It doesn’t happen often, but my liberal and conservative friends agree on something. Typically, you could name an issue – guns, abortion, taxes, race, policing – and they would strongly disagree. However, mention the inability of our Congress to pass substantial legislation on almost any issue, and they agree that something has to change.
Unfortunately, the same people who are frustrated by Congress’s lack of action are the driving force behind it. We demand perfect solutions to complicated problems and show no tolerance for slow, incremental progress towards those solutions.
The Southern Baptist Convention, of which I have been a lifelong member, demonstrated this spirit in a resolution on abortion last year. Historically, the pro-life movement recognized the need for exceptions to abortion bans and was happy with incremental changes that outlawed some abortions even if all could not be forbidden. SBC messengers ignored half a century of pro-life advocacy and approved a resolution that rejected “any position that allows for any exceptions to the legal protection of our preborn neighbors.” It further stated that “we will not embrace an incremental approach” to working for the end of abortion.
My mouth hung open as I watched the debate on this resolution during the Annual Meeting last year. Those who spoke against the resolution were labeled as being in favor of abortion when what they were really against was an absolutist approach to the problem.
I have been thinking about the debate over the SBC resolution on abortion as a bipartisan group of Senators have entered into talks about gun laws. Gun control advocates and opponents were geared and ready for battle before all of the shooting victims in Uvalde had been removed from the school. Some gun control advocates on Twitter were calling for all assault weapons to be confiscated from private citizens, while others suggested the problem is that teachers in schools are not armed.
What we forget in discussions about gun control is how much ground there is between “take all the guns” and “give everyone a gun.” There are legitimate proposals that could keep guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed young men while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens. They will involve NRA-supported politicians giving up a little bit of ground and progressives getting only a few of the restrictions they want. However, lives would be saved while protecting second amendment rights. No one would get everything they wanted, but the country would be in a better place.
We will have to think about incremental change if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade this Summer. This will kick abortion laws back to the states, and we’ll have to communicate with our legislators about how they draft our laws. For followers of Jesus, we want to protect as many unborn lives as possible, but we also have to consider the health of the women carrying those children. Our leaders will need to draft carefully worded legislation so that women are not prosecuted for stillbirths and miscarriages.
Christians in more progressive states will especially have to work for incremental change. Pro-life advocates in California are unlikely to see a fetal heartbeat bill, but they could be able to secure a ban on abortion in the third trimester. It would not be everything they wanted, but it would save the lives of children who had reached viability.
If we are content to see the policy changes we want happen little by little, then we might see Congress roused from its paralysis. This means not punishing politicians who make compromises in primaries and not labeling them as traitors to our cause. We will need to give time and attention to politicians who are doing the hard work of building real legislation rather than those who only talk and pull publicity stunts.
This could also help us see a healthier democracy in the future. Because Congressmen are scared of getting labeled as turncoats by the more radical elements of their parties, they pass vague laws and allow federal agencies to iron out the details. This leaves unelected bureaucrats writing War and Peace length regulations that we cannot challenge in elections.
Ultimately, we get a government that reflects who we are. If we are content with progress through incremental but realistic legislation, we will have a healthier government. If we are content with Congressional inaction until we get the perfect legislation we desire, we will continue to see animosity, gridlock, and a government that is paralyzed in the face of difficult situations.
The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.
Photo courtesy: Harold Mendoza/Unsplash
Scott Slayton writes at “One Degree to Another.”