Radically centrist solutions to America’s two great wedge issues
Americans inhabit two vastly different social, cultural and geographic worlds. Unsurprisingly, this divide has helped create stunning levels of political polarization.
Two wedge issues, guns and abortion, fuel the extreme division gripping the country.
Drawing solely on the Constitution and the Bible, a radically centrist approach to these topics can bridge America’s vast social and cultural divide.
Compared to our international peers, the United States suffers from an epidemic of gun violence. It is not uncommon for more than 100 men, women and children to be shot in one American city over one weekend.
This is morally and ethically unacceptable.
The sheer number of guns in America – enough for every man, woman and child (with 67 million left over) – also has a deadly effect on policing. Cops are forced to assume that every citizen is armed, leading to far too many violent interactions with civilians.
The original intent of the Second Amendment was to eliminate the need for a standing army. After years of abuses by the British military, the Founding Fathers viewed a full-time national army as a threat to freedom. Decentralized militias, they reasoned, could provide for the common defense without being subject to the whims of a tyrannical leader.
Hence the first 13 words of the Second Amendment: “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State…”
In other words, the Founders did not view firearm ownership as an individual right, but rather through citizens’ participation in a state-based “army.”
Let’s apply that reasoning to the present.
Decentralized state militias still exist today. National Guard units – complete with colonial militia-themed logos – report directly to governors, who can refuse deployment requests from the president.
A centrist and thoroughly constitutional approach would require gun owners to have some connection – whether through firearms training, drill, community service or otherwise – with their local National Guard unit.
In addition to promoting civic and community engagement, making gun ownership contingent upon affiliation with a Guard unit would weed out many of the criminals responsible for the 40 senseless murders that occur every day in America.
The same goes for mass shooters. Most hold extremist beliefs or suffer from severe mental illness. Such individuals are unlikely to voluntarily associate with a local Guard detachment, nor would they pass basic screening procedures.
Mandatory Guard affiliation for gun ownership could also stanch the epidemic of suicides by firearm – well above 20,000 each year – in the United States.
Moreover, some of the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment enjoy playing military dress-up. If they are so attached to their firearms, why not take this soldierly infatuation a small step further? After all, that would put them squarely in line with the intent of the Founding Fathers that they revere.
Ultimately, an ugly gun-related irony is emerging. The sheer volume of high-powered firearms on the streets fuels the militarization of America’s police forces, posing an obvious threat to freedom and democracy.
But if cops can reasonably assume that American gun owners are trained and vetted by their local National Guard unit, police departments are far more likely to demilitarize and adopt less aggressive tactics.
Americans of all political stripes must acknowledge the complex moral and ethical nuances associated with abortion. But if we are to bridge the social and cultural rifts plaguing America, we must apply an objective, clear-eyed approach to this uniquely divisive topic.
Abortion was weaponized for political gain in the late 1970s. Before then, many evangelicals – among today’s most passionate opponents of abortion – were pro-choice or ambivalent about the issue. As religious and ideological shifts go, this reversal is remarkable.
Evangelicals draw their beliefs partly from the Bible. But while the Bible enumerates a litany of laws and punishments in punctilious detail, the Old and New testaments are stunningly silent on abortion (a relatively common practice in the ancient world).
In fact, a close reading of the Bible finds that there is no biblical justification for opposition to abortion.
Let’s unpack that.
The Bible states that “Thou shall not murder.” It also prescribes the death penalty for homicide. But, according to a Mosaic law – found in the same book as the Ten Commandments – causing a miscarriage is not a capital crime. Instead, a monetary fine must be paid. The clear implication, therefore, is that abortion is not tantamount to murder.
This is squarely in alignment with Jewish interpretations of the Old Testament. Since the Israelites (quite literally) wrote the book, Jewish law – which holds that a fetus is not a person – cannot be discounted.
American evangelicals made these same biblically-supported arguments only a few decades ago. In 1968, the movement’s Billy Graham-founded journal stated that “God does not regard the fetus as a soul.”
Moreover, according to the Bible, God causes the abortion of a fetus conceived through adultery. This, clearly, is in stark conflict with contemporary pro-life dogma.
Perhaps most importantly, the Bible provides a consistent message on the all-important question of when life begins.
The Book of Genesis states that “man became a living being” only after God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The Book of Job relates that “the Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life.” Revelation details how the dead arise after inhaling “the breath of life from God.” Similarly, God told Ezekiel, “I will put breath in you, and you will come to life.”
A strictly biblical view, therefore, is that life begins at a baby’s first breath.
As such, a politically centrist approach – based entirely on the Bible – would not permit most abortions past a certain stage of development of the fetus’s lungs (or, perhaps, another organ).
Ultimately, a close, objective reading of the Bible and the Constitution uncovers reasonable, middle-of-the-road solutions to two of the most politically and culturally divisive issues in America.
It is long past time for the moderate majority to tune out the ideological extremists and engage their fellow citizens in the spirit of good faith and compromise.
Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.