Karen Swallow Prior on if Pro-Life Has to Mean Pro-Trump

Author and educator Karen Swallow Prior. Photo by AnnaClaire Schmeidel

Karen Swallow Prior is professor of English at Liberty University. The views expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of BCNN1.


This wasn’t at all how I imagined it would be.

I had long hoped for a president who was unabashedly pro-life, one who would stand with the tens of thousands who attend the March for Life each year to mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. (Four of the last six presidents opposed abortion; one of these addressed the march via video.) Some might think of such an act as only symbolic, mere virtue signaling. But symbols have power. So when Trump became the first president to join the March for Life this past January, it was a historical moment both for the pro-life movement and in the history of American politics.

Yet, standing far in the back of the crowd that day, listening to the president echo the polished phrases which we pro-lifers have carried in our hearts and on our banners all these years, I was unsettled. I heard truth being spoken, but not love. The letter did not reflect the spirit. Praise for the dignity and sanctity of human life from a man known for verbally abusing his critics, mocking the appearance of women, and fending off two dozen accusations of sexual assault rang hollow. This was not what I had pictured a pro-life presidency to be. The old adage rose to the surface: Be careful what you wish for.

When the Israelites elected to worship Baal, they didn’t do so with evil intent. On the contrary, they bargained that Baal would save lives because Baal was believed to have the power to bring about prosperity and fertility. Fealty to Baal was, a kind of backup plan in case God didn’t work quickly or satisfactorily enough. The Israelites thought they could have their Baal and their Yahweh, too, so to speak.

To be clear, I am not saying that voting for any particular candidate is the same as worshipping Baal. Rather, the Israelites’ assimilation of pagan beliefs and practices while placing too little faith in God’s provision and plan, spurs us to ask: When does our faith in politics overtake our faith in God? Can we support some kinds of sin to prevent other sins? At what point do our actions imply that God wants us to do wrong because he needs us to help him do right?

Scripture is sufficient to guide us, yet the Bible is short on detail when it comes to modern democracy and presidential elections. Christian conscience plays differently in a constitutional republic than it would under a king we had no choice in choosing.

We cannot hold in contempt those whose convictions lead them to vote differently. Some Christians see our two-party system as a kind of single-option tyranny: we are forced to decide between the lesser of two evils. Other Christians believe we are obligated to vote for a good candidate, regardless of their chances of winning.

All our votes are based on a calculus. But human calculus cannot account for the calculus of God. As David French recently argued, “Theological truth can also create a pragmatic reality. Over time, perhaps the best method of cleansing our political class of the low, narcissistic characters who all too often occupy public office is to stop voting for them.” I believe God honors most a vote cast in faith for the most godly candidate, no matter their electability.

When I became pro-life decades ago, I was convinced that abortion was a problem to be solved politically. When my state didn’t have sufficiently pro-life candidates, I ran for Lt. Governor of my state on the Right to Life Party ticket. When I protested with many others at abortion clinics, part of our strategy involved challenging unjust laws by being arrested and processed through the courts. When a federal case in which I was an original defendant went before the Supreme Court, I slept on the sidewalk overnight to get a seat in the court the next morning. Legalized abortion on demand came by way of politics, so we would get rid of it likewise.

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Source: Christianity Today