Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

FOCA: more than just four letters

Yes: this is a long post. Yes: it requires careful reading. Yes: it's one of the more important posts... even more important than buying a toaster and getting a free bank! (see below). Please read - pray - respond:

Now that the election is over, it might be easy to slip into a state of either passive bliss, or passive despair, depending on your point of view. Both would be wrong because, as I've stated often, the calling of the church is to vote prayerfully, and work hard for the good of the culture where we live.

Towards that end, I urge you to consider the potential impending train wreck that might occur, should the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA), actually become law in the coming year. Our President elect has already declared that he will sign this bill into law if it passes.

Perhaps you know me will enough to know that I'm hesitant to point you to the petition site where you can sign on and urge Obama to reject this legislation. My hesitancy comes from the fact that sites like these are nearly always propagandized in a way that preaches to their choir of believers but offers nothing substantively persuasive that would speak to the unconvinced.

I'll point you there anyway, but first ask that you carefully read this article from left leaning "Slate", written by staunchly pro-Obama, Melinda Henniberger. She points out the very real threat to the future of Catholic Hospitals in America that awaits, should this legislation pass. Remember, this isn't Dobsonesque fear strategy- this is SLATE magazine.

If you don't have time to read the whole article, I'll simply offer this quote from it (but please, take the time to read the whole thing at some point... it's important to remain informed on this, and many other issues). Ms. Henneberger writes:

as I think I have made clear——I have high hopes for President Obama, I was so looking forward to dancing at this party. Yet, although abortion was not a major issue in the race, the pro-life argument that he was the candidate most likely to decrease the need for—and number of—abortions did make it easier for many Catholics to cast their votes for him. I think we should hold him to that commitment now.

At the very moment when Obama and his party have won the trust of so many Catholics who favor at least some limits on abortion, I hope he does not prove them wrong. I hope he does not make a fool out of that nice Doug Kmiec, who led the pro-life charge on his behalf. I hope he does not spit on the rest of us—though I don't take him for the spitting sort—on his way in the door. I hope that his appointment of Ellen Moran, formerly of EMILY's List, as his communications director is followed by the appointment of some equally good Democrats who hold pro-life views. By supporting and signing the current version of FOCA, Obama would reignite the culture war he so deftly sidestepped throughout this campaign. This is a fight he just doesn't need at a moment when there is no shortage of other crises to manage.

The petition? As I said, I don't like these sites because they can be, often justifiably, charged with sensationalism. Still, if you believe the protection of life in the womb is as at least as important as the protection of Iraqi civilians, or granting the poor and marginalized access to health services, then signing here ought to be seriously considered. Do you agree?


At 25/11/08 09:21, Blogger Sean said...

I don't sign petitions. Right. Left. Doesn't matter to me. And I stay out of the abortion argument because I feel it's a fairly selfish act, and I don't think that's a platform for debate. But after taking the time to read that article, I do really believe that the results of FOCA would be catastrophic. So today, I signed my first (and probably last) petition. Thank you for helping me to be more aware of the social and cultural movements going on at present. No matter where you stand, this is the kind of thing that could wreck to hopes of so many who are in need.

At 25/11/08 12:26, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for cutting through divisive politics to focus on the issue of LIFE. This isn't a matter of Left or Right, conservative or liberal - it's a matter of Who gives life and ultimately has authority over it. I signed the petition, but in doing so, commit myself not only to protect the unborn, but the born. As evangelicals we need to be equally willing to attack the sources of hopelessness that motivated abortion in the first place.

At 25/11/08 14:17, Anonymous b. said...

Do you feel that the well reasoned sentiments you expressed in your blog, as well as the sentiments set forth in Ms. Henneberger article, are really encapsulated in the petition that you linked us to?

I'm concerned that people reading your post will not even bother to read the petition before they sign it.

Every person signing the petition is agreeing that: "FOCA is a radical attempt to enshrine abortion-on-demand into American law."

While some folks may agree with that, others most certainly will not.

I just do not beleive that FOCA is all that "radical", nor does it attempt to enshrine "abortion-on-demand." As you noted, I think the petition suffers from sensationalism.

If folks are really passionate about FOCA, why don't they write personal letters to their Congressional Representatives?

