Friday, July 4, 2008

Why single-issue voting is unbiblical

In honor of Independence Day, I thought I would offer up a post that simultaneously speaks to our context and government, the Kingdom of God, and the current events of our political process. (I’m also taking this opportunity to respond to a question posed to me over at my friend Megan’s blog.)

Why is single-issue voting unbiblical?

I’ll work through this issue from the most practical to the most theological (but hopefully that’s a false dichotomy, and there are shades of each at the opposite ends of the spectrum).
  • Even someone with a die-hard “culture war” perspective has to begin to wonder if the culture war has been lost. If you follow principles of just war (which biblical Christians ought to feel obligated to do), and you appropriate these principles into the culture wars as well (after all, they are just a violent in many ways), the principle of “probability of success” has to give you pause. If your single issue is abortion or defining marriage, don’t you wonder if we’ve already lost those wars? (Ditto for other single issues.)
  • It is difficult to be a truly consistent single-issue voter. (Really, it’s difficult to be consistent about political issues in general; it’s just that the single-issue voter invites greater scrutiny of his or her consistency.) Most who hold up abortion as the defining issue, for example, claim (rightly, I believe) that abortion is murder. What, then, is the desired end-goal? To have would-be mothers arrested and tried for murder if they have an abortion performed? At least they should be tried as accessories to murder. Likewise, some claim that the definition of marriage as only that between a man and a woman is the ultimate issue of this year’s elections; they don’t want to allow same-sex couples to define their relationships under the terminology of marriage. But the outcries were far fewer when family courts began to grant same-sex couples the right to adopt, thereby allowing them to functionally define their relationships under the terminology of family.
  • Another difficulty in single-issue voting is the problem of which single-issue you decide is the most important. How do you decide? Even the most carefully-reasoned decision here necessarily excludes a number of vital issues. The decision will inevitably be at least shaped by your cultural context: your race, your socio-economic circumstances, your geography of origin. Morality has a role, but in the end deciding on one single issue as arbiter political decisions is a moral and ethical coin-toss. This sort of relativism is inherently contrary to biblical reasoning.
  • Whatever the single-issue is does NOT encompass the whole of any candidate’s platform or worldview. Thus, we may find that we are inadvertently supporting and aligning ourselves with a candidate with whom we utterly disagree on another issue. This is not always taboo, and there are times when we can and should join with those with differences for the sake of a particular effort; nevertheless, to do so thoughtlessly or ignorantly (because you simply weren’t paying attention to or concerned about other issues) is not being consistent to a biblical worldview of engaging and interacting with culture and world.
  • (Closely related to the third point) It is impossible for ANY single issue to be elevated as more important than others from a strictly biblical perspective. Suppose the most aggressively anti-Christian legislation were at stake-- say, making it illegal for Christians to gather for worship, punishable by death-- would that rise to the top as most important? Would defending our “right” to gather for worship (the loss of which has never stopped the Christian church from gathering over the centuries) be more important than the biblical mandate to care for the poor or evangelize the lost? Would it be consistent to have argued for these several decades that opposing abortion is the most important endeavor the church can undertake (yes, I’ve actually been told exactly that) and suddenly to switch issues?
  • Single-issue voting represents a segmentation of life into nicely compartmentalized concepts, as if they are completely unrelated. But the Bible clearly portrays a world where such things are inherently connected. Scripture shows us connections we can’t make in a segmented view, such as the value of building codes as a part of loving our neighbor as ourselves (Deut. 22:8). We can see these connections in our world today, as well. One person suggested recently that the solution to the economic crisis we’re in would be to cut governmental spending, which he fleshed out as, “get[ting] out of schooling, Social Security, and welfare.” Many Christians may agree. But the truth is that our society isn’t prepared for the fall-out for the reduction of governmental support in ANY of these areas, and until we establish a foundational structure for replacing ALL governmental education (and not just for the wealthy Christians, but for poor Christians and non-Christians as well), we ought not begin demanding that the government “get out of schooling.” Likewise, if abortion were outlawed tomorrow, the needs in adoption, health care, and social support for unwed and low-income mothers/families would go through the roof within months, and the demands on our educational, legal, and criminal systems would increase over the next two decades. We HAVE to understand the connections and obligations that each issue requires of other issues, and single-issue voting ignores that irresponsibly. After all, approximately 34% of our tax dollars go directly to supporting social programs; does YOUR church’s budget come even close to that much given toward benevolence? Let’s get our spending priorities in order in the church before we start worrying about the speck in the eye of our government.
  • Scripture covers a multitude of issues that are at play in a socio-political system. If we based our assessment of what issues are the “most important” for Christians on what the Bible teaches about social and political issues, we would have to include issues of the sanctity of life and family values, of course; but we would also have to include matters of war and peace, social care for the poor, education, and racial and ethnic equality. Furthermore, a biblical view of the sanctity of life, for example, might begin with addressing abortion, but it goes far beyond that to include care for the sick, the elderly, and a host of issues that our bio-medical advances have raised for us. Yet few “pro-life” Christians I know can truly say they are more than simply “anti-abortion”-- they simply haven’t thought through what the fullest sense of the idea of being pro-life means, nor what they implications are from a socio-political viewpoint.
  • The “greatest commandment” wasn’t “Do not murder” OR “Do not commit adultery,” though most Republican Christians I know seem to suggest that it was one (or both) by their single-issue emphases. The greatest commandment, to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” at least implies a whole-life devotion to God, which effectively nullifies the justification of single-issue voting. But if the inclination for single-issue voting persists, what does the second-greatest commandment imply? Wouldn’t “love your neighbor as yourself” lend credence to a single-issue emphasis on social issues like poverty, health care, or welfare?
These are just some rambling thoughts; a fair amount of this was shooting from the hip. I’d welcome any interaction about these.

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