On January 20 of this year, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. This momentous occasion did not mark the death of racism in our land. It did, however, betoken a crucial stage in the sluggish uprooting of racism’s influence upon this nation. It is no small matter that the majority of voting Americans in the election resolved to appoint an African-American to the highest office in the land—arguably to the most powerful governmental post on the planet. This marks a groundbreaking advance toward an America in which one’s abilities and opportunities are wholly disentangled from levels of melanin in one’s skin—toward an America in which citizens of every class and ethnicity share equal status as creatures made in the image of God.
Just days before Obama’s November 4 victory at the polls, I made a rather timely visit to two museums. Each of these museums preserves on display the viewpoint of onetime purveyors of a societal vision that hinged on the perceived inferiority of a specific class of people. The Gettysburg Museum in Pennsylvania and the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. each immortalizes the convictions of sincere intellectuals who sought to elevate one segment of society by oppressing another.
Alexander H. Stevens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America, declared that the “cornerstone” of the Confederacy “rests upon the great truth that the Negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and moral condition.” In the hallowed halls of the U.S. Senate on March 4, 1858, Senator James Henry Hammond of South Carolina proclaimed: “Our slaves are black, of another and inferior race.”
Countering such sentiments, Abraham Lincoln declared in a debate at Galesburg, Illinois (October 7, 1858): “I confess myself as belonging to that class in the country who contemplate slavery as a moral, social and political evil …” In a letter to Albert Hodges, Lincoln wrote: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
Consider this carefully: These two radically distinct ideologies were vehemently defended and publicly debated by sincere Americans. Mercifully, the viewpoint that eventually prevailed insisted that oppressing one class of people to protect the status of another was not only evil, but degrading to the protected class—a thesis Booker T. Washington ably championed in his autobiography, Up from Slavery. The presidency of Barak Obama rides on the wings of this achievement.
A similar ideological battle is on vivid display in the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. Walking through this museum is a sobering exercise. Visitors view the horrors of suppressing a purportedly inferior race for the benefit of a supposedly superior race, and the emotional impact is nearly overwhelming. And the assault of gut-wrenching pictures and relics produces no more angst than do the vivid quotations of intellectuals preaching the inferiority of Semitic peoples. Mercifully, suppressing Semites in order to protect the status of Arians was eventually rejected as a social evil that degraded and dehumanized both ethnicities. The presidency of Barak Obama rides on the wings of this triumph.
Yet despite the breakthrough of having an African-American serve this country as President, a strange irony overshadows this historic moment. Faint echoes of Southern gentlemen clamoring for the oppression of the “Negro race” and echoes of Nazi philosophers justifying the slaughter of Jews can be heard as Mr. Obama labors to elevate the status of fertile women by dehumanizing the status of unborn children and stripping them of the fundamental right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
It is “above my pay-grade,” Mr. Obama disclosed, to determine when life begins (Saddleback Civil Forum on the Presidency, August 16, 2008). Yet it appears he gambles everything on the irrational assumption that life begins at a very late stage of gestation—sometime well after viability—since he does not oppose partial-birth abortion (commonly practiced at six months gestation and thus well after viability). If, on the other hand, Obama recognizes that a fetus which has attained viability is a human being, his stance on partial-birth abortion reveals that he finds it conscionable to grant pregnant women the right to kill their unborn children—human beings protected by law when gestating in the wombs of mothers merely intending to give them birth.
No one should dismiss the severe trial suffered by a woman experiencing an unwanted pregnancy. Crisis pregnancy centers are laudable, altruistic institutions that should continue operation long after abortion is a dead ideology and outlawed as murder. Yet such women (exempting fringe cases such as pregnancy due to rape or mother-endangering pregnancies) have freely chosen to engage in unprotected sex and freely chosen against permitting someone to adopt their infants. Nevertheless Mr. Obama grants to such women the additional freedom to snuff out the life of their unborn fetuses—even those who have attained viability.
Some are sure to protest that slaves and Jews are human beings; fetuses are not. The folly of this tired argument was exposed anew by the recent news account (Dec. 29, 2008) of a double homicide in Minneapolis. The first victim was a fifteen-year-old girl who had apparently been bludgeoned to death, her bloodied body left in an abandoned garage. The second victim (the city’s 38th homicide of 2008) was the young woman’s unborn fetus.
At seven months gestation, the fetus—a girl—had reached viability. Had her mother gone into premature labor before she was murdered, the baby girl could have lived. On the other hand, this young woman was legally free to abort her fetus. The mere fact that she apparently wished to carry her fetus to term rendered the unborn girl’s death a homicide.
Are we to believe that a fetus is a child with human rights if the mother so desires, but is expendable tissue if she does not? How long must we abide the assignment of inferior status to one sub-group in our society for the supposed profit of another?
I rejoice in what Mr. Obama’s election potentially means for racial reconciliation and equality in this land. What tremendous influence he could wield were he to realize the hypocrisy of riding a philosophical vision of humanity into the Oval Office as an African-American while denying justice to an oppressed class of human beings. Mr. Obama takes office in a land deeply divided over the rights of the unborn, as President Lincoln took office in a land deeply divided over the rights of African slaves. The truth prevailed in Lincoln’s day and we are reaping the benefits. I pray for the day when Mr. Obama’s oppressive policies toward the unborn sound in our ears as barbaric and archaic as Alexander H. Stevens’ comments regarding the inferiority of slaves.
Legalized slavery is dead in this land. The Holocaust is over. I pray for the day Roe vs. Wade joins these failed ideologies on the trash heap of worldviews predicated on oppressing one creature made in the image of God so as to endow another with superior status. I pray for the day this degradation of women ceases. And God hasten the day when Lincoln’s view of slavery is applied to this next frontier of human rights in America—when it becomes one of the self-evident truths we hold dear in this nation that “if abortion is not wrong, nothing is wrong.”
Dan has served as the Senior Pastor of Eden Baptist Church since 1989. He graduated from Pillsbury Baptist Bible College with a B.S. degree in 1984 and his graduate degrees include a M.A. in History from Minnesota State University, Mankato, and the M.Div. and Th.M. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He is nearing completion of D.Min. studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Dan is married to Beth and the Lord has blessed them with four children: Ethan, Levi, Reed and Whitney.