Created Equal, a pro-life group that traces its lineage to the civil rights movement, is trying to make hay against Indiana Wesleyan University for one theater professor’s fraught attempt to explain why he’s both “pro-choice” and “pro-life” in a campus debate.
IWU, as you might guess, is a Christian university affiliated with the Wesleyan Church, which has a strong anti-abortion plank.
But the crux of the group’s objection is a three-minute video, also posted this week, spliced together with comments by the professor, Greg Fiebig, and his (fully) pro-life antagonists. The closing statement from Created Equal in the video: “Killing young humans is defended even at universities claiming to be Christian.”
My first thought was: You’re just noticing this?
The offending statements from Fiebig, professor of communications and theatre:
I don’t know if you know what cognitive dissonance is. It’s somebody who holds two opposing views equally. I am equally pro-choice and pro-life. And that may drive people crazy. … This is our belief, that life begins at conception. It is not the world’s belief. And so if we start telling the world how to live their lives, and hold them to a morality that we believe, that is a little bit akin to playing the Holy Spirit.
His antagonists then ask him if he feels the same about sex trafficking and slavery, and whether abortion “should remain legal” or be made “illegal.” Naturally, Fiebig tries to duck that last question but eventually answers “I am not prepared to go in that direction right now.”
Created Equal summed it up this way in an email blast:
This is the state of many universities affiliated with the Christian Church—having on staff professors who condone evils prohibited by the God they claim to follow. And this is why we must defend the truth even on these campuses.
Revering ‘tension’ is a hallmark of Christian colleges
Fiebig’s have-it-all response sounds like about half of the professors I had at Seattle Pacific University, which is affiliated with the Free Methodist Church (whose roots are also abolitionist). Not just on abortion, but on anything. They revel in playing it loose.
It’s particularly acute for humanities professors. Look for the “tension” in the Scriptures that seem to contradict each other, an Old Testament professor told our class. That’s where God is trying to tell you something. Saying one interpretation is right or wrong, or pulling out black-and-white lessons from a particular passage, is just poor taste.
A residence life official once told me with a smile that he was pro-life unless, you know, there was some problem in the womb. He seemed to think this was a typical view at a Christian college. It probably was.
Leave it to a theater professor to think it’s persuasive to say you believe two contradictory things, but Fiebig is probably pretty indicative of his colleagues. I don’t find his argument remotely convincing – human life indisputably begins at conception, whereas personhood is a legal question, and one no less serious than trafficking or slavery – but I understand exactly where he’s coming from.
We all eat the fruit, including abortion
Fiebig himself filled in some of the blanks in a letter to the editor following The Sojourn‘s story: He and his wife had a pregnancy that their (Catholic) doctor considered too risky to continue, but the Fiebigs trusted the counsel of a second doctor who told them he could safely deliver their child (and did).
I’m really playing down the theatricality of the letter, so read it yourself. He starts with some second-rate theology from Genesis that treats abortion the way you might treat smoking: a bad habit you should kick if you can.
Regardless of whether abortion is legal or illegal, moral or immoral, ethical or unethical, people still have the right to choose, just as Adam and Eve had the right to choose against God’s command in the Garden of Eden.
Obviously, this has problems with trafficking and slavery. Then extrapolating from his wife’s challenging pregnancy:
So you see, my cognitive dissonance is strong. I believe theologically in free will while at the same time believing practically in the sanctity of life. While my wife and I chose life, I must recognize that other young couples in our situation may have chosen to terminate the pregnancy, and quite frankly, I would have understood why.
And then a total misunderstanding of “personal choice” when it comes to Wesleyan thought. Fiebig should never be the first person called upon to coherently argue why Christians can live with abortion the same way they live with Internet porn.
But Fiebig isn’t the only making some leaps.
The pro-life activists’ basic error
Like the pro-life activists, I’d prefer that Christian college professors didn’t think of abortion as a bad habit like smoking. They have fundamentally adopted the pro-choice framing of the issue.
But Fiebig’s antagonists aren’t exactly portraying this debate accurately either.
In asking Fiebig whether abortion “should remain legal” or be made “illegal,” the activist is presenting a straw man. Abortion has never been completely illegal or completely unregulated. There’s a fairly wide range of thought under the pro-life tent about what is politically feasible in a country with a strong history of individual self-determination and a rubric of federalism. (Personhood amendments, in my view, have grave constitutional problems that have nothing to do with Roe.)
It’s precisely that all-or-nothing presentation that has made progress in reducing abortion so challenging. Media surveys of Americans rarely give them the options to reflect their own cognitive dissonance. If Roe falls, abortion will be illegal, many of us think (it won’t).
I don’t fault Created Equal for having a clear abolitionist approach to abortion (the group features gruesome pictures of aborted fetuses on its website), but playing gotcha with a Christian professor whose thoughts are more personal and cliched than rigorously formulated won’t do much to horrify their target audience.
They’re already ambivalent.
Greg Piper is an assistant editor at The College Fix. (@GregPiper)
IMAGE: Public domain