Everett Piper Christian Blog and Commentary

Single Issue Voting

Single Issue Voting

I was recently involved in a Facebook conversation with some friends who argued that Christian voters need to move beyond their fixation on one or two issues and become more concerned about the “breadth” and “complexity” of human rights and economic justice. Permit me to share the exchange in more detail.  You might find it interesting.

Grad Students: “Christians need to vote on more issues than just abortion! Why not consider the innocent civilians killed as a result of the Iraq war or the all the women and children killed in Darfur and other countries?”

Piper Response: I am going to ask you some basic rhetorical questions. Sometimes this is the most effective tool in trying to resolve deep seated differences. When we strongly disagree we often just talk past each other and a well placed question can be of much greater value than dozens of well worn arguments. So here goes…

First, when you say that Christians should vote on more than one issue aren’t you being rather presumptuous in implying that single issue voting is really what “all Christians” do? Isn’t it a bit fallacious to lump “all” of any group of people into one big category?  I know — I know, you are likely saying that you didn’t mean “all” Christians but go back and look at the emotion, tone, and content of your comments. Your all inclusive critique of those who disagree with you does come through loud and clear and, dare I say, your presumption betrays your argument’s weakness. Such an indiscriminate casting of the net of criticism falls on some very shallow intellectual waters, in my opinion, and I think we should be a bit more disciplined in our logic.

Second, in your argument you hold up abortion and war in juxtaposition and the way you pose your question presupposes that war is wrong. But on what premise do you make this claim? Is it because you assume the value of human life? If this is the case then aren’t you admitting that the definition of “humanness” is an objective standard that can never be one group’s prerogative to reject or take away?  Aren’t you basically saying that all human life is an unalienable right endowed by a Creator and never subject to someone else’s choice even in the case of war?

You see, this is a matter of ontology and epistemology as much as anything. Does life exist and if so how do we define (or “know”) it? If we believe in the objective reality of life and that God is the definer of this reality, then we must never presume to wrestle such “definitions” away from Him and unto ourselves. If the definition of an infant’s life is “beyond my pay grade” then would the definition of other important matters likewise be beyond human reason and beyond the responsibilities of my job – matters such as the end of life and who has the right to determine it or the quality of life and who has the right to judge it?

Can you see where the momentum of your ideas takes you? If you implicitly diminish the loss of life through one means (i.e. abortion) you at the same time minimize the very standards you use to condemn the loss of life through other means (i.e. war). You are sawing off the branch upon which you must sit to make your case in the first place. I think I have made my point so I will stop…. But, one last thing: If you agree (as you have said) that abortion is a moral tragedy and that “the fewer abortions the better” then aren’t you at least by inference admitting that the victims of abortion were/are human in the first place?  If so, then the entire argument of “choice” must now be abandoned as vacuous because at no time in legal or ethical history has one person’s choice ever been rightly elevated above another person’s right to live — Has it??

Fourth, I would like to go back to the issue of war. Are you saying that all war is wrong and that total pacifism is your position? If so, great – as long as you are consistent. But if you, like Augustine, believe in a “just war” theology then perhaps it is erroneous to equate the killing of innocent children with the casualties of war. The debate here must start with the question of what is “just” and who determines its definition. Man or God? Political power or divine revelation?  Is the killing of millions under the banner of “choice” of any different moral weight than the loss of thousands as a consequence of a war? If you equate the two and say they are both equally evil then you by default should be working as hard to stop one as the other (or maybe harder to stop the one that results in greater quantitative loss?). If you minimize one evil to justify your attention given to another then you subjectively betray your entire argument as nothing but a personal construct that is no better or worse than the “war monger” or despot you protest against.

Finally, I want to say a word on the issue of social justice. It is possible that those on the “right” might actually treasure justice as much as those on the “left” and that it is not really a matter of debating values (such as mercy, love, and compassion) as much as it is a debate of methods (i.e. how do we best achieve such goals?). Conservatives might actually cherish freedom, liberty and justice as much as their liberal brothers and sisters. They just might have a different perspective on how to obtain these things.

Now a personal note: I was once much more “progressive” than I appear to be now. I was pro-choice and I used to be a lead voice for the “you can’t legislate morality” crowd. But I don’t hold this position anymore for several reasons. First and foremost, I have concluded that it doesn’t make any sense. I mean this literally. There is no sense — no logic, no intellectual integrity or moral consistency — in this argument. Legislation, if it is nothing else, is always based on morality. Otherwise there is nothing to legislate and the entire process becomes meaningless. Wilberforce, Wesley and a host of others recognized this. At times these great leaders were indeed dangerously close to “single issue voters.” John Wesley famously declared that “you must be singular or be damned” and Wilberforce, in like manner, spent decades with near tunnel vision arguing to abolish slavery (because he, too, agreed that the definition of personhood was not his to make and was, therefore, not “above his pay grade”).

Oh and by the way — Wilberforce also felt that it was his responsibility to vote for the “restoration of manners” : a return to the humility, modesty  and civility that comes from considering the Law and the Logos as a singular standard better than the baser proclivities of the human desire, animal instinct, and personal passion.  Maybe, “single issue voting” isn’t that bad after all.


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