Liberals, Evangelicals Call For Common Agenda On Abortion, Sexuality

January 15, 2009, 2:26 pm | Posted by
Associated Baptist Press
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Progressive and evangelical leaders have joined together to propose shared policy solutions on issues that have long divided left and right in the so-called culture wars.

Two years ago Third Way, a non-profit think tank that supports equality for gays and reproductive choice for women, joined forces with Faith in Public Life, a coalition seeking to broaden the evangelical social agenda beyond issues of abortion and homosexuality. The two groups began discussing how to “change the culture wars into culture discussion,” said Rachel Laser, culture program director at Third Way.

On Jan. 15 the two groups rolled out a consensus governing agenda aimed at reducing abortion by addressing the reasons women choose to abort. It also attempts to balance protecting the rights of gays and lesbians in the workplace with allowing religious employers to discriminate in hiring on the basis of their religious beliefs.

“The culture wars have been characterized by vilifying those who differ from us on provocative issues and treating them as traitors and threats,” said Joel Hunter, senior pastor of Northland, A Church Distributed, in Florida and one-time president-elect of the Christian Coalition. “I believe we can end those wars by thinking of our differences as ways we can learn from each other and advance without compromising core values.”

After a telephone conference call with reporters, the activists planned to meet with President-elect Obama’s transition team and members of Congress about what Laser described as “a roadmap for how to put and end to the culture wars.”

The joint agenda calls for reducing the number of abortions through policies like comprehensive sex education that includes teaching abstinence, improved access to contraception for low-income women, expanded healthcare for pregnant women and new families, and encouraging adoption.

It supports policies making it illegal to fire or refuse to hire or promote employees based on their sexual orientation, with “a clear exemption” for faith-based employers.

The shared agenda also opposes torture and calls for comprehensive immigration reform that secures America’s borders while providing a path to earned citizenship. The immigration proposal also calls for a guest-worker program and for keeping the families of undocumented workers together.

Robert Jones of Third Way called it “a genuinely new path for the country.” For evangelicals, he said, it “heralds the arrival of a second wave of the evangelical center.” The first wave, he explained, was comprised of evangelicals who called for the broadening their brethren’s moral agenda beyond issues of abortion and homosexuality. The second wave involves “re-engaging with these important and difficult issues with new eyes and ears.”

David Gushee, an ethics professor at Mercer University and a regular columnist for Associated Baptist Press, said the four issues “may seem to represent quite different or even unrelated concerns,” but at the core of all is “concern for human dignity.”

“Human dignity is just another way of saying that each human being is to be treated with the respect that they deserve as objects of God’s infinite and merciful love,” Gushee said.

Recently the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention announced a defensive agenda for the Obama administration — opposing the Freedom of Choice Act relaxing restrictions on abortion, fighting legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act that it says would “normalize” homosexuality, and opposing adding sexual orientation and gender identity to categories protected under federal hate-crimes legislation.

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Reducing abortions: Priority promise should not be broken

January 14, 2009, 3:02 pm | Posted by
Atlanta Journal-Constitution
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*For RealAbortionSolutions.org, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

In years past, abortion has been a black and white issue. Either you were for it or you were against it. Those who support abortion rights have been villainized as murderers and those who oppose it have been called religious fanatics. But recently, this debate has evolved with the inclusion of one simple word: reduction.

Recent studies indicate that abortion reduction has struck a chord with Americans on both sides of the issue. Despite the divides over the legality of abortion, a 2008 poll by Public Religion Research found that 83 percent of voters agree that elected leaders on both sides should work together to reduce abortions through policies that prevent unintended pregnancies, expand adoption, and increase economic support for women wishing to carry pregnancies to term. This sentiment also was supported by similar percentages of anti-abortion rights voters and white evangelicals.

Will President-elect Barack Obama make good on his promises to find abortion reducing solutions? Is it really going to be a priority for the Obama administration? Does he have the resolve to spend the necessary political capital to accomplish it? Unfortunately, by all indications, the answer to each of these questions is “no.”

Obama has an abysmal record when it comes to abortion. He told the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in 2007 that the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) would be the first piece of legislation that he would sign as President. The FOCA would invalidate almost every restriction including the partial-birth abortion ban and open up federal funding for abortions both domestically and overseas. No one doubts that the result of this legislation will be more abortions not less.

