A Response to Trillia Newbell’s “Why This Black Christian No Longer Toes the Democratic Party Line”

Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog featured a piece yesterday from Trillia Newbell about her shift away from the Democratic platform–a bi-product largely of the black voting tradition–towards voting on the issues in accordance with her Christian faith.  For Newbell, and many other Christians, this means she is an idependent, and looks at several controversial issues through the lens of Scripture before she votes.

On the macro level, I agree with her, and very much appreciate both her personal journey and call to the Christian community to vote based on their faith over and above strict party lines.  I am also unaffiliated with a party and do my best to vote how I do because of my faith.

On the micro level, however, I think her representation of certain issues falls short.  In her piece, Newbell cited a shift in her thinking first on abortion and second on capitalism and social welfare.  The post is short, and clearly not intended to lay out a comprehensive theological ethic.  Even so, in both cases I found myself wanting greater nuance on those issues.

On Abortion

Newbell’s abortion argument is, in sum:  I was pro-choice, I read Scripture, came to see an unborn life to be a God-created life, I am now pro-life.  End.

What does it mean to be a pro-life Christian?  A lot of things.  There is no single answer to how that conviction is expressed.  But sometimes, it seems like my more conservative friends believe there is:  pro-life Christians believe the solution is to make abortion illegal.

My own pro-life postion is expressed more like this:  in order to support an ethic of life, we need to create solutions that minimize abortions.

I am not sure that the legality of abortion will have the greatest effect on whether or not it happens.  Of greater interest to me are the ways that the Church and government, each from their respective positions, provide the resources, systems and laws that make it more likely a pregnant woman or family will deliver the child and either parent or choose adoption.

From this perspective, when it comes to policy-making, what is a pro-life Christian considering?   In their book Kingdom Ethics:  Following Jesus in a Contemporary Context, Glen Stassen and David Gushee note,

State and federal public policies offer inadequate attention to preventing nonmarital sex and, where this is sex, conception.  Further, public policy does little to encourage adoption or to make adoptions easier to arrange.  Our stingy social welfare system provides some but not enough help to those for whom poverty is the key motivation to abort.  Our broken health-care financing system leaves many mothers and babies without critical health care.  Abortions emerging within the marriage relationship are also affected by inadequate health coverage of contraception and sterilization procedures.  Our business practices are often unnecessarily inflexible and thus make it impossible for some to balance work and family.  Stagnant wages at the low end of the economic system do not pay enough to support a family.

In tandem, abortion-on-demand and public policies such as those just mentioned both contribute to choosing death rather than life; they make abortion more appealing and make raising children in difficult circumstances more demanding. (233)

Are abortion laws still relevant in this framework?  Absolutely.  But when we head into policy, I agree with the authors that “in a democratic and pluralistic society, legislation needs to be proposed and passed on the basis of a public ethic that can be affirmed by persons of various faiths and no faith.”  And we need to seek a breadth of solutions beyond legality alone in order to see a true reduction in abortion numbers.

On Capitalism & Social Welfare

On this topic, Newbell better represents a tension to be managed:  that God designed people to work, and that God calls for particular care for the poor and marginalized.  But when she comes down to it, she states, “God called us to work, not to receive while idle.  I am no longer a proponent for redistribution of wealth, and believe that people should work and earn wages of varying degrees depending on education, demand, and skill.”

Are the recipients of social services all idle?  If they do not work, why not?  Are there barriers in education, training, or health that limit their capacity for work?  And are all of those barriers self-imposed?  What can we as a society, and Christians in particular, do with our vote to empower those who are poor to support themselves?

In broad strokes, the best poverty solutions heal, dignify and empower people for the life God created them for, and life that usually includes work.  But journeying with a person from poverty to self-sustaining work takes a lot of time and resource.  We cannot cut off those resources and simply expect to get work out of people.

And this all says nothing about those who do work but cannot support their families through of that work because of low wages.

And so…

I circle back to the beginning.  I respect Newbell’s perspective on the particulars, even though I am not sure I fully agree with her.  More importantly, I strongly agree with Newbell’s broader argument.  I think that partisan allegiance is inappropriate for Christians and should be replaced by a thorough examination of the issues through the lens of faith.

This does a few things.  It causes devoted believers to vote 100% opposite of one another on the very same issues.  It potentially takes a person back to their original party of choice for the majority of issues.  But most of all, it better prepares us as Christians for respectful, thoughtful dialogue about political issues, so that we can live in community even as we punch our ballots differently.

3 thoughts on “A Response to Trillia Newbell’s “Why This Black Christian No Longer Toes the Democratic Party Line”

  1. I don’t think anyone can argue that policies over the past 50 years have been effective. Obviously they haven’t. However, I think the problem is a bipartisan problem and possibly a cultural problem. Since 1960:

    1. Republicans have held the presidency 28 years, Democrats 24 years.
    2. Democrats controlled the Senate 28 years, Republicans 24 years
    3. Democrats controlled the House 38 years, Republicans 14 years. Republicans in control from 1994-2006 and 2010-present.

    During this time, it’s been rare that one party controlled all three branches of government (2008-2010 being one exception). The common theme of government has been to “throw money” at the problem.

    This past weekend at our church we watched a video from Empowering Lives International. In the video, people are teaching people how to improving food production within their local villages. What we watched were people interacting with others to help improve the situation. Not just providing money.

    We complain about our government “throwing money” to resolve issues, but how can we honestly complain about that when we often do the same thing in our own lives? As a culture don’t we often throw money at our children (gadgets, after school activities, etc.)? Throw money by always being on the go and/or being busy with “something”? Throw money at our unhappiness (bigger house, new car, etc.)? Until our hearts are changed, the poor and likely several other problems are likely to always be with us.

  2. The Democrats used to say they wanted abortion to be “safe legal and rare.” Now they want to pay to provide it for free. Trillia may also have been aware of the racist views of Margaret Sanger the founder of Planned Parenthood and how effective she has been in her campaign to lower the number of black people in the United States…

    As to the argument about welfare, anyone who truly cares about the poor should not close their eyes to the facts. Billions of dollars later, the war on poverty has exacerbated poverty. More people in the United States are impoverished today, and the consequences of the welfare state have been devastating to many groups but particularly to the African American family unit (compare 1960 to today). Giving people a free place to live with high rates of violence and failed schools is not helpful. Coupling the fact that America created incentives for unwed mothers and created a failed (and unconstitutional) war on drugs concurrently, you can see some of the policy reasons for the evil that is found within housing projects around the United States. You get what you pay for, and if we cut off welfare, people do not starve to death, those who are able to work go and get a job. If you care about this issue, study what happened under Tommy Thompson (at the state level) and Bill Clinton (at the federal). Thomas Chalmers had the right approach to poverty, and unlike the failed attempts today, his approach actually alleviated it dramatically.

  3. In my opinion, we attempt to legislate morality and choices based on our beliefs. While voting based on our beliefs isn’t wrong, it can be counterproductive to the ultimate reason Jesus came to earth. It’s almost as if it’s leading people to the law. If people are being lead to Jesus, then people will make choices which are Biblical regardless of what the law of the land is. Jesus didn’t come to replace Rome, He came to save us. When we are living the two greatest commandments, loving God with all our hearts and loving your neighbor as we love ourselves, the issue of something being legal doesn’t hold as much influence. Our choices and actions are made out of the love God has brought into our hearts. And real change occurs.

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