Reader mail

A reader sent this to me in response to this op-ed and I thought I’d put up the reply I sent him here since I’ve had this conversation with a few people:

Dear Sam

Thank you for writing your article about why US white evangelicals would vote for Donald Trump and the incredibly serious issues this raises.

In terms of further understanding their motivation, I would recommend reading which highlights the grave threats that Christians saw from a Clinton presidency. This was an invidious choice between two very flawed candidates.
That’s why so many Christians voted for Donald J. Trump.

Note in particular the threats from Clinton that Christians would have to change their beliefs, forcing churches and schools to accept the most radical and most recent version of gender ideology. Or small family businesses being targeted and put under severe strain by LGBT activists, with the connivance of Democrat administrations, simply for refusing to help in the celebration of a gay union. Or using the tax system to force Christians to fund abortions – murdering babies even beyond the point of viability. See also the confidence in Mike Pence to keep the President on track.

Although I definitely would not have voted for Trump, it’s worth making an effort to understand why so many did.

Now, you raise some important points about “loving our neighbours” and I’m particularly concerned about Trump’s stance on climate change, but I have to question your defence of abortion. The Bible clearly teaches that human beings are knit together in the womb, we are fearfully and wonderfully made, so Christian opposition to abortion is completely justified. Of course, we are heartbroken about child abuse. Yet the solution is not to destroy another innocent but to protect all human life, as made in God’s image. Your reference to “sepsis” is puzzling – this seems to be a risk factor in abortions, so if a baby was carried to term and delivered properly, then this would not be an issue. Government should be financing counselling, better maternity services and child support, not abetting the destruction of embryonic life. So often, we opt for the “quick fix”, pushing aside reservations and ignoring the reality of what is happening and the long-term harm that is caused.

In the USA, 2012, 699,202 legal induced abortions were reported to the Centre for Disease Control. Only a fraction of these even cover the most controversial cases, namely rape victims or where the mother’s life is in immediate peril. Clearly, something is fundamentally flawed and I hope you can also see that standing against this injustice is also one way to “love our neighbour”.

If you’ve reached this far, thank you very much for taking the time. I hope and pray you will consider these points further and look more into these issues.

God bless.

Dear [redacted]–

Thanks so much for taking the time to write to me. I have indeed read that article and many others like it forwarded to me by conservative friends. What’s interesting about the Bible – or one interesting thing, at least, to me – is how capacious it is, and how much it has to say about every aspect of our lives. I think the “connivance of Democrat administrations” to force Christians to celebrate gay unions is perhaps overstated – reasonable people, gay and otherwise, disagree on whether cake-bakers should be forced to prepare food for gay weddings. The finer points are admittedly hard to agree on – whether you should be allowed to hang a side outside your store saying “We don’t serve gay people,” for example, since that would be both open discrimination and probably the only way from preventing someone from buying a tray of cupcakes and secretly eating them at his wedding. It’s not nearly as simple as “Democrats hate religious liberty,” it’s a matter of figuring out to what extent anti-discrimination laws ought to apply, and to whom. The law is a blunt object, it’s true, and its application is rarely simple or straightforward. But I often wonder if Christians who object to performing these jobs consider whether they’re unknowingly baking cakes for weddings of atheists, Muslims, or people who’ve been divorced three times and why that doesn’t make the same difference to them.

Abortion is indeed a difficult subject but I find it to be more complex than a lot of my conservative brethren. I tend to look to the Bible itself for answers. In Numbers 5:11-31, for example, God tells the Israelites that if a man believes his wife has been unfaithful to him, he should have the priest give her something to drink that will cause her to miscarry. It’s a hard passage.

I don’t see at all how standing against legal abortion is a way of loving your neighbor. The Christian church at the moment simultaneously also stands against contraception and government aid programs for poor people, which seems to me to be a way to drive those people into lives of either compulsory puritanism or abject squalor, whether or not they believe in the saving grace of Jesus (spoiler: most people will not choose puritanism). Sepsis is indeed a risk factor in abortions, as in all surgeries, but it is a near-certainty when women miscarry late in their pregnancies and need the dead fetus removed, or a fertilized egg implants in a fallopian tube where it will cause the woman to bleed to death internally if it’s allowed to grow. There are so many scenarios in which women will need abortions not as an elective service but as a way to ensure that they’re fertile or indeed alive in the future. Is a molar pregnancy, which can never be viable, a human life? Is a fertilized egg? An unfertilized egg? My toenail?

The bottom line seems to me to be that the government doesn’t provide these services; no one goes door to door asking if you’d like an abortion or has a window for abortions at the DMV. Outlawing them simply takes the judgment call away from competent doctors and puts it in the hands of two groups: first the bureaucrats, and then, several months later, the incompetent doctors, who perform the abortion under horrifying circumstances far closer to term.

The function of government is boring. Government’s job is to build farm-to-market roads, to ensure that workers are treated fairly and without prejudice, to negotiate trade relations with foreign countries, to build libraries and schools and power lines, and to direct traffic. Since the ascendancy of Ronald Reagan, Christians have been seduced by the Republican party into believing that the job of government is to lay out a moral plan for the nation. It’s hard to blame them for being energized by that promise – it’s more exciting than redistricting or negotiating the minimum wage. But the plain fact is that it is the church’s job to provide moral and spiritual guidance, and allowing government to perform that task for us, on people who don’t believe what we believe, by force, is dreadfully sinful.

I’m afraid I have to question some of your assertions above. I don’t think the church is heartbroken about child abuse at all; in fact I think the church, especially the protestant American church, is hideously negligent on the topic of child abuse and treats it like something that ought to be ignored until it goes away. My friend Boz Tchividjian, a very good and godly man and a professor at Liberty University, works with a group called Grace that helps churches untangle the mess that happens when a person working in pastoral care abuses women or children and time and time again, he finds people who tell him they believe God had forgiven and changed the man they hired to watch over their children, only to discover that no such change had taken place.

Very often, churches ostracize single mothers. Very often, churches treat the children of unmarried parents as a stern warning to everyone else, without any thought for the well-being of the people themselves.

I think these troubles are not a set of problems, but a single problem: the refusal of American Protestantism to allow women into positions of leadership where they can make their needs known and see them addressed consistently and thoroughly.

Anyway, I apologize if this sounds too harsh or preachy. It means a lot to me that you took the time to reach out and I thank you again for doing it.

Very best,

Sam Thielman

Author: samthielman

Sam Thielman is a reporter and critic based in Brooklyn, New York. His blog is, his twitter handle is @samthielman, and if you can't find him you should check The Strand.

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