Would John Piper endorse anti-abortion Osama bin Laden?

In my post about Sarah Palin I suggested that it would be hypocritical for John Piper to endorse Sarah Palin as candidate for Vice-President, given his clearly expressed views that women should not be in secular authority over men.

I can still find no comment from Piper about Palin. But I can see the direction in which his thinking may be going from the latest post at the Desiring God blog, from Joe Rigney who is one of Piper’s staff members. The post title is “Abortion Is About God”. There is no specific mention of Palin, but there is the following quote which immediately follows an extract from a 1998 sermon by Piper:

During this election season, as politicians court the evangelical vote, it is vital that Christians remind themselves why abortion is the transcendent moral issue of our time.

So, it seems, to Piper and friends abortion transcends all other matters of morality, and should be the deciding issue as Christians decide how to vote. Presumably it would be OK to elect a woman President to be in authority over men, even a militant feminist, as long as she is anti-abortion and a Feminist for Life.

But how far would Piper go with this one? If Rigney’s statement is taken literally, a right stand on abortion must be taken as transcending even matters of basic morality, and not just when it comes to elections. Is it OK to be an adulterer if one is pro-life? How about a murderer or a paedophile? Probably Osama bin Laden, as a fundamentalist Muslim, is strongly opposed to abortion. So, if this were the contest, would Piper endorse Osama rather than Obama?

24 thoughts on “Would John Piper endorse anti-abortion Osama bin Laden?

  1. Your apparent desperation to run down John Piper et al is leading you to ask ridiculous and offensive ‘questions’. (Well, so called questions, more like thinly veiled accusations)
    Of course John Piper would not support the likes of Osama Bin Laden.
    So lets apply your so called logic to yourself; Osama Bin Laden doesn’t approve of John Piper because of what he believes – you don’t approve of John Piper because you disagree with what he believes, so you would probably support Osama Bin Laden and consider him your friend and ally.

  2. Glenn, Peter isn’t making any accusations. He’s considering Piper’s views and their implications. Lots of people have views that, when you put them together, lead to implications that they wouldn’t have endorsed. If that happens, you have to accept that conclusion or reject one of your prior views. This is simply the Socratic method. Socrates did this all the time in pretty much all the early dialogues of Plato. It’s why they killed him, but he was right, and they were wrong. Examining our beliefs is actually a good thing and not worthy of the death penalty.

    Now here are the beliefs in question:
    1. Abortion is the transcendent moral issue of our time.
    2. Osama bin Laden’s faults are not to do with abortion.
    3. A transcendent moral issue means it’s so absolute that no other issue can ever outweigh it.

    Now Piper hasn’t said 1. Someone on his staff has. So we’ve already got a difficulty pulling a Socrates on Piper without his endorsement of the first claim.

    Piper also hasn’t endorsed 2, although it’s probably true, and he’d probably agree with it if you ask him. But that is something worth discovering before turning this from a question to Piper into an accusation, which is perhaps part of why Peter didn’t do that.

    My biggest worry is that I see neither Piper nor Rigney saying anything like 3. That claim is absolutely required for this argument to work against them, even assuming Piper is with Rigney on the first claim, which he may well be. Maybe the context shows more, but from the quote I see I can’t tell if Rigney means something like 3 or if he just means that abortion is the most important issue. It’s easy to find a case where one candidate is wrong on the more important issue but right on all the others, and the others involve so many issues, some of which are less important than the most important one but still almost as important, that it would be crazy to be a single-issue voter in such an absolute sense. In fact, the bin Laden case is exactly such a case. So absent Rigney providing a statement that abortion is absolute and outweighing of any other issue, no matter how extreme, I don’t think there’s much to base this kind of speculation on.

  3. Jeremy –

    Since Peter’s entire argument revolves around things that Piper hasn’t actually said it’s hard to see this as anything other than accusatory.

    Though the similarities of the posts title to the sort of thing produced by the Daily Mail headline generator could lead some to suspect that they were the victim of a practical joke.

