"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


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:

  1. Abortion is Biblically impermissable.
  2. Any candidate who supports legalized abortion would contribute to the destruction of innocent life.
  3. Therefore, any Christian who votes for a pro-choice candidate is morally culpable for abortion-induced deaths.
  4. It doesn't matter what a candidate thinks about any other issue, including the death penalty, economic collapse, poverty, war, environmental degradation, or hunger.
  5. Abortion is more evil than any of those other evils,
  6. 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.
I can't say that one of these is worse than the others.

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.


Blogger David McCullars said...

Excellent post, TiA ... you are spot on.

I find it almost impossible to listen to anyone evangelize pro-life when they a) still advocate the death penalty and b) refuse to live in the real world when it comes to sexual education and birth control -- abstinence, like the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, is a myth. If you want to do something about that 1.2 million abortions (and I agree that we should), find a more productive way to do it than bet on a presidential appointment to the supreme court to overturn a 35 year old case which will only turn "1.2 million abortions" into "1.2 million illegal abortions."

Monday, November 03, 2008 2:00:00 PM

Blogger UPennBen said...

Great post.

Monday, November 03, 2008 2:03:00 PM

Blogger Amy said...

Well written post with many excellent points. I hope you know I agree with you.

Having said that, I know exactly what hard-core pro-lifers will say. Someone who is pro-choice is not to be trusted on all of those other life issues since they get the fundamental life issue wrong.

And what about single issue voters on the flip side of the coin? Any words for them? :)

Monday, November 03, 2008 2:28:00 PM

Anonymous Sister said...

Did you hear the NPR report this morning on DRC? Gwen Thompkins was calling from Goma after interviewing Nkunda in person. The quote from the general at the end hit me: "Their (meaning the displaced population he refers to as his friends) suffering is the cost of freedom." It made me sick.

Monday, November 03, 2008 2:43:00 PM

Blogger Alexis said...

Amen TIA! Very well put! I do also want to add my thoughts that there is something to be said for reducing the number of abortions by reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, something that Barack Obama has spoken for. and, for the record, I am pro-choice, not pro-abortion. I'm tired of conservatives using those phrases as synonyms.

Monday, November 03, 2008 3:38:00 PM

Blogger Chad said...

Thank you for this post.

Monday, November 03, 2008 3:52:00 PM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Amy, good point. It's just as irresponsible to vote only for pro-choice candidates. But those voters usually aren't the ones yelling at me! :)

Thanks for your comments, everyone.

Monday, November 03, 2008 4:39:00 PM

Blogger Michael said...

I agree with you. I'm on the opposite side of the ideological scale, but I disdain one issue voters as well. Abortion is important, but there are so many other important issues out there as well. When people vote solely on abortion, they are saying that all other policies are meaningless.

I disagree with some of what you say in your post, but on the main point, you are dead on.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 8:47:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

A point I think that is often over looked is that even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court, this will only turn the abortion issue back to each individual state to decide upon, and abortion will still most likely be legal in a number of states. Another words, overturning Roe vs. Wade will not make abortion illegal at the state level.

The World Beyond MY Front Porch

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 10:01:00 AM

Blogger texasinafrica said...

Exactly. Then we become a country where rich women who can afford to travel still get safe abortions, while poor women start dying from having back-alley abortions. This is why I think strategies to prevent unintended pregnancy in the first place are a MUCH better way of reducing the number of abortions in America.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 10:46:00 AM

Blogger the librarian said...

As always, I appreciate your ability to articulate difficult subjects. I just had a conversation with The Sister-in-Law this morning about politics. (No, they did not write in Ron Paul, but they did vote third party.) She said she will not vote for someone who "supports" abortion. I told her that pro-life to me meant much more than just anti-abortion. I wish I had read your post first for talking points. It was not a heated conversation, however. We love and respect each other enough to disagree amicicably.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 10:47:00 AM

Blogger the librarian said...

P.S. Obviously I can't spell today!

Tuesday, November 04, 2008 10:48:00 AM

Blogger Bart Barber said...

I actually think that this is a facile and obtuse analysis of the "single-issue voter" phenomenon.

There are none of us who have only one issue that matters to us, and yet all of us are "single-issue voters" simultaneously on a great number of issues:

1. I could not vote for a candidate who favors apartheid.

2. I could not vote for a candidate whose game plan is to nuke Afghanistan.

3. I could not vote for a candidate who favors the consolidation of the powers of the state into a monarchy.

4. I could not vote for a candidate who favors abortion rights.

You might fill in the blanks differently, but I submit that we are all—every last mother's child of us—"single-issue voters" on a wide range of issues. That is, there are a number of things that each of us recognizes as so abhorrent that, no matter what else a candidate has going for him, we could not vote for him.

Those who stand for the end of abortion are the Frederick Douglasses, the Henry Ward Beechers, the Abraham Lincolns of our lifetimes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 9:01:00 AM

Blogger David McCullars said...

