(For example, during their recent “Immediatist vs Incrementalist” debate, AHA’s T. Russell Hunter called it a “very, very silly straw man” when Center for Bio-Ethical Reform’s Gregg Cunningham challenged Hunter for saying he would let a secularist save the life of his 2-year-old but not let a secularist help him save the lives of children marked for abortion [beginning at 1:20:20 on the video].)
So today let’s talk about straw men.
Repeatedly throughout the debate, Hunter blamed incrementalists for the fact that abortion has remained legal in the U.S. for 43 years, and this because we don’t have enough faith in God. Excerpted from his closing argument (1:53:39-1:59:47), italicized/underlined emphases mine for points to make afterward:
The Word of God is clear on at least this point. When there are grave injustices and evils going on in your midst, you ought to, because you love your neighbor, do justice and show mercy.
My big beef – my big problem- with the incrementalism is that people, instead of trusting in the Word of God and coming together as the bride of Christ and bringing the Gospel into conflict with the evil of the age, and doing what we are commanded to do, instead of being like Jonah to Nineveh, we go and we say, “What do the laws say? What can I get within the current federal ruling?”…
The debate between immediatism and incrementalism, when it’s couched in the, “which should we rally around, which should we come together,” if all Christians had to say, I’m going to go all my funding all my energy, my time, my talent, my church, which project should the people of God do? You may call it binary. Should we all pick up the ax and lay it to the trunk of the tree over and over and over, no matter how long it takes…. Should we do that – should that be what we unify around – or should we continue to say that’s good, I like that, but I’m gonna work on cutting down these branches….
My contention is that the people of God are under a false delusion that incrementalism is what they ought to be paying attention to. They ought to be unifying….
I don’t find incrementalism in the Bible. I don’t find incrementalism in the historical record of fighting social justice, except for that it is as a tutor to tell us don’t play around with it….
It’s just a question of like, do you believe in that God?…
If we can get people to believe in Him and trust in Him we can abolish abortion. But if we can’t get people to believe in Him and trust in Him we will not abolish abortion.
First, Hunter sets up a false premise, claiming we must choose between immediatism and incrementalism.
But Hunter is the only one “couching” it as an either/or. As Cunningham repeatedly rebutted, Hunter’s assumption is flawed and binary. Incrementalists pursue both strategies. We can walk and chew gum. Hunter apparently can’t.
Let babies stuck in the branches die
Second, Hunter glosses over the babies he is callously willing to sacrifice while focusing on chopping down the abortion tree with his ax, “no matter how long it takes.” Russell repeatedly refuses to stop and own the span of time between when immediatists began axing and when the tree falls. How exactly do we “show mercy” to our neighbors caught in the branches of abortion while ignoring them to hack at the tree “over and over and over, no matter how long it takes“?
Blame incrementalists when immediatism fails
Third, Hunter says we only need faith to stop abortion, but apparently the faith of he and his band isn’t strong enough. If they fail, it’s our fault. International Coalition of Abolitionist Societies reiterated their convenient escape hatch/scapegoat in a recent Facebook post:
In other words, there’s a Goliath II blocking AHA from getting to Goliath I.
Scott Klusendorf of Life Training Institute responded to that logic fail in his article analyzing the debate:
Hunter never once said how his policy of immediatism plays out in the real world. How, exactly, does it work to insist on the immediate abolition of abortion? Got the votes for that? Here is where Hunter’s argument is truly self-sealing. He states that if only all incrementalists would become immediatists, we could take the ax to the root and win.
So there you have it. When you can’t explain how your strategy actually works in the real world, you just fault your opponents for your failure to execute. This reminds me of faith healers who blame the victim for “not having enough faith” when he doesn’t immediately recover from a systemic illness….
… Hunter’s reply was that pro-life incrementalists don’t trust the power of the risen Lord and thus don’t embrace immediatism. But wait. If Hunter truly believes the power of the risen Lord enables us to end abortion immediately, why wait for us? Doesn’t that same power enable small groups as well as large ones?
If so, stop blaming the pro-life movement for not joining your immediatist crusade. After all, the gospel proclamation began with just twelve men, accompanied by signs and wonders, proclaiming the power of the risen Jesus in the very city where he was crucified in the face of hostility far worse than Hunter faces today.
Hunter also stated, “I don’t find incrementalism in the Bible.” If so, it’s only because he doesn’t want to. Cunningham gave but three examples (2:00:12-2:02:16), as summarized by Klusendorf:
First, Paul (1 Cor. 3) works incrementally to convey hard truths to weak brothers in the faith. He gives them milk instead of solid food. He revealed God’s law to them incrementally so they could digest it. Second, Jesus (Mark 10:4) says that God instructed Moses to relax the law on marriage because the people were not ready for tough divorce codes just then. Gradually, however, Christ toughens those laws. Jesus said this! Third, when Peter asked about paying the temple tax, Jesus compromised and paid lest he offend weaker Jews. Jesus was skillfully picking his fights!
Commenting on the debate, Dr. Marc Newman, professor of rhetoric at Regent University and well-known debate coach, writes:
Look at Acts 17, with Paul on Mars Hill. He preaches a sermon during which he, quite interestingly, doesn’t cite a single scripture, but does invoke the local religion, philosophers, and poets. At the end, some scoff, some convert, and others say that they want to hear more on this subject.
Similarly, God in his foreknowledge and omnipotence, could convert all of the elect in the womb, but he does not. C.S. Lewis came to Christ incrementally: from an atheist, to a mythologist, to a theist, to a Christian – and this road has been traveled by many others.
God saves people in much the same way that incrementalists save children. God makes it clear that it is His desire that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:3-4), and that He takes no delight in the destruction of the wicked (Ez. 33:11). Nevertheless, we all come, one at a time. This one gets saved, then that one.
Imagine if the apostles waited until they crafted a strategy that resulted in the salvation of everyone before they actually began evangelizing? The Church would have been strangled in its cradle. No. The Apostle Paul says that he works separately among the cultures in all ways that don’t require him to compromise the core of the faith, becomes all things to all men, that by all means, he might saves some – not all, some (1 Cor. 9:19-23). Paul even declares that he will live as one under the law, even though he is not under the law, if by doing so he can save some. If Paul was an incrementalist, count me in.
In short, if Paul and the other apostles didn’t immediately end the social ills of their day by applying the power of the risen Christ, what makes Hunter think he can do so today?
Actually, as he stated during the debate and elsewhere, Hunter doesn’t believe “immediatism” means “immediate,” the topic of my next post.
Part I: Let babies die today, we can save the rest later
Part II: There’s only one way to cut down a tree?
Part III: Social justice history vs TR Hunter
Scott Klusendorf: Debate between Gregg Cunningham and T. Russell Hunter
Jonathan Van Maren: Four observations from the Cunningham vs. Hunter debate