What Pro-Choice Advocates Might Need to Understand About the Christian Right

Updated: Jun 19, 2019

Dear Pro-Choice Advocates,

I am one of you. I am also a former member of the Christian Right. As someone who has been on both sides of the abortion debate, I feel compelled to share a tidbit of insight you can’t be blamed for overlooking in your fight to save women’s rights. How can this still be an issue, you ask. How can we be reverting instead of keeping the progress we’ve made, never mind progressing further? If you truly wish to understand your opponents better, I invite you to take a peek behind the Christian Right curtain.

Jeff McCoy/Shutterstock
Protesters and counter-protesters at a March for Life event in Washington, D.C. on Jan 18. Jeff McCoy/Shutterstock

Disclaimer: For the purposes of this opinion piece, I am making broad statements about evangelical Christians and their faith-based pro-life allies, including Catholics and Mormons. There are always exceptions. When I use the term ‘Christian Right,’ I am referring to the socially conservative political group founded on the tenets of Judeo-Christianity who are pro-life - or pro-forced birth, for those who prefer the term.

There are two things I would like to help you understand about the Christian Right: their motivation is spiritual warfare and persecution is their fuel. Say what? Before I elaborate on each of these, let me acknowledge that not every member of the Christian Right will subscribe to these beliefs. Some may not even know what I’m talking about. A good many, however, will know exactly what I mean. More than 25% of American voters identify as evangelical Christians. If you care to know the mentality you are up against, allow me to try and explain two lesser-discussed but potent driving factors behind this particular facet of the Christian GoP.

I am not going to address the other reasons the Christian Right is so adamantly against abortion. I feel they are already well-documented. That many Christians sincerely believe abortion is murder is perhaps the most cited reason, woven into the very name of their stance with the term ‘pro-life.’ They believe in an unborn child’s right to live. Also frequently covered in public discourse is how controlling women’s reproductive rights is ultimately about controlling women. Being anti-choice is in large part about shaming women for being sexual beings. It is, in the shadows of its core, about punishing women for not being virgins and for being raped. The Bible teaches us to punish women for these. (See here and here.)

My goal is to try and explain two other reasons that might be missed by pro-choice advocates in their confusion over why so many Americans want to overturn Roe v Wade. My hope is that a deeper understanding might lead to a more effective approach in getting what we want: safe and legal access to abortion for women.

Spiritual Warfare

I’ve seen your pleas to the Christian Right. They probably have, too. Stats and graphs are not going to change these minds. Mocking memes are not going to win them over. Seeds of reason may be planted, but a timely about-face followed by an aha-moment is not something you are likely to see regarding this and many other faith-based issues. Why? The Christian Right is not living “of this world.” You keep appealing to their humanity and logic, asking how can they be pro-life in the face of their own inconsistent evidence. If it’s about life, you ask, how can they be pro-guns? If it’s about saving children, why do they seem indifferent to the children dying in ICE holding camps? To understand this, you must try to understand that to evangelical Christians - and believers of many other faiths - it is the immaterial world that carries far greater consequences than the physical world we share. This is why you cannot reason with them. They are fervently, and earnestly, engaged in a spiritual war.

Spiritual warfare probably sounds ludicrous to those who weren’t trained to fight in it. I was. This war was once very real to me, as it is to millions of others. Its consequences are eternal and it is sincerely a matter of life and death.

Allow me to briefly summarize the battle many members of the Christian Right believe is occurring…

  • There is a war going on between God and Satan. The forces of good are combating the forces of evil. God and his angels are good. Satan and his demons are evil.

  • The war is over our eternal souls. God wants our souls up in heaven with him. Satan wants to torture our souls forever in the gnashing pits of hell.

  • There are countless ways we fight on God or Satan’s side each day. For example, giving to the homeless is a win for God’s side; giving in to pornography is a win for Satan’s.

  • When we abort a baby, we are fighting on Satan’s side.

Some Christians believe the souls of aborted babies go to heaven, for God is merciful. Some believe their innocent souls go straight to hell, for God is just. When I was a Christian, I feared the latter. God says he will punish children for the sins of their parents in the third commandment, and in the sixth commandment, God says not to murder. These fueled my personal reasons for wanting to overturn Roe v Wade. I truly believed that aborting babies damned their little souls to the tortures of hell, and all because their mothers selfishly didn’t want to have them.

If this sounds irrational to you, I understand. I also ask you to try and understand that this was once very rational to me. When you accept the Bible as the word of God, as an inerrant truth shared by nearly every member of your community, your brain learns to reason within that operating system. Those who challenge you are deemed detractors, Satan in disguise. Regardless of whether a Christian believes an aborted baby goes to heaven or hell, they will have a rationale for their personal beliefs. Please believe me when I say that to Christians, their arguments are just as rational as yours, if not more so in their eyes. You are consumed by the petty drama of this world while they are sacrificial warriors enduring misunderstanding and persecution for the next. This is what it means to battle in spiritual warfare. I know it might be hard to understand, or even entertain. I do think this understanding is necessary if you wish to appeal to their reason, however different it might be from yours.

