Incremental Regulationism: Man’s Wisdom or True Wisdom?

Abolitionists rally behind an abolitionist bill at the Texas State Capital

Recently, Pro-Life apologist Scott Klusendorf leveled another attack at our Resolution on Abolishing Abortion. This attack was published on the Gospel Coalition website on September 23, 2021, titled Saving Some, Standing for All: A Defense of Pro-Life Incrementalism.

We believe that Klusendorf’s article relies on man’s wisdom as a counterfeit to true biblical wisdom. We believe this to be the case because Wisdom herself declares that she belongs to God (Proverbs 8:22-31), and yet, in what appears to be an ongoing trend among the incrementalist camp, Klusendorf evidently sees no need to appeal to God’s Word in his article (not even a single Bible verse is quoted). Many men claim to exercise wisdom, but discerning Christians know true biblical wisdom when it truly springs from God’s Word. We urge Klusendorf to take up the challenge of documenting the connection of his arguments to God’s Word. And we urge you, the reader, to compare our resolution with Klusendorf’s critiques to see whether they square with the Wisdom of God or the wisdom of man.

Subtle Substitute

Though many abolitionists have published well-articulated articles and videos highlighting the five points of abolitionism, obedience to God is the summarizing tenant which incrementalists like Klusendorf have consistently failed to address. All five points of abolitionism are rooted in obedience to God, and yet when critiquing abolitionists, this central point is the one they consistently seem to evade.

Typical of many Pro-life arguments, Klusendorf subtly switches the primary motivation away from glorifying God through complete obedience and supplants it with the urge to try and save as many babies as we can. Of course, we want to save as many babies as possible and this is why one finds many abolitionists involved in assisting women in crisis pregnancies, standing outside abortuaries, offering to adopt unwanted babies, and more. But our desire to save babies must always be downstream from our desire to obey our Lord.

Incremental regulationists redefine the standard of Christian behavior from “obedience to God” to “How many babies do we think we can save?” This subtly shifts the motivation of a love for God through faithfulness to His commands, to a numbers game based on worldly-wise strategies. Satan’s lies always constitute a “buy now, pay later” scheme. Such misdirection may seem good in the short term, but as always, it has serious long-term repercussions (over 62 million and counting). If a strategy is to be judged on the basis of the target (obey God or play a numbers game), incremental regulationism seems to be hitting its mark.

Specious Speculation

The main idea that Klusendorf and his fellow incrementalists consistently promote is that we will save more children through incrementalist legislation than if we advocate for complete abolition. But Klusendorf does not actually know this is truly the case and as such, this idea is nothing more than specious speculation. Klusendorf and his murder regulation-supporting colleagues are supposing this to be true, without any way to guarantee what the future holds. Klusendorf is advocating for disobedient, sinful laws, based on the guarantee of his word that in compromising justice we will save more lives. That is a terrible excuse for disobedience (not that there is a good one). 

Interestingly, in so doing, Klusendorf lays bare the entire regulationist position when he notes that in the immediate years following Roe v. Wade, the Pro-life movement did indeed advocate for total abolition, but abandoned abolition  in favor of incremental regulationism. Why? Due to speculation that a call for abolition would not be successful. If Klusendorf’s historical claim regarding the early years of the Pro-life movement is true, then Klusendorf is in tacit agreement that the most automatic and Christian response to Roe v. Wade was to advocate for complete abolition. Klusendorf then ascribes to early pro-lifers what essentially amounts to faithlessness in waiting on God’s timing: the Pro-life movement became discouraged, so they gave up on the automatic and good response of advocating complete obedience to God, and instead, began employing the less-than-obedient “damage control” strategy of incremental regulationism. Why abandon biblical obedience? Typical of other incremental regulationists, to justify this strategy, Klusendorf engages in the kinds of speculation noted above. 

Though the fruitfulness of speculation is highly suspect, please allow us to speculate that if Christians continued in uncompromising faithfulness to God’s Word regarding the abortion issue, we would have abolished abortion many years ago, saving millions of lives, much devastation and heartache, and many souls to the glory of God. We can reasonably make this speculation because we know that God judges disobedience and blesses obedience. The politically incorrect reality which Christians must face, and proclaim without timidity in the public square, is that the same God who cursed all of mankind because of one sin and, in love, was willing to sacrifice His own Son, also demands our obedience over and above any other strategies which would be at odds with His commands, even at the cost of human life. 

Klusendorf and many in the Pro-life camp have difficulty comprehending the abolitionist position precisely because accepting and assimilating compromise on God’s Word is so necessary to their position.

