Donald Trump, the Vatican, and Civil Society

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Donald Trump on abortion and the Vatican on “gender-affirming surgery”

What narrative connects these stories?

April 10, 2024 -

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Pope Francis during a meeting, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Pope Francis during a meeting, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Pope Francis during a meeting, Wednesday, May 24, 2017, at the Vatican. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, Pool)

On the same day Donald Trump said abortion restrictions should be left to the states, the Vatican released a twenty-page document reaffirming its opposition to surrogate parenthood, “gender theory,” and what the media euphemistically calls “gender-affirming surgery.” It also restated its opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and the death penalty.

Meanwhile, a growing chorus is demanding that Israel declare a ceasefire in its war with Hamas and condemning the way the IDF has conducted its offensive in Gaza. This despite the fact that, as the Wall Street Journal’s Gerard Baker reports, critics are “demanding that a democratic country conduct war to standards that have never been met by any belligerent in history—and could never be met.” He asks: “If the Jewish state can be bullied into letting Hamas survive, how can any free nation defend itself?”

In related news, a Palestinian Islamic Jihad spokesperson captured by Israeli forces in Gaza has admitted that Islamic Jihad and Hamas use hospitals in the enclave, employ ambulances to move their soldiers around in the Strip, and manipulate international media for propaganda purposes. An IDF spokesperson noted: “Hamas uses the world media as their Iron Dome to prevent Israel from fulfilling our goals by manipulating [the] minds of decent people.”

What narrative connects these stories?

A “second American revolution”

C. Bradley Thompson, a political science professor at Clemson, published a brilliant blog yesterday in which he references Thomas Jefferson’s belief that the election of 1800 was a “second American revolution.”

Thompson explains that the first American revolution in 1776 articulated a new social order that would “democratize American culture” by elevating the equality of all Americans. But it was the second revolution electing Jefferson and his Republican Party to power that brought this philosophy into practice.

In Jefferson’s view, his election rejected the principles and policies of monarchy and aristocracy for a philosophy that, as Thompson writes, “believed in man’s ability to govern himself largely without government. Ultimately, it was a philosophy about how men should live.”

Jefferson articulated this philosophy most famously in his declaration that “all men are created equal” and “endowed by their Creator” with the “unalienable rights” to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” Such convictions were absolutely indispensable to the democracy they birthed.

Jefferson and the other Founders knew that self-government requires the ability of citizens to govern themselves. No amount of laws and law enforcement can fully restrain the sinful impulses of sinful people. Only when we see each other as “created equal” and confer the same unalienable rights to others that we seek for ourselves can a consensual democracy flourish.

“Measures to avoid needless civilian harm”

That was then, this is now.

Today’s consumeristic culture commodifies, objectifies, and dehumanizes people as a means to our ends. From aborting the preborn to euthanizing the infirm, we ignore Jefferson’s “unalienable rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness except when we claim them for ourselves.

This is a worldview more in keeping with Hamas than with Israel. The former, like the Nazis before them, dehumanize the Jews to justify raping, beheading, and murdering them while weaponizing the media as a means to their jihadist agenda. The latter, in defending itself from this onslaught, has “taken more measures to avoid needless civilian harm than virtually any other nation that’s fought an urban war,” according to a West Point urban warfare professor.

But even Israel’s embrace of the sanctity of life, rooted in the Hebrew Bible (cf. Genesis 1:27), requires a transformative power beyond human capacity.

It is fallen human nature to be our own gods (Genesis 3:5) pursuing our own ends (v. 6). It is therefore unsurprising that participants in democracy would inevitably commodify and objectify their fellow citizens, leading ultimately to the demise of civil society.

“No democracy can exist unless . . .”

Here we see again the urgency of our week-long emphasis on spiritual transformation.

I agree with historians who believe the First Great Awakening preceding the Revolutionary War fueled our national move toward civil liberty and democracy. And I agree with those who note that the Second Great Awakening following the Revolutionary War not only caused church membership to soar but helped create social networks that accelerated moral, educational, and racial reforms across the new country.

Only a holy God can make holy an unholy people. He does this by the sanctifying power of his Holy Spirit in every heart fully yielded to him (Ephesians 5:18). Absent such transformation, Christians are no more able to value the “unalienable rights” of others than anyone else. But if you and I begin each day by submitting that day to God as our King and inviting his Spirit to empower and use us, we become the salt and light our broken nation needs so desperately.

Aristotle was right: “No democracy can exist unless each of its citizens is as capable of outrage at injustice to another as he is of outrage at injustice to himself.” Conversely, the great philosopher noted:

“A person’s life persuades better than his word.”

How persuasive will your life be today?

Wednesday news to know:

Quote for the day:

“The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike. Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish.” —C. S. Lewis.

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