My report last week from CPAC, about how Focus on the Family sees the Tebow Super Bowl ad as its future, is just one piece of a new public relations offensive from one of the religious right’s oldest and biggest players. In addition to touting the Tebow ad, Focus on the Family also was distributing a recent piece by its president, Jim Daly, which makes an argument that in many ways seems indistinguishable from “common ground” “abortion reduction” arguments advanced by more centrist evangelicals and anti-abortion Democrats.
In the piece, “Saving lives by making abortion rare,” published in the far-right WorldNetDaily, Daly maintains he is committed to “working toward a day when abortion is illegal and relegated to the dust bin of history.” But that day “appears to be a long way off. Yet, for those who remain committed to making abortion less common, it’s important we’re able to offer a practical response to the simple question: How?”
Daly goes on to answer that question with suggesting waiting periods at clinics, requiring ultrasound exams, requiring parental consent, and encouraging adoption, even noting Hillary Clinton’s National Prayer Breakfast comments about adoption being a “vastly better choice” than abortion. Daly writes, “by working together I believe we can actually almost make Roe inconsequential” by making abortion “rare.”
Daly’s comments come on the heels on complaints from the evangelical camp that has pushed abortion reduction long before Focus on the Family started championing the idea. The Rev. Tony Campolo, an adviser to the Clintons, founder of the Red Letter Christians, and a member of the Democratic Party’s 2008 platform writing committee, complained to The Daily Caller earlier this month that Obama hasn’t delivered on promises to reduce abortion.
These very public efforts by evangelicals like Campolo to push Obama away from his pro-choice position and towards one more satisfactory to them are nothing new — nor is the implication that evangelicals wouldn’t pull the lever a second time (if they even did the first time) for candidate Obama. Focus on the Family, by pushing abortion reduction, seems to be making a play to have these evangelicals come back into the fold.
When I spoke with Focus on the Family’s Chris Leland and Esther Fleece last week, I asked them whether their organization’s new efforts to appear less divisive was influenced by the more centrist evangelicals, like Jim Wallis and David Gushee, who pushed abortion reduction throughout the 2008 campaign season and into the Obama administration. Leland told me:
It’s sort of a pendulum swing. What we’re beginning to see is that we learned something from their reaction but we’ve also learned something from the extreme nature of, we [evangelicals] are only about personal evangelism, we’re not about politics at all. Or we’re all about politics. What does the middle look like? That’s what we’re trying to figure out. What does that mix look like?
As I noted last week, even while Focus on the Family tries to show a softer, gentler side, it’s still battling the old, divisive culture wars. But by also making a clear effort to decrease the daylight between itself and evangelicals who played nice with Democrats in 2008, it looks like Focus is trying to nudge them to abandon new alliances in favor of old ones.