Catholic Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island has recently made headlines by revealing that he has ended his 40-year affiliation with the Democrat Party, registering as a Republican this January.
He says his breaking point was the “just awful” 2012 Democrat National Convention, in which the party formally endorsed same-sex marriage and solidified its endorsement of abortion and radicalized its official abortion stance, deleting the platitude that killing unborn babies should be “rare” and vowing to “oppose any and all efforts” to restrict it, “regardless of ability to pay.” Presumably the spectacle of convention-goers raucously booing an attempt to reinstate an innocuous reference to Americans’ “God-given” potential also made an impression.
“I just said I can’t be associated structurally with that group, in terms of abortion and NARAL and Planned Parenthood and [the] same-sex marriage agenda and cultural destruction I saw going on,” Tobin says.
It is, of course, heartening whenever someone sees the light. But at the risk of looking a gift horse in the mouth, it must be asked: what took you so long?
All the Democrats did last summer was drop the pretense that they believed otherwise; it’s not as if their actions were any better before. They’ve supported legal abortion, and disenfranchising voters on the question via Roe v. Wade, for decades. Way back in 1992, the party snubbed pro-life Democrat Gov. Bob Casey at their convention, not only declining to ask him to speak, but inviting instead one of his pro-choice Pennsylvania opponents, Kathy Taylor, who used the podium to talk up NARAL’s support for the party ticket.
Barack Obama’s abortion absolutism effectively encompasses all nine months of pregnancy and taxpayer funding. We knew before his first presidential win that he opposed efforts to stop Illinois hospitals from starving abortion-surviving newborns to death. The Democrats chose him anyway.
They were a bit more careful on same-sex marriage, with many of their politicians, including Obama before May 2012, claiming to oppose it. But no serious observer mistook Democrats’ halfhearted, politically-calculated proclamations as sincere opposition. They have long opposed Republican efforts to stop redefinition through constitutional amendments, state marriage protection initiatives, and cracking down on activist judges. The Obama Justice Department abandoned its constitutional duty to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court in February 2011.
In short, there is no excuse for Tobin—or any observant Christian, let alone Catholic—to not have already known that the Democrats reject their values, particularly on the intrinsic evil of abortion.
Tobin qualifies his remarks by saying, “it’s a complex world and a complex church,” and that liberal lawmakers “are very good and very supportive” on other issues—the so-called social justice umbrella. This is how liberals who profess to be believers often rationalize their stance—Dems are bad on abortion and homosexuality, but Republicans aren’t there for the little guy, so it all evens out, right?
But this fundamentally misrepresents the Bible’s teachings on both the right to life and charity. Abortion is an intrinsic evil, an act of direct violence against innocent children that cannot be tolerated. If you take God seriously, you have no choice but to oppose it however you can, and to avoid any form of acceptance or promotion of it.
The call to help the needy, meanwhile, does not prescribe a specific mechanism of doing so, and it certainly doesn’t mandate that such help come in the form of coercive state power. Faithful Christians of all stripes are perfectly free to assess the ineffective, destructive track record behind the feel-good promises of the welfare state. Moreover, as theologian Kristina Antolin and economist Antony Davies explained in the Wall Street Journal during the 2012 election:
“Charity can only be charity when it is voluntary. Coerced acts, no matter how beneficial or well-intentioned, cannot be moral. If we force people to give to the poor, we have stripped away the moral component, reducing charity to mere income redistribution […] All people have the moral obligation to care for those who are less fortunate. But replacing morality with legality is the first step in replacing church, religion and conscience with government, politics and majority vote.”
The more wayward voters of faith wake up to the Democrats’ contempt for morality, the better, but there remain too many rationalizations for excusing evil among American Christians, and we’ve got a long way to go before we can truly say we’re honoring our duties in public life.