At 25/11/08 14:26, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Yes b - I do agree w/ you that the petition web site suffers from 'sensationalism' - however, I also believe two other things:

1. when people from both the left and right agree that this legislation poses a threat, not only to the unborn, but to the freedom of doctors to exercise their conscience, and potentially to the strength of our health care system, I'm willing to overlook some overblown rhetoric as a means of calling people to action

2. most people don't write their senators. It takes far more time than a click. That's why I chose the petition route

At 25/11/08 15:06, Anonymous b. said...

Thank you for the response, and I feel very blessed to attend Bethany.

Signing a petition is, in and of itself, a political act. I wish the reasons that you just set forth were discussed in the petition (I would sign it).

I see your point in calling people to action. I responded to your call and typed up an email stating the very reasons you list. I just wanted to encourage folks who oppose FOCA, to think, pray, and act according to their own principles (which might very well be the same ones as stated in the petition).

Thank you.

At 25/11/08 16:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is what is ACTUALLY said when people are Pro-life ONLY:

1.) You do NOT have the freedom to choose what is right for you, your body, or your life.

2.) You are PRO women having children from Rape, incest, and sexual abuse.

3.) You are pro a child's life over the life of the mother in cases of endangerment to said mothers life.

4.) You do not respect the belief or non-belief systems of the countless number of non-Christians in this country, who are NOT forced to have abortions, but have the right currently reserved.

At 25/11/08 16:49, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I'd suggest that your comments are confusing this issue. This post has nothing to do with overturning Roe v Wade, and so your declarations of what pro-life ONLY people are 'really saying' aren't cogent to this issue. There are many who believe, as president Obama suggested in his campaign speeches, that abortions should be rarer in this country. This post is written to help assure that our president elect isn't offering only rhetoric.

This post is about allowing hospitals to receive federal funding AND exercise their conscience by refusing to offer abortion services. This post is about allowing states to require certain consents be obtained by minors prior to a woman exercising her existing right to choose. This post is about granting states latitude to determine conditions under which an abortion would be legally obtainable.

At 25/11/08 17:28, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for the information. As a resident of Washington I noted that both my Senators sponsored the bill, so for those of you out there from Washington there is all the more reason to write your Senators and Congress people.


At 25/11/08 19:48, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So now you want your candidate of choice, the most liberal senator, throughout his political career always supporting the most extreme abortion right positions to be held accountable for a campaign promise about which he had no track record for...???

I have heard much evidence that Obama's voters really had no idea what he said or where he stood, but really now, I thought you at least had studied it enough to know.

At 25/11/08 21:55, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yes anonymous - the church, made up of people who voted for different candidates for many, many reasons, should use her voice to critique many things as we stand for:

1. defending those who can't defend themselves - including life in the womb, the aged, the mentally ill, people living on the streets, and people living in one of the richest countries who don't have access to rudimentary health care.
2. stewarding creation -
3. use our military strength responsibly
4. fiscal responsibility

I'm not surprised by people criticizing the candidate they voted for. I'm surprised that there are those who still think that any candidate, whoever he or she would be, would so accurately represent the kingdom that they would be above criticism. That seems to be what you're implying anonymous, a hopeful, but ultimately untenable position, at least until jesus himself returns and, as Isaiah promised: the government will rest on His shoulders. That's when responsible Christians can stop standing against injustice.

At 26/11/08 06:46, Anonymous gt said...

Just in case some folks need a direct link to their state senators, who are: Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, here are the links to their email forms. It doesn't take that much extra time, and so what if it does... that's one thing our culture has... extra time!

They've responded both times I've written them recently, so in addition to making your desires for your country known, you will gain better insight as to why they stand where they stand.

btw. B.

"FOCA is a radical attempt to enshrine abortion-on-demand into American law."

Please cite the examples the de radicalize this so I can understand how benign it really is.

At 26/11/08 10:00, Anonymous Anonymous said...


When the rules differ in each state, or each hospital, or each nurse/doctor/supervisor/parent when it comes to the issue of abortion it is simply removing the freedoms of the person who this issue matters most to.

The pregnant woman.

I suggest people do what is right for them, and even counsel their friends and family on the issue.

This is a Roe v. Wade issue simply because going against this bill would REMOVE FREEDOM OF CHOICE for each individual that might end up in this situation.