  4. Of course, Peter’s proposed choice is destined to remain merely an intellectual choice, since there’s no chance there will be an election in America in which Osama bin Laden vies with [fill in random pro-choice politician]. That being said, I’ve talked to many people who basically have this idea that abortion is the transcendent issue who won’t even bother to listen to me when I suggest that voluntary war is at least close on the moral continuum to abortion. I even try to emphasize that global climate change could literally cause millions of deaths (if the moderate to bad (but not even the worst, which predict even more death) predictions turn out to be true), and I get absolutely nowhere with such people. (While some of the emphasis on abortion seems apt, with babies being the ultimate symbol of innocence and defenselessness, I have a feeling that most of the right’s strong attachment to the abortion issue is more based on emotion than a reasoned morality; summoning up emotional moral outrage at baby killing in your backyard (while ignoring the realities that might lead to such a decision) is just simpler (and has a higher level on the moral-repulsiveness gut reaction meter) than getting worked up over adults dying by the thousands (by whatever cause) half a world away. But when you actually contemplate the complexities of all sides of these issues, the strident stance necessary to make someone a one issue voter is much harder to muster.)

    So while they almost certainly wouldn’t vote for bin Laden, raising the question helps to show how stark of an alternative you must present in order for them to begrudgingly vote against their primary issue.

  5. I see the abortion issue as important in the eyes of american evangelicals for two reasons, although don’t necessarily agree with them.

    Firstly – it has been the major battle ground with liberal america. For that reason alone it gets highlighted way above its actual position because opinion has been so polarised that people genuinely don’t feel that they can back down on the issue.

    Secondly – it is the tip of the iceberg of a worldview that is counter to the faith of those who oppose it. As an unwritten rule, although not clear, but underpinning it, is that pro choice = pro gay = pro embryology research = pro evolution = anti christian etc etc.

    Abortion is the battle ground off which other battles spill off, and they don’t want to face the consequences of losing there. Unfortunately, that means they get dug into a corner and hold on to something beyond its level of importance because it is the crux issue of the whole clash of worldviews.

    You saw this kind of thing with the debate about substitutionary atonement and how people could not give an inch because so much else hung on it. When you analyse it so much else was involved, innerancy, reformed theology etc, but the atonement became the battleground and that elvated it way above anything else as a point of contention.

    But having said all that, more than 180,000 unborn children in the UK were destroyed last year. That is a startling statistic for UK christians to just ignore.

    As for the questions Is it OK to be an adulterer if one is pro-life? How about a murderer or a paedophile? , I have yet to see anyone suggest that a pro life stance is resultant in other moral failures being absolved.

  6. Indecisive, thanks, you understand what I am trying to say.

    Jeremy, so do you. And I would argue that for the reasons you give every Christian, even those who consider abortion the most important issue, should vote for Obama-Biden. An additional reason is the likelihood that one’s chosen candidate will actually do anything useful about any particular issue. It is highly unlikely that McCain and Palin will be able to do anything significant to reduce the abortion rate even if they try, nor that Obama and Biden will significantly increase it. On the other hand, Obama’s policies are likely to significantly reduce deaths in war worldwide, whereas I by no means trust McCain not to cause a huge increase in such deaths by starting new wars. And to my mind that is a more important moral issue than abortion.

    Blue, thanks for your analysis which makes sense. But if Rigney meant what he said, he believes that it is better to be a pro-life murderer or paedophile than a pro-abortion upright citizen, or at least than an upright citizen who has had an abortion.

  7. As an American evangelical Christian, I would just like to say, that for me *personally*, abortion is the biggest issue because it’s MURDER. I believe that life starts at conception. For me, abortion is the equivalent of allowing parents to murder their children because they are somehow a “hindrance” to them. Are there other REALLY important issues??? Of course! But the murder of innocent victims, typically for convience issues is a bigger issue to me than global warming or any other issue that I can come up with.

  8. Peter – there were over 1.2 million abortions in America in 2005 (according to my google search). That is a massive cause of concern for those in the “pro life” camp.

    But if Rigney meant what he said, he believes that it is better to be a pro-life murderer or paedophile than a pro-abortion upright citizen, or at least than an upright citizen who has had an abortion.

    “Murderer” and “citizen who has had an abortion” are the same thing in the eyes for those who make it the single issue, so there could never even be that choice.

    The logic says a murderer may have killed one person, but the pro-choice candidate advocates the “murder” of 1.2 million a year.

    I don’t think the addition of a paedophile into your questions helps that much so I won’t comment on it.

    I think the abortion issue is also so important because it feels so “close to home”. Apart from the odd news report the average American doesn’t really know the horrors of Iraq and only recently are the tragedies of the effects of environmental change really being publicised.

