why I am not a single-issue voter
Hi, my name is Texas in Africa, and I am not a single-issue voter.
It's the last day of the campaign, and the rhetoric, accusations, and mud-slinging are at a fever pitch. Emails full of crazy, unsubstantiated rumors (Obama isn't a natural-born citizen! Sarah Palin banned books we all like! An Obama presidency will be worse than the Holocaust!) are flying, and some conservatives, realizing that the Republican party is about to lose the presidential race, are starting to panic. Meanwhile, emails, comments, and Facebook messages about the so-called "Christian" way to vote are stacking up.
The most common of that last type of ideas, of course, is that a serious Christian cannot possibly vote for a pro-choice candidate. The logic for such a stance is something along these lines:
- Abortion is Biblically impermissable.
- Any candidate who supports legalized abortion would contribute to the destruction of innocent life.
- Therefore, any Christian who votes for a pro-choice candidate is morally culpable for abortion-induced deaths.
- It doesn't matter what a candidate thinks about any other issue, including the death penalty, economic collapse, poverty, war, environmental degradation, or hunger.
- Abortion is more evil than any of those other evils,
- and a Christian should only take a candidate's stance on abortion into account.
Here's an example of such an argument from Focus on the Family. (If you think I'm unfairly explaining the line of reasoning here, please leave a comment so I can clarify.)I think this is an incredibly irresponsible way to vote.
Why? Stick with me here. Setting aside the question of whether the abortion issue is so Biblically cut-and-dried (And we can talk about that another time, just as soon as someone explains whether the most compassionate thing to do for an eleven-year-old Congolese girl who became pregnant as the result of gang rape by soldiers is 1) to have her carry a baby to term in a country with no adoption system, packed orphanages, and very little chance of survival, or 2) to give her a morning-after pill before you flood her system with antibiotics to keep her from contracting HIV. There is a world in which moral ambiguity exists, like it or not.), let's assume that "life" is the most important issue a Christian voter can take into account. That's where my problem with the "you-should-only-vote-on-abortion" stance comes in. Because I don't see "life" as just being about abortion.
American presidents make decisions that affect almost everyone in the world. That's six billion people, give or take a few million. The decisions that the president of the United States makes about trade policy, foreign aid, and war are very often life-or-death decisions for people who have no influence on the American electoral process:
- A trade policy decision made in Washington means that a farmer in the Guatemalan highlands might not get a fair price for his coffee next year, meaning he can't afford to send his children to school, meaning they're doomed to a life of poverty and struggle.
- The decision to go to war, whether it's just or not, means that innocent civilians will die. "Collateral damage" happens in every war, including in those wars that are necessary. Estimates range widely on civilian deaths caused by the Iraq war, but there's no question that the cost in human life has been terrible.
- Political decisons about the foreign aid budget are the difference between refugees sitting in camps in the Congo getting food asssistance or dying the very painful death that results from starvation. Cuts in foreign assistance mean that a mother in Zambia might not get the anti-retroviral treatment that keeps her healthy enough to care for her children.
Some people try to play the numbers game. They argue that the 1.2 million or so abortions performed each year in the United States cause far more deaths than does collateral damage in war.
But almost 10 million children die of preventable, poverty-related causes every year.
And 2 million people died of HIV/AIDS last year.
I don't like the numbers game. Each life is precious and worthy of being saved, and untimely death is a tragedy, whether it happens to one person or to a million. And the fact is, no candidate has a consistent position on life issues, especially when you view "life" as meaning something more than the prevention of abortion. The candidate who's anti-death penalty is almost always pro-choice. The candidate who is pro-life on abortion usually wants to cut funding for foreign assistance.
Even if you just look at abortion, it isn't that simple. We know that poor women have abortions at much higher rates than do wealthy women, and we know that 59% of abortions in the United States each year are performed on African-American and Hispanic women, a group for whom the poverty rate is much higher than it is for the general population. So if you vote for a candidate whose policies on things like welfare, taxes, the minimum wage, and children's health insurance make it harder for the poor to survive, are you also culpable for those abortions?
Taking all of these issues - and others - into account, I can't be a single-issue voter, especially when I know that no candidate has consistent positions that are even close to what I believe the Bible teaches us to do. Instead, I try to vote on the issues, and on my assessment of the candidates' character and sense of good judgment. I vote with the recognition that the decisions we make have far-reaching, global impacts.
And I hope you'll do the same. If nothing else, recognize that the world will not end if your candidate loses, and understand how fortunate we are to live in a country where we get to choose our leaders without fear of intimidation or reprisal. Get informed, get out and vote, and encourage your friends and neighbors to do the same.