That's a clever argument, Bart, but you've unfortunately made a rather large fallacy. "Single issue voters" say "I will ONLY vote for the pro-life candidate." By your comparison this would be the same as me saying I only vote for the candidate who is against apartheid, or I only vote for the candidate who is against nuking Afghanistan, etc. I've never met anyone who is ONLY against apartheid, nor am I likely to.

Equating fighting against Roe v Wade as struggling toward the 13th amendment, though, is not even close. For starters, killing RvW merely puts the issue back to the states, and (like gay marriage) will most likely still be legal in many (if not most) states. And whether it is legal or not, it is very unlikely to drastically reduce the number of actual abortions that take place. Slavery, on the other hand, is much harder to do in secret or in a back alleyways.

So if you consider yourself a Federick Douglass fighting on behalf of the one-celled zygote, consider addressing the real problem -- WHY women are having abortions. Perhaps you could make a real difference by offering better sex ed, more options for birth control for teenagers and/or the poor, and/or offering more options for mothers of unwanted children. Address those problems first, and then you'll find yourself more in the company of Abraham Lincoln. Otherwise, I'd say the pro-life movement is just as myopic and naive as the temperance movement of the early 20th century that landed us the overly successful 18th amendment.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 12:38:00 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


Yours may also be a clever argument, but I confess that I don't understand it at all (your first paragraph, that is). Would you mind giving it another go for us kids in the back of the class?

But I do comprehend the remaining two paragraphs, including your many fallacies:

1. You presume falsely that my only goal is the reversal of Roe v Wade. But it is not. My goal is for no person ever again to murder a child that they found inconvenient to them.

2. You presume that the worthiness of trying to prevent murder is inextricably tied to how easily and conveniently prevention can be accomplished.

3. You presume that, if I cannot prevent all abortions from taking place, then it is not helpful to prevent many abortions from taking place.

4. You presume that I am not already doing any of the other things that you have mentioned for combatting the problem. My two adopted children and the folks at the local crisis pregnancy center would bring a different testimony.

5. The analogy of your last paragraph would be for us to try to understand WHY Southerners had slaves and propose a protection tariff for cotton to help them get to where they need fewer slaves. People owned slaves because, whatever other wonderful things were in their character, they had the evil inclination to consider other people as their property rather than as other people. Women are having abortions because, whatever other wonderful things are in their character, they have the evil inclination to consider other people as their appendages rather than as other people.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 12:52:00 PM

Blogger David McCullars said...

0) Not sure what needs explaining in my first paragraph. Just pointing out that your argument, though clever, is a fallacy.

1) I'm afraid I'm guilty of using the second person pronoun when I meant the generic (and unfortunately pompous sounding) "one" pronoun. In short, I wasn't attacking you personally; I don't know you from Adam. I meant to address "single issue voters" who are only concerned with getting rid of RvW. I hope you can agree there is a significant body of the electorate that would fall into this category (if not where you live, then definitely where I live).

2) Nope, that's just what you heard, not what I said. Was the 13th amendment easy or convenient? We essentially fought a Civil War over it. I don't call that easy or convenient. What I do say is that some approaches to solving a problem are intended only to make a certain part of the population feel better. For example, anyone who thinks making alcohol illegal will change human behavior or stop drinking is fooling themselves; but by making it illegal it might hide it from their view, sweep it under the rug.

3) Can you point out where I said that. Again, only what you heard and not what I said. My argument is that if someone is passionate about stopping abortions, that he/she would be wise to take the path that would stop the most abortions. That path is NOT by making it illegal. It is by prevention. It is quite possible that by making it illegal the number of abortions may increase (since getting a backalley, cheap abortion is in many ways easier than going to a legal clinic with paperwork and rules/regulations).

4) Again, I am not saying anything about you personally. I am talking about the "pro-life" movement. The "pro-life" movement is only focused on RvW and making abortions illegal. If you are fighting other measures, that is wonderful. I applaud you!

5) Well, no, I said abortion and slavery are incompatible arguments. Now, it is possible that an alternative means might have ended slavery (albeit much slower but perhaps without a Civil War). The key here is that legislation can only solve certain problems. For example, passing a law to ban people from having lustful thoughts about another person would be pointless. It's unenforceable. We have a wonderful system of government, and it can solve a lot of problems. But it can't solve them all; sometimes a law can help; sometimes a tax credit may help; sometimes government-funded programs may help. Let's not use a hammer when a screwdriver is called for.

5b) "Women are having abortions because, whatever other wonderful things are in their character, they have the evil inclination to consider other people as their appendages rather than as other people." We'll have to agree to disagree on this one. Trying to argue this point would be like trying to argue with Ptolemy that the solar system is not geocentric. I do think that is a despicable thing to say, especially for a pastor.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 1:26:00 PM

Blogger Bart Barber said...

Actually, it would be despicable for a pastor NOT to say it. The Bible teaches that we are all sinners and prone to such things. To argue otherwise would be to lose the argument, and that's as good a reason as I know not to take it up.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008 1:35:00 PM


Post a Comment

<< Home