    On a personal level, I would be intensely pro-life in my own view of abortion, while also being intensely pro-life in my view of fair trade, environmental impact of our actions and war. In that sense I think Christians should be petitioning ALL politicians about every value that reflects the kingdom of God.

    It seems absolutely bizarre that the polarisation of opinions almost makes it look like a choice between “right wing” moral issues and “left wing” social activism issues. I believe the bible demands both, not either, and not preference.

  9. I’m not going to concede that the hypothetical I presented is actually true of the current race. It’s not as if Obama’s views are all wonderful except abortion, and McCain’s are all awful except abortion. In my view, on virtually every issue where there’s a major difference, McCain is better than Obama. On the ones where he isn’t he’s either marginally better, the same, or marginally worse. So I certainly don’t accept the conclusion that Christians should be voting for Obama-Biden.

    I’m not going to debate all those policy issues, but it’s worth keeping in mind that conservatives don’t simply ignore the issues that you have in mind. They just see them differently. They think the business of defending life against terrorists is worth the military effort overseas. They think the economic policies of someone like Obama will actually be more harmful to middle-class and poor people than the policies of someone like McCain. I think an Obama presidency would be disastrous if he really got his way, and I doubt the current Congress (which doesn’t look like it will get more Republican) would resist him at all.

    A more apt example closer to what I had in mind would be a pro-life liberal vs. a pro-choice conservative. Then I might have to vote for the pro-choice candidate, just because the sum total of the other issues might outweigh it. But not Obama. There’s almost nothing in his official position statements that I think would be better than those of McCain, and I’m sure his actual views are even further from mine than his official positions reflect (because, after all, this is an election, and he’s trying to win over the center).

  10. “Apart from the odd news report the average American doesn’t really know the horrors of Iraq”

    Blue, I couldn’t disagree more with this statement. As an American, I am constantly bombarded with images and stories relating what is going on in Iraq (though granted, not as much info is being shared about what is going on in Afghanistan). The average American is reminded far more about the brutality and loss of life in Iraq than he is about the countless innocent children that are murdered via abortion. The media makes it plain to see the horrors of Iraq…the horrors of abortion on the other hand require a little investigating on the part of the individual.

  11. Again Peter I really think this is down to your theology. I don’t think God works that way. I don’t think the whole of scripture supports God working that way.
    It doesn’t necessarily imply in scripture that Judas was destined to betray Jesus from the beginning of time – just from a certain point. A certain point when Judas character had been revealed to be one of ill repute as a result of his own free will.
    Judas fulfilling scripture is him fulfilling scripture, not necessarily fulfilling the preordained plan for him to betray Jesus. Someone was always going to betray Jesus – it didn’t necesarily have to be Judas.
    This is something I’m continually learning about and wrestling with. I cannot see from scripture a God who would make someone do something and then hold them morally responsible. I also don’t see it fitting with scripture that God would want to ordain abortion and genocide and rape and famine with one hand and on the other hand weep over the fact that this stuff happens.

  12. Peter, you don’t have to debate those issues to acknowledge that Christians can come to a very different view on policy matters without abandoning the basic moral framework of the Bible. The disagreements are over which policies will lead to which results, which results best fulfill the moral commands of the Bible, and which moral principles are more important than others. There are liberals whom I greatly respect for their moral convictions that lead them to policies I strongly disagree with. I’d like to think you could extend the same charity to those you disagree with on policy matters, but your comment disallows the possibility that any Christian could look at Obama’s views and disagree with most of them the way I do.

  13. Jeremy, I fail to see where in the above thread my “comment disallows the possibility that any Christian could look at Obama’s views and disagree with most of them”. But what you accuse me of is the kind of attitude so many conservatives (not yourself) have over abortion e.g. they disallow the possibility that any Christian could agree with a pro-choice candidate, either because of a judgment that in practice their policies would do as much to reduce the abortion rate as the (non-)policies of professed anti-abortion candidates, or because of a belief that other moral issues e.g. war and social justice are just as important as abortion.

  14. Surely, if Piper has said that abortion is the “transcendent moral issue of our time” then the phrase “in our time” has some relevance in deciphering his intended meaning. If we are to assume that there are objective moral absolutes then by saying ‘of our time’ he is clearly putting some temporal context (subjectivity) into the issues. So surely the transcendence cannot refer to an issue’s absolute moral value, but it’s subjective effects, ie. it’s effect on the path our society will head in terms of moral state.