This might seem confusing if you watched the Saddleback Faith Forum and heard Obama tell Pastor Rick Warren, “And so, for me, the goal right now should be “how do we reduce the number of abortions?” As the saying goes, “actions speak louder than words,” and Obama’s actions indicate that he will not remain true to his stated goal of reducing abortions.

This is unfortunate for America because we are at a pivotal, if not historical moment, in one of the most controversial debates of the last generation. Both pro- and anti-abortion rights voters have finally found something on which we can agree, and people all across this great land are placing walk with reduction talk. For example, a banner hangs in an abortion clinic in North Carolina that reads, “You still have options. Adoption is one of them. We’re here for you 24/7.” The banner was placed there by Bethany Christian Services, the largest adoption agency in the United States that has decided to work with abortion clinics instead of against them.

This sort of thinking also has spawned entities like RealAbortionSolutions .com, which supports programs to reduce teen pregnancy, expand adoption programs, support pregnant women and financially assist new parents. Like Bethany, RealAbortionSolutions.com has joined the 83 percent of voters who agree the time has come for all of us to work together where we can agree.

There is no doubt in my mind that the abortion debate is going to shift, and it has powerful implications. For those who are pro-abortion rights, it gives them a moral umbrella under which to stand. For those of us on the other side, it says our position amounts to more than just talking points. We must now begin working with real people in real communities to do all we can to protect the unborn.

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Some Abortion Foes Shifting Focus From Ban to Reduction

November 18, 2008, 3:04 pm | Posted by
Washington Post
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*For RealAbortionSolutions.org, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

Frustrated by the failure to overturn Roe v. Wade, a growing number of antiabortion pastors, conservative academics and activists are setting aside efforts to outlaw abortion and instead are focusing on building social programs and developing other assistance for pregnant women to reduce the number of abortions.

Some of the activists are actually working with abortion rights advocates to push for legislation in Congress that would provide pregnant women with health care, child care and money for education — services that could encourage them to continue their pregnancies.

Their efforts, they said, reflect the political reality that legal challenges to abortion rights will not be successful, especially after Barack Obama’s victory this month in the presidential election and the defeat of several ballot measures that would have restricted access to abortions. Although the activists insist that they are not retreating from their belief that abortion is immoral and should be outlawed, they argue that a more practical alternative is to try to reduce abortions through other means.

“If one strategy has failed and failed over decades, and you have empirical information that tells how you can honor life and encourage women to make that choice by meeting real needs that are existing and tangible, why not do that?” said Douglas W. Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University who served in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. Kmiec, a Catholic who opposes abortion, was criticized by some abortion foes because he endorsed Obama.

Obama supports abortion rights and is unlikely to appoint justices who would overturn the controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed the practice. But during the campaign, he spoke of wanting to reduce abortions and of finding “common ground” in the debate.

The new effort is causing a fissure in the antiabortion movement, with traditional groups viewing the activists as traitors to their cause. Leaders worry that the approach could gain traction with a more liberal Congress and president, although they do not expect it to weaken hard-core opposition.

“It’s a sellout, as far as we are concerned,” said Joe Scheidler, founder of the Pro-Life Action League. “We don’t think it’s really genuine. You don’t have to have a lot of social programs to cut down on abortions.”

The diverse group that has come together to try a different tack includes prominent pastors such as Joel Hunter; Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good; Sojourners, a progressive evangelical organization; and RealAbortionSolutions.org, a coalition of Catholics and evangelical leaders.

Others include Catholics United, a progressive Catholic lay group; Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals; the Rev. Thomas Reese of Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, a prominent Jesuit thinker; and Nicholas Cafardi, former dean of the Duquesne University School of Law and a Catholic canon lawyer.

Their actions have not come without consequences. Cafardi resigned from the board of Franciscan University of Steubenville in Ohio after writing a column supporting Obama and declaring the abortion battle lost. Kmiec has received hate e-mail, and a priest denied him Communion in April. And Denver Archbishop Charles J. Chaput has criticized Kmiec and several of the groups involved, saying they have “undermined the progress pro-lifers have made and provided an excuse for some Catholics to abandon the abortion issue.”

The activists say the time has come for more cooperation on difficult social and moral issues such as abortion.

“We are not compromising our values, but at the same time we are finding a way we can all accomplish our agenda, or at least a piece of our agenda, together,” said Hunter, pastor of Northland in Longwood, Fla., one of the nation’s largest churches, and a board member of the National Association of Evangelicals. “There’s got to be a way we can take some of these hot-button issues and cooperate, rather than simply keep fighting and becoming gridlocked in this hostility of the culture wars.”

