Is the Tent Too Big?

Imagine the following scenario: The Republican presidential nominee steps up to the podium and announces, "Our party believes slavery is morally wrong, but we recognize that others may disagree. Therefore," the nominee continues, "our platform will include a declaration of tolerance for divergent points of view on slavery." Of course, Abraham Lincoln never said those words. Unlike some Republicans of today, Lincoln and his fellow Republicans refused to be "tolerant" on the great moral issue of their day. But today's Republican Party, it appears, is threatening to waffle on abortion--and the result just may be the crackup of the GOP. That would be tragic, because the Republican Party was founded for one central purpose: to oppose slavery. In 1856, both major political parties, the Whigs and the Democrats, waffled on this issue. A breakaway group of Whigs walked out and formed the Republican Party. Within four years, the Whigs no longer existed--and the Republicans captured the White House. Fast forward to 1996. We find the Grand Old Party on the brink of abandoning the same transcendent moral idea that brought the party into being: that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. Those who doubt this did not catch Bob Dole's call for "tolerance" language in the Republican party's platform. This language says that while abortion is very, very bad, those who disagree are nonetheless very, very welcome under the Republicans' endlessly expanding "big tent." This strategy might attract voters. But at the heart of Dole's vacillation on abortion is a dangerous idea, one that permeates our society: that there's no such thing as binding, transcendent moral truth. Instead, this idea goes, morality is merely a matter of personal choice. But consider what would have happened if Abraham Lincoln had taken this tack. Imagine Lincoln announcing: "We are personally opposed to slavery, but we respect the views of those who disagree." The history of the country would be vastly different--as would our view of Lincoln. After all, what would we think of a leader who believed a thing to be evil, but nonetheless urged us to join with those who didn't? At the very least, we would have to assume this person was not really opposed to evil. We would call him a moral schizophrenic. If Dole chooses a pro-choice running mate, he'll enjoy the cheers of those who consider morality a matter of personal taste--such as preferring Beethoven to the Beatles. But those cheers will be purchased at the cost of selling out the very principles upon which the Republican Party was founded. And don't be surprised if conservative Christians do what the Republicans did in 1856: take a walk. The historian Paul Johnson writes that the defining issue of the twenty-first century will be the issue of life itself. As the Supreme Court considers expanding the categories of human beings that may be legally killed, Bob Dole should think long and hard about where he is leading the party of Lincoln. And he should remember what happened to those "tolerant" Whigs. They disappeared in four years. To be on the wrong side of the defining moral issue of the century is a terrible thing indeed. No Republican has faced a more profound test since the party's founders looked into the heart of slavery and said, "No more."


Chuck Colson


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