    Plus, if this comment was made in 1998,
    a) whilst Piper might or might not still hold the same view, it was a comment given a temporary scope made 10 years ago.
    b) although Bin Laden was not exactly a wonderful moral role model even at that time, it seems rather unfair of you to seize on a comment made then and suggest that it is shocking, when most of that shock factor is a result of an infamous act which was to take place 3 years later.

  15. Thanks, Si. I agree that “of our time” qualifies the absoluteness of the transcendence. But actually the words “the transcendent moral issue of our time” were written by Rigney in 2008, not Piper in 1998. Also the mention of Bin Laden is not from 1998 but was made by me in 2008, thinking of him as a hypothetical candidate in this year’s election.

  16. Peter, here is what you said:

    “And I would argue that for the reasons you give every Christian, even those who consider abortion the most important issue, should vote for Obama-Biden.”

    The reasons I give only do that if you think Obama-Biden are correct on enough views to outweigh the abortion issue. But someone like me won’t concede that. So someone like me shouldn’t vote for Obama-Biden, and it doesn’t mean I’m not a Christian, and it doesn’t mean I don’t support the reasons I’ve given. So your statement isn’t true. That’s all I was saying.

  17. Well, Jeremy, part of my argument would be that you are wrong and fundamentally anti-Christian to consider deaths in war and from poverty and untreated sickness to be insignificant in comparison to deaths from abortion. As I understand them the policies of McCain are likely to plunge the Middle East and perhaps much of the world into a further round of destructive wars which could cause millions of deaths, directly and indirectly – and will do little or nothing to reduce abortion deaths. But I accept that you can argue that these wars are not in fact probable, and to argue like that is a reasonable thing for a Christian to do. So perhaps my statement was too strong.

  18. I don’t consider the deaths from war and disease to be insignificant compared to deaths from abortion. I look at the issue of war in terms not just of how many actually die or suffer but in terms of how many would die or suffer otherwise, and I have a much broader view of the implications than the few years of fighting on the ground in Iraq. If the Bush plan works, and it now seems to be working because of McCain’s surge, Iraq will be a secure democracy in the Middle East, and it will be an ally and example that could do a lot of good.

    I have some sympathy with that outcome, and I can’t see how someone who values freedom and security in the Middle East would not. I’ve said throughout this whole affair that it’s dangerous to predict the consequences of an action from an immediate situation, and some may think Bush, Blair, and other decision-makers got lucky in the end, but I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s deliberate decisions that Bush in particular reluctantly made that led to this outcome, and even though I’m at best lukewarm about McCain I have to give him credit for seeing this through and pushing for something that will probably lead to the results that Bush expected would happen all along without having a clue how to get there. He listened to the wrong people despite having what I consider to be excellent motives, but McCain seems to me to have moved things in a direction where enough good will eventually have been done that it will have been worth it.

    I realize that we’re operating with different views of what counts as a just war to begin with, but that’s my point. We’re coming at this from completely different views of which consequences to care about, how much weight to give them, and which moral principles can be outweighed by consequences. So it doesn’t seem fair to treat me as holding the assumptions you have and then not taking the final view you take. I don’t share those assumptions to begin with, so it’s hard for me to see it as fair to describe my final view un-Christian just because it conflicts with how your Christianity leads you to move from your assumptions to your final view.

  19. Iraq will be a secure democracy in the Middle East, and it will be an ally and example that could do a lot of good.

    That’s a pipe dream! There never was any realistic chance of this, and if there was it has been completely destroyed by the last six years of carnage in Iraq, for which the common people (whether justly or not) have blamed only America. You (with our help) have stoked up such hatred that there is no chance of real friendship for centuries, in a country where the Crusades are still remembered for the atrocities they were. The only way the West can get any kind of stability, democracy and alliance out of Iraq is by paying for it, for most Arabs are prepared to overlook most things for enough dollars. But that means a continuing huge drain on the USA for what purpose? Maybe oil, but your politicians are now seeing the strategic wisdom of getting that from Alaska instead.

    And even this dollar-driven pseudo-stability is at risk if McCain gets involved in Iran.

    Fair enough, Jeremy, your views are not anti-Christian, they are just stupidly short-sighted. Not that you are stupid, but Bush and his advisers are, for totally misunderstanding the Middle East, and you just swallowed their disinformation.

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