-Southern Baptists for Abolishing Abortion

Here is where the rubber meets the road. We believe that Klusendorf and many in the Pro-life camp have difficulty comprehending the abolitionist position precisely because accepting and assimilating compromise on God’s Word is so necessary to their position. With this foundational distinction laid, let us now briefly address the various ways in which Klusendorf either misrepresented or misunderstood the abolitionist cause in his recent article. 

Begging the Question?

Klusendorf’s first point claims that abolitionist arguments are “begging the question” since the debate over incrementalism “is precisely about whether compromising legislatively equals compromising morally.” We have two college-level logic professors in our group, and we are confused by his “begging the question” accusation (which is to utilize the conclusion of an argument within the same argument’s premise). 

For a comprehensive definition of the abolitionist stance, we strongly encourage you to read the SBC 2021 annual meeting’s Resolution on Abolishing Abortion. In the meantime, here is a brief summary of the abolitionist position: 

  1. God possesses the authority to, and does indeed, require full obedience from all His creatures at all times (Psa 37:23; 128:1; Mic 2; John 14:23; Acts 10:34-35; Jam 1:22).
  2. Christ has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Dan 4:35; Matt 28:18-20).
  3. Christ commanded His people to disciple the nations, teaching them to obey everything He commanded (Matt 28:18-20; 2 Cor 10:3-6; Phil 2:11).
  4. Christians may not advocate for anything less than complete obedience (Matt 12:25, 30).
  5. Definitionally, anything other than complete obedience is disobedience (Num 15:39; Deut 4:2, 40; 5:29; 6:17; 8:6; Josh 1:8; 24:15; Matt 5:19; 7:21; Luke 10:27).
  6. God will not bless willful disobedience because He hates sin (Lev 26; Deut 28; 1 Kings 2:3; Psa 5:5; Prov 6:16-19; Rom 1:18-19). 
  7. God commands the civil magistrate to be a minister for good and a terror to evil, as He defines good and evil (Rom 13:1-4).
  8. God’s Word provides us with everything we need to know to live righteously (2 Tim 3:16-17).

Neither our resolution, nor the above summary assumes the conclusion of our argument within the supporting premises. Perhaps Klusendorf has encountered other debates where question-begging did occur, but we are confident no such activity has occurred within any content we have published.

Troubling Questions?

Secondly, Klusendorf claims that the abolitionist movement raises troubling questions. Specifically, he creates a false dilemma when he argues that because incremental regulatory laws are sinful, abolitionists must advocate for the repeal of all such laws. He then supposes that abolitionists will be in a sticky situation because we will have to decide which incremental regulatory laws must be repealed. Strangely enough, from the abolitionist perspective, there is no sticky situation because the abolitionist is actively working to repeal abortion in total, which, once accomplished, will make all such unjust legislation null and void. We are not troubled by this question, because we fail to see the problem. 

Pragmatism = Evil?

Klusendorf’s third claim is that “Pragmatic doesn’t always mean evil.” And we agree with this statement. But, rather than reiterating what we have already said on this issue, please refer to the section of this article titled, Ethical Pragmatism vs. Biblical Ethics, where we detail how we can arrive at positive pragmatic outcomes only when we are exercising obedience to God.

Mischaracterization

Klusendorf’s fourth point claims that “Pro-life advocates are not consenting to the killing of unborn humans left unprotected by incremental legislation.” This is not an accurate characterization of our critique. Our understanding of Scripture compels us to point out that incrementalists are disobedient to God when they advocate for regulatory laws that are anything less than obedient to God’s Word. Even if Pro-life advocates are not directly consenting to the killing of unborn humans left unprotected by incremental regulatory legislation, they are morally culpable in the death of those children because they advocate for unjust, disobedient laws. A consequence of advocating for disobedient regulatory laws is that Pro-life incrementalists end up advocating for laws that do not provide equal protection for all children. Consider this relevant, eye-opening passage from Isaiah 10 concerning such laws:

“Woe to those who decree unrighteous decrees, who write misfortune, which they have prescribed to rob the needy of justice, and to take what is right from the poor of My people, that widows may be their prey, and that they may rob the fatherless. What will you do in the day of punishment, and in the desolation which will come from afar? To whom will you flee for help? And where will you leave your glory? Without Me they shall bow down among the prisoners, And they shall fall among the slain.” For all this His anger is not turned away, But His hand is stretched out still” (vv. 1-4).