So the woman who was raped or a victim of incest might be turned away depending whether she gets her parents approval? Or whether the doctor agrees? or depending on what state she happens to live in?

Too many variables harm the few who truly need to make such a life changing/difficult decision.

I ask you not to confuse the issue with Roe v. Wade, as going against this bill simply is an attempt to curb the possibility of abortions to those who truly might need this service.

At 26/11/08 10:27, Anonymous Kevin said...

I hate to further inflame an issue that has settled to a comfortable smolder in this string of responses, but are we really okay with calling abortion a "service"?

At 26/11/08 10:42, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't feel like arguing the need, validity, and right a person has to choose.

I will simply say this to the entire Christian community locally, and worldwide.

You guys have alot of adopting to do, so you better catch up quickly.

By the way, I am majorly pro-adoption, as I have family and close friends who were fortunate enough to not have to suffer through group homes or foster care.

My wife and I also are planning to adopt ourselves in the near future.

What surprises me is how many Christian families(I speak as one, and choose to mention them specifically due to their stance on pro-life) that choose not to put their money where their mouth is, and rescue the unwanted out of the worlds orphanages.

It's a big and separate topic, but it disgusts me to deal with so many who choose not to face the reality of how many "unwanted" children there actually are out there.

Step up people. Otherwise step aside and let people choose for themselves.

At 26/11/08 11:22, Blogger Donte said...

First, I think it’s important to put Obama’s Planned Parenthood speech in proper context. Let’s not forget that at the time of that speech, he was a huge underdog to Clinton and the greatest gap was with white women. Secondly, I believe that much of his liberal voting record was, in large part a way to distance himself from Bush. Call it ‘playing politics’ if you want, but his liberal positioning is why he is now our president elect.
However, I don’t think he won the vote of Catholics and Evangelicals because of his liberal voting record. I voted for Obama because I think he has the uncanny ability to hold difficult paradoxes in tension—in this case that would be upholding Roe v. Wade, while at the same time protecting the religious freedom of doctors and hospitals. I voted for Obama because I think the frequency of abortions will decrease under his administration. I voted for Obama because I think he will lead from the center. His focus now is not on winning the White House, but garnering the support and trust of all Americans, right and left.
So let’s all take a deep breath and relax about this. I think Obama will be dealing with many more…many, many more pressing issues on January 20th. If he signs FOCA into law he will not do so as it is currently written. I believe that he will amend it so that it does nothing more than codify Roe v. Wade.

At 27/11/08 10:47, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a really great talk last night on mature gratitude, Richard. Thanks.

At 29/11/08 19:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isn't it human nature to try and make the consequences of our actions less severe by any and every means possible? We all can relate to asking YHWH to "take this cup from me" and trying in some manner to assist Him in doing so.
How can we expect those without spiritual understanding, or hope in the Comforter, to make any decision that would cause them further trouble? We know that further trouble could be the very consequence that could give us spiritual understanding and help us persevere through trials, but they do not.
But every time we try to block them from legislating away the consequences of their immorality; events that could lead to their eternal healing, all they see is a bunch of hypocritical, dogmatic bigots trying to block their God-given freedom.
I wish we could all get behind a bill that would make our educational system responsible for teaching morality, maybe then we would not have to try the impossible task of legislating morality.

At 1/12/08 08:39, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am unsure if everyone who posts here attends BCC, but I have really grown to love it, and feel beyond fortunate to have someone like Richard Dahlstrom at the helm.

Listening to his views, interpretation, and examples make the Bible and Christianity relevant in my life again. I even read his BLOG!

What some of the recent posts, and many of the replies to various topics have reminded me, is exactly what I don't appreciate about all religions, and in this case Christianity.

When people start speaking about teaching morality in school, removing freedoms, and judging others in the name of our creator(although the guilty will say that God is the only judge) makes me not want to attend anymore.

I don't think the education and enjoyment listening to Richard currently outweighs the overall thoughts, feels and judgements of the entire community.

All of the talk of understanding, crossing over, inviting people different than yourselves into our lives is still trumped with the run of the mill holier than thou Christian viewpoint.

I think it's back to living a moral life without the Bible, appreciating the division of Church and State, and helping people in need, because its the right thing to do.

