and maybe we’re doing the urging ourselves) to “vote for the lesser of two evils?” Doesn’t that mean support for evil, no matter whether it’s the lesser or not?

And why is it our Christian friends doing the urging, and not our Republican friends?

The answer is that “Republicans” are used to making these choices. There’s no such thing as “Republican morality.” Morality comes from somewhere else, and there’s nothing inherently moral about being or voting Republican. It’s a value judgment over who’s better, who’s more like us, who’s less likely to do harm.

As Christians, don’t we have a higher standard? Or shouldn’t we? There’s morality, and then there’s immorality. Amorality – to choose neither – is not a definition God accepts. He draws “bright lines” between one and the other, and you’re either with Him, or against Him.

But doesn’t God encourage us to be “salt and light?” To participate in society and be a positive Christian example? And doesn’t He also encourage us to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s?”

In Romans 3:8, Paul teaches, “Why not say—as we are being slanderously reported as saying and as some claim that we say—‘Let us do evil that good may result?’ Their condemnation is deserved.”

So not just are we never to do evil that good may come of it, but those who do are to be condemned.

Don’t we face this choice every election? Choosing between imperfect candidates is the American way of life! Besides, “the lesser of two evils” is just a saying, right?

Often, it is just a saying. Often, we’re choosing between two Christians (nominal or otherwise) who simply have different political opinions. So when does a candidate go from a bad political choice to being an evil choice?

That really depends on where God draws His line, as to what is truly evil. Even Christian denominations differ on what they consider evil. Envy? Possibly. Adultery or contempt for God? Sure – and worth considering in your voting. But what stands at the top of everybody’s list for evil? Murder of the innocent.

So where does that leave a Christian, who might be wondering when the “lesser of two evils” really becomes evil? Where do you think?

Now, some parties, and some members of those parties, hold a definite position on evils like abortion. Other parties, remarkably, hold a variety of opinions on abortion, some candidates clearly opposing, others clearly supporting, and still more trying to split the difference.

So where should a Christian come down on a candidate whose position “splits the difference” on abortion? What if that candidate, say, supports federal funding for the destruction of embryos? Or thinks the abortion of innocent children is okay in some circumstances?

Germans once faced a choice between Hitler and socialism. Sadly, most Christians chose Hitler. Americans often faced a choice between pro-slavery candidates. What should a Christian do, if forced to choose between Hitler and Stalin? If there were only two candidates on every ballot, Christian moral reasoning might force you to not vote.

Thankfully, we live in a country where there are more than two candidates on most ballots. But isn’t that “throwing away your vote?”

It’s strange how, in congressional districts where one party normally gets 70 percent of the vote, voting for the major-party candidate who’s guaranteed to lose isn’t considered “throwing away your vote.” Those 30 percent, or 10 percent, of the votes become protest votes, and they are valuable for that purpose.

When faced with two major-party candidates who reject God’s teaching on morality, and who try to split the difference, we are blessed with alternate choices. We can still cast a vote for a person who takes their Christianity, and its moral imperatives, seriously.

And Christians cannot let fear of “the boogyman” lead us into voting for those who oppose much of what we believe. Hitler stood against most of what Christians believe, and yet it was fear of the socialists and communists that misled Christians into voting for Hitler. Fear is not an excuse in God’s eyes, who assures us that we are His, and His hand is on our shoulder, no matter what dangers or turmoil we face.

The world wants you to ignore some of the most important moral and ethical questions we face. The parties – most of them – surely want you to as well.

As Christians, we cannot ignore them. You must decide whether to do good in the polling booth, or whether to vote for the lesser of two evils “that good may [supposedly] come.”

What will you choose?

Next week: Is William Wilberforce really a standard-bearer for the success of "incrementalism"?