2016-07-27
Reprinted from Touchstone Magazine with permission of the author.

If you so happen to be one of those "single issue" voters on pro-life issues, like me, and perhaps a few million other thoughtful and concerned Christians in this country, then Christianity Today has a word for you: unwise. In the interest of wising up, read their November lead editorial ("For Whom Would Jesus Vote? Single-issue politics is neither necessary or wise"). You will learn that CT agrees with the wisdom of a document from the National Association of Evangelicals called "For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility." CT says that it
encourages evangelicals of all political stripes to work together not just for the sanctity of human life, but also for religious freedom, family life, the poor, peacemaking, and creation care. While sanctity-of-life issue will always be of vital interest to Christians, today's context demands that believers engage a broad spectrum of issues.
(It's not clear whether the last sentence is CT or the NAE speaking. It doesn't matter.) Elsewhere, I've argued that such a list of issues gives no biblical guidance as to the priority of some issues over others. Thus it does not help voters make truly biblical decisions, and worse, misleads them into treating secondary and prudential questions as if they were as important as the primary and certain. The Bible is crystal clear that the sanctity of human life and marriage are the pillars of human society. Destroy them and you ruin everything on that "broad spectrum of issues." It is not crystal clear on other matters, like what the government should do about poverty. Well, where does CT stand on the matter of abortion and related pro-life issues? We read in various paragraphs of the editorial that: 1) they are "of vital interest to Christians."
2) "abortion is the wrongful taking of innocent human life and a grave sin."
3) "the sanctity of human life is a given."
4) "abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and like issues should be prime concerns for us all."
5) "Abortion is a monstrous tragedy for the nation." But number 4 is followed by: "But we can't stop there. Jesus is Lord of all." And then comes another appeal, from the NAE, that "while individual persons and organizations may rightly concentrate on one or two issues, faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda." Number 5 is followed by another But: "but our Christian commitment to a culture of life does not permit us the luxury of abandoning other important issues." The editorial ends: "While single-mindedness in following Christ is always wise, single-issue voting may not be."

So how should abortion affect our vote? Every Christian will agree with CT that "faithful evangelical civic engagement must champion a biblically balanced agenda." But what is that balance? How is it expressed in the voting booth? Why is a balance in which life issues have the most weight unwise? Why is opposition to "a grave sin" and "a monstrous tragedy" to be treated as if it were of the same importance as differences over (apparently) welfare payments or the minimum wage? This the editorial does not explain. The editorial makes much of its case negatively. It has you in mind, single-issue voters, when it says, "Many Christians think they at least know for whom the Lord would not vote, based on one issue." After mentioning senatorial candidate Alan Keyes's remark about Jesus not voting for opponent Barack Obama because of his anti-life vote in the Illinois Senate, CT notes
James I. Lamb, executive director of the pro-life group Lutherans for Life, also thinks he knows. "A candidate who favors abortion should be disqualified from receiving a Christian's vote."
If this sounds like what a number of Roman Catholic bishops have said, it's because they have. But CT seems to muddy the Catholic waters as well. In invoking Cardinal Ratzinger's much-publicized and misunderstood clarification about "proportionality," CT, ignoring the ample commentary by Catholic bishops, effectively resorts to misrepresentation by asking a question designed to frame the issue as they prefer to see it: "But how do you measure whether a candidate's goodon other issues outweighs his or her bad on the question of human life?" The reader is supposed to think that Cardinal Ratzinger agrees that single-issue voting is unwise. But for Ratzinger the sort of "proportionality" which might allow someone to vote for a "pro-choice" candidate comes into play only when the alternative is doing something demonstrably worse than allowing or creating an abortion holocaust.

As some Catholics have rightly pointed out, it's hard to imagine a scenario today in which the Christian would be morally free to not vote for a pro-life candidate or to vote for a pro-choice candidate when a pro-life candidate is running. It certainly wouldn't be okay just because the Christian thinks the pro-choice candidate has better tax, education, welfare, medical, and/or environmental programs.

Read the editorial for yourself. See if you gain some moral clarity about your responsibility as a Christian in the voting booth. It seems entirely designed from beginning to end to assert the folly of those who vote "single-issue" (in this case, for George W. Bush), without a word of warning for those who might go too far in the other direction and who do not give life issues the weight even CT gives them, if only rhetorically. While telling readers what it thinks "unwise," it does not tell them what wisdom is. (I will be surprised if the editorial was approved by executive editors J. I. Packer, Timothy George, and Thomas Oden.)
The editorial effectively muddies the waters for those whose consciences cannot endure the thought of supporting the slaughter of innocents, and salves the consciences of those who wish to vote for a candidate who is "pro-choice." The subtext of this editorial (and most other pieces decrying single-issues voters that I have read) seems to be "single-issue" equals "simple-minded." Single-issue, simple-minded, voter? No, not me. Just for the record, I've changed my mind. I am going to vote based on my concerns on a number of top-priority issues, not just abortion. Such as:

  • Human embryonic experimentation and research.
  • Human cloning.
  • Euthanasia.
  • Assisted suicide.
  • Defense of marriage as a man-woman institution. With the acceptance of gay-marriage as a constitutional right, public schools eventually will have to accept this redefinition of marriage and teach it. The traditional view will be termed "religious doctrine" and ruled as unsuitable for public schools, and perhaps considered as "hate speech."
  • The appointment of federal court and Supreme Court justices who respect the sanctity of life and marriage.
  • The appointment of federal court and Supreme Court justices who respect freedom of religion in the public square.
  • Rolling back the activist judicial state that is demonstrably increasingly anti-religious.

    After 1973, "single-issue voting" meant "voting against abortion." But even then the wisest saw that they were not voting on a single issue, but against a legal, moral, and social evil that would express itself in more and more ways as people grew used to it. The other evils above have come in under the dark wings of that beast.

    The list grows, and this evil affects matters like poverty policy as well. Over time, it will cheapen our society's view of all human life. If an unborn child has no right to live till birth, will people begin to ask why he has a right to food, housing, and education once he's born? Is a society indifferent to the claims of the vulnerable unborn likely to be one that cares much about the vulnerable born?

    If Christianity Today can't see Brave New World lurking, and the need for Christians to vote against it as a "single issue," it has lost its vision of "faithful evangelical civic engagement."

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