CHRISTIANITY TODAY/June 13, 1986
An organization representing both Protestants and Catholics will endorse candidates who hold a ‘consistent prolife ethic.’
Opposition to abortion, poverty, and the nuclear arms race as a consistent prolife ethic has gained momentum in some church circles. However, that view has not been represented in Washington until recently. This month, a coalition of Protestants and Catholics announced the formation of JustLife, a political action committee (PAC) that will endorse candidates with voting records that are acceptable on all three issues.
A policy statement says JustLife is “rooted in the belief that every person has been created in God’s image.” Because the coalition views the right to life as the most basic of mankind’s God-given rights, it says government “should give first priority to protecting life.”
The group supports “aggressive negotiations with the Soviet Union to end the nuclear arms race and to reach an agreement for verifiable, multilateral disarmament.”
Regarding justice for the poor, JustLife supports “governmental programs that empower the poor to become self-sufficient.” It also favors economic aid programs and trade policies which help “empower the peoples of developing nations to develop strong economies which distribute their fruits to all.…”
In addition, JustLife opposes abortion, except when necessary to save the life of the mother. However, the organization would not insist on legislative solutions that would exclude rape and incest as reasons for abortion. The group supports alternatives for women considering abortion.
JustLife’s officers include president William Leslie, pastor of LaSalle Street Church in Chicago; vice-president Patricia Narciso, a Catholic prolife activist; secretary Ronald Sider of Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary; and treasurer William Kallio, executive director of Evangelicals for Social Action.
The board of directors also includes Arthur Beals of University Presbyterian Church in Seattle; Steve Monsma, a Michigan politician; James Copple, a public school administrator and Nazarene associate pastor in Garden City, Kansas; Neil DeHaan, community development director in Elizabeth, New Jersey; Lon Fendall of George Fox College; Dave Medema, director of a social service agency in Holland, Michigan; Kathleen Hayes, managing editor of The Other Side magazine; Juli Loesch of Feminists for Life; Miriam Adeney of Seattle Pacific University; Scott Rains of Pro-Lifers for Survival; and Daniel Simmons, with Mercy Corps in Portland, Oregon.
A New Type Of Pac
Monsma’s former campaign director, Jack Smalligan, directs JustLife’s Washington office. The idea for a new type of prolife PAC took root after Monsma’s unsuccessful bid for the Michigan State Senate in a special 1985 election. A Democrat, Monsma had a superb antiabortion voting record during his earlier term in the state senate. And Right to Life of Michigan voted to endorse his candidacy last year. As a result, some Republican prolife activists objected vigorously because they wanted their party to remain in control of the Michigan senate.
His experience illustrates what can happen to a candidate who opposes both abortion and the nuclear arms race. JustLife’s first fund-raising letter explains the risk: “The liberals call them conservative and the conservatives call them liberal and the voters are left confused.” Six months after his run for office, Monsma initiated discussions among Christian leaders about an alternative prolife group.
A proposal was circulated over the winter, and a policy statement was drafted in April. “Most Christian-based PACS have identified themselves as prolife,” Smalligan said, “but there has been little searching out of how the prolife view affects other issues.” He would like to see JustLife enlarge the debate over abortion to include issues such as poverty and the arms race. He added that the organization could pressure candidates for office to be consistent on these issues.
JustLife plans to endorse some candidates in November, but it will not contribute money to any campaign until its funding base is set. By 1988, Smalligan said, the group hopes to be in a position to contribute significantly to some campaigns and to assist candidates in reaching Christian voters in their districts by doing some grassroots organizing. JustLife will rate candidates as “acceptable,” “good,” or “excellent” on each of its targeted issues. The organization will not insist that endorsed candidates be Christians, and it will not target candidates for defeat.
Whether the group can establish a firm funding base and identify acceptable candidates remains uncertain. Smalligan claims, however, that preliminary research identified as many as 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who would qualify for support. Direct mail appeals for financial contributions begin this month. The 3,300 members of Evangelicals for Social Action will be tapped, as well as a potentially large Catholic constituency. Each board member has pledged to raise at least $1,000 in seed money.
Rethinking The New Right
A number of conservative political groups with offices in Washington have built coalitions based on secular appeals to traditional values. JustLife has a specifically Christian rationale. “What makes it appealing to me is that this group of Christians is willing to make a political statement that grows out of religious commitment,” said board member James Copple. “We accent the resurrection of Jesus Christ because that is life.”
PACS have proliferated in Washington, increasing more than sixfold in the past decade. The Federal Election Commission listed 3,992 of them at the end of 1985.
About one quarter are independent groups like JustLife. They serve as channels of private donations to candidates for office, and may legally contribute up to $5,000 per candidate per election. In addition, they provide assistance by rating candidates, conducting direct-mail campaigns on their behalf, running advertisements, and organizing citizen groups.
JustLife is being organized at a time when conservative organizations with religious roots are going through major changes (see related article by Jeffrey K. Hadden on page 38). Paul Weyrich, considered the founder of the institutional New Right, has authored a significant statement of rethinking. In an essay published in the Washington Post, Weyrich defended “cultural conservatism,” a belief that “America has to look to values if it wants to solve the specific problems that confront it.” The movement must gain philosophical depth beyond what the New Right has achieved, Weyrich wrote, since “it has no issues, in most peoples’ minds, beyond school prayer and abortion.” Likewise, he wrote, the Religious Right needs to adapt by accepting “the fact that some cultural conservatives may not be religious.”
Weyrich says cultural conservatism is as likely to appeal to Democrats as to Republicans. As long as Republican candidates remain focused on economic solutions, rather than solutions rooted in values, Democrats might be more likely to come up with a candidate conservatives could back, he says. The Democratic rank-and-file, Weyrich points out, “is more conservative culturally than the typical upwardly mobile Republican.”
In his early years of mobilizing Christians for political action, Weyrich spoke of “Christianizing America.” Today, as he explores more pluralistic common ground, and as Christians in JustLife stake a political claim based on religious belief, Washington is seeing a growing diversity of Christian opinion on public policy issues.
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