Monday’s Supreme Court ruling tossing Texas abortion restrictions puts a massive spotlight on the new debate pressing evangelicals: Which is a worse sin, racism or abortion?
For decades, abortion has been the mother of all deciding issues for evangelicals, who make up about a quarter of the U.S. population and are strongly opposed. But in the 2016 race, with Donald Trump’s unusually incendiary comments about race, culture and religion, this second issue is becoming increasingly sacred.
This question of how to deal with Hillary Clinton’s robust support for abortion rights along with Trump’s challenging of the place of minorities is one of the most common at evangelicals’ dinner tables today, laying bare divisions between young and old and white and non-white. And it is a challenge to the evangelical-GOP alliance that has been sacrosanct for generations.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that Texas restrictions on abortion are unconstitutional. This comes at a time of controversy over various Trump statements, including a proposal to ban Muslims and remarks that a judge of Mexican descent couldn’t be unbiased in a legal case against him because Trump is vowing to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.
Abortion “is the single greatest issue of our time, I don’t disagree, but in responding negatively [when he raises the subject of race], it shows they don’t want to think about race and racism,” Thabiti Anyabwile, an African American pastor in Southeast Washington and a council member of the conservative evangelical network the Gospel Coalition, said in an interview. “They want to say it’s vastly secondary, so why bring it up? … My response is, why can’t we talk about both things?”
Anyabwile wrote on the racism-abortion dynamic on his popular blog this month in a post that was shared thousands of times.
“If you talk about any issue other than abortion, especially a ‘racial issue,’ then you’re idolizing ‘race’ and betraying the unborn,” he wrote. “The uneasy coalition of inter-ethnic evangelical concern comes collapsing down. … The problem, we are told, is that African Americans need to quit bellyaching about racism and the mirage of systemic injustice and just get on with it.”
There are complex changes in evangelicals’ views on both topics that don’t lead to simple political conclusions.
Young Christians are just as opposed to abortion as ever, but younger ones in particular are turned off by politics and partisanship as the main engines for change and are more focused on the culture, said Kristan Hawkins, president of Students for Life of America.
“I got into a tiff with a male pro-life leader on Facebook recently, [with me] saying our identity as abortion abolitionists doesn’t rest in who we vote for,” she said. “Just because a student may not vote for Trump, or if they vote for a third party, they don’t feel less of a pro-lifer. I have good friends who won’t vote for Trump, and that doesn’t make me question their pro-life values. We disagree on strategy. With the older generation, there is no room for disagreement on strategy.”
Hawkins said the young women who make up the bulk of her movement don’t like Clinton but are torn by the two topics.
“They aren’t fans of Hillary Clinton but they look on the other side and see these divisive statements [by Trump], that many would say are racist or misogynist, what do you do? And morally what’s the best decision for you?”
Katelyn Beaty, managing editor of Christianity Today, a flagship news site for evangelicals, said in the last five to ten years evangelicals have come to focus more on abortion-reduction strategies like funding counseling and pregnancy centers. They are looking more holistically at how to reduce abortions, she said.
“If life is worse for marginalized communities, it could fuel the number of abortions sought. It’s much more complex than: What does this individual running for president say they believe?” she said.
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