The activists are beginning with ad campaigns to raise their profile, advocating legislation and planning rallies. They say they hope to harness the two-thirds of Americans who want a “middle ground” on abortion, according to a 2006 survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press and the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

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Common Ground On Abortion

November 7, 2008, 3:10 pm | Posted by
Kansas City Star, Faith Matters
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*For RealAbortionSolutions.org, FPL built a coalition of religious leaders who were already dedicated to common ground solutions to reduce abortions to support an ad campaign to raise awareness about this approach. So far, ads have run in 11 states and during the March for Life in Washington, DC.

I… believe that it should be possible to reduce the number of abortions occurring in this country. There are many reasons to do so, including the sense of pain and loss that abortion almost inevitably creates.

But abortion has been seen by many people as a starkly black and white issue. On the far edge of one side are people who view it as immoral under any circumstances, while on the far edge of the other side are people who would raise up to the level of idolatry a woman’s right to choose and see abortion as just one more method of birth control.

Most of the country is in between those extremes.

So it pleased me to learn about a new effort called Real Abortion Solutions. A wide range of clergy and others have joined together to see if they can work toward reducing the number of abortions now taking place in the U.S.

They’re planning an ad campaign in a number of media markets to try to convince people that it’s possible to find common ground among people who hold various positions on abortion.

Just for the record, I am one who believes that the choice about abortion should be made by the pregnant woman, her partner and her physician, perhaps with counseling from clergy or others. I believe that in some cases abortion is the least evil of a series of evil choices, so it must remain legal. I certainly don’t want the government making that decision for anyone. But I believe it’s possible through education and sound moral teaching to reduce the number of abortions significantly.

Take a look at this new effort to reduce the number of abortions and see if it’s something you support.

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Faith-Based Groups Seek Clues to Obama Administration Plan; President-Elect Says Organizations Shouldn’t Discriminate

November 7, 2008, 3:07 pm | Posted by
Washington Post
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Pointing to his spiritually-laced campaign rhetoric and outreach to religious groups, liberal faith-based organizations have high expectations that President-elect Barack Obama will increase funding for their activities and warmly welcome their lobbying on poverty, climate change and other issues.

But analysts across the ideological spectrum said that much of what the Obama administration might propose for faith-based organizations is unclear and that the new president could face legal challenges about whether religious groups can discriminate against gay people and those of religions other than their own in hiring.

Liberal faith groups among Catholics, Jews, mainline Protestants and progressive evangelicals have felt left out of efforts by President Bush’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives over the past eight years and are looking forward to more attention from Obama.

Still, some activists close to Obama say they expect him to seek cooperation from conservative Christian groups, some of which were highly critical of him during the campaign.

“The question is whether white evangelicals, 70 million of them, three-quarters of whom voted for McCain, whether a significant percentage will be willing to cooperate with him on anything,” said David Gushee, a well-known evangelical Christian ethicist who heads the group Evangelicals for Human Rights.

Those who do, some analysts said, might risk being tagged as too willing to compromise their beliefs.

Obama raised concerns among some of his supporters this summer when he announced that he would expand Bush’s faith-based initiative. That effort helped religious groups compete for federal grants for social service work, but some critics have said it allows government sponsorship of religion. Other critics accused Bush of using the initiative to reward his conservative religious supporters.

Bush issued an executive order allowing groups to receive federal funding even if they hired only people of their own religion. Critics of that move said it allows groups to discriminate and still be rewarded with taxpayers’ money.

Obama said this summer that he would not allow religious groups to get federal funding if they discriminate in hiring. But evangelicals close to the Obama team say they are getting signals that the door might still be open to changes. Being required to hire non-Christians would be a deal-breaker even for progressive evangelicals, they say.

“Christian influence is felt not only in direct proselytizing, but in strategies and characters and values of people implementing them,” Gushee said. “We think the identity of Christian institutions must be protected, and the main way you do that is by who you hire. So if a condition for getting money is limits on who you hire, most organizations won’t play ball.”

Beyond hiring is the much larger issue of how engaged Obama will be on faith-based programs. Activists are eager to find out who might lead the administration’s efforts and whether funding will expand or even continue at current levels given the economy.

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