In defense of his point, Klusendorf parrots  a quote from the late blogger Steve Hays: “Abolition can only succeed on the backs of babies it relegates to the grave in the short term.” This manner of reasoning is easily reversed. We may simply note that Pro-life, incremental regulationism has failed on the backs of 62 million dead babies. Contrary to the demands of God’s Word, Pro-lifers disobediently relegated these babies to a position deserving less protection under our laws.

Pro-life Power

Klusendorf’s fifth point claims that abolitionists accuse Pro-life regulationists of having the power to stop abortion, but simply refuse. Of all his criticisms, this one is probably valid, and the answer is somewhat complicated. In brief,  the abolitionist movement generally affirms two views. Abolitionists believe that: 

  1. If the majority of the Church in America adopted an abolitionist viewpoint, it would be due to much confession of sin, much repentance, and would result in God cleansing the nation of the stain of the sin abortion (and a host of other issues) within a single legislative cycle.
  2. The compromising stance of the Pro-life regulationists has gone so far as to lead to instances of political corruption where certain Pro-life organizations are effectively working hand-in-hand with Pro-choice organizations to regulate, but never abolish, abortion in America.

Increments vs. Incrementalism

Klusendorf’s sixth point seems forced and purposefully naive, but we grant that it appears to make some limited sense on the surface, so we will address it. He claims that when abolitionists restrict their activity to a particular geographical location (e.g., they seek to abolish abortion within their particular state), they are being incrementalists, because they did not advocate for abortion to be illegal throughout the entire country. This is a fairly juvenile critique deserving of a simplistic response. Unlike God, humans are not omnipresent, so it is a component of our nature that we are bound to operate within limited geographical areas of influence and/or jurisdiction. In our modern times, Christians have the opportunity to work within familial, church, and civil jurisdictions; at the city, county, state, national, and global levels. At whatever level God calls any given Christian to operate, the responsibility is always the same: make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that He has commanded. If the geographical reality of our life is inherently incremental, as Klusendorf claims, we are unaware of any Scripture which would show this reality to be disobedient to God’s Word. Simply put, it is not regulations we are against, only unjust disobedient regulations.

Defeatist Tactics

Klusendorf concludes his article with the question, “Then What?” In this section, he spills the beans on the most destructive element of incrementalist ideology. According to Klusendorf, incrementalism is a capitulatory effort; the failed course Pro-lifers reverted to after they were unable to successfully achieve abolition in the 70s and 80s. He essentially admits that incremental regulationism is the compromiser’s course. In fact, Klusendorf’s concluding paragraphs are a compromiser’s compendium. Klusendorf highlights that “Without [the] incremental win [of the upcoming Mississippi SCOTUS case], attempts to abolish abortion in any given state are dead on arrival.” (As an aside, see here for our amicus brief on this case.) Forthrightly, he reveals that the incrementalist movement is so politically aligned with an establishment narrative that they possess no ability or hope to conceive of victory outside of the putative political processes. Klusendorf doubles down on his fatalistic narrative in his second point claiming that the success of the abolitionist strategy “is akin to secession,” and tells us not to “expect the federal government to look away” because “troops will be sent in to enforce federal law” if abolitionist legislative strategies were to succeed at the state level.

Contrast this final section of Klusendorf’s article and all its fatalistic doubt, with Hebrews 11:

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented— of whom the world was not worthy.” (vv. 32-38)

When people say, “We can’t do it because that’s not how the political process works” we must remember Hebrews 11 and remember that Jesus is King over the United States of America, our Constitution, and all political processes.

Our point is not to claim that abolitionists have it all figured out and put together, but to illustrate that, in contrast to Klusendorf’s depressing, defeatist conclusion, the abolitionist movement clings to and trumpets God and His Word. Thus, we possess the Spirit-empowered boldness that attends to those who commit themselves to God; and so we live our lives by faith in His promises. In contrast to incrementalists, who conform their Christian political engagement to the commonly accepted paradigms, abolitionists labor to call other Christians to join us in conforming the commonly accepted paradigms to God’s Word. We recognize that our Father’s will ultimately will be done on earth as it is in Heaven, but since we are told to pray toward that end, we believe we should also be laboring for the same.

Then What?

Klusendorf concludes his article with the question, “Then what?” We believe our position is consistent with biblical wisdom. We implore you, the reader, to consider the content of our resolution and see if Klusendorf’s attacks represent God’s wisdom or if they spring from the wisdom of man. If you, like us, believe abolitionism to be biblical, then by all means, please answer the question, “Then, what?”

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