At 1/12/08 14:22, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

so sorry to hear of your disillusionment anonymous. I can only offer perspective by saying that these kinds of dialogues marked the early church in the book of Acts, and have marked the church down through the centuries, probably because the gospel is gladder, holier, more inclusive, and more demanding than any of us can imagine. I'd encourage you not to disengage because of alternate views. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the famous martyred pastor from WWII Germany said that it is only when our romantic notions of community are destroyed that we will have the opportunity to experience true community. And nothing destroys romantic notions quicker than trying to figure out how the resurrection of Jesus affects our politics.

At 2/12/08 12:09, Blogger Geoff said...

I am tired of people acting as though the abortion issue is a simple matter of "freedom of choice"... it's not. There are plenty of things that aren't left up to individual choice. In fact, that's why laws exist to begin with. If people were simply allowed to do whatever they choose, whenever they want to, there would be chaos.

So, let's be honest, and admit that if one supports abortion, it's because they believe that the woman's freedom to choose to terminate her pregnancy is more important than potentially saving the life of the unborn child. That is a very complicated issue, and I don't pretend to know what's right in every situation. But let's not hide behind "choice" as if it's some curtain of nobility.

That's the reason why I think that proposals like FOCA are misguided and should be rejected: Instead of taking into account the complexity of the abortion issue, they try to lump everything under the banner of "choice", and push through a law that makes things easier for their "side" to experience smooth sailing well into the future. But the issue of abortion should never be smooth sailing, for anyone, because it is a life-or-death issue (on multiple levels).

At 2/12/08 23:46, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not so rigid in my views on abortion that I can't wrap my mind around a woman's desire to terminate a pregnancy that occurred as a result of a rape (yet, I would question her unfortunate state of mind at the time she would have to make such a decision). The following post isn't really geared toward that scenario.

Rather, what about the woman who disregarded her own basic biology and actively and likely joyfully participated in the sexual act intended to create offspring... only to later decide upon realizing that her female body was in perfect working condition, that she doesn't want to rearrange her life to take on the responsibility of caring for that child. Should we put her right to abort the "mistake" as easily and "painlessly" as possible, ahead of the rights of a doctor who would most certainly consciously object to killing a child in the womb?

Sweeping legislation like this seems to be so inappropriate for a complex issue such as abortion and it would be very disheartening to watch a president I have high hopes for make such a decision.

At 3/12/08 08:21, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fear we are in for a great many disappointments from this president whom so many have such high hopes for. If you had all listened to his carefully chosen words throughout the campaign and further listened to the information from other sources about his real record as a politician (since he was careful to hide as much of it as possible) little of this discussion would now be taking place. If by some miracle he were not to sign this act (which he made a promise that he would!) then perhaps I will begin to see hope for change that doesn't plunge us all to new low levels of moral destitution.

At 3/12/08 08:34, Anonymous Anonymous said...

most recent anonymous:

I wish you could acknowledge that people of faith can vote their conscience, in a complex world, on more than one issue. You write as if voting for Obama was some sort of foolish and thoughtless act. There are many of us who are pro-life who also happen to be anti-preemptive war, pro health care for children, and anti-torture. Can we please quite deifying one party, because doing so continues to accuse, lives in the past, and completely misses the point that Richard is trying to make: we stand outside party loyalties, supporting and praying for our officials, and challenging them when their views contradict what we believe God's ethics to be.

At 3/12/08 09:30, Anonymous Anonymous said...


Thank you for the comments in reference to my no longer attending BCC, or church for that matter.

The comments following your post(which I know there are MANY supporters in the Christian community) are the exact reason I no longer feel compelled to co-exist in the same space.

For as much as you have spoken/preached about crossing over, the same rhetoric about politics and abortion continue in this Christian community. It is my assertion that if people were following your lead, which I hope many are, their opinions would be more of concern for all humans with far less judgement.

Living by example, and making choices you are proud of is the way to be. Everyone has chosen to ignore the points of incest, rape, and endangerment to the mother, like these situations are rare. They are not.

I was being as sincere as possible bringing up the hipocrisy of being Pro-life, but there is no PRO-ADOPTION campaign that I have ever heard of coming from any of these pro-lifers, or from any church for that matter. For as much pro-life campaigning that is done, you would expect to see our nation's or worlds group homes to be empty.