To further try and explain the mentality shared by many pro-life Christians, allow me to address another aspect of spiritual warfare: prayer and politics.

If winning this spiritual war is the objective, living in accordance with God’s will is the battle. This is why so many Christians can’t leave prayer out of politics. This is why they cannot separate church and state. Ensuring the policies we are governed by align with what the Bible says keeps them fighting on God’s side. For the Christians who take this war seriously, fighting on God’s side means actively fighting against what the Bible teaches is wrong, including gay marriage and abortion. Although the Bible doesn’t address abortion in specific terms, it does say that God knows us while we are in our mother’s womb and it says that murder is wrong. Put two and two together. What happens when we do not fight on God’s side in this spiritual war? Our souls will be cast into a lake of fire.

Many evangelical Christians believe the Second Coming of Christ is near. So near that it might even occur within our lifetimes. Jesus will return to judge the wicked and separate his true followers from his untrue followers and those who rejected him. True followers will go to heaven. Untrue followers will go to hell. There is a lot of variance in what makes one a true follower or not, resulting in all the different Christian denominations. There is also the 3.5 to 7-year period before the Second Coming to prepare for, the Great Tribulation, an apocalyptic era of suffering that many Christians are stockpiling goods and weapons for - ergo their fervent support of the NRA. These faithful who believe the End Times are nigh are earnestly waging war against what they perceive to be the forces of evil. They must prove themselves true followers of Christ if they and their families are to be spared from suffering here on earth and in the hereafter. For many American Christians, being a true follower means fighting against abortion.

You might be thinking this sounds extreme. Surely not that many of your fellow citizens believe in this mythological fire and brimstone? Surely only proselytizers on street corners and David Koresh-like cults in bunkers actually think the apocalypse is coming? Yes and no. While there are a minority of Christian extremist groups stockpiling bunkers, you might be surprised to know just how many average church-going Americans believe in Judgment Day, however imminent or far-off. The Bible says no one knows the day or the hour. It will be precluded by world wars, famines, and earthquakes - those are the warning signs, Jesus says. (Sound like climate change? Hence why many in the Christian Right aren’t that bothered by it.) To err on the side of safety, it never hurts to be on God’s side. To be on God’s side, for many, means to fight for Christian conservative values and policies.

You might not hear Christian politicians talking about spiritual warfare in those exact terms. They know how fabled it sounds, whether they personally believe it themselves or just pretend to in order to win votes. But there is reason to believe the words ‘spiritual warfare’ are being used in the White House. President and First Lady Trump hosted a special dinner last year in honor of evangelical leadership. 100 of America’s most prominent evangelicals were there. One pastor in attendance, Jack Graham, said the evangelical dinner was like a testimony meeting, with scripture shared and verses given to the president.

“We need to maintain our vigilance in the upcoming days,” said Graham. “The concern is that this is a spiritual warfare, this is a battle and ultimately battle is won on our knees.”

Prayer and politics. This is not a fringe movement. It is not relegated to backwoods revival tents or middle-American megachurches. It is in our very administration. Vice President Mike Pence is a self-described Catholic-Evangelical, a devout theocrat and reputed dominionist who believes in Creationism. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is an evangelical Christian who has publicly stated she wants to “advance God’s kingdom,” a reference to spiritual victory. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used spiritual warfare terms when he spoke at a church in Wichita, Kansas just three years ago, inviting the congregation to join a fight of good against evil.

“We will continue to fight these battles,” Pompeo said. “It is a never-ending struggle… until the rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

The rapture, some Christians believe, will occur right before Christ’s Second Coming. Christians will vanish into thin air in the blink of an eye to be spared the abominable desolation of the Great Tribulation.

Our nation’s leaders appear to sincerely believe these stories. They are ruthlessly fighting to bring our country’s policies in accordance with their religious values to be on God’s side when the End Times come. They are striving toward Christian theocracy - a government based on Biblical teachings. Like a Christian version of Sharia law. And you know what? I prayed for this to happen.

In September of 2000, during a rainy Labor Day weekend, I marched on the Capitol Mall of Washington, D.C. to turn America back to God. I was fourteen years old. My Kansas City youth group had joined thousands of others to partake in a political prayer rally known as TheCall. It would be the first of many led by Lou Engle, an evangelical prophet and political activist who would go on to become a prominent speaker for the Christian Right, associated with politicians such as Mike Huckabee and endorsing Sarah Palin as a modern-day Queen Esther. Back in 2000, Engle’s influence over American politics was just getting started.