I am possibly to rational for such one sided opinions. There are many grey areas the bible creates, and real world situations/possibilites create.

I attempted to cross over, and live my life in a cocoon. I actually thought I could possibly live in a sheltered black and white world, but I have already seen too much legitimate tragedy to be able to agree with blind hipocrites.

Unlike a bad breakup, it's not me, it's you.

At 3/12/08 15:24, Blogger Geoff said...

Wow... no offense, anonymous, but your last post sounds awfully condescending... I agree there are serious flaws in the way many Christians have dealt with the abortion issue, but leaving anonymous posts where you claim to be "too rational" and call everyone on the other side "blind hypocrites" seems like the pot calling the kettle black to me... I don't mean to sound harsh, but is that really the impression you want to leave with us?

To be fair, it's easy to get worked up over this issue, and there's plenty of hypocrisy on both sides. I'm sure I've been guilty of that as well. But, like the FOCA bill itself, the impression I get is that you're just trying to shut down the conversation. You make some valid points but then sabotage them with your rhetoric.


At 3/12/08 18:24, Blogger Odyssey said...

I wonder about how much our hopes for society at large and our own Christian perspectives are being placed on either political party. I have mentioned in previous posts that we need to remember the fallen nature of the world we live in. I was never too excited by the McCain side in the election for its shear wishy-washiness. After such a lackluster performance in the campaign it is only amazing it was still so close. Obama on the other hand was a masterful campaigner and very successfully stuck to his simple points promoting change and hope with new ideas. The problem as a previous Anonymous stated is he never really said much of anything specific and when he did he was always very careful to measure his response to the audience present and try to continue to say very little. In one of the debates when asked about a litmous test on Supreme Court Justices, McCain answered he would have no such test, but look for judges who would interpret the constitution. As an example he pointed out that Roe vs. Wade is really good illustration of a bad court decision. It isn't about the issue, it's about misusing the constitution to write new laws. Obama's answer was very telling in that he very carefully said he would choose judges to do what's right for the people of this country. One would hope that the right thing is to interpret the consitution under which we were founded and supposedly operate, but that is clearly not how the left side of our political system views the purpose of the courts.

I am not a single issue individual. That does however, appear to be the predominate mechanism by which most in our nation approach their voting decisions. Whether it be abortion, war, health care, social programs, or whether our choice is the best speech maker, we need to keep in mind that ultimately there is no hope in man or his schemes. And I use the word schemes on purpose, because in fact in the end they are almost always simply that. Men (and women) work for themselves first and foremost. The greatest failure of mankind is that we think everything's all about us. The single most excellent point that Rick Warren made is his Purpose Driven Life book was the opening sentence, "It's not about you." We all need to remember that each moment of each day.

Pray for our leaders in the political arena, church, workplace and wherever else we appoint others to guide our lives. But answer to the God who created it all and lay all your hopes on Him who is sufficient to really deliver us all from this broken existence. If you can't go to church with hypocrites, you're probably not going to church to seek God, but man's approval and direction. Search your heart, use your mind and let your spirit seek the One who is able.

At 8/12/08 12:02, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do we protect the moral convictions of only some health workers?
By Dahlia Lithwick

From Slate [and Newsweek]

At 8/12/08 12:03, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Almost completely missing from all of this fascinating legislative discussion about what health workers might be made to do and say with respect to reproductive rights are the reproductive rights themselves. Like it or not, the right to birth control, emergency contraception, and—under most circumstances—abortion is still constitutionally protected. But these are not services a woman can provide for herself, which leaves her with few rights at all when her physicians, nurses, and pharmacists are empowered by law to misinform her, withhold advice, or to deny services altogether.

Even beyond the problem of subordinating a woman's rights to those of her health care providers, however, there looms here a larger question for the health care workers themselves: If they are indeed seeing their rights and freedoms to speak and work either hugely expanded or severely restricted based solely on which team they've chosen in the culture wars, they should be wondering whether any of them are really free at all."


At 19/2/09 12:04, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This seemed to be one your posts that caused the most responses, and so I thought this article was pretty interesting (since we are now on the other side of the Obama's oath):,8599,1880451,00.html?xid=rss-topstories-cnnpartner


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